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Haslam shakeup of public universities gains final approval
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to spin off four-year public universities from the Tennessee Board of Regents system gained final approval in the state Legislature on Monday.

The Senate voted 31-1 in favor of the measure, sending Haslam's top legislative initiative for his signature.

Haslam's plan calls for creating local boards for Austin Peay in Clarksville, East Tennessee in Johnson City, Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro, Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tennessee State in Nashville and the University of Memphis.

The legislation gives the governor the authority to appoint eight of the nine voting members to each of the boards that will control budgets, tuition and the selection of college presidents

Haslam has argued that the change will give the Tennessee Board of Regents a focus on guiding the state's 40 two-year schools. The change will not affect the schools in the University of Tennessee system.

"We're excited to move forward with the implementation process," Haslam said in a statement after the bill's passage.

Sen. Jeff Yarbro cast the lone vote against the bill in the upper chamber of the General Assembly. The Nashville Democrat questioned the need for the sweeping changes in the higher education governance.

"I have yet to see where there's a big enough problem that demands this big of a solution," he said.

Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan in January announced his resignation in protest of the Haslam plan. Morgan called it "unworkable" and contrary to efforts to enhance oversight and accountability in higher education.

Republican Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains said he worries that the independent boards will cause each school to hire lobbyists to compete for state resources.

"I have problems with taxpayers paying lobbyists to lobby for more tax dollars," he said.

Haslam has said that the Tennessee Higher Education Commission would still oversee the priorities for capital projects at the schools.

The House passed the measure on a 71-19 vote last month.