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Norris News – February 16, 2018

Disability Day on the Hill brought friends to visit from the Arc of the Mid-South

Disability Day on the Hill brought friends to visit from the Arc of the Mid-South

Senate Judiciary approves Henry’s Law stiffening penalties against drug dealers who kill minors

Drug dealers or others who unlawfully distribute Schedule I or II drugs to minors will be facing more jail time when it results in a death under legislation passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 1875, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), is named Henry’s Law for a Knoxville teenager, Henry Granju, who died due to a lethal opiate overdose.

The killing of a minor in Tennessee when the drug is a proximate cause of death is second degree murder, which is a Class A felony. Under the state’s current sentencing guidelines, a standard Range I offender for a Class A felony can receive 15 to 25 years in jail, but the 30 percent requirement places the actual sentence at 4.5 to 7.5 years. The bill proposes to make that same Class A felony a Range II offense, carrying a 25 to 40 years sentence at a 35 percent requirement. This means offenders would serve a minimum of 8.8 to 14 years behind bars.

Henry’s mother, Katie Allison, and his aunt, Betsy Tant, told members of the Judiciary Committee about the importance of this bill to save other families from suffering the same fate as Henry. “Clearly, this opioid epidemic is hitting our kids hard,” said Allison. “And there are adults out there, unfortunately, who would prey on the vulnerability and poor decision-making that many adolescents show. They try to cultivate new customers and, in doing so, kill them instead. The reason we believe it is important for our state criminal code to attach an enhanced sentencing range to second degree homicide is because currently we don’t hold those who prey on our children with these horrible opiate drugs fully accountable for the damage and death they are bringing to this state.”

Approximately 70 to 80 juveniles die each year in the state of Tennessee due to opioid overdose.

Allison and Tant started Henry’s Fund, a non-profit which works to end teen and young adult drug addiction through treatment funding, education, support and advocacy.

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration.

Members of the Lakeland School Board were in Nashville on Tuesday

Members of the Lakeland School Board were in Nashville on Tuesday

 

Sen. John Stevens, Sen. Jeff Yarbro, Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, Sen. Brian Kelsey, Rep. Mike Carter, myself and Sen. Lee Harris, all attorneys serving in the General Assembly, were privileged to speak to the Leadership Law class this week

Sen. John Stevens, Sen. Jeff Yarbro, Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, Sen. Brian Kelsey, Rep. Mike Carter, myself and Sen. Lee Harris, all attorneys serving in the General Assembly, were privileged to speak to the Leadership Law class this week

Reentry Incentive Grant program aims to reduce recidivism in Tennessee jails

Legislation calling for an innovative pilot program to provide grants to local county sheriffs or probation departments that are successful in reducing recidivism was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 1865, sponsored by Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), would provide $2 million in grants to fund a three-year successful reentry program in four Tennessee counties.

“Each year, about 5,000 Tennesseans leave our prisons after serving for crimes they have committed,” said Sen. Jackson, who is Chairman of the Senate Corrections Subcommittee. “We can either help them become productive, taxpaying citizens, or we can risk them turning back to a life of crime and create a never-ending cycle. This pilot program will help identify and formulate better policies that can be scaled throughout the state. The result will be a more effective corrections system that will reduce recidivism, make our communities safer, and help save taxpayer money.”

The proposed budget for corrections for the 2018-19 fiscal year is over $1 billion.

Under the proposal, applicants must apply to the Department of Correction stating program objectives, goals and metrics. Once selected, they can receive a portion of the money upfront to start or expand a re-entry program, but the remaining funds will not be awarded unless specific benchmarks reducing recidivism or probation revocations are met.

Governor Bill Haslam’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism found that 46 percent of people released from prison or jail in Tennessee were incarcerated again within three years. Tennessee’s felon inmate population has grown by 11.7 percent over the past five years.

