NORRIS SAYS TENNESSEE’S RANKING ON CHILD WELL-BEING IS UNACCEPTABLE
NASHVILLE—Following the release of a report ranking Tennessee 36th in overall child well-being, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) called on his legislative colleagues and the Haslam Administration to focus more effectively on the needs of the state’s youth.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation this week issued a report ranking states based on four factors related to children: economic well-being, education, health, and family and community support. “The good news is we’ve improved significantly across the board in health and education, but we need to improve in critical areas where more reform is needed. We pride ourselves in being number one in all sorts of categories,” Norris said Thursday. “But we need to do better when it comes to the next generation of Tennesseans. Our children need to be nurtured as though our very lives depend upon them, because they do.”
Norris said more needs to be done to fund education, reform the juvenile justice system, and improve nutrition in order to substantially improve. In 2014, Norris spearheaded a national workforce development and education initiative called “State Pathways to Prosperity” in his former capacity as chairman of the Council of State Governments (CSG), which will hold its national convention in Nashville from Dec. 10 to Dec. 13.
Norris says the link between each state’s economic performance and quality-of-life hinges on the degree to which children’s needs and potential are addressed.
One of his areas of focus has been juvenile recidivism. Norris obtained private funding for a study by the CSG Justice Center earlier this year, which revealed an urgent need for Tennessee to do better at keeping youth out of jail.
“The state is not adequately capturing the data needed to avoid the revolving door of juvenile incarceration,” Norris said. “And it is not impacting the underlying causes of juvenile delinquency, which often stem from the neurological consequences of the toxic environments too many Tennessee children find themselves in today.”
Norris also spearheaded startup funding for the Center for Justice Involved Youth at the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences this year.
Norris will also lead a team of judges, juvenile administrators, and legislators at a summit in Austin, TX in November. Sponsored by the CSG Justice Center and the MacArthur Foundation, this first-of-its-kind, invitation-only forum intends to help key policymakers in all 50 states develop or improve plans to reduce recidivism and improve other outcomes for youth based on evidence-based practices.
“Anything less is cultivating a culture of malaise and mediocrity,” said Norris. “Address it now, or pay for it later when the price may be too high and it’s too late.”
July 3, 2015
Happy Independence Day!
As we approach July 4th and celebrate the birth of our nation 239 years ago, we celebrate many freedoms for which the United States of America is revered throughout the world.
This year, in the aftermath of the carnage in South Carolina and the Supreme Court’s recent rulings construing the Affordable Care Act and approving same-sex marriage, we are reminded of the importance of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion and the rule of law. We cannot take these freedoms, or the system of justice which protects them, for granted.
800 years ago, on June 15, 1215, Magna Carta was sealed under duress at Runnymede by King John. In it was sown the seed of constitutional government – “freedom under law.” Standing for the proposition that no man is above the law, the concept of “law of the land” first took root from which our own Declaration of Independence drew inspiration in 1776. “Due process of law” was later enshrined in our own Bill of Rights.
Scarcely 20 years later, on June 1, 1796, the State of Tennessee was admitted into the Union as the 16th state by an Act of Congress signed by none other than our Founding Father, George Washington. His bust stands in the Tennessee Capitol stairwell which leads up to the Senate and House Chambers where busts of other historical figures are also displayed.
Between the time of the Declaration of Independence and Tennessee’s statehood, the U.S. Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788, and the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. Today, our Constitution is the oldest written constitution still in force anywhere in the world.
In June, I traveled to Great Britain, where history is measured not in hundreds of years but thousands of years, to celebrate Magna Carta and commemorate its sealing. I met with members of the European Union, Members of Parliament, foreign secretaries and former Secretaries of State. We talked about whether it’s likely the UK will secede from the European Union; whether ISIS or Putin is the bigger threat to Europe. Regardless, everyone with whom I spoke said the greatest threat to Europe is the lack of American leadership.
To see us wrestle with notions of liberty and freedom itself is heartening in light of what I witnessed overseas. Here, we debate whether to remove statues. There, they debate what can be done to stop ISIS and Putin who destroy statues. Here, we defend our Flag and our ways of life like none other.
