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Senator Norris to perform with nation’s most elite high school musicians

Thirty-three Tennessee students to participate in NAfME All-National Honor Ensembles

NASVHILLE, Tenn. — Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) will perform on the Grand Ole Opry stage with the nation’s most elite high school musicians, as he narrates a musical tribute to the spirit of President Ronald Reagan for the All-National Honor Ensembles. The October 29th event will mark the first time the 40th U.S. President’s words have been on stage at the Grand Ole Opry in over 30 years

The concert will highlight the National Association for Music Education’s (NAfME) “Music Education Orchestrates Success” conference in Nashville which begins on October 26. Senator Norris is Chairman of the Council of State Governments, a bipartisan professional association serving all three branches of government in 50 states and Puerto Rico.

“It is a tremendous honor to perform with these incredibly talented students,” said Senator Norris. “These students represent ‘the best of the best’ musicians in the United States and I am very honored to have a role in this concert.”

Norris will narrate “The Shining City,” comprised of excerpts from the speeches and writings of President Reagan, as NAfME’s National Honor Band performs. Composer Mark Camphouse, who is the Professor of Music and Conductor of the Wind Symphony at George Mason University, will conduct the band. President Reagan last appeared at the Grand Ole Opry on September 13, 1984, when he spoke at a birthday celebration for country music legend Roy Acuff.

“These are big shoes to fill,” added Norris. “But, I know that the music will help fill those shoes. As President Reagan said: “Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music.”

The 670 students performing in the All-National Honor Ensembles were chosen from approximately 2.5 million contenders nationwide at local, district and state music festivals. It consists of a concert band, orchestra, mixed chorus, and jazz ensemble Thirty-three of the students are from Tennessee. In addition to Camphouse, the students will perform under the direction of Gerald Schwarz, Edith Copley and Robert Baca, all of whom have received top honors in their field.

The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) is the largest fine arts education organization in the country with nearly 60,000 members nationwide. October marks National Arts and Humanities Month. After the concert, Norris will address the annual meeting of the Tennessee Arts Commission at Montgomery Bell State Park.


Action News 5 – Memphis, Tennessee


Norris News from Nashville – July 3, 2014

July 3, 2014

Happy Independence Day!

As we approach July 4th and celebrate the birth of our nation 238 years ago, we celebrate the economic freedom which flows from a quality education and a good job. It has been said that education means economic development. Altogether, it means economic freedom and the independence we hold dear.

I have just completed an “Independence Day Tour” celebrating economic freedom. I traveled from our Nation’s Capital to towns across Tennessee. (For more on my Independence Day Tour, visit my website,, and Senator Mark Norris on Facebook. As Chairman of the national Council of State Governments, my initiative, State Pathways to Prosperity, focuses on workforce development and education. That’s what we are focused on here in Tennessee, too.

Placing a wreath from the Council of State Governments at the Tomb of the Unknowns

Placing a wreath from the Council of State Governments at the Tomb of the Unknowns “on behalf of the grateful people of the 50 United States.”

The journey began as I placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery on behalf of the citizens of every state who are grateful for the sacrifices made by so many men and women to keep our nation free.

Addressing the annual Tracy DeWitt Patriotic Breakfast with the Northeast Shelby Republican Club

Addressing the annual Tracy DeWitt Patriotic Breakfast with the Northeast Shelby Republican Club

(Left) Addressing the Tennessee Pathways to Prosperity Conference at Vanderbilt University

(Left) Addressing the Tennessee Pathways to Prosperity Conference at Vanderbilt University
(Right) Addressing the Northeast Tennessee Workforce Investment Board

Senator Rusty Crowe, Kathy Pierce, Executive Director of the Northeast Workforce Investment Board,

Senator Rusty Crowe, Kathy Pierce, Executive Director of the Northeast Workforce Investment Board,
Mark Norris and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey in Johnson City

Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez at White House meeting on Employment Opportunities

Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez at White House meeting on Employment Opportunities

The Ford Foundation's Douglas Wood,  former Executive Director of the Tennessee Board of Education,

The Ford Foundation’s Douglas Wood, former Executive Director of the Tennessee Board of Education,
at White House meeting on Employment Opportunities.

I spent the following week crossing Tennessee, speaking at patriotic breakfasts, workforce investment meetings, educational conferences and neighborhood gatherings celebrating our independence.

Rep. Debra Moody and I prepare to distribute snacks at the Memphis VA hospital

Rep. Debra Moody and I prepare to distribute snacks at the Memphis VA hospital

This included a special visit to the Memphis VA Hospital to say “thanks” to our service men and women there, and a community outreach event I organized at Agricenter International to pack food for distribution through the Mid-South Food Bank. We packed over 20,000 meals in less than 90 minutes!

Leaders' Feed community outreach event 20,346 meals packed in less than 90 minutes

Leaders’ Feed community outreach event 20,346 meals packed in less than 90 minutes

Beth Webb, Gayle Bennett and Barbara Trautman of Republican Women of Purpose

Beth Webb, Gayle Bennett and Barbara Trautman of Republican Women of Purpose

This Fourth of July, I am encouraged by what’s happening in Tennessee. As we begin celebrating the 238th Anniversary of our Nation’s birth, let’s all celebrate the re-birth of American Manufacturing and its role in securing the individual independence which flows from economic freedom. Let’s support efforts to educate and train workers for 21st Century jobs. Tennessee is number one in economic development for many reasons, and we all need to stay focused on what it takes to stay ahead of the competition.

