Monthly Archives: April 2019

Lee to let online gambling bill become law without signature

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business in Nashville on Feb. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee plans to allow a bill to legalize online sports gambling in Tennessee to become law without his signature.

The bill cleared the House on a 58-37 vote last week and the Senate on Thursday passed its own version 19-12. The lower chamber then concurred with Senate changes on a 51-40 vote, sending the bill to Lee’s desk.

“The governor has said he does not believe that the expansion of gambling is best, but he recognizes that many in the legislature found this to be an issue they want to explore further,” said Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold. “He plans to let this become law without signature.”

Governors have 10 days from receiving a bill to either sign or veto it, or it becomes law without their signature.

Ashe not impressed by Joe Carr being hired by Lee administration

Former state Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) announces his U.S. Senate bid in January 2013.

Color Victor Ashe unimpressed by Gov. Bill Lee’s hire of perennial candidate and former state Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) as an assistant commissioner paying $135,000 per year.

As a lawmaker, “Carr was seldom viewed as leadership material among his peers,” Ashe writes in the Knoxville Shopper News. “The appointment was almost universally greeted with eyes rolling.”

Ashe is a former Knoxville mayor and state Senator who was appointed ambassador to Poland by President George W. Bush.

“Time will tell how this works out,” Ashe writes about Carr. “Hopefully this is an exception in the caliber of appointments Lee makes.

“However, if Carr serves the 7½ years left in Lee’s possible two terms, his state pension will jump considerably with his six years in the legislature. It will go from $450 a month to over $2,000 a month, starting at age 55, because he is a retired lawmaker.”

Boyd recommends Nebraska’s Plowman as UT-Knoxville chancellor

Randy Boyd speaks to reporters in Nashville on July 25, 2018. The former Republican gubernatorial candidate was nominated to serve as interim president of the University of Tennessee on Sept. 19, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Interim University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd is recommending Donde Plowman to become the ninth chancellor of the system’s flagship campus in Knoxville.

Plowman is the executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“Under Donde’s leadership, I am looking forward to an exciting, successful and transformational future,”  Boyd said in a release. “Her student-first approach, her reputation as a dynamic leader and collaborator and her great love for the UT Knoxville will be great assets as we work together to advance the university and the state of Tennessee for many years to come.”

If approved by the board, Plowman will succeed Beverly Davenport, school’s first female chancellor who was fired last year amid criticism of her handling of UT’s botched football coaching search, her rejection of then-Gov. Bill Haslam’s outsourcing initiatives, and (especially among lawmakers) for the ongoing student-led Sex Week activities on campus.

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GOP leaders hold secret weekend budget negotiations

The Tennessean’s Natalie Allison made the trek into the legislative office complex over the weekend to check up on budget negations between Republican leaders in the House and Senate. Once she showed up, the meeting was abruptly adjourned.

Secret meetings are nothing new at the General Assembly, which has exempted itself from the state’s open meetings laws. But that doesn’t make it look any better for leadership to hammer out details of the state’s annual spending plan behind closed doors.

Nashville, Memphis school districts threaten to sue over vouchers

The school districts covering Nashville and Memphis are threatening to sue the state if the General Assembly passes legislation to enact an expanded school voucher program affecting only their students. The so-called Education Savings Account bill passed both the House and Senate last week, but in competing forms.

Here’s the full release from Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools:

State’s 2 Largest School Districts Oppose Education Savings Account Legislation as Unconstitutional

The Education Savings Account (ESA) legislation violates Article XI, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution because it is arbitrarily limited to only a portion of the state when the Constitution requires any Act of the General Assembly to apply statewide unless approved by a local legislative body or through a local referendum.

The language, in both the House and Senate versions of the bill, reflects an arbitrary application to Shelby County Schools (SCS) and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MPNS), as there are school districts such as Madison and Fayette county with larger or nearly the same percentages of schools performing in the bottom 10 percent. The legislation also applies to only certain districts with priority schools from the state’s 2015 priority school list even though there is a more current list from 2018 that includes schools in Campbell, Fayette, Madison and Maury counties. These districts are arbitrarily left out of the legislation.

Should this legislation be signed into law, an immediate constitutional challenge is likely to ensure equal protection under the law. Shelby County is no stranger to asserting and prevailing on such constitutional challenges as reflected in the November 27, 2012 decision in the case of Board of Education of Shelby County Tennessee et al v. Memphis City Board of Education by federal Judge Hardy Mays which rendered a similar bill void that was local in effect.

“If the Governor and Legislature are determined to pass a general law that would apply arbitrarily only to us or a limited number of school systems, we will be sure to exhaust all of our legal options,” said SCS Superintendent, Dr. Joris M. Ray.

“No matter what you call them, vouchers are a bad idea. They are not what we need for public schools. We owe it to this generation of students — and to all of those who follow them – to fight for a system that is fairly funded,” said Dr. Adrienne Battle, the MNPS Interim Director.

