State Rep. John Ragan says the fresh round of criticism he has faced for sponsorship of so-called “don’t say gay” bill is uninformed and unfair because he was trying to completely transform the bill so that it had “absolutely nothing to do” with homosexuality.
“It really irritates me in a major fashion,” said Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, in an interview.
An article posted on both The Daily Kos and The Huffington Post chides StudentsFirst, a national education reform organization, for declaring Ragan a Tennessee “educational reformer of the year” while he was sponsor of the “don’t say gay” bill (HB1332).
“The latest version would have forced select Tennessee school officials to notify parents of children who privately discussed their sexual orientation, essentially dictating forced ‘outing’ of kids, even against their own objections,” the article says. “Ragan’s proposed education bill is more than just ignorant and wrong, and bad policy, it’s downright dangerous and does anything but ‘put students first.’ ”
By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — When the legislature failed to extend the life of the Judicial Nominating Commission, it effectively ended merit-based selection of judges in Tennessee. It also left open the question of whether there is any mechanism to replace a Tennessee judge who steps down, retires or dies.
Voters will decide in November of 2014 whether they want to amend the state constitution to change the way judges are chosen in Tennessee. The amendment would give the governor the right to appoint appellate court judges, including those who sit on the Tennessee Supreme Court, followed by confirmation of the legislature.
Some lawyers warn the legislature has left Tennessee without a way to pick judges before voters go to the polls next year because the commission that is set to expire June 31 currently helps the governor select judges.
The commission was extremely unpopular among some lawmakers who believe judges ought to be elected or just didn’t like the idea of commissioners having a say in who gets to be a judge.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The sponsor of a proposal that seeks to change the way certain charter schools are authorized said Wednesday the measure is needed to continue education reform in Tennessee.
The legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville passed the Senate Finance Committee 7-3 and was sent to the full Senate.
The advancing measure is one of at least three versions that have been proposed. The previous version sought to create a state panel to authorize charter schools for five counties where there are failing schools.
Those counties include more than 330,000 students in the state’s four largest cities: Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Shelby. Hardeman County also would be affected.
Currently, local school boards decide whether to authorize a charter application. There are currently 48 charters operating in Tennessee.
Under the latest proposal, the state Board of Education would be able to overrule local school board decisions on charter applications in the lowest-performing school districts.
The bill also gives an applicant approved by the Board of Education 30 days to return to the school district if the two can reach an agreement.
“It’s a way to get there,” Gresham said. “And we’re going to get there: a world class system of education in Tennessee.”
Members of the committee who at one time opposed the proposal appeared to be comfortable with the latest version. For one, the cost to create the panel was close to $240,000, where the new proposal drops the amount to $199,000.
The advancing proposal also would provide a more detailed hearing process before a decision is made on an application, as well as require some oversight from the state Department of Education.
“While it’s not perfect, I think it’s a good piece of legislation,” said committee vice chairman Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga.
However, Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle didn’t seem too pleased with the measure, saying “this cake is not baked.”
The Memphis Democrat, whose city contains 69 failing schools, was unsuccessful in passing an amendment that sought to place a charter school within two miles of a failing school.
“We want them located where the people are who need them,” he said.
The House gave final approval Monday to a proposed amendment to the Tennessee constitution that would prohibit a state income tax if approved by voters in a statewide referendum next year.
The House vote was 88-8 after brief debate with two Democrats, Reps. Mike Stewart of Nashville and Larry Miller of Memphis, speaking against the amendment and House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada defending it. The measure (SJR1) was approved 27-4 by the Senate on Feb. 14.
Stewart recalled that former Republican Gov. Don Sunquist had championed a state income tax in 2002 because he “felt that our business and sales tax had essentially reached a peak.” While unpopular now, he said the idea remains “within the solar system of policies” that could be considered in the future as well.
“I think by eliminating this level of flexibility we going down the wrong road… (toward) inflexibility in our tax system,” said Stewart.
Miller said the state constitution is “a sacred document” that “you don’t play politics with.” If voters approve the ban on an income tax, he said, ” It could take another 50 years before we realize the mistake we made.”
“The income tax – that’s the mistake,” replied Casada, contending that a state income tax is a “terrible policy” that deserves special treatment via a constitutional prohibition.
Voters will now have at least three constitutional amendments to consider on the November, 2014, ballot. Legislators have previously approved a proposed amendment setting up a new system for appointing the state’s top judges and another pushed by anti-abortion activists.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration on Tuesday rolled out its amendment to the appropriations bill, which includes nearly $45 million to increase the amount of cash grants available to companies looking to invest in Tennessee.
