Senate advances Tom Cronan Physical Education Act

(NASHVILLE), March 24, 2017 – Legislation which aims to ensure that elementary students are receiving adequate physical activity while at school overcame its first hurdle this week with approval by the Senate Education Committee.  The Tom Cronan Physical Education Act requires each student in elementary school participate in a physical education class (PE) at least twice a week for a combined total of no less than 60 minutes.

Senate Bill 558 is sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Representative Roger Kane (R-Knoxville).  The bill is named for the late Dr. Thomas Cronan, who was Professor Emeritus of Exercise Physiology at Carson-Newman College and a lifelong promoter of wellness.  He was the husband of former University of Tennessee Women’s Athletics Director Joan Cronan, who with Coach Pat Summitt, led the Lady Vols to multiple national basketball championships.

Obesity is one of the most pressing health concerns in Tennessee.  The state ranks 49th in the United States in physical inactivity and 47th in obesity.  The percentage of overweight/obese students is highest for 6th graders.

“Evidence shows that children who are physically active and fit tend to perform better in the classroom,” said Sen. Ketron.  “It improves their concentration, cognitive functioning, and self-esteem, not to mention the health benefits by establishing healthy habits at an early age.  It’s time to change the culture of the school to blend academics and PE.”

“Physical activity is beneficial in so many ways,” stated Rep. Kane. “It not only improves physical health but also academic performance.”

Under the legislation, the PE class must be taught by a teacher with a physical education endorsement and must meet the needs of students.  The legislation also requires local education agencies (LEAs) to verify compliance with the act annually.

“The Tom Cronan Physical Education bill will make a difference in young people’s lives,” Mrs. Cronan told committee members.  “The facts show one in three of our school children is obese.   Seventy-four percent are not ready to go to the military… One of the things that Coach Summitt taught us is that discipline makes a difference.  I think when we look at our elementary students and what they can do to get better and represent us, not only in the military, but in life, I feel strongly that physical education provides that.”

U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Eden Murrie, a Nashville resident, testified about physical education and obesity as it affects national security.  “We need today’s youth to be ready to successfully serve our nation tomorrow in the armed forces or in a variety of different ways.  As simple as it sounds, PE is a necessary tool for our youth,” she said.

Obesity is the leading medical disqualification in the armed forces with nearly one out of three young people being too overweight to serve.

The bill is scheduled to come before the House Education Instruction and Programs Subcommittee on Wednesday.


Senate version of IMPROVE Act is “Taxpayer Protection Pledge Compliant” says top conservative tax reform group

NASHVILLE –  The IMPROVE Act, as amended last week by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), has met the approval of the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), a national conservative group formed by Grover Norquist in 1985 at the request of President Ronald Reagan.  The flagship project of ATR is the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a written promise by legislators and candidates for office that commits them to oppose any effort to increase income taxes on individuals and businesses.

In a memorandum to the members of the Tennessee General Assembly today, Norquist said, “The recent amendments made by the Senate, and supported by Gov. Haslam, have improved the bill to the extent that the bill is now a net tax decrease, and thus not a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge…ATR scores the amended version of SB 1221 / HB 534 as a net tax cut and therefore Taxpayer Protection Pledge compliant.”

The group’s approval follows an announcement in January by the American Conservative Union that that the Tennessee Senate is the “Most Conservative Senate” in the nation, earning a score of 79.87 percent.  Since 2011, the General Assembly has cut $438 million in taxes.  These cuts include legislation sponsored by Leader Norris in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016 repealing the gift tax, eliminating the death tax, reducing the sales tax on food, exempting the sales tax on certain machinery and medical supplies, and phasing out the Hall Income Tax.   If the IMPROVE ACT is approved, those tax cuts would exceed $540 million.

“We have worked diligently to rebuild our state, not only with a focus on keeping our roads and bridges safe, but to reallocate revenues to maximize the return to Tennessee taxpayers,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).  “This legislation is the latest along the continuum of cuts providing widespread tax relief for Tennesseans, while paving the way to new and better jobs to Tennessee.”

The legislation, which was approved last week in the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee, is up for consideration in the Senate State and Local Government Committee tomorrow.


