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Norris News – May 12, 2017

End of Session Press Conference

End of Session Press Conference

Lawmakers adjourn 2017 legislative session after passage of state budget and other key bills

The 2017 session of the 110th General Assembly has adjourned to become a part of Tennessee history with some of the most important bills of the year being approved during the final week of legislative action. This includes the passage of the state budget, legislation making Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college, a measure enhancing penalties for convicted criminals in the U.S. unlawfully, and a proposal strengthening penalties against crooks with guns.

The $37 billion budget proposes state government spending for the next fiscal year that begins July 1, 2017 and extends to June 30, 2018. Senate Bill 483, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), maintains Tennessee’s sound fiscal practices. For a second year in a row, the state budget does not take on any new debt. It assumes an annualized growth rate of 3.17 percent, based on an economic growth forecast of 4.5 percent. Such fiscally conservative practices have resulted in Tennessee having a budget surplus rather than a deficit as many other states have experienced. This is one of the reasons Tennessee is ranked among the best managed states in the nation.

“We believe that this surplus reflects strength, not weakness – maturity as a leading state in the nation, not the malaise of those struggling under massive debt in other states delinquent in their duties and troubled by taxation,” said Norris. “A surplus, wherein revenues exceeded budgeted expectations, reflects conservatism at its best. Revenues have exceeded expectations not because we charged Tennessee taxpayers more, but because we did more with less. We cut taxes in five of the previous six years and generated more revenues as a result.”

The 2017-2018 budget cuts more than $250 million in taxes in the next fiscal year and more than $400 million in taxes annually at full implementation.

I thought you might enjoy reading some of the media coverage concerning the budget we just adopted: Click here to read more.

Presenting the budget on the Senate floor

Presenting the budget on the Senate floor

New state budget emphasizes four E’s – Education, Employment, Economic Opportunity, and Enforcement of the Law

Education, Employment, Economic Opportunity, and Enforcement of the Law are the underlying drivers of Tennessee’s 2017-2018 state budget adopted by the General Assembly this week. The budget continues Tennessee’s strong commitment to education by providing an additional $200 million to fund the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP). This includes $100 million to improve teacher salaries, $22 million to help schools serve high need students, and an additional $15 million is provided for career and technical education equipment.

It also continues several important higher education initiatives in the Drive to 55 to make sure that 55 percent of Tennesseans have a post-secondary certificate or degree by the year 2025. This includes the Reconnect Act and the STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act. The Reconnect Act is a last-dollar scholarship which makes Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college. The STRONG Act creates a pilot program for those who protect and serve their state and country in the Tennessee National Guard to receive tuition funding toward a first time bachelor degree.

On employment and economic opportunity, the legislation provides $113 million in Franchise and Excise (F&E) tax cuts which are available to over 500 manufacturers in Tennessee benefitting over 310,000 of their employees. Since passage of legislation initiating the F&E cuts two weeks ago, two major industries have announced they will locate facilities in Tennessee creating a combined 520 new jobs in the state.

Also conducive to job creation is the $150 million in new, recurring revenue appropriated for improving Tennessee’s roads, making them inviting to new industries looking to locate in the state. The improvements are also essential for road safety. Presently, 40 percent of the state’s major urban roads are in less than fair condition. Likewise, approximately 19 percent of Tennessee bridges are in need of repair, five percent are structurally deficient, and 14 percent are functionally obsolete.

On enforcement of the law, the budget provides 30 new positions for district attorneys, 18 new public defenders, 25 new Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers, and new funding to increase coverage for families of police and firefighters who lose their life in the line of duty. It provides more than $2 million in recurring funds to incarcerate felons with firearms and abusers of the elderly and to enhance sentences against illegal aliens who commit unlawful acts. It also provides $5 million in funding to increase the per diem paid to local jails for housing state prisoners and $29.5 million for a new multi-agency law enforcement training center.

