Tennessee's top lawmakers promise to make the next few days some of their last this legislative session, marking one of the earliest exits in recent years. Here’s a snapshot of what they have left to resolve before going home:
- Governor’s meth bill: The House is the odd one out in the debate over how to reduce access to methamphetamine precursor, pseudoephedrine. But the governor and the Senate may be willing to give in to get a bill passed this year, according to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. While the Senate wants tighter limits on how much of the cold and allergy medicine people can buy at a time, the House wants something looser and indicated it won’t settle for the governor-preferred restrictions.
- Governor’s voucher bill: With years of failed proposals in the legislature’s past, the administration’s plan to give students taxpayer-funded “opportunity scholarships” to private schools is still in limbo. The Senate approved the governor’s bill last week, but the House may not have the votes to get its version out of committee, although it is a smaller program than that governor’s.
- Governor’s Tennessee Promise: Neither chamber has offered its stamp of approval on the governor’s plan to cover community college tuition for new grads with a last-dollar scholarship. However, most of the wrinkles have been worked out, such as getting four-year schools to lower what was once their vocal opposition.
- Harwell’s state charter school authorizer: Now two full sessions in the making, the House has the final vote on House Speaker Beth Harwell’s signature plan allowing the State Board of Education to OK locally rejected charter schools. Not wanting to stand in the Speaker’s way, the House easily approved the bill last year before it got caught up in gamesmanship with the Senate, but frustration in the lower chamber with the governor’s budget cuts earlier this month has slowed down this bill.
- Common Core and PARCC: After a large band of House Republicans teamed up with Democrats to delay the new test that will replace TCAPs, leadership is planning to add in a delay on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test. According to the Senate Majority leader, the idea would be to allow the state to bid out the next Common Core aligned test to open up competition. The administration and leadership didn’t want to go down this road but see it as likely the only ways to satisfy harsh critics of Common Core and PARCC without abandoning the test completely.
- Open carry: A bill allowing gun owners to openly carry their weapon with them without a handgun carry permit passed the Senate and is looking to get snuffed out in a House committee unless the freshman sponsor can successfully leapfrog straight to the House floor. The fairly rare move would require a two-thirds vote to place the bill on the floor.
- Guns in parks: The house has yet to release a bill from a finance committee that would delete local governments’ authority to dictate whether guns are allowed in their parks. The House version has a $40,000 price tag on the cost of local governments taking down existing signs and the sponsor said he still hopes to pass it as is, although the Senate erased that provision and easily passed the bill. Harwell and the governor are no fans of this legislation.
- Amp: Legislation looking to make life difficult for those trying to create a bus rapid transit line in Metro Nashville could crash in the legislature. The House and Senate have two different versions of the bill, including one watered down enough to do very little. The bill now heads to the Senate, which wants to hamper the project and could be looking to send it to conference committee.
- Textbook Commission: Lawmakers spent a chunk of last year’s offseason complaining about bias in state-approved textbooks, but a bill to recraft the panel that evaluates those texts has stalled in a House committee. The two chambers disagree on a detail of this bill, too: The Senate would prefer to reduce the governor’s influence on that board with fewer hand-picked appointments and some House members tend to favor leaving the governor with power to name a majority of its members.
- Extra seats in ASD schools: This bill would allow the Achievement School District to enroll students from outside the zones of low-performing schools it has taken over or converted into charter schools. The Senate is fine with this one, but the House still has it sitting in the Finance subcommittee awaiting a vote.
- Parent trigger: Neither chamber has voted in full floor session on whether to lower the thresholds for parents to vote on chartering or switching out management of their failing school. The Senate sent back its version to a scheduling committee last week and the House finance subcommittee has the bill waiting for a vote.
- Student test scores: Both chambers plan to vote next week on requiring an individual student attend at least 150 school days (or 75 days in block scheduling) with the same teacher in order for their test score to apply to that teacher’s annual evaluation.
- High-gravity beer in grocery stores: Although beers with more alcohol missed the boat on the long-awaited wine-in-grocery stores law, the Senate OK’d letting food stores sell so-called “high gravity” beers up to 8 percent alcohol by weight. That’s up from 5 percent now. The full House has yet to weigh in.
- Hemp: Months ago, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey laughed at the idea of legalizing hemp and said he hadn’t given it a thought, but that bill is now waiting on a final vote from the House before it heads to the governor’s desk.
- Cannabis oils: Hemp’s cousin, marijuana, may also get a foot in the door this year. The Senate OK’d a bill permitting researchers to study the effectiveness of cannabis oils in treating child seizures. The oil lacks the psychedelic elements found in cannabis. The House bill is awaiting a vote on the floor.
- Ag gag returns: An attempt to bring back last year’s vetoed “Ag Gag” bill that penalized animal abuse whistleblowers is back. The Senate gave the bill the OK and it now needs House approval to pass. After a line of questioning last week, a vote on the bill was delayed.
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