Senate Education Committee approves Opportunity Scholarships Pilot Program

NASHVILLE The Senate Education Committee today unanimously approved legislation, sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Senator Reginald Tate (D-Memphis), calling for a five-year pilot program to offer Opportunity Scholarships to students eligible for free and reduced lunch that are currently enrolled in a public school that is identified as being in the bottom five percent of academic achievement.  Senate Bill 161 creates the pilot program only in the school district with the most schools in the bottom five percent of the state in academic achievement.

“I would not be the person I am today without having received a scholarship to attend a private school,” said Senator Kelsey.  “I desperately hope to provide that same opportunity to others.  Opportunity Scholarships would provide the parents of students in the lowest performing schools with hope for a better education for their child.  Children should not be forced to attend a failing school just because they live in a certain neighborhood.”

The program would take effect in the 2018-2019 school year and would be capped at no more than 2,500 students for the first year, and 5,000 thereafter.  In addition to requiring assessments to measure student achievement growth, the program would be monitored and evaluated by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) for its effectiveness.  If a participating school demonstrates achievement growth for scholarship students at a level of significantly below expectations for two years in a row, the State Commissioner of Education would suspend or terminate the school’s participation.

Pastor LaShundra Richmond, a Memphis educator and mother of a fourth grader who transferred her daughter to a private school, testified in favor of the bill.  She said, “So often we hear the narrative around low performing schools and low performing students, but it really boils down to what best fits the needs of the individual student, and I believe Senate Bill 161 is an opportunity to empower parents to receive access to an option they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford.”  Richmond has worked with the Achievement School District in advocacy with the Black Alliance for Educational Options.

“Some people are for this legislation and some are against it,” Kelsey added.  “It is time to learn once and for all whether this program can work for Tennessee.”

House Education Administration and Planning Committee Chairman Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville) and Representative John DeBerry (D-Memphis) are sponsoring the legislation in the House of Representatives where the bill received unanimous subcommittee approval on Tuesday.

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown.  He serves as a member of the Senate Education Committee and as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.



Senate approves legislation making it easier for veterans to determine how their military training can count as credit in Tennessee’s colleges and universities

(NASHVILLE), March 6, 2017 -- Legislation that will make it easier for veterans to determine how their military training can count as credit in Tennessee’s colleges and universities was approved by the Tennessee Senate on Monday.  Senate Bill 1232, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), also grants in-state tuition to anyone currently living in Tennessee who is using VA educational benefits, regardless of their official home of record.  That change brings Tennessee into compliance with new provisions in the GI bill, ensuring that about 13,000 Tennessee service members, veterans and their dependents continue to receive education benefits under the federal program.

The proposal also updates and enhances Tennessee’s Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act which Norris led to passage in 2014 encouraging enrollment of veterans and removing barriers known to impede their success in attaining higher education credentials.  That law created a “VETS Campus” designation to recognize and promote schools that make veteran enrollment a priority.

“This legislation enhances the VETS Act and will make Tennessee the second state in the nation to develop a web-based dashboard to help prospective student veterans determine how their military training counts,” said Sen. Norris.  “A veteran or service member will be able to click on the specific military occupational specialty he or she possesses and instantly see what academic credit they qualify for at each of Tennessee’s public institutions, before they enroll.  This easy-to-use system will help us recruit and keep military service members in Tennessee.”

The bill also calls on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to select representatives of various state colleges and universities by December 2018 to work collaboratively in adopting policies for Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs) for veterans. Currently, PLA credit can vary significantly from one institution to the next.  The group will identify and develop uniform methods to assess and maximize academic credit for veterans based on the experience, education, and training obtained during their military service.

“Veterans should receive college credit for the education and training they learn while serving their country,” added Norris.  “We have found that in too many instances, service members were not getting that credit and having to start over.  This bill helps ensure that they are given maximum credit for their service.”

Approximately 27.7% of Tennessee’s Veterans have some college or an associate’s degree, while 24.3% have a bachelor’s degree.  The VETS bill works in conjunction with the state’s Drive to 55 initiative to get 55% of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025, prioritizing veterans in that goal.




