Thursday, May 12, 2005

Legislative Update 5/8/05

Here is an update on my thoughts regarding a few of the issues making the rounds
at the Capitol this week.




The Senate passed by 21-10, Senator Jamie Hagood’s (R-Knoxville) bill to
expand the use of charter schools in Tennessee. Charter schools are public
schools that operate under the local school board but have significantly more
control over budget and rules than other public schools. In Tennessee, charter
schools can only serve at-risk children and receive the same per pupil funding
as other public schools.

The bill passing the Senate broadens the law significantly. Primarily, this
legislation shifts the focus from the school to the student. Currently, a
school has to fail for a child to have the option of attending a charter school.
Under this bill students who fail to make “adequate yearly progress” can
have the option to attend a charter school if one exists in their area. The
bill also eliminates the cap of 15 charter schools in Tennessee so that any
district in Tennessee that wants to set up a charter school for at-risk children
can do so.

Tennessee Education Association (TEA) fought the bill at every level. In
committee, the TEA testified that in other states charter schools had not been
successful. They cited statistics stating “charter school students did no
better than students from other public schools.” They neglected to mention
that charter schools typically enroll at-risk students; therefore, reaching the
performance level of other schools is quite an accomplishment!! It was almost
sad to sit on the Education Committee and watch the TEA struggle to come up with
arguments against charter schools. Their arguments were weak at best and
groundless in general.

More than any other vote this year, the vote on charter schools showed the
strength of the TEA in this Senate. With only 10 votes against charter schools,
it is obvious TEA’s influence in the Senate is waning.

The charter schools bill will have more difficulty in the House. The TEA is
stronger and Democrats have a numerical advantage. However, the Senate has made
a statement that we are willing to try some new things in education.

We can’t continue to be 47th in education. We owe it to our children to find
ways to improve the system. By their nature, charter schools are education
laboratories where innovations can be introduced, tested and evaluated. I’m
proud to serve on an Education Committee and in a Senate that is willing search
for new ways to improve education.


Speaking of change…the TennCare situation changes more often than the weather.
Last week, the courts ruled that the state could not begin disenrollment. This
week, an appeals court ruled that the state can begin disenrollment. If the
plan goes forward, disenrollment letters should go out in June with
disenrollment to begin in July.

Last week the Administration maneuvered the TennCare enrollee advocates (aka
Gordon Bonnyman and the Tennessee Justice Center) into a no-win situation. The
Governor announced that he would re-enroll the 97,000 Medically Needy (those who
have medical bills greater than their income) IF TennCare can have full
discretion over the treatments and procedures that are “medically necessary”
and TennCare enrollees give up their rights to appeal TennCare decisions.
Physicians and patient advocates are furious over these conditions. So far,
patient advocates have rejected the deal.

Though the courts are allowing the Governor’s disenrollment plan to proceed,
many problems still exist.

1. A court ruling is still outstanding on the benefit cuts in TennCare. If the
court rules the benefits can’t be cut, we will be in real budget trouble.

2. The Governor has not announced what plan, if any, he has to help the
disenrolled Tennesseans. Speculation at the Capitol is that the Governor plans
to disenroll everyone in the expansion population except children, cut the costs
then broker deals with the courts and the advocates to allow some of those
people back on TennCare before the 2006 elections. Speculation is that such a
tactic would cast the Governor as a hero and help him sweep to easy victory in
his re-election. Time will tell if this is merely speculation.

3. The Governor has not announced how he will truly reform TennCare. So far the
plan is to “slice and dice” the program by cutting benefits and removing
several hundred thousand people from the rolls. True reform is still to come
and the Governor has not provided any plans.

These points are points of contention with the legislature. We all have
constituents who will be disenrolled, affected by the benefit cuts and impacted
by the future of TennCare. We would like to see some resolution before we
adjourn for the year.


I passed four bills in the Senate this week that might be of interest.

1. Providing a tax credit for business who hire developmentally disabled adults.
This excellent bill came from Rep. Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville). If a business
hires a developmentally disabled adult for one year and provides health
insurance for that individual, the business can receive a tax credit up to
$5000. This bill will actually save the state money in services while providing
a rewarding opportunity for these challenged adults. I am extremely proud Rep.
Brooks allowed me to work with him on this bill.

2. Banning autopsies from being filmed for commercial purposes without the
family’s permission. The Nashville Medical Examiner (Dr. Levy) allowed The
Learning Channel to film an autopsy that was aired nationally. A New Jersey
couple saw the show and recognized the deceased as their son who had been killed
in a Tennessee automobile accident. The family was traumatized. This bill
would keep this from ever happening again by placing restrictions on filming
autopsies and adding stiff penalties for any medical examiner who does violates
the law. This bill was sponsored in the House by Rep. Susan Lynn.

3. Day care van drivers must pass a drug test. Prior to driving for a day care,
van drivers must simply pass a drug test. It’s a simple but necessary step to
keeping our children safe. This bill was also sponsored in the House by Rep.
Susan Lynn.

4. United States and Tennessee flags purchased by the state must be manufactured
in the United States. Currently the state contract is with a company in Canada.
Though I am adamant free trader, I must admit that even I think we should
purchase flags that are made in the U.S. This bill is sponsored in the House by
Rep. Sargent (R-Brentwood).

(Ed: WTF....who cares where the flag is made. In fact i think that we should make all the arabs make our flags. Should i be happy with one bad bill our of four?)

Thank you for the honor of serving in the Tennessee State Senate. Have a great

If you enjoy reading update, please pass it along to anyone you think might be
interested. They can sign up by contacting me at or by simply sending me an e-mail
at the address below.

Jim Bryson
State Senator
Davidson and Williamson Counties

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