Tennessee: ‘America at its Best”
Gov. Bill Lee on Monday addressed a joint session of the General Assembly in the House Chamber in which he outlined his legislative priorities for 2022 and presented his budget proposal for the upcoming year. The governor’s fourth state of the state highlighted strategic investments in education, infrastructure, public safety, rural Tennessee and supporting families. He emphasized Tennessee’s embodiment of “America at its best” and his commitment to building on the state’s past successes.
“Tennessee stands as a beacon to the rest of the country for how we can change lives when we control the size of government, prioritize efficiency, and make smart and responsible investments. I am proud to propose a budget and America at Its Best policies that reinforce freedom, innovation, exceptionalism and optimism,” Lee said.
The governor doubled-down on his commitment to boost education in Tennessee. In addition to overhauling the current Basic Education Program (BEP), he proposed $1.03 billion in new money for K-12 education. Of which, $750 million would be a recurring increase for the new funding formula for fiscal year 2023-24. The governor noted his new formula will demand accountability and reward districts for performance. It will prioritize the needs of students above all else and will pay particular attention to students with disabilities, students in rural Tennessee and from low-income families. The governor’s plan includes $1.9 billion for higher education, including $90 million to keep state universities from raising tuition and $200 million for infrastructure investments.
Other key initiatives for K-12 and higher education include:
- New legislation that ensures parents know what materials are available to students in their libraries
- Legislation making computer science and coding available to every high school student in Tennessee
- $2.5 million to expand the Future Workforce Initiative
- $125 million investment in K-12 teacher salaries/4 percent salary pool increase for higher ed employees
- $25.5 million in recurring funding for K-12 summer learning camps
- $16 million recurring & $16 million nonrecurring to the Charter Schools Facility Fund to increase the number of charter schools
- $72 million to complete the Oak Ridge Innovation Institute
- $6 million to establish the Institute of American Civics at the University of Tennessee
- $50 million to a Carnegie R1 research fund at the University of Memphis
- $250 million in infrastructure improvements at Tennessee State University
- $170 million to invest in a statewide Enterprise Resource System for the University of Tennessee and the Locally Governed Institutions
- $75 million to increase the 4-year HOPE Award to $5,100 per student, per year, and the 2-year HOPE Award to $3,200 per student, per year
Safer Communities: Governor Lee expressed his continued commitment for safer communities in Tennessee. He outlined a plan to advance the state’s standing as a national leader for public safety training and consumer protection. During his speech, he announced he would modernize Tennessee’s police and firefighter training academies, as well as cover the costs of training more police and fire recruits. He also announced he would increase oversight of consumer protection. The governor said he would direct the Department of Safety and Homeland Security to create a safety training plan for every house of worship in Tennessee. His budget adds 100 Tennessee State Troopers, 20 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) agents, and 25 TBI forensic science personnel.
Other safety initiatives include:
- $355.6 million for a multi-agency law enforcement training academy
- $28.4 million to fully fund the correctional officer salary changes
- $66 million for the TN Law Enforcement Hiring, Training, and Recruitment program
- $179 million to complete full construction of Tennessee Advanced Communications Network coverage, ensuring full mobile connectivity across all Tennessee for emergency communications and law enforcement
- $150 million to create the Violent Crime Intervention Grant Fund
During his speech, Gov. Lee put a strong emphasis on investing in rural communities, infrastructure, economic development and improving health care.
“You can’t be the best state for families unless you’re the best state for all families. I believe we have significant work to do in improving access to health care for Tennessee families,” Lee said. “Because of our prudent fiscal management, we’re making huge investments in rural healthcare in this budget. And that means actual care, not just keeping hospitals open.” He proposed to dedicate more than $18 million in attracting 150 new primary care physician residents to rural Tennessee communities.
Overall, the governor’s proposal invests $545.5 million in Health and Human Services.
Other investments in health include:
- $25.5 million in dental benefits for adult TennCare enrollees
- $21.8 million for the DIDD’s Tennessee Early Intervention System
- $6 million to expand substance abuse disorder services to uninsured Tennesseans
- $55 million to increase access to services across each Medicaid Pathways to Independence program
Infrastructure and economic development:
- $519 million in new road funding ($77 million for ECD projects included)
- $100 million to complete IMPROVE Act projects
- $82 million to reimburse public hospitals for uncompensated care, primarily in rural communities
- $26 million for Rural Opportunity Grants, helping to get communities ready for corporate investment
- $3.5 million to support the Transportation Equity Fund
- $103 million for the FastTrack program
Republicans in the General Assembly are committed to working with the governor and his administration to complete another fiscally conservative budget that addresses the needs of all Tennesseans. This year’s proposal continues Republicans’ tradition of outstanding fiscal management with zero new taxes for Tennesseans. To read a full transcript of Lee’s speech visit here.
1,246 bills filed for second session of the 112th General Assembly
House members worked hard this week to finalize their legislative proposals before the Feb. 2 bill deadline. In all, 1,246 bills were filed and received by House Clerk’s Office. House committees continued to meet as bills are being introduced and referred to their respective committees.