(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), March 1, 2017  -- A resolution that would allow Tennessee voters to decide if they want to popularly elect the state’s attorney general (AG) is headed to the Senate floor for a final vote after being approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.  Senate Joint Resolution 57, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), begins the process of amending the State Constitution, which if approved by voters, calls for the AG to be elected beginning with the November 2024 general election.

“Currently, the attorney general is twice removed from those he or she is supposed to represent – the people of Tennessee,” said Senator Beavers.  “It is time we let the citizens have more of a say in their government.”

State attorneys general are directly elected in 43 states. Of the remaining seven, six are appointed by the governor or the state legislature.  Unlike any other state, Tennessee’s AG is appointed by the justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court for a term of eight years.  Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor and stand for a retention vote.

“This means you have appointees appointing the AG,” added Beavers.

The resolution calls for the AG to be elected to a four-year term, but would limit it to two consecutive terms.  The amendment process requires a simple majority by the 110th General Assembly currently in session, and a two-thirds majority in the 111th General Assembly which is elected in 2018, before going to voters in a statewide referendum.

The resolution also provides that the AG be 30 years of age or older, a citizen of the United States, an attorney duly licensed in Tennessee and a resident of the state for at least five years preceding the election.

“We must have the respect for the citizens of this great state that they would be able to elect a great attorney general to uphold and defend our constitution.  Along with the vast majority of the rest of this nation, I feel that the citizens of this state ought to have a ‘say so’ in the highest legal office in Tennessee,” Beavers concluded.



Senator Yager adds amendment to TDEC budget to fund Great War Centennial at Alvin C. York State Historic Park

(NASHVILLE), March 1, 2017 – State Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) successfully amended the budget of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) on Monday to add $33,000 for the Great War Centennial at Alvin C. York State Historic Park.  The action came as TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau came before the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to present his department’s budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year which begins in July.

Senator Yager is a member of the committee.

“In 2017, we begin the Centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I, or the Great War,” said Senator Yager. “In order to prepare for that event, a few years ago the legislature approved the Great War Commission to develop a program to celebrate the commitment that this nation made. Unfortunately there has been no funding to support that.”

Yager added, “This amendment provides that funding would be allocated that will educate the public about this important part of our history and there is no better place to do that than at the park named for the war’s most famous hero, Alvin C. York.  I am very pleased our committee saw the need for this funding which will benefit our communities.”

The amendment passed unanimously and the budget moved to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.



Overbey bill addressing ethics concerns and a gap in transparency in the state’s campaign finance laws passes State Senate

(NASHVILLE), February 28, 2017 -- The full Senate voted overwhelmingly on Monday in favor of legislation sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) to require that funds donated to a campaign be deposited and maintained in a traditional bank or credit union account insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).  Current law allows campaign funds to be invested in a private or publicly traded company, causing ethics concerns and a gap in transparency in the state’s campaign finance laws.

Senator Overbey, who is Chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, said the legislation would put Tennessee in line with other states that limit lawmakers to maintain funds in federally-backed accounts.

“I think we all understand that campaign funds should not be invested in private companies,” said Senator Overbey.  “This legislation will end that practice.  Campaign funds should only be placed in bank accounts, CDs (Certificates of Deposits), or other safe investment vehicles, not in private corporations.  Such investments should be off limits.”

The legislation comes after an audit showed a former member of the Tennessee House of Representatives invested $100,000 in campaign funds in a company owned by a donor.

Under Senate Bill 377, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), any investment not authorized would be prohibited and the candidate, or in the case of a multicandidate political campaign committee, the treasurer, would be subject to a civil penalty by the Registry of Election Finance of not more than $10,000 or 115 percent of the amount invested.  It also requires that any interest, dividends or income earned on campaign funds by an investment made legally, such as CDs, be reported on the candidate’s financial disclosure.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives Local Government Subcommittee where it is sponsored by Representative Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga).




NASHVILLE -- Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Representative Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown), Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), Representative Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland) and Representative Dale Carr (R-Sevierville) today announced comprehensive legislation to address abuse of elderly or vulnerable adults in Tennessee.   Senate Bills 1192, 1230 and 1267 would expand systemic protection for victims of physical, mental or financial abuse and impose severe penalties on those who commit them.