“We must reverse this trend,” added Jackson. “This pilot program will incentivize better outcomes in our corrections system.”

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration.

February is Black History Month. This bust of Sampson Keeble is displayed on the second floor of the Capitol. Rep. Keeble was the first African-American elected to the General Assembly in 1873. The bust also commemorates all of the African-Americans elected to the General Assembly in the 19th century.

February is Black History Month. This bust of Sampson Keeble is displayed on the second floor of the Capitol. Rep. Keeble was the first African-American elected to the General Assembly in 1873. The bust also commemorates all of the African-Americans elected to the General Assembly in the 19th century.

Issues in Brief

Tuition Free College — An announcement was made Thursday that the application is open for adults to enroll tuition-free this fall at a community or technical college through Tennessee Reconnect. Tennessee Reconnect builds off the groundbreaking Tennessee Promise program which provides high school graduates two years of tuition-free community or technical college, by establishing a last-dollar scholarship for adults to earn an associate degree or technical certificate free of tuition or mandatory fees. Applicants can access information at TNReconnect.gov. The Tennessee Reconnect Act was passed by the General Assembly last year and was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville). To be eligible for Tennessee Reconnect, a student must not already hold an associate or bachelor’s degree, must be a Tennessee resident for at least one year, and be determined as an independent student on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Out-of-State Teachers / Licensing — The Senate Education Committee approved a bill this week that would address regulatory hurdles faced by high performing teachers licensed in other states who want to teach here. Although Tennessee has reciprocity with numerous states, out-of-state licensees face additional administrative burdens which can be discouraging to many of these qualified educators. Senate Bill 1804, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), removes an assessment requirement for those who hold a license in a reciprocal state as long as they have received evaluations of above expectations or significantly above expectations in each of their first two years in Tennessee. The bill aims to address teacher shortages and encourage the recruitment of high quality teachers.

Tennessee Songwriters Week — The Senate approved a bill on Thursday designating the last full week of February each year as Tennessee Songwriters Week. Senate Bill 2254, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), recognizes the contributions of past and present songwriters which share in the economic success of Tennessee’s booming tourism industry. Last year, tourism generated $19.3 billion in Tennessee and $1.7 billion in state and local taxes. .

Tanning Beds / Youth — The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted this week in favor of legislation that seeks to protect the health of young persons who utilize tanning beds. Currently, teenagers over age 14 can go to a tanning bed without permission from their parents. Senate Bill 1495, sponsored by Senator Ferrell Haile (R–Gallatin), requires that individuals 16 to 18 years old be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian in order to use a tanning bed for the first time. Those under the age of 16 would be prohibited. Melanoma is the second most prevalent kind of cancer in females ages 15 to 29. In 2009, the World Health Organization elevated tanning beds classification as a carcinogen to the same category as cigarettes.

Teachers / Non-graded Subjects — Final approval was given to legislation this week which helps to ensure that the work done by teachers in non-graded subjects is evaluated fairly. Currently, these teachers must accept a school-wide grade for which they have little or no control. Senate Bill 250, sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), requires Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to adopt at least one alternative appropriate growth model approved by the State Board of Education by the 2019-20 academic school years in order to provide individual growth scores. An example alternative growth model would be a portfolio in an art class that a teacher would create for each student in order to show the development of that child in whatever art principles were being taught. “This seeks to provide fairness to these teachers by allowing them to show the work that they have done individually that demonstrates their students’ growth,” said Gresham.

Cell Phones in Prisons — A resolution which seeks to address the public safety threat posed by contraband cell phone use by prison inmates has met final approval in the State Senate. Senate Joint Resolution 492, sponsored by Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), asks the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), major cellular providers, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) “to take a proactive and collaborative approach, in conjunction with correctional officials nationwide, to effectively disrupt the use of contraband wireless communication devices obtained by inmates.” There were over 1,500 incidents with cell phones in Tennessee prisons last year. Cell phones have been used by prisoners to stalk victims, threaten witnesses, arrange the murder of our correctional officers, or to continue gang activity or criminal enterprises — all from behind bars. The resolution now goes to the House of Representatives for their approval.

