Rep. Curtis Johnson’s Newsroom

State Representative Curtis Johnson’s News From The Capitol

April 20, 2018

GENERAL ASSEMBLY PASSES 2018-2019 BUDGET

The Tennessee House 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 childhood 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 health care services is also the impetus behind a pilot program funded in the budget to help to 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 House Bill 2644 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.

 

 

 

LEGISLATION HOLDING TEACHERS AND STUDENTS HARMLESS IN TNREADY ASSESSMENTS APPROVED BY GENERAL ASSEMBLY

The House 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 House Bill 1981.

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 cybersecurity 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.

Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson’s News From the Capitol: 02/23/18

February 23, 2018

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ANNOUNCE CRITICAL GROWTH FUNDS

This month, House Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville), State Representative Jay Reedy (R-Erin), and the Tennessee Department of Education announced that Montgomery County Schools has received district growth funding to support education initiatives in Montgomery County.

Specifically, Montgomery County received $3,566,500.

This funding is a direct result of a Republican-led effort to not only fully fund education in Tennessee but also provide an additional $18 million to towards school district growth.

These significant investments in many Tennessee school districts will allow growing schools to maintain the necessary resources, so that they can continue offering quality education for our state’s young leaders.

“Montgomery County has been expanding at a rapid rate and it is critical that our educators have the tools they need to keep up with this growth.  I’m always proud to stand with teachers as we work together to provide quality education in Tennessee” said Speaker Johnson.

“My wife is a public school teacher and I have the pleasure of serving on the House Education Instruction & Programs Committee, therefore I know how impactful these growth funds should be for the teachers and students of Montgomery County,” said Representative Reedy.

This funding has been so well received by parents, education officials, and teachers that Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam added another $18 million in growth funds to his Fiscal Year 2019 budget.

 

GOOGLE BREAKS GROUND ON $600M CLARKSVILLE DATA CENTER

The groundbreaking for a new Google data center in Clarksville/Montgomery County, took place last Friday, February 16.  The Tennessee data center is part of a $2.5 billion dollar investment Google is making to open or expand data centers in Alabama, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia and Oklahoma.  These data centers are what make Google services run for you or your business (in Tennessee alone, Google answer millions of searches a day, and about 18,000 businesses and nonprofits use the search and advertising tools).

GENERAL ASSEMBLY HONORS BLIND VETERANS, AMERICAN HISTORY DURING HOUSE CEREMONY

This week on the House floor, legislators came together to honor Tennessee’s blind veterans as well as pay tribute to all of the men and women who sacrifice themselves for the freedom Americans are able to enjoy on a daily basis during an official ceremony and presentation of the braille American flag.

The House ceremony was led by retired Staff Sgt. Walt Peters, a veteran who served 20 years in the U.S. Army, including three tours of duty in Vietnam.  Peters lost his sight 15 years ago as a result of exposure to the chemical Agent Orange while serving in Southeast Asia.

Peters first got involved with the braille American flag in 2014 when he was presented with a durable paper replica of the bronze-cast braille flag.  Peters, who only sees faint silhouettes, said that gift meant a lot to him and pushed him to set out on a mission to have a bronze braille flag placed in every veterans’ hospital in the country — just over 150.  This mission led him to meeting Randolph Cabral, founder of the Kansas Braille Transcription Institute, who created the braille flag to honor his father, Jesus Sanchez Cabral.

Jesus Sanchez Cabral was a decorated U.S. Army Air Corps veteran who served the United States during World War II.  Glaucoma robbed him of his sight 10 years before his death.  It also hampered Cabral’s ability to post and fly the American flag on his front porch, a duty he cherished as a patriotic veteran.

The braille American flag serves as a valuable teaching and learning aid for instructing blind students about its place in American history.  It is composed of braille figures in the upper left corner that represent the stars of the 50 states.  They are arranged in nine rows of alternating clusters.  The long smooth horizontal lines represent the red stripes.  Each red stripe is lined with the appropriate braille dots to indicate the stripe’s color.  The long raised textured areas on the flag represent the white stripes.  They are also lined with the appropriate braille dots to indicate the stripe’s color.

