Tennessee

Education
10:33 am
Wed February 27, 2013

Tennessee Voucher Bill Advances, Poll Shows Support for Expanding Medicaid in Volunteer State

Tennessee lawmakers raised several reservations but ultimately passed Governor Bill Haslam’s school voucher program in its first test.

Two members of the House Education Subcommittee voted no, including one Republican. The former school superintendent says he doesn’t believe public money should be diverted to private schools.

Democrat Joe Pitts of Clarksville voted no after asking if private schools would be forced to still provide a free lunch. Only poor students could qualify for vouchers under the plan.

“I’m just really concerned that we’re targeting that at-risk population, but we’re really not doing anything else to supply that basic human need, which is food,” said Pitts.

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Politics
10:52 am
Tue February 26, 2013

Tennessee AG: Bills Blocking Federal Gun Laws Unconstitutional

Bills in the Tennessee legislature that attempt to block the enforcement of federal gun laws in the state are unconstitutional, according to a just-released opinion from the state’s top lawyer.

The Tennessee Attorney General memo says the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause trumps state statutes, making it unlawful to nullify firearms laws made on the national level. He goes on to say the state legislature also can’t take a backdoor route and criminalize the enforcement of gun laws in Tennessee, which is exactly what a bill from Senator Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet does.

“I think he has an opinion just like the rest of us have an opinion,” says Beavers.

She says she will continue to push her legislation anyway, arguing that the Tenth Amendment gives states the right to govern themselves.

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Regional
8:19 am
Tue February 26, 2013

Tennessee Treasurer Wants State to Move to Hybrid Pension Plan

A new retirement system being contemplated by the Tennessee legislature would require new state employees and school teachers to potentially work more years. And their guaranteed money would be cut by roughly a third.

State Treasurer David Lillard says change is necessary because any new hires are adding to the state pension’s unfunded deficit. His plan would move to what’s known as a hybrid pension system, which has been adopted in states like Georgia and Virginia. It shifts more of the responsibility of saving for retirement to individuals in an effort to decrease the state’s exposure to volatility in the stock market.

However, the new retirement plan would include some guaranteed money, which Lillard says is important.

“We do believe that in order to get an employee a much better opportunity to have a truly sufficient benefit, you need a floor, basically,” says the Tennessee Treasurer.

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Education
4:40 pm
Mon February 25, 2013

Tennessee Has Biggest Improvement in High School Graduation Rate in Nation

A new report shows Tennessee with the fastest-improving high school graduation rate in the nation. The Tennessean reports Volunteer State education leaders hope to reach the 90 percent diploma threshold by 2020.

The report shows the Tennessee high school graduation rate has improved by 6.5 percentage points since 2001, with an average annual growth rate of 1.25 points between 2006 and 2010. During that time period, Tennessee improved at nearly double the national rate.

The report is the combined effort of the groups Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center, America’s Promise Alliance, and the Alliance for Excellent Education.

In Tennessee, 80 percent of high school freshman say in school and graduate as seniors. That’s better than the national average of 78.2 percent.

Nationally, 200,000 more students received high school diplomas than in 2006, a trend driven by big gains in African-American and Hispanic graduation rates.

Politics
8:12 am
Sat February 23, 2013

Haslam Says GOP Must Do Better Job of Selling Economic Message

Gov. Bill Haslam (R-TN)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says Republican losses at the polls last fall were mostly due to poor messaging and problems with mobilization on the ground. He also believes comprehensive immigration reform would be a big boost to the nation's economy.

Speaking at the winter meeting of the Republican Governor's Association in Washington, D.C., Haslam told Politico Republicans lost the argument with President Obama over whether wealthier Americans should pay more in taxes, and the impact that would have on the overall U.S. economy.

The Tennessee Republican says his party needs to do a better job of convincing the American public of the problems created by the country's debt.

“The one message we haven’t gotten by is, we’re not doing any favors by continuing to pass the debt on down, and we have not done a good job for whatever reason of explaining it,” Haslam told Politico.

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Health
9:12 am
Fri February 22, 2013

Tenneseee DCS Leader: Questions Remain over Children Deaths, but Improvements Being Made

The interim commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services says the agency remains unable to give an accounting of how many children died while under its care. The DCS has been the focus of scrutiny for months over how it kept records in the cases of children who later died.

More than 200 Tennessee children lost their lives or nearly died since 2009 after having some contact with the agency. The DCS has refused to release records related to the cases of the children who died, which led to a lawsuit by several media organizations.

In an interview with The Tennessean, Department of Children’s Services interim commissioner Jim Henry said the $27 million computer system the DCS has used to track children under its care appears to be improving. Henry has said he has full confidence that agency staff will make fixes.

Former DCS commissioner Kate O’Day stepped down earlier this month after the agency came under intense criticism from lawmakers and Governor Bill Haslam.

Health
1:34 pm
Thu February 21, 2013

Tennessee Governor Remains Uncomitted on Medicaid Expansion

Lawmakers in Tennessee are watching Florida closely after the state’s conservative Republican governor went along with a major piece of the Affordable Care Act. Governor Bill Haslam is still on the fence about expanding the state’s Medicaid program – known as TennCare.

For the first three years, the federal government would pay the entire cost of insuring thousands of new TennCare recipients.

In Florida, Governor Rick Scott said he could not “in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care.” Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says having such a conservative leading the way could provide “cover” to lawmakers. But Governor Haslam would still have to sell an expansion, Ramsey says.

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Politics
8:07 am
Thu February 21, 2013

Politico: Tennessee Gov. Haslam is the "GOP Star You've Never Heard Of"

Gov. Bill Haslam (R-TN)

WKU Public Radio listeners certainly have heard of Tennesee Gov. Bill Haslam. The 54-year-old Republican from Knoxville has signed into law numerous conservative measures, including tort reform, charter school expansion, and an overhaul of the state's civil service.

But in an online profile, Politico describes Haslam as someone who has largely flown under the national radar, despite putting together "one of the most extensive conservative governing records in the country."

The article says other GOP governors could learn a lot from Haslam this week as the National Governors Association meets in Washington.

Education
9:12 am
Wed February 20, 2013

Effort to Create New Authority for Tennessee Charter Schools Delayed

A bill to create an authorizing body for charter schools in Tennessee has been delayed. The sponsor now says he’s listening to critics, who say the legislation unfairly singles out Nashville and Memphis.

As written, the bill would give charter schools a way to open in Tennessee’s two largest urban areas without asking the school board – officially known as the local education authority or LEA. 

Rep. Mark White is the sponsor and says he could be on-board with a true statewide charter authorizer if local school boards do the initial vetting.

“If we go back to the LEAs – letting them have first input on this – this will be a statewide application,” said Rep. White.

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Politics
2:10 pm
Thu February 14, 2013

Confusion Reigns in Tennessee Over Employer Limits in "Guns-in-Trunks" Bill

There is confusion among the sponsors of so-called ‘Guns-in-Trunks’ legislation in Tennessee.  They disagree on whether employers could fire a worker for keeping a gun in their car at the company parking lot, even though it could soon be legal.

During a hearing in the House, Rep. Jeremy Faison said he believed a business owner could still terminate someone storing a weapon in a vehicle.

The legislation doesn’t specifically address the issue, but Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he believes gun-carrying employees will be safe from their bosses.

“I feel confident that if they fired someone and they said that was the reason, that employer would be in for a lawsuit and he would lose," says Ramsey.

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