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Norris News – June 23, 2017

Yesterday, I testified at the first meeting of the Congressional Intergovernmental Affairs Task Force convened by Speaker Paul Ryan in Washington, D.C. I represented state governments as Past Chairman of the Council of State Governments.

Congressional Intergovernmental Affairs Task Force

I said, “This hearing comes at an important time. Last week was National Flag Week during which we celebrated the 200th Anniversary of the adoption of this proud symbol of our Nation’s commitment to freedom and federalism in its truest form. We celebrate these days through Independence Day as a time to honor what makes us the United States by focusing upon that which unites us rather than what divides us.”

The Jimmy Daniel Leadership Award

The Jimmy Daniel Leadership Award

On Tuesday, I was honored to receive the Jimmy Daniel Leadership Award presented by U.T. Martin’s WestStar Leadership Program from which I graduated in 1999. The Award recognizes the alum who has made a difference. Thank you WestStar!

After the 2017 WestStar graduation ceremony in Jackson with Senator John Stevens, Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum, UT Martin’s Chancellor Keith Carver, Senator Dolores Gresham, my wife Chris, and Representative Jimmy Eldridge.

After the 2017 WestStar graduation ceremony in Jackson with Senator John Stevens, Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum, UT Martin’s Chancellor Keith Carver, Senator Dolores Gresham, my wife Chris, and Representative Jimmy Eldridge.

Wednesday Was Bill Signing Day

Senate Bill 1230 – Fighting financial exploitation of elderly and vulnerable adults.

Senate Bill 1230 – Fighting financial exploitation of elderly and vulnerable adults.

 Senate Bill 1267 – Allowing banks to protect elderly and vulnerable adult customers from financial exploitation.

Senate Bill 1267 – Allowing banks to protect elderly and vulnerable adult customers from financial exploitation.

Senate Bill 1279 – Setting up a task force to consider investigating civil rights crimes and cold cases.

Senate Bill 1279 – Setting up a task force to consider investigating civil rights crimes and cold cases.

Next week, I will cover more about new laws enacted this year which will become effective on July 1, 2017. Until then, please remember to celebrate and safeguard our freedom every day as we approach Independence Day next month.

Father's Day was special. Taking extra time to make memories helps keep it real. My boy and I sored a few lips at home!

Father’s Day was special. Taking extra time to make memories helps keep it real. My boy and I sored a few lips at home!

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Norris News – June 14, 2017

Happy Flag Day

 

Mark Norris

America’s freedom deserves continued celebration
We must rededicate ourselves to the cause of freedom and the knowledge required to appreciate and sustain it.

Flag Day, June 14, marks the celebration of the 240th year of our national symbol. Under various congressional resolutions, the people of the United States have been called upon this June “to observe with pride and all due ceremony those days from Flag Day … (June 14) through Independence Day … as a time to honor America, to celebrate our heritage in public gatherings and activities, and to publicly recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.”

While there may be too much ignorance of our rich history to fully appreciate it in some quarters, many of us in state government are working hard to assure that future generations will not forget the freedoms and ideals for which our forebears have fought and often sacrificed their lives.

During the 109th General Assembly, I proudly sponsored the new law requiring threshold proficiency in basic citizenship as a prerequisite to graduation. This, in turn, supplements the 2012 requirements I championed to assure that civics is taught and assessed in our elementary and middle schools.

Every day is Flag Day in Tennessee thanks to Public Chapter 841, which I proudly co-sponsored in 2002 with Senators Rusty Crowe, Randy McNally and Mae Beavers (who served in the House at that time), requiring, among other things, that the pledge be a part of the daily school schedule and that students learn it and demonstrate their knowledge of it. Local organizations are encouraged to provide flags for classrooms.

The Tennessee Supreme Court received a national recognition for its SCALES Project (Supreme Court Advancing Legal Education for Students), which has educated more than 25,000 high school students about the judicial branch of government through interactive experience involving actual cases before the court.

