|General Assembly ends with flurry of activity
|Posted: Sunday, May 6, 2012 5:20 am
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|Originally, Tennessee legislators hoped to complete business by Monday, but by 10 p.m., that night the House of Representatives still had over 45 bills to consider on its agenda.
The Senate had recessed earlier in the day. So, both chambers recessed on the last day of April and re-opened on the first day of May for the final day of the second session of the 107th General Assembly.
Members of the media speculated what would come first – the sunset or the close of session on Tuesday. The final the close of session won, with final gavels dropping shortly after 6 p.m.
Thus ended what many are calling “the session of social issues,” when one considers that legislation concerning the Ten Commandments, evolution, guns-in-trunks, “gateway sexual activity,” Vanderbilt University’s “all-comers” policy and abortion seemed to dominate discussions, debates and headlines since January.
Still, despite the late hour on Monday, legislators managed to send the $31.1 billion state budget to Gov. Bill Haslam’s office for his signature. The comprised legislation passed the House by a vote of 64-28, followed by the Senate’s 31-2 vote shortly thereafter. Every Democrat, except for Rep. Gary Odom of Nashville, voted against the budget.
Bill to slash HOPE scholarships dies
Despite passing the Senate, the House sponsor of a controversial bill that would have slashed HOPE scholarships in half for about 5,000 students took the bill off notice Monday in the House Budget Subcommittee.
Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) initiated and sponsored the bill, saying the move was needed because the state had dipped into the lottery’s $300 million-plus reserve for several years.
If it had passed, the bill would have reduced the $4,000 award by 50 percent to $2,000 for those students who do not achieve a 3.0 GPA and a 21 ACT score beginning with the 2015-16 school year.
However, after it was announced that this year’s lottery proceeds were exceeding estimates by $10 million so far this budget year, Gresham added a requirement that the Lottery fund must grow each year over the previous year, and if it did not, the proposed reductions in scholarship amounts would kicked-in.
However, the House sponsor, Rep. Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville) took it off notice, saying, “I think the thought is we don’t need to do it right now.”
Ketron’s charter schools bill to become law without governor’s signature
On Wednesday, Haslam announced that he will let Sen. Bill Ketron’s bill known as “Putting Tennessee First Act” regarding charter schools become law without his signature.
The legislation caps the percentage of workers who can be recruited from overseas, except for foreign language teachers. Ketron, a Republican from Murfreesboro, tod the Senate during discussion about the measure that the cap is permissive, but only after the charter school has exhausted its efforts to recruit Tennessee teachers.
In both chambers, questions arose about the severability clause, as well as the message the bill sends to foreign companies looking to invest in Tennessee.
In a press release, Haslam said that while he questions the constitutionality of the legislation, changes made late in the session eased some of his concerns.
Still, Haslam said he will seek a formal legal opinion from the State Attorney General.
Haslam vetos ‘all-comers policy’ bill
Also on Wednesday, Haslam said he intended to issue his first veto and kill legislation that would rescind Vanderbilt University’s “all-comers policy” that requires school organizations to allow any student join and run for office.
The legislation started out applying only to public institutions of higher education, but an amendment added a clause that it applied to any private school receiving $24 million or more in state funding. Essentially, the amendment singled out Vanderbilt.
In a press release, Haslam said that “while I don’t agree with Vanderbilt’s policy, as someone who strongly believes in limited government, I think it is inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution.”
The governor said he didn’t object to other parts of the bill that ban Tennessee’s public colleges and universities from implementing a policy similar to Vanderbilt’s, which they currently do not do.
Monday afternoon, the Senate approved its version of the bill 19-12, while Monday night, the House approved the measure by a vote of 61-22.
Coming next week: A capsule of key legislation that passed during the second session of the 107th General Assembly.