And now, let’s celebrate! John Adams got it right:

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty; it ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

Happy Fourth of July!


Leader Norris Kicks Off Independence Day Workforce Development And Education Tour

June 26, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) began a pre-Fourth of July, week-long workforce development and education tour across Tennessee in Nashville today with remarks during the Pathways Tennessee State Summit at Vanderbilt University.

“As we approach July 4th and celebrate the birth of our nation, we need also to celebrate the economic freedom which flows from a quality education and a good job,” said Norris. “It has been said that a quality education means workforce and economic development. Altogether, it means economic freedom and the independence we hold dear.”

Norris was appointed by Governor Bill Haslam to the State Workforce Development Board in 2013. Since becoming Chairman of the national Council of State Governments (CSG) this year, Norris has made workforce development and education his focus through the organization’s “State Pathways to Prosperity” initiative.

“Our State Pathways to Prosperity initiative also focuses on other challenges which affect individuals seeking employment,” added Norris. “This includes challenges faced by veterans, the re-entry of law abiding citizens with past criminal records and the effect of hunger and child poverty on job seekers,” said Norris.

Norris will visit the Veterans Administration Hospital in Memphis on Friday. He is the breakfast speaker at the Tracy Dewitt Patriotic Breakfast at the Bartlett Recreation Center Saturday morning. He will host the “Republican Leaders’ Feed” event at Agricenter International where volunteers will pack 20,000 meals in 90 minutes for distribution by the Mid-South Food Bank.

On Monday, Norris and the CSG Justice Center will meet with national leaders and private sector representatives to discuss unemployment rates among those with criminal histories. Tennessee enacted legislation this year to allow individuals applying for a post-conviction restoration of rights with certificates of employability.

“Elected officials across the political spectrum are focusing on high unemployment rates among millions of adults with criminal records,” said Norris. “We recognize that government alone can’t solve this problem. We need to design strategies that are good for business and that put people who are now law-abiding citizens to work. We’re calling on all states to have the same kind of conversation at the state level.”

Norris will address the Northeast Tennessee Workforce Investment Board in Johnson City, Tennessee Tuesday morning before visiting 100 Girls of Code at Roane State Community College Oak Ridge Campus in the afternoon. 100 Girls is sponsored by East Tennessee’s STEM Hub, “STEMspark.”

“Computer science and computer engineering have the highest median earnings for recent college graduates without advanced degrees, and only 12 percent are women,” said Norris. “Programs like STEMspark are working to change this.”

“I look forward to quality time at home with my family over the Fourth of July holiday,” said Norris. “It’s a great time to reflect on history and focus on our future. As advanced manufacturing and advanced industries return to the United States, I am convinced that our nation has a new rendezvous with destiny. We must close the skills gaps depriving our citizens of economic freedom. Give them the tools, and our new workforce will finish the job fulfilling our destiny to be the most free and most productive country in the world. Tennessee can be the flagship in this fight.”


Senator Norris named PTA Legislator of the Year

Senator Norris named PTA Legislator of the Year

Senator Norris named PTA Legislator of the Year

NASHVILLE, Tenn., May 20, 2014 – Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) has been named “Legislator of the Year” by the Tennessee Parent Teacher Association (PTA). The prestigious award is presented every year to an outstanding legislator who works to make a positive difference in the education, health, and welfare of Tennessee’s children and youth.

The PTA, which is the largest child advocacy association in the nation, is comprised of families, students, teachers, administrators, and business and community leaders devoted to the educational success of children and the promotion of parent involvement in schools. The award was announced on Saturday at the group’s 101st annual convention in Memphis. Former principal at Arlington High School, Tammy Mason, won the PTA’s title of Outstanding Principal of the year. The Shelby County Council PTA was also named as Outstanding PTA Council for 2014 and received honors for excellence in advocacy and school decision-making.

“We feel it is a well-deserved recognition for a legislator who has spent his career working to improve Tennessee’s education system to ensure that our children receive a high quality education,” said Charla Sparks, Tennessee PTA President. “Senator Norris has long been a friend of Tennessee PTA and a strong supporter of our mission. Without question he is a great resource to our volunteers as we navigate the legislative process.”

Senator Norris presented a workshop on how to communicate with legislators at last week’s convention.

“Promoting the welfare of children and youth in their homes, schools, communities, and places of worship, and securing adequate laws for their care and protection is critically important,” said Senator Norris. “It cannot be done alone. That’s one reason PTA is so important.”

“I am very humbled to receive this award as there are many men and women in the Tennessee General Assembly who are deserving of this recognition,” Norris added. “As Senate Majority Leader, I share this award with gratitude with my colleagues. We stand committed to continue in our mutual quest for the betterment of all Tennessee children.”

A Lifetime Member of the PTA, Norris received the Legislator of the Year Award in 2005. He represents District 32 in the State Senate, which includes Tipton County and part of Shelby County.


