Here’s a look at income limits for Lee’s school voucher proposal

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to provide vouchers to cover private school tuition through education savings accounts, or ESAs, would limit eligibility to families earning double the maximum family income to qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. That school lunch program is pegged to 185% of federal poverty guidelines.

Eligibility for the ESA program would be limited to families living within counties with at least three schools in the bottom 10% — but actual attendance in a failing school would not be required to qualify.

A household is defined as the total number of parents and children in the family. Here’s a look at what those limits would be under the proposal headed for its first House subcommittee hearing this week:

Household size Federal poverty guidelines Reduced Price Meals—185% Tennessee ESA proposal
2  $     16,460  $     30,451  $     60,902
3  $     20,780  $     38,443  $     76,886
4  $     25,100  $     46,435  $     92,870
5  $     29,420  $     54,427  $   108,854
6  $     33,740  $     62,419  $   124,838
7  $     38,060  $     70,411  $   140,822
8  $     42,380  $     78,403  $   156,806

UT plans to create tuition-free program for families making less than $50,000

UT Interim President Randy Boyd gives the State of the University Address at the Nashville Public Library. (Photo credit: University of Tennessee)

Interim University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd is introducing a free tuition program for students from households earning less than $50,000 per year, which is just above federal poverty guidelines for a family of four.

Students must qualify for lottery scholarships to be eligible for the program. The initiative seeks to emulate the popular Tennessee Promise scholarships for community college students, though that program doesn’t set income limits or academic requirements.

Here’s the full release from the University of Tennessee:

NASHVILLE – University of Tennessee Interim President Randy Boyd has announced the creation of “UT Promise,” a financial aid program that will provide free tuition to qualifying Tennessee residents enrolling at University of Tennessee campuses located in Knoxville, Chattanooga and Martin. 

The announcement was made at the annual State of UT Address held at the Nashville Public Library.

“It is critically important that we take a lead role in ensuring students can achieve their dream of obtaining an undergraduate college degree,” Boyd said. “It is our mission and responsibility to do everything  we can to ease the financial burden for our middle- and working-class families, and UT Promise is an ideal conduit to achieve that.”

UT Promise is a last-dollar scholarship program that will guarantee free tuition and fees for students with a family household income of under $50,000 and after other financial aid is received (such as Pell Grants, HOPE Scholarship, or other institutional scholarships).  Students must qualify for the Hope Scholarship and meet the academic qualifications for the institution to be eligible for this new scholarship. To help ensure success, students will be matched with volunteer mentors and will complete four hours of service learning each semester.  

UT Promise will welcome its first class in the fall of 2020, and the scholarship program will include those students who were previously enrolled in college when the program begins in 2020.  Qualifying Tennessee residents who meet the criteria for UT Promise can transfer from any institution. UT Promise is an expansion of scholarship offerings and does not replace existing scholarships.

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Pre-meetings flourish in Tennessee House

The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert seeks good answers to the question of why lawmakers see the need to hold pre-meetings before their regularly scheduled (and live-streamed) meetings. Spoiler alert: There are none.

The pre-meetings are held in hard-to-find — and often changing — locations, with schedules buried in obscure sections of the legislative website. Conference rooms are packed with lawmakers and lobbyists and usually include few members of the public.

From Ebert’s fine report:

Technically, no votes are taken in pre-meetings — that’s what the committee meetings are for. But as some bills are considered in committees, it is clear lawmakers have a sense of the measure’s fate even before a vote.

This year, the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee found several instances of lawmakers counting or influencing members’ votes on legislation.

When Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, presented a bill on March 5, he was told a poll of members would be conducted before the legislation would go before the House State Committee.

“Out of respect for you, of course, I’m going to take time between now and over the next 90 minutes here to try to get a poll here,” (Chairman Kelly) Keisling said.

Bill would target landlords of people in U.S. without authorization

The House is advancing legislation targeting landlords who rent to people without proper authorization to be in the country, the AP’s Jonathan Mattise reports. 

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) who saw the defeat of another one of his measures seeking to help fund President Donald Trump’s border wall through fees charged on international money transfers from people in Tennessee who can’t present a driver’s license.

The landlord vote advanced out of the House Business Subcommittee on a 5-1 vote. It now heads to the full Commerce Committee.

Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director at Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, condemned the legislation.

“Representative Griffey’s despicable bill seeks to strip the most basic of human needs from hardworking Tennesseans– the roof over their heads.,” she said in a release. “The bill puts thousands of children at risk of homelessness and harm,  and detrimentally affects their health and their ability to get an education.”

Club for Growth launches website targeting Haslam

Gov. Bill Haslam gives his farewell address before the inauguration ceremony for Gov. Bill Lee in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Club for Growth, a conservative Super PAC, is taking aim at former Gov. Bill Haslam’s potential candidacy for the U.S. Senate. The Knoxville Republican is expected to make a decision about whether to run this spring.

