Tennessee Senate Dems’ Update: March 31

Press Release from the Senate Democratic Caucus, March 31:

Mountaintop Removal

Senate Bill 578, the bill that would effectively ban mountaintop removal coal mining, failed in the Environment Committee this week along party lines. The bill, sponsored by State Senator Eric Stewart, would have banned ridgetop mining above 2,000 feet. Mountaintop removal mining employs less than 400 people in Tennessee and has been shown to pollute rivers and streams with toxic selenium that makes its way into our drinking water and food. A companion bill, Senate Bill 577, has been placed in the General Subcommittee indefinitely, meaning the effort is likely dead for the year.

Education

Senate Bill 1523, a bill that would remove the cap on the number of charter schools in the state passed the Education Committee 7-2. The bill would also remove certain restrictions on who is eligible to attend charter schools to include all students in the school’s jurisdiction. It has been referred to the Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.

During session on Thursday, the Senate voted largely along party lines to approve Senate Bill 1528 and pass it off the message calendar. The bill would increase the requirements for a teacher to achieve tenure and would require teachers to consistently exceed standards that have not yet been defined. Thursday’s vote reconciled the House and Senate versions of the bill by adding the House amendments to the Senate bill. The bill will go to Governor Bill Haslam’s desk for his signature.

Abortion

The Judiciary Committee passed Senate Joint Resolution 127 this week on a party-line vote. The resolution would remove the state constitutional protections to an abortion in Tennessee, even though the federal protections would still be in place. If approved this session by a two-thirds majority in each chamber, the resolution would be placed on the ballot in 2014. It would then require a simple majority of those casting a gubernatorial ballot.