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Statewide School Voucher Scheme Takes Center Stage as Budget Fight Ramps Up

Alyssa Hansen
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As much as we wish that we were making an April Fools' joke when we say this, lawmakers seem VERY unlikely to adjourn before the middle of the month.

That means that an end to the legislative session may be a little further off than many of us originally thought, especially for an election year.

The main reason for the slowdown continues to be the House and Senate's major differences over the plan to expand Tennessee's school voucher scheme statewide.

Unfortunately, what was already a terrible proposal continues to get even worse.

Last week, it was reported that the House's version of the legislation could potentially eliminate promised teacher pay raises to help pay for different parts of the bill.

We wish that we could say that we were surprised by this latest development, but actions like this have sadly become a twisted kind of "normal" to the Republican supermajority.

Continuing that trend, legislative leadership has often been quick to tout its $2 billion tax cut for businesses (which has already passed the Senate and is working its way through the House) but refuses to help working families save a little extra money on their grocery bill.

That headline-grabbing business tax break is one of the few pieces of legislation we're still tracking during the remaining weeks of session.

As the last few open committees prepare to close, we'll see even more bills get put behind the budget (which, as a reminder, means that they likely won't be funded due to a fiscal note), voted down, taken off notice by the sponsors, or roadblocked by one of many procedural maneuvers.

With the budget quickly becoming legislators' new shiny object, we're continuing to keep an eye out for any items that have the potential to impact working families, especially since amendments can be added on the floor.

Remember, passing a budget is the one item that lawmakers are constitutionally-obligated to complete each year before they can adjourn.

Given the current legislative climate, these next few important weeks will likely be messier than what we've already seen so far.

The bottom line: the people of Tennessee deserve better than what we're getting out of the current class of lawmakers.

A Brief Look at Some of the Additional Legislation That We're Watching Next Week

-HB 1183/SB 503: This is the caption bill that's carrying the proposal to expand Tennessee's school voucher scheme statewide. Now, the House is considering eliminating teacher pay raises to pay for its version of the legislation. You can read more about this latest development here.

-HB 1893/SB 2103: One of the most-discussed bills this session, this proposal seeks to give businesses a $2 billion tax cut. However, the House version of the legislation will likely not be the same, which means that this could go to a conference committee in the coming weeks.

-HB 2610/SB 2503: This bill seeks to terminate the human rights commission later this year.

-HJR 797: Nearly-identical to a bill that has already passed the House and will be heard in the Senate next week, this resolution would prohibit a legislator who is expelled from the Tennessee General Assembly from being reelected to, reappointed by, or employed by the body.

-HB 2080/SB 1968: A bill that has generated lots of headlines, this would block an individual who currently holds elected office from holding another elected office in Tennessee at the same time. At least one Republican representative already does what the legislation is trying to prevent, but Democrats have said that they believe this is specifically-targeted at Representative Gloria Johnson, who is currently running for both the U.S. Senate and her Tennessee House seat.