Newsroom

Senator Mark Pody to tour renovations at Cedars of Lebanon State Park

(NASHVILLE, TN), May 21, 2018 – State Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) will tour the new renovations at Cedars of Lebanon State Park with Tennessee Deputy Commissioner for Parks and Conservation Brock Hill, Representative Clark Boyd (R-Lebanon) and Park Manager Buddy Ingram on Thursday, May 24, 2018. The tour will take place at 1:00 p.m. at the park’s Cedar Forest Lodge before moving to view the campgrounds.

“I am very excited to see the progress being made at Cedars of Lebanon, which is such an important part of our communities," said Sen. Pody. "This was a large investment in our park and I was happy to support these improvements. The renovations will increase activities available to a broader range of people who will now have more opportunities to be out in nature and enjoy the beauty of this park. It will also help stimulate tourism and serve the large number of local residents who visit the park regularly. I am very pleased that these renovations are almost completed.”

###


Gov. Haslam signs legislation sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager to fight state’s opioid epidemic

(NASHVILLE) –  Major legislation sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) to fight Tennessee’s opioid epidemic was signed into law today by  Governor Bill Haslam.   Senate Bill 2258 is part of Governor Bill Haslam’s TN Together initiative – a three-pronged plan to combat the opioid epidemic. It addresses the law enforcement and treatment components of the plan to curb abuse, while Senate Bill 2257 addresses the prevention component.

Each day in Tennessee, at least three people die from an opioid-related overdose, which is more than the number of daily traffic fatalities in the state.

“This legislation is a huge step forward in our fight to roll back Tennessee’s opioid epidemic,” said Sen. Yager, who has worked diligently to address drug abuse during his legislative tenure, including  passage of a key measure cracking down on ‘pill mills’ in the state.  “Every family in Tennessee has been affected in some way by drug abuse, whether it is a friend, co-worker, family member or loved one.  This legislation gives law enforcement the tools they need to attack the problem, while providing more resources for treatment. I am honored to sponsor this bill for the Governor.”

The law enforcement aspect of the bill updates the classification of drugs and allows law enforcement to better track, monitor and penalize the use and unlawful distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs such as fentanyl – a drug up to 100 times more potent than morphine and linked to an alarming number of overdose deaths. It also requires that the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) now consult with the commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the commissioner of Health, and the Board of Pharmacy to annually revise and republish the scheduling of dangerous drugs. Previously, the TBI was not consulted in this process.

“Fentanyl is a very serious drug that is often mixed with other drugs, leading to the death of users often unaware of its potency,” added Yager. “This legislation will allow law enforcement to crack down on the use and distribution of fentanyl, which will ultimately help eliminate this deadly drug from the streets.”

The treatment aspect of the bill provides incentives for offenders in correctional facilities to complete intensive substance use treatment programs while incarcerated. An increasing number of offenders suffer from substance use disorders.  These evidence-based programs are proven to reduce recidivism and improve lives while saving taxpayer dollars.

“Many of the people coming to prison have drug addictions, and if we can’t fix that problem and we let them back on the street with a drug problem, we’re likely to see them again,” remarked Yager.

“Through this multifaceted approach, Tennessee can be successful in its continued fight against the opioid epidemic and reverse the addiction, overdose and illicit distribution trends that continue to plague the state and nation,” Yager concluded.

###

 


Legislation sponsored by Sen. Pody requires abortion providers to offer ultrasound results to women is signed into law

(NASHVILLE) May 15, 2018 – Legislation sponsored by Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) to ensure a woman seeking an abortion has the opportunity to know all information gathered about her pregnancy prior to the abortion was recently signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam. The law states that if an ultrasound is performed as part of an examination prior to an abortion, the person who performs the ultrasound must offer the woman the opportunity to learn the results of the ultrasound.

“I am pleased to see this legislation signed into law,” said Senator Pody. “This new law will ensure that a woman has the opportunity to see the ultrasound of her unborn baby prior to terminating her pregnancy, and will ensure none of that information will be withheld from her.”

The new law will also require the person who performs the ultrasound to inform the woman of the presence or absence of a fetal heartbeat, along with any other information she requests.

“Eighty percent of women who see an ultrasound do not follow through with abortion, so I am confident this bill will save the lives of babies in Tennessee,” added Pody.

###


Sen. Jackson announces $100,000 for Dyersburg Army Air Base Veterans’ Museum

(NASHVILLE) May 15, 2018 – State Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson) announced today that $100,000 was appropriated in the 2018/2019 state budget recently adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly for the Dyersburg Army Air Base Veterans’ Museum. The appropriation, which was sponsored by Senator Jackson, will go towards maintenance of the museum.

“I am pleased these funds are going to this museum that does so much to preserve the incredible history of our veterans,” said Senator Jackson. “The museum has done a tremendous job serving and teaching the surrounding community with rich historical displays and photographs of US military conflicts.”

The Veterans' Museum is located on the site of The Dyersburg Army Air Base, a base that was established as a training facility during World War 2 for B-17 Flying Fortress pilots. While the Museum honors veterans from that era, it also honors all veterans with displays from the different wars and conflicts in which the U.S. has been involved.

“We must never forget the sacrifice and risk associated with wars fought by our courageous veterans,” added Senator Jackson. “This museum preserves our history and serves to remind us of the sacrifices made during those times of war. I am grateful that this appropriation will help this museum continue to operate and serve a great purpose,” added Jackson.

###


Governor Haslam signs Sen. Watson’s bills to promote business growth and investment via tax credits

(NASHVILLE) May 14, 2018 – Two pieces of legislation sponsored by Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson) that promote business growth and investment in the form of tax credits have been signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam. Senate Bill 157 ensures that grants given to companies from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) are not counted as taxable income under the new federal tax code.  The other measure, Senate Bill 2647, enables Tennessee to apply the angel tax credit (ATC) to a wider group of investors.

“Business investments, whether in the form of an angel investor or state grant, are great for our economy and help promote business growth,” said Senator Watson. “I am pleased to see these bills signed into law that encourage investments through tax credit incentives.”

The recent passage of federal tax reform brought new provisions that unintentionally broadened Tennessee’s business income tax base, and as a result making economic development grants taxable. Therefore, Senate Bill 157 was needed to clarify that economic development grants committed prior to December 22, 2017 will not be taxable.

Senate Bill 2647 adds Single Purpose Vehicles (SPV) to the ATC. The purpose of SPV’s is to consolidate investments from multiple angel investors into one LLC that holds the investments in a startup company.

“Angel investors are the lifeblood of startups in Tennessee. As we’ve tried to increase the amount of capital investment into these startups, we’ve learned that many of the angel investors coordinate their investments using this [SPV] kind of structure. So this bill will enable us to promote the angel tax credit to a wider group of Tennessee angel investors,” added Watson.

“I look forward to seeing the business and job growth that will result from the passage of these two bills,” Watson remarked.

###


Sen. Gresham encourages parents to sign up for award-winning TNStars 529 college savings fund program

(NASHVILLE) May 14, 2018 – As National 529 College Savings Day is approaching on May 29th, Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) encourages families to sign up for TNStars College Savings 529 plan, which incentivizes families to participate early in a 529 college savings fund for their children. To celebrate National 529 College Savings Day, TNStars is giving away a family four-pack of tickets to a top summer destination in Tennessee for signing up for TNStars by May 28th.