The bills come from the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Task Force.  The proposals build on a new law, sponsored by Norris and Keisling and passed by the General Assembly last year, which set up Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Teams (VAPIT) in each judicial district in Tennessee to foster cooperation and information sharing between different government agencies whose purpose is to protect elderly and vulnerable adults.

“Elderly abuse is a silent crisis,” said Sen. Norris. “Crimes of elder abuse often go unreported, leaving its helpless victims to suffer silently. And, far too frequently, it happens at the hand of those whom they trust the most.  Incapacitation, shame, fear of losing independence, or simply being unaware of available resources, discourages victims from reporting abuse.  Often, because the abuser may be a family member, the individual may also be fearful of reprisals.”

Studies show that over the past decade, reported cases of assault and financial exploitation of vulnerable adults has increased by 20 percent or more.  It is estimated that as many as one in 23 cases of elder abuse are unreported.  It has also been estimated that 41.4 percent of the offenses were committed by a family member and another 13.3 percent of victims were described by law enforcement as having close relationships with the perpetrator.

Senate Bill 1230, the "Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act”, further codifies elder and vulnerable adult abuse and exploitation, creates class C and D felonies for those found guilty of committing these crimes and requires state agencies to submit offenders’ names to the Tennessee Department of Health’s Abuse Registry.

“This legislation would keep seniors and vulnerable adults safer by giving law enforcement the tools they need to prosecute dangerous individuals before they have the opportunity to commit additional crimes and harm additional victims,” said Rep. Keisling.

Senate Bill 1192 makes various changes to the regulation of securities under the Tennessee Securities Act of 1980, such as granting the commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Insurance authority to restrict certain exemptions, increasing penalties for violations where senior citizens and adults with certain mental or physical dysfunctions are victims, and altering filing and renewal requirements.

“Financial exploitation robs elderly victims of their money and their dignity,” said Sen. Gardenhire, who is a retired financial advisor.  “It also can rob them of their independence and can even force them into depending on government assistance despite their best efforts to save for their golden years.”

Senate Bill 1267 requires the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions to consult with financial service providers, the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability and the Department of Human Services to consider ways in which the entities can collaborate to promote education and awareness of the dangers to vulnerable adults regarding financial exploitation and financial theft, and explore preventative measures that can be taken by vulnerable adults to avoid such dangers.

“These three bills continue the General Assembly’s efforts to address abuse of our state’s seniors and vulnerable adults,” added Sen. Crowe, who sponsored legislation last year setting up checks on the people who are working in direct contact with the elderly in home healthcare and hospice.  “These are the citizens upon whose shoulders we stand today.  I am very proud of the work that our General Assembly has done and continues to do to protect them in cooperation with our Elder Abuse Task Force and other stakeholders.  We will continue to look for ways to keep them from being victimized.”

The 2010 census documents the portion of the United States population over age 65 is 13.4 percent of the total population and that the fastest growing segment is those aged 85 and older.



Senate Transportation Committee approves vertical driver’s license for drivers under age 21 to curb underage drinking

NASHVILLE -- The Senate Transportation and Safety Committee approved legislation today requiring all new driver’s licenses issued to persons under the age of 21 in Tennessee be printed in vertical format to help businesses easily identify those who cannot drink alcohol.  Senate Bill 384 would give the driver the option to change their license to horizontal upon turning age 21 for the reduced cost of a duplicate license.

Presently, a tiny red bar along the side of the photo on the license indicates a person is under the age of 21.

“What this really addresses is underage drinking,” said Senator Massey.  “Excessive drinking is responsible for more than 4,300 deaths nationwide among underage youths each year.  Servers have found the small red bar presently on Tennessee licenses is hard to read, especially in high volume hours when a clerk or waiter is very busy.  This legislation will make it much quicker and easier to identify a person who is under the age of 21 to curb any unintentional mistakes that might otherwise occur.”

In 2016, there were 28 traffic fatalities in Tennessee with youth aged 15 to 20 years old measuring a blood alcohol level greater than .01 percent.  Reports also indicate that the percentage of young Tennesseans ages 12 to 20 who consumed alcohol in the past month was almost 17 percent.

It is unlawful to serve, sell or permit the furnishing of alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 in the state.  Tennessee made national headlines in 2007 when it became the first state to make store clerks card everyone who bought carry-out beer. The carding requirement for off-premise consumption was expanded in 2014 to include liquor and wine as part of the wine-in-grocery-stores law.

Massey said more than two-thirds of the states across the nation have vertical licenses for drivers under the age of 21.

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration before moving to the full Senate for a final vote.




NASHVILLE -- Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) will visit Columbia to discuss broadband with Congressman Marsha Blackburn and key local and national leaders on Friday, February 24, 2017.

Norris, re-elected last month to a 5th term as Chairman of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Affairs (TACIR), will attend Blackburn’s Rural Broadband Summit at Columbia State Community College.  The event will take place at 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. in Room 123 of the Hickman Building.

Under Sen. Norris’ leadership, TACIR recently completed the comprehensive study of Broadband, Internet, Availability, and Adoption in Tennessee.  The study’s findings are the basis for Governor Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act which Sen. Norris is sponsoring this year to bring high-speed internet services to rural, unserved or underserved areas without additional costs to taxpayers.

"We need better access, not bigger government," says Sen. Norris. "Broadband is critical to commerce and the quality of life of every Tennessean and is essential for our current and future education and economic initiatives”.

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act will provide $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses. In addition, the plan will permit Tennessee’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service and make grant funding available to the state’s local libraries to help residents improve digital literacy skills to maximize the benefits of broadband.

Norris will meet with local officials from Maury County and elsewhere across the state to discuss the Accessibility Act.  In addition to Blackburn, other speakers at the event will include newly appointed Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and LeVoy Knowles, Executive Director of the Tennessee Telecommunications Association.




Resolution sponsored by Beavers urging President Trump and Congress to block grant federal transportation funds to states is approved by full Senate

(NASHVILLE), February 16, 2017 -- A resolution urging President Donald Trump and the United States Congress to enact legislation to establish a transportation block grant funding program for distribution to the states was approved 30 to 2 by the full Senate on Thursday.  Senate Joint Resolution 59, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), also urges the enactment of legislation to repeal all federal mandates, either by statute, rule, or policy, that dictate the expenditure of federal transportation funding.

“A block grant program, combined with elimination of federal mandates would enable us to self-determine our transportation priorities and address Tennessee’s longstanding highway infrastructure needs,” said Senator Beavers.  “Congress should minimize the federal government’s role in transportation spending, leaving states to decide how best to invest in the infrastructure that our citizens deem most necessary.”

Federal transportation dollars are primarily funded by motorists and truckers who pay a series of user taxes.  The resolution maintains that federal transportation policy has lost its focus as to the use of the federal highway trust fund by diverting money for non-road purposes.  This is done through federally-legislated mandates and earmarks that dictate how states can expend the funding.  Additionally, states are required to enact or adopt specific statutes and rules to even qualify for federal monies or maintain eligibility for federal funding of highway programs.

The resolution expresses Tennessee’s growing dissatisfaction with federal transportation policy and mismanagement of the federal highway trust fund that has encouraged many in Congress and state governments nationwide to seek ways to overhaul the system.  It also suggests that a remedy would be the development of a block grant distribution plan whereby each state would receive a block grant from the federal highway trust fund equal to the federal fuel tax revenues raised within its borders.  States would be entitled to spend such grants on transportation priorities of their own choosing

The resolution calls for a copy to be delivered to the President Trump, the Speaker and the Clerk of the United States House of Representatives, the President and the Secretary of the United States Senate, and to each member of Tennessee’s Congressional delegation.



Senator Jackson reappointed Chairman of the Senate Corrections Subcommittee

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), February 14, 2017 --- State Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson) has been reappointed Chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee’s Corrections Subcommittee for the 110th General Assembly.  The announcement was made today at a meeting of the Senate State and Local Government Committee by Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston).

“I appreciate the confidence that Chairman Yager has placed in me to continue to serve as chairman of this subcommittee.” said Sen. Jackson. “I look forward to working with members of this subcommittee on the issues we face with our correctional institutions in Tennessee.”

Tennessee has 15 state prisons located across the state. Eleven of those facilities are operated by the Department of Corrections and four are privately managed.  The committee also oversees legislation regarding local jails.




