NASHVILLE, (March 3, 2017) – Legislative committees continue to pick up steam as more bills are scheduled for hearings. Among legislation approved this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a bill that I am sponsoring to strengthen the penalty for patronizing prostitution. Senate Bill 551 increases the crime from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor. The sentence for a Class B misdemeanor is up to six months imprisonment, a fine up to $500, or both; whereas, the sentence for a Class A misdemeanor is 11 months and 29 days in prison, a fine up to $2,000, or both.
Human trafficking is the second-fastest growing criminal industry, just behind drug trafficking. It is driven by demand and this bill aims to help deter it. We will have more legislation to attack this problem coming before the Senate in the next few weeks.
Stroke Centers – Legislation which I am sponsoring to help reduce the risk of preventable complications and death due to stroke passed the full Senate this week. Senate Bill 544 comes from recommendations from the Tennessee Stroke Best Practices Task Force. The legislation strengthens the state’s existing Stroke Registry by requiring all certified comprehensive and primary stroke centers to share blinded data with the registry in order to compile a complete report on stroke care in Tennessee. The data would enable health organizations to study the fifth highest killer of Tennesseans in depth, including best practices for treatment. It will also provide evidence to allow hospitals and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) agencies to apply for federal level grants.
Jobs — Jobs and the economy also headlined action on Capitol Hill this week with a major announcement by Governor Bill Haslam that LG Electronics, Inc., will build a new home appliance manufacturing facility in the state, and a report from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TDEC) showing the state leads the nation in multiple categories of job growth.
TDEC Interim Commissioner Ted Townsend spoke to the Commerce and Labor Committee, which I am a member, reporting that, in 2016, 21,063 new jobs were created statewide with a capital investment totaling $5.32 billion. Approximately 55.3 percent of the jobs created were above the county median wage, which is a 5.9 percent increase from 2015. Townsend said those jobs have been a driver for Tennessee’s economy.
This is great news for Tennessee. The General Assembly has worked diligently with Governor Haslam and TDEC to grow jobs and strengthen our economy and the results show those efforts are paying off for the citizens of our state. We are particularly encouraged to see that the majority of those jobs exceed the median county wage.
TDEC reported that Tennessee is now first in the nation for jobs created through foreign direct investment, advanced industry growth, and small job growth. Other accolades include Tennessee being named first in the nation for its “State of Economic Development” by Southern Business and Development Magazine; third for the “Overall Cost of Doing Business” by Area Development Magazine; fifth for “Best Business Climate in the Nation” by Site Selection Magazine; and, second for “Best Infrastructure in the Nation” and fifth for “Automotive Manufacturing Strength” by Business Facilities Magazine. Business Facilities also recognized Tennessee’s education efforts ranking the state as first in the nation for “Tech Skills Leader” in 2015 and “Race to the Top Leader” in 2014.
Teacher Training Programs — Legislation was approved by the full Senate this week which requires the Department of Education to allow state-approved teacher training programs to access annual evaluation data for teachers and principals graduating from their programs for a minimum of five years after graduation. Before a teacher training program may access the evaluation data, however, they must enter into a data sharing agreement with the department that includes provisions safeguarding the privacy and security of the data. The information will help the schools evaluate and improve the effectiveness of their programs. Research shows that teachers have the most impact of any in-school factor on student achievement. Senate Bill 575 is one of several bills progressing in the General Assembly this year to improve teacher training programs in Tennessee.
Lottery Scholarship Programs / Retention Rate — Mike Krause, Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), told members of the Senate Education Committee this week that there is a 63 percent retention rate in the Tennessee Promise Scholarship Program, outpacing that of the HOPE Scholarship Program. Tennessee Promise is both a scholarship and mentoring program focused on increasing the number of students that attend college in Tennessee. It provides students a last-dollar scholarship, meaning the scholarship will cover tuition and fees not covered by the Pell grant, the HOPE scholarship, or state student assistance funds. The Tennessee Hope Scholarship Award is merit based; therefore, the student must meet certain criteria to receive the award and maintain a minimum level of academic achievement to continue to receive it. Krause estimated the highly successful retention rate at Tennessee’s Colleges of Applied Technology (TCAT) as being in the 80 percent range.
Krause assured committee members that all the scholarship programs supported by the lottery are viable, even with the addition of Governor Bill Haslam’s proposal to expand the state’s Reconnect program to all adults without a degree. The Reconnect initiative helps more adults enter higher education to gain new skills, advance in the workplace, and fulfill lifelong dreams of completing a degree or credential.