NASHVILLE – A group of Knoxville Central High School students and their teacher joined Medal of Honor recipient Leo Thorsness and Sen. Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) in the Tennessee Senate on Monday night in recognition of a model character program for Tennessee public schools. Senate Joint Resolution 45, written by the students, urges official adoption by the state Board of Education of the Congressional Medal of Honor Character Development Program as the official curriculum to be used to meet the character education requirements currently set out in state law.
“I am very proud of these students and their teacher, Dr. Michael McDaniel, for their thoughtful pursuit of this model program on character development promoted by Medal of Honor recipients,” Sen. Massey said. “I also appreciate Colonel Thorsness and all of our Congressional Medal of Honor recipients involved in this program for not only serving their country with the highest distinction in combat, but also for all their work to serve the next generation of Americans through this innovative and thoughtful program.”
U.S. Air Force Col. Thorsness was awarded the medal for an air battle on April 19, 1967, above North Vietnam in which he averted possible loss of life of fellow airmen with “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” He was shot down 11 days later and spent six years in captivity in North Vietnam as a prisoner of war.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Character Development Program has been endorsed by a number of school systems across the nation, but Tennessee is the first state to endorse its use statewide. The curriculum includes the six characteristics promoted by the Congressional Medal of Honor recipients: courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity and citizenship. The curriculum can be integrated into, but not limited to, a number of academic subjects, including government, contemporary issues, history, sociology, psychology, language arts, leadership and math. It is provided free online and is accessible by any public school.
Students at Central High School involved in writing the resolution include Abby Booher, Brittany Davis, Jennifer DeHart, Book Tatum and Ben Archer.
The curriculum would become effective for the 2013-14 school year. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society will hold its 2014 convention in Knoxville this September honoring the 80 living Medal of Honor recipients.
I was pleased to sponsor several pieces of legislation that were passed in the Senate recently.
Joint resolution 103 is a constitutional amendment that provides for a process to hand over the office of governor if he or she is temporarily incapacitated. This specifies that the Speaker of the Senate (followed by the Speaker of the House) would become Acting Governor if the governor is unable to perform the duties of the office. The House will vote on this next. Then, it will need to pass with a super majority during the 109th General Assembly. Finally, the measure will go to the voters in the 2018 general election, and it must get a plurality of votes as measured by the total number voting in the gubernatorial election.
I was able to move Senate Bill 473 successfully through the full Senate, providing a legal process for embryo donors to transfer rights to an embryo to future parents. Written in accordance to guidelines from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the bill will both protect donors from future liabilities and clarify the legal rights of future parents who choose in-vitro fertilization.
Senate Bill 745 (The Breast Cancer Prevention Act) requires that, if a physician upon completion of a mammogram, determines that the patient has dense breast tissue, then patients will be informed that there may be an increased risk of breast cancer. This notice is provided to raise awareness and inform a conversation between patients and their regular physician. Studies have shown that women with dense breasts are four to six times more likely to have breast cancer. I was pleased to pass this legislation that will likely help to save lives in Tennessee through earlier detection and treatment.
2013 legislative session nearing completion
The General Assembly has been working on numerous bills and finalizing the budget as we prepare to close the 2013 legislative session. It is predicted that we will finish sometime this week. The budget will be the last piece of legislation that is passed. Negotiations are ongoing between the House and the Senate in order to bring the two in line with each other.
Legislation of Interest
Workers’ Compensation Reform
The Senate approved final passage of legislation to make the state more attractive to job creation, while protecting injured employees. Senate Bill 200 would cut costs to businesses, create more predictability, improve the efficiency of claims management, simplify the physician selection process for injured employees and reduce benefit delays to workers. This legislation comes as a result of two comprehensive studies tasked with identifying possible recommendations for improving the program. The primary gains for employees include fewer delays, better medical treatment, claims processing that is easier to follow and better support from the Workers’ Compensation Division when problems do arise.
The Senate has approved legislation that will give Tennessee prosecutors a new weapon in rape cases where the statute of limitations is about to expire. Senate Bill 831 will allow a criminal prosecution to be commenced by issuing an arrest warrant that identifies the perpetrator based on the DNA profile. Under the measure, prosecutors will soon be able to obtain a “John Doe” arrest warrant based on the perpetrator’s DNA profile, saving the case from dismissal on grounds that too much time has passed
Students of Retired Teacher
The full Senate also approved Senate Bill 1265 that allows students attending public higher education institutions, who are receiving 25 percent tuition discounts as children of full-time teachers, to continue to receive the discount in the event their parent retires. Under present law, every child in Tennessee under 24 years of age whose parent is employed as a full-time certified teacher in any public school or as a full-time technology coordinator in any LEA receives a 25 percent discount on tuition to any state-operated institution of higher learning. This bill also adds that a child receiving the discount would continue to receive it if their parent retires after a minimum of 30 years of full-time creditable service in the public schools of Tennessee.
Legislation that would ensure all honorably discharged veterans that relocate to Tennessee receive in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities has been approved by state Senators. Senate Bill 208 applies to veterans who register for college within 24 months from the time of their honorable discharge. In addition, the bill grants members of the Tennessee State Guard one free course per term at any state-supported post-secondary institution, capped at 25 tuition waivers annually. The Tennessee State Guard is the all volunteer arm of the Tennessee Military Department, which provides a professional complement of personnel to support the Tennessee National Guard.
The full Senate approved several bills regarding Human Trafficking. Senate Bill 1027 allows children who are victims of trafficking for commercial sex acts and patronizing prostitution the opportunity to testify outside of the courtroom by using a two-way closed circuit television. Currently, the same courtesy is afforded to victims of aggravated sexual battery, rape, incest, aggravated child abuse, kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping, especially aggravated kidnapping and criminal intent to commit any of the offenses above.
Senate Bill 1032 increases the charge of promoting the prostitution of a minor from a Class E felony to a Class A or B felony. Senate Bill 1035 provides defendants or victims of sex trafficking restitution of special damages that include medical-related and counseling-related expenses the victim incurred as a result of sex trafficking and other offenses. Senate Bill 1390 broadens the definition of custodian to include anyone who physically possesses or controls a child. This proposal would enable Child Protective Services to remove a child from the care of a trafficker in cases in which the trafficker is not a parent, guardian or legal custodian, which under current law, are the only people considered custodians. Senate Bill 1028 extends the statute of limitations for commercial sex acts and soliciting the sexual exploitation of a minor to 10 years after the victim turns 18, and patronizing and promoting prostitution of a minor to 15 years after the victim has turned 18. In many instances, victims are unaware of the fact they are victims at the time of their 18th birthday. This legislation would allow them more time and maturity to make that realization. Finally, Senate Bill 1030 prohibits defendants from using consent as a defense in the cases of soliciting, sexual exploitation of a minor, aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and especially aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor.
Beer Tax Reform
State senators overwhelmingly approved legislation to reform Tennessee’s beer tax. Senate Bill 422 will convert Tennessee’s outdated price-based tax to a volume-based tax. Under the current law which was created in the 1950s, Tennessee leads all other states’ beer tax rate by a 12% margin. In comparison to the state’s neighbors, Arkansas’ tax per barrel rings up at $7.51 and Mississippi’s at $13.23, while Tennessee tops out at $47 per barrel. The bill aims to promote competitiveness and economic opportunity, as well as choice for consumers.