senate

Dispatches from the Senate GOP retreat: Emptying jails, appealing to millenials

Senate State and Local Government Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), left) and Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), attend a hearing on open records exemptions in Nashville on Jan. 30, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessean‘s Joel Ebert trekked out to Crossville to catch up with a gathering of the state Senate Republican Caucus. Members got an update from their campaign consultant, Facebook, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery, and Gov. Bill Lee.

Lee said Republicans need to change “the way we’ve been doing things forever” as it relates to criminal justice in the state. He said he was hopeful for an overhaul.

“Because of y’alls leadership, I think we’re going to get criminal justice reform,” he said, adding: “We can empty our jails in the same way that some other states have done. I know we can do that.”

Political consultant Bonnie Brezina said of the 15 GOP incumbents on the ballot, the toughest race will likely be the re-election campaign of Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville).

I think we need to spend as much as we can to make sure Dickerson stays put,” she said.

Attracting new voters is a major challenge, she said.

“Millennials these days, I mean it’s tough,” she said.  “Changing their mind is just a tough thing to do right now.”

According to the Pew Research Center, the millennial generation refers to anyone born between 1981 and 1996, or those between the ages of 23 and 38 in 2019.

Read Ebert’s full account here.

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.

‘Heartbeat bill’ sent to summer study

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), center, attends an economic development announcement in Nashville. At left is Gov. Bill Lee and on the right is House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal).

The Senate Judiciary Committee has decided to punt on a bill seeking to ban abortions in Tennessee once a fetal heartbeat is detected. The House passed the measure in a floor vote, but the Senate decided not to proceed over concerns about a successful legal challenge.

Here’s what Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) had to say after the committee action on Wednesday:

I fully support the deliberative approach the Judiciary Committee is taking on the Heartbeat Bill. As someone who believes life begins at conception, I support the bill philosophically. But constitutionally, as Tennessee Right to Life points out, the bill is flawed in its current form. Amendment One put the abortion industry on the ropes in Tennessee. We have done all we can to defund Planned Parenthood. We have put in place reasonable restrictions to help prevent abortion. Passing a constitutionally suspect bill now would give the courts an opportunity to erase the progress we have made. And a losing court fight would likely result in awarding taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood. Protection of the unborn is too important to risk taking a step backward. I appreciate the sponsor bringing this legislation. It deserves the best possible chance for success. But that chance can only be achieved by careful study.

Here’s what is in the Senate version of the voucher bill

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

The Senate version of Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher proposal would double the number of students who could participate in the Education Savings Account program to 30,000.

The measure scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday would also dial back the testing requirements for students going to private school.

Instead of requiring the same TCAP test for math and English (but not science or social studies) that is administered to public school students, private schools could give their students a “nationally norm-referenced test” approved by the state Education Department. Examples of those standardized tests include the ACT and PARCC. That’s a provision likely to further outrage public school teachers who have long complained about the state-specific testing regimen.

Just as in the House bill, the program would be capped at 5,000 students in the first year, followed by increments of 2,500 in the next four years. But while the lower chamber’s bill envisions limiting the pilot program at 15,000, the Senate bill would continue to allow the program to grow by 2,500 students each ensuing year until it reaches an enrollment of 30,000.

Homeschooling appears to make a comeback in the Senate bill after being excised from the House version.

Continue reading