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Haslam Bills Meet Resistance

Last week was trying for Gov. Bill Haslam after a number of his high-profile bills faced turmoil and criticism from both Democrats and the GOP faithful in the Legislature.

Haslam has dozens of legislative initiatives he’d like the General Assembly to pass this year, ranging from lowering the tax on food to overhauling how state workers are hired and fired.

Here is a breakdown of the status of some of his proposed bills:

Classroom Sizes Bill A Bust (SB2210/HB2348): Haslam spent weeks trying to sell the public on increasing pay for teachers in challenging schools and difficult subjects by letting districts adjust average class sizes. No dice. The governor dropped that plan after hearing teachers and lawmakers argue stacking more students in the classroom is a bad idea.

Ownership Trips Up Economic Development Bill (SB2207/HB2345): The administration wants to collect certain financial information on businesses wanting tax breaks but says companies will only comply if the state keeps that info secret. There’s been some resistance from the Legislature, where leaders say info on the winning companies should be public. Edits are in the works. The bill faces floor votes in each chamber as early as Thursday.

State Employees Steps Away from TEAM Act (SB2246/HB2384): Haslam wants to do away with “bumping,” which lets laid-off state workers take jobs of lower seniority workers, creating a domino effect. The state employees union says Haslam’s plan could lead to political hiring and firing and stopped negotiating with the administration. The bill is now in State and Local Government committees to be heard Tuesday.

Inheritance Awaiting a Price Tag (SB3762/HB3760): For all the Republicans’ enthusiasm for reducing the tax on inheritances, Haslam’s plan to up the $1 million exemption to $1.25 million hasn’t budged. The office that estimates the fiscal impact of legislation has yet to calculate the price tag for this bill, which is why it hasn’t moved.

Slice the Food Tax Also On Hold (SB3763/HB3761): Lawmakers across the political spectrum are hungry to reduce the food tax, although some want it cut differently. Haslam’s proposal would drop the 5.5 percent tax to 5.3 percent. Lawmakers have placed this bill on the back burner, parking it in finance subcommittees while awaiting an estimate of its fiscal impact.

Boards and Commissions Begin To Move: (SB2247/HB2385SB2248/HB2386SB2249/HB2387): The governor wants to eliminate redundancies by restructuring 22 state boards and commissions, including a panel that oversees Haslam family-owned gas stations. The Senate unanimously OK’d one bill shifting some duties from the Board of Probation and Parole to the Board of Correction Thursday, but two other bills have yet to be heard in committee.

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Press Releases

TNDP Launches Online Petition Against Governor’s Class-Size Expansion Effort

Press Release from the Democratic Party of Tennessee, Feb. 8, 2012:

View the Petition: http://tndp.org/blog/take-action/tell-governor-haslam-class-size-matters/

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Democratic Party launched Wednesday an online petition drive opposing Governor Bill Haslam’s proposal to eliminate average class size requirements at public schools. Chairman Chip Forrester released this statement to accompany the petition:

“Parents and teachers know first hand what difference small class sizes make in improving student learning. It’s common sense; the fewer students in a classroom, the more time a teacher can spend with each individual student.

“If our goal is to improve student learning, Governor Haslam’s plan to increase class sizes is the wrong way to go. It’s a bad idea that shortchanges our kids’ future.

“We can’t afford to settle for anything but the best in Tennessee’s classrooms because the countries our kids will be competing with for the jobs of the 21st century — China, Japan, India — aren’t settling either.

“In tough economic times, education is an easy target for cuts, but nothing could be more short-sighted. When parents are stressed at home because they’ve lost a job, children need more strong, effective teachers, not less. When jobs are scarce, there’s no better time for young people to get that degree or for workers who’ve been laid off to go back and re-train.

“It’s time to recommit to our kids, our workers, and our future by making sure Tennessee has the best educated children in the nation.”

The Tennessee Democratic Party will deliver the petition and comments to the governor’s office in the coming days.

Online at: http://tndp.org/blog/take-action/tell-governor-haslam-class-size-matters/

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BACKGROUND

Tennessee’s Teacher Quality in Tennessee Among Best in Nation. The Memphis Business Journal reports that Tennessee teachers earned one of the highest overall grades in the nation on the National Council on Teacher Quality’s 2011 State Teacher Policy Yearbook. Tennessee earned a B- and was one of only four states to receive a B grade. [Memphis Business Journal, 1/27/12]

News Coverage of the Haslam’s Class Size Plan

Educators balk at Haslam class size proposal

www.tennessean.com

Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to lift a cap on class size averages is meeting resistance from educators, but the Republican calls the proposal a key element to his effort to allow school districts to hike teacher salaries.

Guest column: Haslam’s bad idea — larger class sizes

www.commercialappeal.com

It’s your daughter’s first day of kindergarten. She’s excited, but also scared to be leaving Mom and Dad. You tell her it will be all right, that her teacher will take care of her and that she’ll make lots of new friends.

Johnson City Board of Education passes resolution opposing part of Haslam’s plan

www2.tricities.com

The Johnson City Board of Education is making its opposition to part of Governor Bill Haslam’s education reform plan be heard loud and clear.

Reporter’s Notebook: School class size plan gets failing grade

www.timesfreepress.com

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to relax state mandates on local schools’ classroom size isn’t getting a passing grade from many of the people who run them — school superintendents and directors.

Some teachers opposing Haslam’s new education plan

http://crossville-chronicle.com

Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to allow local Tennessee school districts to determine class sizes is drawing strong opposition from teachers who say it will adversely affect students’ ability to learn and graduate.