Excerpt from an Associated Press report:
Words in state law must be interpreted as having “natural and ordinary meaning” under a bill passed by the Tennessee Senate on Thursday. Critics call it a sneaky way of encouraging state judges to deny rights to same-sex couples and transgender people.
LGBT groups lamented the 23-6 vote and immediately began prodding Republican Gov. Bill Haslam for a veto, but his spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said he is “deferred to the will of the legislature.” The House approved the same legislation last month.
In Washington, 31 Democratic U.S. House members have called for the rejection of Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green as U.S. Army Secretary. But in Nashville, all five Democratic members of the state Senate joined their Republican colleagues in voting for a resolution praising the Clarksville Republican.
Members of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators Thursday denounced a House resolution approved – by subterfuge, they said – that includes language praising Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
The remarks followed a House speech by Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, saying “no offense to the Black Caucus was intended” by his actions and saying he apologized to those offended. Sparks had sponsored a resolution that honored both Forrest and Sampson Keeble, the first black legislator to serve in Tennessee.
But after that measure was scuttled in committee, he won approval on the House “consent calendar” of a separate resolution that some of the same language praising Forrest that was part of the defeated resolution. The second resolution said in its title, or caption, that it honored a Louisiana pastor who also wrote a book on Forrest. An AP story on the House unwittingly praising the controversial Forrest was distributed nationally Wednesday evening. (Previous post HERE.)
The Tennessee Legislature has passed a measure that allows high school students to take American Sign Language and get credit for their foreign language requirements, just as they would for Spanish or French,.
From a brief report by the AP.
Senator Becky Massey, a Republican from Knoxville who sponsored the Senate Bill (SB524), said Tennessee passed a law allowing kids to take ASL for credit back in the early `90s. But Massey said lawmakers never made sure it got implemented. She said the new bill assures that it will.
…Russell Rosen, an assistant professor at the College of Staten Island of the City University of New York, said more than 40 states have passed similar measures.
Note: The bill was sponsored by Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville, in the House. It was approved unanimously in both chambers.
The Senate has given final legislative approval to the “Tennessee High Quality Charter Schools Act,” which authorizes spending up to $6 million in state funds on charter schools. The Senate vote Wednesday was 25-1. The House approved earlier 78-8.
The bill (HB310) would replace Tennessee’s 2002 charter school law.
“This law will ensure Tennessee authorizes high-quality charter schools for years to come,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, one of the sponsors.
The measure was developed by the State Department of Education in an effort to address the often rocky relationships between Tennessee’s 105 charter schools and the districts that oversee them. The overhaul clarifies rules on everything from applications to closure.
Local districts will be able to charge an authorizer fee to cover the cost of charter oversight — something that school systems have sought since the first charter schools opened in the state in 2003.
The bill also establishes a fund of up to $6 million for facilities. That’s a boon to charter organizations that are too cash-strapped to pay rent and maintain their school buildings, said Maya Bugg, CEO of the Tennessee Charter School Center.
“It’s really an equity issue,” Bugg said of the facilities issue. “You have charter schools serving a majority of students of color, low-income, and for them to have this gap in funding, it takes dollars away from those students.”
The proposal had widespread support from the charter sector and from officials with Shelby County Schools, the state’s largest authorizer of charter schools, which has been sorting out many of the issues addressed in the revisions.
The House has unwittingly approved a resolution that touts the achievements of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest after some members thought that idea had been killed in a committee, reports the Associated Press.
Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, an African-American, says state Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, “pulled a fast one” in getting HR97 approved by the House on a unanimous “consent calendar” vote on April 13. That was two days after HJR92, his original resolution, died in the House State Government Committee.
The first resolution jointly honored Forrest and Sampson Keeble, Tennessee’s first black state legislator. The portion honoring Forrest was deleted by Sparks during the committee hearing, but the panel still blocked approving the portion praising Keeble with Shaw, a leading critic, saying Sparks should return next year with a “clean resolution” dealing only with Keeble. (Previous post HERE.)