Republicans introduce Joe Clyde Daniels Act
Republicans filed legislation this week that would make it more difficult for a convicted murderer to be granted parole if they do not reveal the location of their victim’s remains.
House Bill 2306, also known as the Joe Clyde Daniels Act, requires the board of parole to consider “the extent to which the offender obstructed or continues to obstruct the ability of law enforcement to recover the remains of the victim” when deciding cases involving an offender convicted of homicide.
The legislation was prompted by the 2018 disappearance of 5-year-old Joe Clyde Daniels from his home in Dickson. His father, Joseph Daniels, was convicted of murder in June. However, the child’s remains have never been found.
“The circumstances around this really couldn’t be any more tragic,” State Rep. Michael G. Curcio, R-Dickson, said during a news conference Tuesday. “We can’t bring Joe back, but this is something that we feel like honors his memory, but also makes sure that folks that engage in this sort of behavior can be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
A trial for Krystal Daniels, the boy’s mother, is scheduled to take place in March. She is charged with aggravated child abuse and neglect.
If approved and signed into law, the Joe Clyde Daniels Act would take effect July 1.
“Every child, every person deserves closure and a proper burial,” State Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, said. “We hope that maybe this will help… and his dad will tell us where he did dispose of this child’s body.”
For more information about House Bill 2306 visit here.
Pilot program would provide scholarships for workforce training
Legislation to provide scholarships to Tennessee students in workforce training programs advance out of the Education Administration Committee this week. It will now go to the Government Operations Committee for consideration.
If approved, House Bill 1681 would create a two-year pilot program to award grants to students enrolled in certain non-credit workforce training programs operated by a community college or Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) governed by the state university and community college system.
“I believe that if we do this, we’ll start to open up opportunities across the state of Tennessee for kids that aren’t necessarily going to go to a two-year or four-year college,” State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, told members of the Higher Education Subcommittee last month.
Lawmakers also heard from Dr. Dearl Lampley, vice president of Columbia State Community College, who said that 60 percent of current job openings do not require a college degree.
Columbia State currently offers a 10-week Pre-Apprentice Lineworker Academy where students receive valuable industry training and certifications. While interest in the program is high, Lampley said its $4,750 cost is the primary reason students say they are unable to enroll.
“We have a gap in funding for non-credit training that is highly needed by industry,” Lampley said. “Overall, (this bill) would be a benefit for the state as far as helping fill some of those voids we have in the workforce in a very quick manner.”
The cost of the two-year pilot program would be $1.4 million annually, according to the Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee. More information about House Bill 1681 can be found here.
Bill would increase liability protections for police during pursuits
Republicans filed legislation this week to increase liability protections for officers in pursuit of a fleeing suspect.
According to House Bill 2605, law enforcement personnel and their agency would not be liable for injuries to a third party caused by a suspect who flees from authorities “unless the law enforcement personnel were grossly negligent” and that gross negligence “was a proximate cause” of the injuries.
“This legislation only protects law enforcement officers who follow the proper policies and procedures while pursuing a fleeing suspect,” said State Rep. John Gillespie, R-Memphis. “It is important that officers and their departments still be held accountable for any third-party injuries caused by grossly negligent conduct.” More information about House Bill 2605 can be found here.
Muniz named 2021 House Employee of the Year
The Tennessee House of Representatives honored 2021 House Employee of the Year recipient Tyler Muniz on Thursday.
House Resolution 137, which passed unanimously, describes Muniz as a “respectful, hardworking, detail oriented and extremely ambitious” employee who sets “high professional standards” that he routinely exceeds.
“It doesn’t matter what job he is doing,” Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, said during the presentation. “He is always smiling and does it with enthusiasm.”
Muniz was hired in January of 2012. He currently serves as the House operations assistant as well as a sergeant at arms.
The House Employee of the Year award is presented annually to employees who have performed with uncommon devotion and enthusiasm throughout their years of meritorious service to the General Assembly. Nominations are anonymous and winners are chosen by an independent third party.
House to vote on Supreme Court Justice confirmation Feb. 10
The House Civil Justice Committee this week held a confirmation hearing for Sarah Campbell for her nomination to the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Campbell currently serves as Tennessee’s Associate Solicitor General and Special Assistant to the Attorney General. In that role, she has represented Tennessee before the Tennessee Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Courts of Appeals. She previously worked for Williams and Connolly LLP in Washington, D.C. While in D.C., Campbell clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.
The vacancy on the Tennessee Supreme Court bench was created when Justice Cornelia Clark died in September. The House Civil Justice Committee voted in favor of sending a confirmation resolution for Campbell to the House floor for a full vote on Feb. 10. The General Assembly must confirm Campbell’s appointment per an amendment added to the state constitution in 2014. Justices are retained through a “yes” or “no” election every eight years.
Members of the House of Representatives participated in National Wear Red Day on Thursday, Feb. 3. The campaign, started by the American Heart Association, aims to raise awareness about the risks of heart disease in women. Cardiovascular disease continues to be the greatest preventable threat to women’s health, according to the American Heart Association.
State Rep. John Holsclaw, Jr. can be reached by email at email@example.com or by calling 615-741-7450.