Senators Kelsey and Harris file legislation to protect Memphis Sands Aquifer

(NASHVILLE), February 14, 2017 -- State Senators Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Lee Harris (D-Memphis) have filed legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly setting up a Memphis Sands Aquifer Regional Development Board to protect water supplies in West Tennessee.  Senate Bill 776 also requires board approval to pump more than 10,000 gallons of water from the aquifer to ensure its long-term viability.

It is sponsored by Rep. Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett) and Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer) in the House of Representatives.

“Clean drinking water is very important to our citizens and our future,” said Sen. Kelsey.  “This legislation aims to ensure the aquifer remains a clean and reliable source for future generations.”

The action follows approval given to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to pump approximately 3.5 million gallons of aquifer water each day to cool its new power-generating plant in Southwest Memphis, a move which is deemed controversial by some scientists and environmentalists.

Under the bill, the board would have all of the powers, rights, and privileges necessary to manage, conserve, preserve, and protect the aquifer, and to increase the recharge of, and prevent the waste or pollution in, the aquifer.  The nine-member board would be fairly comprised of the mayors of Shelby and two other West Tennessee counties overlying the aquifer.  The governor would appoint the remaining members with two from the agricultural community, two from commerce, and two from the environmental/research community.

“This board would also help ensure that the flow of rain and water into the aquifer prevents pollution and waste,” Kelsey added.  “I believe this legislation provides a well-balanced approach to ensure the aquifer is protected for many years to come.”

In addition, Senate Bill 886, sponsored by Harris and Kelsey, requires anyone planning to drill a well to give at least 14 days advance notice to the state commissioner of the Department of Environment and Conservation with the notice published on department’s website.  Rep. G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis), Rep. Lollar and Rep. Halford are sponsoring the bill in the House of Representatives.

Senator Harris said, “Everyone should know that our aquifer makes West Tennessee a very special place, as compared with other areas of the country. We need to work to preserve that asset. We know that there’s enough drinking water for today’s generation, but that’s not the worry. We want to make sure that the aquifer is preserved for future generations. That means we need to be careful with respect to the precedents we set today, since those precedents have a funny way to leading to negative consequences later. Because this aquifer is so special, we also want to do what we can to make sure that the public knows what’s happening with it and how it’s being utilized. When there are proposals to use that resource, we need to have a serious conversation with the public, and sometimes we need to be able to modify or even reject some of these uses.”

The water stored in the Memphis sand aquifer, which is also known as the Middle Claiborne, first fell as rain 332 BC.  It covers 7,500 miles in portions of seven states, including 20 West Tennessee counties.  Although aquifers are used for drinking water by more than 100 million Americans, Kelsey said the quality of the Memphis aquifer is unsurpassed.



Resolution points out absurdity in California’s state-funded and state-sponsored travel ban to Tennessee

(NASHVILLE), February 13, 2017  – State Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), Representative Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) and Representative Tilman Goins (R-Morristown) have introduced a resolution in the Tennessee General Assembly pointing out the absurdity of California’s ban of state-funded and state-sponsored travel based on policy differences with Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi and Kansas.  At a press conference today the lawmakers said the ban is a dangerous precedent that could lead to reciprocal action.

The lawmakers also called upon national legislative conferences to assist in curtailing similar travel bans between states.

“Travel bans based on policy differences can lead to economic warfare and are counterproductive to the common objectives that we all have as states,” said Senator Bell.  “Tennesseans don’t agree with California coddling illegal alien criminals in sanctuary cities or with their out-of-control budget deficits, but we have not banned state-funded travel to that state.  The U.S. Constitution grants sovereignty to states in addressing issues within their jurisdiction which is the most basic precept of our government.”

As a result of the passage of Assembly Bill 1887 last summer, the State of California’s Department of Justice issued travel ban based on Tennessee’s passage of Public Chapter 926.  That law protected the rights of counselors to refer a client to another therapist when the goals, outcomes or behaviors for which they are seeking counseling are a violation of his or her sincerely held beliefs.  The new law does not apply if the individual seeking or undergoing counseling is in imminent danger of harming themselves or others.

