Norris News from Nashville – April 21, 2014

norris-end-of-session-2014 End of Session Press ConferenceSenate Majority Leader Mark Norris,
Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey,
Governor Bill Haslam,
Speaker Beth Harwell,
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick
End of Session Press Conference
Held in the Old Supreme Court Chamber
Located on the First Floor of the State Capitol
mark-end-of-session-2014

Lawmakers Adjourn 108th General Assembly
Budget and Education Highlight 2014 Legislative Session

The 108th General Assembly adjourned to become a part of Tennessee history with the state budget and education highlighting this year’s action. Although underperforming revenues limited the number of initiatives approved this year, the 2014 legislative session will be remembered for passage of several other important measures such as a ban on forced annexation, legislation to tamp down meth use in the state, numerous statutes to help crime victims, bills to protect privacy rights of citizens and a resolution calling for a constitutional convention of the states to balance the federal budget.

The last week of legislative action saw passage of landmark legislation providing Tennessee students with the opportunity to attend college by establishing the Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act. Senate Bill 2471, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), provides Tennessee high school graduates with last dollar tuition assistance to fill unmet financial needs for tuition and fees so students may attend community college or college of applied technology free of charge. Students can then use the state’s transfer pathways program if they choose to attend a four-year school, making it possible to start as a junior.

“These are last dollar scholarships,” said Leader Norris. “But they are the first opportunity most of these Tennesseans will ever have to receive a higher education, a stronger likelihood of a better job, and a brighter future.”

The legislation also provides the opportunity for non-traditional students to return to community college or a college of applied technology free of charge through the state’s Tennessee Reconnect program. This program is an initiative aimed at helping adults earn a post-secondary degree. Similarly, the bill allows adults to qualify for the Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant, even if the student has previously received the HOPE Scholarship. To help students succeed, the bill has a strong mentoring component by incorporating the TN Achieves program, which is already available in 27 counties. This last dollar scholarship program provides students who might otherwise slip through the cracks in transitioning from high school to a post-secondary institution with mentors to help them succeed. The college retention rate for students in the TN Achieves Program is approximately 72 percent; whereas the HOPE scholarship program retains students at the rate of 47 percent.

In addition, the legislation provides for removal of the current 120-hour cap for HOPE scholars by extending the award to eight semesters. This is designed to provide HOPE recipients who are double majors or who participate in program like ROTC with flexibility so the student can receive the HOPE scholarship award for at least eight semesters or 120 hours, whichever comes last.

“Tennessee, by this act, will distinguish itself,” added Norris. “At the end of the day, we will all be beneficiaries of a better educated state, closing the skills gap, providing better employment opportunities for all of our citizens and a brighter future for Tennessee.”

Senate Adopts Conference Committee Report Providing for State Sovereignty in Education
Provides New Parameters for State Common Core Standards and Opens a Competitive Bidding Process for New Student Assessment System

In major K-12 education action this week, the Senate adopted a Conference Committee report to ensure Tennessee maintains sovereignty over how students are educated. The Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act states the federal government has no constitutional right to set educational standards and any partnership is totally at the discretion of the state. The bill further states that state and local authorities have exclusive rights to set education standards and that data collected should be used for the sole purpose of tracking academic progress and the needs of the student.

“This bill strikes the right balance in providing rigorous standards to improve education outcomes for our students, while preserving Tennessee values and protecting individual rights,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville). “This legislation keeps us moving forward as the fastest improving state in the nation in student achievement, recognizing the challenges we face with federal intrusion in education.”

Senate Bill 1835, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), specifies that Tennessee “shall not adopt common core state standards in any subject matter beyond math and English language arts.” Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are standards to measure student progress that were developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The state began phasing in state common core standards in English language arts and math in 2011, with full implementation of these subjects in the current 2013-14 school year. This legislation helps ensure that state common core standards will not be implemented in science and social studies. In addition, it provides that the state’s Board of Education cannot join a testing consortium that requires the adoption of common standards in social studies or science without full notice to the public and the General Assembly at least 60 days prior.

The bill delays implementation of a new assessment to replace the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test for K-12 students for one year. Tennessee students were scheduled to be assessed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, which aligns with Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards, next spring. The legislation instead calls for solicitation of proposals for a new assessment system through a competitive bidding process with review of the contract awarded by the General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee. The new assessment system awarded the contract will be field tested prior to the 2015-2016 school year, when it will replace the existing examinations in the subjects of English language arts and math.

Parents are given greater access to information under the legislation, including the right to review data collected on their child. It also requires consent by a parent before any biometric data can be collected on a student and forbids the state from conducting an assessment or applying for a grant that violates this requirement. Similarly, the bill protects the identifying information of teachers regarding their personal evaluation scores.

To provide greater public transparency, the state’s Board of Education must publish a list of all data elements collected under the bill along with the purpose or reason for collecting them. It requires that proposed changes to any state educational standard shall be posted for public review on the State Board of Education’s website and submitted to the Education Committee of the House and the Senate at least 60 days prior to consideration.

General Assembly approves TAMP Act to address the manufacture of meth

The Senate approved the Tennessee Anti-Meth Production (TAMP) Act during the final hours of the 2014 legislative session, which is designed to combat the manufacture of methamphetamine in the state. Tennessee ranks second in the nation, behind Indiana, in meth lab seizures last year.

