The first vote that ever shocked me…

Here is what I said about wine in grocery store votes last year:

Every year, we are told it’s going to be different. Every year, someone tells us it “has a better chance of passing.” Every year, I hear the same arguments from the same people in committee. Every year, wine in grocery stores dies.

As a state government reporter, I can tell you I pretty much know how every vote is going to go down before it happens. Sponsors usually know how many votes they are going to have well before they decide to put it up for a vote. That’s why today’s Senate State and Local Government Committee 5-4 vote in favor of holding referendums on wine in grocery stores shocked me.

To be fair, the bill’s sponsor professed to have no idea how it was going to go either. Sen. Bill Ketron told us he only knew that it would pass 20 seconds before the tally was actually called out. Also, it appeared Sen. Reginald Tate made his decision as his name was being called to vote. He had previously rejected an amendment that appeared to be a bit of a test vote.

This is a huge step. But it is the first out of like a million steps. This thing has a long way to go. Next stop in the Senate is the Finance committee. In the House it must first get a vote in the Local Government Subcommittee. Both votes are uncertain.

However, today I’m shocked. For once, the people who told me this bill had a good chance of passing were right. However, I would caution everyone to not rush out to the grocery store looking for a good Cabernet just yet.

Wine in grocery stores day 2

In about 45 minutes, the Senate State and Local Government Committee will debate and vote on the wine in grocery stores issue.

This comes after two hours of testimony yesterday during a hearing that packed this rather large committee room. At one point, it felt like every Kroger manager and liquor store owner in Tennessee was in the room. Supporters included some local grocery stores owners and consumers. Opponents included liquor store owners, an addiction psychiatrist and a Baptist pastor. Some of their testimony can be found here.

Everyone is predicting this issue could be decided on a 5-4 vote. What we don’t know right now is which side will end up with 5 votes. Yesterday, Sen. Mark Green declared he was still on the fence.

The room is already filling up for the hearing with many of the same faces from yesterday. Today is just debate and a vote so keep an eye out on my twitter account for the latest.

Getting ready for the hearing

There’s about an hour still until the hearing on wine in grocery stores. However, it is clear that both sides of the issue have mobilized the troops. Either people are fascinated by the Fiscal Review Committee, or they staked their claim on seats in the committee room early for wine and grocery stores. Given many of the stickers I see people are wearing, it appears to be the latter. Funny, no one seems interested in action on proposed non-competitive contracts.

Here’s what I’ve noticed so far. There are many liquor stores owners here. There are also many Kroger managers present. Not all of these people are going to testify. However, the idea is likely to project strong support for both sides.

Wine in grocery stores day 1

Is it going to happen this year? We’ll know a lot more by the end of the day tomorrow.

The two-day wine in grocery stores bonanza at the legislature will kick off this afternoon. The Senate State and Local Government hearing is set to hear testimony from both sides starting at 3:00pm. I chatted with the Senate sponsor, Sen. Bill Ketron, last week about the hearings. He tells me both sides will get an hour to make their case to the committee. In the past, testimony for wine in grocery stores has come from Jarron Springer with the TN Grocers and Convenience Store association, and there’s usually someone from out of state with an economic impact study. On the against side, you have the Liquor Store owners, usually Chip Christiansen and Bard Quillman. There are oftentimes a law enforcement speaker as well.

Tomorrow, the Senate State and Local Government will debate and vote on the issue. Everyone is predicting a 5-4 vote. What’s not known is which side will get those 5 votes. There seems to be more suspense here this year than ever before. If it passes the committee, it will have already taken a big step forward. The bill has never made it out of a committee. If it passes, all bets are off. If it doesn’t pass, please refer to other posts on this blog about wine in grocery stores and you’ll get how I’ll feel.

Headed to the House floor

Last week I posed the question of which event would come first: House passage of guns in trunks or my daughter? Right now, it appears guns in trunks will be on its way to the governor’s desk before I go into labor. I am rooting for my baby to come first, not because of an opinion on guns in trunks, but because of my desire to not be pregnant anymore.

The guns in trunks bill passed the House Civil Justice committee this afternoon. Nashville Democrats Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart tried to object to what they believe are the diminishing of private property rights, but the bill passed easily on a voice vote. Rep. Vance Dennis called it a great compromise bill that they should have passed a few years ago.

Now, it’s on its way to the House floor with a quick stop in Calendar and Rules. That means it could be up for a House floor vote as early as Monday evening. It will pass there pretty easily. What’s not clear right now is how the governor actually feels about the legislation. He’s expressed concerns, but really hasn’t come down on either side at this time. However, I can’t see him vetoing something that could be so easily overridden by members in his own party.

Applying the brakes

“The conversation is wide open right now.”

Those were the words of Rep. Mark White, the house sponsor of the bill that would have allowed charter schools to bypass the metro school board and apply directly to the state. Yesterday, the bill was supposed to have a hearing and vote in the House Education Committee. I had started hearing before the meeting that the bill was going to be rolled, with the suggestion that the bill was not a slam dunk in the Republican-led supermajority legislature. That’s what happened.

