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VOL. 40 | NO. 4 | Friday, January 22, 2016

Higher education changes highlight Haslam's 2016 agenda

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NASHVILLE (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday released his administration's 42-bill agenda for this year's legislative session that includes an effort to restructure higher education governance that led to the early retirement of the chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents schools.

The Republican governor wants to give more autonomy to the six four-year colleges to allow the Regents system to focus more on promoting graduation rates from the state's two-year community and technical colleges.

Chancellor John Morgan earlier this month described the plan as "unworkable" in announcing retirement a year earlier than planned. Morgan said the changes would hurt would hurt oversight and accountability efforts.

But Haslam's proposal is popular among lawmakers who would be able to tout more local control over regional schools in their home districts. Though one hang-up could develop over Haslam's proposal to appoint all of the 12 members f or each six school boards, which would control budgets, tuition and the selection of college presidents.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, has said lawmakers should have at least some say who serves on the boards of Austin Peay in Clarksville, East Tennessee in Johnson City, Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro, Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tennessee State in Nashville and the University of Memphis.

Other bills in the governor's legislative agenda would:

- Increase sentencing requirements for serious crimes while taking steps to reduce recidivism by expanding services and drug treatment for offenders.

- Make handgun carry permits valid for eight years, up from the current five-year permit.

- Add reporting requirements for the disposal of human fetal tissue after abortions.

"The Fetal Remains Act strengthens accountability and transparency for surgery centers performing abortions," Haslam said in the release.

Haslam announced earl ier this month that he would not try to get lawmakers to approve the state's first gas tax increase since 1989, avoiding what would have become a similar showdown with fellow Republicans that he faced with his unsuccessful bid to expand Medicaid in Tennessee last year.

Haslam's sweeping effort to privatize the maintenance of state buildings is absent from his legislative agenda. Lawmakers like Ramsey support the outsourcing plan, but have urged Haslam to get the Legislature to approve those changes.

The governor has so far declined to commit to seeking legislative approval while his administration has been working on a "business justification" for the outsourcing plan.

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