News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn.) – Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) confirmed today that the Senate Education Committee will hold meetings in late summer or early fall to review facts regarding the state’s Common Core Standards. Gresham said the Committee will hear from critics from all ends of the political spectrum regarding concerns with the standards as well as gather testimony from proponents and state education officials.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSS0). Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards. Several states, however, have recently announced they are reevaluating them.
“These are fact-finding meetings,” said Senator Gresham. “Some parents and teachers have voiced concerns that we need to look at. It is also important that we review the progress of this program, including the latest test results. In addition, I want to evaluate how the standards might have affected state and local control.”
In Tennessee, the decision to adopt Common Core State Standards was made by Governor Phil Bredesen and the State Board of Education in July 2010. The State Board of Education is the governing and policy-making body for the Tennessee system of public elementary and secondary education. Since that time, school districts in Tennessee have phased in use of the Common Core State Standards for math and English language arts.
“It is very important that we have high academic standards to give our students the skills they need to compete in an increasingly global economy,” said Senator Gresham. “At the same time, I firmly believe that education is a state and local function and we must always work to ensure that we have the autonomy necessary to best serve the interest of Tennessee students. We will look at all the factors as we review how this program is serving our students and helping us reach our academic goals.”
Senator Gresham represents Senate District 26 which is comprised of Chester, Decatur, Fayette, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, McNairy, and Henderson Counties. She and her husband, Will, live on a farm in Somerville, Tennessee.
A Haslam administration initiative that could result in annual rate increases for local customers of for-profit utilities like Tennessee American Water and Chattanooga Gas is on its way to the governor, reports the Chattanooga TFP. Senators gave final approval to the bill Monday on a 29-1 vote. The House passed the bill last month.
….Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, called Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s utility bill (SB197) a “continuing part of the administration’s top-to-bottom reforms.”
The legislation has drawn concerns from State Attorney General Bob Cooper’s office that the Tennessee Regulatory Authority would no longer effectively protect consumers from monopolies.
Among other things, the bill would allow the TRA to approve “trackers” for companies that allow them to pass along some costs, such as fuel, automatically on to consumers.
The bill also authorizes the TRA to approve “alternative methods” for utility rate reviews and cost recoveries instead of full-blown rate cases.
In a rate case, cities, businesses or the attorney general’s Consumer Advocate Division can intervene if they believe the hikes go beyond a utility’s legal ability to earn a reasonable profit.
Cooper’s office said in a memo that utilities had overstated their rate requests by as much as 60 percent over the past 10 years. The office said the rate cases protect consumers against unwarranted increases.
“What this does in our opinion is make it more likely that rates will increase for business and households,” Assistant Attorney General Vance Broemel told a House panel last month.
Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey plan legislative hearings on the Department of Children’s Services when the General Assembly reconvenes late this month, according to the Tennessean. Republican leaders will ask lawmakers to “examine our existing statutes and to identify laws and innovative practices in other states that may be good ideas for Tennessee,” Harwell said in a prepared statement.
The plans come in response to an earlier call by Democratic Rep. Mike Turner to hold an investigation of how DCS operates.
Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol said he would ask his own legislative committee to examine the work of the state agency. He said he was prompted by a series of recent revelations in news stories in The Tennessean and in public reports released by watchdog groups.
“I have lots of questions, and I’m going into this open to hearing from across the board how DCS operates and what is going on over there,” said Lundberg, who co-chairs the Civil Justice Committee. “We have a very steep learning curve and a short time to get there.”
O’Day said on Tuesday that her agency is responding.
“Our philosophy with the legislature, from the very beginning, has been that the more that they know about what we do, the better,” O’Day said. “So we’ve done numerous visits with our legislators, to our various field offices, and plan to continue that open dialogue. We’re ready to talk to anybody at any time and answer whatever questions they have.”
Now that the Affordable Care Act has been upheld, Tennessee is rushing to create an insurance exchange, according to WPLN. It would be a way for those without coverage through their job to get reasonably priced insurance. On Tuesday, state officials started taking input on what those plans should include, like treatment for Multiple Sclerosis and drug addiction.
Representatives of advocacy groups filled a Vanderbilt lecture hall to ask that their respective cause be covered. Many share a concern about hearing aids. Insurance companies were required to cover them in Tennessee starting this year. But there’s uncertainty as to whether that would apply to the state exchange plans
…Public input will be taken over the next three weeks, and state officials say all suggestions will be considered….The Department and Commerce and Insurance will make a recommendation to Governor Bill Haslam. The exchange is slated be up and running in 2014.
…The Tennessee chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business is weighing how involved it wants to be in the creation of a state insurance exchange. The NFIB joined 26 states in challenging the federal health care law. But some of its members may end up using the exchange.
NFIB state director Jim Brown says some of his 8,500 members in Tennessee calculate it will be cheaper for them to just pay a penalty and let employees use the exchange. So he’s asking employers how involved they want to be in setting standards for the exchange.
“You know, it’s a choice between bad and worse, probably when you get down to it. And which direction do they want us to go.”