“I want to encourage all families to take advantage of the tremendous opportunity TNStars provides for college savings plans,” said Senator Gresham, who sponsored the legislation to launch the program. “It is designed to give Tennessee families high quality investment options at low costs to help them pay for education and receive tax advantages.”

All families who open accounts with TNStars can receive up to $375 in incentives. Some families will also qualify for a four-to-one match of up to $1,500 per child. Funds and extra incentives saved in a TNStars account can be used not only for post-secondary education tuition and fees, but also for related expenses including room and board, textbooks and supplies.

In 2015, this fund was recognized as the top direct-sold plan in the nation by SavingForCollege.org, which analyzes the investment performance figures for thousands of 529 savings plan portfolios across the nation. The fund is managed by the Tennessee Department of Treasury.

“This investment plan is part of our goal to graduate more students from college by helping them and their parents prepare financially for expenses not covered by scholarships. Dollars invested in this program are yielding strong returns, and even small amounts of money invested early will better prepare Tennessee children for education after high school.”

Research shows that children with a college savings account are six to seven times more likely to attend a four-year college, compared to children with no dedicated account.

To register for the TNStars 529 College Savings Plan and qualify to win four tickers to Dollywood, Adventure Science Center, Tennessee Aquarium, Memphis Zoo and more, visit TNStars.com/529day  by May 28th.

###


Legislation sponsored by Sen. Yager to increase Medicaid funding for ambulance services is signed into law

(NASHVILLE) May 10, 2018 – Legislation sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) that continues the Ambulance Service Provider Assessment Act has been signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam. This law allows the state to receive additional Medicaid funds to be distributed to local private and public ambulance services for transporting patients covered by the program.

“I am pleased to see this law continued,” said Senator Yager. “This is especially beneficial to ambulance service providers and patients in rural communities which have a high number of TennCare patients. Rural ambulance services struggle financially, and these additional funds will help keep the doors open.”

This legislation is expected to bring in approximately $19.7 million in federal funds for ambulance services through the state’s TennCare Program. It is modeled after the successful Hospital Assessment Act which has prevented catastrophic TennCare cuts over the last seven years.

“This legislation has proven beneficial over the last year, and I look forward to seeing the increase quality of care continue as a result of our action on this bill,” added Yager.

###

 

 


Legislation sponsored by Sen. Massey to fight opioid abuse and decrease number of babies born drug dependent is signed into law

(NASHVILLE) May 9, 2018 – Major legislation to curb opioid abuse sponsored by Senator Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) was recently signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam. The legislation aims to promote safe and responsible pharmacy benefits regarding opioid prescriptions for TennCare enrollees. More specifically, the purpose of the legislation is to curb opioid abuse among women of child-bearing age to reduce the number of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

“The passage of this law will result in safer and more responsible pharmacy benefits for TennCare patients,” said Senator Massey. “Tennessee has a crisis on its hands. There are far too many babies who suffer from NAS born to TennCare enrollees, not to mention the fact that Tennessee taxpayers are footing the bill to treat these newborns and potentially for continued care longterm. Often times, lack of knowledge about the risks of opioid use to a baby during pregnancy or unawareness of a pregnancy can lead to a baby being born with NAS. The goal of this bill is to ensure women are informed.”

The new law directs TennCare to promulgate rules to promote safe and responsible pharmacy benefits and stipulates that the rules must require providers to check on a TennCare patient’s pregnancy status, contraceptive use and to provide counseling on the risks of opioid use during pregnancy. Additionally, the rules must address prior authorization requirements to reduce the development of opioid dependency and addiction.

The number of babies nationwide born drug dependent has increased 500 percent since 2000. Treatment costs per newborns with NAS average about $62,000, with a total cost of $1 billion to Tennessee taxpayers annually. Approximately ninety percent of babies who suffer with NAS are born to TennCare enrollees.

“I am pleased to see this bill become law, and I will continue to sponsor and support legislation to fight the opioid crisis in Tennessee, protect unborn babies that might fall victim to it, and promote responsibility with Tennessee taxpayer dollars.”

###


Senator Jackson passes key opioid treatment and enforcement measure

Bill complements Haslam Administration legislative package

 

NASHVILLE -- A critical measure in the fight to eradicate opioid addiction passed the General Assembly in the final days of the most recent legislative session. Sponsored by State Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), Senate Bill 777 prevents over-prescription of addiction treatment drugs to ensure they're used to treat addiction rather than perpetuate it.  The bill is one of many General Assembly initiatives that complement the Haslam administration’s comprehensive opioid legislative package, TN Together.

“Opioid addiction devastates our communities and our people,” said Sen. Jackson.  “Too many Tennesseans have fallen prey to this debilitating pandemic.  This legislation ensures effective treatment methods are utilized for those who are addicted to help them become drug free.”

The legislation places further restrictions on those prescribing buprenorphine, an opiate often used to treat addiction, requiring more facilities that prescribe the drug to be licensed.   The bill will require the dispensing of buprenorphine be submitted to the state’s controlled substance database and a top 20 list of prescribers will be generated.  The prescribers on the list will then be asked to justify their prescribing practices, and each board will be required to report any disciplinary action it may have taken toward the provider.  The legislation also calls for establishing protocols for initiating periodic prescriber-initiated and led discussions with patients regarding tapering down or off the opioids employed in treatment.

“The goal is to get the prescriber and the patient focused on a full recovery from addiction,” added Senator Jackson.  “That includes the drugs used to treat opiate addiction.  There are good treatment facilities that are already working toward that goal and are helping their patients get back into a normal life pattern while they wean off opiates.   However, there are others who perpetuate the problem by substituting one drug for another without a plan to get the patient off treatment medication.”

“Senator Jackson has identified a pressing enforcement need in the fight against opioid addiction. I appreciate him bringing this legislation,” said Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge). “I am confident these measures will serve to crack down on those peddling unnecessary opioids while still allowing doctors to get legitimate patients and those suffering from addiction the treatment they need.”

The bill, which now awaits Governor Bill Haslam’s signature, will take effect on July 1.

###


Sen. Yager announces $50,000 for LaFollette Post Office restoration following sponsorship of appropriations amendment

(NASHVILLE) April 4, 2018 – The City of LaFollette will receive $50,000 to preserve the historic LaFollette Post Office under an appropriation amendment added to the state budget at the request of Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston).  The legislation, which also passed the House of Representatives, is set to become law upon the signature of Governor Bill Haslam.

The $50,000 budget appropriation is in addition to a $50,000 Asset Enhancement Grant from the Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD). This grant was made possible by the Rural Economic Opportunity Act passed by the General Assembly in 2016 and co-sponsored by Yager.

The City of LaFollette has turned over the 1950’s era post office to a group of citizens called Postmark LaFollette for it to be used as a center for the arts.

“I was very impressed when I visited with the volunteers of Postmark LaFollette and toured the post office over a year ago,” said Senator Yager. “Their interest in preserving the arts is admirable, and I was happy to be able to find these funds, which will ensure Postmark LaFollette has the resources needed to properly restore the post office to its original state. I strongly support historic preservation. It is a real asset to the community, and will continue to do all I can to help.”

“I want to thank State Representative Dennis Powers for his support in the House to help attain these funds, as well as Mayor Mike Stanfield for allowing me to participate in this process. The funding would not have been possible without them,” added Yager.

The LaFollette Post Office is in need of a new roof and restored windows. The first $50,000 grant from ECD will cover the cost of a new roof, but funding was still needed to properly restore the windows.  The budget appropriation will help the structure meet the criteria in order to have it placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The money for this project will be available July 1, 2018.

