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April 16 TN News Digest

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

Lawmakers pass Haslam free tuition plan (Associated Press/Johnson)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature proposal to create a program that would cover tuition at two-year colleges for any high school graduate is headed to his desk after passing the House on Tuesday. The 87-8 approval comes a day after the Senate approved the legislation 30-1. Called “Tennessee Promise,” the legislation is a cornerstone of the Republican governor’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.

Lawmakers approve Tennessee Promise (Tennessean/Sisk)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to provide free community college received the overwhelming endorsement of state lawmakers Tuesday night, passing the House of Representatives on an 87-8 vote. The House joined the Senate in approving “Tennessee Promise,” the plan Haslam laid out in February to cover the full cost of two-year college for every high school graduate starting in fall 2015. The plan also calls for reducing the amount of Hope scholarships for freshmen and sophomores at state universities to $3,500, a cut of $500 a year. Juniors and seniors would receive $4,500.

Governor’s idea realized: Legislature approves Tennessee Promise (N-S/Boehnke)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature legislation to make community college free for high school graduates across the state could land on his desk by the end of the week. One day after the bill hurdled the Senate, the Tennessee Promise program was approved to applause by the House in a 87-8 vote Tuesday evening. “Clearly, we’re very excited,” said Pellissippi State Community College President Anthony Wise, who kept tabs on the House’s debate during a college event Tuesday evening. “It’s a great access program for recent high school graduates in Tennessee,” he said. “And it’s built on the sound principles and it’s really on the foundation of KnoxAchieves and tnAchieves.”

‘Tenn Promise’ for tuition-free community college wins final approval (CA/Locker)

The House of Representatives gave final legislative approval Tuesday night to Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” plan for free community college and colleges of applied technology starting with the high school class of 2015. The plan also alters Tennessee’s 10-year-old Hope Scholarships. Starting with freshmen entering college in the fall of 2015, the current $4,000 per year Hope award will be cut to $3,500 for each the freshman and sophomore years of college, but increased to $4,500 during the junior and senior years. The result still totals $16,000 in Hope grants over four years. Current college students and those entering college this fall won’t be affected by that change.

Panel makes Common Core compromise proposal (Associated Press/Johnson)

A special committee of lawmakers on Tuesday recommended that the testing component of Tennessee’s Common Core education standards be delayed for one year. The House and Senate will now vote whether to accept the conference committee report before it heads to the desk of the governor, who has said he’d rather not delay the testing. Last month, a broad coalition of Republican and Democratic House members passed a bill that sought to delay further implementation of the new standards for two years. It also sought to delay the testing component for the standards for the same amount of time. The committee’s proposal would only affect the testing component.

Haslam Says Cutting Hall Tax Still Not Top Priority (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Despite being targeted with a critical radio ad from Americans for Prosperity, Governor Bill Haslam says cutting the Hall income tax is not priority number one. Under pressure from the conservative group, lawmakers have been trying to find a way to eliminate the Hall tax if revenue comes in above projections. The legislation is on the agendas in both chambers as the General Assembly tries to wrap up its business for the year this week. Haslam says if there is more money in the budget than expected, he’d prefer to give state workers and teachers the raise he promised rather than cutting the state’s tax on investments.

Senators Talk Cutting ‘Hall Tax’ With Comptroller (TN Report)

Justin Wilson, state of Tennessee’s comptroller, spoke Tuesday before the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee about Republican-led efforts to cut the state’s tax on interest from bonds, notes, and stock dividends. A bill in the Legislature would start a trajectory of drastically reducing the Hall tax, and ultimately eliminating any state budget reliance on it and leaving only a fraction in place to fund local governments. Wilson discussed the history and implications of cutting the Hall income tax on the state’s bond rating and budget, which has is pinched at the moment because state revenue collections are lower than what lawmakers anticipated.

Haslams host 4th annual Easter Egg Roll (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam and first lady Crissy Haslam are hosting their 4th annual Easter Egg Roll at the Tennessee Residence on Wednesday. About 115 children from local day care and Head Start centers are expected to attend the event scheduled to start at 10:15 a.m. In addition to Easter egg rolling, children will participate in relay games, crafts, face painting and a reading corner in support of the first lady’s early literacy initiative. She launched the Read20 Family Book Club about two years ago.

