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Norris News from Nashville – April 11, 2014

Meeting with the press after the passage of the budget

Meeting with the press after the passage of the budget

Legislature passes key bills as lawmakers look to close 2014 session next week

The Tennessee Senate passed several key bills this week, including the state budget and legislation aiding crime victims, as the 2014 session of the Tennessee General Assembly draws to a close.

The State Senate has completed the vast majority of its business with most of the remaining action pending on bills that have passed the House of Representatives in a different form. Both the House and the Senate must agree on all provisions of a bill before sending it to the governor for his signature or a conference committee is appointed to work out the differences.

The $32.4 billion budget, which is also called the appropriations bill, is the legislation that proposes state government spending for the next fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2014 and extends to June 30, 2015. Passage of a balanced budget is the only constitutional requirement for lawmakers.

Senate Bill 2596, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), improves funding for education, including an additional $47 million to fully fund the Basic Education Program to address inflationary growth. It includes an additional $8.5 million to address salary equity adjustments for teachers which will go to 83 out of 136 school districts across the state. The budget provides additional funding for the construction of a veterans nursing home in Bradley County, as well as initial start-up money for site evaluation and acquisition of land for the next state veterans’ nursing home in West Tennessee.

The budget actuarially funds the state’s consolidated retirement system obligations. In addition, TennCare will receive $77 million in new money to handle eligible but not enrolled Tennesseans and $63 million to meet medical inflation costs and utilization increases in managed care organization expenditures.

The budget keeps funding increases proposed earlier this year intact for key areas which serve some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens such as the Department of Children’s Services and the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and local property tax relief for disabled veterans and elderly disabled citizens.

The bill now goes back to the House of Representatives for approval of a Senate Amendment before going to the governor for his signature.

Senate passes legislation to protect and give more rights to victims of crime
Bill aims to uphold Tennessee’s death penalty law

The State Senate passed several bills this week to protect and give more rights to crime victims, including a bill giving victims of rape the power to keep their identity private. The action came as the nation recognized National Crime Victims’ Week, an annual observance to promote victims’ right and honor crime victims and those who advocate on their behalf. Senate Bill 2254, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), provides that identifying information regarding the victim will be treated as confidential following a guilty plea or conviction. The information would not be open for inspection by members of the public, unless the victim waives the right to confidentiality.

“This legislation is designed to be sensitive to the victims of sexual offenses and their desire to keep their identity private following the conclusion of a trial where the defendant is found guilty,” said Senator Massey. “From what I have been told about sexual crime victims, is that they feel powerless. This legislation gives helps to give the power back to them and protect them from further victimization.”

The legislation requires the district attorney general to inform the victims of their right to privacy. Nothing in the bill can be used to deny access to the public part of this file as long as the personal information is redacted.

“This does not affect the open records law until there is a sentencing,” added Massey. “The public will still be able to know about the crimes in their community and the media will be able to report, through adjudication, anything that they are reporting now.”

Massey worked in collaboration with the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police, Tennessee Press Association, Tennessee Bar Association, Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Abuse, Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, District Attorney General Conference and the Tennessee District Public Defenders Conference in crafting the legislation.

“We live in a new age where the use of various media outlets can re-victimize the victim, their family and friends. New technological advances like Facebook or blogs have provided a new forum for posting pictures and videos almost anywhere and instantly with little possibility of retrieving the electronic transmission. Rape victims should have the right to guard against such action and this bill will give them that ability.”

“I commend Senator Massey for her hard and innovative work on this bill,” said Majority Leader Mark Norris. “Earlier this year we all joined in passage of a new law that will repeal the statute of limitations on several classifications of rape. Part of that bill is contingent upon the victim reporting the event to law enforcement within three years. Although your bill is directed at post-conviction, this is an important part of encouraging victims to come forward timely under very difficult circumstances. This legislation lessens the fear some victims may have of exposure through media.”