###


Sen. Yager recognizes intern from Fentress County, Tanner Stockton, for his work

(NASHVILLE) May 1, 2018 – Chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, Ken Yager (R-Kingston), recognized his intern, Tanner Stockton, with a resolution on the Senate floor in the last week of session, highlighting the hard work Tanner has done for Senator Yager’s office and the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

“Tanner has been a tremendous asset to our office this year, and I appreciate all his hard work,” said Yager. “He has a bright future ahead of him.”

“I have enjoyed being a part of this internship as it has allowed me to see first-hand what I have been studying throughout college,” said Stockton. “I am thankful for the opportunity to serve in Senator Yager’s office and help with the State and Local Government Committee. It has been an amazing experience getting to work alongside people that have also done this internship, and now play a role working in state government. “

Tanner Stockton is from Clarkrange, Tennessee and is a junior at Bryan College. He is part of Tennessee Legislative Internship Program that hires college juniors and seniors to work in legislative offices during session from January to the end of April.

###


Sen. Pody and Rep. Boyd announce $25,000 grant for Cannon County

(NASHVILLE) April 30, 2018 – State Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) and State Representative Clark Boyd (R-Lebanon) announced today that Cannon County will be receiving $25,000 in a measurement grant from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation in order to purchase a scale for Cannon County’s transfer station and convenience center, which will update the county’s waste management system.

“This grant is great news for Cannon County,” said Senator Pody. “An up-to-date and properly functioning waste management system is important for our community, and this grant will ensure Cannon County has the resources it needs. I commend the work of local officials to secure these funds.”

“I am grateful to TDEC for their investment in Cannon County,” said Representative Boyd. “These funds will help us better track and report on materials that could potentially harm our local environment. We must continue to support programs and invest in initiatives that preserve our overall health and enrich the well-being of our citizens.”

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has budgeted $500,000 total for the Measurement Grant offering statewide. To learn more about the grant, please visit the Department’s website.

###

 


STATEMENT FROM SENATOR BILL KETRON REGARDING THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT i3 VERTICALS WILL EXPAND MIDDLE TENNESSEE OPERATIONS

NASHVILLE -- “i3 Verticals’ decision to expand and bring more jobs into Rutherford County is great news for our community,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro). “Local officials, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, and i3 Vertical have done tremendous work to make this happen.  Because of deregulation and low taxes, Tennessee is a business friendly environment, and this expansion is a testament to Tennessee’s robust economy.  Rutherford County will be a great place for i3 expand its Middle Tennessee operations and to locate a new facility with our skilled workforce and strong community.   I look forward to the growth that will continue in Rutherford County as a result of the many new industries which are locating here.”

 

###

Please find a copy of the release below:

 

i3 VERTICALS, LLC TO EXPAND MIDDLE TENNESSEE OPERATIONS, LOCATE NEW FACILITY IN MURFREESBORO

Payments and software solutions company to create 42 jobs in Rutherford County

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe and i3 Verticals, LLC today announced that the integrated payment and software solutions company plans to expand its Middle Tennessee operations by establishing a new facility in Murfreesboro.

 

i3 Verticals will invest approximately $500,000 and create 42 new jobs in Rutherford County.

 

“I want to thank i3 for its investment in Rutherford County and for creating 42 jobs in Murfreesboro,” Rolfe said. “Tennessee’s strong workforce and business-friendly environment make our state the perfect location for tech companies like i3 and I appreciate the company for its continued commitment to Middle Tennessee and for creating even more high-quality jobs for our state.”

 

i3 delivers integrated payment and software solutions to small- and medium-sized businesses and other organizations in strategic vertical markets, such as education, non-profits, the public sector, property management, health care and business-to–business (B2B) payments markets. i3 currently has operations across the U.S. including a facility in Nashville.

 

“We are delighted to be expanding i3 Verticals’ deep Middle Tennessee roots to Murfreesboro and Rutherford County,” Greg Daily, chairman and CEO of i3 Verticals, said. “Our company was founded and has been largely capitalized in Middle Tennessee, and the region’s rapid growth has created a large, growing pool of talent and other resources. Rutherford County is a particularly attractive location for this important operations facility because it offers both an experienced and mature workforce and the ability to build our team locally over the longer term with qualified, technology-focused job seekers graduating from Middle Tennessee State University. We thank the State of Tennessee and Rutherford County for their efforts to facilitate this expansion.”

i3 plans to renovate and occupy an 8,500-square foot facility in Murfreesboro. The company plans to begin construction on the new building in May 2018 and the facility is expected to be completed by July 2018.

 

“On behalf of the Murfreesboro City Council, I want to congratulate i3 Verticals for its decision to locate an operations center in our growing Fountains at Gateway,” Murfreesboro Mayor Shane McFarland said. “Attracting high-paying jobs to our city and more specifically to the Gateway district with its attractive location and amenities is bearing fruit with smart business decisions like this one. We are pleased to see this integrated payment processing and software operation coming to Murfreesboro.”

 

“We welcome i3 Verticals to our community,” Destination Rutherford Chairman Bill Jones said. “The work they do and the jobs created will nicely complement our robust business environment in Rutherford County.”

 

Murfreesboro and Rutherford County are represented by Sen. Bill Ketron (R – Murfreesboro), Sen. Shane Reeves (R – Murfreesboro), Rep. Tim Rudd (R – Murfreesboro), Rep. Mike Sparks (R – Smyrna), Rep. Bryan Terry (R – Murfreesboro) and Rep. Dawn White (R – Murfreesboro) in the Tennessee General Assembly.

 

About the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s mission is to develop strategies that help make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs. To grow and strengthen Team Tennessee, the department seeks to attract new corporate investment in Tennessee and works with Tennessee companies to facilitate expansion and economic growth. Find us on the web: tnecd.com. Follow us on Twitter: @tnecd. Like us on Facebook: facebook.com/tnecd.

 

###


Senate approves Reentry Incentive Grant program which aims to reduce recidivism in Tennessee jails

NASHVILLE -- Legislation authorizing a pilot program to award grants to local county sheriffs or probation departments that are successful in reducing recidivism was approved by the full Senate today.  Senate Bill 1865, sponsored by Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), would provide $1 million in grants to fund a three-year successful reentry program in four Tennessee counties.

The funding for the bill was included in the state budget that was adopted last week.

“This pilot program will help identify and formulate better policies to reduce recidivsm that can be scaled throughout the state,” said Senator Jackson. “The goal is to reduce recidivism, make our communities safer, and save taxpayer money.”

Governor Bill Haslam’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism found that 46 percent of people released from prison or jail in Tennessee were incarcerated again within three years.

“Tennessee’s recidivism rate is far too high,” Jackson added.  “We need evidence-based programs which help these inmates turn their lives around so that they are productive, taxpaying citizens.  Otherwise, we risk them turning back to a life of crime and creating a never-ending cycle of time behind bars.”

Under the proposal, applicants must apply to the Department of Correction stating program objectives, goals and metrics.  Once selected, they can receive a portion of the money upfront to start or expand a re-entry program, but the remaining funds will not be awarded unless specific benchmarks reducing recidivism or probation revocations are met.

Tennessee spends over $1 billion for corrections or 6.74 percent of the state’s budget.  It is the fifth largest line item in the budget.

