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Summary of recent Tennessee newspaper editorials

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Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

April 19

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, on the general assembly:

One of the more important pieces of legislation that came out of the Tennessee General Assembly's recently ended session was the Certificates of Employability Act, which may make it easier for some felons to find gainful employment.

The bill, which has been sent to the governor's desk for his signature, was sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis. It addresses one of the more serious obstacles in the effort to reduce the state's crime rate — felons returning to a life of crime because of an inability to find a job that pays a decent wage.

In Tennessee, about 35 percent of felons return to prison within three years after they are released. Some are just bad eggs, prone to a life of crime.

Others, after serving their sentences, are ready to rejoin society as productive citizens, an effort made more difficult by employers' reluctance to hire them.

The Kelsey-Camper bill allows courts to issue a certificate of employability to convicted felons who have stayed on the straight and narrow. The bill also grants some legal protection from lawsuits to companies that hire someone who has a court-issued certificate.

There are some jobs felons convicted of certain crimes should not hold. But there are jobs many could hold that pay more than minimum wage and have potential for advancement. But employers have to be convinced that hiring them would not be a risk.

The Certificates of Employability Act will not be a game changer for some employers, but it could convince those who are on the fence about hiring felons to take a chance on a person who made a mistake, paid for it with a prison sentence and is now ready to rejoin society as a productive citizen.

Online:

http://www.commercialappeal.com

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April 12

Jackson Sun on Gov. Haslam needing to veto PARCC:

We urge Gov. Bill Haslam to veto the irresponsible bill sent to him by the General Assembly to delay the testing component of the Common Core State Standards. The Johnny Come Latelies in the General Assembly had more than three years to involve themselves in this issue and failed to do so. Suddenly, when the education issue became highly political, lawmakers chose to get involved, long after everything was settled and well underway. This legislation would create nothing but education mayhem.

Thousands of educators, administrators, parents and students have spent three years implementing common core and preparing students to take the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests. Sidetracking the testing component at this point only would confuse students and add frustration to the already difficult tasks teachers face.

The proposal would send 2014-15 student testing into a tailspin by reverting to TCAP testing instead of PARCC testing. Teachers and students have spent countless hours preparing for the PARCC testing content and procedures. To now ask them to chart a different course could lead to education chaos. In fact, handing students a completely different set of tests without adequately preparing them could mean lower test scores. How would that help anyone?

The change also flies in the face of financial logic. The state and school districts across Tennessee have invested millions toward implementing Common Core and preparing for the tests. The time is long past for lawmakers to be debating the merits of Common Core or its testing protocol.

The actions of the General Assembly on this issue have nothing to do with education. They are completely politically motivated. The vast majority of lawmakers know little about Common Core or PARCC testing. That they should pass legislation to sidetrack three years of effort and expense is inexcusable and grossly irresponsible.

We urge Haslam to veto this legislation and to do it in a manner that would leave the General Assembly no opportunity to override his actions. Too much time, effort and money have gone into Common Core to let a cadre of uninformed politicians interfere with its completion.

Online:

http://www.jacksonsun.com


April 21

Knoxville Sentinel on students being winners at legislative session:

After a frantic week of activity to end a high-speed second session, the 108th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned on Thursday.

The Legislature's finest moment came when lawmakers passed a bill that will allow any high school graduate to attend a community college or trade school free of charge. The law, Gov. Bill Haslam's signature legislative effort this year, has the potential to increase the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary degrees and dramatically improve the level of preparedness for entry into the workforce. Funding will come from robust lottery revenues.

The rest of the budget for next year is not so flush. Lower-than-expected sales and business tax revenues forced Haslam to nix his proposal to give state employees 1 percent raises and give 2 percent raises to teachers. At $32.4 billion, the budget as passed is $277 million less than the original proposal.

That shortfall was enough to halt a bill that would phase out the Hall income tax on interest and dividends, despite the efforts of tax-cut activist Grover Norquist and other out-of-state groups. As Haslam noted, eliminating the Hall tax during a time when other revenues are lagging would be irresponsible.

One longstanding divisive issue was resolved by the passage of a bill that allows local governments to hold referendums on the sale of wine in grocery stores.

Two other high-profile bills passed after proponents and opponents hammered out compromises. One places limits on the amount of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine. The limits are higher than Haslam had hoped but at least the Legislature has taken a step to combat the state's meth scourge. The other compromise on a major bill delays new tests based on the Common Core State Standards in K-12 education. The standards themselves, which are vital for raising student achievement, remain in place.

Several bills were deservedly stopped short of passage, including two firearms bills that are flawed for different reasons. One would have prevented local governments from banning guns in their local parks, while the other would have allowed anyone who can legally own weapons to carry firearms openly without a permit. The former would have stripped local governments of the ability to manage their own affairs, while the latter was not thoroughly studied for problems law enforcement could encounter or the differences between openly carrying firearms in small towns and urban areas.

The Legislature's great failure this session — one it shares with Haslam — was the refusal to expand Medicaid as allowed under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Partisan stubbornness does not hinder the controversial law and serves only to punish the state's hospitals and the working poor.

In sum, the session produced mixed results. While it might take time before the benefits and drawbacks of many of the laws the Legislature passed this year can be determined, one thing is certain — the biggest winners of the session are Tennessee's students, who will benefit from keeping higher K-12 standards and two years of free post-secondary education.

Online:

http://www.knoxnews.com

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