Norris is the sponsor of Senate Bill 2084 which repeals 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. The Senate approved a minor House amendment on the bill on Wednesday and sent the proposal to the governor for his signature. The legislation pertains to acts committed on or after the bill’s July 1, 2014 effective date and offenses committed prior to that date, as long as the statute of limitations has not expired. The current statutes of limitations range from 8 years to 15 years for rape of an adult and up to 25 years after the 18th birthday of the victim when the offense involves a child.

Sex Offender Registry — In similar action, Norris also passed legislation which defines “offender against children” for purpose of the state’s Sex Offender Registry as a sexual offender, violent sexual offender, or violent juvenile sexual offender if the victim in one or more of the offender’s crimes was 12 years old or younger. Senate Bill 2083 requires a person classified as an offender against children to remain on the Sex Offender Registry for life. The Registry is open to the public. In addition, the bill adds aggravated sexual battery to the list of offenses to place a juvenile on the Juvenile Sexual Registry. The Juvenile Registry is not open to the public, but is available to law enforcement.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 2090, sponsored by Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), to help ensure Tennessee is not a destination for sex offenders as a result of having weaker laws than other states regarding work and residential restrictions. Tennessee law already has such restrictions for child sex offenders. This legislation prohibits any sexual offender, whose victim was an adult, from knowingly establishing a residence or to accept employment within 1,000 feet of any public, private or parochial school, licensed day care center, other child care facility, public park, playground, recreation center or athletic field available for use by the general public.

Abuse of Elderly and Disabled — The State Senate passed legislation sponsored by Senate Health and General Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) on Wednesday to protect elderly and adults with disabilities from abuse. Senate Bill 1852 increases punishment for adult abuse, exploitation or neglect from a Class E to a Class D felony. Crowe said the move will help district attorneys prosecute the crime without having to meet the higher evidentiary standard required under the state’s adult abuse laws reserved for more serious crimes.

“We are hearing from some of our district attorneys that the statute with the higher standard is proving impossible to prosecute for some of our most vulnerable persons because they suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other conditions which prevent them from testifying on their own behalf,” said Senator Crowe. “As the baby boomer generation continues to age, we are only going to see a greater need to protect vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect and exploitation.”

The legislation also requires court clerks to notify the Department of Health when someone has been convicted of adult abuse so the offender can be added to the Adult Abuse Registry. All employers of adult caretakers must check the Registry before hiring an employee. In addition, the bill creates a Task Force comprised of a variety of departments and agencies that will meet over the next several months to develop initiatives to better protect vulnerable adults.

Earlier this year, Executive Director of the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability Jim Shulman told members of the Health and General Welfare Committee that assaults on the elderly have grown over the last three years of reporting from 1,360 in 2009 to 1,492 in 2011. In addition, Shulman said underreporting of abuse may also occur due to incapacitation or abuse may be mistaken for “usual aging.”

“This bill not only helps prosecutors punish offenders, but makes sure that those who have been convicted are on the Registry to prevent them from being hired elsewhere, as well as provides a forum for comprehensive look at how we can prevent abuse of our elderly and disabled.”

Victims / Students — In addition, the Senate approved legislation which grants the court broad discretion to assign a juvenile offender, whose victim attends the same school, to another school in consultation with the local education agency. Senate Bill 583, sponsored by Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), grants the court discretion to determine how best to restrict future contact of the defendant with the victim while in school or other public settings, unless the victim and his or her parents, consent to the attendance.

Upholding Tennessee’s Death Penalty Statute — State Senators voted this week to close a loophole in current law that allows for the state to use execution to carry out a death sentence if a court should rule lethal injection is unconstitutional but does not address what happens if the chemicals used in the fatal dose are not available. Senate Bill 2580, sponsored by Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), allows for the death sentence to be carried out through electrocution if the Commissioner of Correction certifies that one or more of the ingredients essential to the lethal injection dose cannot be obtained through no fault of the department.