 

The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

 

###


Capitol Hill Week: State budget emphasizes four E’s – Education, Employment, Economic Opportunity and Enforcement of the Law

Capitol Hill Week

State budget emphasizes four E’s – Education, Employment, Economic Opportunity and Enforcement of the Law

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), April 19, 2018 – The Tennessee Senate passed several key bills this week, including the state budget and major legislation to curb opioid abuse, as the 2018 session of the Tennessee General Assembly draws to a close. The $37.5 billion “no growth” budget proposes state government spending for the next fiscal year that begins July 1, 2018 and extends to June 30, 2019.

The balanced budget addresses opioid abuse, school safety, teacher funding, rural economic development and job growth, while allocating additional funds for the care of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens. The bill focuses on the four “e’s” of Tennessee: employment, education, economic opportunity and enforcement of the law.

Fiscal Responsibility - The budget assumes a 3.2 percent rate of growth, well within the growth of Tennessee’s economy. During the past eight years under Republican leadership, the state spending on average has grown no more than two percent, compared to an average of seven percent in prior administrations. The bill also maintains Tennessee’s sound fiscal practices by increasing the Rainy Day Fund, the state’s savings account for emergencies, to the highest level in state history at $861 million. Adequate savings, along with Tennessee having the third best funded pension plan in the nation, have resulted in the state receiving a triple-A bond rating from the three major credit rating agencies and being ranked among the best financially managed states in the nation.

Tax Relief -- On tax relief, the appropriations bill continues the General Assembly’s ongoing efforts to provide widespread tax relief to Tennesseans. Over the past eight years, the legislature has cut $400 million in taxes, with those reductions amounting to $572 million in the 2018-19 budget year. Tennessee has reduced the sales tax on food by nearly 30 percent; implemented a complete phase out of the Hall tax; eliminated the gift tax; cut business taxes on manufacturing; and phased out the inheritance tax. Tennessee has the lowest taxes in the nation as a percentage of personal income.

In order to help provide for tax reductions and spending priorities, the budget includes reductions in appropriations of $216.6 million, including the elimination of 335 positions. Over the past 8 years, the state has realized base budget reductions of $846.9 million, including the elimination of 2,759 positions.

Protecting Tennessee’s Most Vulnerable Citizens -- On protecting Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens, the budget as amended by the Senate provides $11 million to raise the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) hourly rate of reimbursement paid by the state for professionals providing care to Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens. DIDD professionals provide care for those who have intellectual, developmental and age-related disabilities.

Similarly, the bill provides $136 million in additional funds for TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. This includes $7.3 million for the state’s CHOICES program, which serves developmentally and intellectually disabled Tennesseans.

In addition, the Senate-amended budget restores $1.4 million for the state’s early child in-home visitation program for a total $5 million. The evidence-based program has proven to be a very effective early-intervention strategy to improve the health and well-being of at-risk children in the state. The bill also provides additional funds for the federally qualified health centers and certain dental services and vision screening for some of Tennessee’s most needy citizens.

Improving healthcare services is also the impetus behind a pilot program funded in the budget to help struggling rural hospitals develop economic plans to ensure they are financially viable and continue to provide needed services. The program uses their economic standing in the community as a way of providing consulting assistance to distressed hospitals which need to change their operational models so they can be financially successful in an ever-evolving healthcare marketplace.

State budget emphasizes four E’s – Education, Employment, Economic Opportunity, and Enforcement of the Law

The four “e’s,” education, employment, economic opportunity, and enforcement of the law, are the underlying drivers of Tennessee’s 2018-2019 state budget adopted by the General Assembly this week. The budget continues Tennessee’s strong commitment to education by providing an additional $247 million to fund K-12 education in Tennessee, including $105 million for teachers and $66.8 million for enrollment growth. It also provides $30.2 million for school safety and $13.3 million for the Response for Intervention Program which identifies the needs of struggling students to get them the help they need to succeed. The General Assembly has provided $1.5 billion in new funding over the last eight years for K-12 education, including $500 million more for increased teacher salaries.

As a result of these efforts, Tennessee students are posting the largest gains in the country and the highest high school graduation rates the state has ever seen. The state’s average ACT score reached 20.1, which is the highest recorded for Tennessee.

The budget also continues several important higher education initiatives. The bill provides $119 million in additional funding for higher education, including $10 million for Student Assistance Awards Financial Aid, $9 million for new equipment at Tennessee’s Colleges of Applied Technology, $1.5 million for a Mechatronics Program, $3 million for the engineering program at Tennessee Tech and $7.1 million for the Drive to 55 Initiative. The Drive to 55 Initiative challenges the state with the mission of getting 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025. Presently, the state is on pace to meet the Drive to 55 goal two years early.

On employment and economic opportunity, the budget adds $133 million to aid job growth. This includes $71 million in infrastructure and job training assistance, $14.5 million for rural development initiatives, and $15 million to expand broadband access. Tennessee has seen strong rural job growth with a 31.7 percent increase in new job commitments over that of five years ago, as unemployment statewide is at record lows.

On enforcement of the law, the budget includes $2.4 million for law enforcement to fight Tennessee’s opioid epidemic. Crimes like robbery, theft, fraud and murder are committed in large part due to the influence of drugs. The act provides a total of $16.5 million to address opioid addiction which includes money for prevention, research, treatment and recovery. In addition, $91,500 is included to address the use of gift cards obtained through retail theft which has been heavily linked to the purchase of opiates.

Additional money is expended, under the bill, for safeguarding the rule of law. This includes increased funding for elder abuse and $4.5 million for juvenile justice reforms. It also provides $1 million for courtroom security grants.

Other notable budget highlights in Senate Bill 2552 include:
• $460 million for capital maintenance and construction;
• $27.6 million for corrections;
• $20 million for the Aeronautics Economic Development Fund;
• $4 million for tourism;
• $213 million to address state employee compensation;
• $57.6 million for the Tennessee Library and Archives;
• $899,400 for new trial courts in the 16th, 19th and 21st judicial districts;
• $100,000 for the Safe at Home Address Confidentiality Program to help domestic violence victims; and
• $1 million for an innovative pilot program to provide grants to local sheriffs or probation departments that are successful in reducing recidivism.

Senate approves major legislation to address Tennessee’s Opioid Crisis

Major legislation addressing Tennessee’s opioid crisis was approved by the full Senate this week. Senate Bill 2258 and Senate Bill 2257 would implement the TN Together Plan which employs a three-legged stool of enforcement, treatment and prevention to stop the flow of opiates in the state, help those who are addicted, and prevent citizens from becoming drug-dependent.

Tennessee Department of Health data shows 1,631 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses in 2016, while there were 13,034 nonfatal overdoses reported. Since 1999, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths nationwide, including prescription opioids and heroin, have quadrupled. This is despite the fact that over the last several years Tennessee has passed legislation to help prevent abuse by “pill mills” and to strengthen the state’s drug monitoring database.

The first bill addresses the law enforcement and treatment components of the three-pronged plan by revising various provisions of the law regarding the scheduling of controlled substances and their analogues and derivatives, including updated identifications of drugs categorized in Schedules I-V. The updated schedule of controlled substances would allow law enforcement to better track, monitor and penalize the use and unlawful distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs, including substances that mimic the effects of fentanyl, a drug that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and is linked to an alarming number of overdose deaths. The legislation, as amended, also makes it an offense to knowingly produce, manufacture, sell or possess any capsule, pill, or other product composed of or containing any amount of Kratom.

