Capitol Hill Week: State Budget / State of the State Address Highlight Action on Capitol Hill

Report shows 2011 job growth is best in 5 years

(NASHVILLE, TN), February 2, 2012 —  Governor Bill Haslam presented his State of the State / Budget Address to the General Assembly this week outlining his proposals for promoting job growth; improving education; enhancing public safety; providing a more customer-focused, efficient and effective state government; and, keeping taxes low.  Asking citizens to believe in better for Tennessee, the Governor said, “We can believe in better for how state government serves Tennesseans.  We can believe in better when it comes to the education of our children, and we can believe in better when we talk about a stronger, healthier economy for our state.”

The budget provides funding for the governor’s legislative proposals announced earlier in the year that include tougher sentences for certain gang-related crimes and gun possession by those with prior violent felony convictions along with mandatory incarceration for repeat domestic violence offenders.  The proposals also call for raising the exemption level on the estate tax in Tennessee from $1 million to $1.25 million to lower the tax burden on family farmers and family business owners; and lowering the state portion of the sales tax on food from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent with the goal of reducing it to 5 percent during the next three years. 

“It’s a budget I’m pleased to sponsor and will be proud to pass,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris. (R-Collierville). “Public safety, education, the economy and tax relief are priorities, and essential services are preserved.”

On jobs, the Governor said he is continuing efforts to attract new businesses to Tennessee by creating the right business climate, with the goal of making the state the number one location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs.  The budget provides an additional $10 million in FastTrack Infrastructure and the Job Training Program.  In addition, the administration is continuing a review of burdensome and business-inhibiting federal and state regulations. 

The proposed 2012-2013 budget, which will begin on July 1, spends $31 billion, nearly $1 million less than the almost $32 billion estimated for the current budget year.  Tennessee has worked hard to ‘resize’ state programs and services to reflect a much smaller budget, especially with the uncertainty of potential cuts from Washington. 

“Two things stood out in the Governor’s speech,” said Senate Finance Chairman Randy McNally.  “The Governor wants to run an effective, efficient government and he stressed that it’s the taxpayers’ money, not government’s. Those were important distinctions to make.”

Highlights of the budget include:
• Restores more than $100 million of the $160 million “core services” funding that was designated two years ago to be cut, such as the Coordinated School Health program; extended teacher contracts; alcohol and abuse treatment programs; juvenile justice grants; diabetes prevention; and matching dollars for state employee 401k programs.
• Full funding for the Basic Education Program.
• $264 million is proposed to fund long-deferred capital outlay projects in higher education including a  new science building at Middle Tennessee State University; a science lab at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; a new patient diagnostic center at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis; plus planning money for new buildings at Nashville State Community College, Northeast State Community College, the University of Memphis and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
• A 2.5 percent pay increase for state employees.
• Adds $50 million to the Rainy Day Fund, bringing it up to $356 million.
• A continued commitment to the West Tennessee Megasite with $25 million.
• More than $23 million to fund a new veterans home in Bradley County.

The complete text of the governor’s speech and an archived video of his speech are available at www.tn.gov/StateoftheState

Report shows 28,535 jobs created in Tennessee in 2011
Best record of job creation in five years

A report released by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) revealed good news this week on Tennessee’s job front.  The Department’s 2011 Annual Report showed 28,535 new jobs were created in Tennessee last year, accounting for more than $4 billion in investment.  This is the state’s highest mark in job creation in the last five years.

The news follows the passage of several bills in the General Assembly last year aimed at attracting and retaining jobs by enhancing Tennessee’s business climate.  This included offering businesses more predictability and a way to quantify risk through tort reform.  It also included new laws to improve education outcomes and a top to bottom review of the state’s business regulations with the goal of removing any unnecessary bureaucratic barriers which have stymied entrepreneurship.

“Implementing the Administration’s economic development strategies is a privilege. Seeing them succeed is satisfying. Neighbors returning to work is a blessing,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris who sponsored most of the bills enhancing Tennessee’s pro-business environment.

Governor Haslam has stated his mission is to develop strategies which help make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs. The Governor and key staff have traveled the state to meet with more than 2,000 companies and over 700 economic development stakeholders.
 
“This is great news,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro).  “The Governor’s job’s team has worked very hard and should be commended for this success.  We have also continued to focus on job creation through making Tennessee’s business environment welcoming to new jobs.  This includes defeating job killer bills which have come before us over the past several years.” 