Lethal injection is the primary method of execution in the state. The legislation is designed to address delays that could occur in executions due to a shortage of lethal injection drugs. That shortage could be compounded if the state does not prevail in keeping the anonymity of the department’s lethal injection drug supplier.

“Those on death row have committed ‘the worst of the worst’ crimes committed in Tennessee,” said Senator Yager. “Return to a system that endlessly denies justice to victims of heinous crimes is ‘cruel and unusual’ to victims and their family and friends who suffer much pain and psychological trauma due to the nature of these heinous crimes.”

There are 75 males and 1 female on death row in Tennessee. Legislation was passed in 2000 specifying lethal injection for all inmates sentenced to death except for death row inmates who committed their crime prior to January 1, 1999, unless he or she requests electrocution.

The last execution in Tennessee was in December 2009, when multi-murderer Cecil Johnson was put to death by lethal injection for three counts of first degree murder. Johnson was convicted in 1981 for the triple killing at a convenience market and was given three death sentences by a jury. Seventeen death row inmates have been sentenced with multiple death sentences.

Criminal Gangs – In other action on crime, the Community Safety Act, which aims to curb gang crime, has been approved by the State Senate. Senate Bill 1634, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson), would clarify that a petition for the abatement of gang-related conduct, may be filed against a criminal gang itself to which the members belong. The court would have the authority to restrict gang activity in certain geographic locations like parks and neighborhoods.

The bill would require gang-related conduct to be proven beyond clear and convincing evidence. It includes an opt-out provision that would allow a gang member to be dismissed from an injunction if he or she renounced membership. The proposal would also make it a Class C misdemeanor for a gang member to knowingly violate any temporary or permanent injunction.

Senate passes legislation to protect the privacy of Tennesseans

The Senate gave final approval to several bills aiming to protect the privacy of citizens, including legislation sponsored by Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon) regarding the improper use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to collect images or video. Senate Bill 1892 is a proactive measure as the Federal Aviation Administration, which currently has authority over UAVs, is in the process of lifting their regulations, creating a vacuum in Tennessee law for the private use of these vehicles.

“All Tennesseans have a fundamental right of privacy in our homes, businesses or vehicles,” said Senator Stevens. “Our current laws are deficient in addressing covert, hidden, or surreptitious video surveillance in private locations.”

The bill creates a criminal offense for using these vehicles except for certain exceptions, including the landowner’s permission, testing of aircraft authorized by the FAA, activity by the military, law enforcement for the pursuit of felony criminals, satellite mapping, and such emergency situations like an oil spill, fire suppression and to rescue a person in danger. A violation of the basic prohibition will be a Class C misdemeanor under the bill with subsequent distribution or use of unauthorized images as a Class B misdemeanor.

“There are a lot of uses of UAVs in agriculture and one of the exceptions is consent of the owner,” added Senator Stevens. “With consent, the farmer could use these vehicles for such purposes as monitoring their crops or detecting pests.”

“Just because technology makes it possible for someone to secretly surveil someone does not make it right,” Stevens said. “What was once considered military spy equipment is now widely available to everybody and our laws have not kept up in protecting our right to privacy. This bill seeks to protect individuals and business from intrusive conduct that violates our basic rights of privacy.”

Privacy Rights / Search and Seizure — The State Senate voted on Monday night to prohibit law enforcement officers from searching or seizing a person’s cellular telephone data, unless there is a search warrant, the owner gives informed consent, it is abandoned or exigent circumstances exists to suspect criminal activity at the time of the seizure. Senate Bill 1757, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), would classify cellular telephones as sealed containers and prohibit the search and seizure during a routine traffic stop.

“Searching or seizing a person’s cell phone data without any judicial oversight is a major invasion of the privacy of our citizens,” said Senator Beavers. “This legislation requires a search warrant or consent from the person in possession of the phone, unless there are exigent circumstances.”

No cellular telephone data that is obtained in violation of the proposed law would be allowable in any court of law as evidence. The bill would become effective on July 1, 2014.

Surveillance / Electronic Devices — Finally, State Senators voted to prohibit state and local police agencies from accessing or retrieving the location data of residents by surveillance of an electronic device without a court warrant. Senate Bill 2087, sponsored by Senator Beavers, would help ensure government does not take advantage of technological advances in cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices to spy without appropriate judicial oversight.

The electronic privacy bill is modeled after one passed in Montana which allows exceptions only in order to respond to a possible life-threatening situation, an emergency call by the user or when a device is reported as stolen, unless there is informed consent by the owner. The legislation prescribes a Class C misdemeanor for violation.

In Brief…

Industrial HempSenate Bill 2495 to allow farmers to be licensed to grow hemp in Tennessee was approved by the Senate this week. Although it is legal to import, purchase or export hemp, it is illegal to grow it in Tennessee. In recent years, states like neighboring Kentucky have passed measures legalizing the farming of hemp for industrial purposes. These purposes include turning the plant’s fibers into such products as oil, wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, paper, and fuel. There are approximately 75 manufacturers using hemp in America today, most prevalently with plastics, which can be reinforced with hemp. The bill is sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains).

Balanced Budget Amendment / U.S. Constitution — The State Senate passed Senate Joint Resolution 548, sponsored by Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), which calls for a convention of the states to consider a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution. The passage of the resolution follows several other states which have already passed or are in the process of considering the same measure. Twenty states have already passed a resolution calling for a convention to pass a federal balanced budget amendment. Once 34 states do so, Congress is required to call a convention and set the date and location. Subsequently, 38 states must then ratify any changes to the constitution in order for them to take effect.

Direct Sales / Consumers – The Senate has passed Senate Bill 2130 which more clearly defines what is considered to be a pyramid promotional scheme, a practice prohibited under state law. The bill strengthens the hand of law enforcement by clarifying and strengthening existing law, while protecting legitimate Tennessee direct sellers. The Council of State Governments (CSG) adopted this model language in 2004, which is supported by the Direct Selling Association. The bill is sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin).

Choice and Opportunity Scholarships — Among key education bills passed on final consideration by the Senate this week was the “Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act.” This legislation, proposed by Governor Bill Haslam and sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), provides opportunity scholarships for up to 5,000 students on free and reduced lunch within districts containing a school in the bottom five percent in academic achievement. Senate Bill 196 gives priority to students deemed eligible under the original bill proposed last year, with the same accountability measures in place. The schools are required to administer a nationally-normed, end-of-year test to scholarship students. If caps are not met by the priority groups, students on free and reduced lunch within districts containing a school in the bottom five percent would be eligible for a scholarship to fill the remaining slots. The number of slots would be expanded to 7,500 in the second year and 10,000 in the third, until it reaches a maximum of 20,000 in year four and thereafter.

911 Funding Reform – Legislation was approved this week updating the existing statutory model for funding Tennessee’s 911 emergency communications network to account for changes in telecommunications technology and consumer choices. Senate Bill 2407 is the product of yearlong discussions and collaboration among state legislative leaders, local emergency communications districts, the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board, public safety officials and telecommunications carriers. The compromise bill establishes a stable, reliable future-proof funding source for maintaining and improving the state’s emergency communications network services. The bill is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).


A Unique Prism

The state Senate’s majority leader describes the lens through which he views public policy.

By Mark Norris,
January 16, 2014

In light of the Tennessee General Assembly’s recent reopening on Tuesday, here are a few thoughts on what lies ahead.

It is difficult to predict much that won’t have already been written by the time this goes to press, so I will share a somewhat more personal perspective written between attending to clients’ needs at the law office and packing for what may essentially be three months away from home.

Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities comes to mind — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … ” While we are eager to discharge our public duties, none are looking forward to the inevitable disruption of our private lives.

We are proud of what we have accomplished for the people of Tennessee over the past three years since Governor Haslam took office, and we look forward to maintaining the momentum, making Tennessee tops in at least 10 important ways:

Tennessee is 10th in the nation in personal income growth. The state has the ninth-highest high school graduation rate, eighth-best individual tax rate, and seventh-best destination ranking for jobs. It is rated the sixth-best state for business and careers. We are fifth in overall job growth and are the fourth-best state for business. We have the third-lowest tax burden and second-lowest cost of living, and we are first in the automotive manufacturing market.

Tennessee is also first in the Southeast in overall job growth and personal income growth. And we have the lowest debt per capita. All of this makes us the number one state in the nation for retirement.

How have we done it? We’ve made the budget “job one,” utilizing conservative management with lower taxes and less government. Unlike our counterparts in Congress, we have a balanced budget every year in Tennessee, and we have more than 140,000 new private-sector jobs to show for it.

Despite this success, or perhaps because of it, we have even more work to do if we are to maintain and improve our standing in the top 10 of so many categories.

Revenues for the current fiscal year are lagging. Increasing education costs under the Basic Education Plan (BEP) are increasing. The number of TennCare recipients has jumped by more than 50,000 — all but eliminating any new revenue which might otherwise be allocated elsewhere.

We have been here before. What’s different now is the composition of state government — a Republican governor with Republican super-majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. And I have to look at what lies ahead through a unique prism — that of Senate majority leader.

My job as the leader is to represent the Senate Republican Caucus as well as to carry the governor’s legislation under my oath to “in all appointments, vote without favor, affection, partiality or prejudice … ”

I spend much time studying the issues and listening to members of the Senate and House, Democrats as well as Republicans, whose interests and perspectives are as varied as Charles Dickens’ characters and the 95 counties from whence my colleagues come.

As critical as the budget is, we cannot ignore other diverse subjects: restrictions on the length of knife blades; regulations for hunting hogs; whether pseudoephedrine should be sold by prescription; or even the definition of Tennessee Whiskey. As I write, emails are streaming in urging me to support legislation for “sensible marijuana,” to ban “hysterectomies without signed informed consent,” and, at the behest of one of my Senate colleagues, to see to the legalization of agricultural hemp.

Thus, while the budget is job one, an array of other issues necessarily emerges. One matter of local interest will be legislation I am introducing that addresses the taking, testing, storage and use of forensic evidence in rape kits.

Other issues include pension reform for local governments that are not making actuarially required contributions; recidivism and criminal justice reform; workforce development; and questions of federalism. One of the latter is whether, in light of the dysfunction in D.C., it is time for a state-initiated national constitutional convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution to consider a balanced budget amendment and other necessary changes.

Once again from Dickens: “(I)t was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

It is a rare privilege to serve with so many who care so much at such an important time in Tennessee.


Chickasaw Basin Authority

Governor Haslam appointed me to serve on the Board of the Chickasaw Basin Authority, and we met this week. I served as Vice-Chairman of the CBA in the 1990′s as a County Commissioner. It’s good to return. I’m pictured here with Charles Askew.


Mayor Terry Jones

With Millington Mayor Terry Jones


Tennessee Talks with Ruth Dunning will air in January

Tennessee Talks with Ruth Dunning will air in January


Norris takes helm of Council of State Governments

Outlines “State Pathways to Prosperity” initiative focusing on jobs and education

December 10, 2013 615- 741-6336

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) began his term as Chairman of the Council of State Governments (CSG) this week by outlining the Chairman’s 2014 initiative, “State Pathways to Prosperity.” The initiative focuses on helping states boost their workforce development and education efforts. Addressing the organization’s Eastern Regional meeting in Puerto Rico, Norris said during his term of office, CSG will also concentrate on four related areas which often overshadow employment needs: veterans’ affairs, hunger, children in poverty and criminal justice.

“It’s difficult for our guidance counselors and local workforce development professionals to do their jobs when the folks who need work have so many related issues that need addressing first,” said Chairman Norris. “Like a mother looking for work without the resources to provide care for her children while she’s away — or the veteran with plenty of experience but no certificate or degree — or someone with a criminal record for a non-violent offense that disqualifies them from employment. CSG can provide the expertise to help states with best practices designed to clear pathways for those anxious to join America’s workforce.”

“There is significant demand right now by companies looking for qualified workers, and states are finding it difficult to meet the demand. The jobs are there, but the skills are lacking,” said Norris, who was recently appointed by Governor Haslam to the Tennessee Workforce Development Board. Norris was the prime sponsor of Tennessee’s LEAP (Labor Education Alignment Program) signed into law in April. LEAP lays the foundation for the cooperative effort of government, higher education and businesses looking for skilled workers by providing on-the-job training.

CSG represents all three branches of state government and state chief executives are fundamental to CSG’s success. Norris succeeds Senator Gary Stevens of Alaska at CSG. Senator Carl Marcellino of New York is Chair-Elect. Serving as a President of CSG with Norris as Chairman will be West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. He succeeds Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.

“As Chair, it will be my goal to keep CSG the place to be; the place to champion state government to advance the common good,” said Norris.

CSG has regional offices in New York, Chicago, San Diego and Atlanta with headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky. Norris chaired the Southern Region in 2011 and has served on CSG’s Executive Committee since 2007.


Tennessee Department of Transportation

December 4, 2013


Temporary Ramp Closures Postponed on Interstate 40 and 240 in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) will postpone the temporary lane closures scheduled for December 7 and 8, 2013 due to the inclement weather predicted for the weekend. Temporary lane closure dates and times are rescheduled as listed below:

Saturday, December 14, 2013 from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. – The 12C exit ramp on I-40 East (from Covington Pike to I-40 east) will be closed for ramp work. A detour will be posted. Motorists will be detoured through the Walnut Grove interchange back to I-40 East.

Sunday, December 15, 2013 from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. – The left lane of the 12C exit ramp on I-240 East (from Walnut Grove to I-40 East) will be closed for grinding and installation of pavement markers. Upon completion, the left lane will open and the right lane will close for grinding and installation of pavement markers.

The work is weather dependent. Should inclement weather or unforeseen circumstances prevent this work from occurring as scheduled, it will be rescheduled.

TDOT will use message boards to direct motorists around the detour route. The Tennessee Highway Patrol and TDOT HELP trucks will also be on site to assist with traffic.

For travel and TDOT construction information, visit the TDOT SmartWay web site at or download the new TDOT SmartWay mobile app from the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store for Android. Travelers can also dial 511 from any land-line or cellular phone for travel information or can follow us on Twitter at for statewide travel information. Drivers are reminded to use all motorist information tools responsibly. Drivers should refrain from texting, tweeting or using a mobile phone while operating a vehicle. TDOT advises drivers to “Know before you go!” by checking traffic conditions before leaving for your destination.


Remarks Upon the Dedication of the Winfield Dunn Parkway at Collierville, Tn.

Governor Winfield Dunn at ceremonial ribbon cutting for the road that bears his name

Governor Winfield Dunn at ceremonial ribbon cutting for the road that bears his name

Nov. 22, 2013

Thank you all for joining with us in this celebration.

I’d like to do 2 things here this morning. First, I want to thank Governor Winfield Dunn for agreeing to allow us to recognize his service to Shelby County, the State of Tennessee, and our nation by affixing his name to this last segment of State Route 385.

Winfield Dunn is synonymous with that same sense of unity and community symbolized by this roadway. Our 43rd Governor, it had been 50 years since Tennessee had elected a Republican Governor when he won the race in 1970. Despite the partisan victory, he worked hard to unify the state in many ways. Notably for today’s purposes, he increased highway construction and created the Department of Economic and Community Development.

