- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014
Senate panel approves school voucher bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to create a school voucher program in Tennessee advanced in the Senate on Wednesday, even though lawmakers still have to work out differences in eligibility requirements before the measure eventually heads to his desk.

The legislation was approved 8-1 in the Senate Education Committee. It differs slightly from the companion bill that was withdrawn from consideration in the House Finance Committee.

The Republican governor originally sought to limit the vouchers to students from low-income families attending the bottom 5 percent of failing schools. Under the new version, if there are not enough students for the available slots, then eligibility would be opened to low-income students in districts that have a school in the bottom 5 percent.

The House version would expand eligibility to the bottom 10 percent of failing schools if slots are left.

Lawmakers in both chambers say they hope to work out the differences so a school voucher bill can pass this year.

“I think people realize that when it comes to opportunity for these children we want to get the best opportunity we can, and I think that everybody will work well together to make sure that we have some program in the final analysis,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who is carrying the legislation for the governor.

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Panel advances parent trigger bill in Senate

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A proposal that would allow parents to decide the fate of a struggling school is advancing in the Senate.

The so-called parent trigger legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown was approved 8-1 in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

Sponsors say the measure, which failed last year, gives parents a say-so at the table and another option to better educate their children.

Under the proposal, if 51 percent of parents at a school in the bottom 10 percent of failing schools believe a drastic change is needed, they can then select from several “turnaround models.” For instance, they may want to convert it to a charter school or change the administrators.

The companion bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee next Tuesday.

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Watered-down meth bill advancing in House

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A watered-down version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s anti-meth legislation is advancing in the House, though significant differences remain with the Senate bill.

The House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday approved the measure that would set an annual cap of 150 days’ worth of allergy and cold medicines like Sudafed that could be bought without prescription.

That’s double the amount envisioned under Haslam’s previous proposal that has been adopted in the Senate. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said it could require a conference committee between the two chambers to reconcile their differences.

The Chattanooga Republican said lawmakers want to avoid the bill failing over differences between the two chambers.

“We don’t want to read about some little kid getting burned up, or smelling this stuff and poisoning themselves,” he said.

Several members of the committee said they worry about enacting legislation that could hurt the ability of people to legitimately obtain the medications they need without going through a doctor.

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Judge Joe Brown challenging contempt charges

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Joe Brown gained fame by meting out justice as a TV judge. Now he’s the one facing charges.

Brown, the star of the television show “Judge Joe Brown” and present-day political candidate, has a court hearing April 4 in Tennessee on his challenge of contempt of court charges handed down Monday by a Shelby County Juvenile Court magistrate.

Brown, 66, was arrested and sentenced to five days in jail during an outburst in a child support hearing before Juvenile Court Magistrate Judge Harold “Hal” Horne. Brown was later released from jail by a Circuit Court judge who will hear arguments next week about dropping the charges and sentence, Brown’s lawyer said Tuesday.

Brown, whose nationally syndicated TV show was canceled last year, is running in the Democratic primary for district attorney general in Shelby County, Tennessee’s largest county. Some have described Brown’s outburst as a way to gain publicity for his campaign, while others say the magistrate should not have locked up Brown, a former criminal court judge in Memphis.

In an interview aired Wednesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Brown said his actions were not out of line and he would do the same thing again.

Brown said most lawyers would say “that’s what we do every single day.”

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