Legislative notebook: Sex week, health care, taxes and cursive writing

NASHVILLE (MCT) – Two state Senate committee chairs have turned to letter writing in their crusade against the University of Tennessee Sex Week.
Mar 5, 2014

 

NASHVILLE (MCT) – Two state Senate committee chairs have turned to letter writing in their crusade against the University of Tennessee Sex Week.

In a letter to UT President Joe DiPietro and UT trustees, Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell and Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham declared "disapproval and dismay at the lack of leadership" by UT officials in dealing with the event.

"This inaction is unacceptable," they wrote.

The letter says the event meets the definition of obscenity used in a U.S. Supreme Court cases and the law would support university "rejection of such outrageous behavior being offered on our campus by the event's organizers" with funding from student fees that all students must pay.

"The organizers of Sex Week have promoted the event as a sexual health event, when in reality the aim of the organizers is to thrust a radical agenda on the students of the University of Tennessee," the letter said. "It is the responsibility of the administrators of the University of Tennessee, rather than a student organization registered with the university, to make decisions regarding how to educate students about sexual health issues."

The House has passed a resolution condemning Sex Week and a Senate committee on Wednesday is to consider a similar resolution by Bell, R-Riceville. The letter was publicized in a Senate Republican Caucus news release.

ACA in schools: Tennessee schools will be prohibited from providing any information to students or their parents on the federal Affordable Care Act until legislation sponsored by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada and approved by the House Education Committee on Tuesday.

Casada said the bill (HB2248) was inspired by him hearing on a news program that President Barack Obama was considering using schools as "a way to get the word out" on the ACA.

"I thought: Not in Tennessee," he said in an interview after the committee approved his bill on a party-line vote with little discussion.

Casada said he was unaware of any schools providing information on "Obamacare" in Tennessee and hopes the legislation will pre-empt any such efforts. As drafted, the bill covers only mailing to students, but an amendment would cover electronic communications as well.

Casada was asked whether the prohibition would apply to a student asking a teacher or counselor for information and he replied that it would not since the bill only covers "written or electronic" communications, not verbal responses to questions.

Hall income tax: With support from national anti-tax organizations, two legislators have come up with a revised plan for eventually eliminating Tennessee's Hall income tax.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, joined Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, at a news conference Wednesday at the Legislative Plaza.

Green and Sargent said they will revise SB1427 with an amendment providing for reducing the 6 percent tax on dividends and interest by 1 percent per year -- but only in years when state revenue growth exceeds inflation and population growth. With luck and a growing economy, the tax could be eliminated in as few as six year, but it could take longer, the legislators said

The bill further provides that the state will suffer the most immediate revenue loss from slashing the tax. As the tax is reduced, the state's share of revenue will also be shifted to local governments now receiving revenue from the Hall tax.

Legislative staff estimates that the tax will produce $260 million in the next fiscal year with $170 million going to the state and $90 million to cities and counties. Under the bill, as the tax is phased out an increasing share of the remaining revenue would go to local governments.

The sponsors said this would allow local governments time to plan for the loss of revenue, hopefully without raising property taxes to compensate for the loss.

Gov. Bill Haslam, who has said that he generally favors reducing the tax, has called for restraint in further tax-cutting measures this year because of state budget shortfalls. In recent past sessions, the Legislature has already approved bills reducing the Hall tax, phasing out the state inheritance tax, abolishing the state gift tax and reducing the sales tax on grocery food.

Green and Sargent said they plan to bring their bill before committees for hearings starting next week.

Cursive writing: Schools will be required to teach cursive writing under a bill advancing through the Legislature.

The House Education Committee approved the measure (HB1697) Tuesday after sponsor Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, said she had learned that about half of the students in her area cannot now read cursive writing because they have never learned it.

Butt said many of the nation's "foundational documents," such as the Constitution, are originally available in cursive as well as personal documents a youngster will encounter such as "a letter from a grandmother."

As filed, the bill called for cursive training to occur by the third grade. An amendment added in committee changes that to "at appropriate age level."

The bill is scheduled for a Senate committee vote Wednesday with Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, as sponsor.

 

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