This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Lawmakers wrapped up a fast — and often fractious — session on Thursday, returning home to their districts for good after three months at the state Capitol. For Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell, adjournment does not come too soon. It brings to a close a session in which their leadership was challenged frequently, especially on education. But on the whole, they emerge from the session with the most important parts of the governor’s agenda intact, with Harwell performing the thankless task of keeping lawmakers in line. Some of the losses for Haslam this year were jarring.
The legislative session that just ended proved to be Gov. Bill Haslam’s most challenging year yet as he faced a tough state budget and increasing pushback from his fellow Republican lawmakers — especially on education. From a full-fledged rebellion over testing related to Common Core education standards, leading to a one-year delay of the new tests, to the death of administration bills such as school vouchers and raising seat belt fines, Haslam and aides were kept on their toes in his fourth year in office. Haslam downplayed problems last week as the 108th General Assembly adjourned. “As always, [we] faced a lot of difficult issues,” Haslam told reporters. “I thought this General Assembly worked hard to get to the right answers, and I’m most appreciative.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam had three options when legislation banning forced annexations by municipalities arrived at his desk a few days ago. Haslam, a Republican and former Knoxville mayor, could sign the bill, let it become law without his signature or veto it. He signed it. It apparently wasn’t a complicated decision. “Throughout the process we were deferred to the will of legislature, and (the legislation) passed both houses overwhelmingly,” Haslam administration spokeswoman Laura Herzog said of the governor’s decision. Indeed, the bill appeared veto proof by passing in the state Senate by a 27-1 vote and in the House by 85 to 4.
The 108th Tennessee General Assembly ended its legislative session this week, and the reviews are mixed about how Governor Bill Haslam fared getting his wish list of bills passed. But one thing is clear: the gun lobby went home virtually empty handed, after attempts to expand gun rights in Tennessee mostly failed. The Informed Sources panel discussed the major developments from the session.
In a post-session news conference, state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said he and other senators were surprised when Sen. Mae Beavers put an “open carry” gun bill up to the Senate floor for a vote, thinking she intended to delay consideration to see whether the state House version would remain stuck in a subcommittee. “I was caught a little off guard,” Ramsey said. “I’m standing on the dais. What do I do?” Well, he voted for the bill, SB2424, which would allow anyone who can legally own a firearm to carry it openly without a handgun permit. The bill passed 25-2 on April 8 with the only two “no” votes coming from Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander wasted no time last month decrying a federal labor board’s decision that opened the door for some college athletes to unionize. The ruling by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board is “an absurd decision that will destroy intercollegiate athletics as we know it,” Alexander said shortly after the decision was announced. Not usually prone to political theater, the Maryville Republican is never at a loss for condemnatory words and phrases when it comes to the labor board, which referees workplace disputes between employers and their employees.
A National Labor Relations Board hearing is scheduled to get underway on Monday about the United Auto Workers’ claim that Republican politicians and outside groups unfairly influenced the outcome of a union election at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee. The UAW’s complaint was filed after Volkswagen workers rejected the union in a 712-626 vote in February. The UAW cited statements from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and other GOP officials that the union said raised doubts about whether the plant would expand if workers there organized.
After a frantic week of activity to end a high-speed second session, the 108th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned on Thursday. The Legislature’s finest moment came when lawmakers passed a bill that will allow any high school graduate to attend a community college or trade school free of charge. The law, Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature legislative effort this year, has the potential to increase the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary degrees and dramatically improve the level of preparedness for entry into the workforce. Funding will come from robust lottery revenues. The rest of the budget for next year is not so flush.