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April 15 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Senate approves Haslam’s free tuition plan (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature proposal to create a program that would cover tuition at two-year colleges for any high school graduate is a step closer to the governor’s desk. The Senate approved the plan 30-1 on Monday. The companion bill was scheduled to be heard on the House floor. Called “Tennessee Promise,” the legislation is a cornerstone of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” campaign to improve the state’s graduation rates from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025 to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state.

Harwell, Haslam education bills move forward (Tennessean/Smith, Sisk)

An education bill long sought by Speaker Beth Harwell cleared the state House of Representatives and one proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam took a big step forward in the Senate as Tennessee lawmakers began what is expected to be their last week in session. House lawmakers voted 61-28 to send legislation that gives the Tennessee State Board of Education the final say over charter school applications in Nashville and four other counties. Later, the Senate voted 30-1 to approve the Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act, the free community college plan Haslam introduced in his State of the State address in February.

Haslam’s school voucher plan still faces big test (Tennessean/Hall, Garrison)

A multiyear push to let some Tennessee parents use public funds to send their kids to private schools may be back to square one next session unless there’s a last-minute approval this week. The Tennessee Senate voted 20-10 last week to approve Gov. Bill Haslam’s school voucher plan, but the Tennessee House still needs to sign off on it, and for years that has been the bigger hurdle. Thirteen states plus the District of Columbia have vouchers. Here’s how it would work in Tennessee, if approved.

Congressional Inaction on Road Funding Hits the States (Governing)

Around the country, state transportation leaders are marking their calendars for July, when federal money for highways and other transportation projects could dry up without congressional intervention. In a handful of states, though, the day of reckoning is coming even sooner. Tennessee has already scaled back its plans for the summer. It has an $8.5 billion backlog in projects, so its Transportation Department decided to stop engineering work on all new construction. Tennessee uses cash on hand to pay for transportation projects and carries no debt for transportation purposes. But that means the state is trying to keep as much money in the bank as possible to get through the upcoming construction season, in case federal reimbursements slow down or get reduced.

UM proposes 43 percent tuition break for out-of-state students (MBJ)

The University of Memphis is proposing a reduction in tuition for out-of-state students. In a proposal submitted to the Tennessee Board of Regents late last week, the University of Memphis requested fee reductions of 43 percent for full-time undergraduate students from within a 250-mile radius of Memphis and 13.7 percent reduction for students outside of a 250-mile radius of Memphis. The 43 percent reduced fees would apply to students from areas as far away as Little Rock, St. Louis, Birmingham and Jackson, Miss. Students from Crittenden County, Ark., or DeSoto, Tate, Tunica and Marshall counties in Miss., already pay in-state tuition rates.

University of Memphis proposes reducing out-of-state tuition (CA/Backer)

The University of Memphis announced Monday its plan to charge out-of-state students less next fall, though that decision ultimately rests with the Tennessee Board of Regents and not the university. Tuition and fees for the 2014-15 academic year will be set by TBR at its June board meeting. Under a U of M proposal submitted to the Tennessee Board of Regents late last week, all out-of-state students would pay reduced fees, with further tuition reductions for out-of-state undergraduates who live within 250 miles of Memphis.

Four in DeKalb arrested for TennCare fraud (Herald Citizen)

An undercover drug investigation in DeKalb County has resulted in four people being charged with TennCare fraud. According to the Tennessee Office of Inspector General, the four individuals, who are from Smithville, were arrested and charged with the Class E Felony for selling prescriptions they obtained using TennCare benefits and selling the drugs to either undercover informants or agents. Michael Saylors, 35, and Lisa Martin-Ray, 41 (also known as Lisa Lue Summers) were each charged for selling a hydrocodone prescription. Also charged were Kenneth Bain, 59, for selling a morphine prescription and Jackie Blake Sanders, 30, for selling an oxycodone prescription. Each suspect could face up to two years in prison, according to OIG.

Tennessee charter schools bill sent to Gov. Bill Haslam (Times Free-Press/Sher)

The State Board of Education will be able to approve charter schools rejected by local school boards under a bill headed to Gov. Bill Haslam. House members took final action on the bill Monday, voting 61-28 to concur with a minor date change on the Senate-passed measure. The House passed the bill last year, but the Senate did not approve it until this year. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, pushed the bill after Metro Nashville School Board members in 2012 rejected a charter school application and later spurned the State Board of Education’s later ruling the charter should have been granted.

State gets power to OK charter schools (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

The House gave final legislative approval Monday to a bill giving the State Board of Education authority to approve a charter school application that has been turned down by local school boards. The bill now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam, who backs the bill and will sign it into law. Current law allows the state board to order local school boards to approve charter school applications that they have previously rejected. The Metro Nashville school board refused in 2012 to approve a charter it had previously rejected after the state board ordered it to when the charter operator appealed to the state. The bill would remove a step and simply allow the state board to approve a charter itself when a charter operator appeals a local school board’s denial.

