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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:

  • Abortion
  • Charter Schools

Pro-life measure reaches House floor for first time; 106th General Assembly overwhelmingly approves

The State House of Representatives took action on Senate Joint Resolution 127 this week for the first time in the constitutional amendment’s long history. The proposal, which passed, aims to restore to the people of Tennessee their rightful authority to regulate abortion through their elected representatives, with an overwhelming 77-21 vote.

The Republican sponsor of the amendment said that, “There exists a powerful and pivotal passage in our state’s constitution which states that power is inherent in the people,” while calling for bipartisanship on the measure so that Tennesseans would get the opportunity to voice their opinion through the referendum process. House and Senate Republicans have worked for many years to see passage of the measure, and have now cleared the first hurdle in letting Tennesseans decide this matter once and for all, instead of activist courts.

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 state in the nation with regards to abortion laws.

The provision has never cleared the hurdle of the Public Health Subcommittee in the House. Republicans have fought since 2001 to pass SJR 127, believing Tennesseans should be allowed to weigh in on the issue. Republicans have argued that in the past, the initial vote of six in a subcommittee silenced six million Tennesseans.

The provision has already passed the Senate with a 24-8 vote. Because it has now passed 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.

GOP fights for public charter school legislation despite Democratic opposition

After weeks of debate in both the House K-12 Education Subcommittee and the full House Education Committee, Democrats locked down against the Republican sponsored public charter school legislation that would have expanded educational opportunities for children across the state.

House Bill 2146, which has already passed the Senate, would expand public charter school enrollment to all “at-risk” students, giving more Tennessee students more educational opportunities than ever before. House Republicans blasted Democrats for putting party politics over solid policy that would improve the lives of thousands of Tennessee students.

House Democrats admitted taking a caucus position against the legislation, essentially forcing Democratic members of the Education Committee to lock down against the bill. Republicans were disappointed, saying that the measure is needed now more than ever, and is particularly critical in urban parts of the state such Davidson County. The Republican sponsor pledged to work with her colleagues on the Education Committee to reach an accord so that the legislation could be brought up before session adjourns for the year.

Public 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. Tennessee has stringent accountability measures that ensure the schools are performing well.

Tennessee now has 16 public charter schools, with six more opening in the fall. The state currently has one of the most restrictive public charter school laws in the nation.

In case you missed it…

  • A proposal that would allow Tennesseans to ship wine directly to their homes was passed by the House this week with a 78-17-3 vote, after months of negotiations. Specifically, House Bill 1155 stipulates that Tennessee consumers may purchase up to one case of wine per month, or no more than three per year, through direct shipment from a winery to their home. Upon delivery, proof of legal drinking age must be shown.

    Supporters also say the bill has the potential to bring a large amount of revenue to the state, and can also create jobs and spur entrepreneurship. Budget analysts say the legislation will bring in roughly $4.6 million in the revenue the first year, and almost $10 million in subsequent years. Local governments stand to receive between $1.1 and $2.2 million per year.
  • Tennessee joined eight other states this year in moving forward with resolutions to declare sovereignty under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. House Joint Resolution 108 will be presented on the House floor next week. If it passes, it must travel through the Senate before being sent to the Governor for consideration.
  • House Bill 1354, the “Sanctuary Cities” legislation, passed the Judiciary Committee this week and now moves to the Budget Subcommittee. A “sanctuary city” is a term given to a city in the United States that follows certain practices to protect illegal aliens. Thirty-eight cities in the U.S. have been recognized as sanctuary cities, but many sources have identified over 200 city or county governments nationwide as having practiced such policies. The bill aims to discourage any Tennessee city from declaring itself a “sanctuary city” for illegal aliens, and aims to be a pre-emptive strike to guard against the adoptions of such policies by cities in the state.
  • The House Health and Human Resources Committee has approved legislation to ban local governments or their boards from imposing requirements on restaurants to provide nutritional information on menus. House Bill 950 now faces the Government Operations Committee, and has already passed in the Senate.

    The concern is that some communities will impose different standards and significantly increase costs to small restaurant owners. In March, Davidson County’s Metro Board of Health voted to enact guidelines on providing nutritional information to customers for certain restaurants, even though Congress is considering the Federal LEAN Act. That act would implement a national standard generally accepted by restaurant owners to provide nutritional information to customers. Adopting a county-by-county approach to the disclosure of nutritional information increases costs to restaurants, many of whom are small business owners.

The week ahead…

  • Monday, May 25, 2009: Holiday
  • Tuesday, May 26, 2009
    • Calendar & Rules Committee, Legislative Plaza Room 16, TBA
    • House Session, House Chambers, 3:00 p.m.
  • Wednesday, May 27, 2009
    • Budget Subcommittee, Legislative Plaza Room 16, 9:30 a.m.
    • Finance, Ways & Means, Legislative Plaza Room 16, 1:00 p.m.
    • Government Operations, Legislative Plaza Room 16, 3:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, May 28, 2009
    • House Session, House Chambers, 9:00 a.m.

**TIMES AND ROOMS SUBJECT TO CHANGE**

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