Recovery Schools – The full Senate gave final approval to legislation which authorizes Local Education Agencies (LEA) to create recovery high schools for certain students with alcohol or drug abuse dependency like Substance Use Disorder (SUD) or Major Depressive Episode (MDE). Senate Bill 1626, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), authorizes LEAs that open recovery schools to enroll eligible students, including those who are in another county. It will also allow LEAs to collaborate with other school districts to establish a school to serve their students. Introduction into a recovery high school would be voluntary under the bill. Research shows students who attend treatment and go back into their normal high school have about a 70 percent chance of relapse.

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Norris News – February 9, 2018

Robert "Percy" Person was recognized by members of the General Assembly this week. He celebrated his 80th birthday in July, and he continues to operate Percy's Shine Service in the Nashville Arcade where he has been located for 25 years. He started work at age 11 in 1948. Rep. Kelly Keisling, Rep. William Lamberth and I presented Percy a special Proclamation this week.

Robert “Percy” Person was recognized by members of the General Assembly this week. He celebrated his 80th birthday in July, and he continues to operate Percy’s Shine Service in the Nashville Arcade where he has been located for 25 years. He started work at age 11 in 1948. Rep. Kelly Keisling, Rep. William Lamberth and I presented Percy a special Proclamation this week.

Resolution seeks to address public safety threat posed by cell phone use behind prison walls

The pace quickened on Capitol Hill this week as state senators examined the budgets of ten agencies or departments of state government and approved a number of important bills. This includes a resolution unanimously adopted by the Senate State and Local Government Committee which seeks to address the public safety threat posed by contraband cell phone use by prison inmates.

Senate Joint Resolution 492, sponsored by Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), asks the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), major cellular providers, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) “to take a proactive and collaborative approach, in conjunction with correctional officials nationwide, to effectively disrupt the use of contraband wireless communication devices obtained by inmates.”

There were over 1,500 incidents with cell phones in Tennessee prisons last year.

Speaking in favor of the bill was Department of Correction Commissioner Tony Parker, who told committee members that murders have been arranged and carried out on Tennessee correctional officers, criminal enterprises continue to thrive, victims have been stalked, witnesses have been threatened, escapes have been arranged and prison riots have been orchestrated all from within prison cells using contraband cellphones. He said these events are becoming common instances as more cellphones illegally infiltrate state correctional facilities.

“In years past, I never would have considered the issue of cell phones being a major problem in our prisons,” said Parker. “But, I will have to say that in the last 15 years it has become one of the most significant security threats that we have in our facilities.”

Parker recounted a 2005 case in Roane County when inmate George Hyatte shot Correctional Officer Wayne “Cotton” Morgan in an escape attempt. He said Hyatte and his accomplice coordinated the escape using a smuggled cell phone.

“This was an unconscionable and tragic act which I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Sen. Yager, who arrived at the Roane County Courthouse soon after that crime was committed. “Despite the efforts of our outstanding corrections officials, we need some help from the Federal Communications Commission to give us the tools we need to eradicate the use of cell phones by inmates in prisons.”

Parker said the department is committed to tackling this problem, including working with the state’s congressional leaders in asking federal officials to stop the flow of contraband.

“I am very pleased that our correction officials are tackling this public safety issue,” added Sen. Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), Chairman of the State and Local Government’s Corrections Subcommittee which oversees prisons. “These cellphones have even been used for gang activity and present safety issues for not only the correctional officers, but also the citizens they have contact with outside of those prison walls. We must aggressively address this threat.”

Introducing contraband into a correctional facility is a Class C felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

The resolution now goes to the House of Representatives for their approval.