The American braille flag is a powerful symbol for more than 30 million blind and low vision Americans.  In 2008, the United States Congress authorized its placement at Arlington National Cemetery as a tribute to blind veterans.  It is displayed by thousands of sighted and blind civilians, veterans, hospitals, memorial parks, elected officials, schools for the blind, and many other places.

LEGISLATION BOLSTERS STATE’S GO BUILD TENNESSEE PROGRAM

Legislation bolstering Tennessee’s Go Build Tennessee Program, which encourages and promotes career opportunities in the construction industry, was approved by House Business and Utilities Committee this week.  House Bill 1917 clarifies that the annual 50 percent transfer of revenue from the contractor’s license be used solely for the implementation, administration and management of the non-profit program.

The goal is to encourage and promote career opportunities in Tennessee’s secondary schools, postsecondary schools, colleges of applied technology and community colleges.  The Go Build Tennessee website features 109 in-state training programs of the top demanded occupations.  These occupations include carpenters, welders, road builders, electricians, masons, equipment operators, plumbers, and pipe fitters and more.

In Alabama, where a similar program which originated in 2010, they have been able to increase construction-related Career and Technical Education (CTE) course enrollments by 24 percent.  Tennessee’s Go Build Tennessee Program has communicated with students, parents and teachers in all 95 counties of the state as they widen their efforts to attract more skilled tradesmen to these high demand jobs.

The bill was referred to the House Government Operations Committee where it will be heard next week.

 

CONTACT INFORMATION:

Rep. Curtis Johnson

606 Cordell Hull Building

Nashville, TN  37243

(615) 741-4341

Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson and State Representative Jay Reedy, Department of Education Announce Critical Growth Funds

February 22, 2018

(NASHVILLE) — House Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville), State Representative Jay Reedy (R-Erin), and the Tennessee Department of Education today announced that Montgomery County Schools have received district growth funding to support education initiatives in the county.

Specifically, Montgomery County received $3,566,500.

This funding is a direct result of a Republican-led effort by Tennessee General Assembly members to not only fully fund education in Tennessee but also provide $18 million to cover school district growth as part of Governor Bill Haslam’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

These significant investments will allow many of our state’s school districts with soaring populations to maintain proper student to teacher ratios so that they can continue offering quality education for our next generation of leaders.

“Montgomery County has been expanding at a rapid rate and it is critical that our educators have the tools they need to keep up with this growth. I’m always proud to stand with teachers as we work together to provide quality education in Tennessee,” said Speaker Johnson.

“My wife is a public school teacher and I have the pleasure of serving on the House Education Instruction & Programs Committee. Therefore, I know how impactful these growth funds should be for the teachers and students of Montgomery County,” said Representative Reedy.

This funding has been so well received by parents, education officials, and teachers that Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam added another $18 million in growth funds to his proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget.

Curtis Johnson serves as the House Speaker Pro Tempore and is a member of the House Calendar & Rules Committee, the House Finance, Ways & Means Committee, the House Government Operations Committee, the House Business & Utilities Committee, the House Rules Committee, and the Joint Government Operations Committee. He is also a member of the House Business & Utilities Subcommittee, as well as the Joint Government Operations Commerce, Labor, Transportation & Agriculture Subcommittees. Johnson lives in Clarksville and represents House District 68, which includes part of Montgomery County. He can be reached by email at Rep.Curtis.Johnson@capitol.tn.gov or by calling (615) 741-4341.

Jay Reedy serves as a member of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee and Subcommittee, as well as the House Education Instruction & Programs Committee. He lives in Erin and represents House District 74, which includes Houston, Humphreys, and part of Montgomery Counties. He can be reached by email at Rep.Jay.Reedy@capitol.tn.gov or by calling (615) 741-7098.

State Representatives Curtis Johnson and Jay Reedy Fight To Increase Employment Opportunities For Veterans And Their Families

March 13, 2017

(NASHVILLE) — Thursday, lawmakers unanimously passed legislation co-sponsored by Representatives Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) and Jay Reedy (R-Erin) aimed at increasing private employment opportunities for military veterans and their families.

House Bill 165 encourages private employers to hire honorably discharged veterans, spouses of a veteran with a service-connected disability, unremarried widows or widowers of veterans who died of service-connected disability, and unremarried widows or widowers of a member of the military who died in the line of duty.

