April 3, 2015

Arlington Property Announced as New Site for  West Tennessee Veterans Home

Arlington Property Announced as New Site for West Tennessee Veterans Home

The Senate Veterans Subcommittee met on Thursday to hear from officials from the Tennessee State Veterans Homes Board. The committee, chaired by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), was told of the selection of property in Arlington for the new West Tennessee Veterans Home.

The nursing home will house 144 Tennessee veterans of U.S. military service.

There are 70,000 veterans in the Shelby, Tipton and Fayette County area, more than any other area of the state.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will pay $45.5 million of the Arlington home’s price tag. The state and local governments and private fundraising must generate the remaining $24.5 million before the VA releases its funding for construction.

Shelby County government has allocated $2 million, and the state has allocated $650,000 so far on site selection, planning and preparation. Fundraising efforts are under way by the West Tennessee Veterans Home board, a nonprofit group based in Memphis.

The Tennessee State Veterans Homes Board runs homes in Humboldt, Knoxville and Murfreesboro, and four others are in various stages of planning: 108-bed homes in Clarksville, Cleveland and the Tri-Cities area of northeast Tennessee, and the 144-bed home in Arlington. The Arlington home will be the second in West Tennessee.

Senator Norris, Tara and Byron Mohundro, Amanda Peltz, Senator Kyle, Scott Lillard and  Treasurer David Lillard in the Senate Chamber to commemorate Autism Awareness Day in Tennessee

Senator Norris, Tara and Byron Mohundro, Amanda Peltz, Senator Kyle, Scott Lillard and
Treasurer David Lillard in the Senate Chamber to commemorate Autism Awareness Day in Tennessee

State Budget is Central Focus During the Final Weeks of the 2015 legislative session

Action on Capitol Hill continued to shift from committees to the floor of the Senate this week as State Senators worked diligently to approve a number of important bills to help crime victims. The Commerce and Labor Committee, the Education Committee and the Government Operations Committee joined two of the other nine Senate standing committees which have completed their business. Meanwhile, it is the state budget that will be the central focus of attention during the final weeks of the 2015 legislative session.

Budget — Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin briefed members of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday regarding Governor Bill Haslam’s proposed additions to Senate Bill 1399, the appropriations bill. The supplemental appropriations amendment reflects $30 million more in recurring funding. The proposed budget amendment designates those additional recurring dollars to K-12 education, specifically to increase state funding of health insurance coverage for teachers.

Due to Franchise and Excise tax collections that exceeded estimates last month as a result of an unusual one-time event, along with other revenue collections and program savings, there are nearly $300 million more than anticipated in non-recurring funds. The budget amendment proposes to use the funds as follows: $120 million for a new Tennessee State Museum which will be matched with $40 million in private donations; $50 million for economic development projects to bring more high-quality jobs to Tennessee; $40 million to complete renovations of the Cordell Hull building; $12 million for maintenance and improvements to higher education facilities across the state; $5 million to fund new equipment in Tennessee’s Colleges of Applied Technology to meet job training demands across the state; and $1.9 million for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to fund adolescent residential alcohol and drug treatment grants.

The funds would also provide an additional $36.5 million for the Rainy Day Fund, which would double the amount originally proposed in the budget, bringing the total reserve to 4.5 percent of state revenues. The amended proposal also restores full funding to the TennCare Bureau for level two case management services. Nearly half of the funding, $5.2 million, is included as recurring dollars, while the rest of the funding is designated as non-recurring. The administration will continue to review the program and look at possibilities for efficiencies in the process.

The budget bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), is scheduled for consideration by the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.

Presenting the Sexual Assault Kit Collection Protocol bill in the Judiciary Committee

Presenting the Sexual Assault Kit Collection Protocol bill in the Judiciary Committee

Legislation Helps Provide Justice for Rape Victims

Legislation which aims to provide justice for victims of rape has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 981, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), sets up procedures for the collection and storage of rape kits and requires law enforcement agencies to submit kits to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) for testing within 60 days. It also directs the Domestic Violence State Coordinating Council to develop a model policy for law enforcement agencies for responding to reports of sexual assault and requires law enforcement agencies to adopt a written policy on responding to reports of sexual assaults.

Norris led the effort to require all local law enforcement agencies to inventory back-logged rape kits across the state. Last September, the TBI reported 9,062 kits remained untested statewide. In 2013, Memphis reported an initial backlog of 12,000 kits which has now been reduced by over 5,000.