Tennessee taxes short of budget (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Tennessee revenue collections reflected mixed results in March. The $955.8 million collected was $4 million below budget for the month, leaving the state $263.0 million below its budget so far this fiscal year. Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin said March tax collections “continued to reflect weaker than anticipated revenues from the corporate sector, while sales tax collections were stronger,. “We believe the recent increase in retail spending is a reflection of renewed consumer confidence and indicates that the economy is slowly recovering,” Martin said.

Haslam says he won’t attend NLRB hearing in Chattanooga on VW vote (TFP/Pare)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam doesn’t plan to be in Chattanooga on Monday for a National Labor Relations Board hearing to which he and 23 others were subpoenaed. The governor made the comment in remarks to media during an availability as the General Assembly wound down its session. “The governor was asked if he had cleared his schedule to be in Chattanooga next week, and he said he doesn’t plan to be there at this time,” said Haslam spokesman Laura Herzog. Haslam is the first of the two dozen people subpoenaed to say he doesn’t plan to attend the hearing, that’s slated to start Monday at the Hamilton County Courthouse.

TN ranks near bottom on caring for disabled (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

Tennessee ranks 47th in the nation in its care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to a new annual survey to be released Thursday by a national advocacy organization for people with disabilities. The rankings by Washington, D.C.-based United Cerebral Palsy weighed factors such as quality of life led by people with disabilities, the state’s efforts to promote independence, health and safety issues, as well as policies designed to keep families together, rather than moving individuals to homes or facilities set aside for the disabled. DIDD officials did not have an opportunity to fully review the study, noting they had some concerns about the accuracy of its data.

Final Drafts Of Pivotal Legislation Could Be Written By Select Groups (WPLN)

Methamphetamine, Nashville’s proposed bus line, and a new statewide test tied to the Common Core: All three have led to dueling proposals in the state House and Senate, and all three are being hashed out by select groups of six lawmakers, known as conference committees. A conference committee is when three House members and three senators work out a take-it-or-leave-it deal the chambers then vote up or down. One already released a plan to put off a new test tied to Common Core that was set to start next school year. Instead, the state will continue its current test while taking bids for a replacement.

State voucher bill will have to wait until 2015 (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

Despite backing from well-financed national lobbying organizations and Gov. Bill Haslam, legislation to implement a school voucher system in Tennessee is dead for another year, the bill’s House sponsor said Tuesday.“The system won. The children lost,” said Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, after announcing in the House Finance Committee that he was abandoning efforts to win approval of the Haslam-drafted “Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act,” SB196. In the Senate, a leading voucher advocate briefly moved later in the day to try resurrecting the measure, but apparently will drop that effort as well.

School voucher bill appears dead in Tennessee legislature (C. Appeal/Locker)

The bill allowing low-income students in low-performing schools to pay private school tuition with public school funding is likely dead for the year in the Tennessee legislature. Its sponsor, Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, told the House Finance Committee Tuesday he lacks the votes for passage of the school voucher bill and removed it from consideration. The Senate approved it earlier this year. Advocates were scrambling to try to amend the voucher program onto other bills, a long-shot effort before lawmakers adjourn for the year this week. Vouchers always faced an uphill battle in the House, but withdrawal of the bill backed by Gov. Bill Haslam was a surprise.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s Voucher Bill Pulled Again (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

For the second year, Gov. Bill Haslam’s voucher proposal has been dropped in the legislature. The bill would have given parents of children in struggling public schools taxpayer money to help pay for private school tuition. Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville, who was carrying the bill for the governor, said he didn’t have enough votes to pass the measure. As a result, he withdrew the meausre from the House Education Committee — not long after it had passed in the Senate. The bill’s failure comes in the face of heavy lobbying from national education reform groups like StudentsFirst and the American Federation for Children.

Book closes on Tennessee school vouchers this year (Memphis Business Journal)

Another year and another promised action on statewide school vouchers in Tennessee has been delayed, in spite of a significant push from Gov. Bill Haslam, who drafted the bill. The Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act (SB196) was killed in the Tennessee House Finance Committee despite winning approval from the full state Senate on a 21-10 vote. It seems likely the bill will return again for another trip around the statehouse. The bill would have authorized state payments to private schools for up to 5,000 students in their first year of operation.

Parent Trigger Legislation Fails This Session (Associated Press)

A bill seeking to make it easier for parents to convert struggling public schools into charter schools has failed in a House subcommittee. The measure sponsored by Democratic Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis died when it failed to receive a motion in the House Finance Subcommittee on Tuesday. The so-called parent trigger legislation had advanced out of the House Education Committee earlier this month on a 9-4 vote, and the companion bill had been awaiting a vote in the full Senate. Under the proposal, if 51 percent of parents at a school in the bottom 10 percent of failing schools believe a drastic change is needed, they could select from several “turnaround models,” including a conversion to a charter school or changing the administrators.

