Senator Mark Norris
9A Legislative Plaza,
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0232
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“…just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
Norris News – April 14, 2017
Senate Finance Committee approves legislation prioritizing repair of structurally deficient bridges
Legislation prioritizing the repair of structurally-deficient bridges in Tennessee was unanimously approved by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday. Senate Bill 1220, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), authorizes the Department of Transportation (TDOT) to pay up to 100 percent of the cost to repair or replace bridges on local roadways through a new “High Priority” category in the state-aid highway program. The legislation would give TDOT the ability to carry out these projects without requiring a local match.
The vote came after testimony from Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Chief Engineer Paul Degges that 200 of the state’s 526 structurally deficient bridges on local roads have been weight-posted, a status which prevents certain school buses, pumper-style fire trucks and other heavy vehicles from crossing due to safety risks. Degges said that unless there is a comprehensive fix, within 10 to 12 years all 526 bridges that are in need of repair or replacement will likely be added to that list.
“In three locations in the state, buildings have burned because a pumper truck could not get to them in a timely fashion,” Degges said.
Norris reiterated reports from school officials in Tennessee that school buses have crossed deficient bridges one axle at a time to reduce safety risk. “Woe be to us if both axles are ever on,” said Norris. “We are going to make keeping Tennessee safe a higher priority. We are going to repair and replace these bridges. We are not some third world nation. We want to rebuild Tennessee and keep her safe.”
TDOT estimates 47 percent of bridges on local roads are over 50 years old. With an average lifespan of 50 to 75 years, TDOT officials estimate 30 bridges in Tennessee will become structurally deficient each year because of age and wear and tear, not to mention those classified as functionally obsolete due to high traffic volume. In addition, 162 bridges on the state highway network are in need of repair or replacement due to the same reasons.
The legislation also gives TDOT the authority to maintain local roadways within the borders of state parks. There has been a longstanding issue related to who is responsible for maintaining these roads since they are local roads within state-operated parks. There are approximately 65 miles of roads within the state parks that are currently the responsibility of local governments.
The proposal incorporates funding made available under Senate Bill 1221, or the Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy (IMPROVE) Act, which was also approved by the committee this week. The purpose of the IMPROVE Act, which is also called the 2017 Tax Cut Act, is to rebuild a safe and reliable transportation network, while reallocating revenues to maximize taxpayer’s return on that investment.
“It’s a tremendous return on the taxpayers’ investment,” said Norris. “Somebody said it’s not easy, and that’s right – it’s hard. We did the hard work of looking at where we could return money to the taxpayers and reallocate revenues to maximize Tennesseans return on their investment and to make sure that we reinvest in Tennessee and her future.”
Human Trafficking / Minor Victims — Legislation was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee which makes the identifying information of the minor victim of a criminal offense confidential and not open to inspection by members of the public, unless a court waives the confidentiality at the request of the minor’s parent. Minors who have been victimized, such as child pornography or sex trafficking victims, should not have their identifiable information available to the public in a manner that could potentially be discovered and used to further victimize the minor in the media or social media. Social media victimization is an ever increasing problem and has been cited in a number of suicides in Tennessee and across the country. Senate Bill 550 provides a measure of protection for both children and families and is supported by the Chiefs of Police, the Sheriffs Association and the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. The bill is sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro).
Juvenile Justice Reform — Two juvenile justice bills were approved by the Senate on final consideration this week, including Senate Bill 1244 which addresses the issue of courts notifying juveniles of the need to file a motion to begin the process of expungement. Through this bill, the administrative office of the courts will create a form that can be used by the children themselves. The second proposal, Senate Bill 1253, outlines scenarios that are taken into consideration when an adolescent files for expungement. In addition, this measure would create a process to expunge cases that are disposed by pretrial or judicial diversion after successfully completing one year of the court’s expungement conditions. However, a motion could be made prior to the one year period but would still require the court to find a successful completion so long as conditions are still met, and the court believes expungement serves the best interest of the child and the community. Both bills are sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).
Teacher Supply Funds — The full Senate approved Senate Bill 401, sponsored by Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), which requires all Basic Education Plan (BEP) funds set aside for classroom supplies be allocated directly to teachers. Presently, $200 is allocated for teacher supplies, with half going directly to the teacher and the other half to a committee which pools resources. This proposal calls for the entire amount to go to the teacher.