Legislative Update

jmcculleyNews

GOVERNOR BILL HASLAM’S 2016 STATE OF THE STATE

Governor Bill Haslam delivered his proposal to fund state government for the 2016-2017 fiscal year in his annual State of the State Address, unveiling a balanced $34.8 billion proposal that makes the largest investment in K-12 education without a tax increase in Tennessee’s history. The governor’s Fiscal Year 2016-2017 budget proposes 261 million in new dollars for Tennessee public education, including $104.6 million for teacher salaries. It also builds up state reserves, puts Tennessee on the path to catch up on long-deferred maintenance of buildings, reinvests in the state workforce and focuses one-time dollars on reducing the state’s ongoing costs. 

In his speech, Gov. Haslam highlighted the collaborative effort with the General Assembly to grow Tennessee’s economy, reduce ongoing costs, provide high quality service to taxpayers and maintain fiscal discipline that has positioned Tennessee to invest in its priorities. The governor said that the budget proposal takes advantage of a strengthening economy combined with the hard work and discipline of departments of state government and the conservative fiscal strategy employed by the General Assembly, the state’s constitutional officers and his administration. 

Including the current fiscal year’s appropriation, state government will invest more than $414 million in new dollars in Tennessee schools. Haslam proposed funding the 12th month of health insurance for teachers and doubling the state’s recurring contribution for technology needs at schools.  This budget proposal makes the largest K-12 investment without a tax increase in state history

The governor’s proposal puts $100 million into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, bringing it to an estimated $668 million on June 30, 2017; $60 million for salary increases for state employees; and another $36 million for market rate adjustments for state employees making less than $50,000 annually.

Gov. Haslam proposed significant investments in higher education and the Drive to 55 initiative, the state’s effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential to 55 percent by 2025, including:

  • $50 million for the Complete College funding formula for higher education;
  • $20 million for the Drive to 55 Capacity Fund to help community and technical colleges meet the growing demand for degrees and certificates; and
  • $10 million for the Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP), helping communities align degree and course offerings with the needs of the local workforce.

The proposal invests $581.6 million in state and other funds to build new buildings and fix existing higher education and general state government facilities. This includes the top recommended capital projects for both the University of Tennessee (UT) system and the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR):

  • $85.5 million for a new Tennessee Tech University laboratory science building;
  • $39 million for a new dentistry building at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis;
  • $38.8 million for Tennessee State University’s new health science building; and
  • $36 million for renovations to UT-Chattanooga academic buildings.

Other notable budget investments are:

  • $130 million from the General Fund to repay the Highway Fund;
  • $24 million in state funds for the Employment and Community First (ECF) CHOICES program to allow the state to serve more people currently on the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ waiting list and others eligible for services;
  • $12.8 million for facilities and homeland security upgrades for the Military Department;
  • $10 million for the Department of Economic and Community Development’s Rural Development Initiative;
  • $1.27 million to increase the number of drug recovery courts from 41 to 50 and for two additional veterans courts.

General Assembly Adopts Judicial Confirmation Plan

The Senate and House of Representatives have adopted a conference committee report on Senate Bill 1 which puts into place a framework on how the state’s appellate judges should be confirmed or rejected under the new constitutional mandate adopted by voters in 2014.

Under the constitutional amendment, appellate judges are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature. The voters of Tennessee have the ability to vote to retain or not retain judges at the end of their 8-year terms or, if an appointment is to fill a vacancy, at the next even year August election.

Under the agreement, the Senate Judiciary Committee and its House counterpart will each hold a meeting to hear from the appointee. Following the hearing the committee will vote to recommend confirmation or rejection of the appointee to the full Senate. Next, the Senate and House of Representatives will meet in joint session to either confirm or reject the governor’s appointee.

If both chambers vote to confirm, the appointee is confirmed. If both chambers vote to reject, the appointee is rejected. Also, one chamber may reject the appointee by a two thirds vote.

On January 7, Governor Bill Haslam appointed Judge Roger Page of Jackson to the Tennessee Supreme Court, replacing Justice Gary Wade, who retired in September. Upon being signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam, the process laid out in the bill will be used when lawmakers consider his nomination.

In Brief…

Task Force on Healthcare — The Senate Government Operations Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 1979, which I am the Senate sponsor. The bill would implement a 19-member taskforce to make recommendations to the 110th General Assembly addressing the need for accessible, equitable and affordable healthcare. The panel would also be tasked with identifying barriers to adoption of best practices, including unnecessary regulation and the lack of access to primary care providers. Among their recommendations, the resolution calls for a plan to allow healthcare providers to work to their full extent including education, training, experience, and certifications.The taskforce will draw on the expertise of health officials, including medical practitioners, nurses and doctors from various fields. The bill now moves on to the Health and Welfare Committee for consideration.      

Roddie Edmonds Honored for Heroism — The State Senate honored Army Master Sargent Roddie Edmonds this week in a resolution recognizing his heroism in saving the lives of 200 Jewish-American soldiers. Edmonds, a Knoxville native, was the senior leader of POWs captured by Germans in World War II at the Battle of the Bulge. When a gun was placed to his head and he was asked to identify American-Jewish captives serving with him, Edmonds refused saying, “We are all Jews here.” The Nazi officer relented due to Edmonds heroic action saving the Jewish American POWs from being separated and transported to slave labor camps, concentrations camps or worse. Edmonds passed away in 1985 but he is being honored posthumously by Israel’s Righteous Among Nations for his actions.