The Governor’s Jobs4TN economic development plan, announced in April 2011, has focused efforts on key sectors where the state holds a unique competitive advantage; along with a renewed emphasis on assisting existing Tennessee companies that create the vast majority of all new jobs in the state.  In addition, ECD was able to significantly lower the average cost of incentives per new job created compared to the previous decade.  In 2011, the average incentive cost per job was $2,640 versus $5,586 for the years 2002-2010, a reduction of more than 50 percent. 

To read more or download a copy of ECD’s 2011 Annual Report, please visit tn.gov/ecd/pdf/2011AnnualReport.pdf.

Judiciary Committee approves bill to make criminal acts conducted by appointed or elected public officials ineligible for judicial diversion

 The Senate Judiciary Committee has unanimously approved legislation which makes state or local officials who have committed a crime during their term of office ineligible for consideration of either pre-trial or judicial diversion.  Senate Bill 2566, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), simply adds a criminal offense committed by officials in the executive, legislative or judicial branch to the list of those which are ineligible for judicial diversion, if the crime was committed in their official capacity or involved the duties of their office.

Judicial diversion is a process in criminal law where a person pleads guilty to a crime and can later have the charge removed (or expunged) from their record following a period of probation.  It is granted by the judge, hence its name “judicial.”  A person is eligible for judicial diversion in Tennessee if the person does not have a previous class A misdemeanor, felony conviction, or never received diversion or had his or her record expunged before.  Those charged with a class A felony, a class B felony, a sexual offense, or a DUI are not eligible for judicial diversion under state law. 
 
“As officials, we ask for these jobs,” said Senator Yager.  “The citizens who allow us to serve do not expect us to solve every problem, but they do expect us to exercise good judgment and to stay honest.  We have all heard that adage that a public office is a public trust.  Public officials must be held to a higher standard.  The privilege of diversion should not be allowed to wipe the slate clean of an official who has disgraced himself during his or her tenure in office.”

Bill would provide Tennessee Highway Patrol, TBI and other state law enforcement officers death benefit currently provided to police officers

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved legislation to extend a $25,000 death benefit currently provided to local police officers or sheriffs’ deputies to state employees engaged in the detection and prevention of crime.  Senate Bill 2204, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), would provide a death benefit to Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) agents, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officers, Park Rangers employed by the Department of Conservation and Environment, and bomb and arson officers in the Department of Commerce and Insurance.  The death benefit would apply to employees who are killed in the line of duty.
 
“This is a benefit I hope Tennessee never has to pay.  We pray for the safety of all our officers,” said Senator Norris, “but we recognize the dangers that many of them face. History involving the death of officers while performing their duties proves the need for this benefit.”
 
State law currently limits the $25,000 death benefit to sheriff’s deputies or any police officer employed by a municipality whose primary responsibility is the prevention and detection of crime and apprehension of offenders.  The bill simply adds law enforcement officers employed by the state to those covered under that law.
 
“We certainly need to make sure that the families of Tennessee’s law enforcement employees have the same death benefit currently provided to local police officers,” added Norris.  “We have many brave officers who work for Tennessee.  They need to know their families will be considered if they die in the line of duty.”

Senate redistricting maps with “street-level” detail available online on General Assembly website

Tennessee’s new state Senate district maps with “street-level” detail have been released. The maps give the general public unprecedented access to the same information as county election officials regarding the new district lines.  Using Google’s publicly available Maps application, the Office of Legislative Information Services has created a map that displays Tennessee’s new redistricting data in a clean, detailed and easy-to-use fashion. Citizens now have the ability to find their own district as well as explore districts statewide.

“The first Republican redistricting process was not just fair and legal — it was also open and honest,” said Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. “Technology has given us the opportunity to distribute information quickly, efficiently and with little cost to the taxpayer. The new districts belong to Tennessee citizens, so it is important for us to make the new maps widely available as soon as possible.”

In September, Lt. Governor Ramsey opened the redistricting process, soliciting map proposals from the general public. Any Tennessean with access to a computer and an internet connection had the ability to participate in the redistricting process.

