Norris News – January 13, 2017
Senator Norris meets with lawyers regarding refugee lawsuit
This week while the General Assembly convened in legislative session, meetings were ongoing with the legal team hired by the state to pursue a lawsuit in accordance with Senate Joint Resolution 467. The legal team that was hired at no expense to the state traveled in from Michigan and North Carolina to discuss case details and strategy.
The group of legislators leading the legal team hope to have a complaint ready to file by the end of the month. More information can be found by in this Tennessean article. Click here to read more.
Legislators, Cabinet Members, Supreme Court Justices, Constitutional Officers and Attorney General pack meals for Tennessee Food Banks
Members of the Tennessee General Assembly, the Governor’s cabinet, the Supreme Court, and the state’s constitutional officers joined Senator Norris in the third annual “Campaign Against Hunger” event was sponsored by the General Assembly’s Nutrition Caucus in conjunction with Outreach, Inc.
The group of almost 300 from across state government packaged approximately 51,000 meals. The meals were distributed to the 5 regional food banks that collectively cover all of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
“You know, food insecurity, let’s call it what it is, hunger, is a problem in Tennessee just like every state, and it’s really unacceptable to us so we do what we can to help alleviate that. We provide funding each year for several food banks statewide but this gives some extra oompf,” said Senator Mark Norris.
The 110th General Assembly has begun as state lawmakers gathered on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to take the oath of office, elect officers and organize the business of the 2017-2018 legislative sessions. The first order of business after the 16 newly-elected senators were sworn in was the election of Lt. Governor Randy McNally, who also serves as Speaker of the Senate. McNally, who is the second Republican Lt. Governor since reconstruction, follows Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey who did not seek re-election last fall.
The opening week of the 2017 legislative year was also marked by re-election of the state’s three constitutional officers, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Treasurer David Lillard and Comptroller Justin Wilson. The state’s constitution provides that the legislature selects the officers in a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives during the organizational session of each General Assembly.
State Senate recognizes Human Trafficking Awareness Day
State Senators paused to recognize National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Wednesday and reflect on Tennessee’s continuing efforts to combat this growing crime. The recognition follows the arrest on Tuesday of 23 people in Bradley County in an operation targeting human-trafficking networks and prostitution.
The General Assembly has approved a series of bills over the past five years addressing the problem after a 2011 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) report showed 73 of the state’s 95 counties have reported the crime within their borders. A follow up to the 2011 report was released in 2014 that shows sex trafficking of minors occurs in rural and urban areas of Tennessee and has an effect in both wealthy and poor households. It was also discovered that minors who come from impoverished households are especially vulnerable to victimization.
The legislature is expected to continue to address human trafficking in the 2017 legislative session.
Lawmakers also recognize victims and responders of Sevier County wildfires and children who died in Chattanooga school bus tragedy
In other action on the Senate floor this week, the State Senate paused to pray for the families of the six victims who were tragically killed in a school bus crash in Chattanooga in November.
Governor Haslam has called for a wide-ranging look at school bus safety, including how private transportation companies are selected and standards for drivers. Training for school bus drivers is another safety measure that could come under discussion during the 2017 legislative session.
In addition, the General Assembly unanimously adopted House Joint Resolution 23 recognizing the victims of the Sevier County wildfires and expressing appreciation to those who provided assistance.
Broadband — Access to broadband is expected to be an issue for the 2017 legislative session. Recent legislation calling for municipal utilities to provide fiber optic services beyond their current service area prompted a study by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) regarding the state’s access to broadband and the needs of citizens and businesses to those high speed Internet services. Their report will serve as the foundation for legislation this year. Of particular concern is providing broadband to underserved rural areas. One of the topics for consideration could be whether rural electric cooperatives should be allowed to provide Internet services in partnership with existing providers, including municipal electric utilities or private companies.
Juvenile Justice Reform — The General Assembly could tackle several criminal justice reform measures during the 2017 session, including proposals which come from the Juvenile Justice Realignment Task Force on the most effective ways to deter juvenile crime. While Tennessee has made recent progress in reducing the number of incarcerated youth, the state still lags behind in other ways.
Criminal Justice Reform – Similarly, expect criminal justice reform measures to be debated this year which come from organizations looking to promote rehabilitation and re-entry for convicted offenders, a move they say will relieve overcrowding in local jails. Part of the proposal includes seeking education opportunities that will give offenders a stable career or the ability to learn specific vocations or trades. Another key proposal includes increasing the employability of those with criminal convictions by taking steps to help them keep or obtain driver’s licenses or state photo identifications.
Norris News – January 6, 2017
High Hopes for 2017!
The 110th General Assembly convenes on Tuesday, January 10, 2017.
Those of us who had the honor to be re-elected by our constituents last November will take the oath of office. Chris will be with me to hold our family Bible as I’m sworn into my fifth term of office at Noon.
We will also welcome one new member, Senator Jon Lundberg, of Bristol. He previously served in the House of Representatives and was elected last year to replace the retiring Ron Ramsey.
Things were different when I first took office in 2000. Republicans were in the minority then — only 15 out of 33. Ron Ramsey and I made a team. He sometimes called us Tennessee “bookends.” He was from Bristol and I from Collierville. Ron could drive to Canada quicker than Canada Road in Shelby County, but we covered the 3 Grand Divisions between us over the next 16 years focusing on what unites, rather than divides, our grand divisions — our Great State.