Other highlights of the budget include:

  • $8 million for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to purchase an airplane to assist in criminal investigations and manhunts;
  • $55 million for utilization grants for TennCare;
  • Adds 715 more slots to the Employment and Community First Choices (EFC) Program to provide long-term services and supports;
  • $1 million for the OPTIONS program which gives home- and community-based service choices to the elderly, as well as adults with disabilities;
  • $10.3 million to improve access to broadband in Tennessee;
  • $8 million to increase the reimbursement rate for direct support professionals who provide home and community-based services through the Department of Intellectual Disabilities (DIDD);
  • $11.5 million for substance abuse and crisis services;
  • $21.7 million in a new money to help fund rural initiatives as recommended by the Rural Development Task Force Study;
  • $40 million toward the cost of a new State Library and Archives building to collect and preserve Tennessee records of historical, documentary and reference value;
  • $10.65 million for disaster relief in Gatlinburg and Sevier County after the devastating wildfires in November 2016;
  • $77 million for state employee pay increases and market rate adjustments targeting high-turnover positions in state government;
  • $614 million in state dollars for maintenance and new buildings across general government and higher education;
  • $25 million for higher education outcome formula increases of the Complete College Act;
    $132 million in non-recurring funds to the state’s Rainy Day Fund to an all-time high of $800 million, well on the way to a target of $1 billion;
  • Full restoration of property tax relief for veterans, disabled and the elderly; and,
  • $18 million for the next state veterans’ home in West Tennessee.

In his closing presentation on the budget, Norris spoke of General Assembly fulfilling the constitutional mandate for the “peace, safety and happiness of the people of Tennessee.” He stated that the priorities outlined in the budget made clear that state government stands behind “the elderly, the vulnerable, the sick and the unfortunate.”

“It matters who governs,” concluded Norris. “And by this Act – we do.”

General Assembly passes legislation to offer all adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college

The General Assembly approved major legislation during the final week of the 2017 session to make Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college. The Tennessee Reconnect Act establishes a last-dollar scholarship for adults to attend a community college tuition-free. Senate Bill 1218, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), expands a grant program launched in 2015 that aims to attract approximately 900,000 Tennesseans who have earned some college credit but no degree.

Adults without a certificate can already attend Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) tuition-free under the current Reconnect program. This proposal would expand that program’s access to community colleges and relieves some of the previous requirements to receive assistance. The Reconnect expansion would be funded out of lottery reserves at no cost to taxpayers.

PBS Capitol Report taping. Capitol Report will air May 21st on your local PBS station. Check your local listings for times.

PBS Capitol Report taping. Capitol Report will air May 21st on your local PBS station. Check your local listings for times.

In Brief…

Convicted Criminals Unlawfully in the U.S. — The full Senate approved legislation on Tuesday that would allow courts in Tennessee to enhance the sentence of a convicted criminal who is unlawfully in the U.S. Under present state law, status as an illegal alien is a factor that can be considered on the front end of the court process, as it relates to bond for example, but it’s not included at the end of the process. Senate Bill 1260, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), creates a new enhancement factor that a judge can consider in sentencing if the defendant was illegally or unlawfully in the U.S. at the time the offense was committed.

Crooks with Guns — Legislation enhancing the charge of possession of a firearm by a person with a prior felony conviction involving the use or attempted use of force from a Class C to a Class B felony was approved during the final days of the 2017 legislative session. The bill also enhances the charge of the possession of a firearm by a person with a prior felony drug conviction from a Class D to a Class C felony. Senate Bill 1241 continues a series of anti-crime laws dubbed “Crooks with Guns” passed over the last decade to curb gun-related violence and focus resources on keeping violent criminals behind bars longer to protect the public. It is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).

Energy — This week the Senate Government Operations Committee met to discuss Senate Bill 1250, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), to support the development of a reliable and adequate supply of energy for Tennessee. The goal is to encourage the growth of a secure, stable, and predictable energy source to facilitate economic growth, job creation, and expansion of business and industry opportunities. To accomplish this, the proposal creates a State Energy Policy Council that would be responsible for advising and making recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly concerning the state’s energy resources, including exploration development and production within Tennessee. Other duties of the 13-member council include creating annual reports that assess the energy sector, developing comprehensive state energy policy plans, and providing the public with education and informational tools. The University of Tennessee Baker Center of Public Policy would facilitate the annual assessment of the state’s energy sector as a result of the proposed legislation.

Senator Norris' signature sponsoring the resolution to adjourn the 2017 legislative session

Senator Norris’ signature sponsoring the resolution to adjourn the 2017 legislative session

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Norris News – May 5, 2017

South Tipton County Chamber's First Friday “Derby Day” with Claudia Wilson and Rosemary Bridges

South Tipton County Chamber’s First Friday “Derby Day” with Claudia Wilson and Rosemary Bridges

Legislation focuses on providing help for children suffering adverse childhood experiences

This week’s action on Capitol Hill was highlighted by passage of a number of important initiatives as lawmakers continue discussions on the state’s budget. One such bill approved this week would establish a new pilot program to help children from troubled homes avoid chronic adverse childhood experiences. Senate Bill 887, sponsored by Deputy Speaker Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) would establish the “Zero to Three Initiative Courts” within either a Juvenile Court or General Sessions Court, similar to Tennessee’s Drug Courts.

