108th General Assembly adjourns for year

Friday, April 19, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 16

NASHVILLE (AP) - The 108th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned on Friday, the first time in 45 years that lawmakers have finished as early as April in the first year of a session.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey had set an adjournment goal of April 18, but he didn't seem upset finishing a day later.

"We set a goal at the very beginning of session and we worked toward that goal," the Blountville Republican said. "I think that's what the people want. It's about setting goals and working toward those goals."

Legislative librarian Eddie Weeks said prior to the 85th General Assembly, lawmakers were meeting in odd-numbered years, "but since 1967, we've never adjourned in the first year of the two-year General Assembly in the month of April."

Gov. Bill Haslam commended lawmakers for finishing early during a news conference after the session.

"It shows that the General Assembly was intent about going about their business and doing it," he said.

Constitutionally, the only legislation lawmakers are required to pass is the governor's spending plan.

The Senate unanimously approved the $32.8 billion budget earlier this week, and the House later followed suit on an 83-14 vote before sending it to Haslam to sign.

The budget includes $77.4 million for a 1.5 percent pay raise for state employees, $22.2 million to reduce the sales tax on food by a quarter of a cent, and $18.7 million for a multi-year plan that eliminates the state's inheritance tax.

The measure also has $100 million to shore up the state's rainy day fund, which is currently $356 million.

Haslam, a Republican, had some wins and losses during the session that Republicans controlled with a supermajority in both chambers.

After having a task force explore setting up a school voucher program in Tennessee, Haslam was ready to push through a proposal to limit vouchers to 5,000 students in failing schools next term; that figure would grow to 20,000 students by 2016.

However, there were attempts to broaden his proposal, as special interest groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads promoting an expansion and Haslam withdrew his bill.

Haslam said he will try again next session.

"We definitely intend to emphasize that again," he said.

Haslam did pass his proposal that seeks to tighten enrollment requirements at privately run online schools and an overhaul of the way the state considers injured workers' claims.

Other legislation that passed this session includes a proposal that would allow people with handgun carry permits to store firearms in their vehicles no matter where they are parked. Haslam has signed that measure.

Measures that failed this session include a proposal to redraw Tennessee's judicial districts for the first time since 1984; legislation to do away with the state's motorcycle helmet law; a proposal seeking to ban basing government h iring preferences on race, gender or ethnicity; and a measure to eliminate affirmative action initiatives from higher education institutions.

When asked by a reporter if he was disappointed that the measures didn't pass considering Republicans have a supermajority, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville said he wasn't.

"Just because we can pass something doesn't mean we will," he said.