Praise Jesus and pass the bourbon! As of about 5:30 EDT yesterday afternoon, the first year of the 108th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned for good. That means with any luck, we won't have to utter the words "state Sen. Stacey Campfield" until January 2014. But the even better news is that in the mad rush to get the hell out of Nashville in time for Record Store Day, our beloved state Legislature got in an intra-party pissing match, leaving a lot of potentially damaging legislation on the table. Will some of it be back next year? You better believe it. But does that mean we can't celebrate anyway? Hell, no!
Here's some what we've reported on this year, and what happened with those bills:
"Education Reform" legislation: This really looked like the year for so-called "education reform" in Tennessee. Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst had spent hundreds of thousands on getting members of the House and Senate Education Committees reelected last year, and Gov. Bill Haslam was pushing a big school voucher bill. Amazingly, nothing happened. Vouchers died a few weeks back, and a revamping of the state parent trigger law died not long after. Then, yesterday, last-minute attempts to pass a statewide charter authorizer and a measure allowing for-profit charter school operators both died an ugly death. We suspect more that one member of the Knox County Schools Board of Education was popping Champagne last night, along with quite a few teachers.
Judicial Redistricting: Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey made a big push for judicial redistricting this year for no really clear reason, and it pissed a lot of people off. Even though his final plan had the somewhat begrudging approval of the Tennessee Bar Association, it wasn't enough for the House yesterday, who complained the bill was "crammed down our throats." They refused to pass the plan, and since next year is an election year, that means no redistricting can probably happen until at least 2015, leaving it for the next legislature to deal with.
Judicial Selection: Let's hope no state appellate judges die or decide to retire in the next year, because the Senate refused to extend the sunset date of the Judicial Nominating Commission yesterday. The commission is already in its wind-down period, which means it expires June 30, which means, despite what some legislators would like to think, no one can be either appointed or elected to replace a judge who steps off the bench. This whole nonsense got tied up with the Senate attempting to appoint an entirely new Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission in advance of next year's retention elections, and the House, wisely, decided to have none of it, refusing to accept the amendment on the bill to extend JPEC that would have also reset the commission. Fortunately, JPEC still has a year to wind down, which means it can get all its evaluations of judges done in plenty of time for next year's elections.
Indigent Representation: We are sure some sneaky amendments did get tacked on to things that passed, but one that didn't was Sen. Randy McNally's attempt to cut funding for indigent civil legal representation and roll those services into the offices of already overworked, underpaid public defenders. The Legislature didn't do much for the poor this session, but at least some people had enough sense to get McNally to withdraw his amendment before the appropriations bill hit the floor.
State (and Developer) Controls on Local Planning: The no-good, very bad bill giving developers far too much leeway in getting around changes in local planning and zoning regulations was sent to summer study. Hopefully, the compromise version the Legislature comes back with next year won't be quite as bad for city planners.
Ag-Gag: After a debate that left some watchers literally gagging in disbelief, the House barely passed the Ag-Gag bill, which makes it a criminal misdemeanor to record or photograph animal abuse and not turn that media over to the police within 48 hours. Is this a violation of the First Amendment? Almost most definitely. Will the governor sign it? "He'll review it, like he does all bills, when it gets to his desk," says Haslam spokesperson David Smith. This bill would, for once, actually be a good candidate for a veto--if one more person had voted against it, the bill wouldn't have passed the House, which means it would likely be hard to get the votes to overturn a veto. And now that Carrie Underwood is urging the governor to veto, how can he not do so? Well, easily, but we're keeping our fingers crossed anyway. And if Haslam does sign the bill, or allow it to go into effect without his signature, you can rest assured we'll be going along with our News Sentinel corporate overlords in refusing to abide by it.
Wine in Grocery Stores. It died in the House because of some petty bullshit. But the Senate has it ready to go to the floor for a full vote when the session returns next January. Will the right to conveniently buy wine and food together rise like a phoenix through the smoldering ashes of Speaker Beth Harwell's rage at her stacked committee voting in a way she didn't expect? Meet us back here next winter, and we'll find out together ...