Norris News from Nashville – April 21, 2014

norris-end-of-session-2014 End of Session Press ConferenceSenate Majority Leader Mark Norris,
Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey,
Governor Bill Haslam,
Speaker Beth Harwell,
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick
End of Session Press Conference
Held in the Old Supreme Court Chamber
Located on the First Floor of the State Capitol

Lawmakers Adjourn 108th General Assembly
Budget and Education Highlight 2014 Legislative Session

The 108th General Assembly adjourned to become a part of Tennessee history with the state budget and education highlighting this year’s action. Although underperforming revenues limited the number of initiatives approved this year, the 2014 legislative session will be remembered for passage of several other important measures such as a ban on forced annexation, legislation to tamp down meth use in the state, numerous statutes to help crime victims, bills to protect privacy rights of citizens and a resolution calling for a constitutional convention of the states to balance the federal budget.

The last week of legislative action saw passage of landmark legislation providing Tennessee students with the opportunity to attend college by establishing the Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act. Senate Bill 2471, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), provides Tennessee high school graduates with last dollar tuition assistance to fill unmet financial needs for tuition and fees so students may attend community college or college of applied technology free of charge. Students can then use the state’s transfer pathways program if they choose to attend a four-year school, making it possible to start as a junior.

“These are last dollar scholarships,” said Leader Norris. “But they are the first opportunity most of these Tennesseans will ever have to receive a higher education, a stronger likelihood of a better job, and a brighter future.”

The legislation also provides the opportunity for non-traditional students to return to community college or a college of applied technology free of charge through the state’s Tennessee Reconnect program. This program is an initiative aimed at helping adults earn a post-secondary degree. Similarly, the bill allows adults to qualify for the Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant, even if the student has previously received the HOPE Scholarship. To help students succeed, the bill has a strong mentoring component by incorporating the TN Achieves program, which is already available in 27 counties. This last dollar scholarship program provides students who might otherwise slip through the cracks in transitioning from high school to a post-secondary institution with mentors to help them succeed. The college retention rate for students in the TN Achieves Program is approximately 72 percent; whereas the HOPE scholarship program retains students at the rate of 47 percent.

In addition, the legislation provides for removal of the current 120-hour cap for HOPE scholars by extending the award to eight semesters. This is designed to provide HOPE recipients who are double majors or who participate in program like ROTC with flexibility so the student can receive the HOPE scholarship award for at least eight semesters or 120 hours, whichever comes last.

“Tennessee, by this act, will distinguish itself,” added Norris. “At the end of the day, we will all be beneficiaries of a better educated state, closing the skills gap, providing better employment opportunities for all of our citizens and a brighter future for Tennessee.”

Senate Adopts Conference Committee Report Providing for State Sovereignty in Education
Provides New Parameters for State Common Core Standards and Opens a Competitive Bidding Process for New Student Assessment System

In major K-12 education action this week, the Senate adopted a Conference Committee report to ensure Tennessee maintains sovereignty over how students are educated. The Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act states the federal government has no constitutional right to set educational standards and any partnership is totally at the discretion of the state. The bill further states that state and local authorities have exclusive rights to set education standards and that data collected should be used for the sole purpose of tracking academic progress and the needs of the student.

“This bill strikes the right balance in providing rigorous standards to improve education outcomes for our students, while preserving Tennessee values and protecting individual rights,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville). “This legislation keeps us moving forward as the fastest improving state in the nation in student achievement, recognizing the challenges we face with federal intrusion in education.”

Senate Bill 1835, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), specifies that Tennessee “shall not adopt common core state standards in any subject matter beyond math and English language arts.” Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are standards to measure student progress that were developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The state began phasing in state common core standards in English language arts and math in 2011, with full implementation of these subjects in the current 2013-14 school year. This legislation helps ensure that state common core standards will not be implemented in science and social studies. In addition, it provides that the state’s Board of Education cannot join a testing consortium that requires the adoption of common standards in social studies or science without full notice to the public and the General Assembly at least 60 days prior.

The bill delays implementation of a new assessment to replace the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test for K-12 students for one year. Tennessee students were scheduled to be assessed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, which aligns with Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards, next spring. The legislation instead calls for solicitation of proposals for a new assessment system through a competitive bidding process with review of the contract awarded by the General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee. The new assessment system awarded the contract will be field tested prior to the 2015-2016 school year, when it will replace the existing examinations in the subjects of English language arts and math.

Parents are given greater access to information under the legislation, including the right to review data collected on their child. It also requires consent by a parent before any biometric data can be collected on a student and forbids the state from conducting an assessment or applying for a grant that violates this requirement. Similarly, the bill protects the identifying information of teachers regarding their personal evaluation scores.

To provide greater public transparency, the state’s Board of Education must publish a list of all data elements collected under the bill along with the purpose or reason for collecting them. It requires that proposed changes to any state educational standard shall be posted for public review on the State Board of Education’s website and submitted to the Education Committee of the House and the Senate at least 60 days prior to consideration.

General Assembly approves TAMP Act to address the manufacture of meth

The Senate approved the Tennessee Anti-Meth Production (TAMP) Act during the final hours of the 2014 legislative session, which is designed to combat the manufacture of methamphetamine in the state. Tennessee ranks second in the nation, behind Indiana, in meth lab seizures last year.