Specialists Join Call for Veto of Drug Bill (New York Times)

Women’s rights and medical groups have called on Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee to veto legislation that would allow criminal assault charges to be filed against women who use illegal drugs during pregnancy. Critics say the measure will harm babies because pregnant women will be afraid to seek medical care. At a time of rising concern about narcotics addiction, the bill was passed last week by bipartisan majorities in both houses of the Tennessee legislature. It received crucial support from the district attorney in Memphis, Amy Weirich, who said the threat of jail was needed as a “velvet hammer” to force mothers into court-supervised drug treatment. “We have too many women in Tennessee giving multiple births to drug-dependent babies,” Ms. Weirich said.

Guns in parks dropped after another gun bill advances (Tennessean/Sisk)

A bill to let gun owners carry in all parks has been dropped for the year, a move that would appear to keep local bans in effect at least for now. House Bill 1407, a measure that would keep local governments from banning guns, was withdrawn Monday night in the House Finance Subcommittee. But the action came after lawmakers passed another measure that limits local governments’ ability to regulate firearms. The sponsors of the two measures said the net effect of the end-of-session switch will be that cities and counties can continue to ban guns in their local parks. Most communities in the Nashville area ban firearms in parks.

Guns-in-parks bill apparently dead for the year (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

It appears the state bill to repeal the authority of Tennessee’s towns, cities and counties to prohibit guns in their local parks is dead for the year. It won state Senate approval Feb. 13, but the House version was taken “off notice” by the House finance subcommittee late Monday. Although it’s on legislative life support, the subcommittee has removed it from its agenda and lawmakers are working toward adjournment this week. In 2009, when the Tennessee legislature enabled handgun-carry permit holders to go armed in state and local parks, lawmakers allowed city and county governments to “opt out” of the state law and still ban guns from the city- or county-owned parks under their control.

“Open Carry” Gun Bill Killed (Memphis Flyer)

The state House of Representatives — supported, it would seem, by the Haslam administration — acted decisively on Monday of this last week of the 2014 legislative session to reverse the action of the state Senate, week before last, in passing an open-carry gun bill. The bill, which the Senate had approved by a 25-2 vote, was negated by an equally lopsided vote of 10-1 by the House Finance Subcommittee, which had the duty of screening it for the full Finance Committee, where approval was necessary to secure a floor vote for the bill.

Tenn. House passes cannabis oil bill 97-0 (Leaf Chronicle)

On Monday, the Tennessee House of Representatives voted 97-0 in favor of SB 2531, the Senate version of a bill approving a four-year study of the use of cannibidiol oil in treating intractable seizures. The Senate passed the same bill on Thursday, 23-4. The legislation now awaits Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature before the experimental program can be initiated. Cannibidiol (CBD) oil is a derivative of marijuana that does not produce a euphoric effect and has shown promise in treating people, particularly children, with severe epilepsy. The CBD oil proposed for the study will contain less than one percent of tetrahydrocannibinol (THC), the primary psychoactive component of marijuana.

Bill would revamp Erlanger board, remove representation (TFP/Harrison, Sher)

A last-minute bill scheduled for a vote today in the General Assembly could overhaul Erlanger Health System’s board and remove Chattanooga city government’s long-held seats on the panel. The bill — which was introduced Tuesday in what is expected to be the final week of the legislative session — strips the city’s and Chancery Court judges’ appointments to Erlanger’s board of trustees, and has Hamilton County government and the local legislative delegation calling the shots on who will sit on the revamped board. Lawmakers argued that the city’s representation should be cut from the board since it stopped funding the public hospital three years ago.

State Textbook Commission Bill Advancing in House (Associated Press)

A proposal that makes changes to the process for selecting books for public schools is headed for a full House vote. The measure was approved on a voice vote in the House Finance Committee on Tuesday. The Senate approved the companion bill 29-3 last month. Currently, a 10-member textbook selection panel recommends its selections to the State Board of Education, and local school systems then choose which textbooks to adopt. Criticism of the content of some books led to calls for a stronger public review process.

