News from Nashville
This week’s main focus was on Tennessee’s opioid crisis. Governor Haslam, members of the General Assembly, and other state leaders launched a multi-phase program called TN Together. This plan uses enforcement, treatment and prevention to stop drug abuse in our great state.
For more information on the TN Together plan and the legislation check out tn.gov/opioid.
TN Together Legislation Initiative
Following the Governor’s TN Together Program, I recently filed a bill ,“Henry’s Law” that focuses on increasing the penalties of drug dealers convicted of selling drugs to minors. Check out Henry’s story on WBIR
TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges updates Transportation Committee on progress being made on Tennessee’s roads and truck safety
Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Chief Engineer Paul Degges gave members of the Senate Transportation Committee, on which I serve, an update last week about projects underway as a result of the Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy (IMPROVE) Act passed last year. The new law will deliver 962 road and bridge projects across all 95 Tennessee counties to alleviate a $10.5 billion backlog in transportation projects.
One of the key components of the IMPROVE Act was repair and replacement of unsafe bridges. TDOT found 526 bridges in the state that were structurally deficient. Degges said 90 of those identified in the plan are under development right now. TDOT has also assisted counties in funding important resurfacing projects through its State Aid Road Grant Program as a result of dollars allocated for this purpose last year. The program makes it easier for counties to access needed state funds to upgrade, repair and improve local roads.
Degges said they have beefed up their oversight of the program to ensure road money is being properly spent and that the projects are being constructed as quickly as possible. The Department has made efforts to make these projects more transparent to the public with their SPOT (Statewide Project Overview Tracker)
website which provides an interactive tool to allow citizens to navigate priority projects across the State of Tennessee.
Senate Education Committee hears work-based learning experiences from high school teens
Hamilton County teens enrolled in innovative work-based learning programs spoke to Senate Education Committee members this week about their experiences combining in-school and off-campus work. While the students take classes in an approved program of study or area of elective focus, they bank post-secondary credits and earn industry certifications that align with the courses they take.
The high schoolers were joined by their counselor who heralded the success of the program and the hard work being performed by the students. Industry partners, Volkswagen and Gestamp, were also praised for creating an optimal learning environment that instills students with the habits, knowledge and skills needed to be post-secondary and career ready.
Visitor to Nashville
Bart McFadden of the Boys and Girls Club of the Tennessee Valley dropped by to update me on the great work they are doing.
Issues in Brief
State of the State Address – The Senate and House will meet in a joint session on Monday night to hear Governor Bill Haslam’s State of the State / Budget Address. He is expected to outline his spending priorities and legislative proposals for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. This will be the eighth and final address for the governor. Under Tennessee’s Constitution, governors may serve no more than two four-year terms consecutively. A live stream link will be available at 6:00 (central standard time) on the General Assembly website at: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/
Child Feeding Programs – The Senate Finance Committee’s Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee met Tuesday to review reforms made by the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) to ensure the integrity of their child feeding programs. DHS has created an Inspector General office which is dedicated to monitoring the program and have partnered with the State Comptroller’s office to carry out unannounced visits to program sponsor sites in order to identify bad actors. They have also implemented background checks and an online monitoring system through the Tennessee Information Payment System (TIPS)
to better track current and prior sponsors. The action comes after audits and investigations by Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson identified financial mismanagement and fraud within some of the federal child feeding programs administered by DHS. The General Assembly passed legislation in 2016 to address the problem. The Senate Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee has been instrumental in examining problems associated with the program and corrective measures being taken to curb fraud and abuse.
Heart Health – The State Senate unanimously approved a resolution this week to recognize the American Heart Association’s annual National Wear Red Day on February 2nd. Senate Joint Resolution 483
applauds the effort put forth by this organization on behalf of women to raise awareness of heart disease and save lives. Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease or stroke, yet only one in five American women believe that heart disease is her greatest health threat. An estimated 44 million women in the U.S. are affected by cardiovascular diseases. For more information about the signs, symptoms and risks, contact the American Heart Association’s “ Go Red for Women
Tennessee Tourism – Commissioner of Tourist Development Kevin Triplett testified before the Senate Government Operations Committee this week about Tennessee’s success in tourism and its ranking as a “top 10 travel state.” He was there in support of Senate Bill 1533
to extend the department until 2022. The state had 110 million traveler visits last year. Tourism is the second largest industry in Tennessee, with a $19.3 billion impact to the state’s economy and generating $1.7 billion in state and local taxes. It affects approximately 300,000 Tennessee jobs, with 180,000 being directly created by the industry. The bill now moves to the full Senate for a final vote.
I enjoyed visiting with my predecessor in the Senate, Jamie Woodson at the gubernatorial forum on education. Jamie heads up SCORE which was a forum host.
Senate Joint Resolution 88
– A resolution that would allow Tennessee voters to decide if they want their elected representatives to select the state’s attorney general (AG), rather than the current system of allowing five appointed Supreme Court justices to make that choice, was approved 7 to 2 this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Joint Resolution 88 begins the process of amending the State Constitution, which if approved by voters, calls for the AG to be selected by the Tennessee General Assembly beginning March 2023.
Hunting and Fishing – The Government Operations Committee heard testimony from Ed Carter, the Director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), about the success of the fishing and wildlife industry in the state. Carter was there in support of Senate Bill 1561
to extend the agency until 2022. According to the U.S. Fishing and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Census, Tennessee brings in $2.5 billion a year from boating and $2.2 billion from hunting and fishing. TWRA has been working on a way to incentivize commercial fishermen to help reduce the population of Asian carp. The bill now moves to the Senate floor for consideration.
I stopped by the re-opening of the AMG Performance Center at Mercedes-Knoxville and visited with Lee Ann Tolsma.
Speaking at the regional legislative breakfast sponsored by the Knox, Blount and Oak Ridge Chambers.
My intern for the 2018 session
I am pleased to have Austin Deal serve as my intern this year. Austin is a student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and a joy to have working in our office.
Also, we are accepting applications for our Page for the Day. This is for high school students who would like to come to Nashville and learn about the legislative process. If interested, the student would need to call my office at 614-741-1648 for more information.