On this Fourth of July, we learn how to adapt without acquiescing; to respect the rights of others and ourselves to disagree. To stand up for our beliefs.
Unfortunately, the rulings raise more questions than they resolve for those of us who enact, practice or apply the law and others.
I disagree with Justice Roberts’ opinion in King v. Burwell, and I was quoted correctly: “It may be judicial sleight of hand, but it’s the law of the land.”
And I disagree with Justice Kennedy that the Supreme Court should disenfranchise 80% of Tennesseans who felt strongly enough to amend their Constitution now to no avail.
But I agree with Justice Kennedy that we must uphold the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans regardless:
“The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.”
It is for us, then, this Fourth of July, to take strength from our history and firmly resolve to defend our freedoms while working together to strengthen them for our future as “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
New Tennessee Reconnect Provides Path to Economic Freedom this Independence Day
Independence Day 2015 has added significance for Tennesseans seeking the freedom which flows from gainful employment this year.
As of July 1, thanks to legislation championed by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), a new program enabling adults to obtain the degree necessary for a better job is available.
Public Chapter 363 (SB605), more commonly known as Tennessee Reconnect, is a major part of Tennessee’s ongoing Drive to 55 program and Tennessee Promise.
Under legislation sponsored by Senator Norris last year, Governor Haslam’s Tennessee Promise made last dollar scholarships for traditional students to attend any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology (TCATs) or other eligible institutions offering an associate degree program beginning in 2015. Non-traditional students (adults returning to school) were eligible only for TCAT enrollment.
This year’s Public Chapter 363 now extends eligibility for adults to attend Tennessee’s public community colleges in the 2016-2017 academic year to complete their associate’s degree in applied science as well.
“We are closing the skills gap in Tennessee. 21st Century jobs are available, but all too often Tennesseans don’t have the certificate or degree required to fill them. This helps Tennesseans help themselves by making it more affordable to pursue a career in advanced industries,” says Norris who, as Chair of the Council of State Governments, also led a national initiative in workforce development and education called “State Pathways to Prosperity.” He serves on Tennessee’s Workforce Development Board.
Key qualifications to receive the grant include: Tennessee residency for at least one year preceding the date of application for the grant; completion of at least 30 hours towards completing an associate of applied science degree; and, an adjusted gross income of less than $36,000. Grant recipients must maintain a 2.0 GPA and enroll in at least 9 semester hours in the fall and spring semesters.
Co-sponsors were Senators Mark Green (R-Clarksville), John Stevens (R-Huntingdon), Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Ken Yager (R-Kingston).
|SENATE MAJORITY LEADER
STATE OF TENNESSEE9A Legislative Plaza
Nashville, Tennessee 37243
800-449-8366 ext. 11967
|May 26, 2015|
|The Honorable Beth Harwell
Speaker of the House of Representatives
19 Legislative Plaza
Nashville, TN 37243
FINANCE, WAYS AND MEANS
STATE & LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Dear Speaker Harwell:
Concern arising from the recent introduction of a new state “logo” is the reason I’m writing you
today. You and I understand that Governor Haslam has no intention of attempting to replace the
Flag of Tennessee, but most Tennesseans do not.
The Salute to the Flag of Tennessee is codified at Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-1-329. Two years ago, as
Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, I moved to amend the Senate’s rules to include the
statutory Salute to the Flag of Tennessee as we convene each session. It affirms our support for
the “three white stars on a field of blue” which so many fear are now under siege.
It seems to me that we can demonstrate a unified front in supporting our Flag if the House of
Representatives joins us; that is, if both House and Senate recite the Salute following the Pledge
of Allegiance, there can be no doubt of the entire General Assembly’s support.
I hope you agree that joining in the Salute is the right thing to do.
May 26, 2015
Dear Fellow Tennessean:
“Three white stars on a field of blue
God keep them strong and ever true
It is with pride and love that we
Salute the Flag of Tennessee.”
In 2013, as Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, I took action to insure that we recite the above Salute to the Flag of Tennessee (Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-1-329) at the opening of each session in the State Senate. We’ve done it ever since.
Concern arising from the recent introduction of a new state “logo” which eliminates the three white stars is the reason I’m writing you today.
