Tennessee

For-profit charter schools have been trying to make inroads in Tennessee. But a bill allowing investor-owned firms to manage day-to-day operations has been rejected in the Senate Education Committee.

The Volunteer State has required charter schools to be run by non-profits, even though the legislature has been friendly to for-profits in other fields such as virtual education.

Republican Joey Hensley of Hohenwald says the state is already moving to increase the number of charter schools.

“Then turning around and opening it up to for-profit companies to begin coming in, I don’t know if it’s good or bad but it’s a little bit concerning to me,” said Hensley.

The bill failed, with most of the committee’s GOP members refusing to vote.

Tennessee is not exactly saying “yes” to expanding the state’s Medicaid program – known as TennCare. But it’s not saying “no” either.

Governor Bill Haslam made the announcement this morning to a joint assembly of the legislature, telling lawmakers he’s been working toward a “third option.”

“To leverage the federal dollars available to our state to transform health care in Tennessee without expanding our TennCare rolls," said the Republican Governor.

Haslam says he’d like to use the federal money to buy private health insurance for Tennesseans who have no other way to get it.

Some state lawmakers believe the Tennessee General Assembly may have gone too far with cost-cutting when it wiped out oversight committees looking out for children.

Governor Bill Haslam was asked whether he supports a push by Democrats to reestablish the panel that looked over the troubled Department of Children’s Services.

“You can’t have 133 bosses. That doesn’t work. But having said that, there is a legitimate role for legislative oversight, and we’d love to be a part of that conversation about what that should look like going forward," said the Governor.

Haslam says the debate should be about more than DCS.

The sponsor of legislation that was competing with Gov. Bill Haslam's to create a school voucher program withdrew her bill on Wednesday after proponents of a broader program decided they want to focus on the governor's plan.

The measure withdrawn by Sen. Dolores Gresham from the Senate Education Committee sought to increase the income limit for eligibility to about $75,000 for a family of four, up quite a bit from the $42,643 envisioned by the Republican governor.

The bill also had no limitation on growth, where Haslam proposes to limit the program to 5,000 students in failing schools in the academic year that begins in August, and grow to 20,000 by 2016.

Gresham, a Somerville Republican and chair of the committee, didn't give a reason for withdrawing the bill but told reporters after the hearing that she may bring it up again before the end of the session.

A Tennessee panel that could authorize charter schools to open anywhere in the state is moving forward against the objections of Democrats and a few rural Republicans.

The proposal would require that charter applicants first ask the local school board for permission to open a publicly funded, privately run school. If the answer is no, they could go to the new independent state panel that would have the final say-so.

Rep. Curtis Halford is a Republican from west Tennessee, where there are no charter schools at this point. He spoke against the state authorizer in a House committee.

“Is it just kind of like if you don’t get the answer you want from mom you go to dad?,” asked Halford.

Opponents of expanding TennCare as envisioned in the Affordable Care Act say the country can’t afford to add to the national debt. But hospitals in Tennessee are pushing back, saying the money amounts to just seven-thousandths of one percent of the country’s red ink.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Wright Pinson held up a sheet of paper with a pin dot in the middle, representing the potential savings for no expansion compared to the country’s $16 trillion debt.

“I think that you would agree that weighing all of the conflicting politics and data, the health and welfare of the citizens of Tennessee far outweigh this dot,” Pinson said.

The federal government would cover 100 percent of the costs in the first three years. Pinson says the state should take the money and worry about the future later.

Tennesseans could be a bit more discreet about carrying a handgun under a bill approved in the state House last night. The legislation would close carry permit records to the public.

The bill gives just one exception. If someone is suspected of being a felon or illegal alien – precluded from having a carry permit – the person’s information could be released. But there has to be some sort of evidence to show the Tennessee Department of Safety in the form of a government document, such as a warrant or a restraining order.  

“Yes or no – basically – as to whether they have a carry permit,” said bill sponsor Rep. William Lamberth.

His bill is supported by the Tennessee Firearms Association, which wants to take down an online database. The Commercial Appeal newspaper has a searchable list of the names, birth years and zip codes of the state’s nearly 400,000 permit holders.

A Republican-led push to use college IDs to vote in Tennessee was held up on the floor of the state Senate Thursday, as a disagreement has broken out between GOP lawmakers over the issue.

The legislation comes from a Rutherford County lawmaker, home to the largest undergraduate student body in the state. And while Senator Bill Ketron refused to accept student IDs when the law was passed two years ago, he’s now had a change of heart.

Senator Stacy Campfield of Knoxville has not.

“You know, I hate to say it, but possibly in my younger days I may have known a person or two who had a falsified college ID,” said Campfield.

Airports in Nashville and Memphis will soon offer the Transportation Security Administration’s pre-check program.  

According to the TSA, the program allows passengers traveling on Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways to participate in expedited screening. Advantages include being able to leave on shoes, light outerwear and belts, not having to remove laptops from their cases and leaving liquid or gel bags in carry-ons.

Eligible passengers include U.S. citizens who have opted-in through a participating airline and members of one of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Trusted Traveler programs. 

Pre-check should be available in Nashville by April 1st.

Opponents of a Vanderbilt University policy banning discrimination in student groups want to enact a law to strip the private school of its police powers if it doesn't change its ways.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Mae Beaver of Mt. Juliet and fellow Republican Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon was the subject of competing press conferences at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville on Tuesday.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam last year vetoed a bill to do away with Vanderbilt's "all comers" policy, which requires student groups at the school to allow any interested students to join and run for office. Religious groups argue the policy forces them to accept students who don't share their beliefs.

Haslam said he disagrees with Vanderbilt's policy, but opposes targeting a private institution.

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