The maps can be found at: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/districtmaps/redist.html

Issues in Brief

Meth Registry – The full Senate approved legislation to tighten a loophole in the state’s Meth Registry.  Senate Bill 2190, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), adds those convicted of promoting the manufacture of methamphetamine and those who initiated a process intended to result in the manufacture of meth to the state’s Registry.  In addition, the legislation requires the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to collect a driver’s license number or another identification number from those listed on the Registry so innocent citizens with similar names and birthdates do not run into a roadblock when they purchase pseudoephedrine.

Multi-County Utility Districts — Legislation which modernizes Tennessee’s Utility District Law of 1937 for multi-county utility districts has passed the General Assembly.  Last year the General Assembly made changes in reporting requirements for Utility Districts as well as the method of selection of board members.  Senate Bill 2170, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), changes the governance of 12 multi-county utility districts in Tennessee from self-appointing to mayoral appointment, which is the same system used for other utility districts across the state.  Utility Boards are vital to the citizens of Tennessee, and their service includes providing the means to run water, sewer and gas lines. 

TEAM ACT – The Senate Government Operations Committee has approved and sent to the State and Local Government Committee legislation that would update and reform the state’s antiquated employment system through the TEAM Act (Tennessee Excellence Accountability and Management Act).  The Government Operations Committee was charged with reviewing the rulemaking authority proposed in the bill as other details will be debated in the State and Local Government Committee.  Senate Bill 2246 creates a new Board of Appeals which would take the place of the current Civil Service Commission.  The new Board would be the final step in a three-step appeals process to replace the current grievance process.  The bill, proposed by Governor Bill Haslam and sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), is designed to simplify the hiring process, provide flexibility to retain and reward outstanding employees and streamline the appeals process for 34,000 career (civil service) employees. 

Court of the Judiciary — Members of the Senate Government Operations Committee sent legislation to the Judiciary Committee that would dissolve the Court of the Judiciary and create the Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct.  Senate Bill 2671, sponsored by Senator Mike Faulk (R-Church Hill), attempts to address the criticisms against the current board regarding the discipline of judges and is one of several bills pending in the legislature this year dealing with the Court.  Faulk said the purpose of the bill is to “effectuate the General Assembly’s obligation under the state Constitution where it specifically provides that we are to remove judges for misconduct.”  The composition of the Board of Judicial Conduct would be 16 members, 10 of whom are judges.  The appointments would come from the Tennessee Judicial Conference, the Tennessee Conference of General Sessions Judges, the Tennessee Conference of Municipal Judges, and the Tennessee Conference of Juvenile Judges.  In addition, the Speaker of the Senate, Speaker of the House and Governor would appoint two lay people to the proposed Board of Judicial Conduct, of which one of each of those appointments would be a practicing attorney.  The purpose of the Committee is to review the rulemaking authority of the proposed board as further review of the bill’s details will be debated in the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Tennessee National Guard Day – March 3 would be declared “Tennessee National Guard Day” under legislation which met the approval of the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week.  Senate Bill 2231, sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), honors and recognizes Tennessee National Guard personnel each year on that date for their service and sacrifices in defense of our nation and for responding to domestic missions within the borders of our state.

Bill Names National Guard Armory for First Lt. William Eric Emmert — The Tennessee National Guard Armory located at 2350 Armory Drive in Murfreesboro would be named the “First Lieutenant William Eric Emmert National Guard Armory” under legislation approved by the full Senate this week.  Senate Bill 2159, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), honors First Lieutenant Emmert who was killed in the line of duty on February 24, 2009 while serving his country in Mosul, Iraq.  Emmert was a cum laude graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and a veteran of the U.S. Army, where he served as a counter intelligence agent during tours of duty in Korea, Germany, and Cuba.  He was also a Tennessee State Trooper in Lincoln County and a member of Governor Phil Bredesen’s security detail before joining the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation as a special agent in the Criminal Investigation Division.

Red Cedar / State Evergreen – The red cedar would be designated Tennessee’s official state evergreen tree under legislation which passed the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week.  Senate Bill 2362, sponsored by Senator Mike Faulk (R-Church Hill), states the eastern red cedar is indigenous to the entire state of Tennessee and was one of the earliest landscape trees used by early pioneers of the state like Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage.  Cedar Knob was the original name of the land upon which the state capitol was built in Nashville.

Name Change / Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services – The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted this week to changes the name of the Department of Mental Health to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.  Senate Bill 2229, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson), changes the name to reflect the services provided by the Department and its staff.

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Leadership