Norris News from Nashville – March 1, 2014
SENATE APPROVES BILLS AIDING VETERANS
Senate Committees worked at “full steam” this week as State Senators examined the budgets of thirteen agencies and departments of state government and approved a number of important bills. Among key legislation approved on final consideration this week was a bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), creating a statewide support structure that offers in-state tuition rates for veterans pursuing higher education in Tennessee.
The vote on the bill came the evening before testimony was given by Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder who said Tennessee was tied with Michigan in the last quarter of 2013 as having the fourth highest veteran unemployment rate in the country at 9.7%. Grinder, who appeared before the Senate State and Local Government Committee to present her department’s budget proposal, said the national average is 6.5%. Commissioner Grinder advocates increasing educational opportunities to help veterans return to the workplace.
“In accordance with the Drive to 55 initiative, it is imperative to increase the number of Tennesseans with a college degree,” said Grinder. “We believe those who sacrificed so much for our state and country, our Tennessee Veterans, must be included as a priority in that goal.” The Drive to 55 initiative aims to increase the number of Tennesseans with college degrees or certifications from 32% to 55% by the year 2025.
Approximately 27.7% of Tennessee’s Veterans have some college or an associate’s degree, while 24.3% percent have a bachelor’s degree. The department’s goal is to increase the number of Tennessee veterans with an associate’s degree to 37 percent and bachelor’s degree to 25 percent by 2016.
“This bill will help us meet that goal,” said Leader Norris. “The VETS Act ensures that veterans have a clear, easy pathway to attend college in Tennessee. As a state, we want to recognize and assist those soldiers who are coming home and exploring their education options.”
Currently, recently-discharged veterans relocating to Tennessee must pay out-of-state tuition rates until residency is formally established. Under Senate Bill 1433, veterans enrolling within 24 months of discharge immediately receive the in-state tuition rate when starting college classes, eliminating the issue of residency for those relying on GI Bill benefits. To maintain in-state status and rates, veterans have one year to present proof of established residency, such as a driver’s license, motor vehicle registration or proof of employment. Registering to vote also fulfills the requirement.
Norris said the act also creates a “VETS Campus” designation to recognize and promote schools that make veteran enrollment a priority. Higher education institutions that satisfy veteran-friendly criteria, such as specialized orientation and the availability of mentoring programs, can receive the designation.
“This encourages enrollment of veterans and removes barriers known to impede their success in attaining higher education credentials,” Norris continued.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is currently in the process of creating an educational resource page to help Veterans quickly access educational resources and contacts at each of Tennessee’s colleges, universities and technical schools. In addition, Grinder said the department is working with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development to improve unemployment. This includes holding “Paychecks for Patriots” statewide job fairs which have connected thousands of Veterans with jobs. The department’s “Jobs for Veterans” page highlights upcoming job fairs, big job announcements and directs employers as well as job-seeking veterans to the new online Jobs 4 TN site, where specific information is listed to provide them with assistance.
In other action on veteran’s bills this week, the Senate Transportation Committee approved Senate Bill 2098 requiring the Department of Revenue to provide a free decal to disabled veterans that may be affixed to their vehicle’s license plate. Individuals with the decal attached to their license plate would be eligible for the same parking privileges as the holder of a disabled driver placard. The bill, which is sponsored by Senator Steve Southerland (R-Morristown), now goes to the Senate floor for final consideration.
SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE APPROVES RESOLUTION CALLING FOR A FEDERAL BALANCED BUDGET AMENDMENT
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously this week to approve a resolution calling for a convention of the states pursuant to Article V of the U.S. Constitution to require Congress to balance the federal budget each year. Joint Resolution 493, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) states that, in the absence of a congressional declaration of war or an economic recession, the total of all federal appropriations made by the Congress for any fiscal year may not exceed the total of all estimated federal revenues for that fiscal year.
LEGISLATION ENSURES LOCAL GOVERNMENT PENSION PLANS ARE ADEQUATELY FUNDED
The Senate Finance Committee approved a pension reform bill this week for governmental entities outside the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS) to help ensure they have the adequate funding to pay retirees. Senate Bill 2079, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), requires that TCRS and each local government entity with a defined benefit pension plan calculate an actuarially determined contribution (ADC) which will include normal costs and the amortization of any unfunded liabilities.