The group has expressed support for U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-Ashland City) to jump into the race to succeed Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) next year. Club for Growth agitated on Republican Marsha Blackburn’s behalf in her successful bid for the Senate last year.

“Deciding to run for the United States Senate would be different than deciding if I am going to go work for this bank or that insurance company or whatever,” Haslam said a Freed-Hardeman University forum last week.  “At the end of the day, for all of us, it’s about where can we be the most useful. Where can our gifts and the world’s needs intersect.”

The Club for Growth ad and the related DirtyBillHaslam.com website take aim over the scandal at the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain controlled by the former governor and his family.

“Governor, don’t run,” Club for Growth Action President David McIntosh said in a release. “You have a legacy as governor and clearly don’t have the fire in the belly nor desire to serve in the U.S. Senate.”

Lee signs executive order in response to February flooding

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has signed an executive order in response to widespread flooding, beginning the process for seeking a federal disaster declaration in the affected counties.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE — Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order enabling further recovery efforts and beginning the process for declaring a federal disaster after record rains in February caused statewide damage.

“As waters recede and we are now able to fully review the extent of flooding damage across our state, I signed an executive order as a key step in working with the federal government for further recovery efforts,” said Lee. “We thank the first responders who are working diligently to keep citizens safe and deliver services.”

Currently, 83 counties have reported damage. The Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) have been coordinating with local authorities to collect the necessary data for further recovery efforts.

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Report: House payroll grows under Casada

The Tennessean’s Joel Ebert reports that new House Speaker Glen Casada has increased payroll costs in the lower chamber of the General Assembly, compared with his predecessor (a fellow Republican), in large part due to salary hikes for existing staffers and the hiring of more personnel.

Ebert’s analysis shows Casada presides over a $5.1 million payroll for employees in his office, House leadership, and committees. Last year at this time, that payroll stood at $3.8 million. Casada’s office says much of that change is due to reclassification of House employees.

That may not be the last of the increased spending: The General Assembly is in line to receive a $7 million budget increase under Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s annual spending plan introduced this week.

Casada said  House employees have been “under-compensated for the last several years.”

“With our new House leadership team in place, we are modernizing operations to fulfill our constitutional responsibilities to represent constituents effectively, and to craft and enact laws that provide solutions and meet the needs of our state,” he told the newspaper.

Salaries for the eight staffers in the speaker’s office this year total nearly $942,000. Last year, the five employees in then-House Speaker Beth Harwell’s office earned $545,000.

Read the full story here.

 

 

Here are Gov. Lee’s proposed raises for state employees

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here’s a look at the $157 million in state employee raises Republican Gov. Bill Lee is proposing for the upcoming budget year:

1. State Employees Salary Pool:

a. 2% Salary Pool – Pay for performance – TEAM Act agencies: $28.8 million (effective 1/1/2020).
b. 2% Salary Pool – Across the board – Non-TEAM Act agencies: $6.7 million (effective 7/1/2019).
c. Market rate adjustment: $18.5 million. 

2. Higher Education Included in Funding Formula:

a. 2% Salary Pool – Formula Units: $22 million. 
b. 2% Salary Pool – Non-Formula Units: $8.5 million

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Did Lee’s State of the State speech set a modern record at 57 minutes?

Senate Finance Chairman Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga) and others check their watches awaiting the time for Gov. Bill Lee, right, to enter the House chamber to deliver his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address clocked in at 57 minutes last night, leading to speculation about whether it set a record for length. Our deep-dive into the newspaper archives doesn’t provide a conclusive answer, but most examples we found have been much shorter.

Frank Clement, who was governor for 10 years in the 1950s and 1960s, is best-known for an evangelical oratorical style that culminated in his keynote address to Democratic presidential convention in 1956, which he punctuated with the phrase “How long, America, O how long?” The audience loved it, but the speech was panned by pundits. And the 43-minute speech came to be seen as ending Clement’s national political aspirations.

Clement’s State of the State addresses (which were then delivered to the Tennessee Press Association’s annual convention) tended to run between 1,500 and 2,000 words, or about 12 to 15 minutes, as prepared. Ad libs and asides would cause those speeches to expand to about 20 to 35 minutes on delivery.

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Here is your State of the State gallery

Here is a gallery of photos from Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address on Monday evening.

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) takes a selfie with colleagues and Gov. Bill Lee before the start of the State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee awaits his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee walks up the stairs to deliver his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee and legislators wait to enter the House chamber for the State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Finance Chairman Bo Watson (R-Chattanooga) and others check their watches awaiting the time for Gov. Bill Lee, right, to enter the House chamber to deliver his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House and Senate leaders read along to Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bobby Rolfe and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn applaud Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) makes an announcement before Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Clerk Russell Humphrey, left, helps fix a microphone for Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), center, and House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) before Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, right, and Deputy to the Governor Lang Wiseman confer before Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) awaits Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) confers with colleagues before Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) checks his phone as he awaits the joint convention to hear Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)