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This Hour: Latest Tennessee news, sports, business and entertainment

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CAPITOL PROTEST

Protesters gather outside House, Senate chambers

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A group of about 50 activists has staged a protest outside the doors of the House and Senate chamber while lawmakers met within.

The protesters sang, chanted and cheered on Monday afternoon about a series of issues ranging from support for Medicaid expansion to demands for changes to the state's voter ID law.

The noise drew the attention of lawmakers within the chamber, many of whom peeked out the back doors to investigate the sources of the disturbance. But they quickly returned their attention to pending bills.

Several Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Joe Towns and G.A. Hardaway of Memphis and Brenda Gilmore of Nashville, joined the circle of protesters.

FREE TUITION-HASLAM

Senate approves Haslam's free tuition plan

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam's signature proposal to create a program that would cover tuition at two-year colleges for any high school graduate is a step closer to the governor's desk.

The Senate approved the plan 30-1 on Monday. The companion bill was scheduled to be heard on the House floor.

Called "Tennessee Promise," the legislation is a cornerstone of Haslam's "Drive to 55" campaign to improve the state's graduation rates from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025 to help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state.

Haslam wants to pay for the program by using $300 million in excess lottery reserve funds and join it with a $47 million endowment.

One concern of higher education officials and lawmakers is making sure the plan is adequately funded.

RAILROAD BRIDGE

Railroad bridge across Mississippi River reopens

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Officials say a railroad bridge spanning the Mississippi River has reopened after it was closed when a barge struck it.

According to The Commercial Appeal, Union Pacific railroad officials said Monday that the Harahan Bridge was open again after closing Sunday night.

About three miles of the river was closed for about a half-hour Sunday night after the barge hit the railroad bridge supports.

The bridge connects Memphis and West Memphis, Ark.

HISTORIC PLACES

6 Tenn. sites added to National Register

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Six Tennessee sites have been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Register is the nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation.

The new sites in Tennessee are: the Grand Guitar in Bristol, the Tennessee Supreme Court Building in Nashville, Mead and Ross Marble Quarries in Knox County, the Martin-Dobyns House in Kingsport and the Blountville Historic District.

The Tennessee Historical Commission administers the program in Tennessee.

The district was listed in the Register in 1972. The revised nomination includes clarification of the areas of significance noted in the first nomination.

For more information about the Register or the Tennessee Historical Commission, visit www.tn.gov/environment/history.

MCPHEE-RESOLUTION

Senate resolution honors MTSU president

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Middle Tennessee State University President Sidney McPhee was honored by the state Senate for an award he received in Beijing.

Lawmakers passed a resolution on Monday that recognized McPhee for being awarded "Person of the Year" honors at the eighth annual Global Confucius Institute Conference in December.

The award recognized the university's work to strengthen educational and cultural ties between China and the U.S.

The institute, named after the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, is sponsored by China's Education Ministry to promote Chinese language and culture. It also organizes cultural tours, student exchanges and university partnerships.

MTSU joined with China's Hangzhou Normal University to open its institute in 2010. The institute has helped teach Chinese language and culture to more than 2,000 students in seven Tennessee counties.

CHARTER SCHOOLS-AUTHORIZER

Measure changes way charter schools authorized

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A proposal that changes the way certain charter schools are authorized is headed to the governor for his consideration.

The House on Monday agreed to technical changes made by the Senate, including changing the effective date to next school year. The House speaker limited debate to that change and not the substance of the bill, which the House approved 62-30 last year and the Senate approved 20-13 last month.

Under the legislation, the State Board of Education would become an authorizer and be able to overrule local school board decisions on charter applications in five counties where there are failing schools.

Those counties include the state's four largest cities: Davidson, Hamilton, Knox and Shelby. Hardeman County also would be affected.

Currently, local school boards decide whether to authorize a charter application, and opponents of the legislation say it should stay that way.

OPEN CARRY

Sponsor says he would raise money for open carry

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The House sponsor of a bill seeking to do away with permit requirements to openly carry is offering to raise the estimated $100,000 cost from private sources.

Republican Rep. Micah Van Huss said in a letter to his House colleagues on Monday that he was disappointed with what he called a "bogus" cost estimate attached to the bill that he sees as an attempt to kill the measure.

The bill would eliminate the state's background and training requirements for openly carrying guns in public. It would keep the permit rules in place for concealed firearms.

The Senate passed its version of the bill on a 25-2 vote last week. Van Huss wants to pull the bill up for a floor vote without waiting for it to clear committees.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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