I was honored to address the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) members for their “Day on the Hill” in Nashville this week. The NFIB is America's leading small business association, promoting and protecting the right of members to own, operate and grow their businesses.

I was honored to address the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) members for their “Day on the Hill” in Nashville this week. The NFIB is America’s leading small business association, promoting and protecting the right of members to own, operate and grow their businesses.

Senate Education Committee approves bill to give students who suffer dependency on alcohol or drugs greater opportunities to succeed

The Senate Education Committee approved major legislation this week which authorizes Local Education Agencies (LEA) to create recovery high schools for certain students with alcohol or drug abuse dependency like Substance Use Disorder (SUD) or Major Depressive Episode (MDE). Senate Bill 1626, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), authorizes LEAs that open recovery schools to enroll eligible students, including those who are in another county.

“The staff of recovery high schools most often includes administrative staff, teachers, substance abuse counselors, and mental health professionals, with each playing a critical role in supporting their students,” said Sen. Gresham. “This bill will help students keep up with their studies, while having the best supports possible to help them recover.”

The bill authorizes the State Board of Education to promulgate additional rules and policies in consultation with the Department of Education, the Department of Health, and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to ensure best practices are employed as schools are authorized. It will also allow LEAs to collaborate with other school districts to establish a school to serve their students.

Introduction into a recovery high school would be voluntary under the bill. Students who graduate from the recovery school would receive a diploma from the high school they attended prior to enrollment to lessen the possibility of a stigma being attached. Grades earned would also be transferrable to other high schools.

Research shows students who attend treatment and go back into their normal high school have about a 70 percent chance of relapse. That number drops to approximately 30 percent when the student attends a recovery school after treatment. In addition, a recovery school in Houston found that about 98 percent of the students who attended had planned to drop out of school due to their addiction. After attending a recovery school, 90 percent of the students graduated, and over 80 percent went on to seek a post-secondary degree.

“Research on recovery schools show it is a game changer for kids that were headed towards a very dangerous path in life of dropping out of school and possibly ending up in jail down the road,” added Senator Gresham. “As we battle drug abuse in Tennessee, it is important that we apply every means possible to get these kids back on the right path so they have the best opportunity to be successful and addiction-free.”

The bill now goes to the full Senate for final consideration.

State Senate observes Veterans’ Day on the Hill

State Senators stopped to honor Tennessee’s veterans on Wednesday as they observed Veterans’ Day on the Hill. The day was set aside for lawmakers to speak to veterans about issues affecting them and to show appreciation for their sacrifices to this state and nation.

“Today is ‘Veterans’ Day on the Hill’ and it’s a time when we, as a body, as an assembly, celebrate the men and women who have been willing to write that blank check payable to the people of our great state and our great country,” said Senator Green (R-Clarksville), a former US Army Special Ops Flight Surgeon. “The United States of America has been at war for 16 years and we have produced thousands of combat veterans. Many of these were wounded or came home with the unseen scars of war.”

Each Senator wore a pin with the number 22 on it to honor, respect, and bring attention to the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day in America. Veterans in Tennessee are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than a non-veteran according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans between 35 and 54 and over age 75 have a higher suicide rate than other age groups.

“It’s an unconscionable number and one that is tragic,” Green continued.

The Senators had a luncheon where they got to meet and talk with a number of veterans.

Approximately 470,000 veterans live in Tennessee and Clarksville has the second highest concentration of veterans in the U.S.

Alvin C. York statue on the Capitol grounds. Also known as Sergeant York, he was one of the most decorated United States Army soldiers of World War I. He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking 35 machine guns, killing at least 25 enemy soldiers, and capturing 132. York's Medal of Honor action occurred during the United States-led portion of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France, which was intended to breach the Hindenburg line and force the Germans to surrender. Sgt. York was from Pall Mall, Tennessee. Veterans’ Day on the Hill was observed on Wednesday. Sgt. York’s son, George York, was memorialized by the General Assembly on the occasion of his passing. He was an ordained Nazarene minister, as well as a caseworker for abused and neglected children for the state.

