Common Core, exploding targets highlight packed House session
The proposals spanned the gambit of issues, from Common Core and insurance for charter school employees to agricultural fees, taxis and things that explode. Here's a recap of nine of the many issues lawmakers debated Monday evening:
The fight on Common Core: Supporters and opponents of the controversial Common Core education standards see a bill passed Monday as a win. The bill ultimately leads to standards created in Tennessee, putting in to law the review process already in place by Gov. Bill Haslam. Common Core opponents believe the bill is a win in defeating standards they believe embody federal overreach. Supporters believe the standards probably won't change significantly.
U.S. citizenship test for high school students: The bill would require Tennessee high school student pass a test similar to one given to people seeking to become United States citizens. Students would need to answer at least 70 percent of the questions correctly to pass. Tested topics include issues such as length of terms for presidents and the role of the U.S. Constitution in government, said bill sponsor and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.
Exploding targets: Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill to allow adults in Tennessee to purchase and use special targets that explode when they are shot.Felony to kill a police dog: Killing a police dog, search and rescue dog or a police horse will be a felony if Haslam signs the bill approved by the House on Monday night. During the session supporters noted the death of a Metro police dog in the line of duty as the reason for the bill.
No vaping by minors: The bill clarifies that minors cannot legally use "vapor products," also known as electronic cigarettes and similar products.
Longevity pay: The House adopted the changes to Haslam's plan to shift the way state employees are paid, but not without a fight from Democrats. The bill grandfathers in current executive branch employees, allowing them to continue to receive longevity pay — a benefit that provides $100 per year of service for most employees — but ends the practice for employees hired after June 30. Opponents said the bill hurts the state's ability to attract quality employees; supporters say the bill provides money toward implementing a merit-based pay structure, which could attract quality employees.
End racial profiling: Although it's called the "Racial Profiling Prevention Act," the bill House lawmakers passed Monday has a much narrower focus. It requires law enforcement agencies by the start of 2016 to have a written policy prohibiting racial profiling. Many agencies in the state, including Metro police and the Tennessee Highway Patrol, already have such policies in place.
Insurance for charter school employees: One of the more heated conversations of the night came on a bill that allows charter schools to choose their employee insurance policy. Right now charter schools must use the policy adopted by the local board of education in their district. The bill allows charters to instead pick their own policy, said bill sponsor and House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin. They'll probably choose policies that cost employees more money, Democrats argued. Casada said that's not necessarily true, but Democrats blasted him on a number of fronts. The bill passed with 60 votes.
Ride-hailing bill: The last bill of the night creates a new statewide regulatory system for ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft. The bill outlines insurance, training and other regulations of the companies and will create jobs and competition in the industry, said bill sponsor Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville. Opponents argue the bill will create unfair competition that could hurt taxis; the bill easily passed the House.
The House is set to reconvene at 9:30 Tuesday morning. A pair of controversial abortion bills are slated as the first items up for discussion. The House will continue to work in full session Tuesday, taking breaks for several key committee meetings.
The Senate, with fewer bills left to discuss, did not meet Monday. It returns to work Tuesday morning.
The House has a morning session scheduled for Thursday, potentially signaling the last day lawmakers could be in town for session.