I-24 monorail study approved by Tennessee lawmakers (Tennessean/Sisk)

Tennessee lawmakers aren’t quite ready to give up on the idea of a monorail linking Murfreesboro and Nashville, after all. Nearly two weeks after abandoning the idea, the House Finance Subcommittee voted Tuesday to go forward with a study of a 30-mile monorail along Interstate 24. State Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, asked the committee to reconsider the idea laid out in House Bill 2340 at the behest of state Sen. Bill Ketron, its primary sponsor. Ketron argues that state and federal officials should consider a monorail to relieve congestion in rapidly growing Rutherford County.

Senate wants schools to recite Tenn. flag salute (Associated Press)

The recitation of a little-known “Salute to the Flag of Tennessee” in the state Senate is often met with confusion with visitors to the upper chamber of the General Assembly. Now, lawmakers want to have schoolchildren follow suit. The Senate voted 32-0 on Tuesday to urge schools to have students recite the salute that reads: “Three white stars on a field of blue / God keep them strong and ever true / It is with pride and love that we / Salute the Flag of Tennessee.” The resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet now heads to the House, which has so far declined to emulate the Senate in reciting the salute after the Pledge of Allegiance.

Tenn. House votes to express regret for slavery (Associated Press)

The state House has voted to express “profound regret” for slavery and segregation in Tennessee, but stopped short of an outright apology. The chamber voted 97-0 in favor of the resolution sponsored by Democratic Rep. Mike Turner of Nashville. The measure decries what it calls the “fundamental injustice, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and the discrimination that was slavery’s legacy.” The Republican-controlled chamber removed language from the original resolution that sought to offer “profound apologies” for slavery.

Fix bad roads for $302 billion, official urges (Tennessean/Brown)

With an aging Nashville bridge as his backdrop, the president’s top transportation official Tuesday called on Congress to support a $302 billion proposal to improve the nation’s roadways. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is on a weeklong bus tour to promote the White House’s four-year spending plan that would help transportation projects move forward across the country. “Many of these assets are now reaching the end of their useful lives and they need to either be repaired or replaced,” Foxx said. Along with Tennessee transportation officials, Foxx urged lawmakers to avoid stopgap measures that add budget uncertainty for state transportation departments.

TVA revamps vehicle policy following IG audit (News-Sentinel/Marcum)

TVA has eliminated a vehicle allowance program and made other vehicle policy changes following an inspector general audit critical of the agency’s policies on vehicle use. According to the audit released last year, TVA did not clearly document whether many of those who got a vehicle allowance or were assigned a car met the justifications for getting one. The audit, which covered fiscal year 2011, examined approval documents for 37 of 71 TVA employees who received a vehicle allowance and found that paperwork for 34 of them gave no indication whether eligibility criteria for the allowance was met. The inspector general’s office recommended TVA tighten its procedures for documenting employees’ need for vehicle allowances.

 

OPINION 

Editorial: Sanity held sway on gun-carry rights (Commercial Appeal)

Logic finally prevailed Monday in the Tennessee General Assembly when a House subcommittee overwhelmingly killed legislation that would have let just about anyone openly carry a gun without having to obtain a permit or undergo firearms training. The subcommittee also should be congratulated for stopping legislation that would have done away with city and county governments’ authority to ban firearms in their parks, playgrounds and ball fields. The Senate had irresponsibly approved both bills, even though Gov. Bill Haslam, local government officials and some law enforcement officials had expressed reservations about both pieces of legislation.

Editorial: Open carry gun proposal lacked clear safeguards (Jackson Sun)

We believe the Tennessee House Finance Subcommittee did the right thing by voting against the open gun carry bill. While we are strong supporters of the Second Amendment, we also are strong supporters of common sense. The bill before the General Assembly simply didn’t make sense. A key issue in the debate was that the proposed bill would allow someone to openly carry a gun in public without any training or other sensible qualification. But if the individual wanted to carry the gun as a concealed weapon, he would have to have a permit and training. This makes no sense.

Frank Munger: Stop, look and listen: a fed project $20 million under budget (N-S)

The Security Improvement Project at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant, first announced in 2010 and originally projected to cost about $72 million, was completed at about $20 million under budget, according to a statement released last week by the National Nuclear Security Administration. The project replaced Y-12’s existing alarm stations and “access control systems” with the Argus security system developed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. It’s worth noting at least one version of Argus was already installed at the time of the July 28, 2012, break-in at Y-12, perhaps the most notorious security breach in the NNSA’s existence.

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