We won the majority in 2007 for the first time in over 150 years. He became Speaker, and I succeeded him as the Republican Leader. But I was the first Republican Senate Majority Leader from West Tennessee to be elected by my colleagues, and as we grew our majority into the “super majority” we celebrate today (28 Republicans out of 33), they re-elected me as their Leader an unprecedented five additional times. I am honored to begin my 6th term as the Republican Leader this year.
During my tenure as Leader, we have cut more taxes than ever — the Death (Inheritance) Tax, the Gift Tax, the Hall Tax and the sales tax on food. I’ve proudly sponsored the laws eliminating more than a half-billion dollars in tax burden.
Our economy is strong. Economic growth is, too. But we need to do better by our children and senior citizens, too. Crime and punishment and education and workforce development are of critical concern.
It matters who leads. It matters who governs. The record speaks for itself. Our primary responsibility is to provide for the peace, safety, and happiness of Tennesseans. Whether we keep Tennessee safe requires keeping Tennessee strong. Who leads and how we govern matters. It is my honor to serve you.
The 2017 LEAP (Labor Education Alignment Program) report was released yesterday, and there’s good news to report since I fist introduced the measure in 2013. Click here to read the report.
I designed LEAP to facilitate a collaborative alignment of resources dedicated to closing the skills gap between our schools, our workforce and the needs of advanced industries with higher paying jobs. It is important because we have the human capital to meet those needs but have often lacked the ability to invest where it counts. The proper alignment of labor and education provides a pathway to prosperity along which Tennesseans can work, earn and learn.
And it’s working. 2065 college students were enrolled in LEAP programs with 938 receiving program completion or industry certification and finally 608 of those students were hired in the industry in which they studied.
We need to invest the resources necessary to expand LEAP and the opportunities it affords to Tennesseans in all 95 counties across the state!
You can read about the report in The Tennessean article HERE.
Report finds ‘growing’ demand for college program
January 5, 2017
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission is asking the state to pump more money into a $20 million grant program that partners employers with colleges to develop academic programs tailored to the needs of local job markets.
Twenty-four different projects received funding through the Labor Education Alignment Program in 2014 and 2016, enough to to start specialized training programs in 67 of the state’s 95 counties. In many cases that funding paid for high-tech mechatronics equipment that brought the robotic fixtures of a modern assembly line into Tennessee classrooms.
So far, 3,403 high school students and 2,065 college students have enrolled in courses and training programs supported by the funding, according to the report. More than 900 of those students had graduated by 2016. The commission said 608 of them got jobs as mechatronics engineers, electricity technicians and welders, among other positions.
The report recommended expanding the program, known as LEAP, so that students in every county of the state could have access to the courses.
“Requests for LEAP support far exceed the availability of funds for the program,” the report read. “The demand for innovation in workforce alignment is not only substantial across the state, but this demand is growing.”
State Sen. Mark Norris, the Senate’s majority leader, said he sponsored the LEAP legislation in 2013 because employers in West Tennessee and across the state had struggled to find qualified workers to fill jobs in high-tech factories because “technology had bypassed our ability.”
But Norris, R-Collierville, said he was thrilled to see feedback from the same employers being used to craft career-focused curricula at technical colleges and community colleges as well as dual-enrollment courses in high schools. He expressed confidence that the General Assembly would support additional LEAP funding during the upcoming legislative session.
“We have to look at the cost associated with it, but the benefit part outweighs every cost,” Norris said. “When you go and look in the eyes of these young people and see what a difference a relevant education makes, it’s just real clear.”
Scott Sloan, the chief of staff and general counsel at the higher education commission, said a key to the program’s early success has been the localized model. Each project brings together businesses, higher education leaders and local school systems to address needs specific to a small cluster of counties.
For instance, a LEAP project in East Tennessee led by the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Morristown brought a “work ethic diploma” program into five local high schools so that students could learn soft skills surrounding professional behavior. Every student who completes the program gets an interview with a nearby employer.
A separate LEAP project in Middle Tennessee led by Nashville State Community College brought a mechatronics training program to Fort Campbell where veterans transitioning to civilian life earned certifications to work with mechatronics equipment.
For each project, businesses “identify collectively what they need, and the (schools) and higher education do their part,” Sloan said. “Having all of the key players at the table simultaneously devising a plan that they collectively feel is addressing their needs is what sets this apart.
“We think that this recipe will work in all 95 counties.”
Sloan acknowledged the challenge ahead would be to keep the existing projects in step with evolving workforce needs. The commission will continue to evaluate LEAP projects through periodic site visits and annual reports.
“It’s not a one-stage fix. If we want to be competitive with other states for industry this is something we must maintain a focus on,” Sloan said. “What we hope to have as a result is the conversations and the collaboration at the local level (that) is sustained.”
“The fires in East Tennessee have taken a heavy toll on many Tennesseans. The Summers Family of Memphis is no exception. Our hearts go out to them. Our prayers are for them and all of the families affected by this great tragedy.
It’s a tragedy which transcends the Grand Divisions. A loss for one is a loss for all.
We give thanks for Vanderbilt University Medical Center for their care of the surviving Summers family; for the women and men who are our first responders; for TEMA and the numerous departments of the State of Tennessee responding to the tragedy; for law enforcement, volunteers, public servants and all Good Samaritans who have helped in Tennesseans’ time of need.
And we should all give thanks to God for giving light despite the darkness.”