Associated Press

Tennessee General Assembly

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers are planning to vote Thursday on the state's nearly $35 billion spending plan for the budget year beginning July 1.

While hot button topics like social issues and guns tend to draw much attention during the legislative session, passing a balance budget is the chief responsibility for members of the General Assembly.

Lawmakers have spent much of this week hammering out agreements over smaller budget items, while leaving intact most of the spending plan Republican Gov. Bill Haslam proposed at the start of the session.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell is creating a task force to propose ways to improve access to health care in Tennessee.

Democrats were quick to criticize the announcement as an attempt to deflect election-year criticism for turning down Gov. Bill Haslam's Insure Tennessee plan to cover 280,000 low-income Tennesseans.

Harwell says she began conversations with health policy experts at Vanderbilt University's medical school after lawmakers rejected Insure Tennessee last year.

State of Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says he won't wait the full 10 days to decide whether to sign or veto a bill seeking to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee.

Haslam, who has expressed reservations about the bill, told reporters on Tuesday that he will announce his decision before the end of this week.

Both chambers of the General Assembly passed the bill despite warnings from state Attorney General Herbert Slatery that it would violate both the U.S. and Tennessee constitutions.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A sponsor of a Tennessee transgender bathroom bill has told a finance committee that he has to consider a state attorney general's opinion before going forward.

A member of the Senate Finance Ways and Means Committee said Tuesday that the bill may have to be heard after the budget is passed because of the potential financial impact to the state.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state Criminal Appeals Court says a Tennessee law that allows longer sentences for gang members is unconstitutional.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports ( the Thursday ruling came in the case of three men convicted of attempted second-degree murder for beating a teenager they were kicking out of their gang.

The appeals court left the convictions intact but said the sentences that were boosted by the gang enhancement law could not stand.