The legislation provides incentives for offenders in correctional facilities to complete an intensive substance use treatment program while incarcerated. An increasing number of offenders suffer from substance use disorders. These evidence-based programs are proven to reduce recidivism and improve lives while saving taxpayer dollars.

The second bill aims to prevent opioid addiction and ultimately, misuse and abuse by limiting the supply and dosage of opioid prescriptions with emphasis on new patients. The legislation is meant to address higher dosages of opioids which have been associated with increased risk of overdose and death, while including exceptions for individuals undergoing extreme pain for illnesses like cancer or sickle cell anemia, or patients with severe burns.

The purpose behind the prevention legislation is to place more speed bumps on the road that leads to addiction between healthcare practitioners and patients to prevent Tennesseans from misusing or abusing prescription pain medicine. As of 2016, 318,000 individuals in Tennessee were either using opioids in a risky way or diagnosed as having opioid use disorder.

In other action to prevent opioid abuse this week, the Senate approved key legislation to cut off the flow of funds used in the purchase of illegal drugs. Senate Bill 1717 addresses the use of gift cards obtained through retail theft which has been heavily linked to the purchase of opiates. The proposal follows a new law passed by the General Assembly last year defining organized retail crime and creating two new theft offenses for the purpose of prosecuting individuals who return stolen merchandise to receive gift cards, money or store credit.

It is estimated that Tennessee loses over $14 million in sales tax dollars and retailers lose over $200 million each year related to return fraud. The National Retail Federation estimates the loss at $12 to $15 billion nationwide, with almost all being related to illicit drug trade.

Finally, the Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 1227 which directs TennCare to promulgate permanent rules to promote safe and responsible coverage for enrollees of the program. The rules, at a minimum, must address prior authorization requirements to reduce the development of opioid dependency and addiction.

Ninety-two percent of all Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) babies are born to mothers who are TennCare recipients.

Legislation holding teachers and students harmless in TNReady Assessments approved by General Assembly

The State Senate passed legislation this week to hold teachers and students harmless in the TNReady testing assessments conducted for the 2017-2018 school year. The measure was adopted in an amendment and as part of a Senate/House Conference Committee Report to Senate Bill 1623.

Presently, state law requires the test to count within the range of 15 to 25 percent of a student’s grade. The legislation gives local boards of education the option to choose not to count the test at all, or to count it up to 15 percent of a student’s grade for this spring semester. The bill stipulates that no TNReady test scores from this school year can be used for teacher employment termination or compensation decisions.

The bill also prevents student performance and student growth data from the TNReady assessments from being used to identify a school as a priority school or to assign a school to an Achievement School District (ASD). It further provides that the assessments administered this school year cannot be used to assign a letter grade to a school.

The legislation comes after students in many Tennessee counties experienced problems with TNReady online testing this week, including a suspected cyber attack on Tuesday. Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced on Wednesday that she has asked the Davidson County District Attorney General to formally engage the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the State Office of Homeland Security in an investigation of the cyber attack. She also announced that she has engaged a third party with cyber security expertise to analyze Questar’s response to the attack.

Commissioner McQueen has stated that there continues to be no evidence that any student information or data was compromised in the incident.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1806 placing a two-year moratorium on any additional statewide testing in Tennessee’s K-12 schools. This legislation prevents any additional assessments from being implemented until the current system is operating correctly. That new law became effective on April 12.

Bills in Brief…

TennCare Waiver / Work Requirements -- Legislation that seeks to encourage self-sufficiency for those receiving TennCare, Tennessee’s Medicaid program, passed the full Senate this week. Senate Bill 1728 directs TennCare to apply for a Medicaid waiver from the federal government to require TennCare enrollees who are able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 64 and don’t have children under the age of 6 to work, volunteer, or further their education. The bill does not set policy; rather it directs TennCare to negotiate with the federal government. In fiscal year 2017-2018, almost 27 percent of Tennessee taxpayer dollars went towards funding TennCare. The bill must meet the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidelines which means that it would not apply to individuals with disabilities, elderly beneficiaries, children and pregnant women, as well as those who are caregivers or are undergoing job training or education, among other categories. The Trump administration has shown openness to allowing states’ autonomy to innovate their Medicaid programs. So far three states – Arkansas, Kentucky, and Indiana – have received approval from the administration to require able-bodied adults receiving Medicaid to work, and at least twelve other states have waivers pending approval.

Palliative Care -- The Senate Finance Committee approved legislation this week establishing the State Palliative Care and Quality of Life Council to advise the Executive Director of the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability (TCAD) regarding issues experienced by patients, including barriers to care. Palliative care is an approach used when treating patients facing chronic life-threatening illnesses. The treatment seeks to improve the quality of life for patients and their families through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and assessment. Senate Bill 2561 follows a recommendation from the Palliative Care and Quality of Life Task Force that was created last year. It requires the director of the TCAD to appoint up to 11 members to serve on the council, after consulting with various associations named in the bill which deal regularly with palliative care patients. Beginning in 2020, the council will submit an annual report to the General Assembly addressing barriers to palliative care access, analyzing service utilization data, and providing recommendations and best practices to cover gaps in service.

Stolen Valor Act – Final approval was given this week to legislation designed to safeguard the identities of Tennessee veterans who serve the state and nation by cracking down on instances of theft and fraud involving those who attempt to imitate them. The Tennessee Stolen Valor Act creates a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, as well as a fine of up to $2,500, for anyone who impersonates a veteran or individuals who fraudulently represent their service with the intent of obtaining money, property, services, or any other tangible benefits. Senate Bill 2030 now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Parental Notice / Student Mental Health Screenings – Legislation requiring Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to notify parents or legal guardians prior to any student participation in mental health screenings passed the Senate on final consideration. The legislation requires notice to the parents regarding the “who, what, when and why” of such an evaluation so the student’s parents are fully informed.

Display of the U.S. Flag -- The Senate State and Local Government Committee voted this week to prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing regulations that ban or restrict the display of a flag on a property owner's property except when necessary to promote public health and safety. Senate Bill 2117 also includes the Tennessee flag or a flag of any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces or the POW/MIA flag.

Unemployment Rate Remains at Record Lows -- The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced this week that the state’s unemployment rate in March remained near historic lows and matched the revised rate from the previous month. The preliminary, seasonally adjusted rate for March was 3.4 percent, which mirrored the revised rate for February and was nearly one percentage point less than the March 2017 rate of 4.2 percent. Tennessee’s statewide unemployment rate has remained below 4.0 percent since last May, hitting an all-time low of 3.3 percent last September. Tennessee added 4,900 new nonfarm jobs between February and March. Over the past 12 months, employers across the state created an estimated 49,000 new jobs.

Ending Emissions Testing – Legislation that would end mandatory emissions tests for vehicles in Tennessee met final Senate approval this week. Senate Bill 2656 would apply to Hamilton, Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson Counties where the test is still required prior to vehicle registration or renewal. The 1990 Federal Clean Air Act required the State of Tennessee to develop more restrictive regulations to control air pollution from mobile sources in counties which were not meeting the federal standards for air quality. In August, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation announced that the entire State of Tennessee meets federal air quality health standards.

Mental Health / Firearms Verification Process -- The full Senate passed legislation this week requiring acute care hospitals to report involuntary commitments in their psychiatric units to law enforcement so that they can be a part of the record used in the verification process for the purchase of firearms. One of the disqualifying conditions is whether or not an individual has ever been involuntarily committed. Senate Bill 2362 closes the gap in current law, which already requires mental health hospitals to report these commitments.

