(NASHVILLE, TN) — The 2nd Session of the 107th General Assembly convened Tuesday, January 10, to face a full array of issues. During the first week, the issue of redistricting took center stage.
Since 1790, the federal government has conducted a census every 10 years. Upon completion, the state legislatures are required to redistrict the state and federal legislatures to reflect changes in population. In a famous Tennessee Case, Baker v. Carr, the Supreme Court of the United States added that all districts had to comply with the “one man – one vote” principle.
In Tennessee there are 99 House seats and 33 Senate seats. According to the census, Tennessee now has over six million people The optimum population for a House district is 62,000 and the 192,000 for a Senate district.
The legislature held over for a rare Friday session last week to adopt the redistricting bills. These bills will comply with the Constitution and divide fewer counties than previous legislation. Many thanks to Speaker Ron Ramsey and Majority Leader Mark Norris for their leadership to get these bills through with minimal partisan bickering. You can go to capitol.tn.gov to see the maps.
I am pleased that the 12th Senatorial District remained in tact, picking up one new county, Pickett, home of former Secretary of State Cordell Hull. There are now seven counties in my district, Campbell, Fentress, Morgan, Pickett, Rhea, Roane and Scott. Truly seven of the finest counties in Tennessee!
Tennessee’s budget and job creation will remain the proedominent driver for legislative action. Although the revenue has continued to improve, it is estimated that it will take two more years for the State to grow to 2008 levels. Moreover, several core services were funded with one-time revenue and new revenues must be found for those services. Unless revenues are found core services scheduled to go away on July 1, 2012, include teachers’ extended contracts, coordinated school health programs, York Institute, mental health programs, and DIDS Family Support. I am working hard to find the necessary funds to keep these worthwhile programs adequately funded.
We must also be fiscally responsible with our resources. Tennessee is in better shape than many because we have been careful not to issue debt and cut wasteful spending. In the last three years the legislature has cut discretionary spending 21% and actually lowered taxes.
The economy is slowly recovering, but the Recession is not over in the 12th District. Six of the seven counties have double digit unemployment. We must do all we can to create an environment to create jobs in rural counties which traditionally have higher unemployment. Last year, the Governor signed into law The Adventure Tourism and Rural Development Act, which mandates an economic development program for rural counties. I wrote this bill and am excited about its potential to help rural counties. We have a fine new Governor, Bill Haslam, who shares these concerns, too. The legislature will look to his lead on the issue of economic development in the weeks ahead.
Expect to hear considerable discussion of education laws in this Session. The legislature will likely debate the state’s new teacher evaluation system. As the new law has been put in place, there have been concerns expressed by teachers and principals alike that some of the requirements are overly burdensome and consume valuable teaching time. I have talked to many teachers and principals myself and shared their concerns with the Commissioner of Education who has already moved to provide more flexibility. I plan to co-sponsor a Senate Joint Resolution asking for a study of the new law. The Governor recently announced an independent review of the program. I am hopeful that the results of these actions will mitigate any unintended consequences from these new laws.
There are many more issues to write about in the coming weeks. As always, feel free to contact me anytime and visit us in Nashville. It’s your office.