The state spends approximately $2 million annually on meth lab clean-up, and in 2013, 1,691 labs were seized in Tennessee. The Department of Children’s Services has reported that 1,347 children came into state custody from 2010 through 2013 due to exposure to meth, not including the number of children where non-custodial arrangements were made. This is in addition to tens of millions of dollars in TennCare costs associated with meth lab burns, many which involve children.

Senate Bill 1751, the Tennessee Anti-Meth Production (TAMP) Act, cuts the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be bought in Tennessee from the current limit of 9 grams a month to 5.76 grams. This is designed to target the so-called ‘smurfers’ who buy from a variety of stores in small quantities until they have enough to manufacture meth. The legislation sets an annual limit on pseudoephedrine purchases of 28.8 grams. It also requires a prescription for any person under eighteen years of age to purchase a product that contains any immediate methamphetamine precursor, unless a pharmacist generated prescription is issued. The bill is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).

“Recidivism Reduction Act of 2014” aims to reduce the number of drunk drivers on Tennessee roads

Legislation which focuses on reducing recidivism for DUI offenders was approved by the State Senate during the final legislative week. Senate Bill 1633, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), would give courts the power to sentence second- and third-time DUI offenders to a substance abuse treatment program as a condition of probation after completing a clinical substance abuse assessment and serving a period of time of confinement in jail.

Under the “Recidivism Reduction Act of 2014” DUI offenders would serve 25 days of up front jail time upon a second offense, before participating in a substance abuse treatment program. Those convicted on a third offense would serve at least 65 days in prison before being sentenced to treatment. The legislation allows a judge to keep a second or third DUI offender on probation for up to two years if the offender participates in treatment under provisions of this bill.

“Studies show that graduates of a treatment program end up with a recidivism rate of only 10 percent,” said Senator Overbey. “This bill takes the most dangerous drivers off our roads by giving the judge the authority to order them to treatment.”


The Senate Finance Committee honors retiring Senator Douglas Henry, the longest-serving legislator in state history.  Top row: Dr. Steve Dickerson, Ferrell Haile, Bill Ketron, Jim Kyle, Lowe Finney, Joey Hensley, Mark Norris, Bottom Row: Doug Overbey, Douglas Henry, Chairman Randy McNally, Bo Watson

The Senate Finance Committee honors retiring Senator Douglas Henry, the longest-serving legislator in state history. Top row: Dr. Steve Dickerson, Ferrell Haile, Bill Ketron, Jim Kyle, Lowe Finney, Joey Hensley, Mark Norris, Bottom Row: Doug Overbey, Douglas Henry, Chairman Randy McNally, Bo Watson

In Brief…

Department of Revenue / Taxpayer Conferences — The Senate approved legislation this week designed to improve the Tennessee Department of Revenue’s processes for making assessments and holding taxpayer conferences. Senate Bill 1635, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), formalizes existing policies and procedures that assure taxpayers of an informal and open review process. The legislation would make it clear that the findings of the department’s audit division are not final until the taxpayer has an opportunity to meet in a conference with the commissioner or his designee. It also provides the department with authority to compromise on small assessments without additional approvals. Finally, it allows the department to include refund claims in the conferencing process and sets out a process for the departments to issue pubic guidance to taxpayers, practitioners, and auditors regarding conference decisions.

Latest Revenue Collections — Tennessee revenue collections reflected mixed results in March according to the Department of Finance and Administration. Overall March revenues were $955.8 million. The general fund was under collected by over $4 million for March and by $263.9 million year-to-date. Finance Commissioner Larry Martin said the states March collections “continued to reflect weaker than anticipated revenues from the corporate sector, while sales tax collections were stronger. Sales tax collections were $9.4 million more than the estimate for March, with a positive 5.51% growth rate. He said the sales tax growth is important in helping to meet current revenue projections on which the approved budget amendment was based. Year-to-date collections for seven months of the 2014-15 fiscal year were $257.0 million less than the budgeted estimate. The general fund was under collected by $263.9 million and the four other funds were over collected by $6.9 million.

Child Sex Offenders — The full Senate has approved a bill that allows the courts to authorize a single trial for a serial child sex offender who commits his or her crime in multiple jurisdictions in Tennessee. Senate Bill 1362, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), is designed to protect child sexual abuse victims from the trauma of having to testify in multiple trials. The legislation would affect cases like that of Jerry Sandusky where multiple abuse cases were grouped together for trial in Pennsylvania.

Industrial Hemp — The Senate adopted a minor amendment and passed Senate Bill 2495 to allow farmers to be licensed to grow hemp in Tennessee. Although it is legal to import, purchase or export hemp, it is illegal to grow it in Tennessee. In recent years, states like neighboring Kentucky have passed measures legalizing the farming of hemp for industrial purposes. These purposes include turning the plant’s fibers into such products as oil, wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, paper, and fuel. There are approximately 75 manufacturers using hemp in America today, most prevalently with plastics, which can be reinforced with hemp. The bill is sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains).

