To give the current all-GOP leadership of Tennessee state government its due, there were a number of bills in the legislative session that just ended —ranging from the questionable to the downright crazy — that got sidetracked, either temporarily or permanently. As an example of the questionable, we would cite Germantown state senator Brian Kelsey's measure to provide state vouchers for use in private educational institutions, including parochial schools.
As an example of the downright nutty, we would note Knoxville state senator Stacey Campfield's "Don't Say Gay" bill, which the state House declined to deal with this year but may end up doing so next year. Even with the deletion of references to homosexuality per se in the Senate version, the bill is still an embarrassing and bigoted attempt to limit public-school expression.
We are unhappily aware that the reduction in the state budget from last year to this, by some $2 billion, was achieved at the expense of needed muscle as well as fat. We note that Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, who basically called the legislative shots for the session, managed to include some long-deferred pay raises for state employees — along with healthy salary bumps for his own staff.
We remain dubious about the far-reaching changes wreaked in state education policy. We are open-minded about the changes in tenure and charter-school expansion sought — and achieved — by Governor Bill Haslam. But we agree with the aggrieved members of the Tennessee Education Association that Ramsey's insistence on outright abolition of collective bargaining for teachers amounted to something close to educational sabotage.
We agree with the skeptics that a last-minute add-on to the legislative education package — something called "The Virtual Public Schools Act" — would improperly extend state largesse to the profit-minded proprietors of charter schools via the Internet. Very likely these entrepreneurs, operating from God knows where, could seriously denude numerous school districts of funding by siphoning off state stipends, according to the long-established principle that "the money follows the student."
We congratulate state senator Roy Herron (D-Dresden) for his vigilance in pointing out that defect, as well as for his noting, in justifiable outrage, that the newly enacted "tort reform" would limit compensation for victims of medical and workplace negligence to miniscule lifetime totals.
We regard it as dishonest that the proponents of that and other special-interest legislation justified their measures as "job-creation" bills — a claim often extended without any evidence whatsoever. The most egregious case was that of state representative Glen Casada (R-Franklin), who cited it as a motive for his bill prohibiting local jurisdictions from devising their own antidiscrimination policies.
That Casada bill was an abuse of state authority, along with, frankly, the Norris-Todd bill that imposed ex post facto standards on the ongoing process of school-district merger in Shelby County.
Indeed, it is the extension of centralized state power over local options that worries us most. Whatever happened to the hallowed Republican goal of limited government?