After repeatedly delaying Rep. John DeBerry’s alternative school voucher proposal as the hour grew late Tuesday night, the House Education Subcommittee slipped his bill onto the next calendar, then closed up the committee for the year.
The move keeps the voucher bill, also sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey in the Senate, alive for the time being. Lawmakers focusing on controversial plans to offer private school scholarships to public school students are largely narrowing in on the governor’s version which has yet to move in the Senate Education Committee and was put on pause in the House.
Sources say the governor’s voucher bill could have a tough time emerging from the lower chamber, saying the bill is a couple votes short in the House Finance Committee. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey -- who was sitting on House Speaker Beth Harwell’s bill to create a state-level charter school authorizer to encourage movement on vouchers -- said last week he is convinced the House is doing “the best they can” but acknowledged it is short on votes.
“It’s not like they didn’t try. I want to make sure we’re at least making an effort to get to the end game,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham plans to make Wednesday’s meeting it’s last, meaning both the governor’s version of a voucher plan and Kelsey’s alternative are likely up for a vote Wednesday.
At least, that’s according to the judges of the annual Ag Day on the Hill milking contest between the two speakers. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey teamed up with Sen. Frank Niceley to beat out House Speaker Beth Harwell and Rep. John Forgety by a three-to-one margin.
This is the third year the two speakers have milked-off against each other and Ramsey’s first win against Harwell. However, Harwell’s victories may have had something to do with Chairman Charles Sargent pouring some extra milk in her bucket, sources said.
House Speaker Beth Harwell says she’s still weighing whether the legislature should come back for a veto session after their expected adjournment next month.
“I don’t know that I’ve made up my mind,” said Harwell who confirmed Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey brought the idea up to her. “This is not in any way a reflection that we have any disagreement with the governor. We don’t. We were just looking at what’s good government and the protection of the strength of the legislative body.”
The speaker, who said issues like cost and timing are worth thinking about, would not confirm whether she would consider a veto session for this year, saying she and Ramsey would make that decision together. Ramsey said the legislature should not let the governor's veto go unchecked and suggested lawmakers come back for one day a month after they adjourn to revisit any vetoed bills.
Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters it’s the legislature’s prerogative if they want to come back to overturn vetoes he may make.
“There’s always a lot of speculation at this point in time in a session about what’s the governor going to veto. At this point in time, as I’ve said before, we’re still really early in this book,” he said.
It was no secret Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey held hostage House Speaker Beth Harwell’s bill to create an alternative charter school authorizer last year when the lower chamber killed his bill rejiggering judicial redistricting.
But he played politics with Harwell’s bill again this year, too, he told reporters Thursday, saying he this year delayed passage of Harwell's bill already in the Senate queue to encourage the House and the governor to keep school vouchers from falling by the wayside.
“I told Beth that this is the way things work, and that’s what happened. I hate that, but that’s just life and that’s (the) political process," Ramsey said about last session's hostage situation he carried over to this year. “I wanted to make sure we got some kind of a compromise on vouchers. I’m not sure that we’re there yet, to be perfectly honest, but it had been held up long enough, so to speak.”
Ramsey had originally said he’d take the authorizer bill up early in the session, but bottled the it up until this week even though he said vouchers may still be a few votes short to get out of a House committee. The Senate passed the charter authorizer bill 20-13 Thursday.
“I’m not sure they have the votes but I’m convinced in my mind the Speaker of the House and the governor are making legitimate effort to try to get that bill out. That’s all we need,” said Ramsey.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s signature on the wine-in-grocery stores law had barely dried before he told reporters Thursday he thinks lawmakers may feel pressure to move up the date when people start shopping for bubbly in their supermarkets.
“When people have a referendum in November and realize when they go to the grocery store in December to buy their wine for Christmas they won’t be able to buy it for another year and a half,” Ramsey said, “that will end up being a political problem for a lot of people, in my opinion.”
Grocery stores were willing to give the lengthy lead time to liquor stores in order to get the bill passed, delaying their wine sales until July 2016 but allowing liquor stores to begin selling goods like beer and cigarettes July of this year. Ramsey said he’s always seen that delay as a political problem and said he sees lawmakers wanting to move up the start date at least six months, although added it will not be a part of his own legislative agenda.