The secretary of state’s office also has a program to foster the teaching of civics, and the Tennessee Historical Society organizes History Day, in which hundreds of students compete as part of National History Day each year.

The General Assembly also helps fund the publication of history books that are available to teachers for use in supplementing the teaching of Tennessee history.

Let us mark the beginning of the next two centuries of freedom by honoring the beginning of Old Glory’s 240th anniversary all year long.

Let’s do that by assuring that our classrooms are sufficiently adorned with American flags and equipped with materials and the means appropriate to patriotic education.

Let’s work to better coordinate the civics, history and good government programs already underway to assure that we leverage them in meaningful ways, and adequately fund them to support our schools and teachers with the right resources to get the job done.

I’m committed to working with my colleagues in the Senate and the House to make sure we do these things. We’ve contacted each school in my district to determine that they have what they need, starting with an American flag in every classroom. So far this year we’ve provided over 50 flags to classrooms in Shelby and Tipton counties.

These are troubled times in which we live. Now, more than ever, we must rededicate ourselves to the cause of freedom and the knowledge required to appreciate and sustain it. With your encouragement and support, we will.

Here’s to Old Glory’s 240th!

Flags for Freedom event at Collierville High School

Flags for Freedom event at Collierville High School

Norris appointed to lead Tennessee Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) has been appointed to co-chair Tennessee’s new Juvenile Justice Realignment Task Force that will undertake a comprehensive review of the state’s juvenile justice system. The announcement regarding the formation of the task force, which is comprised of top leaders from all three branches of Tennessee government, was made by Lt. Governor Randy McNally and Speaker Beth Harwell today. Harwell will co-chair the panel with Norris.

The 19-member group is charged with developing evidence-based policy recommendations that will lead to potential legislative action this year to protect public safety, hold offenders accountable and contain costs, while improving outcomes. It includes Governor Bill Haslam or his representative, several juvenile court judges, public defenders, attorney generals, lawmakers, commissioners of the Department of Children’s Services, Education and the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and other key stakeholders.

“We are committed to doing everything we can to get juvenile offenders back on track for success, while holding them accountable for their actions and protecting the public,” said Norris, who served last year on the state’s Juvenile Justice Realignment Task Force. “This task force is a significant opportunity for us to examine fact- and evidence-based data to reform our system to achieve all of these goals.”

Norris sponsored and co-sponsored legislation recommended by the Juvenile Justice Realignment Task Force during the recently-adjourned session. This includes legislation providing juveniles with new educational opportunities to place them on a path to success, rather than a life of crime, and new laws to scale back court practices which are overly punitive, while balancing the need for public safety.

The new Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice is expected to hold monthly meetings with recommendations following by the end of the year, in time for the 2018 regular session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Norris applauds upward movement of Tennessee’s status on child well-being

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) called the announcement that Tennessee has climbed three places in the national ranking for child well-being “a significant step in the right direction.” Norris made the statement after the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2017 KIDS COUNT® released their report showing the state has moved from 38th to 35th.

“This is the first improvement that has been recognized since we publicly declared in 2015 an all-out war on this unacceptable ranking,” said Sen. Norris. “A lot of work has been done to move the needle forward. Although 35th is still unacceptable, the improvement recognized this year is a significant step in the right direction in making a major difference in the lives of Tennessee children.”

Norris has led several initiatives aimed at education, workforce development, nutrition and juvenile justice. As sponsor of the appropriations bill, he pushed for state funding for food banks, community health centers and residential adolescent drug treatment programs across the state. This includes a $2.5 million grant to the Memphis Research Consortium this year focusing on children’s health and well-being and funds to create the Center for Health in Justice Involved Youth at the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences.

As Chairman of the Juvenile Justice Realignment Task Force, he has worked to reform the state’s juvenile justice system, especially as it affects outcomes for non-violent offenders who deserve a second chance. Last week, Norris was appointed to chair a newly formed Blue Ribbon Task Force which will work with the Pew Foundation to analyze and recommend additional reforms.

