I started on our tax return yesterday, quitting about 9 to get some sleep before a busy Monday… but sleep is an elusive thing when there are unfinished deadline items.

The FAFSA application is due by March 1, which pretty much requires having one’s tax return substantially finished to complete. The FAFSA has to be submitted every year in order to remain eligible for the lottery scholarship, and most other scholarships use it as well (like the one Alpha got from the College of Engineering last year, which I hope she can pick up again). If you have a student going off to college next year, get busy — it’s not a quick and easy process!

Since I have a busy Monday scheduled — three meetings then leaving for Nashville before lunch — I just acknowledged that sleep will elude me until I have the FAFSA finished and submitted, got up around 2 a.m., and went to work on it.

* * *

At 7:30, the League of Women Voters will host their second “breakfast with the legislators” for this year, at the Civic Center. I hope that Les Winningham attends, because I want to ask him — in front of an education-friendly crowd — why he filed the bill to do away with the BEP Review Committee, and who he proposes to take over that role.

At 9:00, the League hosts another public meeting (also at the Civic Center) where the results of the shopping center survey will be announced. I hope that the results are positive and decisive… but second-guessing what Oak Ridgers might think is never a safe bet, so we’ll just have to see what they say.

Tomorrow is the Tennessee School Boards Association’s “Day on the Hill,” where school board members from across the state converge on the Legislature. Tomorrow’s activities begin very early in the morning, so most people will arrive today and take a little extra time to visit their legislators or attend session this evening.

While the General Assembly’s website is greatly improved, one thing that hasn’t changed is the posting of committee calendars; there’s no way to know which bills Tuesday’s committees will hear before sometime on Monday. For folks who have to travel a substantial distance in order to attend these committee meetings and provide input (as good citizens should), that’s cutting it a little thin. Shucks, even your local school board has to have an agenda set and sent to the media five days in advance; seems like the legislative committees ought to, too.

One of the bills I’d love to be around to hear debated is SB0951/HB0480, which would designate “any person communicating on behalf of a school board, municipal utility, utility district, or any department, agency, or entity of state, county or municipal government” as a lobbyist.

Sounds to me like Sen. Harper and Rep. Moore want to discourage input from local governments, because it can be troublesome having your local school board member, county commissioner, or city council member show up to see what you’re up to in the hallowed halls of Legislative Plaza. The lobbyist designation would definitely put a chill on it, if only because of the registration fees and endless reporting requirements.

Moore’s day job is 1st Vice-President of the Nashville Firefighters’ Union, which would explain why he’d like to keep City and County officeholders (who generally oppose mandated recognition of municipal employee unions like police and fire) from talking to Legislators.

But that’s a nuisance bill. A few of the education bills I’m really interested in following are:

  • SB0339/HB0239 (increasing the State’s share of teacher salaries from 65% to 75% over five years);
  • SB0462/HB0476 (allowing any local education agency to convert to a special school district);
  • SB0627/HB0694 (abolishes the BEP Review Committee); and as usual,
  • SB0868/HB0569 (transition from the current BEP county model to the TACIR system-level model, which is harmful to 67% of the school systems in the state).

I doubt you’re wondering, but just to be clear: I support the first two, and oppose the second two. However, Harper and Moore’s lobbyist bill would probably be pretty effective in preventing local elected officials like myself, with some actual working knowledge of the impact these bills would have on the folks back home, from going to Nashville on your behalf.

To me, a “lobbyist” is someone whose income is derived from influencing legislation on behalf of others. It’s a necessary profession, but at the same time, not everyone who expresses support for or against legislation is a lobbyist. Most local officials do so at personal expense, in whole or in part.

Stay tuned; I’ll likely post again this evening to let you know what’s going on in your state capitol, through the eyes of a small-town gal.

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