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Business, Free Enterprise and Constitutional Issues; Pro-Life and Pro Second Amendment. Susan Lynn is a former member of the Tennessee General Assembly. She served as chairman of the Government Operations Committee and the Commerce Committee. She holds a BS in economics and a minor in history. She is the Chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council's Commerce Task Force.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Weekly Wrap - February 9, 2014

General Assembly Hears Annual State Of The State Address
Budget unveiled; priorities set
 
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam delivered his annual State of the State Address to a joint convention of the General Assembly this week, unveiling his budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.   This was truly the very best State of the State addresses I have ever heard.  The Governor addressed multiple issues during the State of the State, the most prominent of which include education, with a salary increase for teachers and investments in both K-12 and higher education, lowering taxes, a focus on service, and a continued push to make government more efficient and effective.

House lawmakers will now spend the next several weeks digesting the Governor’s proposal and will offer their own tweaks to the plan through the legislative committee process. As Washington, D.C. and other states are mired in partisan gridlock with out of control spending, the Governor emphasized that Tennessee has made responsible decisions that will continue to ensure the state is positioned to be a nationwide leader in job creation and educational advancement.

Budget Overview
Building on the success of legislation passed over the last several months, Governor Haslam’s $32.6 billion balanced budget is 2% lower than the current fiscal year’s appropriation, showcasing the commitment by House lawmakers to create a more lean and efficient state government. In addition, the proposed plan includes:

  • $1.7 million budgeted to fund a new statewide residential drug court in Middle Tennessee;
  • $6.4 million for new child protective services and case manager positions as well as other critical children’s services including foster care and adoption assistance;
  • A $7 million increase for the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to care for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens;
  • $61 million in Fast Track Infrastructure and Job Training program funding to support current and new state businesses;
  • And a $40.3 million contribution to the state’s Rainy Day Fund, bringing the total fund balance to $496 million.

K-12 and Higher Education Investment
A large portion of Monday’s State of the State Address was committed to improving education, an issue that both the Governor and House legislators have made a priority. In education, the budget proposal calls for:

  • 100% funding for the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) formula;
  • A $63 million investment to increase the salaries of teachers statewide as part of the ongoing effort to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in terms of paying teachers more;
  • $36.7 million to fund a new Williamson County campus for Columbia State Community College;
  • $28.7 million to fund a new classroom building at Volunteer State Community College;
  • And $63 million for capital maintenance projects at institutions across the state.
 
In addition to these education items, Governor Haslam also announced several strategic proposals to help facilitate the state’s “Drive to 55” plan, an initiative unveiled by the Governor in 2013 which seeks to increase the number of Tennesseans that have earned an Associates degree or higher from 32% to 55% by the year 2025 to ensure Tennessee has the best-trained workforce in America.
 
Seamless Alignment of Integrated Learning (SAILS) Program
The first of the new Drive to 55 proposals includes a statewide expansion of the Seamless Alignment of Integrated Learning (SAILS) Program to give students who need support in math that extra attention during their senior year in high school so they can avoid remediation when they enter college. Currently, 70% of high school graduates need some sort of remedial courses before being able to take college level classes.
 
Dual Enrollment
Second, Governor Haslam hopes to expand the state’s dual enrollment program by offering one dual enrollment course to high school students at no cost and with the ability to continue dual enrollment at discounted pricing after that. Dual enrollment allows high school students to take college credit courses, and statistics show a 94% probability that those students will then go on to college.

The Tennessee Promise
One of the most prominent proposals during the Governor’s State of the State address was the announcement of the Tennessee Promise, an ongoing commitment to every student in the state that he or she can attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology absolutely free. The proposal, which drew bipartisan applause during the speech, would make Tennessee the first state in the entire nation to offer such a program. Following two free years of schooling, if a student then choose to go on to a four-year school, the state’s transfer pathways program makes it possible for that students to start as a junior. By getting their first two years free, the cost of a four-year degree is cut in half. In addition, the cost of the Tennessee Promise program itself will be paid for through a strategic transfer from the lottery reserve into an endowment fund with absolutely no cost to the state or taxpayers.

Other Budget Highlights
Following multiple tax cuts that were passed by lawmakers during the 107th session of the General Assembly and the first half of the 108th General Assembly, Governor Haslam’s budget this year includes funding to facilitate the next step of doing away with the state’s death tax. This proposal builds on last year’s tax cuts that included a further reduction of the sales tax on groceries to a flat 5%, a cut to the Hall Tax, and fully funding the property tax relief program to help low-income seniors, veterans, and the disabled.

