NASHVILLE — After a great deal of hard work and collaboration, this year’s session of the 108th General Assembly finally came to a conclusion on April 19, 2013. Not only did the House and the Senate pass many pieces of important legislation, but more importantly we passed a balanced budget for the State of Tennessee. This year’s budget included many improvements that will provide $43 million in tax cuts. Senate Bill 502 included a 4 year plan to phase out the inheritance tax as well as an increase in funds to give senior citizens the opportunity to apply for Hall income tax relief. The bill will also lower the sales tax on food in Tennessee from 5.25% to 5%. This session we also worked together to take a good look at education reform.
This budget incorporates funds that will increase teachers’ pay and provide $47 million to invest in low performing public schools. The budget also gives a $350 million increase to assist with TennCare inflation and other expenses that relate to it. I also feel that it is important to acknowledge the $3.9 million increase for mental health. After the various atrocities that have occurred in the United States this year, it is important that we engage in mental heath research and provide sufficient services to those who need them in order to keep Tennessee safe.
Aside from the state budget, there were many vital pieces of legislation that were passed this week to promote a better Tennessee. Senate Bill 783 improves Tennessee’s program for unemployment compensation. Along with other advancements, the bill requires the Department of Labor to increase the number of weekly audits that they perform to ensure that those who are receiving state funds during periods of unemployment are actively searching for a new job.
Another step that the legislature has taken towards promoting a safer Tennessee is in our schools. We passed a bill that will allow retired law enforcement officers to act as school security officers with the permission of the local director of schools and the school principle. This allows each school district and individual school to have the opportunity to decide whether or not allowing handguns on campus is right for them specifically. These officers will also be required to complete an additional 40 hour course which includes training for crisis management and hostile situations in a school setting. This bill will also allow teachers, who have a background in law enforcement and a handgun carrying permit, to carry a gun with them on school property. The bill is intended to take precautionary measures in response to the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary this past December. Governor Haslam has also included an additional $34 million in this year’s budget that may be used to hire security officers for schools that cannot already afford them.
I am very excited about two bills that passed this session and will promote technology schools in Tennessee. My bill, Senate Bill 643 changes “Tennessee Technology Centers” to “State Colleges of Applied Technology.” Senate Bill 1330, which was sponsored by Senator Norris, creates LEAP (Labor Education Alignment Program) in Tennessee technology centers. This program will work similarly to a co-op program at a university by allowing students to obtain hands-on experience in their occupational field through working for a company and receiving financial compensation as well as school credit for their work. This bill is intended to provide Tennessee with more skilled workers who are ready to take on a job in their field once they have completed their technology program.
Lastly, Senate Bill 670 passed both the House and the Senate this session in an attempt to prevent drunk driving on Tennessee roads. This bill lowers the blood or breath alcohol content (BAC) from 0.15% to 0.08% to be grounds for a restricted driver license. Any convicted drunk driver will now be required to install an interlock device in their car which they will have to breathe into in before starting the car. The interlock devices will have to be equipped to take a photo of the individual as they breathe into it in order to insure that it is not someone else providing the sample.
It has been a pleasure representing each of you this session! Although this legislative session is over, we will continue working year-round to serve our constituents and to prepare legislation for next year. Please feel free to contact me with any of your thoughts and concerns. You may stop by the office, call 615-741-1066, or email [email protected] anytime! Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter @jimtracy for news and updates.