Alvin C. York statue on the Capitol grounds. Also known as Sergeant York, he was one of the most decorated United States Army soldiers of World War I. He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking 35 machine guns, killing at least 25 enemy soldiers, and capturing 132. York’s Medal of Honor action occurred during the United States-led portion of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France, which was intended to breach the Hindenburg line and force the Germans to surrender. Sgt. York was from Pall Mall, Tennessee. Veterans’ Day on the Hill was observed on Wednesday. Sgt. York’s son, George York, was memorialized by the General Assembly on the occasion of his passing. He was an ordained Nazarene minister, as well as a caseworker for abused and neglected children for the state.

Issues in Brief

K-8 Scholars Guide – The full Senate approved legislation this week calling for students in grades K-8 to receive a “Scholar’s Summer Guide” prior to the last day of the school year. Senate Bill 730, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), is designed to assist parents and students to better prepare for the next school year by providing them with a list of skills and materials that could be reviewed over the summer break. The student’s incoming and outgoing teachers would collaborate on requirements in formulating the guide so it is customized for each child. The bill would also allow teachers to customize this guide for students that they feel need work in specific areas prior to entering the following grade.

Tree plantings — The Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee approved a resolution on Thursday designating February 24th as “Tennessee Tree Day.” Senate Joint Resolution 482, sponsored by Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Steve Southerland (R-Morristown), aims to encourage Tennesseans to participate in tree-planting events in their communities. The Tennessee Environmental Council has been organizing large-scale, statewide tree-planting events that have grown from 5,000 trees in 2007 in a few Tennessee counties, to 100,000 trees in 2017 in all ninety-five counties. The Council hopes volunteers will plant 250,000 seedlings on Tennessee Tree Day. Tennessee is the most biologically diverse inland state in the United States.

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Norris News – February 2, 2018

Gov. Haslam delivering his final State-of-the-State address on Monday evening.

Gov. Haslam delivering his final State-of-the-State address on Monday evening.

Capitol Hill Week
Governor Haslam reflects on Tennessee’s unprecedented successes in his final State of the State Address/Budget Address

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), February 1, 2018 – This week’s action on Capitol Hill was highlighted by Governor Bill Haslam’s eighth and final State of the State Address where he talked about Tennessee’s unprecedented successes, his legislative priorities and his budget proposal to fund state government for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. Gov. Haslam reflected on the past seven years, working with the General Assembly to create a strong commitment to jobs, education and conservative fiscal policy that has resulted in significant accomplishments including:

  • The lowest unemployment rates in the state’s history and a job growth rate greater than 17 percent, with nearly 400,000 net new private sector jobs created;
  • The fastest-improving students in the nation, across math, reading and science, and the highest high school graduation rates the state has ever seen;
  • With the proposed Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget, nearly $1.5 billion invested into K-12 education, with $500 million going to teacher salaries;
  • Cut $578 million in taxes, including a nearly 30 percent cut on groceries, phase out of the Hall Income tax, and elimination of the inheritance and gift taxes;
  • A cut in year-to-year spending by more than a half billion dollars;
  • Tennesseans have access to college free of tuition and mandatory fees through Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect; and,
  • Recognition as having the lowest debt per capita and lowest taxes as a percentage of personal income in the nation, and as one of the best managed states in the nation.

“Seven years ago, we raised our expectations,” said Gov. Haslam. “We became the kind of leaders who didn’t just talk about cutting taxes and enhancing services, we actually did lower taxes while growing our economy and providing access to high quality education. We cannot lose the momentum we have worked so hard to build.”

“Make no mistake – this is one of the most effective governments in Tennessee’s history, and the momentum we have created will make us the most effective state government in the country,” he added.

