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VOL. 39 | NO. 16 | Friday, April 17, 2015

Defeat of Insure Tennessee proposal set tone in 2015 session

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NASHVILLE (AP) — The defeat of Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans set the tone for the 2015 session of the state Legislature.

Lawmakers adjourned the first session of the 109th General Assembly on Wednesday night that also featured the defeat of a proposal to offer in-state tuition to non-citizens, the passage of a bill to remove local power to ban guns in parks and the latest rejection of a perennial effort to create a school voucher program in Tennessee.

Haslam's Insure Tennessee proposal failed in a special legislative session in February, was then revived during the regular session — only to be killed again in a Senate committee.

Here is a look at some of the other highlights from the session:

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INTER-CHAMBER DISCORD: With Republicans holding vast majorities in both chambers, many of the biggest fights were between the House and Senate rather than between the GOP and Democrats. Tensions came to a head in March, when House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga charged that the Senate had met through winter storms in order to pad their expense accounts. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, shot back that House members were more interested in partaking in "social hour" than completing their business in a timely fashion.

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SECRET MEETINGS: Joint reporting by The Associated Press and the state's four largest newspapers found that Tennessee House committees were increasingly gathering in cramped, tucked-away conference rooms in the legislative office complex to hold secret "pre-meetings" to discuss pending legislation without the public being informed or invited. Following the news accounts, House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, called for transparency and urged committee chairs to establish an "open door policy" for the meetings about pending legislation.

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RACIST POST: Republican Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, sparked outrage after she posted on Facebook that it was "time for Council on Christian Relations and an NAAWP in this Country." The Council on American-Islamic Relations noted that the acronym has been used by white supremacist groups to mean the "National Association for the Advancement of White People." Butt told reporters she meant it to mean "National Association of Advancement for Western Peoples," and argued her post has been misinterpreted.

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OUTSPOKEN LAWMAKER: During the special session on Insure Tennessee, Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga berated a freshman Democrat for suggesting lawmakers receiving taxpayer-subsidized health care should be more open to the governor's plan. Gardenhire, who voted to defeat the measure, in his comments claimed he had private insurance. But public records later revealed he was on the state plan. Later, Gardenhire was captured on video calling an Insure Tennessee supporter an obscene name. The Tennessean newspaper ran a front page editorial saying: "We are not that vulgar term you called us, Senator."

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TENNESSEE MOONSHINE: A renewed effort to repeal a 2013 law establishing rules for which spirits can be marketed as Tennessee Whiskey failed for the year in the Senate. Opponents argued that they shouldn't have to follow the charcoal filtering and new barrel traditions of the "Lincoln County Method" supported by Jack Daniel's. Now, another state booze tradition is being written into state code: Both chambers on the last day of the session passed a bill to say all spirits sold as Tennessee Moonshine must be distilled within the state.

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