If the ESA bill becomes law, Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools stand prepared to evaluate and pursue all legal remedies that ensure that the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law remain intact for the children and families of our districts and state.

 

Voucher bill passes Senate on 20-13 vote

The Senate has voted 20-13 to pass Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher bill.

There are still major differences with the House, which passed its version by a bare minimum 50 votes earlier this week.

The Senate vote came after the chamber rushed to swear in new Republican member Bill Powers (R-Clarksville). Powers voted for the bill despite declaring during the campaign that he opposed vouchers.

It takes 17 votes for bills to pass the chamber.

Trump tweets about Tennessee voucher bill

A tweet from President Donald Trump is something voucher supporters were desperate for in the run-up to yesterday’s House floor vote. As it turned out, the tweet came after the chamber voted 50-48 to pass the contentious measure (but not until after 40 minutes of arm-twisting and cajoling holdouts while the voting board was kept open).

But Trump finally did take to Twitter on the eve of a vote on the Senate version.

Given that the bill is believed to have cleared it’s toughest hurdle in the House, it’s unclear what — if any — effect the presidential tweet will have. But it certainly gives some backing to lawmakers who went out on a limb to vote for a bill opposed by their home school districts.

Voucher bill clears House floor, Senate committee by single vote each

It was a day for close votes for Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher proposal. First, the measure received the bare minimum number of votes in a 6-5 decision by the Senate Finance Committee to send the bill to a full floor vote. Then, House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) had to keep the voting board open for 40 minutes in order to persuade a lone holdout — Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) — to change his vote from no to yes and get the bill the 50 votes it needed to pass.

Here’s your Senate Finance Committee vote in graphical form.

Senators voting yes were, from left, Brian Kelsey, John Stevens, Ferrell Haile, Todd Gardenhire, and Bo Watson. Voting no were Joey Hensley, Ken Yager, Brenda Gilmore, Jeff Yarbro, and Richard Briggs.

Here’s the House vote:

Representatives voting aye were: Baum, Boyd, Carter, Cepicky, Crawford, Curcio, Daniel, DeBerry, Doggett, Dunn, Eldridge, Faison, Farmer, Garrett, Hall, Helton, Hill M, Hill T, Holt, Howell, Hulsey, Hurt, Johnson C, Kumar, Lafferty, Lamberth, Leatherwood, Littleton, Lynn, Marsh, Moon, Ogles, Powers, Ragan, Reedy, Rudd, Rudder, Sanderson, Sexton J, Sherrell, Smith, Sparks, Terry, Tillis, Todd, Van Huss, White, Williams, Zachary, Mr. Speaker Casada — 50.

Representatives voting no were: Beck, Bricken, Byrd, Calfee, Camper, Carr, Chism, Clemmons, Cochran, Coley, Cooper, Dixie, Freeman, Gant, Griffey, Hakeem, Halford, Hardaway, Haston, Hawk, Hazlewood, Hicks, Hodges, Holsclaw, Jernigan, Johnson G, Keisling, Lamar, Love, Miller, Mitchell, Parkinson, Potts, Powell, Ramsey, Russell, Sexton C, Shaw, Staples, Stewart, Thompson, Towns, Travis, Vaughan, Weaver, Whitson, Windle, Wright — 48.

Voters to elect Green successor in state Senate

Tuesday is special election day in state Senate District 22. Voters in Montgomery, Houston, and Stewart counties will decide who will fill the last 18 months of former state Sen. Mark Green’s term in the General Assembly following the Ashland City Republican’s election to Congress.

Update:

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Voucher bill to be dialed back to apply to just Shelby and Davidson

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a Philips event in Nashville on April 2, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

After many twists and turns, Gov. Bill Lee’s expanded school voucher bill is headed for a floor vote in the House this week. And in the Senate, the bill is being dialed back to apply only to the counties encompassing Nashville and Memphis.

The Education Saving Account proposal started out as applying to any district in which three or more schools fell in the bottom 10%. That would have meant Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, and Madison Counties. Several rural lawmakers were worried that the next listing of priority schools could plunge their home districts into the bottom 10% and thus open the floodgates of unwanted vouchers in their home areas, too.

Lee promised a “hold harmless” provision for districts where the ESA program would be made available by creating a fund outside the Basic Education Program formula to reimburse them for the state money that goes away when students leave to take ESAs. That provision was largely abandoned in the House to instead have much of that money flow toward rural districts with priority schools. The Senate appears less enamored by that approach.

The ESA’s themselves have created controversy by allowing parents to spend the $7,300 per year on educational items beyond tuition, including electronic equipment, uniforms, and college savings. Critics worry that that will open the program up to abuse.

Homeschooling was stripped out of the House bill, but remains in the Senate version. Both chambers’ bills would create call for a citizenship test despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring states to provide K-12 education to all students regardless of their immigration status.

The bill is scheduled for a House floor vote on Tuesday and for the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday.