published Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Sen. Frank Niceley still sees hope for Common Core delay in Tennessee

Republican Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains, right, listens to proceedings on the Senate floor in Nashville.
Republican Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains, right, listens to proceedings on the Senate floor in Nashville.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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NASHVILLE — The Senate sponsor of a bill that would impose a two-year delay on Tennessee's Common Core education standards say he believes he can pass the measure if he can get a vote on the Senate floor.

"I think we can," Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plain, said in an interview.

But Niceley fretted that a cost estimates by legislative analysts of a $10 million cost to the state could doom the House-passed bill that rewrote language in a history-related bill Niceley had previously passed in the Senate.

Senate officials say that because of the fiscal note, senators cannot simply agree to the House amendments on the Senate floor. Instead, it will have to go before the Senate Finance Committee.

"It could go 'behind the budget' and I never hear from it again," Niceley said.

Getting put behind the budget is the expression used to indicate a bill cannot not be acted on by the Senate Finance Committee until members move out Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed annual spending plan. That would force Niceley to find the money or face having the bill killed.

The House bill's two-year delay of the education standards and accompanying PARCC tests has drawn adamant opposition from Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

Haslam says Common Core is already helping Tennessee turn around students' traditionally dismal national performance on national measurements.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, the powerful Republican Senate speaker, has said he has little interest in delaying Common Core. Earlier this week senators passed a bill that Ramsey believes addresses Common Core critics' concerns by restricting "data mining" of students' personal information for non-education purposes.

Niceley indicated he thinks he can get 14 or 15 Republican senators to go along with his bill if it were put up to a floor vote.

The 33-member Senate has 26 GOP members and seven Democrats.

"I think could two or three Democrats could put us over the top," Niceley said.

That's exactly what happened in the House last week as an unlikely coalition of hard-right conservatives, Tea Party adherents and Democrats joined to hijack the history legislation and insert anti-Common Core provisions.

In the meantime, Niceley is suspicious about the bill having to go to the Finance Committee.

"I think it's almost some shennanigans. Everybody talks about the shennanigans on the House floor," he said chuckling. "I've never a seen a shortage of of shennanigans down here. There's always shennigans. There could be some shennigans gong on on my bill. I'm shocked that maybe there's some shennigans."

Senate Clerk Russell Humphrey said that Senate Rule 31 is quite clear about amendments exceeding $100,000 or more having to be approved by the Finance Committee.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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