The Associated Press
The state Senate is proposing to change its weekly schedule to hold committee meetings on Mondays and end Thursday floor sessions for most of the legislative session. The changes would include:
— Old schedule: Senate floor session at 5 p.m.; no standing committee meetings.
— Proposed: Senate floor session at 1 p.m.; followed by meetings of the energy and transportation committees.
— Old schedule: Meetings of the finance; state and local government; commerce; and judiciary committees.
— Proposed: No change.
— Old schedule: Senate floor session at 8 a.m.; followed by five committee meetings.
— Proposed: Senate floor session at 8 a.m., followed by meetings of three committees: government operations, health and education.
— Old schedule: Senate floor session.
— Proposed: No scheduled floor sessions through most of session.
By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Some state Senate Republicans are grumbling about an effort to have the upper chamber’s committees meet on an additional day during the upcoming legislative session, saying the change would allow less time to attend receptions and to prepare for other meetings.
Under the proposed changes, the full Senate would meet earlier on Mondays to allow some committees to meet later that day. In exchange, the chamber would not meet on Thursday mornings for much of the session. (Note: The new schedule posted HERE.)
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said in a memo obtained by The Associated Press that the changes are designed to relive the time pressure of all nine standing committees meeting on two days. The changes would allow members to spend two full days home in their districts and help avoid committee meetings running deep into the evenings, he said.
“The goal of these modifications is not to speed up session, but rather to be more efficient with existing time,” Norris said in the memo.
While Norris said that each member had been briefed the Senate clerk’s office, two senators sent emails raising concerns about the new schedule on Monday. Continue reading →
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State lawmakers are speaking out against a proposal by the state Department of Education they believe would eventually hurt teacher salaries in Tennessee.
Democratic leaders held a press conference on Thursday to oppose the measure that seeks to change the minimum teacher salary schedule.
They note the proposal would reduce steps in salary increases from 21 to four and eliminate incentives for doctorate degrees and post-master’s training.
House Minority Leader Crag Fitzhugh said the proposal could deter individuals looking to teach in Tennessee.
“I don’t know that we can get career teachers anymore,” said the Ripley Democrat.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is scheduled to present the proposal to the State Board of Education on Friday.
Hyffman said in an email that it’s against the law for any Tennessee school district to cut a teacher’s salary, and that Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has added more than $130 million in state money for teacher salaries over the past three years.
State officials say the proposed schedule provides school districts with more latitude to create compensation plans that meet their local needs.
“We will continue to look for ways to increase teacher pay, decrease state mandates and increase local control of school decisions,” Huffman said.
And here’s an excerpt from Rick Locker’s report:
The current schedule lists minimum pay levels for teachers statewide for each year of teaching up to year 21 and for five different levels of degrees attained. The 135 school districts are free to pay above the minimums. Clay, Hancock and Pickett counties pay at the minimum; 20 districts pay within 2 percent of the minimum and about half pay within 10 percent.
But all districts use the schedule’s basic framework of 21 annual step increases and five different levels of education: bachelor’s degree, master’s, master’s plus at least 30 hours of additional college credit, education specialist and doctoral degrees.
The Huffman plan would compress the schedule to four steps — $30,876 base for a first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree, get base plus $570 in year two, base plus $3,190 in year six and base plus $6,585 in year 11. Teachers with any level of advanced degree would start at a base $34,291, get base plus $7,030 raise in year six and base plus $10,890 in year 11.
Under the current schedule, minimum teacher pay tops out at 21 years (they may still receive pay raises locally but they’re not mandated by the state). The Huffman plan would top out at 11 years.
— Note: News release below.
The Tennessee Ethics Commission voted Monday to hold a hearing on whether veteran political operative Tom Ingram violated state lobbying laws along with one of his associates at The Ingram Group and one of their clients.
Ingram, political consultant to Gov. Bill Haslam as well as U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, and Marcille Durham, president of The Ingram Group, have acknowledged they failed to register as lobbyists for Hillsborough Resources Ltd., which wants to mine coal on Catoosa Wildlife Management Area near Crossville.
The Commission discussed Monday what action to take after receiving two letters and a check for $600 to cover two years of lobbyist registration fees for Ingram and Durham. The two also met with members of the agency staff last week.
“I think we – and the state of Tennessee – are due an explanation of what happened here,” said James S. Stranch III, chairman of the commission.
The commission voted 4-0 to hold a “show cause hearing,” which basically gives those suspected of violating the law an opportunity to explain why they should not be subject to a civil penalty. One member, John Gregory Hardeman, recused himself from the vote, saying he knew both Ingram and Durham.
