Senator Mark Norris
9A Legislative Plaza,
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0232
This website was not created nor is it maintained at public expense.
©2017 Mark Norris
Bills Get Students Out of Their Seats
The Senate advanced two bills this week which help ensure that students get more physical activity in schools, including the Tom Cronan Physical Education Act which requires each student in elementary school to participate in a physical education class (PE) at least twice a week for a combined total of no less than 60 minutes. Senate Bill 558, which was approved by the Senate Education Committee, is sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro).
Obesity is one of the most pressing health concerns in Tennessee. The state ranks 49th in the United States in physical inactivity and 47th in obesity. The percentage of overweight/obese students is highest for 6th graders.
“Evidence shows that children who are physically active and fit tend to perform better in the classroom,” said Sen. Ketron. “It improves their concentration, cognitive functioning, and self-esteem, not to mention the health benefits by establishing healthy habits at an early age. It’s time to change the culture of the school to blend academics and PE.”
Under the legislation, the PE class must be taught by a teacher with a physical education endorsement and must meet the needs of students, including those with disabilities. The legislation also requires local education agencies (LEAs) to verify compliance with the act annually.
The bill is named for the late Dr. Thomas Cronan, who was Professor Emeritus of Exercise Physiology at Carson-Newman College and a lifelong promoter of wellness. He was the husband of former University of Tennessee Women’s Athletics Director Joan Cronan, who with Coach Pat Summitt, led the Lady Vols to multiple national basketball championships.
“The Tom Cronan Physical Education bill will make a difference in young people’s lives,” Mrs. Cronan told committee members. “The facts show one in three of our school children is obese. Seventy-four percent are not ready to go to the military… One of the things that Coach Summitt taught us is that discipline makes a difference. I think when we look at our elementary students and what they can do to get better and represent us, not only in the military, but in life, I feel strongly that physical education provides that.”
U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Eden Murrie, a Nashville resident, testified about physical education and obesity as it affects national security. “We need today’s youth to be ready to successfully serve our nation tomorrow in the armed forces or in a variety of different ways. As simple as it sounds, PE is a necessary tool for our youth,” she said.
Obesity is the leading medical disqualification in the armed forces with nearly one out of three young people being too overweight to serve.
The PE bill works in conjunction with legislation approved by the full Senate earlier this week clarifying Tennessee’s law regarding school recess requirements. Senate Bill 662, sponsored by Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), requires a minimum of 130 minutes of physical activity each school week for elementary school students and 90 minutes for middle and high school students. The legislation provides that physical activity must be at least 15 minutes to qualify as recess to ensure a benefit to the student. It also ensures that recess does not replace current PE programs.
The bill, which has already passed the House of Representatives, now goes to the governor for his signature.
Tax Cut Bill continues to advance in Senate and House of Representatives
The IMPROVE Act continued to advance in the Senate State and Local Government Committee and in the House Transportation Committee this week. The bill’s momentum was boosted by a memo from the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) to legislators which recognized that legislation’s net tax decrease means a vote in favor would continue to honor the Taxpayer Protection Plan signed by many General Assembly members. The ATR is a national conservative group formed by Grover Norquist in 1985 at the request of President Ronald Reagan. The flagship project of ATR is the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a written promise by legislators and candidates for office that commits them to oppose any effort to increase income taxes on individuals and businesses.
Norquist said, “The recent amendments made by the Senate, and supported by Gov. Haslam, have improved the bill to the extent that the bill is now a net tax decrease, and thus not a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge…ATR scores the amended version of SB 1221 / HB 534 as a net tax cut and therefore Taxpayer Protection Pledge compliant.”
The conservative group’s approval follows an announcement in January by the American Conservative Union that that the Tennessee Senate is the “Most Conservative Senate” in the nation, earning a score of 79.87 percent. Since 2011, the General Assembly has cut $438 million in taxes. These cuts include legislation in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 repealing the gift tax, eliminating the death tax, reducing the sales tax on food, exempting the sales tax on certain machinery and medical supplies, and phasing out the Hall Income Tax. If the IMPROVE ACT is approved, those tax cuts would exceed $540 million.
“We have worked diligently to rebuild our state, not only with a focus on keeping our roads and bridges safe, but to reallocate revenues to maximize the return to Tennessee taxpayers,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville). “This legislation is the latest along the continuum of cuts providing widespread tax relief for Tennesseans, while paving the way to new and better jobs to Tennessee.”
Protesters / Blocking Emergency Vehicles – Legislation which seeks to deter protesters from blocking first responders who are responding to an emergency has passed 28 to 2 in the Tennessee Senate on final consideration. The bill comes after recent accounts of emergency vehicles being delayed due to protests. Senate Bill 902, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), increases the fine for those convicted of blocking emergency vehicles from a Class A to a Class B misdemeanor, elevating the fine from $50 to $200. “I’m all in favor of citizens’ right to protest, but when it puts other people’s lives in danger it goes too far,” said Senator Bell.
Palliative Care – Legislation creating a State Task Force on Palliative Care and Quality of Life in Tennessee was approved by the Senate Government Operations Committee this week. The purpose of the bill is to promote patient-centered and family-focused palliative care in the state. Palliative care is an approach intended to improve the quality of life of patients and their families who are facing serious or life-threatening illnesses. It aims to prevent and relieve their suffering by means of early identification, impeccable assessment, and the treatment of their pain, physical, psychosocial, spiritual, and various other ailments. Senate Bill 1170, sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), creates a nine-member task force charged with consulting and advising the Department of Health on matters relative to the establishment, maintenance, operation, and outcome of palliative care initiatives.
Over the last decade, a multitude of studies have shown the benefits of palliative care, including improved quality of life, reduced patient and caregiver burden, and an overall reduction in total health care costs. Currently, 16 states have laws establishing these Advisory Councils, and an additional seven states introduced comparable bills during their most recent legislative sessions.
Domestic Violence Offenders / Firearm Prohibition Notice — The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill ensuring that domestic violence offenders have indisputable notice regarding the prohibition from owning or possessing a firearm. Defendants who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor are prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm under both U.S. and Tennessee laws. Although this fact is verbally communicated to the defendant upon entering a guilty plea, the notice provided is deficient when compared to the information provided to respondents in Order of Protection cases. Senate Bill 229, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), uses the procedure that already exists for Orders of Protection to ensure that every convicted offender receives and completes a form that further informs the defendant about firearm restrictions and when and how to dispossess firearms. Offenders with a history of domestic violence are five times more likely to murder an intimate partner when a firearm is present in the home.
Consumers / Spoofing — State Senators gave final approval this week to legislation that creates a consumer protection violation for someone who employs caller identification (ID) spoofing technology with the intent to defraud or cause harm to another person, or to wrongfully obtain anything of value. Spoofing technology allows a person, when making a call or sending a text message, to change the number so that it appears on the recipient’s caller ID that it is different from the one that is actually being used. It is often used as part of an attempt to trick someone into giving away valuable personal information so it can be used in fraudulent activity or sold illegally. Senate Bill 511, sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), creates a Class A misdemeanor for spoofing, as well as allowing for spoofing victims and the state’s Attorney General to pursue civil actions against offenders.
Retail Theft – Two bills, sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), are advancing in the State Senate which are designed to address Organized Retail Crime (ORC). It has been estimated that in 2015 alone, Tennessee lost over $14 million in sales tax dollars and retailers lost over $200 million due to return fraud. “We have a crisis in Tennessee where goods are stolen and then returned to retailers for credit on a gift card,” Briggs said.
Senate Bill 119, approved by the Judiciary Committee this week, and Senate Bill 120 which passed the panel last week, enact the Organized Retail Crime Prevention Act, creating two new theft offenses for the purpose of prosecuting individuals that return stolen merchandise to receive money or store credit. The legislation defines organized retail crime and creates an enforcement mechanism. The offense of theft of property is also expanded to address modern shoplifting devices, helping law enforcement convict the more sophisticated criminal.
Per Capita, Knoxville is first in the nation for card abuse and theft. Tennessee is one of only 17 states that do not have ORC legislation.