###


Senator Ketron announces new trial court judge for Rutherford County is funded under the budget adopted by the Senate today

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), April 18, 2018 –  Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) said today that Rutherford and Cannon Counties will receive a new trial court judge under a budget amendment approved by the full Senate today.  The amendment adds $800,000 recurring and $99,400 non-recurring to fund judges in the 16th, 19th and 21st Judicial Districts, as well as calling for a study on judicial redistricting.  Rutherford and Cannon Counties comprise the 16th District.

Ketron, who is a member of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee, has been in negotiations with Governor Haslam and other leaders in the General Assembly to help secure the funds.

“I am very pleased that we will be getting a new judge to help alleviate the flow of cases coming into our court system in Rutherford County,” said Senator Ketron.  “This will be a huge help to address a backlog of cases so justice can be administered in a more expedient manner.”

The most recent study by Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson showed that District 16 is in need of 1.56 additional judges.  The five state trial judges in the district hear approximately 11,000 civil or criminal cases per year.  Rutherford County has the fastest growing population in Tennessee which has caused growth in litigation and criminal charges.

Although the funding for the new judge is in the budget, the matter will not be final until the enacting legislation, Senate Bill 5, is passed on final consideration.  This is expected to occur before the General Assembly adjourns next week.

 

###


SENATOR BOWLING EARNS NATIONAL AWARD FOR WORK TO EXPAND ACCESS TO BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE IN TENNESSEE

NASHVILLE, (April 17, 2018) — State Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) is set to receive a national award from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) for her efforts to  accelerate the deployment of advanced communications networks throughout Tennessee.  Bowling has been chosen to receive the group’s “2018 State Champion Award.”

“Through your outstanding and tireless work on behalf of the communities, businesses, institutions, and residents of Tennessee, you have richly earned our award and the honor and respect that goes with it,” said CLIC Project Director Catharine Rice in a letter to Bowling.  “More specifically, we selected you for this award in recognition of your singular and exemplary leadership at the state level in seeking to advance local Internet choice and accelerate the deployment of advanced communications networks throughout Tennessee.  Your courageous pursuit of state legislation that would bring access to modern broadband infrastructure to all of Tennessee, rural and urban, stands out as a model for all state legislators that local Internet choice is not a partisan issue, it is an infrastructure issue.”

CLIC established the award to honor individuals and organizations for extraordinary contributions to the preservation and protection of local decision-making in critical broadband infrastructure matters.  The group has invited Bowling to attend their annual CLIC Day in Austin, Texas on April 30 where the award will be presented.

“I am very honored to receive this award,” said Sen. Bowling.  “I will continue working on behalf of Tennesseans in pursuit of regulatory freedom for high speed broadband, the essential infrastructure of the 21st Century.”

###

 


STATEMENT FROM SENATOR PAUL BAILEY REGARDING THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT COLOROBBIA USA, INC. WILL CREATE 30 NEW JOBS IN COOKEVILLE

NASHVILLE , (April 17, 2018) -- “I am very excited that these new jobs are coming to Cookeville as a result of Colorobbia USA’s investment in a facility here,” said Sen. Bailey.   “Governor Haslam and our legislature have worked diligently to attract investment and break down barriers to job growth and it is producing great results.  I congratulate Colorobbia and all who were involved in bringing these jobs to our area.  This job investment is also testament to the great people who make up our local workforce.  I look forward to seeing how these new jobs will provide many citizens in our district with new and better opportunities for the future.”

###

Please find a copy of the release below:

 COLOROBBIA USA, INC. TO ESTABLISH FACILITY IN COOKEVILLE

Ceramics supplier to invest $5 million, create approximately 30 jobs

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe and Colorobbia USA, Inc. officials announced today that the ceramics supplier will invest $5 million to establish operations in Cookeville.

Colorobbia USA plans to build a 50,000-square-foot facility that includes distribution functions and a technical assistance laboratory. The Putnam County facility is expected to be operational in January 2019, creating approximately 30 jobs over the next five years.

“I’d like to welcome Colorobbia USA to Tennessee and thank the company for its investment in Putnam County,” Rolfe said. “Over the last few years, the ceramic industry in Tennessee has experienced considerable growth. We are encouraged to see Colorobbia USA join the growing ranks of ceramic companies that call Tennessee home.”

Colorobbia USA is part of Gruppo Colorobbia, an Italian company and global leader in the ceramic and glass industries. Established in 1921, Gruppo Colorobbia is a family-owned company headquartered in the province of Vinci, Italy. It has more than 2,000 employees and operates in 18 different countries.

Gruppo Colorobbia’s products include glazes, frits, pigments and ceramic inks for the ceramic tile and glass industries. The company also produces precious metals and a line of products for artistic ceramics.

“Our growth expectations and job creation plan are directly linked to the ceramic industry growth,” Arturo Salazar, president of Colorobbia USA, said. “We expect to start operations with the first stage of the project in the beginning of 2019. The increase of porcelain tile production in Tennessee through new production plants has opened the opportunity for our company to the possibility of this project. This plant will allow us to offer world-class technical service to clients.

“Being close to our clients is a fundamental rock of Gruppo Colorobbia’s philosophy. With this investment, we will be able to offer quality products and technical assistance services to the North American market,” Salazar added. “Cookeville offers.

 

###

 


Senator Kelsey’s bipartisan proposal to prohibit judges from incentivizing sterilization passes House of Representatives in 70-23 vote

(NASHVILLE), April 17, 2018 – A proposal by State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and State Representative Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) to prohibit Tennessee judges from offering defendants reduced jail time in exchange for sterilization passed the State House of Representatives by a vote of 70-23 this morning. The legislation now awaits the Governor’s signature.

Senate Bill 2133 prohibits a sentencing court from making a sentencing determination based on defendant’s consent or refusal to any form of temporary or permanent birth control, sterilization, or family planning services, regardless of whether the defendant’s consent is voluntarily given.

“Having children is one of the most important decisions an individual will ever make in his or her life,” Sen. Kelsey said. “The decision to have children should be left out of the courtroom.”

Sen. Kelsey and Rep. Akbari filed the bill in response to a White County judge offering reduced jail time to defendants who volunteered for sterilization. Judge Sam Benningfield said his goal was to break a “vicious cycle” of repeat drug offenders with children. The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct found that Benningfield violated rules regarding judicial independence, integrity, and propriety.

“The offer of undergoing permanent sterilization or using long-acting contraceptives to reduce a judicial sentence is unconscionable,” Rep. Raumesh Akbari said. “After reading about a White County judge who’d issued a standing order offering a 30-day reduction to inmates that received either a vasectomy or birth control implant, I knew the legislature needed to act to ensure that this type of offer never occurred again.  I’m proud of the bi-partisan effort to work on this legislation and I look forward to working towards passing this bill in the House.”

The bill in no way prohibits defendants from seeking sterilization services if they so choose. It simply prohibits judges from incentivizing sterilization with reduced jail time.

“Reproduction is a fundamental right,” Sen. Kelsey said. “In Tennessee, we respect life and we respect reproductive rights.”

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

 

###

 


Capitol Hill Week: Legislation preparing Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology headlines Capitol Hill Week

Capitol Hill Week

Legislation prepares Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology

 (NASHVILLE, Tenn.), April 12, 2018 – This week’s action on Capitol Hill was highlighted by passage of a number of important initiatives as lawmakers continue discussions on the state’s budget.  This includes legislation which accelerates investment in mobile broadband infrastructure and prepares Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology.