Chronic childhood trauma, or what experts call adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), can disrupt a child’s brain-building process. Studies document the impact on brain development these chronic experiences, like emotional abuse, physical abuse, neglect, growing up in a home with domestic violence or substance abuse, have on children. Left unaddressed, ACEs and their effects make it more difficult for a child to succeed in school, live a healthy life and contribute to the state’s future prosperity — our communities, workforce, and civic life.

Leaders from state government, the business world, advocates, insurers, academia and nonprofit foundations are organized as public and private sector steering groups to guide implementation and provide leadership at the state, regional and community levels.

Haile said that a similar program in North Miami, Florida has been in operation for over four years with great success. “Of the children in state custody that had their families surrounded and supported, more than half never went back into state custody. The remaining 40 percent were willingly allowed by the birth parents to proceed to adoption, many times with the birth parents collaborating with adoptive parents. It is my wish that this initiative, similarly, would lead to happy, healthy lives for children in Tennessee.”

 Tipton County First Friday with Chief of Police Jessie Poole of Atoka

Tipton County First Friday with Chief of Police Jessie Poole of Atoka

In Brief…

 Collierville Schools Superintendent John Aitken, Chief of Staff Jeff Jones and Collierville H.S. Principal Chip Blanchard with Senator Norris at “Flags for Freedom” presentation

Collierville Schools Superintendent John Aitken, Chief of Staff Jeff Jones and Collierville H.S. Principal Chip Blanchard with Senator Norris at “Flags for Freedom” presentation

Community Paramedicine — Legislation that ensures rule-making authority is provided to allow for the practice of “community paramedicine” and “mobile integrated healthcare” has been approved on final Senate consideration. Senate Bill 1270, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), implements an act previously adopted by the General Assembly to allow paramedics to operate in expanded roles to provide routine health care services to underserved populations. “These are both emerging healthcare professions, and they are particularly important in rural parts of the state and even in some urban areas that are underserved,” said Sen. Norris.

Farm Property / Inequitable Taxation – Legislators approved and sent to the governor legislation that ensures agricultural property is not reclassified as commercial for the purpose of property tax assessment. Article 2, Section 28 of the Tennessee Constitution requires farm property to be assessed at 25 percent of its value. The legislation comes after reports of agricultural properties being reclassified as commercial real property, which is assessed at 40 percent of its value. Senate Bill 904, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), ensures that both the letter and spirit of Tennessee law and the State Constitution are followed to protect farmers from inequitable taxation.

Abortion / Tennessee Infants Protection ActSenate bill 1180, sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), that would enact the “Tennessee Infants Protection Act” was approved on final Senate consideration to protect a viable fetus 24 weeks gestational age and older. The legislation calls for the doctor to test viability before an abortion when the woman is at least 20 weeks past the gestational age, and there will be a rebuttable presumption that an unborn child of at least 24 weeks is viable. The bill provides health exceptions in the cases for abortions to be performed after the 20-week time frame, including those in which the mother is in imminent danger of death or where there is a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.

Senator Norris at “Flags for Freedom” presentation at Collierville High School

Senator Norris at “Flags for Freedom” presentation at Collierville High School

Flags for Freedom – In 2002, I proudly co-sponsored a bill which required the pledge of allegiance to be said in classrooms each day where a flag was present. I have since discovered that many classrooms do not have flags.

“Flags for Freedom” is our effort to supply flags to classrooms across Tennessee in order that school children may begin their day with the pledge of allegiance.

Read more on The Tennessean.

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Norris News – April 28, 2017

Miss Tennessee, Grace Burgess of Bartlett, with Allison Alderson, Miss Tennessee 1999, Senator Ed Jackson and Senator Norris

Miss Tennessee, Grace Burgess of Bartlett, with Allison Alderson, Miss Tennessee 1999, Senator Ed Jackson and Senator Norris

Budget moves front and center as legislature looks toward adjournment

As the 2017 session of the Tennessee General Assembly gets closer to adjournment, Senate committee action this week primarily centered on the state budget. The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee received Governor Bill Haslam’s amended budget proposal on Tuesday which makes several improvements and adjustments to the original plan submitted to lawmakers on January 30. The appropriations amendment is customarily introduced in the final weeks of the legislative session for consideration and approval by the General Assembly.