Salute / Tennessee Flag – A resolution which encourages all Tennessee schools to have their students recite the first official salute to the Tennessee flag on a daily basis passed the Senate on Monday. Lucy Steel Harrison composed the salute to the Tennessee flag which was subsequently designated “the official salute to the flag of Tennessee” by the General Assembly in March 1981. The Senate recites the salute before each legislative session. Senate Joint Resolution 715 is sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet).



A Unique Prism

The state Senate’s majority leader describes the lens through which he views public policy.

By Mark Norris,
January 16, 2014

In light of the Tennessee General Assembly’s recent reopening on Tuesday, here are a few thoughts on what lies ahead.

It is difficult to predict much that won’t have already been written by the time this goes to press, so I will share a somewhat more personal perspective written between attending to clients’ needs at the law office and packing for what may essentially be three months away from home.

Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities comes to mind — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … ” While we are eager to discharge our public duties, none are looking forward to the inevitable disruption of our private lives.

We are proud of what we have accomplished for the people of Tennessee over the past three years since Governor Haslam took office, and we look forward to maintaining the momentum, making Tennessee tops in at least 10 important ways:

Tennessee is 10th in the nation in personal income growth. The state has the ninth-highest high school graduation rate, eighth-best individual tax rate, and seventh-best destination ranking for jobs. It is rated the sixth-best state for business and careers. We are fifth in overall job growth and are the fourth-best state for business. We have the third-lowest tax burden and second-lowest cost of living, and we are first in the automotive manufacturing market.

Tennessee is also first in the Southeast in overall job growth and personal income growth. And we have the lowest debt per capita. All of this makes us the number one state in the nation for retirement.

How have we done it? We’ve made the budget “job one,” utilizing conservative management with lower taxes and less government. Unlike our counterparts in Congress, we have a balanced budget every year in Tennessee, and we have more than 140,000 new private-sector jobs to show for it.

Despite this success, or perhaps because of it, we have even more work to do if we are to maintain and improve our standing in the top 10 of so many categories.

Revenues for the current fiscal year are lagging. Increasing education costs under the Basic Education Plan (BEP) are increasing. The number of TennCare recipients has jumped by more than 50,000 — all but eliminating any new revenue which might otherwise be allocated elsewhere.

We have been here before. What’s different now is the composition of state government — a Republican governor with Republican super-majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. And I have to look at what lies ahead through a unique prism — that of Senate majority leader.

My job as the leader is to represent the Senate Republican Caucus as well as to carry the governor’s legislation under my oath to “in all appointments, vote without favor, affection, partiality or prejudice … ”

I spend much time studying the issues and listening to members of the Senate and House, Democrats as well as Republicans, whose interests and perspectives are as varied as Charles Dickens’ characters and the 95 counties from whence my colleagues come.

As critical as the budget is, we cannot ignore other diverse subjects: restrictions on the length of knife blades; regulations for hunting hogs; whether pseudoephedrine should be sold by prescription; or even the definition of Tennessee Whiskey. As I write, emails are streaming in urging me to support legislation for “sensible marijuana,” to ban “hysterectomies without signed informed consent,” and, at the behest of one of my Senate colleagues, to see to the legalization of agricultural hemp.

Thus, while the budget is job one, an array of other issues necessarily emerges. One matter of local interest will be legislation I am introducing that addresses the taking, testing, storage and use of forensic evidence in rape kits.

Other issues include pension reform for local governments that are not making actuarially required contributions; recidivism and criminal justice reform; workforce development; and questions of federalism. One of the latter is whether, in light of the dysfunction in D.C., it is time for a state-initiated national constitutional convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution to consider a balanced budget amendment and other necessary changes.

Once again from Dickens: “(I)t was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

It is a rare privilege to serve with so many who care so much at such an important time in Tennessee.


Chickasaw Basin Authority

Governor Haslam appointed me to serve on the Board of the Chickasaw Basin Authority, and we met this week. I served as Vice-Chairman of the CBA in the 1990’s as a County Commissioner. It’s good to return. I’m pictured here with Charles Askew.


Mayor Terry Jones

With Millington Mayor Terry Jones


Tennessee Talks with Ruth Dunning will air in January

Tennessee Talks with Ruth Dunning will air in January


Norris takes helm of Council of State Governments

Outlines “State Pathways to Prosperity” initiative focusing on jobs and education

December 10, 2013 615- 741-6336

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) began his term as Chairman of the Council of State Governments (CSG) this week by outlining the Chairman’s 2014 initiative, “State Pathways to Prosperity.” The initiative focuses on helping states boost their workforce development and education efforts. Addressing the organization’s Eastern Regional meeting in Puerto Rico, Norris said during his term of office, CSG will also concentrate on four related areas which often overshadow employment needs: veterans’ affairs, hunger, children in poverty and criminal justice.

“It’s difficult for our guidance counselors and local workforce development professionals to do their jobs when the folks who need work have so many related issues that need addressing first,” said Chairman Norris. “Like a mother looking for work without the resources to provide care for her children while she’s away — or the veteran with plenty of experience but no certificate or degree — or someone with a criminal record for a non-violent offense that disqualifies them from employment. CSG can provide the expertise to help states with best practices designed to clear pathways for those anxious to join America’s workforce.”

