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House Passes Bill That Blocks Marijuana Decriminalization
AP Friday March 24, 2017

The House has voted on a bill that would block any efforts by Tennessee cities to decriminalize the use of marijuana. The bill would nullify laws that Memphis and Nashville have passed that have reduced the penalty for weed in some cases.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. William Lamberth, a Republican from Cottontown. It passed over the objections of lawmakers in Memphis and Nashville who thought the state should stop interfering with their cities. Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell, of Nashville, voted against the measure.

Nashville and Memphis passed laws that would give police the discretion to allow people caught with a small amount of marijuana to face a civil penalty instead of a misdemeanor charge.

The bill passed 65-28 with one member present who didn't vote.


House panel OKs bill to require seat belts on school buses
AP Thursday March 23, 2017

A bill to require Tennessee school buses to be fitted with seat belts by July 2023 is advancing in the House.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that the House Transportation Subcommittee advanced the measure on a voice vote on Wednesday.

The vote came after a pediatric surgeon testified about how three-point safety belts could have benefited children injured in a Chattanooga school bus crash that killed six children in November.

Democratic Rep. JoAnne Favors of Chattanooga said she was pleased to see her bill advance, but acknowledged that she will have to address the estimated $400 million it would take for school districts to buy new buses equipped with seat belts.

Investigators have said the driver was speeding and off of his route when the bus crashed.


State bill would let undocumented immigrants pay in-state tuition
AP Thursday March 23, 2017

A bill that would let undocumented immigrants pay in-state college tuition advanced in the Tennessee Legislature on Wednesday.

The Tuition Opportunity Bill passed by a 7-to-2 vote in the Senate Education Committee.

Dozens of students who are living in the country illegally were at the committee meeting. The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition has been pushing lawmakers for several years to pass the measure, but it has failed to get enough support to pass into law.

“We applaud the members of the committee who voted to expand access to in-state tuition to undocumented graduates,” Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director of TIRRC, said in a statement. She said she hoped it would make it through more committees so students could pay in-state tuition this fall.

Elman Gonzales of Sevierville said he could go back to school if the bill becomes law.

The 19-year-old, who graduated from Sevier County High School, was brought to Tennessee at age 2 when his parents moved here from Honduras.

He was forced to drop out of school at East Tennessee State University because tuition was $12,000 per semester — about three times the cost of in-state tuition. Gonzales was pursuing a nursing degree but said he really wants to be a doctor.

“I’m hoping that there has been a lot of change of heart from those senators and representatives and hopefully by sharing student stories they can come to realize that this bill can change the lives of thousands of students across Tennessee,” Gonzales said.

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, a Republican from Chattanooga who sponsored the bill, said the state has already invested in the students by paying for their K-12 education.

Under current law, immigrant students who are in the country without documentation must pay out-of-state tuition because they are not considered legal residents.

“We’ve already made the investments, but when they graduate from hIgh school —no matter how long they’ve lived in Tennessee — they have to pay more than three times as much as their classmates that go to public schools and universities,” Gardenhire said.

He also said that the measure would be good for the economy by helping more Tennesseans get degrees.

The bill would let the governing boards of the state’s colleges and universities decide whether to allow the students to pay in-state tuition.

If the measure passes, the students who are in the country illegally still wouldn’t qualify for federal financial aid. They also would not be eligible for Tennessee’s programs that offer students free tuition at community colleges and technical students, said Ginger Hausser, director of external affairs for the Tennessee Board of Regents.


Tennessee bill to shield drivers who hit protesters fails
AP Thursday March 23, 2017

A Tennessee committee has voted down a bill to protect drivers from lawsuits if they hit protesters who are blocking traffic.

On Wednesday, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted against the legislation by Republican Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough.

The bill would grant immunity from civil liability to drivers who are exercising due care and accidentally injure a protester who is blocking traffic.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway, a Memphis Democrat, said the bill would be constitutionally suspect and embolden people to think they can hit protesters. He read tweets about President Donald Trump’s visit to Nashville last week, including one that incorrectly says it’s legal to run over protesters because of the bill.

Hill said he doesn’t endorse those comments, and his bill doesn’t intend to sanction driving into protesters.


Voucher bill fails to move forward in Tennessee state Senate
AP Thursday March 23, 2017

A voucher bill that would let parents use taxpayer money to spend on private schools has failed to get enough votes to move forward in the state Senate.

The measure, sponsored by Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, would have let students in failing school districts use the vouchers.

There weren’t enough votes in a Senate Education Committee to move the bill forward Wednesday. The bill could potentially be revived if Gardenhire could persuade lawmakers to change their mind.

The measure needed five “yes” votes to advance. Four lawmakers voted “yes.” Four others passed and one lawmaker voted “no.”

The General Assembly is also considering a measure that would create a five-year pilot program for vouchers in Shelby County only.


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