Currently, the 487 local government entities and 118 local education agencies in the TCRS system are required to pay 100% of the annual required contribution (ARC) as actuarially determined each year. In April 2013, the Director of the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS) requested actuarial and financial information from local governmental entities with defined benefit pension plans which are not enrolled in TCRS. The survey found there were 31 local government pension plans external to TCRS, 13 of which did not pay 100% of the ARC in 2012.
“Only 2.04% of all Tennessee local government pension plans fund less than 100% of the ARC,” said Leader Norris. “This bill requires all governmental entities to reach this level in order to ensure that retirement funds are in place when employees call on them.”
The bill requires that each local government must maintain effort in the payment of the ARC based on what the entity paid during the first fiscal year the bill is enacted. Those entities paying less than 100% of the ARC are subject to a one year grace period plus five years of incremental phase-in, making an effective six-year phase in period to reach payment of 100% of the ADC.
If a local government cannot comply with funding progress during the phase-in period, the entity may submit a plan of correction to the State Treasurer to modify the required annual funding progress but may not extend the phase-in period. Consistent with the provisions of the Hybrid Pension bill adopted by the General Assembly in 2013, the bill includes provisions that, for employees hired after the effective date, the political subdivision may freeze, suspend, or modify benefits on a prospective basis and that no implied right to continuation of a benefit exists. The bill also provides that a local government may, upon agreement with the State Treasurer, have either its plan administration and/or the investment of its plan assets performed by the Tennessee Treasury Department.
Drones / Hunter Harassment — Senate Bill 1777 was approved by the State Senate this week to add the use of drones to Tennessee’s hunter harassment law. The bill, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), prohibits the use of drones to conduct video surveillance of private citizens who are lawfully hunting or fishing. The measure comes after People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) announced a new hobby drone that can monitor hunters’ activities and subject them to harassment. “This bill makes technological changes to update our hunter harassment laws to protect hunters and fishermen in Tennessee,” said Bell.
Rape Kits / Justice for Victims – The full Senate voted this week to take inventory of all untested rape kits and forensic evidence and turn those numbers over to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to help in the pursuit of justice for victims and survivors.
Untested rape kits are a national problem. Senate Bill 1426, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), requires all law enforcement agencies or departments charged with the maintenance, storage, and preservation of sexual assault kits to generate a report based on that inventory by July 1, 2014. The report must contain the number of untested kits and the date the evidence was collected. After receiving the information, the bill calls for the TBI to deliver a report to the speakers of the State Senate and House of Representatives regarding their findings. That report would provide information regarding a possible backlog in other Tennessee counties.
Local Governments / Debt — The Senate passed and sent to the governor Senate Bill 462 requiring local governments to obtain approval by the Comptroller of the Treasury before issuing balloon indebtedness. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), is focused on preventing the issuance of debt where the terms of bonds exceed 31 years when there is no significant payment on the principal in the first 10 years. If the municipality has a high credit rating, such as a AAA or AA+, then those governments are exempt from the provisions of the bill. The bill is designed to prevent current governments from creating debt that will have to be paid by a future administration.
Faithful Delegate Legislation — The full Senate has approved legislation to help ensure that delegates to any future convention called to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution would be “faithful to” limits imposed by the Tennessee General Assembly. The “Faithful Delegate” bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville), is similar in purpose to legislation in other states to ensure that Presidential Electors remain faithful to their pledged candidate for President when voting in the Electoral College. Senate Bill 1432 requires that in the event of a constitutional convention, the General Assembly would adopt a resolution and provide instructions to the delegates and alternates regarding the rules of procedure and any other instructions relating to the convention. The delegates would then be required to obey those limits or face immediate removal and a Class E felony offense for knowingly or intentionally voting outside the scope of the instructions.
