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The Tennnessee House GOP Review

The House GOP Review is a weekly feature that gives Tennesseans an in-depth look at what our Republican state legislators have been working on this week, and a glimpse into what’s planned for the coming week at our state house. This week’s highlights:

  • Charter Schools
  • SJR 127 (Abortion)
  • Gun rights
  • State Sovereignty

Legislation to expand charter schools moves out of K-12 Education Subcommittee

After dedicating several subcommittee meetings to the discussion of charter school legislation, the K-12 Education Subcommittee moved House Bill 2146 to the full Education Committee, where it will be presented next week. The subcommittee discussed at length this week the pros and cons of expanding eligibility to charter schools. In addition to expanding eligibility to more students, the legislation clarifies funding and addresses rules for renewal of the public charter schools. Tennessee currently has one of the most restrictive public charter school laws in the nation.

Charter schools are public schools that are given flexibility to operate without the constraints of some of the rules and regulations normally imposed on traditional schools. In exchange for this flexibility, they are held accountable for performance through a charter, which is an agreement between the local education agency (LEA) and the charter school. It requires a strenuous approval process by the LEA and an equally tough renewal process of the charter every five years. Many of the speakers that testified before the committee praised Tennessee’s stringent accountability measures, that ensure the schools are performing well.

A report released last year by Tennessee’s Comptroller’s Office titled “Tennessee’s Charter Schools: Issues of Innovation and Sustainability,” found student eligibility restrictions and limited facilities funding may compromise the long-term viability of individual charter schools and recommended many of the changes included in the bill. The report recommended that the General Assembly consider making eligibility for charter school enrollment less restrictive and consider more precisely defining state and local charter school facilities funding responsibilities. In addition, the report recommended that the state should also identify charter schools’ best practices and implement a system for disseminating that information to traditional schools. Tennessee now has 15 public charter schools, with six more opening in the fall. Of those 22 schools, Nashville will have five, Chattanooga will have two, and Memphis will have 15. The Memphis City School System also is converting four schools to charters this fall.

Pro-life measure makes historic trip to the House floor

Senate Joint Resolution 127 continues its historic journey through the House, having never made it beyond the Public Health Subcommittee until this year. In previous years, Democrats have blocked the constitutional amendment in the subcommittee, a move that Republicans argued subverted the right of the people to vote on the measure. This week, the amendment cleared  the Finance, Ways and Means Committee after Secretary of State Tre Hargett stated in a memo that his office will absorb the cost within their existing budget so that the legislature does not have to allocate funds in a time of budget shortfall. On Thursday, SJR 127 moved out of the Calendar and Rules Committee, and is scheduled for a floor vote in the House on Monday evening.

The constitutional amendment is in response to the 2001 Tennessee Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood vs Sundquist, when the court created a right to unregulated abortion. The decision also prohibited the Tennessee legislature from enacting regulations governing abortions, arguably making Tennessee the most liberal in the nation with regards to abortion laws.

The provision has already passed the Senate with a 24-8 vote. If passed this year by the 106th General Assembly by a simple majority, it must pass the 107th General Assembly by two-thirds before appearing on the ballot in 2014.

Legislation to protect lawful gun owners approved by House

After hours of debate in various committees, legislation to protect lawful gun owners passed with little discussion on the House floor Monday night. House Bill 959 will exempt the handgun carry permit list from the Open Records Act, but will carry no penalty for entities that do publish the list due to concerns about First Amendment violations.

Tennesseans became outraged when the Commercial Appeal, a Memphis-based newspaper, published the handgun carry permit database in an easily searchable format on their website. Republicans criticized the paper, calling the action ‘irresponsible’ and ‘dangerous.’ The House GOP contended that in addition to printing a list that would make it easier for criminals to steal weapons, non-gun owners were also at risk because it would be easy for criminals to use the database to find homes that likely did not have a firearm.

The Senate companion bill has cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is headed to the Senate floor for a vote.

Resolution to reclaim state sovereignty is discussed in Civil Practice subcommittee

As the federal government continues to assert dominance over state budgetary issues, a growing number of states are attempting to pass resolutions reclaiming their state sovereignty. The House took the first step in approving such a resolution, House Joint Resolution 108, with the Civil Practice and Procedure Subcommittee overwhelmingly passing the Republican-sponsored measure.

The Senate has already approved another version, Senate Joint Resolution 311, with a unanimous vote. Republicans say the resolutions are designed to send Congress a message that the federal government continues to disregard the clear and concise constitutional powers granted to them with regard to the states. The resolutions point out that it was the states that granted certain limited power to the federal government, not the other way around. Republicans argue that currently, states are treated as agents of the federal government.

The House version will face the full House Judiciary Committee next week.

In case you missed it…

  • House Bill 2357, a measure proposed by House Republicans to save the legislature money, passed the House unanimously this week. The bill has already passed the Senate, and is now on its way to the Governor’s desk. The legislation would eliminate the Legislative Record, a weekly printed book that contains a summary of every bill filed, since the Record is available in a more accurate, up-to-date format on the legislature’s website. The bill allows for only one book to be published at the end of the year, potentially saving the legislature roughly $90,000.
  • The Republican-sponsored “Education Pays” proposal passed unanimously on the House floor Monday night. “Education Pays” seeks to encourage student academic achievement through awarding cash rewards. An “Education Pays reward” is a reward of cash or other thing of value given to students or the parent or guardian of a student or both in recognition of academic achievement. The bill authorizes funding of an Education Pays pilot program through private funds.
  • House Bill 431 was passed by the House this week, and seeks to expand the recognition of homeschoolers’ diplomas. The bill requires that diplomas issued by home schools be recognized by all state and local governmental entities as having the same rights and privileges of diplomas issued by public school systems. Debate over the bill raged on the House floor for over an hour, after which a motion was made that the Calendar and Rules Committee would set a time to limit debate. After holding a brief committee meeting during a recess on the House floor, House Bill 431 eventually passed with a 61-27 vote.

The week ahead…

HOUSE SESSION 4:00 p.m.May 11, 2009 House Chambers
HOUSE SESSION 9:00 a.m.May 14, 2009 House Chambers
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Committee or Subcommittee Time Room Number
Calendar & Rules Committee 8:00 a.m. Legislative Plaza 16
Commerce Committee 9:00 a.m. Legislative Plaza 16
Agriculture Committee 9:00 a.m. Legislative Plaza 29
Health & Human Resources Committee 11:00 a.m. Legislative Plaza 16
Conservation & Environment Committee 11:00 a.m. Legislative Plaza 29
Finance, Ways & Means Committee 1:30 p.m. Legislative Plaza 16
State & Local Government Committee 3:00 p.m. Legislative Plaza 16
Government Operations Committee 3:00 p.m. Legislative Plaza 29
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Committee or Subcommittee Time Room Number
Calendar & Rules (TBA) 8:00 a.m. Legislative Plaza 16
Children & Family Affairs Committee 8:30 a.m. Legislative Plaza 16
Judiciary Committee 8:30 a.m. Legislative Plaza 31
Education Committee 11:00 a.m. Legislative Plaza 16
Budget Subcommittee 11:00 a.m. Legislative Plaza 29
Transportation 1:30 p.m. Legislative Plaza 16
Consumer & Employee Affairs 1:30 p.m. Legislative Plaza 30
Education Committee (continued) 2:30 p.m. Legislative Plaza 16
Judiciary Committee (continued) 2:30 p.m. Legislative Plaza 31
Bill Larson
Bill Larson
Bill Larson is  is politically and socially active in the community. Bill is a member of the Friends of Dunbar Cave. You can reach him via telephone at 931-249-0043 or via the email address below.

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