By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Comptroller Justin Wilson’s move to automatically waive the first $25 in fees for public records requests is drawing praise from open government advocates.
The proposed rules, which would also give the comptroller the discretion to waive all costs related to public record searches and copies, were unanimously recommended for adoption by the Joint Government Operations Committees on Wednesday.
“The fee waiver provisions are progressive for Tennessee and should be a model for other state and local agencies,” said Frank Gibson, the founding director of the Tennessee Coalition on Open Government.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The House on Wednesday delayed a vote on a bill to give the state’s education commissioner the ability to waive state laws in order to grant public schools more flexibility after several members raised concerns that the measure could amount to a power grab by the executive branch.
Republican Rep. Art Swann of Maryville said his bill is designed to emulate the leeway granted to charter schools for high-performing public schools.
“We are trying to build an achievement level, and we’re trying to learn,” Swann said. “It is not that we’re doing a carte blanche for every school from top to bottom.”
“We have to turn those people loose to do their jobs,” he said.
But Swann agreed to put the measure on hold until at least Thursday after members of both parties raised concerns.
“That a commissioner — unelected, answering only to the governor — can overturn laws that we pass, that scares me to be honest with you,” said Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin. “That’s not prudent action on our part.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville said he doesn’t believe it’s constitutional to grant anyone the power to ignore state laws. He also suggested Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman would welcome the power to overrule the Legislature.
“He wants to be a dictator over education, I understand that,” Turner said. “He’s got a real taste for that. This is wrong.”
A spokeswoman for Huffman said the commissioner was attending a series of meetings and did not have immediate comment.
Republican Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon said he wasn’t concerned about the prospect of education officials changing rules and regulations that they have control over. But he said he had a problem if “they can override something that we pass.”
“If they need to change it they need to come back here,” he said.
The Senate passed its version of the bill on a 32-0 vote on Monday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State Rep. Curry Todd waived a preliminary hearing on drunken driving and weapon charges and his case was sent to a grand jury on Tuesday.
The Collierville Republican lawmaker’s case was in General Sessions Court in Nashville before Judge Michael F. Mondelli.
Todd was arrested on charges of drunken driving and carrying a loaded handgun while intoxicated when police stopped his vehicle in a neighborhood near Vanderbilt and Belmont universities on Oct. 11. He’s also charged with violating Tennessee’s implied consent law by refusing to submit to a breath-alcohol test.
Todd is a retired Memphis police officer and the main architect of a state law allowing handgun carry permit holders to be armed in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.
He stepped down as chairman of the House State and Local Government Committee after his arrest.
Worrick Robinson, Todd’s attorney, told reporters outside the courtroom that prosecutors could have used a new statute and scheduled a hearing on the implied consent issue, but waived their opportunity and bound it over with the other charges.
Todd did not talk to the media. However, Robinson said the case is “weighing heavily” on his client.
“You want to try to resolve your case,” Robinson said. “But if you’re going to resolve it, you have to resolve it in a way that you can live with, and that you’re comfortable with. And we’re not there.”
Robinson said he’s not sure when the grand jury will get the case. Until then, he said he will continue to review it to make sure decisions are made that are in Todd’s best interest.
“You can’t always evaluate the case totally early on,” Robinson said. “This would give us some additional time to look at everything, to make sure we’ve covered all the bases and decide whether or not there’s an opportunity to work out or resolve the case with the DA’s office.”