Senate Bill 2504 creates a uniform, statewide and predictable application and deployment process for small cell wireless broadband providers no matter what community is being served.  Once implemented, it would enhance existing networks and encourage wireless broadband providers to invest in the latest small cell technology.  When installed, these small cells will increase capacity to handle a huge amount of data with up to one hundred times faster connectivity than current 4G networks.

The legislation, called the Competitive Wireless Broadband Investment, Deployment, and Safety Act of 2018, creates a predictable “how to manual” for providers and local governments to work together to manage the right-of-ways and to get investment deployed as soon as possible.  While the legislation calls for a statewide application process to reduce local hurdles, it affirms that local governments retain their nondiscriminatory authority to:

  • manage placement of utility poles and facilities in the right of way;
  • establish aesthetic plans that govern facilities in the right of way;
  • protect historic districts;
  • manage and protect areas with underground utilities;
  • require damage repair in the right of way;
  • manage and reject any deployment based on public safety concerns; and,
  • apply right of way permitting and fees.

Studies show that deployment of 5G alone will create more than 16,000 new jobs in Tennessee.  It would also lead to more than $1 billion in investment and grow the state GDP by nearly $3 billion.

Presently 14 other states have passed legislation to make investment easier, with 19 considering similar legislation this year.

The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Legislation aims to curb opiate abuse among TennCare enrollees

Two bills addressing opiate abuse among Tennessee’s TennCare enrollees were approved by state senators this week.  This includes Senate Bill 1227 which directs TennCare to promulgate permanent rules to promote safe and responsible coverage for enrollees of the program.  The rules, at a minimum, must address prior authorization requirements to reduce the development of opioid dependency and addiction.

The legislation is part of the legislature’s overall effort to reduce dependency on opioids.  Although it could impact chronic opioid users, the more basic purpose is to curb opiate abuse among women of child-bearing age.  It seeks to ensure there is prior criteria supporting screening for substance abuse and counseling on effects of opioids should they become pregnant.

The bill was approved by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee and now heads to the Senate floor for a final vote.

The second bill, Senate Bill 2155, ensures providers are not penalized for the increase in health care costs associated with opioid-prescribing restrictions as it pertains to TennCare payment reform, more commonly referred to as “episodes of care.”  Episode-based payment seeks to align provider incentives with successfully achieving desired outcomes during an “episode of care,” which is acute or specialist-driven health care delivered during a specified time period to treat a clinical condition.  The legislation provides a pathway to address and appeal the episodes of care’s risk-sharing payment that may be assessed if a provider uses a more costly non-opioid modality like physical therapy or chiropractic services.

This bill seeks to address disincentives associated with other treatment modalities because of the episodes of care payment system to curb opioid abuse among TennCare enrollees.

The legislation was approved by the full Senate and now heads to Governor Bill Haslam’s desk for his signature.

Tennessee Reconnect Scholarship Program draws 10,000 adult applicants

More than 10,000 adults have applied for Tennessee Reconnect, the state’s program for adult learners to earn an associate degree or technical certificate tuition-free, since applications opened mid-February. The groundbreaking program covers tuition and mandatory fees at a Tennessee community or technical college for eligible adults that do not yet have a college degree.  It was implemented as a result of Senate Bill 1218 that was approved last year.  It is also part of Governor Bill Haslam’s initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025.

Among those who have applied for the scholarship, more than two-thirds have previously enrolled in college and just more than half of all applicants have attended college in the past five years. The average age of applicants is 34 years old and nearly 90 percent of those who applied plan to work while enrolled through Reconnect.

The Tennessee Reconnect application will remain open year-round; adults hoping to enroll in community or technical college in fall 2018 are encouraged to apply by April 15 to ensure time to complete all enrollment steps. The application for Reconnect requires four simple steps:

  • Complete the application at gov;
  • Apply to a local community college or eligible Tennessee Reconnect institution;
  • File the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at ed.gov; and
  • Enroll in a degree or certificate program at least part-time.

Tennessee is the first state in the nation to offer all citizens, both high school graduates and adults, the chance to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate tuition-free.

Senate approves legislation protecting landowners by allowing local governments to regulate the wind industry in Tennessee

The State Senate unanimously approved legislation this week protecting landowners by allowing local governments to regulate the wind energy industry in Tennessee.  Senate Bill 1793 comes after legislation was passed last year requiring a study be conducted regarding wind turbines and their impact on Tennessee communities and surrounding property owners.

The legislation, which follows the recommendations of the joint legislative study committee, provides reasonable regulations of the wind industry.  It protects the property rights of non-participating landowners, while setting uniform minimum requirements for the construction, operation, or redevelopment of wind energy facilities in the state.  The bill was developed with input from the wind energy industry, the Cumberland Mountain Preservation Coalition, and other key stakeholders.

Local governments would have the authority to go beyond the minimum standards set by the bill.  The requirement of an environmental impact and a wildlife impact assessment will allow an opportunity for public hearings and public involvement.  The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) would have the ability to review the wildlife impact assessment and approve, grant conditional approval or deny the permit.

Finally, the legislation calls for local governments to report annually on activity regarding legislation adopted, the number of approved permits, environmental impact assessments and data of any decommissioned facilities.

The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

General Assembly approves Primacy and Reclamation Act allowing Tennessee to reclaim control over state’s surface mining coal industry

Legislation allowing Tennessee to reclaim control of the state’s surface coal mining industry is on its way to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature after the Senate approved a minor House amendment.  The Primacy and Reclamation Act brings direct oversight to the state through a system of issuing permits and enforcing regulations by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

The Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement (OSM) within the U.S. Department of the Interior was given the authority to control surface mining in Tennessee 34 years ago.

Tennessee is the only actively producing coal state that does not regulate itself and instead is regulated by the Office of Surface Mining in the federal government.  By bringing direct oversight to the state through TDEC, Tennessee’s coal mining industry will gain permit predictability, benefit from local regulation and enforcement, and be on a level playing field with other states across the nation.  The Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee maintains stringent environmental control over coal mining, while providing an opportunity for the state to control its own destiny, stimulate investment and create jobs.

The legislation makes clear that all funding for primacy will come from the federal government and the surface coal mining industry.  Bill sponsors have worked with members of the Haslam and Trump administrations and Tennessee’s congressional delegation to identify potential sources of funding.  Once the program is up and running, the legislation provides that ongoing costs will be split evenly between the federal government and fees assessed on the industry.  If the federal funding does not come through, then the state will not be obligated to implement or run the primacy program.

