Norris News – May 12, 2017

On May 12, 2017, in News from Nashville 2017, by Mark Norris
End of Session Press Conference

End of Session Press Conference

Lawmakers adjourn 2017 legislative session after passage of state budget and other key bills

The 2017 session of the 110th General Assembly has adjourned to become a part of Tennessee history with some of the most important bills of the year being approved during the final week of legislative action. This includes the passage of the state budget, legislation making Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college, a measure enhancing penalties for convicted criminals in the U.S. unlawfully, and a proposal strengthening penalties against crooks with guns.

The $37 billion budget proposes state government spending for the next fiscal year that begins July 1, 2017 and extends to June 30, 2018. Senate Bill 483, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), maintains Tennessee’s sound fiscal practices. For a second year in a row, the state budget does not take on any new debt. It assumes an annualized growth rate of 3.17 percent, based on an economic growth forecast of 4.5 percent. Such fiscally conservative practices have resulted in Tennessee having a budget surplus rather than a deficit as many other states have experienced. This is one of the reasons Tennessee is ranked among the best managed states in the nation.

“We believe that this surplus reflects strength, not weakness – maturity as a leading state in the nation, not the malaise of those struggling under massive debt in other states delinquent in their duties and troubled by taxation,” said Norris. “A surplus, wherein revenues exceeded budgeted expectations, reflects conservatism at its best. Revenues have exceeded expectations not because we charged Tennessee taxpayers more, but because we did more with less. We cut taxes in five of the previous six years and generated more revenues as a result.”

The 2017-2018 budget cuts more than $250 million in taxes in the next fiscal year and more than $400 million in taxes annually at full implementation.

I thought you might enjoy reading some of the media coverage concerning the budget we just adopted: Click here to read more.

Presenting the budget on the Senate floor

Presenting the budget on the Senate floor

New state budget emphasizes four E’s – Education, Employment, Economic Opportunity, and Enforcement of the Law

Education, Employment, Economic Opportunity, and Enforcement of the Law are the underlying drivers of Tennessee’s 2017-2018 state budget adopted by the General Assembly this week. The budget continues Tennessee’s strong commitment to education by providing an additional $200 million to fund the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP). This includes $100 million to improve teacher salaries, $22 million to help schools serve high need students, and an additional $15 million is provided for career and technical education equipment.

It also continues several important higher education initiatives in the Drive to 55 to make sure that 55 percent of Tennesseans have a post-secondary certificate or degree by the year 2025. This includes the Reconnect Act and the STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act. The Reconnect Act is a last-dollar scholarship which makes Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college. The STRONG Act creates a pilot program for those who protect and serve their state and country in the Tennessee National Guard to receive tuition funding toward a first time bachelor degree.

On employment and economic opportunity, the legislation provides $113 million in Franchise and Excise (F&E) tax cuts which are available to over 500 manufacturers in Tennessee benefitting over 310,000 of their employees. Since passage of legislation initiating the F&E cuts two weeks ago, two major industries have announced they will locate facilities in Tennessee creating a combined 520 new jobs in the state.

Also conducive to job creation is the $150 million in new, recurring revenue appropriated for improving Tennessee’s roads, making them inviting to new industries looking to locate in the state. The improvements are also essential for road safety. Presently, 40 percent of the state’s major urban roads are in less than fair condition. Likewise, approximately 19 percent of Tennessee bridges are in need of repair, five percent are structurally deficient, and 14 percent are functionally obsolete.

On enforcement of the law, the budget provides 30 new positions for district attorneys, 18 new public defenders, 25 new Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers, and new funding to increase coverage for families of police and firefighters who lose their life in the line of duty. It provides more than $2 million in recurring funds to incarcerate felons with firearms and abusers of the elderly and to enhance sentences against illegal aliens who commit unlawful acts. It also provides $5 million in funding to increase the per diem paid to local jails for housing state prisoners and $29.5 million for a new multi-agency law enforcement training center.