Norris said the bill approved by the committee also corresponds with legislation he sponsored last year which repealed the statute of limitations for rape, aggravated rape, rape of a child and aggravated rape of a child, as long as law enforcement or the district attorney general has been notified within three years of the offense. “This bill puts those protections and provisions in place,” he said. “It deals with a situation where evidence is collected, but the victim chooses not to report the assault. It creates a category for a hold kit, so that evidence is taken, is properly maintained, and then will be kept for at least three years.”

Norris also noted that the proposed state budget includes funding for three new forensic scientists at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to process forensic evidence in the kits at no charge to local law enforcement. “These funds will expedite the processing of rape kits and other DNA testing by providing additional essential personnel. They will be trained in accessing and updating the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) which is part of the FBI’s network for tracking perpetrators of crime — a critical weapon in the fight against crime.”

Approximately 90,000 women are raped every year in the United States with only 25 percent of these attacks resulting in arrests.

Legislation Calls for Tougher Penalties Against Those Convicted of Vehicular Homicide While Intoxicated

Those convicted of vehicular homicide while intoxicated would not be eligible for probation under legislation sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. The bill comes after an investigative report in the Memphis Commercial Appeal showed Tennessee, which has among the nation’s toughest drunken driving laws for first offenders, is among the most lenient for DUI-related vehicular homicide due to a loophole in state law.

“This needs to be fixed immediately,” said Senator Overbey. “Those who drink, drive and kill must face tough punishment for the severity of their crime.”

Currently, a criminal defendant is eligible for probation if the sentence actually imposed is 10 years or less. Senate Bill 35 prohibits anyone convicted of or who pleads guilty to vehicular homicide by intoxication from being eligible for probation.

In 2012, the latest numbers available, 295 people died on Tennessee roadways in alcohol-related accidents, 29 percent of the traffic fatalities in the state that year.

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration of the proposal’s financial impact.

The Mullins family came to visit this week for Spring Break

The Mullins family came to visit this week for Spring Break

Bill Promoting Civics Education Advances in Senate Education Committee

Legislation which would promote civics education in Tennessee advanced through the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Senate Bill 10, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), would make components of the test administered by the United State Citizenship and Immigration Services to those seeking citizenship one of the tools used in assessing student progress under Tennessee’s civics education program.

Norris said the bill embraces legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2012 which restored the teaching of project-based civics and required the assessment of student progress between grades 4 and 8 and between grades 8 and 12.

The legislation approved by the Education Committee calls on local education agencies to utilize 25 to 50 of the 100 questions posed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the citizenship test. The test, which would be administered during high school, may be taken by the student multiple times until he or she scores at least 70 percent as required for graduation. Students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) would be exempt from the requirement under certain circumstances as provided by the bill. Students will continue to receive the project-based civics assessments provided under the 2012 law.

The bill provides that schools where seniors have all made a passing grade on the civics test be recognized on the Department of Education’s website as a U.S. Civics All-Star School.

“We cannot long survive as a viable republic if our students do not know how to be active and informed participants in our democracy,” said Senator Norris. “This is a very important initiative and dovetails with our previous efforts to provide essential civics education to our students.”

Leadership Tipton County (left) and Leadership Millington (right)

Leadership Tipton County (left) and Leadership Millington (right)

In Brief

Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarships — State Senators voted this week to approve the “Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act.” Senate Bill 999, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), would authorize state payments to follow the child to public or private schools for up to 5,000 students in its first year of operation. The program, which gives low-income parents a choice regarding the school that their child attends, would expand each year to a maximum of 20,000 statewide in the fourth year. Participating students would also have to be from families qualified to receive free or reduced price lunch under federal standards and from a school district with at least one failing school ranked in the bottom five percent of schools statewide. If caps are not reached each year, scholarships would be offered to other low-income children in those counties in which a school in the bottom five percent of schools is located. Currently, five counties meet that standard, including Davidson, Hamilton, Madison, Knox and Shelby.

Lifetime Handgun Carry Permits — The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week that creates a lifetime handgun carry permit. Senate Bill 700, sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), continues the present permit process, but gives citizens the option to pay a $750 fee for a permit to carry any handgun that the holder legally owns or possesses without expiration. Like the regular handgun carry permit, the lifetime permit would apply unless the holder no longer satisfies the requirements as set by Tennessee law. Background checks for lifetime permit holders would be conducted every five years under the bill.

Foster Children / Driver’s License — Children in foster care would find it easier to receive their driver’s license under legislation approved by the Senate this week. Senate Bill 1271, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), would authorize a foster parent or an authorized representative of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to sign an application for a driver’s license or an instructional permit for an individual under the age of 18. Current law allows parents, step-parents or guardians to sign for their minor child, but foster parents or DCS representative may not do that. “The bill removes that barrier and creates an equity for foster children who are seeking to obtain their driver’s license,” said Yager.


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