- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014
House rejects Senate changes to Medicaid bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The House has rejected Senate changes to a bill to require the governor to seek legislative approval for any prospective deal to expand Medicaid in Tennessee.

Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin at first sought to agree to the Senate changes that that would bar lawmakers from being reimbursed for meal and lodging expenses if a special session had to be called to consider a Medicaid deal.

But Durham withdrew that motion after Republican Rep. John Ragan of Oak Ridge cited a provision in the state constitution that bars the adjustment of expense levels during a sitting General Assembly.

The bill now goes back to the Senate, which could either agree to strip out the special session language, or send the bill to a conference committee.


Bill makes changes to State Textbook Commission

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A proposal that makes changes to the process for selecting books for state schools has been approved by the Senate.

The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville was approved 29-2 on Monday evening.

The 10-member textbook selection panel recommends its selections to the State Board of Education, and local school systems then choose which textbooks to adopt from the official state textbook list.

Last year, state lawmakers heard testimony from parents who complained about the content of some books and urged legislators to implement a stronger public review process.

The Senate proposal would require school districts to put together an advisory committee to look at the books, which would be available online for the public to view and make comments.

Under the proposal, the House and Senate speakers would each make three appointments to the panel, instead of the governor appointing nine.


Common Core data bill passes Senate 31-2

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Legislation that would require any data collected under Tennessee’s Common Core standards only be used to track the academic progress and needs of students was approved by the Senate on Monday.

The bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville was approved 31-2. The House version was overwhelmingly approved 81-9 earlier this month.

The standards are intended to provide students with the critical thinking, problem solving and writing skills needed for college and the workforce. They have been voluntarily adopted by 45 states.

One of the main criticisms of the standards - developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers - is that they could lead to the sharing of personal student data with the federal government.

Gresham said the proposal is a result of concerns from parents and administrators about that possibility.

“Nobody wanted federal intrusion into our education system in Tennessee,” she said. “This bill is in response to the people of Tennessee as they have made their wishes known.”


Court upholds retention elections for judges

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A special state Supreme Court panel ruled Monday that Tennessee’s current retention election system for appellate court judges does not violate the state constitution.

The decision stems from a lawsuit filed in 2012 by John Jay Hooker of Nashville, a former Democratic candidate for governor who has long been a foe of the way Tennessee picks and retains appellate court judges.

The system, known as the Tennessee Plan, calls for the governor to fill judicial vacancies from a list of nominees submitted by a commission. Appellate court judges run for election and re-election on a yes-or-no vote in which voters decide whether they should be retained. The plan is an attempt to limit partisan politics in the judiciary; however, critics say it keeps the public from having a real say in the process.

Hooker argued that language in the Tennessee Constitution intends for appellate court judges to be chosen by a contested popular election.

In a telephone interview late Monday, Hooker said he plans to petition the court to re-hear the matter. He said the court did not address the constitutionality of the appointment of judges by the governor.

“I claimed then and claim now that there is no constitutional right for the governor to appoint judges,” he said. “And since the retention election statute is predicated upon a judicial appointment, the statute is unconstitutional.”

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