California’s ban applies to their state agencies, departments, boards, authorities, and commissions, including an agency, department, board, authority, or commission of the University of California, the Board of Regents of the University of California, and the California State University.

“It appears this travel ban would prohibit California’s state colleges and universities from participating in an athletic competition in Tennessee if they are fortunate enough to advance to that level,” added Representative Dunn. “The March Madness basketball tournament comes to Memphis this year via the South Regional.  It is ridiculous to keep students from competing based on politics.  The same would apply if it was our students going to California if we implemented such a ban.  Students should not be subject to political blackmail by one state to another to drive their own political agenda.

Representative Goins said, “It may be one issue today, but another tomorrow and another and so on.  It is a slippery slope in which California is embarking.  We urge other states to refrain from imposing their judgment on their sister states, as California has done with Tennessee, North Carolina, Kansas and Mississippi, to prevent this escalating foolishness.  We are the United States, not the divided states.  We need to continue to have productive dialogue with one another to work on solutions common to us all.”




(NASHVILLE) – State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) and Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) made the following statement in regards to inaccurate reports on Senate Bill 1153/House Bill 1406 which they are sponsoring in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Rep. Weaver said, “Over the weekend, various news reports were published which contained extremely inaccurate interpretations regarding the effect of Senate Bill 1153/House Bill 1406.  This legislation would repeal a law that covers the birth of children to a husband and wife by means of artificial insemination.”

“These reports upset the many husbands and wives who struggle with fertility by reporting that repealing the law would ‘label the child as illegitimate despite the couple being married and both consenting. This is false.”

“Under this legislation, Tennessee law would continue to provide that a child born to a married woman will be considered the child of her husband. By repealing the law, and relying on other Tennessee statutes that remain, the state will no longer intrude into how a woman conceives her child.”

Senator Joey Hensley, the sponsor of the bill in the Senate and a physician, added, “Reports by some that the bill would make children conceived by artificial insemination illegitimate are absolutely and unequivocally wrong.  Repealing this section will have no effect on that at all.”




Statement from Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham regarding the confirmation of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

(NASHVILLE) -- Betsy Devos is an undisputed champion of families and students. For nearly 30 years, she has devoted time and resources to improving education options for our nation’s children, yet millions still languish in failing schools in an education system more than a century old.

It’s time for a new vision.

Betsy DeVos provides that vision. She embraces innovation, endorses accountability and -- most especially -- trusts parents to choose what is in their unique child’s best interests. She also believes in providing every parent with the resources and choices to pursue those decisions.  I am very pleased she has been confirmed.

Senator Ken Yager Elected Chairman of the Joint Fiscal Review Committee

NASHVILLE – State Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) has been elected by his colleagues to lead the General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee which serves as the watchdog for all state government spending.  The action was taken on Thursday as the committee met to organize their business for the 110th General Assembly.

Yager has served on the Joint Fiscal Review Committee since 2009.  He also serves as Chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, and is a member of the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Tourism Committee.

The bi-partisan Fiscal Review Committee, which was established in 1967, conducts a continuing review of the financial operations of state government.  This includes the preparation of estimates for state tax revenue and lottery proceeds for budgeting purposes.  It also reviews non-competitive state contracts and is responsible for preparing and distributing the fiscal notes that show how proposed legislation would impact state and local governments financially.

“Fiscal Review is the vehicle for the General Assembly to have oversight in the fiscal affairs of the Tennessee,” said Senator Yager.  “I am honored to have the confidence of my peers who elected me and look forward to running the committee in a fair and impartial manner.”

Also elected was State Representative Mark White (R-Memphis) who will serve as Vice-Chairman of the Committee.




Senator Ken Yager announces $261,768 in recycling grants for Senate District 12

NASHVILLE – State Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) announced today that $261,768 in recycling grants have been awarded in Senate District 12.  The projects were among $2.1 million in fiscal year 2017 recycling grants announced by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to reduce landfill waste in Tennessee.

The Senate District 12 counties receiving major grants include Campbell, Pickett, Fentress, and Roane.

“Grants like these are extremely beneficial to meet our local recycling goals,” said Senator Yager.  “I congratulate our county officials for their diligent work in securing these grants to help in recycling and conservation efforts.”