Sparks incorporated some of the same language on Forrest into the second resolution, which is dedicated to honoring Shane Kastler, pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La., and author of the book, Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Redemption, which recounts how the former slave trader “advocated for black civil rights” late in life.
“He pulled a fast one,” Shaw said. “I don’t think I owe any recognition to Mr. Forrest at all. If I could take my vote back, I would.”
Sparks was unapologetic for his colleagues not knowing about the content of his resolution before they voted on it.
“Well, whose fault is that?” he said. “I can’t speak on 1,500 bills and a myriad of resolutions that come up here.”
Sparks said his resolution doesn’t hide Forrest’s leadership of the Klan or that he earned his fortune before the Civil War as a slave trader. But Sparks said that later in life, Forrest renounced the Klan, “became a Christian and stood up for African-Americans.”
Forrest supporters point to his speech before the all black “Jubilee of Pole Bearers” in Memphis in 1875 where he spoke of putting black citizens into jobs at law offices, stores and farms and gave a black woman a kiss on the cheek, which was forbidden back then.
Note: There’s a format difference between the two resolutions. The first was a House joint resolution, which means it was initiated in the House with the intent of being forwarded to the Senate for approval there as well. The second is just a House resolution, meaning it does not go to the Senate and stands alone with House-only approval.
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law the “IMPROVE Act,” including increases in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, on Wednesday — just two days after it gained final legislative approval, according to the governor’s press secretary, Jennifer Donnals.
That’s rapid processing, both for the legislative staff and the governor’s office. Often it takes a week or so for a bill to go through the “engrossing” process and other steps in formal requirements for presentation of a bill in final version to the governor. And then the governor has 10 days (counting Saturdays, but not Sundays), once a bill reaches his desk, to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
Presumably, the governor and legislative leaders simply wanted the process complete as they move to wrap up work on the state budget in the coming week or two. Action on the budget has been delayed this year – last year, the legislative session ended on April 20th – because several budget provisions hinged on whether or not the IMPROVE Act was approved or not.
In an email to media, Donnals says a more ballyhooed “ceremonial signing” will be scheduled at a later date. That will give legislative leaders and other dignitaries a chance to watch (and perhaps make speeches) as the governor goes through the motions of signing again a bill that has already become law.
This year’s leading school voucher bill, declared a “pilot project” that would apply only in Shelby County, died quietly in the House Budget Subcommittee Wednesday.
Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, sponsor of HB126, officially put off further consideration until next year in the Budget Subcommittee. Voucher bills have failed repeatedly in the past six years and proponents had hoped that narrowing this year’s version to just Shelby County would change the tradition.
The state will provide $11.8 million to TVA to keep the Ocoee River rafting industry afloat for the next 20 years under the newly-revised version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s state budget for the coming fiscal year, reports the Times-Free Press.
The state money will reimburse TVA for the cost of power lost when the Polk County river flows freely during the spring, summer and early fall, allowing whitewater rafting operations. Otherwise, TVA diverts the river flow into a plume for electric power generation.
“It’s a huge win for Southeast Tennessee,” said Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who along with Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, have been working with the whitewater industry and their representatives, Haslam, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, TVA, the U.S. Forest Service and others to come to an agreement.
Bell and Howell have legislation (HB74) moving in the General Assembly to create a new type of water authority, the Ocoee River Recreation and Economic Development Fund, to support recreational water releases on the Ocoee.
The new entity would be overseen by an 11-member board and all fees currently paid by whitewater rafting customers to TVA would go into the fund.
Note: TVA now receives funds to repay for loss of power generation through a fee tacked onto each ticket sold by rafting operations, but an agreement on the matter expires in 2018. Under the new deal, TVA gets its money up front, the new development fund gets the fees (expected to be about $4 per ticket) and repays the state over a period of years.
News release from House Democratic Caucus
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee House of Representatives has voted to make TBI investigative records around officer-involved shooting deaths public. Last week, the Tennessee Senate approved the bill unanimously. Senate Bill 1039 and House Bill 277 is sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, and Representative G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis.