Senator Mark Norris
9A Legislative Plaza,
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0232
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©2017 Mark Norris
This week was marked by the death of a most beloved former State Senator, Douglas S. Henry.
Universally respected, Henry was a gentleman, statesman and a scholar who is credited for playing a key role in Tennessee’s solid financial footing as a long-standing member and Chairman Emeritus of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee. During his service, he championed legislation aiding children, the mentally ill, the elderly and the unborn. He was also a strong supporter of the Tennessee State Museum and an avid guardian of federalism. In 2008 the Council of State Governments announced the “Douglas S. Henry Guardian of Federalism Award.” It is given to those who champion states’ rights.
Senator Henry is the first person to lie in state at the Tennessee State Capitol since Governor Austin Peay in 1927, as the flags over the State Capitol were lowered to half-staff until his internment. It was a fitting tribute to the longest serving lawmaker in state history whose service spanned six decades. A 2014 video, produced by the Tennessee State Library and Archives on the occasion of his retirement, highlights his extraordinary career serving Tennesseans with interviews from people who knew him. Henry was 90 years old.
Legislation making Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college advances
The State Senate approved major legislation to make Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college. Completing the path for all Tennesseans to access higher education, the Tennessee Reconnect Act, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), establishes a last-dollar scholarship for adults to attend a community college tuition-free. Senate Bill 1218 expands a grant program launched in 2015 that aimed to attract approximately 900,000 Tennesseans who have earned some college credit but no degree.
Adults without a certificate can already attend Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) tuition-free under the current Reconnect program. This proposal would expand that program’s access to community colleges and relieves some of the previous requirements to receive assistance. The Reconnect expansion would be funded out of lottery reserves at no cost to taxpayers.
“Tennessee Reconnect is a tremendous investment in the state’s economy,” said Sen. Norris. “It not only gives adults new opportunities for career growth, but also provides employers with the skills and credentials they are seeking from the workforce.”
To be eligible for Tennessee Reconnect, a student must be a Tennessee resident for at least one year preceding the date of application and does not already have an associate or bachelor degree. Other requirements include completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) where the applicant is deemed an independent student; participation in an approved advising program; and enrollment in any of the state’s 13 public community college’s degree or certificate programs for six semester hours. In order to maintain the Tennessee Reconnect grant, the student must enroll in classes leading to an associate’s degree or certificate continuously and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA. The program will begin with the 2018-19 school year upon approval of the legislation.
State Senators approve bills aiding veterans
Bills aiding veterans were approved by State Senators this week, including two major bills to expand access to education. The Senate Education Committee approved the STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act that would create a pilot program to provide eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard funding toward a first time bachelor’s degree through a tuition reimbursement program, while the full Senate passed legislation that will make it easier for veterans to determine how their military training can count as credit in Tennessee’s colleges and universities. Both bills are sponsored by Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville).
The STRONG Act provides an opportunity for those who protect and serve their state and country to receive their bachelor’s degree, a move that gives Tennessee’s National Guard a competitive edge in recruitment. As a last-dollar reimbursement, the amount of state tuition reimbursement is offset by any other funds received. To be eligible, the individual must be currently serving with the Tennessee National Guard in good standing, have applied for federal tuition assistance, and be admitted to any Tennessee public community college, public university, or private college or university which is regionally accredited. The student must maintain a minimum grade point average of 2.0.
All but four states nationwide, and all states adjacent to Tennessee, already offer 100% state tuition assistance for those who are serving in the Guard.
In addition to making it easier for veterans to determine how their military training can count as credit in Tennessee’s colleges and universities, Senate Bill 1232 grants in-state tuition to anyone currently living in Tennessee who is using VA educational benefits, regardless of their official home of record. That change brings Tennessee into compliance with new provisions in the GI bill, ensuring that about 13,000 Tennessee service members, veterans and their dependents continue to receive education benefits under the federal program.
The proposal also updates and enhances Tennessee’s Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act which encourages enrollment of veterans and removes barriers known to impede their success in attaining higher education credentials. That law created a “VETS Campus” designation to recognize and promote schools that make veteran enrollment a priority.
“This legislation enhances the VETS Act and will make Tennessee the second state in the nation to develop a web-based dashboard to help prospective student veterans determine how their military training counts,” said Sen. Norris. “A veteran or service member will be able to click on the specific military occupational specialty he or she possesses and instantly see what academic credit they qualify for at each of Tennessee’s public institutions, before they enroll. The easy-to-use system will help us recruit and keep military service members in Tennessee.”
The bill also calls on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to select representatives of various state colleges and universities by December 2018 to work collaboratively in adopting policies for Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs) for veterans. Currently, PLA credit can vary significantly from one institution to the next. The group will identify and develop uniform methods to assess and maximize academic credit for veterans based on the experience, education, and training obtained during their military service.
Approximately 27.7% of Tennessee’s Veterans have some college or an associate’s degree, while 24.3% have a bachelor’s degree. The VETS bill works in conjunction with the state’s Drive to 55 initiative to get 55% of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025, prioritizing veterans in that goal.
Government Accountability — The full Senate approved Senate Bill 463, which provides for additional accountability for state agencies. The bill assists the Comptroller’s office in working with state agencies to achieve corrective actions, reduce audit findings and avoid repeat findings. This plan will address each audit finding and give an explanation of what the agency has done or will do to correct the finding, the persons responsible for correcting the finding and a timeline for the corrections to be completed. The bill is sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville).
Identity Theft – In an effort to prevent identity theft, the State Senate voted this week to approve Senate Bill 428 to remove the social security number contained on the permanent identification device attached to a decedent’s body prior to placing them in a casket or entombment. It is sponsored by Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon).
Juveniles / Detention Centers – Legislation establishing rules and regulations to provide a consistent and appropriate level of education services to public school students who are incarcerated in Tennessee’s 17 juvenile detention centers has been passed on final consideration. The detention centers are intended to be temporary holding facilities for youth awaiting adjudication, which is typically less than 72 hours. A small percentage of incarcerated youth, however, are held beyond this time period while a long-term placement option is determined or because a determinate sentence in the center has been given by a judge. Presently, the law is not specific about the responsibility to educate students in juvenile detention centers who receive general education services. With education services lacking in some juvenile detention centers, this is concerning as the juveniles need to attain their degree to help them succeed. Senate Bill 1195, sponsored by Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), will put the responsibility on the Local Education Agency (LEA) that is most appropriate to serve each juvenile detention center. The legislation also requires that the Department of Education monitor the educational services provided in these centers and the Department of Children’s Services monitor each center’s compliance through its licensure of the detention centers.
Special Agent De’Greaun ReShun Frazier TBI Crime Lab and Regional Headquarters — The Senate approved Senate Bill 1233 this week which designates the new Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) crime lab in Jackson, Tennessee as the Special Agent De’Greaun ReShun Frazier TBI Crime Lab and Regional Headquarters. Frazier, who was shot and killed during an undercover drug operation conducted in Jackson, Tennessee, was the first TBI agent in history to be killed in the line of duty. He was 35 years old. The legislation is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson).