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VOL. 39 | NO. 16 | Friday, April 17, 2015

Tennessee General Assembly adjourns for the year

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NASHVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee General Assembly adjourned for the year on Wednesday following an often contentious session highlighted by the passage of legislation that would allow handgun-carry permit holders to be armed in any state park, and the failed attempt to make the Bible the official state book.

The gun bill — which includes allowing permit holders to be armed in greenways, playgrounds and sports fields — was eventually stripped of a provision that would have allowed permit holders to be armed at the state Capitol complex, a provision Gov. Bill Haslam adamantly opposed.

"We wanted to be able to send a bill to the governor that he would sign," said Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough. "At the end of the day, getting the bill passed and signed into law is most important."

Haslam said he will review the final version of the bill before deciding whether to sign it into law. One measure he won't be viewing — and another that he opposed — was the Bible proposal.

The governor and other legislators were deeply divided over the issue, saying the holy text is far too sacred to be trivialized like the state fruit (tomato), the state amphibian (Tennessee cave salamander) and several state songs ("Tennessee Waltz" and "Rocky Top").

The proposal was eventually derailed when the Senate voted 22-9 to send it back to a committee that was closed, effectively killing it for the year.

"We don't need to put the Bible beside salamanders, tulip poplars and 'Rocky Top' in the Tennessee Blue Book to appreciate its importance to our state," Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville said in a statement after the vote.

The Bible aside, lawmakers approved Tennessee's $33.8 billion annual spending plan after rejecting a renewed attempt to authorize Medicaid expansion that had been previously defeated in a special session February.

Haslam's Insure Tennessee plan would extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income people, with state hospitals covering the $74 million state share to draw down $2.8 billion in federal money. But fellow Republicans in the Legislature have balked at approving a program so closely tied to President Barack Obama's health care law.

Also this session, lawmakers passed legislation that would place licensing restrictions on all seven of Tennessee's abortion clinics, and a proposal that would require a 48-hour waiting period before an abortion — unless there a medical emergency.

The Tennessee bills aim to restore abortion laws that were struck down by a state Supreme Court decision in 2000. In that ruling, the justices threw out the waiting period, along with requirements that clinics provide detailed information about the procedure and that all but first-term abortions be performed in hospitals.

The latest abortion proposals came after voters approved a constitutional amendment in November giving state lawmakers more power to regulate abortions.

Lawmakers also approved legislation to rename and review Common Core education standards. However, they failed — for the third consecutive session — to pass a proposal that would create a school voucher program in Tennessee, legislation Haslam originally proposed about three years ago.

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