House, Senate working to finish
by DAVID DAVIS, Managing Editor
Apr 19, 2013 | 951 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Annexation, school signs, security eyed
Eric Watson
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Legislators took on three bills Thursday tied to Southeast Tennessee, with mixed results.

The House and Senate could not agree on a bill to limit annexation and it has been sent back to committee. However, they did pass legislation to prohibit school systems from promoting positions on public referendums and the School Security Act of 2013 was also approved.

The two legislative bodies could not agree on legislation that would allow residents to vote on annexation. The result is a one-year moratorium on annexation and a study by the Tennessee Advisory Council on Intergovern-mental Relations.

State Sen. Todd Gardenhire said, “I think Sen. Bo Watson and Rep. Mike Carter have sponsored probably the most hotly debated, lobbied, cursed, praised and argued over piece of legislation so far in this 108th General Assembly. As of [Thursday] night, it had 13 amendments on it and the Senate did not concur with the House version. I believe absolutely no one at this point will be happy with what comes out today.”

As it currently exists, the bill would allow cities to annex property for industrial purposes, but prohibit taking in residential or agricultural land. Counties would be able to opt out of the moratorium with a two-thirds vote of the commission. Cities would not be able to opt out except by a vote of their respective county commission.

A bill authored by Sen. Mike Bell prohibits schools from posting signs or messages supporting or opposing referendums or initiatives. The legislation includes signs owned by a local education agency, or LEA, its schools or attached to school buildings. The legislation includes the prohibition of audio or video messages and telephonic or electronic equipment or accounts.

Bell said the bill passed by unanimous votes through all of the committees and on both floors. It passed 91-0 in the House. It passed quietly in the Senate about six week earlier.

Bell said everywhere he took the bill, “senators said they could not believe an LEA did that. It passed with very little discussion. It clearly shows legislators disagreed with LEAs using public property to express a position on a referendum.”

Gardenhire said, “I have a hard time with the use of government assets being used to promote any political agenda. While it's nice when the agenda is what I might want; at some point, that agenda may not be what I believe in or want to happen. It's best to have a policy in place not to allow schools to use signs to promote a view on a referendum where voters, which includes the people that paid taxes to pay for those signs, will decide the outcome.”

Bell introduced the bill after Cleveland City Schools encouraged voters to support the 2012 wheel tax issue.

The Senate and House approved the “School Security Act of 2013" authored by Rep. Eric Watson and Sen. Frank Nicely. H.B. 6/S.B. 570, would give school districts the option to hire security personnel such as law enforcement, retired law enforcement, veterans or school staff willing to serve as security staff.

Requirements would include successfully completing an eight-hour handgun safety course that is certified by the Department of Safety. Personnel must be U.S. citizens, a resident of the state and undergo a background check conducted by the TBI.

The legislation requires Peace Officers Standards and Training certification, plus a 40-hour course in basic school policing training, which includes training in crisis management and hostile situations. The person would also have to complete an annual eight-hour POST certified firearm training program; and an annual eight-hour crisis management and hostile situations training course.

The measure passed 82-15 in the House and 27-6 in the Senate.

Watson thanked Bradley County Schools for the system’s commitment in efforts to help him give parents, children and school employee’s peace of mind, and has pledged to ensure the local education agencies have the tools needed.

“This legislation would not only provide that, but it also will allow for an important measure of defense for protecting students and faculty should the need arise during the school day,” he said.

He said Gov. Bill Haslam has included $34 million in recurring BEP funds schools could use for this purpose. The local school districts will not only have the opportunity to enact this permissive legislation, but they also have the option to add qualifications and requirements as they see fit. The law takes effect July 1.

State Rep. Kevin Brooks, a member of the Finance, Ways and Means Committee, said the General Assembly passed a $32 billion balanced budget and still cut taxes for Tennessee families and put $100 million in the states rainy day fund.

He said other states have rainy day funds, but not all have balanced budgets, cut taxes and put money in the fund.

Brooks said the greatest contrast to Tennessee is the federal government in Washington, D.C, where leaders don’t pass balanced budgets and oftentimes do not have a budget.

Brooks said the 108th General Assembly expects to adjourn sometime today, which would be the earliest departure this century.

It costs the state $200,000 each week the General Assembly is in Nashville. Leaving today would save taxpayers $2 million compared to 2012.

“It matters who governs,” Brooks said.

A detailed summary of House of Representatives actions from this week, jointly written by state Reps. Brooks and Watson, is published today in an editorial on Page 16.