Make no mistake, the Governor has no intention of replacing our beloved state flag, and no Executive Order can take it away, but Tennesseans are concerned!
Rest assured, the Tennessee General Assembly stands by our beloved State Flag.
While the State Senate salutes the Tennessee State Flag and its three white stars every day following the Pledge of Allegiance, the House of Representatives does not yet do so. I know members of the House of Representatives care to respect and preserve our Tennessee heritage as much as we in the Senate do.
That’s why I’ve written House Speaker Beth Harwell to suggest that she join us by leading the House in saluting the Flag of Tennessee as we do.
Departments’ logos may come and go, but the General Assembly will continue to honor the Stars of Tennessee and the Flag that protects them.
For, “It is with pride and love that we salute the Flag of Tennessee.”
“I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Words are even more feeble on this Memorial Day, for the sight before us is that of a strong and good nation that stands in silence and remembers those who were loved and who, in return, loved their countrymen enough to die for them.” ~ Ronald Reagan
April 27, 2015
“As the dust settles, Tennesseans will see that we focused on employment, education and economic development. This budget, and the legislation supporting it, represents a strong return on the taxpayers’ investment.”
Lawmakers Adjourn 2015 Legislative Session
The 2015 session of the 109th General Assembly has adjourned to become a part of Tennessee history with some of the most important bills of the year being approved during the final week of legislative action. This includes legislation repealing Common Core, a bill to implement an online verification program for uninsured motorists, a measure to give more senior citizens Hall Income Tax relief and an act dealing with Transportation Network Company (TNC) services.
Senate Approves Legislation Implementing an Online Verification Program for Uninsured Motorists
A major bill establishing an online verification program to help ensure compliance with Tennessee’s Financial Responsibility Law was approved by the Senate on Tuesday. Senate Bill 648, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), aims to reduce the state’s uninsured motorist rate, which is currently at 23-24 percent.
There are approximately 40,000 crashes a year that involve uninsured motorists.
Tennessee law requires drivers to have a driver’s license, vehicle registration and insurance; however, there is no verification system to track the insurance requirement. The bill requires that a notice procedure be provided to any driver found to be uninsured, allowing them 15 days to provide proof of insurance or exemption. If there is no response, the owner will be sent a second notice stating that they have 30 days to provide proof of insurance. Failure to comply will result in a $25 coverage failure fee on the first notification and a $100 fee on the second. The bill also increases the fine for failure to provide proof of insurance from $100 to $300, and if a driver fails to provide proof of insurance to an officer, the officer may tow the vehicle as long as the officer’s agency has adopted a policy for such procedure.
Forty-six other states have similar auto liability verification systems.
“I am very pleased this bill has passed in Tennessee. It will make our streets safer and will hopefully save lives as well,” Ketron said.
More Senior Citizens Can Qualify for Hall Income Tax Relief Under Legislation Approved by the General Assembly
The Senate has approved legislation, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), which raises the Hall Income Tax exemption level for citizens over the age of 55 to allow more senior citizens to qualify tax relief. The Hall Income Tax levies six percent on earnings from stocks and bonds, with 3/8 of the revenue going to cities and counties.
The legislature voted to raise the level which allows more senior citizens to be exempt in 2011 and 2013, with current income exemption levels at $33,000 per individual and $59,000 per couple. Under Senate Bill 32, the annual Hall Income Tax standard income exemption for taxpayers 65 years of age or older would be $37,000 for single filers and $68,000 for joint filer taxpayers beginning in January 2016.
Of the individuals who pay the tax, Overbey said almost half are age 65 and older.
The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.
Lawmakers Approve Transportation Network Company Services Act
Legislation which establishes requirements governing application-based Transportation Network Companies (TNC) was approved by the General Assembly on the closing day of the 2015 legislative session. Senate Bill 907, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson), provides statewide rules for TNC ride-hauling services, like those offered by Uber and Lyft.
“Once this bill is enacted, TNCs will be able to continue safely and responsibly to grow jobs and improve accessibility to affordable and reliable transportation to millions of Tennesseans who are using this tool to change the face of commerce and change the face of the marketplace,” said Watson.