E-Citations — The Senate Transportation Committee has approved a bill setting up a framework for the issuance of e-citations in Tennessee. An e- (electronic) citation is an automated traffic ticket that is prepared by a law enforcement officer and filed electronically with the court. Senate Bill 2350, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), aims to cut the time police officers spend on the side of the road at a traffic stop by 10 minutes, freeing them up for more important duties. Several tragic accidents involving law enforcement officers during traffic stops point to a real safety concern during issuance of citations. The bill also eliminates concerns over legibility of handwritten citations and clerical errors, as well as reducing the costs for data entry processing of citations to the courts. In order to defray the costs of the system, a $5.00 fee would be would be paid by defendants that plead guilty or are found guilty. Currently six cities in Tennessee use e-citations and two are in the process of implementing the system. Eight states have already implemented e-citations in their state.
Fee Cut / Charitable Organizations — Charitable organizations and the people who raise funds for them might end up paying a lot less to register with the state under legislation that received final Senate approval on Thursday. Senate Bill 1919, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), would cut fees across the board by 20 percent. For a charity raising between $30,000 and $48,999.99 per year, the new annual fee would be only $80. At the top end of the scale, a charity raising $500,000 or more would pay $240 per year. The bill would also reduce the annual registration fees for professional solicitors from $800 to $250 and for fundraising counsels from $250 to $100. The changes would affect about 8,100 organizations and individuals who must register with the division.
A Unique Prism
The state Senate’s majority leader describes the lens through which he views public policy.
By Mark Norris, MemphisFlyer.com
January 16, 2014
In light of the Tennessee General Assembly’s recent reopening on Tuesday, here are a few thoughts on what lies ahead.
It is difficult to predict much that won’t have already been written by the time this goes to press, so I will share a somewhat more personal perspective written between attending to clients’ needs at the law office and packing for what may essentially be three months away from home.
Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities comes to mind — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … ” While we are eager to discharge our public duties, none are looking forward to the inevitable disruption of our private lives.
We are proud of what we have accomplished for the people of Tennessee over the past three years since Governor Haslam took office, and we look forward to maintaining the momentum, making Tennessee tops in at least 10 important ways:
Tennessee is 10th in the nation in personal income growth. The state has the ninth-highest high school graduation rate, eighth-best individual tax rate, and seventh-best destination ranking for jobs. It is rated the sixth-best state for business and careers. We are fifth in overall job growth and are the fourth-best state for business. We have the third-lowest tax burden and second-lowest cost of living, and we are first in the automotive manufacturing market.
Tennessee is also first in the Southeast in overall job growth and personal income growth. And we have the lowest debt per capita. All of this makes us the number one state in the nation for retirement.
How have we done it? We’ve made the budget “job one,” utilizing conservative management with lower taxes and less government. Unlike our counterparts in Congress, we have a balanced budget every year in Tennessee, and we have more than 140,000 new private-sector jobs to show for it.
Despite this success, or perhaps because of it, we have even more work to do if we are to maintain and improve our standing in the top 10 of so many categories.
Revenues for the current fiscal year are lagging. Increasing education costs under the Basic Education Plan (BEP) are increasing. The number of TennCare recipients has jumped by more than 50,000 — all but eliminating any new revenue which might otherwise be allocated elsewhere.
We have been here before. What’s different now is the composition of state government — a Republican governor with Republican super-majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. And I have to look at what lies ahead through a unique prism — that of Senate majority leader.
My job as the leader is to represent the Senate Republican Caucus as well as to carry the governor’s legislation under my oath to “in all appointments, vote without favor, affection, partiality or prejudice … ”
I spend much time studying the issues and listening to members of the Senate and House, Democrats as well as Republicans, whose interests and perspectives are as varied as Charles Dickens’ characters and the 95 counties from whence my colleagues come.
As critical as the budget is, we cannot ignore other diverse subjects: restrictions on the length of knife blades; regulations for hunting hogs; whether pseudoephedrine should be sold by prescription; or even the definition of Tennessee Whiskey. As I write, emails are streaming in urging me to support legislation for “sensible marijuana,” to ban “hysterectomies without signed informed consent,” and, at the behest of one of my Senate colleagues, to see to the legalization of agricultural hemp.
Thus, while the budget is job one, an array of other issues necessarily emerges. One matter of local interest will be legislation I am introducing that addresses the taking, testing, storage and use of forensic evidence in rape kits.
