Tennessee House votes unanimously to repeal, replace Common Core

Tennessee state capitol
Tennessee state capitol

NASHVILLE -- Tennessee House members voted 97-0 Monday to repeal and replace the state's Common Core education standards with a bill that enshrines Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's current review process but adds a new 10-member commission to oversee it.

Republicans hope the bill, which is expected to come before the Senate today, will finally put to rest wide-spread criticism among the GOP's base on the states-initiated Common Core standards for math and English language arts. The standards were later embraced by President Barack Obama.

Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, thanked Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, for his solution to a problem that has bedeviled majority Republicans for the past three years.

"It will once and for all put this state on the road to have Tennessee-based standards written by Tennesseans," Hill said of Spivey's solution, which Spivey once called an "epiphany."

The bill allows Haslam to continue with his current review process, which includes a website in which teachers and other critics can raise their concerns, as well as panels of Tennessee-based experts and teachers.

But it now includes the new 10-member committee to which Haslam only gets four appointments. They would have to approve the changes and forward them on to the Haslam-appointed State Board of Education for final action.

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville and Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell each get three appointments. Whether the move ultimately satisfies critics remains to be seen. Nearly everyone agrees that maintaining high standards that are comparable to other states will include many of the same approaches.

photo Gov. Bill Haslam announces a healthier communities initiative at the state Capitol in Nashville on March 11, 2015.

On another issue, meanwhile, concerns over whether Haslam will veto the previously passed guns-in-parks bill led to an initial dust-up on the House floor between Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden.

Holt, who has already seen two of his bills vetoed by Haslam, is seeking to get assurances from the governor that he will not veto the guns bill which would override municipalities' bans on handgun-permit holders going armed in local parks.

As the session began Monday, Holt said he wanted an "affirmation" from Haslam that he will sign controversial measures and wanted to delay some Haslam bills. McCormick retorted, that as majority leader and "with all due respect, I would ask you to bring those bills to me."

Still, McCormick wound up delaying two administration bills.

Asked by a reporter whether he was taking the bills hostage, Holt later laughed and said no, he "just wanted to have an opportunity to have a discussion." McCormick said he will sound out Haslam on the parks bill.

In other action during a five-hour floor session Monday:

* The House voted 93-0 and sent to Haslam for his consideration a bill requiring Tennessee police agencies to adopt and implement written policies banning racial profiling.

The "Racial Profiling Prevention Act," sponsored by Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, is one of several proposed bills introduced this year in response to last summer's shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., by a police officer as well as subsequent deaths involving unarmed black suspects by officers across the country.

DeBerry said the bill is intended to "send a message" to everyone "be they white, black red or polka-dotted [that] the people of the state of Tennessee want everyone to be treated justly." The Senate previously passed the bill.

* The House took final action and sent to Haslam a bill that would subject anyone who intentionally kills a police dog, search-and-rescue dog or a police horse to up to 6 years in prison. The bill passed 93-2. Senators previously passed the measure.

* The state House voted 85-8 for a McCormick bill requiring Tennessee students to pass the U.S. citizenship test given to immigrants before they receive a high school diploma.

McCormick said his legislation is part of a "nation-wide effort to require high school students to pass" a basic civics exam. "The test's questionnaire is not terribly difficult," he added, noting it includes such questions as what "are the two parts of Congress."

The exam is passed by 92 percent of immigrants seeking to become U.S. citizens but some states have failure rates of 98 percent, McCormick said. The bill requires students score at least 70 and can take the exam as many times as necessary to pass.

Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, said it "still disturbs me we're mandating another test."

Another lawmaker, Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, asked McCormick whether he had sought the advice of school districts in Chattanooga and Nashville as well as others. McCormick said he had spoken with the State Board of Education but not every school district.

After Jones continued to raise questions, McCormick said, "I'm sure they [local districts] will be shocked they have to teach their students who the president and the vice president of the United States are."

The bill now goes to the Senate.

* House members voted 61-28 to let lawmakers accept digital currencies such as bitcoin. The money would be counted as a campaign "gift" with the donor's name, address and employer listed. Candidates could only accept the digital currency from U.S. citizens. The bill now goes to the Senate.

* The House voted 88-6 for a bill that supercedes Chattanooga and other cities' ability to regulate web-based ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, replacing the regulations with a state approach.

The bill was the result of a compromise between the transportation network giants and car insurers on mandatory insurance. The bill also allows the companies to regulate themselves but they must conduct criminal background checks on employees.

"I could not understand why the language of the bill specifies that the [companies] are not subject to any regulations passed by a municipality or other government entity and they are not subject to the authority of the [state] Department of Safety," complained Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, who also fretted it was unfair to traditional taxi drivers.

The Senate is expected to take up the bill in that chamber where Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, is the sponsor.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

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