In his first “State of the State” speech, Gov. Bill Haslam declared a “new normal” of Tennessee government getting by with less money; his second was centered on the phrase “believe in better,” suggesting that policy changes can improve things without new spending.
The governor hasn’t said what the theme will be in his third State of theState address, scheduled for delivery this evening at a joint meeting of the state House and Senate. But he has said it will be “more of the same” in the general sense of striving to reshape state government toward being more friendly toward business and more efficient in operations.
The state budget plans presented in his speeches of 2011 and 2012 both contained a mix of spending cuts in some areas and expansion in others with overall expenditures roughly stable in the $31 billion range. With state revenue rebounding in recent months, the overall figure will likely rise in the 2013 edition of a Haslam budget, though he says projected increases in TennCare costs and other factors will eat most of the new money.
Gov. Bill Haslam isn’t too keen on letting Tennesseans in on who he’s meeting behind closed doors, says Andrea Zelinski. “There’s just a lot of discussions that we have, that any governor needs to have, as part of the decision-making process that we go through on so many different issues,” the governor said recently.
The administration rejected a request from TNReport in July to review or obtain copies of the governor’s calendar-scheduling planner dating back to his Jan. 15, 2010, inauguration through June 30, 2012.
Haslam’s office said his schedule falls under the protection of “deliberative process privilege.” The exception under common law allows for government secrecy in instances of communications, opinions and recommendations on policy issues.
However, the state government’s own open-records advocate, Elisha Hodge, says there’s no precedent under this exception in Tennessee to keep the governor’s calendar hidden from public view.
“In Tennessee, the deliberative process privilege has been discussed in a number of public records cases,” but never in the context of public officials’ calendars, said Hodge.
In the cases the judiciary did review, “the courts have never found the privilege to be applicable, based upon specific records that were at issue in the cases.”
Information like what’s on the governor’s schedule should be public, said Kent Flanagan, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.
“I don’t want to know when he brushes his teeth, and I don’t want to know when he goes to bed,” Flanagan said. “But when he’s acting in the official capacity for the state of Tennessee, the people of Tennessee need to see how he’s performing his duties.”
The only way to challenge the administration’s stance would be to sue the administration and take the governor to court, which is a costly option.
From the Gingrich Tennessee campaign:
Monday, March 5th – Tennessee – All events are open to the Press Address to GOP Women’s Luncheon
1pm – 1:30pm
Kingsport/East Tennessee Republican Women’s Club
1205 N Eastman Rd
Kingsport, TN 37664 Newt 2012 Kingsport Rally
1:40 – 2:10pm
Kingsport Center for Higher Education
300 W. Market Street
Kingsport, TN 37664
Note: The GOP Women’s Luncheon is “sold out.” Those who do not already have a reservation to that event must attend the second event at the Center for Higher Education. Newt 2012 Knoxville Rally
4pm – 5pm
Hilton Knoxville Airport – Ballroom
2002 Alcoa Highway
Alcoa, TN 37701-3163 Newt 2012 Chattanooga Rally
7pm – 8pm
TAC Air Co (FBO) – Hangar #2
1001 Airport Rd
Chattanooga, TN 37421
JACKSON, Tenn. (AP) — The construction of a solar farm in West Tennessee has been delayed.
The West Tennessee Solar Farm in Haywood County is now expected to go online early next year, according to the Memphis Daily News (http://bit.ly/ryauvP). The undertaking being spearheaded by the University of Tennessee Research Foundation was originally was scheduled to be completed this month.
Project manager Elliott Barnett of Signal Energy LLC of Chattanooga, which designed and is building the farm, blamed the delay on “the upgrade of the electrical lines that go from the solar farm to the Chickasaw Electric Cooperative substation.”
He said the substation is where the power will actually hook into the grid and about nine miles of line needed upgrading.
The solar panels by Interstate 40, which have been getting attention recently from passing motorists, were actually the easiest part of the project, he said.
“It was built for the purpose of generating revenue and serving as an example for the state furthering the whole sweep of renewable projects that we want to be a part of,” Barnett said. It is being financed with federal stimulus funding.
The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to buy power from the farm, and Barnett said it should generate about $100,000 in revenue each month.
The project won’t end there. The Tennessee Department of Transportation has future plans to develop an interstate exit and a center for visitors in the middle of the solar array.
Eric Rank, the general manager of Solar and Renewable Power Systems, said he thinks a visitors’ center would be a good way to keep the public informed on solar technology.
“They need to know how it operates. Everybody still thinks solar systems are based on the use of batteries,” he said. “There’s a lot of education that needs to be done.”