The legislation establishes end-to-end insurance coverage for the transportation networks and their drivers with $1 million liability coverage while a pre-arranged ride is occurring. This is ten times what is required under the current taxi system. It also requires a zero tolerance policy for the use of drugs and alcohol and mandates comprehensive background checks on all drivers.
“At the end of the day, the number one requirement that we have is the health and safety of our citizens,” Watson continued. “This legislation ensures transparency and safety requirements that protect both the riders and the drivers and requires the TNCs to fully comply in any law enforcement investigation.”
The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.
General Assembly Passes the Individualized Education Act for Students with Special Needs
In last week action, the Senate and House of Representatives passed the Individualized Education Act giving new hope to special needs students across the Volunteer State, one in three of whom currently do not graduate from high school. Senate Bill 27, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), will provide pathways to customized education for students with special needs, giving parents the flexibility to direct their child’s funding to the schools, courses, programs and services that best fit the learning needs of their child through an Individualized Education Account (IEA).
Gresham said the bill is designed to help children with the most severe disabilities whose current school situation is not meeting their needs. In order to be eligible to participate in an IEA, a student must have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) which is a document which maps out how a school will meet the needs of students receiving special education services as required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). The bill would only apply to students with autism, deafness or other hearing impairments, intellectual disabilities, orthopedic impairments, traumatic brain injuries, and blindness or other visual impairments.
The Individualized Education Act provides for the Department of Education to deduct up to four percent from IEA funds to cover the costs of administering the program. Both the state and local school districts are projected to save money under the program. The Individualized Education Act also:
- Requires the Department to ensure funds are used only for educational purposes;
- Provides parents with a written explanation of the allowable uses of the money and their responsibilities;
- Provides for random, quarterly and annual audits;
- Sets up fraud reporting; and
- Has the ability to suspend or terminate any school or provider that fails to comply.
The State Board of Education will consult with the Department of Education to promulgate rules for the application and approval process for non-public school and providers to participate in the program. The bill requires participating student to partake in annual testing with results to be reported. The legislation now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.
STEM Hubs — Legislation designed to amplify and accelerate regional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in Tennessee was approved by lawmakers during the closing week of the legislative session. Senate Bill 453, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), requires the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network to establish a STEM innovation hub that is dedicated to serving rural areas of Tennessee, including the northwest portion of the state. It also calls for making a curriculum available to all middle schools that educate students on the variety and benefits of STEM careers. “These programs prime the pump with the talent we need in Tennessee’s 21st Century workforce,” said Norris.
Electronic Driver’s Licenses — The full Senate approved and sent to the governor legislation which allows the Department of Safety and Homeland Security to develop an electronic driver’s license system. The system would allow citizens to use a mobile application, instead of a physical driver’s license, to present evidence of a valid Tennessee driver’s license. Under Senate Bill 651, sponsored by Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), citizens would not be required to use the electronic driver’s license; rather, they would have to have the choice of an electronic, physical or both forms. The states of Iowa, Delaware and Arizona are also moving forward with similar legislation.
HOPE Scholarships / Military Children – Legislation was approved this week that specifies that dependent children of members of the Armed Forces and the Tennessee National Guard whose home of record is Tennessee must qualify as in-state students for purposes of the HOPE Scholarship. Senate Bill 461 closes a loophole so that children who move due to their parent’s deployment or reassignment would not be penalized and charged out-of-state tuition in Tennessee’s colleges and universities. The bill is sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville).
Civics Education — Legislation which would promote civics education in Tennessee has passed the General Assembly. Senate Bill 10 would make components of the test administered by the United State Citizenship and Immigration Services to those seeking citizenship one of the tools used in assessing student progress under Tennessee’s civics education program. The legislation calls on local education agencies to utilize 25 to 50 of the 100 questions posed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the citizenship test. The test, which would be administered during high school, may be taken by the student multiple times until he or she scores the 70 percent minimum required for graduation. Students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) would be exempt from the requirement under certain circumstances as provided by the bill. Students will continue to receive the project-based civics assessments provided under a 2012 law. The bill is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).
|For Immediate Release||Contact: Melissa LaBonge|
|April 21, 2015||[email protected]
PATIENT ADVOCATES TESTIFY IN SUPPORT OF BIOSIMILAR LEGISLATION
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and Chairman Cameron Sexton Meet with Patients
Nashville, TN – Patient advocates with the Arthritis Foundation testified before the House Health Subcommittee in support of House Bill 572 and also attended the full House Health and Senate Health and Welfare Committees to support House Bill 572 and its Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 984.
If passed and signed into law, this legislation will allow for Tennessee physicians and patients to have access to new and potentially less costly biosimilar therapies deemed “interchangeable” by the FDA. However, even the slightest variation between an interchangeable biosimilar and the innovator biologic means that these medications can have different dosing, side effects and reactions. As such, this legislation will also ensure that pharmacists communicate to prescribing physicians any biosimilar substitutions at the pharmacy level.
While at the Capitol testifying their support, patient advocates also met with several legislators including bill sponsors Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and House Health Committee Chairman Cameron Sexton to share their stories and thank them for their leadership on this legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said, “This puts Tennessee in the forefront of states fighting to give constituents real access to affordable health care. By facilitating substitution of the most modern medications, we enhance more cost effective treatment which benefits providers and patients alike.”
House Health Committee Chairman Cameron Sexton said, “These pharmaceutical products are a lot of times the last line of defense against certain medical conditions and are life-changing for the individuals who are on them. Anything we can do to help improve communication between healthcare providers and patients, availability and cost savings will greatly aide our state and families.”
Dewayne Bryant said, “Without these life altering medications, we can’t imagine how she would be today. As her parents and caretakers, we want to be informed if there is a substitution of any medication she currently takes‐especially when they are as complex and sensitive as biologics.”
Arthritis Foundation patient advocate Kelly Rach added, “At the end of the day, this is about patient safety and having up‐to‐date medical record information. I want to be informed as a patient, and I always want my physician informed if there is a substitution of any medication I’m on, especially medications as complex and sensitive as biologics.”
Claire Carrico also voiced her support for the bill, saying, “As a mom, no one loves or cares for my daughter Madeline like I do and I am very involved in her arthritis treatment, along with her amazing rheumatologist. A simple one-time communication from the pharmacist regarding what is actually being administered to my child should be absolutely reasonable, especially when approximately only one out of every 1,400 prescriptions will be affected.”
With such complex treatment plans as those for chronic diseases, physicians must know which medication their patient is taking in event that any side effects occur. As such, it is imperative that physicians and patients are aware when an interchangeable biosimilar is substituted for the original biologic, by communicating the specific biologic dispensed. Not only will this communication maintain an accurate medical record, but it will also allow physicians to closely monitor the care and progress of their patients.
Biologics and their biosimilar counterparts hold great promise, but we also must protect patient safety by ensuring pharmacist‐prescriber communication anytime a biosimilar substitution is made. House Bill 572 and Senate Bill 984 will create a clear standard for communication that puts patient safety at the forefront of medical care. The Arthritis Foundation and our patient advocates want to recognize Senate Majority Leader Norris and Chairman Sexton for their outstanding leadership on this biosimilar legislation.
The legislation has passed the House and Senate and now goes to Governor Haslam for his signature.
Arlington Property Announced as New Site for West Tennessee Veterans Home
The Senate Veterans Subcommittee met on Thursday to hear from officials from the Tennessee State Veterans Homes Board. The committee, chaired by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), was told of the selection of property in Arlington for the new West Tennessee Veterans Home.
The nursing home will house 144 Tennessee veterans of U.S. military service.
There are 70,000 veterans in the Shelby, Tipton and Fayette County area, more than any other area of the state.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will pay $45.5 million of the Arlington home’s price tag. The state and local governments and private fundraising must generate the remaining $24.5 million before the VA releases its funding for construction.
Shelby County government has allocated $2 million, and the state has allocated $650,000 so far on site selection, planning and preparation. Fundraising efforts are under way by the West Tennessee Veterans Home board, a nonprofit group based in Memphis.
The Tennessee State Veterans Homes Board runs homes in Humboldt, Knoxville and Murfreesboro, and four others are in various stages of planning: 108-bed homes in Clarksville, Cleveland and the Tri-Cities area of northeast Tennessee, and the 144-bed home in Arlington. The Arlington home will be the second in West Tennessee.
State Budget is Central Focus During the Final Weeks of the 2015 legislative session
Action on Capitol Hill continued to shift from committees to the floor of the Senate this week as State Senators worked diligently to approve a number of important bills to help crime victims. The Commerce and Labor Committee, the Education Committee and the Government Operations Committee joined two of the other nine Senate standing committees which have completed their business. Meanwhile, it is the state budget that will be the central focus of attention during the final weeks of the 2015 legislative session.
Budget — Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin briefed members of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday regarding Governor Bill Haslam’s proposed additions to Senate Bill 1399, the appropriations bill. The supplemental appropriations amendment reflects $30 million more in recurring funding. The proposed budget amendment designates those additional recurring dollars to K-12 education, specifically to increase state funding of health insurance coverage for teachers.
Due to Franchise and Excise tax collections that exceeded estimates last month as a result of an unusual one-time event, along with other revenue collections and program savings, there are nearly $300 million more than anticipated in non-recurring funds. The budget amendment proposes to use the funds as follows: $120 million for a new Tennessee State Museum which will be matched with $40 million in private donations; $50 million for economic development projects to bring more high-quality jobs to Tennessee; $40 million to complete renovations of the Cordell Hull building; $12 million for maintenance and improvements to higher education facilities across the state; $5 million to fund new equipment in Tennessee’s Colleges of Applied Technology to meet job training demands across the state; and $1.9 million for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to fund adolescent residential alcohol and drug treatment grants.
The funds would also provide an additional $36.5 million for the Rainy Day Fund, which would double the amount originally proposed in the budget, bringing the total reserve to 4.5 percent of state revenues. The amended proposal also restores full funding to the TennCare Bureau for level two case management services. Nearly half of the funding, $5.2 million, is included as recurring dollars, while the rest of the funding is designated as non-recurring. The administration will continue to review the program and look at possibilities for efficiencies in the process.
The budget bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), is scheduled for consideration by the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.
Legislation Helps Provide Justice for Rape Victims
Legislation which aims to provide justice for victims of rape has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 981, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), sets up procedures for the collection and storage of rape kits and requires law enforcement agencies to submit kits to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) for testing within 60 days. It also directs the Domestic Violence State Coordinating Council to develop a model policy for law enforcement agencies for responding to reports of sexual assault and requires law enforcement agencies to adopt a written policy on responding to reports of sexual assaults.
Norris led the effort to require all local law enforcement agencies to inventory back-logged rape kits across the state. Last September, the TBI reported 9,062 kits remained untested statewide. In 2013, Memphis reported an initial backlog of 12,000 kits which has now been reduced by over 5,000.
Norris said the bill approved by the committee also corresponds with legislation he sponsored last year which repealed the statute of limitations for rape, aggravated rape, rape of a child and aggravated rape of a child, as long as law enforcement or the district attorney general has been notified within three years of the offense. “This bill puts those protections and provisions in place,” he said. “It deals with a situation where evidence is collected, but the victim chooses not to report the assault. It creates a category for a hold kit, so that evidence is taken, is properly maintained, and then will be kept for at least three years.”
Norris also noted that the proposed state budget includes funding for three new forensic scientists at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to process forensic evidence in the kits at no charge to local law enforcement. “These funds will expedite the processing of rape kits and other DNA testing by providing additional essential personnel. They will be trained in accessing and updating the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) which is part of the FBI’s network for tracking perpetrators of crime — a critical weapon in the fight against crime.”
Approximately 90,000 women are raped every year in the United States with only 25 percent of these attacks resulting in arrests.
Legislation Calls for Tougher Penalties Against Those Convicted of Vehicular Homicide While Intoxicated
Those convicted of vehicular homicide while intoxicated would not be eligible for probation under legislation sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) and approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. The bill comes after an investigative report in the Memphis Commercial Appeal showed Tennessee, which has among the nation’s toughest drunken driving laws for first offenders, is among the most lenient for DUI-related vehicular homicide due to a loophole in state law.