On presenting his budget priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, Gov. Haslam asked legislators to approve three key initiatives, including a proposal presented last week to attack the state’s opioid epidemic. “In Tennessee, we write 7.6 million prescriptions a year and there are only 6.6 million of us, a staggering statistic,” he said. The plan addresses the issue through three major components: prevention, treatment and law enforcement.

In education, he has proposed the Complete to Compete initiative that restructures financial aid requirements for Promise and HOPE scholarships to keep students on track for on-time completion, and requires community colleges to implement structured, ready-made schedules for all incoming full-time students.

Finally, Gov. Haslam has proposed legislation based on the work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice, headed by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville). The task force was created to conduct a comprehensive, data-driven review of Tennessee’s juvenile justice system and develop evidenced-based policy recommendations to protect public safety, effectively hold juvenile offenders accountable, contain costs, and improve outcomes for youth, families and communities.

The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee wasted no time in getting down to work on the budget with presentations outlining the plan from Commissioner of Finance and Administration Larry Martins the next day.

Notable budget proposals include:

  • More than $200 million in new state funding for K-12 education, including additional funds for teacher compensation;
  • Nearly $100 million for higher education initiatives;
  • $128 million for job growth investments, including programs that target rural communities; and
  • Increases to bring the state’s Rainy Day Fund to $850 million.

“As the prime sponsor of these initiatives, I look forward to working together to make Tennessee better,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris. “The balanced Budget is “Job One.” It funds every initiative and assures that we continue to live within our means while keeping Tennesseans safe and strong.”

The General Assembly will continue to study the governor’s financial plan in the coming weeks and months as passage of a state budget is the only duty mandated by the State Constitution. The governor’s address and budget documents are available at tn.gov/governor.

I was appointed to serve as Chairman of the Committee selected to escort Governor Haslam to his eighth and final State-of-the-State address on Monday. Here we are before the speech.

I was appointed to serve as Chairman of the Committee selected to escort Governor Haslam to his eighth and final State-of-the-State address on Monday. Here we are before the speech.

Legislation aims to prevent sexual misconduct by teachers with their students

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), along with members of the Senate Education Committee, have filed five bills to prevent sexual misconduct by teachers with their students. The legislative package follows a comprehensive report from Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson which revealed deficiencies in hiring practices for school personnel that could allow predators to slip through the cracks.

Other members of the committee include Senators Reginald Tate (D-Memphis), Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol).

“While the vast majority of teachers act in a professional manner, these bills hold teachers who are in violation fully accountable,” said Sen. Gresham. “Parents need to know when they send their child to a public school that he or she will be safe. This legislation works to close any potential loopholes to prevent predators from gaining employment or from moving to another school district when such reprehensible behavior occurs.”

The package includes:

  • Senate Bill 2014 which ensures that background checks are conducted to identify sexual predators before a teacher license is issued and that reports are done on an ongoing basis for those who work with children. Presently, school districts require an initial background check before hiring.
  • Senate Bill 2015 which prohibits a Local Education Agency (LEA) from entering into a non-disclosure agreement with a teacher that would prevent other school districts from knowing about sexual misconduct. It also allows districts to access information about the previous employment of a teacher with another school district.
  • Senate Bill 2013 which updates the state’s Teacher Code of Ethics regarding inappropriate teacher-student relationships, including engaging in sexual behavior with students or furnishing them alcohol or drugs.
  • Senate Bill 2011 which grants the State Board of Education’s authority to reprimand school directors for not reporting instances of misconduct and clarifies the board’s authority to reprimand educators for violating the Teacher Code of Ethics.
  • Senate Bill 2012 which calls for the State Board of Education to post all final teacher disciplinary action on its website to allow school districts, as well as out-of-state entities responsible for the licensing and hiring of Tennessee educators, to access information regarding the final disciplinary action of an individual’s license case. It also requires final licensure action be reported to the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) database for the same purpose.

