By Staff,  April 3, 2013

With leaders of the Tennessee General Assembly intent on finishing the 2013 legislative session by April 18 — two weeks from Thursday — the pace of news and views from Capitol Hill in Nashville continues to quicken.

To keep you informed and engaged with fast-moving developments, we will provide periodic posts that mix reporting with commentary while sharing insights from other informed sources. Our veteran Nashville bureau chief, Richard Locker, will lead the effort — he’s in his 30th year of covering Tennessee legislative sessions, and we will link to news from another Scripps fixture in Nashville, Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

6:59 p.m.: Gov.-approved school security bill advances

From the Associated Press:

A proposal that would allow school districts to hire retired law enforcement officers for security advanced in the Legislature on Wednesday after being approved by the governor.

The legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Eric Watson of Cleveland passed the House Civil Justice Committee on a voice vote before being approved 5-2 by the Senate Education Committee.

The proposal is different from the original version, which would have allowed school teachers and faculty with handgun carry permits to be armed at school. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has said he’s against such a proposal and others like it being considered this session.

However, a representative from the governor’s office said Wednesday that the governor is OK with the bill that’s advancing.

The proposal would allow schools to hire retired law enforcement officers after they meet certain requirements, such as completing a school policing course. Total raining could require over 400 hours.

“This bill just doesn’t had out a gun to a staff member or faculty member,” said Watson, who is a detective. “You’ve got to have a lot of training, you’ve got to be a former law enforcement officer.”

Haslam has included $34 million in his budget for local government officials to use on so-called priorities. Sponsors say they expect much of the money to go toward security in the wake of the killing of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

They also believe their legislation will help many school districts struggling financially.

“We want to give these locals options,” said Senate sponsor Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains. “This is good as we’re going to get passed this year.”

Gera Summerford, president of the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said she believe such a measure would be beneficial.

“As we look at school safety, I think it is important to recognize that the needs are different from one school system to another,” she said. “There’s a lot of difference between an urban system and a rural system. And I do see that there’s an appropriate place for allowing some flexibility and allowing some decision making at the local level.”

5:05 p.m.: Bill advances linking welfare benefits to student grades

From the Associated Press:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A House committee has approved a measure linking a family’s welfare benefits to student performance a day after Gov. Bill Haslam expressed serious reservations about the measure.

The House Health Committee on Wednesday voted 10-8 to advance the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Vance Dennis of Savannah.

The measure would cut monthly benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program if a child fails to “maintain satisfactory academic progress.”

Supporters noted that those cuts could be avoided if parents attend conferences with teachers, take parenting classes or enroll their children in tutoring programs or summer school.

Haslam said Tuesday that he doesn’t see a connection between welfare benefits and students’ grades. The Republican governor told reporters he would “very strongly” consider a veto if it passes both chambers.

4:55 p.m.: Legislature plans study over issue of states rights

From Tom Humphrey at our sister newspaper Knoxville News Sentinel reports on the legislature’s concern over states rights.

“The state House and Senate speakers have agreed to have a joint committee conduct hearings over the summer and fall on federal government laws and executive orders that may have exceeded constitutional authority, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, told colleagues Tuesday.

Beavers’ announcement came after declaring she would not push for passage of the “Balance of Powers Act” (SB1158), which would have set up a joint legislative committee to determine which federal laws should be nullified in Tennessee by the General Assembly. It is one of several nullification bills introduced this year, none of which have won a favorable committee vote.

Beavers said the agreement is for the Government Operations Committees of the House and Senate to establish a special subcommittee to study federal laws and pending federal legislation, then make reports after each meeting.”

2:54 p.m.: Muni-backed bill lifts caps on number of school districts

The Senate Education Committee approved Wednesday afternoon the bill that originally would have increased the number of school districts in counties with populations larger than 25,000 from six to seven, but amended it to simply remove the caps altogether.

The bill is one of four intended to allow the creation of new municipal or special school districts in the Shelby County suburbs. Currently, state law allows no more than six school systems in counties above 25,000 people and no more than three in counties below 25,000. If all six suburban cities create new districts, Shelby County would have seven districts, including the unified school system.

Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, the bill’s sponsor told the committee that after discussions with state Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, he decided to just eliminate the per-county cap rather than raise it, for the larger counties. “We just didn’t need it anymore,” Norris said.

The committee voted unanimously to send the amended bill to the Senate Calendar Committee, which will schedule it for a Senate floor vote, probably next week.

