(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), January 16, 2014 — The 2014 session of the 108th General Assembly began on Tuesday, January 14 with a vast array of issues on tap this year including the state budget, education, jobs, public safety, the courts, and drug abuse. State Senators got right down to work on the first day of the legislative session, giving final approval to a bill requiring students to be taught the fundamentals of government and legislation to help ensure consumers that borrow money from lawsuit lenders are not charged excessive fees.
Under Senate Bill 1266, sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), students would be taught the fundamentals of both Tennessee and U.S. government, including instruction in foundational documents. This includes the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions and other key documents like the Declaration of Independence. The legislation leaves it up to the local boards of education to decide which grade the instruction is best suited.
“Students need to understand how their government works and the basic foundational documents that guide it,” said Senator Niceley. “It is even more important that they understand how they work together to make life better for those who live in this great nation.”
The lawsuit lending legislation, sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), would regulate those who loan cash to plaintiffs awaiting judgments or settlements in civil lawsuits. These cases can range from personal injury and automobile accidents to product liability issues. Senate Bill 1360 seeks to rein in excessive fees and interest rates charged for the loans, which can exceed 100 percent interest.
“This is a bill to protect consumers,” said Senator Johnson. “These plaintiffs are often very vulnerable. This industry is completely without regulation, often subjecting consumers with fees in excess of reasonable loan practices.”
Both bills are still pending consideration in committees in the House of Representatives.
Tennessee Named “State of the Year” for Business
Tennessee has been named the “2013 State of the Year,” according to Business Facilities magazine, a national economic development publication.
Tennessee’s top five economic development projects created a total of 6,900 jobs, $3.2 billion in capital investment and included seven expansions and three new recruitments. The magazine picked the state after evaluating the top five projects for the number of jobs created and amount of capital invested from October 1, 2012 through October 31, 2013.
Tennessee earned a number of accolades in 2013, including being named No. 1 in the nation for automotive manufacturing strength for an unprecedented four years in a row by Business Facilities. Tennessee was also ranked in the top five states with the best business climate by Site Selection. CEO respondents voted Tennessee the fourth best state in the U.S. for business in Chief Executive Magazine’s Annual Best & Worst States for Business Survey.
Senate Judiciary Committee Approves Resolution Calling for Popular Election of the State’s Attorney General
In committee action this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a resolution calling for election of Tennessee’s attorney general. Senate Joint Resolution 123, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), would amend the state’s Constitution to allow a popular election every four years.
Tennessee is the only state in the nation that allows the State Supreme Court to select the attorney general. Forty-three states select their attorney generals through popular election. In six other states, the attorney general is selected by either the popularly elected governor or state legislature.
“We are the only state in which the people have neither a direct nor indirect voice in the selection of their attorney general,” said Senator Beavers.
The amendment process would require approval by both the 108th General Assembly currently in session, and the 109th, which will take office in 2015. If approved, the question would then go to voters in a statewide referendum in the year 2018.
If passed, the resolution would be considered along with another measure approved last year to let the people vote on whether or not the attorney general should be selected in a joint convention of the legislature.
Chairman Gresham Files Resolution Expressing State’s Sovereignty over how Tennessee Students are Educated
Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) has filed a resolution in the General Assembly expressing Tennessee’s sovereignty over how students are educated in the state. The measure provides that the state, not the federal government, should determine the content of Tennessee’s state academic standards and the measures used to assess how well students have mastered them.
“This resolution declares that Tennessee will not stand for federal intrusion into the academic standards taught in our classrooms, nor will we tolerate Washington using any such standards to coerce policy decisions at the state or local level,” said Senator Gresham. “This is our responsibility. We are specifically talking about intrusion on our assessments, curriculum and instructional materials.”
Gresham said the resolution spells out that Tennessee considers any collection of student data by the federal government an overreach of the federal government’s constitutional authority. She said this also extends to organizations contracted to conduct tests on students in Tennessee in regards to any potential sharing or allowing access to pupil data.
“This puts the federal government, as well as any testing company utilized by Tennessee to measure our student’s progress on notice,” added Gresham. “Any attempts to collect data on our students will be met with strong measures. We will not allow it.”
The resolution now goes to the Senate Education Committee for consideration before moving to the full Senate for approval.
Senate Health and Welfare Committee Hears Update on Tennessee’s Health Status
Dr. Randy Wykoff, Dean of the East Tennessee State University’s College of Public Health, spoke to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee this week regarding the health of Tennessee citizens. Wykoff reported Tennessee’s health care ranking remains in 39th place, with smoking and violent crime remaining key issues.
“Tennessee has a very effective health department and some of the best healthcare in the nation,” said Wykoff. “It is not a poor health department that has caused our ranking.”
Wykoff explained that from the four factors leading Americans to die young, healthcare accounts for only 10 percent of the cause. Over 40 percent of the leading factors that contribute to premature death are behavioral. He said tobacco and the obesity epidemic accounted for some of the highest death rates in this category.
Wykoff also linked economic development and educational attainment to poor health among Tennesseans. He urged lawmakers to continue pushing for education and economic development improvements as there is a huge life expectancy gap based on income.
“Dr. Wykoff continues to provide very valuable information to us, especially his emphasis on the need to encourage healthier behaviors to prevent premature death in our state,” said Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City). “We will continue to work with our health departments, hospitals and health care providers to move forward in our efforts to become a healthier Tennessee.”
Issues in Brief
Tennessee Health Care Freedom and ACA Noncompliance Act — Legislation to resist implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in Tennessee was announced at a press conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. The Tennessee Health Care Freedom and ACA Noncompliance Act, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), would prohibit any cooperation by the state or its agencies in implementing or administering the federal health care program commonly referred to as ObamaCare. Based on similar legislation already introduced in Georgia, the bill rests on the legal foundation known as the anti-commandeering doctrine in which Printz v. US serves as the cornerstone.
Revenues Less Than Anticipated — Tennessee revenue collections for December fell below collections for the same month the year before. The revenues were lower than expected, primarily due to under collections in sales and corporate taxes. Revenue experts maintain one of the reasons for the revenue drop was that there were six less days of shopping after Thanksgiving in the Christmas season. On an accrual basis, December is the fifth month in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Year-to-date collections for five months were $171.1 million less than the budgeted estimate.
Offender Population Growing — Since 2003, Tennessee’s offender population in state and local facilities has grown by 15 percent according to a presentation delivered to the State and Local Government Committee. Some of the reasons include an increase in arrest rates for adults, particularly drug-related crimes; lower parole releases; longer sentences; scarcity of alternative sanctions and community supervision; and new anti-crime laws. The offender population is reported at 20,810 in Tennessee Department of Corrections prisons, 8,617 in local jails and 79,880 on community supervision for a total of 109,316.