Private employers that adopt a veteran’s preference must have their policy in writing and may require a potential employee to submit a certificate of release or discharge from active duty as proof of their eligibility for the preference. The veteran’s preference must be applied consistently to all employment decisions made by a company regarding hiring and promotion.

“Our servicemen and women make personal sacrifices every day in order to protect and defend our freedom,” said Representative Johnson. “It is critical that we support them by increasing their employment options in the private sector.”

“As a veteran, I have always encouraged military families to pursue their personal and professional goals and dreams,” said Representative Reedy. “This legislation will ensure our heroes are able to utilize a variety of employment opportunities in order to provide a better life for their families.”

House Bill 165 is the latest in a series of legislation that demonstrates support for and honors Tennessee military veterans and their families. In 2016, five soldiers killed in the Chattanooga terrorist attack were awarded the “Tennessee Fallen Heroes Medal” by Governor Bill Haslam for their heroic efforts on Tennessee soil.

Recently, lawmakers also passed the National Guard Force Protection Act, which enhances protection at Tennessee National Guard facilities and military installations. Additionally, legislation passed the full House that strengthened and made the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) program available to private, non-profit institutions of higher education throughout the state. The highly successful VETS program encourages colleges and universities to prioritize outreach to veterans and successfully deliver the services necessary to create a supportive environment where student veterans can prosper while pursuing their education.

The full text of House Bill 165 can be accessed by visiting the Tennessee General Assembly website at: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/110/Bill/HB0165.pdf

Curtis Johnson serves as a member of the House Calendar & Rules, House Finance, Ways & Means, House Government Operations, House Business & Utilities, House Rules and the Joint Government Operations Committees. He is also a member of the House Business & Utilities Subcommittee, as well as the Joint Government Operations Commerce, Labor, Transportation & Agriculture Subcommittees. Johnson lives in Clarksville and represents House District 68, which includes part of Montgomery County. Johnson can be reached by email at Rep.Curtis.Johnson@capitol.tn.gov or by calling (615) 741-4341.

Jay Reedy serves as a member of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee and Subcommittee, as well as the House Education Instruction & Programs Committee. He lives in Erin and represents House District 74, which includes all of Houston, Humphreys, and part of Montgomery Counties. He can be reached by email at Rep.Jay.Reedy@capitol.tn.gov or by calling (615) 741-7098.

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House Speaker Beth Harwell Works to Eliminate Opioid Abuse

January 27, 2017

Speaker Harwell Announces Task Force on Opioid Abuse

 

NASHVILLE – Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) this week created a task force on opioid and prescription drug abuse. The task force’s immediate goal will be to work on legislation, but its efforts will be ongoing to determine the best strategies for tackling the opioid epidemic. Tennessee is consistently ranked at the top of the charts nationally with regards to prescription drug abuse.

“This task force presents an opportunity to have a very serious conversation about opioid and prescription drug abuse in our state,” said Speaker Harwell. “The statistics are devastating: there are more opioid prescriptions than there are people in Tennessee. In 2015, 1,451 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses, the highest annual number in our state’s history. And the number of babies born who have been chronically exposed to opioids is high, particularly in East Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Health reports that from 2000 to 2012, the rate of babies born with exposure increased 15 fold. We can, and should, do more to ensure this is not happening.”

She continued, “The Tennessee General Assembly has passed some legislation in the past targeting the problem, but I believe we also need to look toward solutions that include treatment and prevention measures. I believe this task force can be an asset as we work to address this issue in this session and in the future.”

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that prescription opioid abuse has a total economic burden of $78.5 billion per year in the United States. There is an estimated $7.7 billion criminal justice cost across the country.

 

Speaker Harwell appointed the following members to the task force:

Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville – Chair

Representative JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga

Representative Curtis Halford, R-Dyer

Representative Darren Jernigan, D-Old Hickory

Representative William Lamberth, R-Portland

Representative Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro

Representative Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville

 

“I have asked the members of the task force to work toward legislation that can be filed this year, as well as working collaboratively with other members who have legislation on the topic. Working together, I am hoping we can create some comprehensive solutions to this epidemic,” concluded Speaker Harwell.

Future meeting times for the task force will be announced as they are scheduled.

 

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