In addition to the tax cuts, for the second year in a row, the amended budget proposal does not take on any new debt and makes significant investments in teachers, K-12 schools, higher education, state employees, and the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Notable investments in the fiscal year 2017-2018 budget amendment to Senate Bill 483, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), include:

  • $8 million in recurring funds to increase salaries paid to the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities service providers who care for the state’s most vulnerable;
  • $2 million in recurring funds for prevention, education, treatment and recovery services with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services;
  • $55 million in one-time funds for transportation projects as the IMPROVE Act is phased in;
    $40 million in one-time funds for a new State Library and Archives building to collect and preserve Tennessee records of historical, documentary and reference value; and
  • $10.65 million in one-time funds for disaster relief in Gatlinburg and Sevier County after the devastating wildfires in November 2016.

The budget is the only bill the General Assembly has a constitutional obligation to pass. Lawmakers will continue work on the legislation next week as House and Senate leaders and members of the Finance Committees hammer out details. The next step is consideration by full Senate and House of Representatives.

Brittany Samples, Cleveland High School’s CTE Student of the Year, with City of Cleveland’s School Superintendent Dr. Russ Dyer and Senator Norris

Brittany Samples, Cleveland High School’s CTE Student of the Year, with City of Cleveland’s School Superintendent Dr. Russ Dyer and Senator Norris

Senate approves legislation calling for one full semester of Tennessee history in state’s public schools

The Senate unanimously approved a bill Monday evening that would require Tennessee’s public schools to go back to teaching at least one full semester of Tennessee history. Senate Bill 631, sponsored by Deputy Speaker Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), is named for the late Senator Douglas Henry who was a great advocate of Tennessee history and devoted much of his public life to its cause.

As amended, the semester of Tennessee history would be carved out between grades 4 and 8 – a detail to be worked out by the Tennessee Board of Education and local school systems.

The bill complements a system under which the subject of Tennessee history is presently “embedded” into U.S. history classes in grades 4, 5, 8 and 11. The embedded system, however, is piecemeal and does not call for the “story” of Tennessee to be taught.

At their request, all members of the Tennessee Senate were added as sponsors of the bill.

Similarly, the full Senate approved legislation sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) designating the week of September 17th as “Celebrate Freedom Week” in Tennessee public schools. The timing coincides with Constitution Day, which is also known as Citizenship Day, commemorating the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. Senate Bill 1152 is designed to emphasize the teaching of the country’s origins with an emphasis on the founding documents during that week.

In Brief…

School Bus Safety — Legislation aiming to increase safety on Tennessee school buses was approved by the full Senate on final consideration and sent to the governor for his signature. Senate Bill 1210, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), raises the minimum age for drivers to 25 and requires all drivers to complete a school bus driver training program based on standards developed by the Department of Education and the Department of Safety prior to transporting any students. The legislation clarifies that drivers must have five consecutive years of unrestricted driving experience prior to the date of application. The proposal also requires school districts and charter schools to appoint a transportation supervisor, who receives annual training and is responsible for monitoring and overseeing student transportation for their district or charter school. The transportation supervisor would be responsible for implementing the school safety policy set by the local board of education, including a policy for investigating complaints.

LEAP / Education — The full Senate has approved Senate Bill 1231 this week to include “work-based learning experiences” in the curriculum for work-based learning under the state’s Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP). The legislation, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), aims to meet necessary skill standards of industries in Tennessee as part of the LEAP program. The LEAP program not only makes sure the state education programs are providing a more relevant educational experience, but aligns them with the private sector as well, so that students can work, learn and earn simultaneously. The LEAP program has engaged almost 20,000 students since it was passed in 2013.

Consumer Protection / Automobiles — Legislation protecting consumers from purchasing a used automobile that has been recalled and is unsafe to drive has received final Senate approval. Senate Bill 172, sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), provides transparency to buyers regarding the recall before the purchase is made from a licensed Tennessee dealer. Also called the “Motor Vehicle Recall and Disclosure Law,” the legislation prescribes that any vehicle deemed unsafe by the Highway Safety Administration to drive is too dangerous to be sold until properly repaired by the dealer. Other than “stop sale” recalls, vehicles for sale with unrepaired open recalls would have to be disclosed to the customer in writing before the sale. The bill also provides that after 30 days of waiting for a repair part, the manufacturer must pay a one percent monthly payment to the dealer based on the average trade in value of the vehicle being withheld from sale.

Covington Mayor Justin Hanson visited with Senator Norris in the Nashville office this week.

Covington Mayor Justin Hanson visited with Senator Norris in the Nashville office this week.

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Senator Mark Norris - Proudly Endorsed by the National Rifle Association

 

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