Jobs take center stage on Capitol Hill as Tennessee continues successful efforts to improve state’s economy

On March 1, 2012, in News from Nashville 2012, by Mark Norris

March 1, 2012 Jobs take center stage on Capitol Hill as Tennessee continues successful efforts to improve state’s economy Jobs and the economy took center stage on Capitol Hill this week as lawmakers heard good news regarding Tennessee’s economic prospects, including the forecast that employers may see reductions in their unemployment premiums as early as […]

March 1, 2012

Jobs take center stage on Capitol Hill as Tennessee continues successful efforts to improve state’s economy

Jobs and the economy took center stage on Capitol Hill this week as lawmakers heard good news regarding Tennessee’s economic prospects, including the forecast that employers may see reductions in their unemployment premiums as early as July. Tennessee Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development Karla Davis and Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bill Hagerty appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee to present their budget requests and brief members on developments taking place on Tennessee’s jobs front.

Job creation reaches highest mark since 2007 — Amazon is one of many job successes this year according to Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty. The Commissioner told Senate Commerce Committee members this week that Tennessee had a very productive year with the creation of 28,500 jobs in the state, the highest mark since 2007. The Commissioner attributed the success to a realignment the Department took after Governor Haslam ordered a “top to bottom review” of its operations.

“The result of that has been a fabulous job number in what has overall been a very tough economic environment,” Hagerty said. “The majority of job creation in this state comes from existing businesses as they expand. My challenge to the department has been to make sure that we maintain a 98 percent plus market share of all expansion that happens with Tennessee companies –and it is working.”

Although the focus is on expanding within Tennessee, Hagerty said Governor Haslam and the Department continue to be “very aggressive” in recruiting worldwide, visiting seven different countries in the last half of last year. The department is pursuing a new initiative to open up the market for export opportunities to increase the output from Tennessee companies. In addition, they are working on a co-investment fund to make money available for early stage capital to attract new private equity into the state for Tennessee entrepreneurs.

Unemployment Fund Projected to Trigger Employer Premium Decrease in July — Likewise, Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development Karla Davis reported on her department’s activities this week, which included good news regarding Tennessee’s Unemployment Trust Fund. As of February 1, the balance of the fund is over $306 million.

“Because of the wisdom of the Legislature in passing the bill in 2009, our Trust Fund balance is solvent and we believe it will continue to remain so,” said Davis. “There are many states that are billions of dollars in debt to the federal government.”

TEAM Act overcomes first hurdle with passage in the Senate State and Local Government Committee

Legislation revising Tennessee’s antiquated civil service system overcame its first hurdle this week as Senate Bill 2246 progressed through the Senate State and Local Government Committee. The action on the Tennessee Excellence Accountability and Management (TEAM) Act of 2012 came after several changes were made improving the bill, including an amendment sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) which ensures veterans will continue to be given preference in hiring and promotions for state jobs. The action also came after a number of agreements and concessions were made between the Haslam administration, State Employees Association and others regarding certain provisions in the legislation.

Whereas the original bill insured veterans an interview, the Norris amendment requires that a veteran or a spouse of a disabled or deceased veteran be placed on the list of eligibles and if the minimum qualifications, skills and abilities, competencies and knowledge of the veteran and any other applicant are equal, preference would be given to the veteran for the position.

Currently, state law provides honorably discharged veterans preference in applying for civil service positions. These preference points are used in civil service hiring to give a leg up to veterans looking for jobs after leaving the armed forces. Spouses of veterans disabled or killed in the line of duty also receive preference.

The Norris amendment also ensures that seniority is considered as a key factor in cases of Reduction in Force (RIF).

The purpose of the TEAM Act, which is proposed by Governor Bill Haslam and sponsored by Senator Norris and Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), is to establish a system that will attract, select, retain and promote the best applicants and employees in Tennessee state government. It also aims to give agencies greater flexibility in personnel management and increase customer-focused effectiveness for citizens who access a wide variety of state government services. Johnson said the genesis of the bill came from the Governor’s Top to Bottom Review of state government with every Commissioner listing the antiquated and inefficient hiring process as one of their chief concerns in improving services and efficiencies within their department.

Legislation giving teachers more authority to relocate a student for safety reasons receives final approval

The State Senate unanimously approved legislation today giving teachers more authority to relocate a student who poses a safety threat without fear of being found liable. Senate Bill 3116, sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), requires local education boards to adopt a policy authorizing a teacher’s ability to temporarily move a student to a different location for the student’s safety or the safety of others. The bill also requires principals to fully support the authority of teachers in taking the action when it is done according to the policy.

Gresham said the genesis of the bill came as she listened to teachers who were concerned about liability while performing assigned duties or that a lawsuit could be brought against them if they try to remove a student during an altercation. The legislation is supported by the Tennessee School Board Association, the Tennessee Teacher Association, and the Professional Educators of Tennessee.

The policy required under the measure would also cover teachers’ authorization to intervene in a physical altercation between two or more students or between a student and Local Education Agency (LEA) employee. It also allows for the use of reasonable or justifiable force upon a student if the student is unwilling to cooperate and it becomes necessary to end the altercation by relocating the student to another area.

“We have been listening to teachers who are very concerned about their ability to perform their duties and protect other students or themselves without fear that they will be sued,” said Senator Gresham. “Teachers should not have to fear they will be found personally liable for standing in a doorway to stop a physical altercation between two students. They should have full authority to remove a student to another location even if it involves the use of force.”

“This bill would apply to acts committed on school property, as well as those at official school functions, including sporting events and approved field trips,” added Gresham. “In addition to teachers, it would apply to administrators, school support staff, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, school resource officers, and others working in the school who interact with students.”

Gresham said teachers must file a brief report with the principal detailing the situation that required the relocation of the student. If it is found that the student’s behavior violated the LEA’s zero tolerance policy, the report would become part of the student’s permanent record. The student is then subject to additional disciplinary action that may include suspension or expulsion from the school. The principal or their designee must notify the teacher involved of the actions taken to address the behavior of the relocated student.

The bill does not apply to special needs students.

“We must give our teachers the tools to maintain order and provide for the safety of their students, themselves, and others,” added Gresham. “This bill would go far to accomplish this.”

Issues in Brief

Voter ID – Eighty two percent of Tennesseans consider the new voter identification law “a good idea that should be kept in place,” according to a new Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) poll. About four in five Tennesseans (83 percent) say they have heard that voters will be asked to show a photo ID at the polls starting this year, up significantly from last fall’s 71 percent. The law was sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro).

Heart Screenings / Newborns – The Senate approved a House amendment and sent to the Governor legislation to help detect serious heart defects in newborns before they cause permanent harm to the child or death is on its way to the Governor after the Senate adopted a minor House amendment. Senate Bill 65, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), requires the state’s Genetic Advisory Committee to develop a program to screen newborns for critical cyanotic congenital heart disease (CCCHD) using pulse oximetry on or before January 1, 2013. Cyanotic heart disease is a congenital heart defect, present at birth, which results in low blood oxygen levels causing the skin to look blue. Congenital heart disease is responsible for more deaths in the first year of life than any other birth defects. Research shows that children who are diagnosed with CCCHD later in life tend to require more hospital care, greater resources, and have worse long-term health outcomes.