Brown attended the first public forum. The next input sessions are scheduled for July 31 in East Tennessee.
By Adrian, Sainz, Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn — The heads of three state agencies on Wednesday began giving Gov. Bill Haslam their proposals for how they would cut 5 percent from their spending plans in next year’s budget.
The Republican governor kicked off annual budget hearings at the University of Memphis, the first time they have been held outside Nashville.
Haslam said it’s not clear whether cuts are going to be necessary, but officials want to be prepared in case they are.
He asked the commissioners of the three departments — Safety, Labor and Workforce Development and Economic and Community Development — to present steps they would take if reductions are needed.
Other departments will be asked to make similar suggestions as he attempts to fill an expected $360 million gap between expenses and revenues in state funding. Haslam said a 5 percent cut would be a reaction to severe decreases in federal funding.
“I don’t see a situation where we would be getting to a 10 percent number at all,” Haslam said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he will hold public budget hearings outside the Capitol for the first time when he begins the annual review at the University of Memphis on Nov. 2.
The governor said he will also hold hearings in Knoxville, as well as at the usual site at the state Capitol. Haslam announced the changes in a video posted on YouTube on Wednesday.
Haslam said his goal is to assemble a budget proposal that can pass unanimously in the General Assembly, just as his first annual spending plan did in May.
Note: The governor’s news release is below.
Legislators are eyeing repeal of the state law that allows keeping the admonishments wayward judges receive secret and imposing stricter rules concerning when judges must bow out of a case when accused of a conflict of interest.
Judges say making public the “private reprimands” now handed out by the Court of the Judiciary would be a bad policy move, but acknowledge the Legislature could take such a step.
Changing the rules for recusal of a judge, which are now established by the state Supreme Court, also is criticized on policy grounds. But it could also be a violation of the state constitution, according to Chris Craft, presiding judge of the Court of the Judiciary (COJ).
Both proposals arose during recent hearings by an ad hoc committee appointed to review the COF and recommend changes to the 2012 legislative session. For much of the two days of hearings, the legislators listened to sometimes emotional complaints from citizens about judges they characterized as arrogant or abusive.
“I wish all the members (of the Legislature) could hear what we’ve heard,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet. “I think there is a need for serious change.”
Craft, who also is a Criminal Court judge in Memphis, defended the COJ during the proceedings. He said many of the complaints legislators heard — and the vast majority of all complaints received by COJ — are simply from
Excerpt from Jeff Woods pontification on the Court of the Judiciary hearings last week:
The ostensible purpose of the two-day hearing was to consider whether the Republican-run legislature should seize control of the Court of the Judiciary, the 16-member commission responsible for investigating ethics complaints against judges.
But in the grand tradition of special hearings, this one seemed more about embarrassing a political nemesis than about contemplating good-government reforms.
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, introduced legislation in this year’s session that would have handed the power to appoint the Court of the Judiciary to the House and Senate speakers. In the face of heavy lobbying by judges, that bill stalled. Currently, the Supreme Court names most of the commission’s members. That’s a blatant conflict of interest, according to detractors who contend the Court of the Judiciary is letting judges do as they please.
Although no votes were taken, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the ad hoc committee fully supported Beavers’ bill. In a brief discussion about the legislation, no one suggested any opposition or raised any questions about separation of powers or other important issues at stake in the debate.
Social conservatives, who dominate the panel, have made a mantra out of railing against liberal activist judges. For years, as a way to rein in the appellate courts, they have tried to change state law to end judges’ hard-to-lose yes/no elections and make them run in competitive campaigns.
The more judges are seen as imperious and out of control, the better the odds of forcing them to answer to voters in contested elections.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s unsure of whether the Court of the Judiciary, which decides on discipline of judges, should be changed as proposed by Sen. Mae Beavers in a bill pending before the Legislature. Legislative hearings on the issue are scheduled in the coming week.
From Andrea Zelinski on the governor’s stand (or lack thereof): The governor told reporters following the swearing in of a criminal appeals court judge in Williamson County Friday that the state’s legislative and judicial branches could both benefit from more and better communication with one another.
“I know there’s a lot of questions in the legislature about, is it too much of judges reviewing judges reviewing judges. I’ll spend a little bit more time on that before I really have an opinion on that,” Haslam said after the oath was administered to Judge Jeffrey Bivins.
“There are some people in the Legislature that feel like, are we getting adequate oversight? And the judiciary is like, I don’t think every time there’s a complaint there needs to be a public hearing because there’s so many complaints along the way,” Haslam continued. “I actually think it’s one of those that maybe… a little bit more dialogue might help the process on both sides.”
The governor also repeated his past support for the present system of selecting judges, wherein he appoints a judge to fill a vacancy from a list of nominees supplied by the Judicial Selection Commission. “There’s been some controversy around the whole judicial selection process,” Haslam said before swearing in Bivins. “From where I sit, I have nothing but good things to say about the judicial selection committee and the process. Every time, I’ve had the good problem having to choose between good men and women to fill a spot. It’s an honor to get to do that.”