Other issues include pension reform for local governments that are not making actuarially required contributions; recidivism and criminal justice reform; workforce development; and questions of federalism. One of the latter is whether, in light of the dysfunction in D.C., it is time for a state-initiated national constitutional convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution to consider a balanced budget amendment and other necessary changes.
Once again from Dickens: “(I)t was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
It is a rare privilege to serve with so many who care so much at such an important time in Tennessee.
Norris takes helm of Council of State Governments
Outlines “State Pathways to Prosperity” initiative focusing on jobs and education
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||CONTACT: DARLENE SCHLICHER|
|December 10, 2013||615- 741-6336|
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) began his term as Chairman of the Council of State Governments (CSG) this week by outlining the Chairman’s 2014 initiative, “State Pathways to Prosperity.” The initiative focuses on helping states boost their workforce development and education efforts. Addressing the organization’s Eastern Regional meeting in Puerto Rico, Norris said during his term of office, CSG will also concentrate on four related areas which often overshadow employment needs: veterans’ affairs, hunger, children in poverty and criminal justice.
“It’s difficult for our guidance counselors and local workforce development professionals to do their jobs when the folks who need work have so many related issues that need addressing first,” said Chairman Norris. “Like a mother looking for work without the resources to provide care for her children while she’s away — or the veteran with plenty of experience but no certificate or degree — or someone with a criminal record for a non-violent offense that disqualifies them from employment. CSG can provide the expertise to help states with best practices designed to clear pathways for those anxious to join America’s workforce.”
“There is significant demand right now by companies looking for qualified workers, and states are finding it difficult to meet the demand. The jobs are there, but the skills are lacking,” said Norris, who was recently appointed by Governor Haslam to the Tennessee Workforce Development Board. Norris was the prime sponsor of Tennessee’s LEAP (Labor Education Alignment Program) signed into law in April. LEAP lays the foundation for the cooperative effort of government, higher education and businesses looking for skilled workers by providing on-the-job training.
CSG represents all three branches of state government and state chief executives are fundamental to CSG’s success. Norris succeeds Senator Gary Stevens of Alaska at CSG. Senator Carl Marcellino of New York is Chair-Elect. Serving as a President of CSG with Norris as Chairman will be West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. He succeeds Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.
“As Chair, it will be my goal to keep CSG the place to be; the place to champion state government to advance the common good,” said Norris.
CSG has regional offices in New York, Chicago, San Diego and Atlanta with headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky. Norris chaired the Southern Region in 2011 and has served on CSG’s Executive Committee since 2007.
December 4, 2013
Temporary Ramp Closures Postponed on Interstate 40 and 240 in Shelby County
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) will postpone the temporary lane closures scheduled for December 7 and 8, 2013 due to the inclement weather predicted for the weekend. Temporary lane closure dates and times are rescheduled as listed below:
Saturday, December 14, 2013 from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. – The 12C exit ramp on I-40 East (from Covington Pike to I-40 east) will be closed for ramp work. A detour will be posted. Motorists will be detoured through the Walnut Grove interchange back to I-40 East.
Sunday, December 15, 2013 from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. – The left lane of the 12C exit ramp on I-240 East (from Walnut Grove to I-40 East) will be closed for grinding and installation of pavement markers. Upon completion, the left lane will open and the right lane will close for grinding and installation of pavement markers.
The work is weather dependent. Should inclement weather or unforeseen circumstances prevent this work from occurring as scheduled, it will be rescheduled.
TDOT will use message boards to direct motorists around the detour route. The Tennessee Highway Patrol and TDOT HELP trucks will also be on site to assist with traffic.
For travel and TDOT construction information, visit the TDOT SmartWay web site at www.tn.gov/tdot/tdotsmartway/ or download the new TDOT SmartWay mobile app from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store for Android. Travelers can also dial 511 from any land-line or cellular phone for travel information or can follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TN511 for statewide travel information. Drivers are reminded to use all motorist information tools responsibly. Drivers should refrain from texting, tweeting or using a mobile phone while operating a vehicle. TDOT advises drivers to “Know before you go!” by checking traffic conditions before leaving for your destination.
Remarks Upon the Dedication of the Winfield Dunn Parkway at Collierville, Tn.
