Tennessee governor pleased with first legislative session
Posted: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 9:02 pm
By ERIK SCHELZIG
NASHVILLE (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s pleased with how his first legislative session turned out, but that he’s still working on “understanding the ebb and flow” of the lawmaking process in the Tennessee General Assembly.
The Republican governor, who took office Jan. 15, saw most of his agenda approved by lawmakers by the time they adjourned Saturday night, including bills to place caps on non-economic damages in civil lawsuits, make teacher tenure more difficult to obtain and lift restrictions on who can attend charter schools.
Haslam was also successful in batting down bills he opposed, like efforts to allow faculty and staff to carry guns on the campuses of public colleges and a late attempt to scuttle a special sales tax exemption for online retailer Amazon.com.
“Do I have a learning process in being governor? You bet. Do I have a learning process in understanding the ebb and flow of the Legislature? You bet,” Haslam said in a press conference marking the end of the session with Republican leaders of both chambers.
“But I’ll take this for a first year, and I attribute it a lot to the people who are around me,” he said.
Haslam insisted at the end-of-session event with House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey that it was “not just Republican feel-good stuff.”
“I’ve been very impressed and appreciative of the work done by leadership in the House and Senate, and I’m proud to be on their team,” Haslam said.
Early in the session it wasn’t clear that Haslam and Ramsey, who were opponents in last year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, would reach such a happy conclusion.
After Haslam in March joined Harwell in endorsing a bill that sought to adjust — but not eliminate — teachers’ collective bargaining rights, Ramsey issued what he called an “Open Letter to Conservatives” on Facebook that urged the rejection of any measure that didn’t scuttle all union bargaining.
“Stand with me in this cause to make sure we as Republicans are who we say we are,” Ramsey said in the letter.
Haslam days later issued his own op-ed and Facebook message lamenting the “partisan tone” that had emerged over education issues in the Legislature.
Ramsey told reporters that the governor didn’t have the same institutional knowledge about the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, and the governor was being unrealistic if he thought “that if we just be nice, it will all work out.”
Ramsey and Haslam also disagreed over the governor’s proposal to give his administration the authority to determine if prescriptions should be required for cold medicines used to make methamphetamine and over a legislative proposal to require the state’s appellate judges stand for popular election.
But Haslam’s meth bill failed, as did Ramsey’s judicial election proposal. And the final version of the collective bargaining bill did away with union negotiations in favor of a concept called “collective conferencing.”
Republicans in both chambers appeared satisfied with the final version of the bill, and Haslam has said he plans to sign it into law despite vocal opposition from Democrats and a series of rallies by teachers and labor groups at the Capitol.
“I’m new around here, but I wouldn’t say this session has been marked with any greater degree of discord than there’s been around in the past,” Haslam said. “I think there’s been a real effort to work together.”
Haslam’s $30.8 billion annual spending plan closely followed a blueprint laid out by former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, and budget cuts were alleviated by improving state revenues and an $82 million rebate from the federal government because of Medicaid funding errors.
The spending plan relies heavily on $1.3 billion generated from a $450 million levy on state hospitals, which Republicans call an assessment fee.
Democrats, meanwhile, call it a tax.
Published in The Messenger 5.24.11