Blake Farmer

Republican-controlled legislatures in several states are finding it difficult to stick to one of their mantras: the government closest to the people governs best. In Tennessee, where the GOP now holds a supermajority, the state is attempting to wrest control from cities and towns on a variety of issues ranging from charter schools to property rights.


 A plan to overhaul the way workers’ compensation claims are handled will be debated in the Tennessee General Assembly this week. Under the current system, if there is a dispute between an employer and an employee over how much money is owed, the disagreement is usually settled by a judge.

“Only Tennessee and Alabama involve the courts like this,” said Blake Farmer who covers the state Capitol for WPLN.

It’s an arrangement that has left many unhappy. Some employers claim the current system is too costly, while injured workers complain it takes too long to get paid.

The state Legislature will spend time this week hammering out the details of a school voucher bill. Those specifics will determine who will be able to use public money to attend private school. Governor Bill Haslam has said he wants to make vouchers available only to students who attend failing schools and qualify for free or reduced prices lunches. If the governor gets his way, then most of the students who qualify for vouchers will be from Memphis where 69 of the state’s 83 lowest performing schools are located, and 85 percent of students are economically disadvantaged.

The state could soon decide which charter schools can open up in Memphis and Nashville. A proposed bill in the Tennessee General Assembly aims to wrest control of that process away from the school boards in the state’s two largest cities.

In its first test, a House subcommittee passed the bill Tuesday, but there was one Republican lawmaker who voted no. Representative John Forgety is a retired educator from Athens.

Commissioner Kate O’Day ran Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services for two years. She quit last week a day before she was set to testify in front of lawmakers about child deaths.

The Department of Children’s Services (DCS) is responsible for more than 8,000 minors in state custody and the operation of Tennessee’s foster care system. The agency has been sued for keeping too many children in group homes. Matthew Madlock, an 18-year-old from Nashville, experienced that problem first hand when he was placed in a group home before aging out of the foster care system.

In his third State of the State address last night, Governor Bill Haslam laid out a plan to cut taxes, pay state employees more, and still save money for a rainy day.

“Tennessee is different,” Haslam told members of the Tennessee General Assembly, his cabinet, and the public gathered on the floor of the state Legislature. The governor said that Tennessee is different from other states because of its low cost of living and relatively low unemployment, and different from Washington D.C. because Tennessee has made cuts instead of raising taxes.

Tonight, Governor Bill Haslam will give his State of the State address in front of lawmakers in Nashville. The speech is expected to be largely about money and policy. Over the past year, tax revenues have increase in Tennessee and the governor is expected to outline his plans for a budget surplus.



On a momentous Thursday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

We're expecting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to make an announcement today. From now on, women will formally be allowed to serve in ground combat.

INSKEEP: To sense just how dramatic this change is, consider how many other milestones the military passed before reaching this one. The move for women comes 65 years after the Armed Forces ended racial segregation.

The Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care left Governor Bill Haslam with a big decision—expand Medicaid to include more low-income Tennesseans, or don’t. If the governor chooses to expand coverage, the federal government will foot the entire bill for three years. Then, after three years, the federal government will pay for 90 percent of the expanded coverage.

When the Tennessee General Assembly convenes this week, they’ll be many fresh faces in the crowd in Nashville, especially among the majority party. Half of Tennessee’s House Republicans have fewer than two years of experience. Among the new lawmakers, there are lawyers, military veterans, and even a preacher, but many describe themselves as small business owners. “That’s on both sides of the aisle,” said Blake Farmer who is covering the state Legislature for WPLN in Nashville.