April 8 TN News Digest

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

Governor Haslam Highlighting Tennessee Reconnect (WLAC-Radio Nashville)
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is traveling across the state this week to encourage participation in the Tennessee Reconnect program. It is an effort to get adults to complete college by attending a Tennessee college of applied technology with no tuition charges or fees. The scholarship program is part of Haslam’s Tennessee Promise legislation that was passed last year. Haslam started the week in Nashville last night and will also be traveling to other cities throughout the week. The governor will be in Jackson and Memphis on Thursday, then will travel to Chattanooga and Knoxville the following day.

MTSU Looks For New Ways To Boost Enrollment Numbers (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Some four-year schools in Tennessee are anticipating declining enrollment in their freshman classes, because the state’s free community college program, Tennessee Promise, begins this fall. So schools like Middle Tennessee State University are trying to find new groups of students to recruit. MTSU provost Brad Bartel says the school could lose 100 or more freshmen next fall to community colleges. It currently has 2,900 first-time freshmen, according to the school’s metrics, so 100 isn’t a huge number — but it’s still enough for MTSU to need a plan. “We’re looking at ways to compensate for that,” Bartel says.

THP accepting applications for trooper academies (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Highway Patrol is accepting applications for its youth and junior trooper academies in Nashville this summer. There are two separate camps that will be held at the THP Training Center this summer. The agency’s junior trooper school, a day camp for children grades 6-8, will take place June 22-26. The youth academy is an overnight camp for students in grades 9-12 that begins on July 6 and concludes on July 10. The camps are open to boys and girls. Youth and junior cadets will be taught trooper values and participate in recreational activities that include team building exercises, physical fitness and training.

Online Tennessee state exhibit pays ode to the mule (Associated Press)
More than 200,000 people are expected to make the trip to Columbia for the annual Mule Day celebration that goes through April 12. And while much of the focus will be on the role they have played in agriculture, Tennessee mules have been a valued wartime resource for much of the nation’s history. State officials say the British Army prized Columbia’s mules so much the Brits purchased them and used them for the Boer War and World War I. For decades, mules have been used in military conflicts. A mule-drawn wagon train is said to have resupplied the Union Army at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Tennessee Supreme Court: Bail is not an absolute right (Associated Press)
The state constitution guarantees the right to bail, but it’s not absolute, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. The state’s highest court said the right to pretrial bail can be revoked if someone is alleged to have committed a crime after getting bailed out of jail. The opinion stemmed from the Knoxville case of Latickia Burgins, who had bailed out of jail after being arrested on a misdemeanor charge and was later charged in connection with a violent carjacking. “A defendant may forfeit her right to bail by subsequent criminal conduct,” Chief Justice Sharon Lee wrote in the opinion. “Before pretrial bail can be revoked, the defendant is entitled to an evidentiary hearing.”

Families sue to keep Tennessee Virtual Academy open (Associated Press/Burke)
Lawyers representing the families of three children who attend a struggling online school pleaded with a judge in a Nashville courtroom Tuesday to keep it open. Attorneys for the families argued that state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen should never have ordered the Tennessee Virtual Academy to be closed at the end of the current school year. The families say their children have special needs – one is severely disabled – and are doing well in the school, where kids learn on the Internet. Their attorneys argued that state law allows the school one more year to prove itself before it can be closed.

Haslam signs Tennessee guns-in-parking-lots bill (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed legislation that allows workers to sue their employers if they are fired for storing guns in cars parked on company lots. The Republican governor signed the measure this week. Both chambers overwhelmingly passed the measure despite opposition from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce. The state in 2013 enacted a law to give handgun-carry permit holders the right to store their firearms in vehicles on company lots regardless of their employers’ wishes. But an attorney general’s opinion later found that while the law decriminalized the actions of those who ignored posted gun bans on private property, employers could still terminate workers for violating company firearms policies.

Abortion waiting period bill heads for Senate vote (Tennessean/Wadhwani)
A bill that would require a 48-hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion in Tennessee is headed for a vote on the Senate floor — as long as it clears one last minor procedural hurdle. The measure by Sen. Mae Beavers, a Republican from Mt. Juliet, also would require women to receive in-person counseling from a physician about the gestational age of the fetus, a list of public and private agencies available to assist her should she continue her pregnancy and the risks of undergoing an abortion and continuing a pregnancy to term.

