House Republicans Demonstrate Continued Support For Military Veterans, Families
House Republicans demonstrated continued support for veterans and their families this week, moving forward with two major bills to expand access to education in Tennessee. The House Government Operations Committee gave a positive nod for the Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen (STRONG) Act to create a pilot program to provide eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard funding toward a first-time bachelor’s degree through a tuition reimbursement program.
In addition, House lawmakers passed House Bill 433 this week that will make it easier for veterans to determine how their military training can count as credit in Tennessee’s colleges and universities.
The STRONG Act provides an opportunity for those who protect and serve our state and country to receive their bachelor’s degree, a move that gives Tennessee’s National Guard a competitive edge in recruitment. As a last-dollar reimbursement, the amount of state tuition reimbursement is offset by any other funds received. To be eligible, the individual must be currently serving with the Tennessee National Guard in good standing, have applied for federal tuition assistance, and be admitted to any Tennessee public community college, public university, or private college or university which is regionally accredited. The student must maintain a minimum grade point average of 2.0.
Currently in Tennessee, 27.7% of veterans have some college or an associate’s degree, while 24.3% have a bachelor’s degree.
In addition to making it easier for veterans to determine how their military training can count as credit in Tennessee’s colleges and universities, House Bill 433 grants in-state tuition to anyone currently living in Tennessee who is using VA educational benefits, regardless of their official home of record. That change brings Tennessee into compliance with new provisions in the GI bill, ensuring that about 13,000 Tennessee service members, veterans, and their dependents continue to receive education benefits under the federal program.
The proposal also updates Tennessee’s Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act which encourages enrollment of veterans and removes barriers known to impede their success in attaining higher education credentials.
The legislation enhances the VETS Act and makes Tennessee the second state in the nation to develop a web-based dashboard to help prospective student veterans determine how their military training counts. Under the new program, a veteran or service member will be able to click on the specific military occupational specialty he or she possesses and instantly see what academic credit they qualify for at each of Tennessee’s public institutions, before they enroll. The easy-to-use system will help the state recruit and keep military service members in Tennessee.
The bill also calls on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to select representatives of various state colleges and universities by December 2018 to work collaboratively in adopting policies for Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs) for veterans. Currently, PLA credit can vary significantly from one institution to the next. The group will identify and develop uniform methods to assess and maximize academic credit for veterans based on the experience, education, and training obtained during their military service.
As the 2017 legislative session continues, House Republicans remain committed to helping veterans, their families, and all those involved with protecting Tennessee and the United States on a daily basis.
Lawmakers, Farmers Celebrate Annual ‘Ag Day On The Hill’ Event
House lawmakers joined with farmers and agriculture groups from across the state this week to celebrate Tennessee’s annual ‘Ag Day on the Hill’ event at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville. Governor Bill Haslam has also proclaimed the date ‘Agriculture Day’ as part of the annual national observance to recognize the important contributions of farmers and forestland owners provide to the state and nation.
This year, ‘Ag Day on the Hill’ activities included farm animals — horses, cows, goats, sheep, piglets, and chicks — and a variety of farming equipment on display at the entrance to the Legislative Plaza in Nashville. Representatives from agricultural organizations and agencies were also available to discuss programs and opportunities for those interested in farming and forestry in Tennessee.
In addition, a potato bagging and calf bottle feeding contest between House and Senate lawmakers took place, with the Senate claiming the calf feeding victory and House members winning the potato bagging challenge. Following the contest, the Farm & Forest Families of Tennessee organization presented a check to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee in honor of contest participants.
The day’s events also included a sweet potato bagging project to benefit the Society of St. Andrew and a silent auction benefiting Second Harvest and the Ag in the Classroom program.
Tennessee has more than 67,000 farms representing 10.9 million acres in production. More than half of the state, 14 million acres, is in mostly privately owned hardwood forests. Tennessee’s top agricultural commodities include cattle, soybeans, corn, poultry, cotton, timber, greenhouse and nursery products, dairy products, wheat, tobacco, and hay. The industry has a $70 billion a year impact on the state’s economy and supports more than 340,000 jobs.
General Assembly Passes Property Tax Relief Bill For East Tennessee Fire Victims
Property owners could receive prorated 2016 property tax assessments
This week in Nashville, House members passed legislation to provide additional support to East Tennessee families that had property damaged by wildfires that swept through Sevier County and surrounding areas last November.
The bill calls for prorating the 2016 tax assessment for a homeowner’s real property or a business owner’s personal property, if it sustained damaged from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) certified disaster area last year. House Bill 52 is modeled after similar legislation that granted tax relief to victims of the 2010 floods in Nashville.
The legislation would not become effective until it is approved by a two-thirds vote of the local governing body of the county or city in which the property is located. The new legislation would also require fire victims to provide a listing of the destroyed, demolished, or substantially damaged personal property for which the tax relief is sought.
If the tax computed for the 2016 tax year has already been paid by the property owner prior to proration, he or she would receive a refund under the new law.
Lawmakers Pass Resolution To Raise Awareness Of Malignant Brain Tumors In Children
This week, Republican lawmakers unanimously approved a resolution designating May 17, 2017 as Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) Awareness Day in Tennessee.
The resolution was initiated by constituent Elizabeth Psar and is designed to increase attention to the leading cause of cancer death in children — DIPG. DIPG is a type of brain tumor that is highly aggressive and has a zero percent survival rate.
These tumors are difficult to treat because they are often found near the base of the brain on the brainstem, which controls many of the body’s vital functions. Those who are diagnosed are typically between the ages of five and nine. Patients often stop breathing or go into full cardiac arrest as the cancer spreads throughout their body.
Proponents of the legislation hope that by spreading the message about DIPG, they can help educate Tennessee parents and caregivers, while also trying to increase resources that will lead to researchers discovering a cause and cure for this disease.
Tennessee Department Of Environment & Conservation Seeks Environmental Achievers
Nominations now open for the 2017 Governor’s Stewardship Awards
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is inviting Tennesseans to submit nominations for the 2017 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards.
The Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards include multiple unique categories: Building Green, Clean Air, Energy and Renewable Resources, Environmental Education and Outreach, Land Use, Materials Management, Natural Heritage, Sustainable Performance, and Lifetime Achievement.
Any individual, business, organization, educational institution, or agency is eligible, provided it is located in Tennessee and the project was completed during the 2016 calendar year. All nominees must have a minimum of three consecutive years of overall environmental compliance with TDEC. Self-nominations are encouraged.
As Tennesseans continue to make the state a stronger and healthier place through innovative ideas and collaboration across industries, these annual awards help motivate and empower individuals, organizations, and communities to keep pushing the needle on stewardship efforts across the state.
A panel of judges representing agricultural, conservation, forestry, environmental, and academic professionals will select award recipients based on criteria including level of project or program completion, innovation, and public education. The deadline for nominations is March 31, 2017. Award recipients will be announced in May 2017.
For more information about each category, judging criteria, and nomination forms, visit TDEC’s website at http://www.tn.gov/environment/gov-awards.shtml.