In addition, committee members support an appropriation in the budget presented by Governor Bill Haslam on Monday for an additional staff attorney in the State Board of Education to review educator misconduct investigations and outstanding cases, and determine what licensure action, if any, should be taken.

“The proposed reporting requirements enhance information sharing, both in Tennessee and with other states, so that no predators can fall through the cracks. I believe we have a lot of support to move these bills forward,” she concluded.

Senator Reginald Tate (D - Memphis) and I visited the National Civil Rights Museum on Thursday. February is Black History Month.

Senator Reginald Tate (D – Memphis) and I visited the National Civil Rights Museum on Thursday. February is Black History Month.

General Assembly’s Veterans Caucus consider legislation benefiting state’s veterans

The General Assembly’s Veterans Caucus met recently to discuss eight measures benefiting veterans, including a bill to ensure that disabled veterans can continue to qualify for property tax relief if they are hospitalized or temporarily placed in a nursing home. Another key bill calls on the governor to appoint veterans to Tennessee’s university and community college systems.

Tennessee law currently asks the governor to strive to select board members who are diverse in gender, race, perspective and experience. The proposal would add a person who is an honorable discharged military veteran in order to ensure that the approximately 500,000 veterans are being served as effectively as possible. The state has numerous veteran programs including the Tennessee Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Program which allocates resources for veterans’ successful transition from military service to college enrollment.

“Our efforts as a caucus are to support our veterans,” said Senator Richard Briggs, a retired Army Colonel and surgeon who served in Desert Storm, Afghanistan and Iraq. “We will continue to meet throughout the session to review legislation that will benefit those who have served and sacrificed for this state and nation.”

Other proposals under consideration include:

  • Legislation setting up a process for the naming of buildings and facilities of state veterans homes in recognition of outstanding members of the U.S. military in the same manner that it is done for buildings on college campuses in Tennessee;
  • A measure prohibiting impersonation of an active duty member or a veteran for financial gain;
  • A bill to ensure that at least one military veteran is placed on the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ Statewide Planning and Policy Council which provides some treatment services to veterans;
  • A resolution recognizing Post-Traumatic Stress Injury Awareness (PTSI) Month and urging the Department of Health, the Department of Military, and the Department of Veterans Services to continue education and treatment for those who are suffering and their families; and,
  • A proposal that prohibits political parties from disqualifying an honorably discharged veteran as a candidate for any elected office based on the number of times he or she voted preceding the election.

“Our veterans have more than earned their right to run for elected office in Tennessee,” added Briggs. “They shouldn’t have to worry about whether they have taken care of their ballot while serving this nation in some of the most dangerous parts of the world.”

In addition, a proposal was presented to include a budget appropriation for the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga. The center is scheduled to open in early 2020 and will serve as the home and lasting tribute to 32 Medal of Honor recipients attributed to the Volunteer State. Chattanooga is the birthplace and home of the Medal of Honor.

The Veterans Caucus is made up of 35 legislators who served in the armed forces.

Senate State and Local Government Committee hears testimony on State’s Public Records Act

Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Chief of Staff Jason Mumpower presented a report to members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week regarding exemptions to the Tennessee Public Records Act (TPRA). The report, which was created in response to a request from Lt. Governor Randy McNally and House Speaker Beth Harwell, identified 538 statutory exceptions currently. This is compared to 89 exceptions 30 years ago.

The TPRA states that all public records are presumed open unless otherwise provided by state law, meaning an exception makes it confidential.

“The challenge for the General Assembly is to balance the need and desire for transparency in government, while at the same time protecting private information,” Mumpower stated. “Government officials have an obligation to provide records promptly, but they also have an obligation to not expose information that should not be exposed.”

Common exceptions found in the report were personally identifying information and medical records. Exceptions have been added as technology has increased to protect government employees from having their identities stolen through public record access of identifying information.