State Charter Authorizer Legislation Sent To Governor (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Charter schools trying to open in Tennessee could soon get permission directly from the state school board, if their local school district refuses. Legislation letting the state function as a so-called “charter authorizer” is on its way to the governor. The bill just finalized in the House spells out if applicants to start a charter school are rejected by their local board, the state has the power to authorize them instead. It would only apply to districts that have schools in the bottom 5 percent statewide, mostly in cities.

Open carry gun bill appears dead (Tennessean/Sisk)

State Rep. Micah Van Huss said he would drop his bid to force a vote in the House on a bill that would let gun owners carry their weapons openly in Tennessee without first having to get a permit. The decision came after the bill lost 10-1 in subcommittee Monday night. Earlier Monday, Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, had filed paperwork to force a floor vote even if the bill failed in subcommittee. He said in a letter to House lawmakers that “powers are at work” to stall House Bill 2409 and undermine it with claims that it will require the state to print new handgun carry permits, at a cost to taxpayers of $100,000.

Gun carry bill goes down, 10-1, in House subcommittee (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

Legislation to allow open carrying of pistols without a permit in Tennessee — approved last week 25-2 in the Senate — was killed Monday night in the House Finance Subcommittee with just one member voting for it and 10 voting no. Rep. Micha Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, said afterwards he accepted the defeat and would not follow through with an earlier plan to bypass the committee and bring the bill directly to the House floor for a vote. “At least the people’s voice was heard and we got a hearing,” said Van Huss. “They killed it fair and square.”

Tennessee House panel kills open-carry gun bill (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

The sponsor of the controversial no-permit, open-carry gun bill said Monday night he’s ending his efforts to call the bill directly to the House floor after a subcommittee killed the bill. The bill failed in the House finance subcommittee, where it’s been bottled up for weeks, garnering only one “yes” vote and 10 “no’s.” Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Johnson City, said afterward that he will withdraw his petition to call the bill out of committee and on to the floor, a rarely used maneuver that requires a two-thirds vote of the 99-member House.

House Shoots Down Bill To Allow Open Carrying Of Guns Without License (WPLN)

A bill to let Tennesseans carry guns in the open without a permit was voted down Monday night in committee. The House sponsor had been poised to try to circumvent the usual process of vetting bills, but now it seems that won’t be happening. East Tennessee Republican Micah Van Huss said last week it felt like someone was trying to kill his bill. After it passed the Senate, a price tag that would’ve sunk the proposal was added on. Van Huss said it was bogus, and threatened an unusual procedure, invoking what’s called Rule 53, to push for a decisive vote. Before that could happen though, a committee agreed to brush aside the price tag.

Lawmakers OK bill allowing guns in cars without a permit (C. Appeal/Locker)

The House gave final legislative approval Monday to a bill allowing anyone who can legally possess a gun to carry guns in their cars without a permit. The bill allows the gun to be carried in any motor vehicle in which they are in “lawful possession” ― their own or a borrowed or rental car. The measure now on its way to Gov. Bill Haslam is a followup to last year’s law that allows anyone with a handgun-carry permit to keep their guns in their cars at their workplace, regardless of their employer’s policy against guns on their property. The new law, which is not limited to people with permits, passed the House 79-10 after winning Senate approval last week on a 23-5 vote.

Strong beer sales bill headed to governor’s desk (Associated Press)

A bill to allow stronger beer to be sold in Tennessee supermarkets and convenience stores is headed for Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk. The House voted 72-12 on Monday to approve the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville. The Senate last week passed its version sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro on a 22-7 vote. Current law allows any beer stronger than 5 percent by weight — or about 6.3 percent by the more common measure of alcohol by volume — to only to be sold in liquor stores. The bill would raise that limit to 8 percent by weight, or about 10 percent by volume. The change would take effect in 2017.

‘High-gravity’ beer on the way soon (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

Lawmakers gave final legislative approval Monday to a bill allowing higher alcohol-content beer to be sold at craft brewers and in grocery stores. The “high-gravity” beers have alcohol-by-weight content of between 5 and 8 percent. Tennessee grocery stores cannot currently sell beer with alcohol-by-weight contents of more than 5 percent. The bill is on its way to the governor. It won House approval on a 72-12 vote, and 22-7 in the Senate last week.

High Gravity Beer Needs House Approval To Be Sold In Grocery Stores (WPLN)

When lawmakers agreed this spring to let grocery stores sell wine, many thought they were done for the year legislating which stores can sell what alcohol. Maybe not, though. A bill to also let grocery stores sell high gravity beer is close to passing. Right now beers stronger than 5 percent alcohol by weight are confined to liquor stores in Tennessee, but the measure would relax the threshold to 8 percent. Linus Hall of Nashville’s Yazoo Brewing Company says it’s not clear exactly how many high gravity beers would become more available, but the answer is a lot.

