Senator Mark Norris
9A Legislative Plaza,
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0232
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©2017 Mark Norris
July 3, 2015
Happy Independence Day!
As we approach July 4th and celebrate the birth of our nation 239 years ago, we celebrate many freedoms for which the United States of America is revered throughout the world.
This year, in the aftermath of the carnage in South Carolina and the Supreme Court’s recent rulings construing the Affordable Care Act and approving same-sex marriage, we are reminded of the importance of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion and the rule of law. We cannot take these freedoms, or the system of justice which protects them, for granted.
800 years ago, on June 15, 1215, Magna Carta was sealed under duress at Runnymede by King John. In it was sown the seed of constitutional government – “freedom under law.” Standing for the proposition that no man is above the law, the concept of “law of the land” first took root from which our own Declaration of Independence drew inspiration in 1776. “Due process of law” was later enshrined in our own Bill of Rights.
Scarcely 20 years later, on June 1, 1796, the State of Tennessee was admitted into the Union as the 16th state by an Act of Congress signed by none other than our Founding Father, George Washington. His bust stands in the Tennessee Capitol stairwell which leads up to the Senate and House Chambers where busts of other historical figures are also displayed.
Between the time of the Declaration of Independence and Tennessee’s statehood, the U.S. Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788, and the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. Today, our Constitution is the oldest written constitution still in force anywhere in the world.
In June, I traveled to Great Britain, where history is measured not in hundreds of years but thousands of years, to celebrate Magna Carta and commemorate its sealing. I met with members of the European Union, Members of Parliament, foreign secretaries and former Secretaries of State. We talked about whether it’s likely the UK will secede from the European Union; whether ISIS or Putin is the bigger threat to Europe. Regardless, everyone with whom I spoke said the greatest threat to Europe is the lack of American leadership.
To see us wrestle with notions of liberty and freedom itself is heartening in light of what I witnessed overseas. Here, we debate whether to remove statues. There, they debate what can be done to stop ISIS and Putin who destroy statues. Here, we defend our Flag and our ways of life like none other.
On this Fourth of July, we learn how to adapt without acquiescing; to respect the rights of others and ourselves to disagree. To stand up for our beliefs.
Unfortunately, the rulings raise more questions than they resolve for those of us who enact, practice or apply the law and others.
I disagree with Justice Roberts’ opinion in King v. Burwell, and I was quoted correctly: “It may be judicial sleight of hand, but it’s the law of the land.”
And I disagree with Justice Kennedy that the Supreme Court should disenfranchise 80% of Tennesseans who felt strongly enough to amend their Constitution now to no avail.
But I agree with Justice Kennedy that we must uphold the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans regardless:
“The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”
It is for us, then, this Fourth of July, to take strength from our history and firmly resolve to defend our freedoms while working together to strengthen them for our future as “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
New Tennessee Reconnect Provides Path to Economic Freedom this Independence Day
Independence Day 2015 has added significance for Tennesseans seeking the freedom which flows from gainful employment this year.
As of July 1, thanks to legislation championed by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), a new program enabling adults to obtain the degree necessary for a better job is available.
Public Chapter 363 (SB605), more commonly known as Tennessee Reconnect, is a major part of Tennessee’s ongoing Drive to 55 program and Tennessee Promise.
Under legislation sponsored by Senator Norris last year, Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Promise made last dollar scholarships for traditional students to attend any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology (TCATs) or other eligible institutions offering an associate degree program beginning in 2015. Non-traditional students (adults returning to school) were eligible only for TCAT enrollment.
This year’s Public Chapter 363 now extends eligibility for adults to attend Tennessee’s public community colleges in the 2016-2017 academic year to complete their associate’s degree in applied science as well.
“We are closing the skills gap in Tennessee. 21st Century jobs are available, but all too often Tennesseans don’t have the certificate or degree required to fill them. This helps Tennesseans help themselves by making it more affordable to pursue a career in advanced industries,” says Norris who, as Chair of the Council of State Governments, also led a national initiative in workforce development and education called “State Pathways to Prosperity.” He serves on Tennessee’s Workforce Development Board.
Key qualifications to receive the grant include: Tennessee residency for at least one year preceding the date of application for the grant; completion of at least 30 hours towards completing an associate of applied science degree; and, an adjusted gross income of less than $36,000. Grant recipients must maintain a 2.0 GPA and enroll in at least 9 semester hours in the fall and spring semesters.
Co-sponsors were Senators Mark Green (R-Clarksville), John Stevens (R-Huntingdon), Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Ken Yager (R-Kingston).