Ramsey wants guns-in-parks bill resolved (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Tuesday he believes the guns-in-parks bill will end up in a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate over both guns in parks used by schools and guns in the State Capitol. Both houses have approved the underlying bill — the Senate with an amendment allowing handgun-carry permit holders to go armed on the grounds of the Capitol complex and the House without that amendment. Ramsey said he doesn’t care if guns are allowed in the Capitol or not. “Let’s be honest, the amendment that went on in the Senate wasn’t originally part of the bill. It went on by surprise. So I don’t care if that’s on it in the end or not.”

Bill to make Bible official state book of Tennessee advances (Associated Press)
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he opposes a measure to make the Bible the official state book of Tennessee. The Blountville Republican spoke to reporters in Nashville on Tuesday after the measure passed the Senate State and Local Government Committee. Ramsey said the legislation “belittles the most holy book that’s ever been written.” During the Senate committee meeting, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville also expressed concern about the legislation and was one of two members who abstained from voting.

House, Senate committees pass bill to make Bible official TN book (Tenn/Boucher)
Senate and House committees overwhelmingly approved measures Tuesday that would designate the Bible as the official book of Tennessee, despite reservations raised by religious leaders and some lawmakers. The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved the measure by a 7-0-2 vote; no lawmakers voted against the bill, but two abstained. The House State Government Committee approved the bill by a voice vote about an hour later. The House version includes added language in the form of an amendment. The amendment adds “talking points” in support of the bill, said House sponsor, Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station.

Ramsey: Bill making the Bible the official book belittles sacred tome (TFP/Sher)
Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey opposes a fast-moving bill making the “Holy Bible” the official book of Tennessee, saying it “belittles the most holy book ever written.” Ramsey told reporters on Tuesday that he had concerns about the measure passed earlier in the day by the Senate State and Local Government Committee with seven members voting aye and two abstaining. The bill says: “The Holy Bible is hereby designated as the official state book.” “It shouldn’t be,” Ramsey said.

Tuition equality bill headed to full Senate (Associated Press/Johnson)
Tennessee residents who are authorized to be in the United States would be eligible for in-state tuition under legislation that advanced Tuesday in the state Legislature. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga was approved 7-3 in the Senate Finance Committee and will be scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor. The companion bill later passed a House education committee on a voice vote. Under the proposal, students considered lawfully present in the U.S. through a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals would qualify for in-state tuition.

Tuition bill closer to passage, but now applies to fewer undocumented (TFP/Sher)
A bill allowing undocumented children to attend Tennessee public colleges at in-state tuition rates is now flying to the Senate floor after backers included a provision restricting applicants to students legally authorized to be in the U.S. under a 2012 federal program. Senate Finance Committee members approved the bill, sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, on a 7-3 vote. The House companion bill passed the House Education Instruction and Programs Committee later on a voice vote with prominent opponents of illegal immigration backing the bill.

Immigrant tuition bill moves forward after ‘epiphany’ (Tennessean/Tamburin)
State Rep. Kent Calfee had made up his mind. When the Republican left his home in Kingston Monday morning, he was “dead set against” a bill that would allow some undocumented students the chance to pay in-state tuition at Tennessee’s public colleges. But he said a last-minute “epiphany” struck him before the bill came up for a vote Tuesday in the House Education Administration and Planning Committee. “The fact that the parents are here under the radar just chills me to the bone, but that’s no fault of the children,” Calfee said during the committee hearing.

Bill would ban selfies, other photos, at the polls (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)
Ever tweeted a selfie of yourself voting? Or taken a quick photo of the long line you had to endure at the polling place, or of your child’s first visit with you to the voting booth? Did you quietly call your spouse while in line to vote to see if you need to bring home milk or bread? Or more seriously, ever recorded video of an election official challenging or denying your right to vote? Do any of those things again starting next year and you’ll violate the law under a bill nearing final legislative approval in Nashville.