Other highlights of the budget include:

  • $8 million for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to purchase an airplane to assist in criminal investigations and manhunts;
  • $55 million for utilization grants for TennCare;
  • Adds 715 more slots to the Employment and Community First Choices (EFC) Program to provide long-term services and supports;
  • $1 million for the OPTIONS program which gives home- and community-based service choices to the elderly, as well as adults with disabilities;
  • $10.3 million to improve access to broadband in Tennessee;
  • $8 million to increase the reimbursement rate for direct support professionals who provide home and community-based services through the Department of Intellectual Disabilities (DIDD);
  • $11.5 million for substance abuse and crisis services;
  • $21.7 million in a new money to help fund rural initiatives as recommended by the Rural Development Task Force Study;
  • $40 million toward the cost of a new State Library and Archives building to collect and preserve Tennessee records of historical, documentary and reference value;
  • $10.65 million for disaster relief in Gatlinburg and Sevier County after the devastating wildfires in November 2016;
  • $77 million for state employee pay increases and market rate adjustments targeting high-turnover positions in state government;
  • $614 million in state dollars for maintenance and new buildings across general government and higher education;
  • $25 million for higher education outcome formula increases of the Complete College Act;
    $132 million in non-recurring funds to the state’s Rainy Day Fund to an all-time high of $800 million, well on the way to a target of $1 billion;
  • Full restoration of property tax relief for veterans, disabled and the elderly; and,
  • $18 million for the next state veterans’ home in West Tennessee.

In his closing presentation on the budget, Norris spoke of General Assembly fulfilling the constitutional mandate for the “peace, safety and happiness of the people of Tennessee.” He stated that the priorities outlined in the budget made clear that state government stands behind “the elderly, the vulnerable, the sick and the unfortunate.”

“It matters who governs,” concluded Norris. “And by this Act – we do.”

General Assembly passes legislation to offer all adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college

The General Assembly approved major legislation during the final week of the 2017 session to make Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college. The Tennessee Reconnect Act establishes a last-dollar scholarship for adults to attend a community college tuition-free. Senate Bill 1218, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), expands a grant program launched in 2015 that aims 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.

PBS Capitol Report taping. Capitol Report will air May 21st on your local PBS station. Check your local listings for times.

PBS Capitol Report taping. Capitol Report will air May 21st on your local PBS station. Check your local listings for times.

In Brief…

Convicted Criminals Unlawfully in the U.S. — The full Senate approved legislation on Tuesday that would allow courts in Tennessee to enhance the sentence of a convicted criminal who is unlawfully in the U.S. Under present state law, status as an illegal alien is a factor that can be considered on the front end of the court process, as it relates to bond for example, but it’s not included at the end of the process. Senate Bill 1260, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), creates a new enhancement factor that a judge can consider in sentencing if the defendant was illegally or unlawfully in the U.S. at the time the offense was committed.

Crooks with Guns — Legislation enhancing the charge of possession of a firearm by a person with a prior felony conviction involving the use or attempted use of force from a Class C to a Class B felony was approved during the final days of the 2017 legislative session. The bill also enhances the charge of the possession of a firearm by a person with a prior felony drug conviction from a Class D to a Class C felony. Senate Bill 1241 continues a series of anti-crime laws dubbed “Crooks with Guns” passed over the last decade to curb gun-related violence and focus resources on keeping violent criminals behind bars longer to protect the public. It is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).

Energy — This week the Senate Government Operations Committee met to discuss Senate Bill 1250, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), to support the development of a reliable and adequate supply of energy for Tennessee. The goal is to encourage the growth of a secure, stable, and predictable energy source to facilitate economic growth, job creation, and expansion of business and industry opportunities. To accomplish this, the proposal creates a State Energy Policy Council that would be responsible for advising and making recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly concerning the state’s energy resources, including exploration development and production within Tennessee. Other duties of the 13-member council include creating annual reports that assess the energy sector, developing comprehensive state energy policy plans, and providing the public with education and informational tools. The University of Tennessee Baker Center of Public Policy would facilitate the annual assessment of the state’s energy sector as a result of the proposed legislation.

Senator Norris' signature sponsoring the resolution to adjourn the 2017 legislative session

Senator Norris’ signature sponsoring the resolution to adjourn the 2017 legislative session

Comments are closed.