“This needs to be fixed immediately,” said Senator Overbey. “Those who drink, drive and kill must face tough punishment for the severity of their crime.”
Currently, a criminal defendant is eligible for probation if the sentence actually imposed is 10 years or less. Senate Bill 35 prohibits anyone convicted of or who pleads guilty to vehicular homicide by intoxication from being eligible for probation.
In 2012, the latest numbers available, 295 people died on Tennessee roadways in alcohol-related accidents, 29 percent of the traffic fatalities in the state that year.
The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration of the proposal’s financial impact.
Bill Promoting Civics Education Advances in Senate Education Committee
Legislation which would promote civics education in Tennessee advanced through the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Senate Bill 10, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), would make components of the test administered by the United State Citizenship and Immigration Services to those seeking citizenship one of the tools used in assessing student progress under Tennessee’s civics education program.
Norris said the bill embraces legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2012 which restored the teaching of project-based civics and required the assessment of student progress between grades 4 and 8 and between grades 8 and 12.
The legislation approved by the Education Committee calls on local education agencies to utilize 25 to 50 of the 100 questions posed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the citizenship test. The test, which would be administered during high school, may be taken by the student multiple times until he or she scores at least 70 percent as required for graduation. Students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) would be exempt from the requirement under certain circumstances as provided by the bill. Students will continue to receive the project-based civics assessments provided under the 2012 law.
The bill provides that schools where seniors have all made a passing grade on the civics test be recognized on the Department of Education’s website as a U.S. Civics All-Star School.
“We cannot long survive as a viable republic if our students do not know how to be active and informed participants in our democracy,” said Senator Norris. “This is a very important initiative and dovetails with our previous efforts to provide essential civics education to our students.”
Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarships — State Senators voted this week to approve the “Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act.” Senate Bill 999, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), would authorize state payments to follow the child to public or private schools for up to 5,000 students in its first year of operation. The program, which gives low-income parents a choice regarding the school that their child attends, would expand each year to a maximum of 20,000 statewide in the fourth year. Participating students would also have to be from families qualified to receive free or reduced price lunch under federal standards and from a school district with at least one failing school ranked in the bottom five percent of schools statewide. If caps are not reached each year, scholarships would be offered to other low-income children in those counties in which a school in the bottom five percent of schools is located. Currently, five counties meet that standard, including Davidson, Hamilton, Madison, Knox and Shelby.
Lifetime Handgun Carry Permits — The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week that creates a lifetime handgun carry permit. Senate Bill 700, sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), continues the present permit process, but gives citizens the option to pay a $750 fee for a permit to carry any handgun that the holder legally owns or possesses without expiration. Like the regular handgun carry permit, the lifetime permit would apply unless the holder no longer satisfies the requirements as set by Tennessee law. Background checks for lifetime permit holders would be conducted every five years under the bill.
Foster Children / Driver’s License — Children in foster care would find it easier to receive their driver’s license under legislation approved by the Senate this week. Senate Bill 1271, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), would authorize a foster parent or an authorized representative of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to sign an application for a driver’s license or an instructional permit for an individual under the age of 18. Current law allows parents, step-parents or guardians to sign for their minor child, but foster parents or DCS representative may not do that. “The bill removes that barrier and creates an equity for foster children who are seeking to obtain their driver’s license,” said Yager.
Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Farm Bureau endorse Regulation Freedom Amendment
For Immediate Release
March 13, 2015
Contact: Darlene Schlicher (615) 741-6336 or email
NASHVILLE — A resolution sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) that aims to force Congress to pass a “Regulation Freedom” Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has gained key endorsements from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau.
In a letter to members of the State Senate, Chamber Vice President of Government Affairs, Bradley Jackson, urged lawmakers to support the measure saying increased government regulations have deterred economic growth and job creation. The Farm Bureau adopted a resolution in support of the measure at a meeting of the national organization in January.
Norris is scheduled to present the resolution for final consideration by the Senate on Monday.
“The business community in Tennessee has seen a marked increase in the number of rules and regulations promulgated by departments and agencies in the federal government,” said Jackson. “Oftentimes these rules and regulations are substantial in measure and go well beyond the scope of the initial legislation enacted by the United States Congress that created the measure. This increased government regulation has deterred economic growth and job creation and are often directly tied to increasing cost of everything from everyday consumer goods to the gas we put in our vehicles. Furthermore, Chamber members believe that substantial regulations constitute a ‘hidden tax’ that are instituted without a thorough review by Congress.”
Senate Joint Resolution 2 calls upon Congress to require that, whenever one quarter of the members of the U.S. House or the U.S. Senate transmit to the President their written declaration of opposition to a proposed federal regulation; a majority vote of the House and Senate is necessary to adopt it. Norris said that state legislators in two-thirds of the states could force Congress to propose the amendment just as states compelled Congress to propose the original Bill of Rights as they would do almost anything to avoid a convention that would be more powerful. He said two-thirds of the states working together would also have the power to safely limit their delegates to an up-or-down vote on just the amendment states wanted.
“I am very pleased that the Chamber has endorsed this Amendment,” said Norris. “Out of control federal regulations are burdening small businesses and job creators. We need to restore transparency and accountability in Washington by requiring congressional approval for new rules and regulations from federal agencies and this resolution is step one toward that goal.”
NORRIS IDENTIFIES STATE FUNDING FOR RAPE KITS AND DNA
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 12, 2015
CONTACT: Darlene Schlicher (615) 741-6336
NASHVILLE — Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) recognized the Haslam Administration for funding three new forensic scientists at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) in next year’s budget. The TBI processes forensic evidence at no charge to local law enforcement.
“These funds will expedite the processing of rape kits and other DNA testing by providing additional essential personnel. They will be trained in accessing and updating the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) which is part of the FBI’s network for tracking perpetrators of crime — a critical weapon in the fight against crime,” said Norris, who sponsors the budget in the Senate.
Norris enacted the law repealing the Tennessee statute of limitations in rape cases last year. He also led the effort to require all local law enforcement agencies to inventory back-logged inventories of rape kits across the state. Last September, the TBI reported 9,062 kits remained untested statewide.
“Progress is being made getting the old evidence tested, but this will help facilitate more timely testing of all DNA evidence,” said Norris.
The TBI has not received funding for new personnel for many years, even though the demand for more resources has increased dramatically.
According to City of Memphis officials, an initial backlog of 12,000 kits has now been reduced by nearly 5,000 kits since 2013 and has resulted in some 170 new investigations and 52 indictments including 19 rapists.
Three West Tennessee workforce development collaboratives receive major LEAP grants
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Three West Tennessee workforce development collaboratives are among 12 recipients statewide which were chosen to receive a major grant under the state’s new Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP). The grants include $743,500 to the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workforce in conjunction with Southwest Tennessee Community College; $850,000 to the Northwest Tennessee Workforce Board in conjunction with Dyersburg State Community College and $900,000 to Jackson Regional Partnership in conjunction with Jackson State Community College.
The project affects students at the colleges’ campuses in the Greater Memphis area, Dyersburg, Covington, Jackson, Newbern, Ripley, Lexington, Crump, McKenzie, Paris, Whiteville and Brownsville. “This is a tremendous opportunity for West Tennessee to provide a skilled workforce and opportunities for Tennesseans to work, earn and learn,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), who sponsored legislation creating the LEAP program in the Tennessee General Assembly. “These grants mean business, and the State of Tennessee supports and appreciates these initiatives.”
The LEAP program enables students in Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology and community colleges to participate in technical training developed with input from area employers. Norris said the grants enable collaborative efforts by business, government and institutions of higher learning to facilitate job training and relevant education, while giving state and local economic development leaders a boost as they recruit new industry. The cooperative training counts as part of an approved curriculum toward a meaningful certificate or degree.
Twelve LEAP grant recipients were chosen from applicants across the state by a committee consisting of representatives from higher education, the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Department of Labor. The grant program was funded by a $10 million appropriation in the 2014-15 state budget also sponsored by Norris. “Employers demand candidates with the skills needed in today’s technologically-advanced workplace,” Norris added. “These grants help fill the skills gaps in the local workforce pool, while increasing the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary degrees.”