“There is significant demand right now by companies looking for qualified workers, and states are finding it difficult to meet the demand. The jobs are there, but the skills are lacking,” said Norris, who was recently appointed by Governor Haslam to the Tennessee Workforce Development Board. Norris was the prime sponsor of Tennessee’s LEAP (Labor Education Alignment Program) signed into law in April. LEAP lays the foundation for the cooperative effort of government, higher education and businesses looking for skilled workers by providing on-the-job training.

CSG represents all three branches of state government and state chief executives are fundamental to CSG’s success. Norris succeeds Senator Gary Stevens of Alaska at CSG. Senator Carl Marcellino of New York is Chair-Elect. Serving as a President of CSG with Norris as Chairman will be West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. He succeeds Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

“As Chair, it will be my goal to keep CSG the place to be; the place to champion state government to advance the common good,” said Norris.

CSG has regional offices in New York, Chicago, San Diego and Atlanta with headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky. Norris chaired the Southern Region in 2011 and has served on CSG’s Executive Committee since 2007.


Tennessee Department of Transportation

December 4, 2013


Temporary Ramp Closures Postponed on Interstate 40 and 240 in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) will postpone the temporary lane closures scheduled for December 7 and 8, 2013 due to the inclement weather predicted for the weekend. Temporary lane closure dates and times are rescheduled as listed below:

Saturday, December 14, 2013 from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. – The 12C exit ramp on I-40 East (from Covington Pike to I-40 east) will be closed for ramp work. A detour will be posted. Motorists will be detoured through the Walnut Grove interchange back to I-40 East.

Sunday, December 15, 2013 from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. – The left lane of the 12C exit ramp on I-240 East (from Walnut Grove to I-40 East) will be closed for grinding and installation of pavement markers. Upon completion, the left lane will open and the right lane will close for grinding and installation of pavement markers.

The work is weather dependent. Should inclement weather or unforeseen circumstances prevent this work from occurring as scheduled, it will be rescheduled.

TDOT will use message boards to direct motorists around the detour route. The Tennessee Highway Patrol and TDOT HELP trucks will also be on site to assist with traffic.

For travel and TDOT construction information, visit the TDOT SmartWay web site at or download the new TDOT SmartWay mobile app from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store for Android. Travelers can also dial 511 from any land-line or cellular phone for travel information or can follow us on Twitter at for statewide travel information. Drivers are reminded to use all motorist information tools responsibly. Drivers should refrain from texting, tweeting or using a mobile phone while operating a vehicle. TDOT advises drivers to “Know before you go!” by checking traffic conditions before leaving for your destination.


Remarks Upon the Dedication of the Winfield Dunn Parkway at Collierville, Tn.

Governor Winfield Dunn at ceremonial ribbon cutting for the road that bears his name

Governor Winfield Dunn at ceremonial ribbon cutting for the road that bears his name

Nov. 22, 2013

Thank you all for joining with us in this celebration.

I’d like to do 2 things here this morning. First, I want to thank Governor Winfield Dunn for agreeing to allow us to recognize his service to Shelby County, the State of Tennessee, and our nation by affixing his name to this last segment of State Route 385.

Winfield Dunn is synonymous with that same sense of unity and community symbolized by this roadway. Our 43rd Governor, it had been 50 years since Tennessee had elected a Republican Governor when he won the race in 1970. Despite the partisan victory, he worked hard to unify the state in many ways. Notably for today’s purposes, he increased highway construction and created the Department of Economic and Community Development.

Which brings me to my second point. My working file on this project dates back to 1995 when I was a Shelby County Commissioner. This stretch of SR 385 was originally to be called the Collierville-Arlington Parkway for obvious geographic reasons. But there’s a metaphorical tie — and that is economic development. It is fitting that we dedicate this road during this week when history has been made in another way. Both Collierville and Arlington and others have negotiated the birth of new opportunities in education in our county. With the solidification of sound and strong school systems throughout Shelby County, SR 385 can be a pathway to prosperity for the entire community. To be certain, it can be something less. But it is now for Memphis and all of Shelby County to compete freely amongst the counties of West Tennessee for the abundance which follows the completion of this project.

We are the county of good abode, and our future is bright, and your presence here today signifies all that is good about the prospects for our future together. In the spirit of Winfield Dunn, we dedicate this road to that certain sense of unity and community.

Thank you very much.


My Father-in-Law, Bill Cowan, with Chris and me at the SR 385 dedication on Nov. 22 at Collierville, TN

My Father-in-Law, Bill Cowan, with Chris and me at the SR 385 dedication on Nov. 22 at Collierville, TN


November 21, 2013

Media Advisory
SR 385 in Shelby and Fayette Counties to Open

Memphis, Tenn. – Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer will join former Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn as well as state and local officials in Collierville, Tennessee on Friday, November 22, 2013 to celebrate the completion of the last segment of SR 385.

The $74 million project started in November 2009 and is the final segment of the nearly 50 mile highway that stretches through Fayette and Shelby Counties. During Friday’s ceremony, the final segment of SR 385 will also be officially designated as Governor Winfield Dunn Parkway.

