Blake Farmer (Nashville Public Radio)

Capitol Hill Reporter and Assistant News Director at WPLN in Nashville

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2013 TN General Assembly
7:39 am
Thu February 28, 2013

Anti-Affirmative Action Bill Torpedoed by University of Tennessee

Credit twitter.com

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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2013 TN General Assembly
7:18 am
Thu February 28, 2013

Sponsor of Tennessee School Voucher Bill Eyes Expansion

Credit www.capitol.tn.gov

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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Health Care
7:17 am
Wed February 27, 2013

Hospitals, Democrats See Opening for Tennessee Medicaid Expansion

Credit Wikimedia Commons

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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2013 TN General Assembly
6:34 am
Wed February 27, 2013

Public All Comers Policy Gets Off the Ground in Tennessee

Credit wikipedia.org

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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2013 TN General Assembly
5:19 am
Wed February 27, 2013

Governor Haslam’s Voucher Program Passes First Test with Bipartisan Support

Credit Wikimedia Commons

State lawmakers raised several reservations but ultimately passed Gov. Bill Haslam’s school voucher program in its first test.

Two members of the House Education Subcommittee voted no, including one Republican. The former school superintendent says he doesn’t believe public money should be diverted to private schools. Democrat Joe Pitts of Clarksville voted no after asking if private schools would be forced to still provide a free lunch. Only poor students could qualify for vouchers under the plan.

“I’m just really concerned that we’re targeting that at-risk population, but we’re really not doing anything else to supply that basic human need, which is food,” Pitts said.

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2013 TN General Assembly
5:02 pm
Tue February 26, 2013

Tennessee AG Says State Can’t Nullify Federal Gun Laws

Credit Wikimedia Commons

Bills in the Tennessee legislature that attempt to block the enforcement of federal gun laws in the state are unconstitutional. That’s according to a just-released opinion from the state’s top lawyer.

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Society
7:32 am
Tue February 26, 2013

Wine in Supermarkets Debate Turns Biblical

The leader of the largest Christian denomination in the state begged state lawmakers not to expand what kinds of stores can sell wine. Until now, this year’s debate over wine in grocery stores has been about economics and fairness, not morality.

The legislation would ultimately leave it up to each city to vote on whether to allow wine in supermarkets. It’s similar to the way towns can vote on sales of liquor by the drink, and Randy Davis of the Tennessee Baptist Convention says such policies involving alcohol divide families.

“It gets bad in these towns over these kinds of issues,” he said.

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Politics
7:25 am
Tue February 26, 2013

Treasurer Details New Hybrid Retirement Plan

Credit http://www.treasury.state.tn.us/

A new retirement system being contemplated by the Tennessee legislature would require new state employees and school teachers to potentially work more years. And their guaranteed money would be cut by roughly a third.

State Treasurer David Lillard says change is necessary because any new hires are adding to the state pension’s unfunded deficit. His plan would move to what’s known as a hybrid pension system, which has been adopted in states like Georgia and Virginia. It shifts more of the responsibility of saving for retirement to individuals in an effort to decrease the state’s exposure to volatility in the stock market.

However, the new retirement plan would include some guaranteed money, which Lillard says is important.

“We do believe that in order to get an employee a much better opportunity to have a truly sufficient benefit, you need a floor, basically," he said.

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Politics
7:21 am
Tue February 26, 2013

Military Monument Name-Change Ban Passes Against Democrat Objections

Credit http://obab.blogspot.com

Legislation that would prevent the renaming or moving of war-related monuments in Tennessee passed the state House last night. The bill comes as city officials in Memphis have renamed three Confederate-themed parks.

Democrats tried to get the bill’s sponsor – Republican Steve McDaniel – to admit he was responding to the name changes in Memphis, which he denied. Rep. Johnnie Turner asked what if Jews hadn’t been allowed to tear down Nazi statues.

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2013 TN General Assembly
10:13 am
Mon February 25, 2013

Guaranteed State Pensions Could Become Thing of the Past

The traditional state pension would begin to be phased out under a plan to be presented to state lawmakers today. In recent decades, the rap on state jobs is that the pay may be less than the private sector, but the benefits are good – especially the retirement plan. Lester Hines took a job in the state codes department seven years ago.

“It was good deal for me. I was almost 50 years old and didn’t have a pension."

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