“They’ll be lined up to file that, that’s just my prediction,” Ramsey said.
Two weeks ago, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he told House Speaker Beth Harwell the legislature ought to come back a month after they adjourn just in case the governor vetoes anything they’ve passed.
It should be a regular practice, Ramsey explained to reporters Thursday in his weekly press availability. The legislature should schedule it 30 days after they adjourn, he said, but only in the last year of the two-year legislative session so the lawmakers have a chance to reverse any vetoes before a new General Assembly is elected.
“I think the people would expect that,” said Ramsey “When you leave here, any governor has full reign to do whatever he wants to and we can’t do anything about it. I don’t care if it’s (former Gov. Phil) Bredesen, (former Gov. Ned) McWherter, whatever, and that’s not really good practice,” he said.
The last time the legislature held a veto session was in 2001 under then-Gov. Don Sundquist who had vetoed the state’s budget. The legislature did the same in 2000.
House Speaker Beth Harwell was unavailable for comment as of late Thursday.
The governor’s veto power is already one of the weakest in the nation, requiring a simple majority of the legislature to overturn the governor. He has 10 days to reject a bill, but if vetoes come out after the legislature has gone home for the year, the veto typically sits unchallenged.
Gov. Bill Haslam has hinted he would veto legislation that seeks to delay Common Core education standards and it's related test called PARCC. He has also intimated he would veto a bill taking away local government's authority to ban guns in local parks. Both measure appear stuck in committees due to hefty price tags.
Ramsey said wanting to call lawmakers back to veto session is nothing personal against Haslam. “I wish the Constitution said you had to. That would make it a whole lot easier.”
The lieutenant governor appears to prefer the Common Core legislation already headed to the Senate floor to the House's surprise move delaying the PARCC test for two years.
A statement attributable to his spokesman, Adam Kleinheider:
“Lt. Governor Ramsey believes concerns surrounding Common Core are best addressed by measures currently before the General Assembly that prevent data-mining, reform the state textbook commission and block federal intrusion into curriculum.”
Senate Education Committee Chair Dolores Gresham put off a floor vote on her own Common Core bill for a week Thursday. Hers would have set standards protecting student data and reiterated the state, not the feds, sets curriculm. A bill revamping the state's Textbook Commision is scheduled for a Senate floor vote on Monday.
Here's the skinny on what the heck happened in the House that led the chamber to vote 82-11 to delay Common Core and PARCC.
Between high price tags and self-created delays, the House appears unlikely to pass major rollbacks of Common Core state standards this year.
The House Education Subcommittee on Tuesday pushed eight bills dealing with Common Core and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment to their last calendar. The postponement means the bills are likely to be heard in late March or April, leaving little time for the legislature to pass them before its expected pre-Easter adjournment.
All but two of of the bills targeting the education standards or its corresponding test carry price tags of at least $10 million, making them unlikely to pass in a year with down revenues, said Education Subcommittee Chairman Mark White. Others would cost the state up to an estimated $50 million and another would jeopardize federal funding topping out at $525 million.
“With today’s budget, you move a bill like this out, they will have to get their fiscal note in order first,” said White.
The proposals include requiring the state dump Common Core or PARCC tests and developing its own. Others mandate the state reimburse local school districts for the cost of implementing the new standards.
Of the eight bills, half of them were intentionally pushed back to the last calendar at the request of the sponsor, Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale. So was another by Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia. Three others were abandoned Tuesday by lawmakers who failed to make it to the committee to present their bill.
Although most of the legislation dealing with Common Core is stranded in the subcommittee, one easily one won approval Tuesday reiterating the state sets education standards while building transparency about where any data collected goes -- two common issues Common Core critics have with the standards.
“We’re weeding through this slowly but surely to make sure that we’re still picking our own textbooks, to make sure we’re not sharing data with the federal government, to make sure that, again, we’re setting the curriculum,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey Tuesday. “I do believe that most cases that is the case, but if we have to make sure of that by putting in the code, that’s what we’ll do.”
The Senate, which has several forceful critics of the tests and standards, has yet to take up the bulk of their bills addressing Common Core. Lawmakers there expect to take those bills up in a dedicated committee hearing this session.
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