Blake Farmer (Nashville Public Radio)

Capitol Hill Reporter and Assistant News Director at WPLN in Nashville

A bill to create a state charter authorizer has been delayed. The sponsor now says he’s listening to critics, who say the legislation unfairly singles out Nashville and Memphis.

As written, the bill would give charter schools a way to open in Tennessee’s two largest urban areas without asking the school board – officially known as the local education authority or LEA.  Rep. Mark White is the sponsor and says he could be on-board with a true statewide charter authorizer if local school boards do the initial vetting.

“If we go back to the LEAs – letting them have first input on this – this will be a statewide application,” White says.

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An effort to lower daily expense accounts for some state lawmakers is running into more resistance, even as it advances in the General Assembly. Those who live within 50 miles of the state capitol would no longer be eligible for the $173 a day meant for hotels and meals. One legislator says the restrictions favor the wealthy.

In a House committee, Democrat Johnny Shaw of West Tennessee told the sponsor he was making it nearly impossible for a working person to hold office.

College presidents in Tennessee are defending their programs meant to diversify their student bodies. They worry about an effort to outlaw any preferences on the basis of race or gender.

Universities are already barred by federal law from giving minorities a leg up in the admittance or hiring process. But there are efforts to attract certain under-represented groups.

Tennessee’s so-called “guns in trunks” legislation is up for a vote of the full Senate Monday night, and it now appears set for smooth sailing in the state House. Speaker Beth Harwell says it will likely pass.


The state’s hospitals are playing out the “what if’s” as lawmakers consider whether to expand Medicaid as part of the federal health care overhaul. Their study says 90,000 Tennessee jobs could be lost if the expansion does not occur.

The temporary head Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services says he will turn things around, even with the title of “interim.” Jim Henry replaces former DCS Commissioner Kate O’Day who resigned yesterday just 24 hours before she was to testify in front of the legislature about unreported child deaths. Commissioner O’Day was criticized for not being accessible, but Henry says he plans to meet with child advocacy groups immediately. 

Neither businesses nor firearms groups are pleased with a bill that passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee late yesterday. The “guns-in-trunks” legislation is headed to a vote of the full state Senate.

The head of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce – Bill Ozier – told the panel that corporations see no need to expand the rights of gun owners. He also admitted businesses realize guns are already being stored in cars on their property.

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The commissioner of an embattled state agency has resigned. Kate O’Day steps down as head of the Department of Children Services one day before she was to testify about child deaths.

A statement from Governor Bill Haslam’s office says O’Day “felt the time was right” to leave. She entered the job two years ago and has been under intense scrutiny in recent months for undocumented fatalities and a computer system plagued with glitches. Just this week, her office told newspapers they’d have to pay $55,000 to get copies of case files in question.

The largest teachers union in the state is quietly on board with allowing educators to carry a weapon to class, at least as a last resort. The Tennessee Education Association is supporting a bill under consideration by the state legislature. 

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More gold bars could be headed to Tennessee if one Republican lawmaker from Rutherford County has his way. A bill introduced last week would repeal the state’s sales tax on precious metals. 

Gold investors range from savvy stockbrokers to seniors convinced by infomercials that precious metals will keep them safe from economic calamity. If they just receive a certificate and keep the physical gold in a tax-free state, they can avoid the sales tax in Tennessee.