Nov. 22, 2013
Thank you all for joining with us in this celebration.
I’d like to do 2 things here this morning. First, I want to thank Governor Winfield Dunn for agreeing to allow us to recognize his service to Shelby County, the State of Tennessee, and our nation by affixing his name to this last segment of State Route 385.
Winfield Dunn is synonymous with that same sense of unity and community symbolized by this roadway. Our 43rd Governor, it had been 50 years since Tennessee had elected a Republican Governor when he won the race in 1970. Despite the partisan victory, he worked hard to unify the state in many ways. Notably for today’s purposes, he increased highway construction and created the Department of Economic and Community Development.
Which brings me to my second point. My working file on this project dates back to 1995 when I was a Shelby County Commissioner. This stretch of SR 385 was originally to be called the Collierville-Arlington Parkway for obvious geographic reasons. But there’s a metaphorical tie — and that is economic development. It is fitting that we dedicate this road during this week when history has been made in another way. Both Collierville and Arlington and others have negotiated the birth of new opportunities in education in our county. With the solidification of sound and strong school systems throughout Shelby County, SR 385 can be a pathway to prosperity for the entire community. To be certain, it can be something less. But it is now for Memphis and all of Shelby County to compete freely amongst the counties of West Tennessee for the abundance which follows the completion of this project.
We are the county of good abode, and our future is bright, and your presence here today signifies all that is good about the prospects for our future together. In the spirit of Winfield Dunn, we dedicate this road to that certain sense of unity and community.
Thank you very much.
November 21, 2013
SR 385 in Shelby and Fayette Counties to Open
Memphis, Tenn. – Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer will join former Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn as well as state and local officials in Collierville, Tennessee on Friday, November 22, 2013 to celebrate the completion of the last segment of SR 385.
The $74 million project started in November 2009 and is the final segment of the nearly 50 mile highway that stretches through Fayette and Shelby Counties. During Friday’s ceremony, the final segment of SR 385 will also be officially designated as Governor Winfield Dunn Parkway.
Friday’s event will begin at 10:00 a.m. CDT at Collierville’s Town Hall. Due to the inclement weather forecasted, the entire event will be held indoors.
*Special Note: SR 385 will officially open to traffic at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, November 22, 2013.
TDOT Commissioner John Schroer
Governor Winfield Dunn
Senator Mark Norris
Senator Dolores Gresham
Representative Barrett Rich
Representative Curry Todd
SR 385 Grand Opening Ceremony
November 22, 2013
Collierville Town Hall
500 Poplar View Parkway
Editorial: Mark Norris’ proposal is another way to help veterans thrive in civilian life
November 13, 2013
Veterans Day has passed, but still in sharp focus are the questions about how to deal with the physical, mental and quality-of-life issues afflicting vets.
In Tennessee, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, has drafted a bill that would make the state’s public colleges and universities more veteran-friendly, starting by authorizing in-state tuition for veterans moving to Tennessee.
In commemorating Veterans Day on Monday, President Barack Obama pledged to honor the nation’s commitment to its veterans by improving health care, job support and educational opportunities for those who have served in the military.
The president’s comments reiterated statements made by previous presidents, current and former members of Congress and state legislators, but it seems that the services offered veterans have not kept pace with the “we support veterans” proclamations.
In a Viewpoint commentary in The Commercial Appeal on Tuesday, Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times surmised that the Department of Veterans Affairs is trying to use an outdated 20th century model to deal with 21st century problems.
The biggest breakdown, veterans say, is in the delivery of medical and mental health services, where doctors are swamped dealing not only with the aging vets of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, but also the younger veterans of more recent Middle East conflicts. The VA also is way behind on processing veterans’ disability applications.
Members of veterans advocacy groups maintain the problems latter-day veterans face in civilian life are no greater than the issues encountered by veterans of Vietnam, Korea and World War II, especially those who served in prolonged combat deployments. The news media, thanks to advocacy groups, are shedding more light on veterans’ issues and how the VA is responding to them.
Constant exposure to life-threatening situations and the horrors of combat can leave lasting mental trauma — known as post-traumatic stress disorder — that some veterans cope with better than others.