Other budget highlights include:
  • Appointment of a new Director of Workforce Alignment that will work with state departments and local officials;
  • Expansion of the Degree Compass program that predicts the subjects and majors in which students will be most successful. The program was pioneered at Austin Peay University and is modeled after companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Pandora that tailor their recommendations to what their customers are looking for;
  • $6 million for a statewide tourism fund to support the work of the tourism commission;
  • And $10 million set aside for workforce alignment grants to local communities that have strategic plans in place to connect education institutions with employers.

The full text of the Governor’s State of the State address as well as video of the actual event can be found by visiting www.tn.gov/stateofthestate.

Bill to Increase the Minimum Wage This Week

I will vote NO on HB 1694 (M. Turner).  The bill would establish a state minimum wage.  A state minimum wage actually tends to harm the people it is supposed to help.   As NFIB points out.
  • Increasing the minimum wage hurts the young, the poor and untrained.  53% of persons making the minimum wage in this country in 2011 were under the age of 25.  Minimum wage earners usually are persons beginning in a career or learning a trade. 
  • Businesses prefer that wages and conditions of employment be the same from city to city and state to state if possible.  We prefer that the minimum wage be the same everywhere. 
  • Many minimum wage earners are part-time employees – 69% of workers who earn the Federal minimum wage work part-time.
  • Two-thirds of all minimum wage earners make more than minimum wage within a year; 55% of Americans begin their careers making within $1 of the minimum wage.
  • Increasing the minimum wage reduces dollars available for employment, thereby reducing the number of employees and making it less likely that employers will hire beginners, the less-abled and untrained. 
  • Tennessee small business owners like Danny Todd with Monterey Foods, an independent grocer, will have to cut payroll and hire fewer workers if the minimum wage is increased. The last time the federal minimum wage was increased in 2008 Mr. Todd had to do exactly that. 
  • Having a Tennessee minimum wage that differs from that of our neighboring states could give businesses and employers a reason to locate their businesses outside of Tennessee. 
  • At a time when nearly 1 in 5 Tennesseans is either out of work or no longer actively looking for work, a minimum wage increase would only make the problem worse.

Bill’s Passage Would Save the Music City Star

HB 1769 by *McCormick, Marsh, Brooks K. (SB 2076 by *Norris, McNally.)

The bill in intended to ensure that all users of diesel pay the same amount and in doing so, will reorder the funding of repair and maintenance of the short line rail system several miles of which is used by the Music City Star.
The short line railroad rehabilitation program funding mechanism was created in 1988 as a response to the Class 1 railroads desire to abandon spur lines that they viewed as nonproductive assets.  Those lines had suffered from decades of neglect by the class 1 railroads and had track and bridge maintenance needs that they viewed as being not worth the investment.
At that time, state leaders recognized that they needed to create some mechanism to save these short lines from abandonment so that they would continue to serve as vital arteries for economic development in the numerous small cities and counties through which they ran.  Wilson County greatly benefits from the short line system – several large companies use the system everyday to bring in commodities and send back out products.
The deal that was struck between the cities served by the railroads and the class 1 carriers was that short lines were transferred to railroad authorities made of city and county mayors in the areas served by the short line railroads.
A fund was then created within TDOT that was allocated to the short line authorities based on an engineering needs assessment for track and bridge rehabilitation.  Short line Equity fund allocations are given out to the authorities annually in the form of grants.  The grants are for specific projects that must be accompanied by proof that the project is being completed.  The authorities are allocated 2% of the money from each grant to provide basic administrative support to administer these rehab grants.
The bill before the House would enac the "Transportation Fuel Equity Act"; uniformly taxes all commercial carriers using diesel fuel to transport persons or property for a fee; establishes the manner for collection of the tax.

Passage of this legislation is important as a result of Class 1 carriers, CSX and others, winning a federal discrimination lawsuit. They were paying a sales tax on diesel fuel while trucks were being charged a per gallon fee of 17 cents. This bill requires the same fee for both railroads and trucks.

The funds are deposited into the Transportation Equity Fund for use on the Short-line Railroad System. The system consists of 17 Short-line Railroads that serve Tennessee industry from Memphis to Bristol and span more than 800 miles.

The Nashville and Eastern Railroad – which hosts the Music City Star - encompasses 130 miles of the Short-line System.  Without this legislation, freight service and also continued passenger service on The Music City Star, will be in for a perilous future if this program is not continued.


Defunding Sex Week at UT

Last year the legislature had a lot to say in response to UT hosting Sex Week.  Is it even possible that another is planned for this year?  Unfortunately, yes.   Sex Week is an entire week of stupidity, and a week where you the tax payer are graphically shown just how ungrateful some students are for your life of hard work and productivity so that you can manage to pay your taxes and support the UT system and build the facilities that this waste of time will utilize.

During Sex Week, students can attend seminars such as Get Wet: Exploring the Connections Between Sexual Pleasure, Health, & Advocacy, We Can't Stop: Orgasms & Masturbation and Sexploration: Boys, Girls, I Can't Help It.  Please DO NOT be embarrassed reading those titles because it is not you or me that should be embarrassed but the administration, the faculty and the student organizers of this event.  See the full schedule here:  http://sexweekut.org/schedule/.

This debauchery is unfitting for this institution – it is low class and an outrageous display of ingratitude for their tax payer subsidized education.

I can hardly think of a more insulting expenditure of state tax dollars.  This simply says that the students who organized this event obviously do not have enough to do – nor must they think their fellow students’ have enough to do.   When I think of how much of the world struggles to even get any education at all, and that even fewer receive some education, and that in many parts of the world women and girls are prevented to advancing in education – it is hard to fathom that our students could spend their educational experience exploiting their fellow human beings with such frivolity.  I am amazed that they would squander even a moment of the tremendous gift they have in their hands.
This week Senator Stacey Campfield and I filed a bill to defund Sex Week and other such pointless events.  Speaker Harwell, who is very angry about this insult to taxpayers, didn’t feel our bill went far enough and we have strengthened our proposed reforms at her behest.   I will keep you posted.

 
American Conservative Union Names Top Conservatives

I am very proud to have received a 90% from the American Conservative Union – their "ACU Conservative Award".  

ACU and I only disagreed on one bill - the AG Gag bill.  I voted NO because by my judgment this bill was unconstitutional.  The bill passed the House and the Senate.

However, the Governor vetoed the bill after the Attorney General declared the legislation unconstitutional.

I'm proud that I called it right and did not vote for the bill.  I really don't know why ACU supports it.
See the ACU’s report here:  http://conservative.org/news/acu-announces-2013-ratings-tennessee-general-assembly


House Bill Limit Rule Drastically Reduces Legislation Filed
Number of bills lowest since 1986
 
House Speaker Beth Harwell (R–Nashville) announced this week that the number of bills filed this year has been drastically reduced due to a legislative reform package implemented last year designed to streamline operations and make the legislative process more efficient. With the bill filing deadline having passed Wednesday, records show a 36% decrease in legislation.

“This is excellent news, and proof the bill limit is working,” said Speaker Harwell. “Our goal was to reduce the amount of bills filed to save taxpayer money, and to have members focus on prioritizing their issues so we can properly vet the legislation before us. I strongly believe good government is not defined by making more laws, and this reduction in legislation bodes well for Tennessee taxpayers.”

Bill filings this year came in at 2,497 and are at the lowest in nearly 30 years. In 1986, the 94th General Assembly, there were 2,077 pieces of legislation filed by the deadline. Filed legislation in 105th General Assembly hit one of the highest marks, with 4,274 proposals filed. This year’s number is 42% below that high mark. The bill filing deadline is on the 10th legislative day according to House rules, usually falling in early February.

“Each time legislation is filed, there is an enormous amount of work done by staff behind the scenes. The bill must be researched and written by legal staff, sometimes going through multiple drafts. Our House Clerks then work to put the bill into the system, and all of this cost taxpayers time and money,” said House Caucus Chairman Glen Casada (R–Franklin). “This bill limit ensures a more efficient, effective and accessible government that will give us more time for thoughtful, deliberate analysis on each piece of legislation—something taxpayers expect and deserve,” he concluded.

Pro-Military Bill Unanimously Passes House

A pro-military bill backed by lawmakers from across the state passed the House of Representatives this week with unanimous support from both parties.

The bill, aimed at helping Tennessee students who enlist in the military while still in school, now awaits a signature from Governor Bill Haslam before officially becoming law.

The legislation specifies that if a high school student enlists in the United States military or National Guard program and completes basic training before graduation, that student is eligible to receive school credit towards graduation. The credit may be used to meet the state’s physical education and wellness requirement plus credit for another elective course or used for credit in two elective courses of the student’s choosing.

The goal of the legislation is to reward those hardworking young patriots who have completed basic training in our nation’s military while still in high school.

The bill passed the House 98-0.

Tennessee House Honors Ms. Senior America Carolyn Corlew
Rep Mark Pody, Senator Beavers and I had the pleasure of honoring the very beautiful Mrs. Senior America - Mount Juliet's own Carolyn Corlew on the House floor.  Mrs. Corlew was radiant.  The whole Assembly rose in applause and was so proud to meet the lovely woman who has brought Tennessee such honor and esteem.
 
 

Thank You Mount Juliet Breakfast Rotary

Thank you to the Mount Juliet Breakfast Rotary.  I had great fun as the guest speaker at the Mount Juliet Breakfast Rotary. The members asked a lot of questions and we truly had a good discussion.


County Election Officials will visit on Tuesday
County Officials will Visit on Wednesday

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