House sends cannabis oil study bill to Haslam (Times Free-Press/Sher)

With no discussion, the House today sent to Gov. Bill Haslam a bill authorizing a limited, four-year study of the effectiveness of cannabis oil on certain types of intractable seizures. Representatives voted 97-0 for the bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah. The bill authorizes hospitals affiliated with university medical schools to conduct studies on the impact of low-THC content cannabis oil on certain types of seizures. THC, that is, tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical that gives pot smokers their “high.” Carter and other proponents say users could drink “gallons” of the oil without getting a psychoactive reaction.

Bill targeting gangs wins final nod (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

The House approved and sent to the governor a bill allowing prosecutors to go to court and seek to enforce public-nuisance laws against gangs. The bill authorizes judges to designate a geographically defined area in any injunction issued against a gang, preventing members from gathering in public in groups of two or more, and preventing any gang members from entering any public ground, place or space where the gang has been found to carry out its operations. It won House approval on a 94-1 vote, and in the Senate 32-0 last week.

Licenses for child-support scofflaws (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

State lawmakers passed and sent to the governor a bill that allows people who are not in compliance with their child-support obligations and who lose their driver’s license as a result to obtain a restricted license allowing them to drive to and from work. Current law allows the state to suspend various licenses, including professional licenses, of people who are deeply behind in their child-support payments. The bill allows a restricted driver’s license if the person is employed at least 30 hours per week at a place more than a mile from home and income from the job can be reasonably expected to help pay the child support.

Long-term care costs rising faster in Tennessee than U.S. (Tennessean/DuBois)

The cost of home-based and long-term health care is increasing in Tennessee, and is rising faster than national levels in many instances, according to a new survey. The new study sheds light on the costs of various long-term care services — such as nursing homes, assisted living and home health aids — nationally and in Tennessee. The study, completed by financial services company Genworth Financial, shows that the median costs for several long-term care services in Tennessee have grown at a greater rate than the national average.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn denies weighing presidential bid (Tennessean/Barton)

A report over the weekend that Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn might launch a 2016 Republican presidential bid spurred a non-denial denial from her campaign staff, though she appeared to be more explicit during a visit to New Hampshire. The website RealClearPolitics.com, quoting an unnamed Blackburn aide, said the Brentwood Republican was considering a presidential candidacy and had gone to New Hampshire to “test the waters.” “If there’s a door to kick down, she’s willing to kick it down,” the aide reportedly told the website. Blackburn appeared at a New Hampshire Republican rally hosted by the groups Citizens United and Americans for Prosperity. The latter is associated with oil billionaires Charles and David Koch.

AT&T to hire 100 in Tennessee (Tennessean/McGee)

AT&T is seeking to hire nearly 100 new employees in Tennessee, with 15 openings in the Nashville area. The expansion is part of a national push to hire more than 3,000 retail and sale management employees over the next several months. Among the Tennessee hires, more than 50 will be in the retail area and nearly 40 will be technicians, according to company spokeswoman Cathy Lewandowski. The Nashville openings are for technicians. AT&T, which employs more than 5,000 people in Tennessee, has invested $350 million in the Nashville area in the past three years, upgrading its networks and expanding its high-speed internet and video services.

Miller: NN Inc. project could lead to 200 new jobs (Johnson City Press)

Johnson City headquartered NN Inc. was confirmed Monday as the manufacturer being courted by local economic development leaders hoping to land a new $10 million corporate office building and 200 new jobs. Mitch Miller, CEO of the Washington County Economic Development Council, said the bearing, precision metal, plastic and rubber component maker is the corporation behind “Project Stone” the council’s code name for the economically significant project. If NN Inc. keeps its offices in Johnson City and expands, it would mean hundreds of high-paying corporate jobs moving into the city with an estimated $50 million direct effect on the regional economy each year.

 

OPINION 

Lamar Alexander: What to do about Tax Day (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Today is Tax Day, and that means most Tennesseans have filed their federal tax returns, and many are eagerly awaiting their refund. But filing your tax return is about more than getting your money back from Uncle Sam — it’s a reminder of Washington’s out-of-control spending and overreach. Our federal government’s largest problem is its $17 trillion debt, $55,000 for every Tennessean. But we can fix the debt and solve other problems by making tough decisions now and getting Washington out of the way. Here’s what I believe we should do about them: • 1. $17 trillion in debt, and growing: If we don’t fix the debt now, we’ll have let America slip from the “greatest generation” to the debt-paying generation.

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