Norris’ proposal, if it passes in the General Assembly, would be one step to help veterans succeed as civilians by making college more affordable and also would reward colleges that come up with ways to better serve veterans.
And nationally, lawmakers, military and VA officials need to better collaborate to find the resources to cut through the red-tape and lack-of-personnel issues that are delaying the delivery of key services to veterans.
Tennessee bill for veterans proposes in-state tuition, other help
By Jane Roberts, CommercialAppeal.com
November 11, 2013
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris has drafted a bill that would make Tennessee public colleges and universities more veteran-friendly, starting with in-state tuition for vets moving to Tennessee.
“We have what I call a benefits gap when it comes to men and women returning from service,” said Norris, R-Collierville. “The G.I. Bill benefits package only pays cost of in-state tuition. Under Tennessee law, if you relocate to Tennessee, you have to wait a year before you qualify.
“This is intended to plug that gap if you relocate to Tennessee within 24 months of being discharged.”
Veterans would then have a year to establish residency and show proof with a driver’s license, motor vehicle registration, pay stub or by registering to vote.
House Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, is co-sponsor. The House and Senate bills would establish the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act, funneling resources to help vets meet their educational goals here.
The Act would also create a VETS Campus designation for colleges taking concrete steps to better serve veterans. Schools could earn the designation by offering orientation programs specifically for vets, outreach programs or by working with staff to improve awareness of issues specific to veterans.
“The designation tells prospective students who are veterans that the school has a network of resources available that they can relate to and need,” Norris said. “At these campuses, veterans would know there are others like them. With what they have gone through, it sometimes helps to know there are others with similar experiences.”
Norris worked with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to craft the bill.
“I commend the Senate Majority Leader on this piece of legislation,” said Cato Johnson, THEC board president. “It is extremely important and extremely timely, and I know he has spent a great deal of time working with Rich Rodda (THEC executive director) and the staff as it relates to this legislation.”
Norris is chairman of the newly formed veterans subcommittee, part of the House and Senate state and local government committee. He is also on the state workforce development board of directors.
“One of the issues I have been working on is postsecondary education as it relates to workforce training and development,” Norris said. “These issues are related.”
By helping veterans connect quickly with colleges and other postsecondary options, the state can benefit from veterans’ life experiences, including training they learned in the military, he said.
Johnson, who has worked with Norris on other pieces of veteran-related legislation, represents constituents around Fort Campbell, the Army base which strides the Tennessee-Kentucky border. It is the home of the 101st Airborne Division and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
Lawmakers introduce bill that would lower tuition for some discharged veterans
November 9, 2013
State lawmakers filed a bill on Friday that would offer in-state tuition to all veterans attending public colleges and universities in Tennessee.
The legislation, titled the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act, would allow veterans moving to Tennessee and discharged within a two-year period to enroll at schools as in-state students without having to wait to estabish official residency.
The bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and House Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, would allow create a “VETS campus” designation for Tennessee schools who focus on enrolling veterans there.
“The VETS Act ensures that veterans have a clear, easy pathway to attend college in Tennessee,” Norris said. “As a state, we want to recognize and assist those soldiers who are coming home and exploring their education options.”
The bill will be considered by the state legislature when it reconvenes in January.
Improving Education a Key Theme at ECD Convention
By Michelle Willard, TNReport.com
October 7, 2013
Tennessee needs to develop a more skilled workforce to attract the jobs of the future, Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday at the 60th annual Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development conference.
“Only 32 percent of Tennesseans have a two-year, four-year degree or technical certificate,” Haslam said. “That means a whole lot of jobs are going somewhere else.”
To bring those jobs here, the governor lauded his “Drive to 55” initiative, which aims to encourage Tennesseans to pursue advanced education after high school.
“A lack of training beyond high school limits opportunities,” he said.
Tennessee is projected needed 55 percent of its workforce trained beyond high school to attract and retain jobs by 2025. If the state stays on track, it will only have 39 percent with a certificate or degree beyond high school in 2025.
To accomplish this, the state as a whole has to change expectations for what comes after high school and help the 940,000 adult Tennesseans who have some college credit but didn’t graduate with an advanced degree.
