The 109th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned on Wednesday, April 22, ending this year’s legislative session. This year the General Assembly, composed of the 132 members of the state’s Senate and House of Representatives, has voted on over 1400 bills since their first regular meeting on Jan. 17. Last week, they voted on many of their most significant changes to state policy, and notably approved a plan to develop new K-12 education standards.
At Governor Haslam’s re-inauguration on Jan. 17, he stated, "I think that every governor for the last 100 years has said that education would be a priority ... but for too long Tennessee has remained near the bottom of state rankings in academic achievement. Let's seize on this momentum and on the hard work of our teachers and students to continue the progress that we are making."
Haslam instituted a review of the current 2010 Common Core Math and Language programs in October, and since then, the state government has collected more than 80,000 comments in public feedback through their website. The new bill builds on the two existing review committees selected by the Board of Education by adding a third, ten-person panel appointed by the governor and both speakers of the General Assembly. In two years, the combined group will report their findings and officially propose new recommendations to the State Board of Education for the 2017-2018 school year.
The expanded review measures were part of a compromise proposed by House Representative Bill Spivey, in order to pacify Assembly members with strong opposing opinions on Common Core. Though the bill passed unanimously in the House and was approved 27-3 in Senate, critics note that it doesn’t specify how substantial the proposed changes will need to be.
Outside their work on education reform, this year’s Tennessee lawmakers were fruitful. The General Assembly approved a budget of $33.8 billion for the upcoming year, fulfilling their requirement outlined in the Constitution. Among the most pivotal bills passed were the new restrictions on Tennessee’s abortion clinics, which require women to wait 48 hours before getting an abortion and receive counseling detailing the procedure’s risks and alternatives. Additionally, all clinics must now be state-licensed and are subject to inspection. Another state-wide change came with the controversial “Guns in Parks” bill, which prevents local authorities from banning firearms in public parks, except when being utilized for school activities. Gov. Haslam officially signed this bill into law on Apr. 24. The General Assembly also unanimously passed a bill to allow cannabis oil to be used in treating seizures and epilepsy.
The 109th Tennessee General Assembly featured some significant rejections as well. Gov. Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” health care expansion was rejected twice, once in February and again at the end of March. The proposal would have potentially expanded federally-funded programs like Medicaid to about 280,000 additional low-income Tennessee residents. Despite doing well in lower tiers and the House, a motion to make the Bible Tennessee’s official state book was defeated by Senate amidst criticism that it would be disrespectful to the book’s holy nature. The bill was sent back to a committee for potential review next year.
“We’ve just witnessed a session of success,” said Ryan Haynes, Republican Party Chairman, after the Assembly closed. “Whether it is the conservative fiscal stewardship of our state, educational reforms that keep us on the path of achievement, or a number of bills to enhance the freedom Tennesseans expect—our state is moving ahead.”