Tennessee lawmakers make late session push on final bills

(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The Latest on Tennessee lawmakers taking up their remaining bills (all times local):

6:25 p.m.

The Tennessee Senate has passed a bill that allows older adults without a college degree or certificate to attend community college free of charge.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam pushed the bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday. It comes three years after Tennessee became the first state in the nation to make community college tuition-free for new high school graduates.

Those who support the measure hailed it as a way to educate and transform the state’s workforce. Haslam has set a goal that 55 percent of Tennesseans have a college degree or certificate by 2025.

The legislation allows both full- and part-time students to be eligible to participate as early as 2018. The program is expected to cost the state $11 million after students apply for grants and scholarships and will be paid through lottery proceeds.

The House, which has already passed the bill, needs to cast another vote on it due to a technical fix.

___

5:35 p.m.

The Tennessee Senate has approved a push to require cities and counties to either buy metal detectors, hire security guards and check bags at many public facilities, or let handgun permit holders bring in their guns.

The Senate passed the legislation in a 26-5 vote with an amendment Tuesday. The House approved a slightly different version last week.

The legislation has drawn concerns from gun control advocates and some cities. Nashville and Knoxville officials think the bill offers bad choices and could be costly because gun-rights groups could be eligible for triple attorney’s fees in lawsuits if they believe cities are banning guns out of compliance.

The NRA praised the bill, saying it holds local governments responsible for keeping citizens safe.

___

4:45 p.m.

A proposal to require large online retailers to collect sales taxes on items bought in Tennessee has been restored in the state House, but it includes a provision that bans the state from collecting the money until the issue has worked its way through the courts.

Tuesday’s move came a day after the chamber voted to remove the rule sought by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration to have retailers with sales of more than $500,000 per year remit the sales tax to state revenue collectors.

Under current law, consumers are responsible for paying the state any sales taxes owed for online purchases, but few people actually do. Retailers must only collect sales taxes if they have a physical presence in the state.

The move to restore the Haslam administration’s rule was designed to ensure that Tennessee would be able to maintain legal standing in court challenges.

The bill now heads to the Senate.

___

4 p.m.

Tennesseans under age 21 would be issued driver’s licenses printed in a vertical format under a bill headed for Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk.

The House voted 83-1 on Tuesday to give final approval to the bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn and Sen. Becky Massey. Both are Knoxville Republicans.

Supporters say the change will help prevent underage drinking. Current licenses for minors have a red bar across the edge.

The Senate approved the bill unanimously in March.

An unrelated effort to require the words “alien” or “visa” of Tennessee driver’s licenses held by people without permanent residency status died earlier in the session.

___

3:30 p.m.

The Tennessee House has approved a Democratic framework for a block grant program for K-12 schools, though the measure included no funding.

The chamber passed the bill sponsored by House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh on a 56-30 vote on Tuesday.

The Ripley Democrat said the measure is modeled after the Tennessee Promise to pay for community college tuition program and that is funded through proceeds from an endowment.

Many Republicans voiced concerns that the proposed block grant program had been a bargaining chip to get Democrats to vote for the governor’s road funding bill that included the state’s first gas tax hike since 1989. That claim was denied by Fitzhugh and GOP leadership.

The Senate version of the bill was withdrawn from consideration on Tuesday, meaning it likely won’t come up again until next year.

___

11:30 a.m.

Tennessee lawmakers are working to clear the decks of their last lingering legislative priorities before adjourning for the year.

The House and Senate are slated for afternoon sessions Tuesday to take up a laundry list of bills on issues including gun rights, online sales tax and free community college for adults.

Lawmakers had hoped to adjourn early this week, but disagreements over various bills make it more likely they will conclude their business on Wednesday or later.

On Monday, the Senate gave final approval to the $37 billion annual state spending plan, which was the biggest hurdle to finish months of legislative work.

The session began in January.