For this part of the equation, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris championed the Labor Education Alignment Program last session. LEAP aims to meet the demands of employers’ rising skill requirements by allowing adults to transfer technical training to four-year degrees.
“LEAP provides the pathways we need to enable Tennesseans to work, earn and learn,” Norris said.
The program was recognized Friday by a report from the Brookings Institutions’ Advanced Industries Series for meeting the demands of employers’ rising skill requirements.
“Brookings confirms this and suggests strategies to implement action between the public and private sectors designed to maintain competitiveness and move Tennessee forward,” the Collierville Republican said.
In his speech Friday, Haslam said public and private partnerships are exactly why businesses are coming to Tennessee.
The public and private sectors have worked together over the years to create excellent infrastructure and raise the quality of life in the state, he said. Both have also invested heavily in education.
State Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, agreed, pointing to the state-funded technical education center that is being built in Smyrna. The $38 million education center is a joint venture by the Tennessee Technology Center in Murfreesboro and Nissan.
“This is the largest investment in Smyrna since Nissan opened,” Sparks said, adding the tech center will provide training on maintaining high-tech manufacturing equipment like robots and other computer-controlled processes.
“We want to be the best location in the Southeast for quality jobs,” Haslam said, which means tech centers need to focus on emerging sectors of the economy.
The Smyrna tech center is doing just that, Sparks said, by teaching skills that can be used at area manufacturing facilities like Nissan, Bridgestone and General Mills and distribution facilities like the ones opened by Amazon.
“We have a lot going for us right now,” Haslam said.
Gathering Targets Region’s Workforce Development
By Bill Dries, MemphisDailyNews.com
September 4, 2013
When state officials gather at The University of Memphis University Center Wednesday, Sept. 4, to talk about workforce training, it won’t be with a check in hand to lead the effort.
State Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, who organized the 8:30 a.m. to noon session, wants state labor commissioner Burns Phillips and others from Nashville to listen to details of the training programs local business and higher education leaders have cobbled together over the last three years.
The goal of the Conversation About Work gathering is to begin to put that response on a more permanent footing, with the hope that such a response will be another incentive for businesses looking to relocate or expand in the Memphis area.
“It is sort of all getting on the same wavelength so we can say what, if anything, can we do to help,” Norris said.
So Phillips and other state leaders will hear about programs like the Assisi Foundation of Memphis’ use of the Bridges Out of Poverty concept. It is a comprehensive approach to poverty that has the ambitious goal of changing the circumstances and conditions of poverty.
They will also hear about specific training programs at Southwest Tennessee Community College that were the immediate response to the first pool of job applicants at Blues City Brewing and Electrolux.
Executives at both plants said the pool yielded too few qualified and trainable workers. That set in motion the local effort to find workers in Memphis who could be trained or had manufacturing experience who would also be better suited.
The effort put employers in the classrooms to not only teach but also to get a look at prospective employees to see directly a more specific pool of job seekers.
The University of Memphis is also involved, with interim president Brad Martin setting a goal of 10-year workforce development plans with the top 30 employers in the region.
Martin’s vision is workforce development that leads to bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as certificates of training and associate degrees.
The goal underlies the drive to make such training more comprehensive than a specific skill for a specific job.
For Norris, the Wednesday session had its origins in an exchange he saw a year ago in Memphis during a roundtable with business and higher education leaders chaired by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.
Among the business leaders was Larry Gibson, plant manager at the Unilever facility in Covington, Tenn.
“We are really desperate for technical skills – people who understand human-machine interface and how to run an automatic packaging line,” Gibson said. “There’s something that goes back to the fundamentals of education. You have to know how to do math. It’s not like technology is leaping forward. It’s creeping forward.”
Gibson’s point was confirmed in a more recent Greater Memphis Chamber-Workforce Investment Network survey of manufacturers in the region, many of whom said they were unaware of workforce training programs offered by higher education institutions.
Gibson’s comments drew an immediate response from Southwest Tennessee Community College leaders at the same session and led to a training program specifically for Unilever.
At the same session, other business leaders told Haslam they are looking more for critical thinking skills and adaptability in the workforces they will employ in the future than the ability to perform a specific task.