He also spearheaded funding for the state’s Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE’s) study which has already been used to implement public policy changes to help children who have chronic childhood trauma live a happy and productive life. He sponsored the initiative to provide $2 million in grants for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) work in communities across the state through the Department of Children’s Services.

“The factors young children are exposed to, like abuse and neglect, have a significant neurological impact on their long-term development,” said Norris. “This study has shed light on the problems we face as adverse childhood experiences increase the odds for later difficulties, including the chances that they will enter the juvenile justice system. This study has given us more information about what we need to do to help these children get a better start in life and divert those most affected from a lifetime of crime.”

This year Norris co-sponsored legislation, based on the ACE’s study, which establishes a Zero to Three Initiative Court. The primary goal of the Zero to Three Initiative is to reduce the time of permanency of children in at-risk environments by surrounding families of children age 36 months or younger with support services, whether it is returning them to parents, living with relatives or getting them ready for adoption.

He also co-sponsored legislation implementing an innovative truancy intervention program for students in K-12 schools. Truancy is the most frequent reason given for schools referring juveniles to court.

“If we can get at the root causes of some of these issues and maybe intervene before it’s too late with the next generation, we can make sure we have a next generation,” he said

In workforce training, Norris helped win legislative approval of the governor’s proposal for increased funding for the state’s colleges of applied technology, which teach technical skills for the workplace matching them to local job needs. He also sponsored the Tennessee Promise program and the Reconnect Program, last-dollar scholarship programs which give all Tennesseans an opportunity to receive a degree or post-secondary credential tuition-free.

“The Annie E. Casey report reminds me of the canary in the coal mine. Our children’s well-being and our ability to nurture it is a harbinger. We can rise to this challenge just as we’ve done in other ways in the past. We are doing better in Tennessee, but we must do better still,” Norris concluded.

Senator Norris on “Live at 9” discussing Juvenile Justice

Senator Norris on “Live at 9” discussing Juvenile Justice

Elderly Abuse / Financial Exploitation / Classification Higher – Public Chapter 466 was signed by the Governor on May 25. The “Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act” creates a new offense for financial exploitation, which is graded as theft but punished one classification higher. Approximately one in five seniors has been a victim of financial exploitation at a cost of approximately $2.9 billion annually.

Elderly Abuse / Financial Exploitation / Securities – Public Chapter 424 was signed by the Governor on May 18. The Senior Financial Protection and Securities Modernization Act provides a pathway for voluntary reporting by giving civil and administrative immunity to broker-dealers, investment advisers, agents, representatives and other qualified individuals for reporting the suspected abuse or exploitation. It allows those individuals to delay disbursements for a certain number of days if financial abuse or exploitation is suspected and authorizes notification to third parties previously designated by the elderly or vulnerable adult regarding any suspected fraudulent transactions. It also gives the Commissioner authority, under the state’s Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, to double current civil penalties against offender who victimize a vulnerable or senior adult.

Elderly Abuse / Financial Exploitation / Financial Institutions – Public Chapter 264 was signed by the Governor on May 12. Adds tools and greater flexibility as to how financial institutions can best protect their customers when they have reason to suspect financial exploitation of elderly or vulnerable adults is occurring or being attempted. It provides new authority for financial institutions to delay or refuse to conduct transactions which permit the disbursement of funds from the account of an elderly customer or vulnerable adult when exploitation is suspected.

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Memorial Day 2017 - All Gave Some; Some Gave All

On Memorial Day of 1982, President Ronald Reagan offered these words in honor of Patriots interred at Arlington National Cemetery: “I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them. Yet, we must try to honor them not for their sakes alone, but for our own. And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice.” I was honored to place a wreath there, too.

Mark Norris at Arlington National Cemetery

Mark Norris at Arlington National Cemetery


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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Senator Mark Norris - Proudly Endorsed by the National Rifle Association

 

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