In Brief… 

James K. Polk / Tomb Relocation -- Legislation which supports the relocation of President James K. Polk’s tomb from the State Capitol grounds to the President James K. Polk Home and Museum State Historic Site in Columbia, Tennessee received final approval in the Senate this week after adoption of a House amendment.  Senate Joint Resolution 141 aims to bring better recognition to the 11th President of the U.S. who was one of only three Tennesseans ever to hold the nation’s highest office.  The action to move the tomb to the state-owned site in Columbia is supported by the James K. Polk Memorial Association.  Both of Tennessee’s other presidents, President Andrew Johnson and President Andrew Jackson, are buried on land they owned.  Polk had requested burial at his home, Polk Place, which no longer stands.  The James K. Polk Home and Museum State Historic Site in Columbia was Polk’s only other residence, besides his residency at the White House.  The resolution is part of a multi-step process, before relocation can occur with the next steps being approval by the Tennessee’s Historical Commission and Capitol Commission, before going to Chancery Court where Polk’s descendants would have an opportunity to weigh in on the matter. The resolution now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Seven-day sales of wine – Final approval was given this week to legislation that permits retail food stores to sell wine and retail package stores to sell alcoholic beverages seven days a week. Senate Bill 2518 puts retailers on par with restaurants, hotels, convention centers, tourist resorts and other businesses in Tennessee which are already allowed to sell wine and spirits any day of the week under state law.  As amended, the measure allows Sunday sales to take place between the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.  The bill prohibits sales on Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.  The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.  The bill will become effective for liquor sales upon the governor’s signature, and for grocery stores, it will take effect on January 1, 2019.

Resolution Urging Action on President Trump’s Proposed Border Wall -- The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee approved a resolution this week urging the U.S. Congress to immediately take action to fund the construction of a secure border wall across the nation’s southern border as proposed by President Donald Trump.  House Joint Resolution 741 states “the members of this General Assembly have consistently taken steps to address illegal immigration within the borders of our great state and now wish to urge the United States Congress to address illegal immigration by supporting President Trump's border wall proposal.”  Upon final approval, the resolution will be sent to President Trump, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Governor Haslam, and to both houses of Congress.  The bill now goes to the floor of the Tennessee Senate for a final vote.

Knox County / Veterans Memorial Mile – Legislation designating a segment of State Route 62 in Knox County from the Solway Bridge to State Route 162 as the “Veterans Memorial Mile” was approved this week in the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee.  Under Senate Bill 1882, the state would put up road markers along this mile acknowledging each branch of the United States Armed Forces. This would allow members of these branches of the armed forces to work with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to donate money, trees, shrubs, and flowers for beautification purposes.

Charles Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center -- The full Senate approved legislation this week to aid the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga.  The Medal of Honor, which was created by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861, is our nation’s highest and rarest military decoration. It is bestowed by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against the enemy of the United States.”  Approximately 3,500 individuals have received the Medal, many of which were posthumously awarded.  The center teaches about the six character traits all Medal of Honor recipients share, which are courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity, and citizenship. Senate Bill 2346 exempts from property taxes all tangible personal property owned and used by a nonprofit organization that has a historic sole purpose for the provision of educational programs about recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The museum plans to open in February of 2020.

Appointments / UT Board of Trustees -- Members of the Senate Education Committee heard testimony from Governor Bill Haslam’s nominees to the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees this week.  The board was restructured under legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this month to improve governance of the system.  The new law  calls for legislative confirmation of the appointees.  The 10-member UT board will oversee the multiple campuses that comprise the UT system, including the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, University of Tennessee at Martin, and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.  Education Committee members confirmed John Compton, former President of PepsiCo and current partner with Clayton Dubilier & Rice; Kara Lawson, former Lady Vol and current basketball television analyst for ESPN and the Washington Wizards; Donnie Smith, former President and Chief Executive Officer of Tyson Foods; Kim White, President and Chief Executive Officer of River City Company; and Bill Rhodes, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of AutoZone.  Those nominees now move to the full Senate for approval.  The appointments are effective July 1, 2018.

Welfare Check / Endangered Children -- Legislation received final Senate approval this week calling for law enforcement agencies to determine if an arrested person is the parent or legal custodian of any children who would be unattended or endangered due to their absence after the arrest. Senate Bill 1512 authorizes law enforcement agencies to develop policies and procedures for conducting welfare checks on any children identified by the arrested person that are determined to be endangered. Child welfare checks are currently conducted by local law enforcement agencies as part of their authorized duties.  The bill seeks to ensure the safety of children by having law enforcement booking agencies inquire of arrested persons whether that person has children and the status of the children in the home to make sure they are not alone and vulnerable.

Smoking / Vehicles with Children – The Senate Transportation Committee approved legislation this week which prohibits an individual from smoking cigarettes, pipes or cigars in an enclosed vehicle when a child age 14 and under is restrained within it. Senate Bill 1759 would require the Tennessee Department of Transportation to use electronic overhead informational displays to provide messages to the public about the law upon enactment.  Violators on first offense would be issued a warning citation, while a second offense would be punishable as a Class C misdemeanor carrying a $20.00 fine.  Third and subsequent offenses would be punishable by a fine of $50.00.

Ambulances -- Legislation enabling Tennessee to continue to draw needed federal funds to help local ambulance services transport patients advanced through the Senate Finance Committee this week. Senate Bill 1823 continues the Ambulance Service Provider Assessment Act, a law passed last year that allows the state to receive additional Medicaid funds to be redistributed to the local private and public ambulance services for transporting patients covered by the program. It is expected to bring in approximately $19.7 million in federal funds for ambulance services through the state’s TennCare Program.  The legislation is modeled after the successful Hospital Assessment Act which has prevented catastrophic TennCare cuts over the last seven years.  The bill is supported by the State Ambulance Service Association.

Court-Ordered Learning Centers / BEP Dollars – The full Senate approved legislation that allows Basic Education Program (BEP) funds to “follow the child” to a learning center when a youth has been ordered by a juvenile court to attend a non-public school.  Currently, there are only two caveats for BEP dollars going to non-Local Education Agency (LEA) settings:  children for whose education the state is directly responsible and those in residential mental health facilities. Senate Bill 1803 adds a third caveat for youth who are court ordered to attend a Tennessee Department of Education-approved non-public school in order to prevent children from entering state custody. There are presently four Teen Learning Centers in Tennessee funded with the Department of Children’s Service’s Custody Prevention Funds.  All youth served in these centers come through their respective county juvenile court orders and have a variety of status and juvenile offenses that put them at serious risk of entering state custody.  Approximately 90 percent of students discharged from the centers remain out of juvenile court.

Henry’s Law – Drug dealers or others who unlawfully distribute Schedule I or II drugs to minors will be facing more jail time when it results in a death under legislation unanimously on final Senate consideration this week.  Senate Bill 1875 is named Henry’s Law for a Knoxville teenager, Henry Granju, who died due to a lethal opiate overdose.  The killing of a minor in Tennessee when the drug is a proximate cause of death is second degree murder, which is a Class A felony.  Under the state’s current sentencing guidelines, a standard Range I offender for a Class A felony can receive 15 to 25 years in jail, but the 30 percent requirement places the actual sentence at 4.5 to 7.5 years. The bill proposes to make that same Class A felony a Range II offense, carrying a 25 to 40 years sentence at a 35 percent requirement.  This means offenders would serve a minimum of 8.8 to 14 years behind bars.  Schedule I drugs include heroin and other psychedelics, while Schedule II drugs include opiates, cocaine, methadone, methamphetamines and amphetamines.  Approximately 70 to 80 juveniles die each year in the state of Tennessee due to opioid overdose.

Statute of Limitations / Sexual Offenses -- Senate Bill 2538 was approved by the full Senate this week instructing the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) to conduct a study and report back next year on the effectiveness of the state’s statutes of limitations, including crimes involving sexual offenses against children.  According to the National Center for Victims Rights, most states have a basic suspension of the statute of limitations for civil actions while a person is a minor.  Many states have also adopted additional extensions, specifically for cases involving sexual abuse of children and a handful of states have removed the statute of limitation completely for child sex crimes.

###


 


Archives