Sporadic outbursts of reasonable legislating erupted in Nashville last week, with lawmakers advancing a few beneficial bills while killing or blocking some misguided ones.
This year’s fast-paced session of the General Assembly is far from over, but several recent actions, particularly in the Senate, offer cautious optimism for moving the state forward.
The Senate derailed an effort to freeze implementation of the Common Core State Standards and delay the companion student assessments. The bill, which passed the House after a slick parliamentary move attached it to another education measure, was sent to the Finance Committee because of a fiscal note that estimated it would cost the state at least $14 million over two years. Bills shuffled off to the committee typically die there.
After the House vote, Gov. Bill Haslam blitzed the state to shore up support for the Common Core standards, which are designed to foster reasoning skills in math and English. He wisely brought in a couple of big guns on Wednesday – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a former U.S. education secretary, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016 – to galvanize support for the standards.
In his last-minute push, Haslam demonstrated the leadership needed to improve education in Tennessee. The Common Core standards are vital to preparing students for higher education and participation in the workforce.
A House subcommittee delayed consideration of a bill that would eliminate local control over firearms restrictions in parks until after a vote on the state budget, essentially killing the measure. Cities and counties should retain the right to decide how to manage their parks.
Senate proposals that would allow popular election of local school superintendents, the State Board of Education and the attorney general also failed at the committee level. Those offices are appointed by local school boards, the governor and the state Supreme Court, respectively. Changing that process would drain those offices of professionalism and inject them with more politics.
The Senate Health Committee slammed the door on a bill already passed in the House that would bar schools from distributing information on the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. While many in the Legislature’s Republican supermajority vehemently oppose the health reform law, they should not impede the free exchange of information on insurance options.
The Legislature’s majority leadership, Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell, want to wrap up the session by mid-April, though Ramsey is arranging for a special session if necessary for votes to override possible Haslam vetoes. Much can happen between now and then, but, if last week is any indication, common sense and responsible governance have reasserted themselves in the 108th General Assembly.