While some of the exceptions are straightforward, others are not. Mumpower said that there are often “exceptions to exceptions,” and some exist only in specific circumstances. Other exceptions not clearly worded and up to interpretation.

“Because this report is so extensive, it will require a significant amount of time to carefully examine it,” said Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston). “I will work with the Government Operations Committee to form a subcommittee. This Subcommittee will then work with the Comptroller’s office and carefully review the report and make recommendations on how the General Assembly should move forward with this information next year.”

(L to R) Covington Mayor, Justin Hanson, Munford Mayor, Dwayne Cole, Rep. Debra Moody, and Atoka Mayor Daryl Walker joined me at First Friday coffee with the So. Tipton Chamber of Commerce this week.

(L to R) Covington Mayor, Justin Hanson, Munford Mayor, Dwayne Cole, Rep. Debra Moody, and Atoka Mayor Daryl Walker joined me at First Friday coffee with the So. Tipton Chamber of Commerce this week.

Issues in Brief

Farmers / Federal ELD Rule — The Senate’s Transportation and Safety Committee and Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee met jointly this week to hear testimony from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security regarding the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) new Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule. The regulation limits for how long and how far truckers can drive, and requires truckers to purchase and install an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) costing approximately $1,500. This regulation is of particular concern to farmers and transporters of livestock, whose cargo is more sensitive and requires flexibility. Transportation Committee Chairman Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) noted that the hours of service in the ELD mandate were not written with consideration for all the different types of livestock transportation like cattle, pigs, poultry, fish, horse, pets, and wildlife. The Farm Bureau has petitioned the federal government to extend a waiver on livestock transportation for a year due to confusion and concerns from farming communities. Legislation, sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), has also been drafted providing that no state money, personnel, and energy will be spent enforcing this law.

Veterans — The Senate Government Operations Committee heard testimony from Department of Veteran Services (DVS) Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder regarding how the department is working to serve veterans in Tennessee. Grinder was there to support Senate Bill 1534, sponsored by Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville), to extend the department for another four years. Since 2013, the DVS has helped submit 54,000 claims for their veterans and their dependents, totaling $9.1 billion tax-free federal dollars. From 2012 to 2016, unemployment rate of veterans has fallen from 7.3 percent to 3.5 percent; the number of suicides per year has fallen from 197 to 186; and the number of incarcerated veterans has fallen from 2483 to 1307. In December 2015, DVS opened their fourth state veterans’ home in Clarksville. The legislation was recommended by the committee for passage and will next be heard on the Senate floor on final consideration.

Parental Rights / Surviving Parent – The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week to expand the grounds for termination of parental or guardianship rights to include a parent convicted of or found civilly liable for attempting to cause the intentional and wrongful death of the child’s other parent or guardian. Current law only affords for the termination of parental rights when the offending parent actually ends the life of the victim. Senate Bill 1608, sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), would permit the victim to file a petition to terminate the offender’s parental rights when the offender fails to end the life of the victim.

Firefighters – Legislation that would provide a $600 supplement to volunteer firefighters to pay for their mandatory training was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week. Similar stipends are already provided to paid firefighters and law enforcement officers. Senate Bill 1582, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), entitles volunteer firefighters to the supplement upon successful completion of the course. Volunteer firefighters make up 80 percent of firefighters in Tennessee.

Honoring the memory of former Senator Joe Haynes – The Senate honored the memory of a former colleague, Senator Joe Haynes (D-Nashville), with passage of a resolution, sponsored by Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, in appreciation of his service to the State of Tennessee. Senator Haynes sponsored and supported a number of prominent pieces of legislation, including the work of the Tennessee Sentencing Commission which rewrote the criminal statutes, the Maternity Leave Bill, and the Victim’s Rights Bill, and major legislation in the areas of domestic violence, ethics reform, education, community corrections, and prison funding. Haynes served in the Senate for 28 years. He was 81 years old.

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Senator Mark Norris - Proudly Endorsed by the National Rifle Association

 

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