NASHVILLE - State lawmakers on Saturday gave final approval to a $30.78 billion annual budget that restores extended unemployment benefits to thousands of jobless Tennesseans, then raced through dozens of other bills before adjourning their 2011 session.
Last-minute fights included a largely partisan donnybrook over a Republican-sponsored bill allowing local school boards to contract with for-profit companies to operate online "virtual" schools.
Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, warned that K-12 Inc., one of the for-profit companies pushing the bill, was founded and remains partially owned by Michael Milken. The former junk bond king, Milken's 1980s Wall Street shenanigans led him to federal prison.
Republicans passed the bill and pooh-poohed concerns raised by Democrats. They did the same on other controversial bills, including Friday night's repeal of collective bargaining powers for teachers.
Lawmakers also passed a measure restoring 20 extra weeks of federally funded unemployment benefits to anywhere from 15,000 to 28,000 Tennesseans unable to find jobs after 79 weeks of other state and federal benefits.
Among local bills of interest;
• A bill by Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, to tighten local governments' use of traffic-enforcement cameras cleared the House 82-2 and is headed to Haslam's desk.
"It doesn't do all the things that a lot of people wanted, but it does do a lot of things everybody can agree on," Dean told colleagues.
The bill seeks to dismantle speed traps and requires cities to have professional studies done to establish a safety need for cameras.
• After a quarter-century effort, East Ridge merchants are expected finally to be able to sell fireworks. Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, persuaded senators in a 17-7 vote to legalize sales of bottle rockets, firecrackers and other assorted fireworks in the town.
"East Ridge has been requesting this since the middle 1980s," Watson said. "It had become a very big bill here, even to the point that we had members of Congress calling members of the [state] Senate asking them to vote against the bill."
See Sunday's Times Free Press for complete details