Afterwards, we caught up with White and he told us he was slowing the bill’s progress to give more time for all interested parties to come to the table. He said there would likely be some kind of compromise, where local school boards would still be involved in the approval process, but with a stronger appeals process at the state level. One of the plans that was originally talked about in the immediate aftermath of the Great Hearts ordeal was a process where a state appeal would be the final decision. It sounds like that could be what lawmakers are looking at now.

Of course, we won’t know what’s actually decided until some amendments materialize with the plan. The bill was rolled to the next available calendar, so probably next week. Still, most in metro who opposed this plan see this delay and the conversation as a big positive moving forward.

The charter school fight escalates

Even though the House Education Committee is in LP 16 (a big room), I’m here an hour early to make sure I got a seat. I’ve already encountered some parents and some others who are here for the charter school authorizer hearing that’s set for noon. After last week’s overflow crowd, I’m not taking any chances. I need a seat at the press table so I don’t have to balance this laptop on my supersized belly.

Today, the full committee will take up the state charter school authorizer bill. As you may remember, this bill only applies to Nashville and Memphis, and is a direct result of what happened in metro last year with the Great Hearts charter application.

Yesterday, about 20 metro council members, school board members and Nashville-area state lawmakers held a joint press conference to blast the legislation. Metro School Board Chairman Cheryl Mayes summed up the bill as “horrid.” Rep. Brenda Gilmore said the bill would return Nashville schools to the “separate but equal” days and Councilman Steve Glover called it a huge unfunded mandate.

This is an interesting issue, because it has caused some deep divides. Conspicuously absent from yesterday’s press conference was Mayor Karl Dean. That’s because he is in favor of the bill, which puts him at odds with the majority of elected officials in Nashville. I asked yesterday about the mayor’s absence and Steve Glover said it was clear they didn’t agree on this issue. After the press conference a former elected official came up to me and told me the answer to my question was that the mayor is completely wrong.

There is another side to this story, though. There are many parents who were absolutely crushed by the metro school board’s decision to deny Great Hearts. They believe the statewide authorizer would give them another chance to bring the school to Nashville. I’ve seen those parents here as well as parents that are vehemently against a charter school authorizer.

This hearing is set to start at noon. Stay tuned.

Not wasting any time, but is it a good thing?

Lawmakers are trying to get out by the middle of April. Of course, my usual response to that is that I will believe it when I see it. However, this year I won’t see it, because I will be on maternity leave.

I will say this: lawmakers are really wasting no time. That could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on who you ask. Some say it’s a more efficient process, others say bills aren’t getting the type of attention and scrutiny they deserve. I will say this: yesterday the House Education Subcommittee really whisked through some bills that normally would have had some more time for analysis. Now, there is still time for more testimony and thorough analysis in the full committee. Will it happen? I don’t know. Having a supermajority pretty much means Republicans can pass anything through. I know it’s bothering Democrats. Politics aside, the question lawmakers need to ask is whether or not moving so quickly is in the best interest of the citizens of Tennessee. It’s nice to be able to say that you got out of session by a certain time and saved the taxpayers money. However, there have been instances where moving too fast has meant bills have passed with mistakes and unintended consequences in them. I guess only time will tell.

My big complaints

There are some committee meetings you know you have to show up early for. Probably number one on my list is the House Education Subcommittee. My first complaint about this meeting is when it happens: 3:00pm. My second complaint is about the room it’s in: LP 30. Now LP 30 is usually adequate for subcommittee meetings. However, all controversial education-related bills make their first stop in this subcommittee. As a result, it is usually packed.

On today’s agenda are bills that would allow a statewide charter authorizer only for Nashville and Memphis. This comes after the whole Great Hearts debacle here in Nashville. Also, there are several bills that deal with virtual schools. Another extremely emotional issue for some people. The for-profit K12’a test scores are shockingly low, yet many parents see it as the only viable option for their children.

We showed up for the 3:00pm meeting at 2:10. We were not the only media here at that time. In fact, most of us were planted and set up in the prime areas by 2:30. At least it gave me time to write this blog!

The fastest moving gun bill ever?

Now, I realize that it could be premature to suggest that the guns in trunks bill is the fastest moving gun bill ever. The Senate is scheduled to take a full floor vote on it tonight, less than a week after it sailed through committee. It’s already on the schedule for a House Subcommittee this Thursday. I mean, this bill could be on the governor’s desk before I have my baby. Seriously.

It does seem odd that the bill no state lawmaker wanted to touch last year, is sailing through this year. Some see it as the power of the gun lobby, who can take credit for ousting Debra Maggart as punishment for the lack of vote on this issue. Now, it seems the attitude is just to pass it and get it over with.

The Senate goes into session at 5pm. I’ll try to get an update on the blog later tonight. As always, I’ll be tweeting it all at @WSMVCaraKumari.

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