The grants include:

  • $94,600 awarded to Campbell county for seven collection tanks, seven canopies, seven pads, two crushers, two pumps, two absorbents, one storage tank, one DOT trailer, and one heater;
  • $49,500 awarded to Fentress county for one 24-foot box truck;
  • $50,00 awarded to Roane county for truck scales; and
  • A combined total of $67,668 awarded in used oil and recycling grants to Pickett County for environmental efforts.

“This grant program encourages and supports local communities to meet their solid waste and recycling goals,” said TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau “Local governments can divert more waste from landfills through infrastructure upgrades and providing convenient opportunities for residents to get engaged in the process.”



(NASHVILLE, Tenn.)Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) has filed legislation requiring photos to be added to the state’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, the method used for delivering Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to eligible Tennesseans.  The bill aims to deter theft and the selling or trafficking of the cards, while ensuring eligible Tennesseans continue to receive the assistance they need.

EBT is an on-line system in which SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, and cash assistance benefits are stored in a central computer database and electronically accessed by recipients at a point-of-sale machine via reusable plastic cards.  Families First, the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, uses EBT cards in transferring benefits to eligible recipients.

“Adding photos on Tennessee’s EBT cards will strengthen the integrity of our public assistance programs,” said Sen. Tracy.  “It protects benefits for those who are legally and legitimately receiving them.  At the same time, it helps detect criminal activity in EBT trafficking cases where cards are sold for cash or drugs, or when multiple cards are in the possession of an individual illegally.”

There are over one million SNAP recipients in Tennessee which costs about $2 billion in federal funds annually.   Currently, Maine and Massachusetts require that EBT cards contain photo identification.

Under the legislation, those who already receive benefits would be informed of the new requirement when their benefits are recertified.  A photo from the recipient’s driver’s license would be placed on the ETB card.  If the recipient does not have a driver’s license, a photo would be made upon certification or recertification of benefits.

The bill would also allow card holders to give a family member permission to purchase food on his or her behalf. As is the case currently, the PIN would be required in order for the purchase to be approved.

“This provision allows family members or others who are authorized by the card holder to use it to buy food or redeem eligible benefits,” added Sen. Tracy.  “So, a person who is ill or cannot leave their home will continue to receive their benefits.  However, having the photo on the card will give state authorities or law enforcement the tools they need to identify and prosecute fraud and abuse.”




NASHVILLE -- The Senate approved a resolution today calling for a convention of states in Nashville for the purpose of planning a future Article V Convention. The convention would be the first formal meeting of the states since 1861.

Senate Joint Resolution 9, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) provides that the convention of states would be for the limited purposes of 1) planning for, and recommending rules and procedures for an Article V Convention to amend the U.S. Constitution and 2) recommending to Congress the initial date and location in which they would meet.  The legislation is co-sponsored by Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville), Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), and Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon).

“It is time for states to step up and solve the problem with almost $20 trillion of national debt that has been amassed in Washington,” said Sen. Kelsey.  “The Tennessee Balanced Budget Amendment Planning Convention will create a structure for the Balanced Budget Amendment Convention and will address many of the unanswered questions as to how an amendment convention will function.”

Article V provides that upon the application of two-thirds of the state legislatures, Congress shall call a convention of the states to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  The resolution adopted by the Judiciary Committee sets the date for a convention of states for July 11, 2017, with the Article V Convention following as early as November.

Presently, 28 of the necessary 34 states have passed the application resolution limited to proposing a balanced budget amendment.  The organizational structure for the Tennessee Balanced Budget Amendment Planning Convention will be virtually the same as the convention for proposing the amendment as each are a convention of the states. State legislatures will choose a delegation to represent the state at the convention, each state will have one vote, and the convention will deliberate and make recommendations.

“Founding Fathers  James Madison and George Mason insisted that states have a method for amending the Constitution because sometime in the future the federal government would grow to the point it would become deaf to states’ needs,” added Sen. Bell (R-Riceville).

Kelsey said that last president who actually paid off the entire U.S. debt was Andrew Jackson.  “We want Tennessee to be leaders of this effort once again,” he added.

A concurring resolution must now be passed by the Tennessee House of Representatives.