Friday’s event will begin at 10:00 a.m. CDT at Collierville’s Town Hall. Due to the inclement weather forecasted, the entire event will be held indoors.

*Special Note: SR 385 will officially open to traffic at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, November 22, 2013.


TDOT Commissioner John Schroer
Governor Winfield Dunn
Senator Mark Norris
Senator Dolores Gresham
Representative Barrett Rich
Representative Curry Todd


SR 385 Grand Opening Ceremony


November 22, 2013
10:00 a.m.


Collierville Town Hall
500 Poplar View Parkway
Collierville, TN


Editorial: Mark Norris’ proposal is another way to help veterans thrive in civilian life
November 13, 2013

Veterans Day has passed, but still in sharp focus are the questions about how to deal with the physical, mental and quality-of-life issues afflicting vets.

In Tennessee, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, has drafted a bill that would make the state’s public colleges and universities more veteran-friendly, starting by authorizing in-state tuition for veterans moving to Tennessee.

In commemorating Veterans Day on Monday, President Barack Obama pledged to honor the nation’s commitment to its veterans by improving health care, job support and educational opportunities for those who have served in the military.

The president’s comments reiterated statements made by previous presidents, current and former members of Congress and state legislators, but it seems that the services offered veterans have not kept pace with the “we support veterans” proclamations.

In a Viewpoint commentary in The Commercial Appeal on Tuesday, Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times surmised that the Department of Veterans Affairs is trying to use an outdated 20th century model to deal with 21st century problems.

The biggest breakdown, veterans say, is in the delivery of medical and mental health services, where doctors are swamped dealing not only with the aging vets of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, but also the younger veterans of more recent Middle East conflicts. The VA also is way behind on processing veterans’ disability applications.

Members of veterans advocacy groups maintain the problems latter-day veterans face in civilian life are no greater than the issues encountered by veterans of Vietnam, Korea and World War II, especially those who served in prolonged combat deployments. The news media, thanks to advocacy groups, are shedding more light on veterans’ issues and how the VA is responding to them.

Constant exposure to life-threatening situations and the horrors of combat can leave lasting mental trauma — known as post-traumatic stress disorder — that some veterans cope with better than others.

Norris’ proposal, if it passes in the General Assembly, would be one step to help veterans succeed as civilians by making college more affordable and also would reward colleges that come up with ways to better serve veterans.

And nationally, lawmakers, military and VA officials need to better collaborate to find the resources to cut through the red-tape and lack-of-personnel issues that are delaying the delivery of key services to veterans.


Tennessee bill for veterans proposes in-state tuition, other help

By Jane Roberts,
November 11, 2013

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris has drafted a bill that would make Tennessee public colleges and universities more veteran-friendly, starting with in-state tuition for vets moving to Tennessee.

“We have what I call a benefits gap when it comes to men and women returning from service,” said Norris, R-Collierville. “The G.I. Bill benefits package only pays cost of in-state tuition. Under Tennessee law, if you relocate to Tennessee, you have to wait a year before you qualify.

“This is intended to plug that gap if you relocate to Tennessee within 24 months of being discharged.”

Veterans would then have a year to establish residency and show proof with a driver’s license, motor vehicle registration, pay stub or by registering to vote.

House Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, is co-sponsor. The House and Senate bills would establish the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act, funneling resources to help vets meet their educational goals here.

The Act would also create a VETS Campus designation for colleges taking concrete steps to better serve veterans. Schools could earn the designation by offering orientation programs specifically for vets, outreach programs or by working with staff to improve awareness of issues specific to veterans.

“The designation tells prospective students who are veterans that the school has a network of resources available that they can relate to and need,” Norris said. “At these campuses, veterans would know there are others like them. With what they have gone through, it sometimes helps to know there are others with similar experiences.”

Norris worked with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to craft the bill.

“I commend the Senate Majority Leader on this piece of legislation,” said Cato Johnson, THEC board president. “It is extremely important and extremely timely, and I know he has spent a great deal of time working with Rich Rodda (THEC executive director) and the staff as it relates to this legislation.”

Norris is chairman of the newly formed veterans subcommittee, part of the House and Senate state and local government committee. He is also on the state workforce development board of directors.

“One of the issues I have been working on is postsecondary education as it relates to workforce training and development,” Norris said. “These issues are related.”

By helping veterans connect quickly with colleges and other postsecondary options, the state can benefit from veterans’ life experiences, including training they learned in the military, he said.

Johnson, who has worked with Norris on other pieces of veteran-related legislation, represents constituents around Fort Campbell, the Army base which strides the Tennessee-Kentucky border. It is the home of the 101st Airborne Division and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

Lawmakers introduce bill that would lower tuition for some discharged veterans
November 9, 2013

State lawmakers filed a bill on Friday that would offer in-state tuition to all veterans attending public colleges and universities in Tennessee.

The legislation, titled the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act, would allow veterans moving to Tennessee and discharged within a two-year period to enroll at schools as in-state students without having to wait to estabish official residency.

The bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and House Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, would allow create a “VETS campus” designation for Tennessee schools who focus on enrolling veterans there.

“The VETS Act ensures that veterans have a clear, easy pathway to attend college in Tennessee,” Norris said. “As a state, we want to recognize and assist those soldiers who are coming home and exploring their education options.”