The measure allows the state to provide Fast Track grants for retrofitting, relocation, office upgrades or temporary space for companies investing in Tennessee.
“The money is linked to two or three potential employee expansions or new locations here,” Haslam told reporters after a speech to the state Chamber of Commerce. “We’re not there yet, but we wanted to put something in the budget.”
The state has appropriated more than $200 million to the program over the last three budget years and Haslam proposed pouring another $80 million for last year and this year.
Other items in the budget amendment include:
— $5 million from the tobacco settlement for health programs.
— 3 million for planning for the State Library and Archives and State Museum.
— $1.4 million for peer support centers run by the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
— $1.3 million for infrastructure at Rocky Fork State Park;
— $1 million for a nursing program at Parsons Center of the University of Tennessee-Martin.
— $1 million for the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
The Senate approved Thursday a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would allow veterans organizations to stage gambling events to raise money for themselves or other charitable causes.
The proposal by Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, was approved by the Senate 24-6, meeting the two-thirds support level required for final passage of a proposed constitutional amendment. If the House also approves the measure, it will go on the 2014 general election ballot for final approval by voters.
When the state constitution was amended in 2002 to allow lotteries, a provision was included to allow some charitable groups to hold gaming events for fundraising, if each event is approved by the Legislature. Crowe said veterans groups should have the same rights of fundraising as other organizations now covered.
A news release on the proposed amendment is below.
News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
WASHINGTON, March 22 - U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced Senate passage today of an amendment he sponsored to the budget resolution that would allow Congress to pass legislation giving states the right to collect, or not collect, sales taxes that are already owed under state law from online and remote sellers. Alexander said the amendment, which passed by a Senate vote of 75-24 with a majority of Republicans voting in favor, “boils down to two words: states’ rights.”
In a speech on the Senate floor yesterday, Senator Alexander asked fellow senators, “Do we have a Tenth Amendment, or the spirit of a Tenth Amendment, or do we not? Do we trust governors and legislatures to make decisions, or do we not? They can decide whether they want to raise or lower taxes, whether they want to collect taxes from some of the people who owe it or from all the people who owe it. That is the issue, these two words: states’ rights …. This is an opportunity for us to express our support for this principle of states’ rights and to give governors and legislatures across the country a chance to treat businesses and taxpayers in the same way – and to stop picking winners and stop picking losers in the marketplace.”
The amendment to the budget resolution was sponsored by Alexander and Senators Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and a bipartisan group of 16 other senators. It had the strong support of Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and state legislative leaders.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Members of a new coalition say they plan to assist with a statewide campaign to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment on abortion scheduled to be on the ballot next year.
That amendment would allow the state to enact laws requiring a 48-hour waiting period for abortions and requiring all but first-term abortions to be performed in hospitals.
Members of Healthy and Free Tennessee spoke to reporters at a news conference on Monday. They didn’t specify their strategy in the campaign.
However, they did say regardless of what happens with the amendment, the coalition plans to “promote sexual health and reproductive freedom” throughout the state.
Earlier this month, Republican sponsors of a measure that would have required abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and show or describe it to a woman seeking an abortion decided to withdraw the legislation and support the constitutional amendment.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state Senate on Thursday approved a proposed constitutional amendment to give lawmakers the power to refuse the governor’s appointments to appeals courts in Tennessee.
The chamber voted 29-2 in favor of the resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown. If the measure passes the House by a two-thirds margin, it will go on the ballot in next year’s general election.
The proposal would maintain the current system for holding yes-no retention elections for appointed Supreme Court justices and appeals judges. It would do away with an independent nomination commission that narrows down the list of candidates for the governor to choose from. That system would be replaced by a confirmation process in the General Assembly.
Supporters say the constitutional amendment would continue to prevent high-dollar judicial elections in Tennessee, while opponents argue that it conflicts with the state constitution’s provision that Supreme Court justices “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to amend the state constitution to allow the governor to appoint appellate judges is headed for a vote on the Senate floor.
The measure sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, passed the committee 8-1 on Tuesday and is being scheduled for a full Senate vote. (Note: The no came from Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville.)
John Jay Hooker, a two-time Democratic Party nominee for governor and vocal opponent of the measure, spoke before the vote and told members of the committee that “people want the right to elect these judges.”
Also Tuesday, members of the committee unanimously approved a measure that would prohibit courts from subpoenaing the names of anonymous commenters on news websites.
The measure, also sponsored by Kelsey, is headed for a full Senate vote.