Legislative flourish: Common core, Tennessee promise, annexation

Legislative flourish: Common core, Tennessee promise, annexation

April 18th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

Mike Carter

Photo by C. B. Schmelter/Times Free Press.

Tennessee legislators have spent this week like a college student cramming for exams, their committee meetings and votes substituting for lengthy papers, journals and test preparations, as they ended their 2014 session.

Among the flurry:

• Legislators on Thursday passed and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature a measure that forces a one-year delay on the testing component of Tennessee's Common Core curriculum. Last month, a bipartisan coalition of House Republicans and Democrats passed, over the objections of Haslam and House leaders, a bill that would have implemented a two-year delay. The state had been planning to use the tests, beginning at the end of the 2014-15 school year, that were developed by a consortium of 17 states.

Common Core standards, which teach students to think critically and apply knowledge in English language arts and math, sound wonderful at first blush and may well be. But teachers -- both conservatives who fear the curriculum forces a government-imposed, one-size-fits-all education and liberals who'd go to the death supporting anything favored by the National Education Association -- have been skeptical about students' readiness for the tests. Many in both camps are still up in the air about the effectiveness of the standards, too, so a year's delay is a reasonable compromise on an issue on which there are so many questions.

• Also awaiting Haslam's signature is the governor's own Tennessee Promise bill, which would provide Tennessee high school graduates with two free years of community or technical college from $300 million of state lottery reserve funds that would be placed into an endowment. This has tremendous potential to boost the readiness of the state's workforce but should be watched carefully for its success (or lack thereof). If it moves those who never would have gone to college from a community college to a four-year college or into a highly skilled job, it will be a success. If it proves to be 13th grade, or just a way for the unmotivated to spend a year before having to consider a career in fast food, it will have failed.

• Gov. Haslam earlier this week signed into law legislation that forbids annexation except by consent of a landowner or in a referendum by a majority vote of the landowners to be annexed. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, was spurred by former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield's 2009 annexation of various parcels of land in the Hixson and East Brainerd areas. Detractors believe the legislation will curb the growth of cities, but what it certainly should do is force cities to be prepared to make a strong case if they suggest annexation and be prepared to supply the services in a timely fashion once land is annexed.

• The Hall Tax phase-out bill, sadly, was withdrawn by sponsor Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and is dead for the year. The 85-year-old tax hits those who save, and, in particular, retirees who live off dividends and interest, and investors and venture capitalists who help create jobs and spur the economy. Chances are, the devil was in the details of how the tax's revenue stream would be replaced (a tenet of Green's bill), its current exemptions (which are legion) and what would happen in especially challenging financial years for the state (as is the present). Look for this bill to return in another session.

Along the way, legislators also found ways to suggest a few head-scratchers.

A recent bill with understandable intentions -- to prosecute women if they have a pregnancy complication after using illegal drugs -- is fraught with peril because there will never be a way to tell with certainty why the complication occurred.

And, finally, there was a recent Senate vote to remove permit requirements to carry a handgun openly as long as the gun is owned legally and the carrier is in a place where guns are not prohibited. The bill became bottled up in a House subcommittee and died there for the year. Good riddance, and don't bring it back. After all, it's not 1884, and Tennessee is not the wild, wild West.