The bill will be considered by the state legislature when it reconvenes in January.

Improving Education a Key Theme at ECD Convention

By Michelle Willard,
October 7, 2013

Tennessee needs to develop a more skilled workforce to attract the jobs of the future, Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday at the 60th annual Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development conference.

“Only 32 percent of Tennesseans have a two-year, four-year degree or technical certificate,” Haslam said. “That means a whole lot of jobs are going somewhere else.”

To bring those jobs here, the governor lauded his “Drive to 55” initiative, which aims to encourage Tennesseans to pursue advanced education after high school.

“A lack of training beyond high school limits opportunities,” he said.

Tennessee is projected needed 55 percent of its workforce trained beyond high school to attract and retain jobs by 2025. If the state stays on track, it will only have 39 percent with a certificate or degree beyond high school in 2025.

To accomplish this, the state as a whole has to change expectations for what comes after high school and help the 940,000 adult Tennesseans who have some college credit but didn’t graduate with an advanced degree.

For this part of the equation, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris championed the Labor Education Alignment Program last session. LEAP aims to meet the demands of employers’ rising skill requirements by allowing adults to transfer technical training to four-year degrees.

“LEAP provides the pathways we need to enable Tennesseans to work, earn and learn,” Norris said.

The program was recognized Friday by a report from the Brookings Institutions’ Advanced Industries Series for meeting the demands of employers’ rising skill requirements.

“Brookings confirms this and suggests strategies to implement action between the public and private sectors designed to maintain competitiveness and move Tennessee forward,” the Collierville Republican said.

In his speech Friday, Haslam said public and private partnerships are exactly why businesses are coming to Tennessee.

The public and private sectors have worked together over the years to create excellent infrastructure and raise the quality of life in the state, he said. Both have also invested heavily in education.

State Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, agreed, pointing to the state-funded technical education center that is being built in Smyrna. The $38 million education center is a joint venture by the Tennessee Technology Center in Murfreesboro and Nissan.

“This is the largest investment in Smyrna since Nissan opened,” Sparks said, adding the tech center will provide training on maintaining high-tech manufacturing equipment like robots and other computer-controlled processes.

“We want to be the best location in the Southeast for quality jobs,” Haslam said, which means tech centers need to focus on emerging sectors of the economy.

The Smyrna tech center is doing just that, Sparks said, by teaching skills that can be used at area manufacturing facilities like Nissan, Bridgestone and General Mills and distribution facilities like the ones opened by Amazon.

“We have a lot going for us right now,” Haslam said.



Gathering Targets Region’s Workforce Development

By Bill Dries,
September 4, 2013

When state officials gather at The University of Memphis University Center Wednesday, Sept. 4, to talk about workforce training, it won’t be with a check in hand to lead the effort.

State Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, who organized the 8:30 a.m. to noon session, wants state labor commissioner Burns Phillips and others from Nashville to listen to details of the training programs local business and higher education leaders have cobbled together over the last three years.

The goal of the Conversation About Work gathering is to begin to put that response on a more permanent footing, with the hope that such a response will be another incentive for businesses looking to relocate or expand in the Memphis area.

“It is sort of all getting on the same wavelength so we can say what, if anything, can we do to help,” Norris said.

So Phillips and other state leaders will hear about programs like the Assisi Foundation of Memphis’ use of the Bridges Out of Poverty concept. It is a comprehensive approach to poverty that has the ambitious goal of changing the circumstances and conditions of poverty.

They will also hear about specific training programs at Southwest Tennessee Community College that were the immediate response to the first pool of job applicants at Blues City Brewing and Electrolux.

Executives at both plants said the pool yielded too few qualified and trainable workers. That set in motion the local effort to find workers in Memphis who could be trained or had manufacturing experience who would also be better suited.

The effort put employers in the classrooms to not only teach but also to get a look at prospective employees to see directly a more specific pool of job seekers.

The University of Memphis is also involved, with interim president Brad Martin setting a goal of 10-year workforce development plans with the top 30 employers in the region.

Martin’s vision is workforce development that leads to bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as certificates of training and associate degrees.

The goal underlies the drive to make such training more comprehensive than a specific skill for a specific job.

For Norris, the Wednesday session had its origins in an exchange he saw a year ago in Memphis during a roundtable with business and higher education leaders chaired by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

Among the business leaders was Larry Gibson, plant manager at the Unilever facility in Covington, Tenn.

“We are really desperate for technical skills – people who understand human-machine interface and how to run an automatic packaging line,” Gibson said. “There’s something that goes back to the fundamentals of education. You have to know how to do math. It’s not like technology is leaping forward. It’s creeping forward.”

Gibson’s point was confirmed in a more recent Greater Memphis Chamber-Workforce Investment Network survey of manufacturers in the region, many of whom said they were unaware of workforce training programs offered by higher education institutions.

Gibson’s comments drew an immediate response from Southwest Tennessee Community College leaders at the same session and led to a training program specifically for Unilever.

At the same session, other business leaders told Haslam they are looking more for critical thinking skills and adaptability in the workforces they will employ in the future than the ability to perform a specific task.



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