— Richard Locker

2:45 p.m.: Ticketmaster-backed bill delayed in House until 2014

Our own Kyle Veazey from CA Sports did a fine job in March of explaining a bill to regulate the secondary ticket market. Click here for that story, and see below for the latest — the bill has stalled because of, get this, too MUCH interest from too many people.

From the Associated Press: “A bill seeking to put controls on the secondary ticket market has been withdrawn amid what its sponsor called fierce lobbying on both sides.

Republican Rep. Ryan Haynes of Knoxville said he expects to bring back the measure backed by Ticketmaster parent Live Nation Worldwide Inc. next year.

Opponents of the bill, like eBay Inc. subsidiary StubHub, argued it would affect the legitimate transfer of tickets to sporting events and concerts by individuals and organizations. Supporters said it targeted online hoarding, price gouging and forgeries.”

— Zack McMillin

2:15 p.m.: Norris-led agency releases “Charting Course to Tennessee’s Future”

The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, a state government think tank and research agency currently chaired by state Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, publicly released a new report today called “Charting a Course to Tennessee’s Future” — an overview of the state’s strengths and challenges based in large part on interviews with 40 Tennessee leaders from the public and private sectors and academia.

TACIR isn’t part of the General Assembly but it does research work for the legislature and its non-partisan findings have been heavily relied on by lawmakers for years, so the new 67-page report might be good reading. Mostly, the report serves as a foundation for launching some kind of systemic thinking and planning about the Volunteer State’s future.

“Tennessee has many strengths,” it says, citing several. “And yet we face many challenges:

• Our educational attainment levels and overall health, though improving, lag behind those of other states.

• We have sharp contrasts of wealth and poverty.

• Our aging population is putting new pressures on services, ranging from health care to transportation, and shrinking our workforce.

• Our business and industry have become increasingly intertwined with those of other nations, causing changes in the ways we work.

• As in most other states, our roads, bridges, water pipes, and sewer lines are deteriorating at a time when government at all levels is strapped for resources.”

Memphis area leaders who were interviewed include Norris; Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald; Memphis Regional Chamber senior vice president Dexter Muller, and Susan Cooper, former state health commissioner and current a senior administrator at the Regional Medical Center at Memphis.

–Richard Locker

1:20 p.m.: Several school bills on this afternoon’s agenda

Beginning at 2 p.m., the Senate Education Committee begins considering nearly three dozen bills on its final agenda of the year, including school vouchers and the bill that allows up to seven school districts in Shelby County.

That bill, Senate Bill 1354 by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is needed because if all six suburban cities create their own municipal school systems, there’ll be seven in Shelby, counting the new unified school district, and state law currently limits the total per county to six.

The voucher bill, also sponsored by Norris, is the governor’s proposal for a more limited voucher program that allows lower-income families to take up to the amount of state and local money spent to educate a child in a local school district with them to help pay private school tuition. There may be an attempt by Republicans who favor a more expansive program to amend the Norris bill, SB 196, to cover more families.

In addition, the committee will consider several school security bills and bills making it easier to establish public charter schools. One of those is a controversial bill by Sen. Reginald Tate and Rep. John DeBerry, both Memphis Democrats, to allow conversion of a traditional public school into a charter if petitioned by at least 51 percent of the parents of students attending the school. That’s SB 483.

12:30 p.m.: Is the session moving too fast?

Last week, Tom Humphrey addressed the issue of whether Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville and Speaker of the Senate, and Beth Harwell, R-Nashville and Speaker of the House, are making legislators move too quickly. Their stated goal is to finish work and adjourn House and Senate by April 18.

Humphrey wrote: “Some state legislators of both parties are criticizing the push to end the legislative session quickly, contending the rush has led to confusion and limited vetting of bills by lawmakers working long hours.

“House Calendar Committee Chairman Bill Dunn of Knoxville has become one of the first Republicans to criticize the rush to adjournment, first in a speech to the House Republican Caucus in which he said some colleagues were left “glassy-eyed” by listening to bill presentations hour after hour. He repeated the criticisms in an interview aired Thursday on WPLN, Nashville’s public radio station, that irritated Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.”

Humphrey quoted Dunn saying: “I do think we’re moving too fast,” said Dunn. “We’re making decisions that will affect people’s lives and livelihoods. They need quality, not quantity.”

And: “There’s a time for speed and efficiency and a time for quality,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten off balance and we need to get back in balance.”

Dunn said he was also concerned that “lobbyists are going to zero in on the rush-rush” and push complicated changes to bills while things are moving at a hectic pace and with high volume while lawmakers are tired.


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