After Debate, Tenn Lawmakers Agree To Let Voters Use Smart Phones (WPLN)
Tennessee lawmakers have approved a bill that would let voters use their smart phones at the polls — though not without some heated debate. The state House of Representatives agreed to a measure last night that allows phones for “informational purposes.” But Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) objected the bill doesn’t let voters use their phones to take pictures or video, even if they’re trying to document fraud. “Well, now, if a law-abiding citizen sees something happening in a polling place, we’re going to have them committing a crime by trying to stop criminal activity.” Besides banning photography, House Bill 988 also prohibits telephone conversations and recording at the polls. Democrats tried to change the bill to allow limited picture-taking. But Republicans quashed the proposal, which they said should have been offered earlier, while the bill was still in committee.

Jack Daniel’s turns back latest Tennessee Whiskey challenge (Associated Press)
Jack Daniel’s has turned back the latest challenge to a state law that determines which spirits can be marketed as “Tennessee Whiskey,” but upstart distillers hoping their brands make the cut vow the fight isn’t over for good. Opponents of the law enacted at the behest of Jack Daniel’s in 2013 said they withdrew their repeal measure Tuesday to try to generate more support before next year’s legislative session. But Jack Daniel’s master distiller Jeff Arnett declared the proposal dead. “What it shows is that that dog won’t hunt — and it never will,” Arnett said. “We’ve put a stake in in this, and consider it to be over.”

Alexander bill: States — not feds — would hold schools accountable (USA Today)
The federal government would no longer label public schools successful or failing based on student test scores under bipartisan legislation introduced Tuesday by two key senators. The long-awaited rewrite of the federal K-12 education law is a compromise crafted by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. It would replace the 2001 No Child Left Behind federal education law, which expired in 2007. The law had grown increasingly unpopular because of its reliance on high-stakes standardized testing and the strong role played by the federal government. Alexander and Murray scheduled a vote on their bill for April 14 in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Senators announce agreement to ‘fix’ No Child Left Behind (Associated Press)
School kids would still take annual standardized tests, but states would have much more control in how the results are used to scrutinize schools under a bipartisan plan to update the No Child Left Behind education law announced Tuesday by two key senators. “We have found remarkable consensus about the urgent need to fix this broken law, and also on how to fix it. We look forward to a thorough discussion and debate in the Senate education committee next week,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, in a joint press release issued with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the committee’s senior Democrat.

Anti-slavery bill won’t be stalled by Menendez indictment (TFP/Brogdon)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s staff says the indictment of Sen. Bob Menendez will have no impact on Corker’s effort to stamp out human trafficking — despite the New Jersey Democrat being a major co-sponsor of the so-called End Modern Slavery bill. Menendez was indicted last week for allegedly accepting $1 million in gifts and contributions from a friend in exchange for political favors. He has since stepped down from his post on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Todd Womack, Corker’s chief of staff, said that while Menendez was an early partner on the bill, the legislation has plenty of other supporters.


Times Editorial: What? We can’t bring our guns to the Capitol? (Times Free-Press)
One way you can always tell that the Tennessee General Assembly (or Georgia) is in session is by how many bills about guns and gun rights are in the news. That’s because our lawmakers are constantly being whipped and tickled by the National Rifle Association and the gun makers who now drive the NRA lobby train. It happens every session — or at least it has in recent decades. Last year, even while Chattanooga was in the throes of new efforts to get guns off the streets and trying to solve almost a shooting every other day, our lawmakers in Nashville were busily trying to undo any gun laws — at either the state or the local level. And this year, our Tennessee assemblymen are at it again.

Editorial: Guns need to stay out of local parks (Daily News Journal)
Murfreesboro recreation officials’ plans to use school campuses for neighborhood parks raise interesting questions about legislative efforts to allow guns in parks. The state House Monday night rejected and sent back to the state Senate a bill that would have ended local governments’ bans of guns in parks, but also would have allowed guns at the state Capitol and related facilities. Although the Senate has approved the bill, debate has continued about allowing guns in parks that schools use for recreation or athletic competitions. The House version of the bill tries to clarify the conflict in state law in regard to the carrying of guns at schools, which it prohibits, and carrying guns at parks, which it now allows if local governments approve.