Blake Farmer (Nashville Public Radio)

Capitol Hill Reporter and Assistant News Director at WPLN in Nashville

The idea for a new state-level panel that could authorize charter schools to operate anywhere in Tennessee is moving ahead, while facing bi-partisan resistance. The House Education Committee gave its blessing Tuesday, though two Republicans voted against it.

The GOP lawmakers opposing what is seen as an end-run around local school boards are educators themselves. Rep. Jim Coley teaches in Shelby County. 

“Increasingly we’re taking those decisions away from local education associations, and I don’t think that’s right.”

The Tennessee Firearms Association is again looking for a fight. The organization is unhappy with Republicans who passed a more restrictive guns-in-trunks bill than the TFA would have liked.

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The Tennessee Democratic Party is crying foul as advocacy groups begin running TV spots promoting school vouchers. The ads target certain lawmakers without mentioning specific legislation.

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The Tennessee state House will consider creating an entirely new panel for authorizing charter schools at the state level. It’s part of a compromise set to be heard in an education committee today.

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A proposal allowing handgun carry permit holders to store firearms in their cars nearly anywhere they are parked is headed for a final vote this morning. Democrats are making a last ditch effort to water down the bill.

Democrats want to make schools, long-term parking lots and unemployment offices off limits. 

The bill’s sponsor has said he is not interested in exemptions. But Nashville Democrat Mike Turner says they should at least be considered, like one allowing any employer to opt out.

“If I’m a business owner, I probably don’t want you carrying on my property and I at least want to have the choice to deny you that right if I want to,” he said.

A shot at nullifying federal gun laws in Tennessee died in the state Senate Wednesday. A vocal committee chairman sped along debate and ultimately cast the deciding vote.

Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown is a lawyer by training and the newly appointed chair of the Judiciary Committee. He took a personal interest in blocking legislation that would make it a felony for agents to enforce federal gun laws. To make his point, he laid out stark terms.

 “This is a bill that says our individual sheriff’s deputies will be going out and using deadly force of the law of Tennessee to potentially shoot and kill federal authorities for enforcing U.S. Supreme Court decisions,” Kelsey said.

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The state’s public universities have fended off a law intended to keep them from showing preference toward women and minorities. They say admissions and hiring practices don’t need to be reworked.

College officials say they’re already precluded by federal rules from giving applicants a leg up on the basis of race or gender. However, they do have programs to recruit certain under-represented groups, like black males.

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The state Senator shepherding Gov. Bill Haslam’s school voucher bill through the legislature says it doesn’t go nearly far enough. He says he will offer an amendment making many more students eligible to have their private school tuition paid with public money.

With proposed restrictions limiting vouchers to poor students attending struggling schools, Sen. Brian Kelsey says just 3.5 percent of Tennessee students would qualify. And only a fraction of those would take the offer.

 “After we do all this heavy lifting to work on this bill this year, if we end up with only two-thousandths of one percent of students being helped by it, I will be sorely disappointed,” Kelsey said.

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On a day when the Republican-led state of New Jersey moved to expand it’s Medicaid program, hospitals and Democrats see an opening in Tennessee. The Tennessee Hospital Association released a poll showing a majority of residents want expansion.

Nearly 60 percent of respondents to the hospital association’s poll said the state should accept federal dollars to expand it’s health insurance program for the poor as envisioned in the Affordable Care Act.

THA president Craig Becker says he’s also seen a softening among state lawmakers.

“We started with many of our legislators back in the summertime with basically a ‘hell no.’ Now we’ve moved ourselves much closer I think where they’re willing to be open to hear what we have to say,” he said.

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Anti-discrimination student policies similar to one at Vanderbilt University would be banned under a bill that passed its first legislative test last night. The sponsor says just because public colleges haven’t adopted all-comers policies doesn’t mean they won’t.

Requiring that any student can join any campus club and even hold leadership positions has become popular among elite, private schools. Vanderbilt began enforcing an all-comers rule after a gay student was kicked out of a Christian organization.

David Fowler of Family Action of Tennessee says he could see the same happening at public institutions, several of which have been more open to same-sex relationships by wanting to extend benefits to partners.

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