The state spends approximately $2 million annually on meth lab clean-up, and in 2013, 1,691 labs were seized in Tennessee. The Department of Children’s Services has reported that 1,347 children came into state custody from 2010 through 2013 due to exposure to meth, not including the number of children where non-custodial arrangements were made. This is in addition to tens of millions of dollars in TennCare costs associated with meth lab burns, many which involve children.

Senate Bill 1751, the Tennessee Anti-Meth Production (TAMP) Act, cuts the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be bought in Tennessee from the current limit of 9 grams a month to 5.76 grams. This is designed to target the so-called ‘smurfers’ who buy from a variety of stores in small quantities until they have enough to manufacture meth. The legislation sets an annual limit on pseudoephedrine purchases of 28.8 grams. It also requires a prescription for any person under eighteen years of age to purchase a product that contains any immediate methamphetamine precursor, unless a pharmacist generated prescription is issued. The bill is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).

“Recidivism Reduction Act of 2014” aims to reduce the number of drunk drivers on Tennessee roads

Legislation which focuses on reducing recidivism for DUI offenders was approved by the State Senate during the final legislative week. Senate Bill 1633, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), would give courts the power to sentence second- and third-time DUI offenders to a substance abuse treatment program as a condition of probation after completing a clinical substance abuse assessment and serving a period of time of confinement in jail.

Under the “Recidivism Reduction Act of 2014” DUI offenders would serve 25 days of up front jail time upon a second offense, before participating in a substance abuse treatment program. Those convicted on a third offense would serve at least 65 days in prison before being sentenced to treatment. The legislation allows a judge to keep a second or third DUI offender on probation for up to two years if the offender participates in treatment under provisions of this bill.

“Studies show that graduates of a treatment program end up with a recidivism rate of only 10 percent,” said Senator Overbey. “This bill takes the most dangerous drivers off our roads by giving the judge the authority to order them to treatment.”

 

The Senate Finance Committee honors retiring Senator Douglas Henry, the longest-serving legislator in state history.  Top row: Dr. Steve Dickerson, Ferrell Haile, Bill Ketron, Jim Kyle, Lowe Finney, Joey Hensley, Mark Norris, Bottom Row: Doug Overbey, Douglas Henry, Chairman Randy McNally, Bo Watson

The Senate Finance Committee honors retiring Senator Douglas Henry, the longest-serving legislator in state history. Top row: Dr. Steve Dickerson, Ferrell Haile, Bill Ketron, Jim Kyle, Lowe Finney, Joey Hensley, Mark Norris, Bottom Row: Doug Overbey, Douglas Henry, Chairman Randy McNally, Bo Watson

In Brief…

Department of Revenue / Taxpayer Conferences — The Senate approved legislation this week designed to improve the Tennessee Department of Revenue’s processes for making assessments and holding taxpayer conferences. Senate Bill 1635, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), formalizes existing policies and procedures that assure taxpayers of an informal and open review process. The legislation would make it clear that the findings of the department’s audit division are not final until the taxpayer has an opportunity to meet in a conference with the commissioner or his designee. It also provides the department with authority to compromise on small assessments without additional approvals. Finally, it allows the department to include refund claims in the conferencing process and sets out a process for the departments to issue pubic guidance to taxpayers, practitioners, and auditors regarding conference decisions.

Latest Revenue Collections — Tennessee revenue collections reflected mixed results in March according to the Department of Finance and Administration. Overall March revenues were $955.8 million. The general fund was under collected by over $4 million for March and by $263.9 million year-to-date. Finance Commissioner Larry Martin said the states March collections “continued to reflect weaker than anticipated revenues from the corporate sector, while sales tax collections were stronger. Sales tax collections were $9.4 million more than the estimate for March, with a positive 5.51% growth rate. He said the sales tax growth is important in helping to meet current revenue projections on which the approved budget amendment was based. Year-to-date collections for seven months of the 2014-15 fiscal year were $257.0 million less than the budgeted estimate. The general fund was under collected by $263.9 million and the four other funds were over collected by $6.9 million.

Child Sex Offenders — The full Senate has approved a bill that allows the courts to authorize a single trial for a serial child sex offender who commits his or her crime in multiple jurisdictions in Tennessee. Senate Bill 1362, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), is designed to protect child sexual abuse victims from the trauma of having to testify in multiple trials. The legislation would affect cases like that of Jerry Sandusky where multiple abuse cases were grouped together for trial in Pennsylvania.

Industrial Hemp — The Senate adopted a minor amendment and passed Senate Bill 2495 to allow farmers to be licensed to grow hemp in Tennessee. Although it is legal to import, purchase or export hemp, it is illegal to grow it in Tennessee. In recent years, states like neighboring Kentucky have passed measures legalizing the farming of hemp for industrial purposes. These purposes include turning the plant’s fibers into such products as oil, wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, paper, and fuel. There are approximately 75 manufacturers using hemp in America today, most prevalently with plastics, which can be reinforced with hemp. The bill is sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains).

Salute / Tennessee Flag – A resolution which encourages all Tennessee schools to have their students recite the first official salute to the Tennessee flag on a daily basis passed the Senate on Monday. Lucy Steel Harrison composed the salute to the Tennessee flag which was subsequently designated “the official salute to the flag of Tennessee” by the General Assembly in March 1981. The Senate recites the salute before each legislative session. Senate Joint Resolution 715 is sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet).

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