Which brings me to my second point. My working file on this project dates back to 1995 when I was a Shelby County Commissioner. This stretch of SR 385 was originally to be called the Collierville-Arlington Parkway for obvious geographic reasons. But there’s a metaphorical tie — and that is economic development. It is fitting that we dedicate this road during this week when history has been made in another way. Both Collierville and Arlington and others have negotiated the birth of new opportunities in education in our county. With the solidification of sound and strong school systems throughout Shelby County, SR 385 can be a pathway to prosperity for the entire community. To be certain, it can be something less. But it is now for Memphis and all of Shelby County to compete freely amongst the counties of West Tennessee for the abundance which follows the completion of this project.

We are the county of good abode, and our future is bright, and your presence here today signifies all that is good about the prospects for our future together. In the spirit of Winfield Dunn, we dedicate this road to that certain sense of unity and community.

Thank you very much.


My Father-in-Law, Bill Cowan, with Chris and me at the SR 385 dedication on Nov. 22 at Collierville, TN

My Father-in-Law, Bill Cowan, with Chris and me at the SR 385 dedication on Nov. 22 at Collierville, TN


November 21, 2013

Media Advisory
SR 385 in Shelby and Fayette Counties to Open

Memphis, Tenn. – Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer will join former Tennessee Gov. Winfield Dunn as well as state and local officials in Collierville, Tennessee on Friday, November 22, 2013 to celebrate the completion of the last segment of SR 385.

The $74 million project started in November 2009 and is the final segment of the nearly 50 mile highway that stretches through Fayette and Shelby Counties. During Friday’s ceremony, the final segment of SR 385 will also be officially designated as Governor Winfield Dunn Parkway.

Friday’s event will begin at 10:00 a.m. CDT at Collierville’s Town Hall. Due to the inclement weather forecasted, the entire event will be held indoors.

*Special Note: SR 385 will officially open to traffic at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, November 22, 2013.


TDOT Commissioner John Schroer
Governor Winfield Dunn
Senator Mark Norris
Senator Dolores Gresham
Representative Barrett Rich
Representative Curry Todd


SR 385 Grand Opening Ceremony


November 22, 2013
10:00 a.m.


Collierville Town Hall
500 Poplar View Parkway
Collierville, TN


Editorial: Mark Norris’ proposal is another way to help veterans thrive in civilian life
November 13, 2013

Veterans Day has passed, but still in sharp focus are the questions about how to deal with the physical, mental and quality-of-life issues afflicting vets.

In Tennessee, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, has drafted a bill that would make the state’s public colleges and universities more veteran-friendly, starting by authorizing in-state tuition for veterans moving to Tennessee.

In commemorating Veterans Day on Monday, President Barack Obama pledged to honor the nation’s commitment to its veterans by improving health care, job support and educational opportunities for those who have served in the military.

The president’s comments reiterated statements made by previous presidents, current and former members of Congress and state legislators, but it seems that the services offered veterans have not kept pace with the “we support veterans” proclamations.

In a Viewpoint commentary in The Commercial Appeal on Tuesday, Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times surmised that the Department of Veterans Affairs is trying to use an outdated 20th century model to deal with 21st century problems.

The biggest breakdown, veterans say, is in the delivery of medical and mental health services, where doctors are swamped dealing not only with the aging vets of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, but also the younger veterans of more recent Middle East conflicts. The VA also is way behind on processing veterans’ disability applications.

Members of veterans advocacy groups maintain the problems latter-day veterans face in civilian life are no greater than the issues encountered by veterans of Vietnam, Korea and World War II, especially those who served in prolonged combat deployments. The news media, thanks to advocacy groups, are shedding more light on veterans’ issues and how the VA is responding to them.

Constant exposure to life-threatening situations and the horrors of combat can leave lasting mental trauma — known as post-traumatic stress disorder — that some veterans cope with better than others.

Norris’ proposal, if it passes in the General Assembly, would be one step to help veterans succeed as civilians by making college more affordable and also would reward colleges that come up with ways to better serve veterans.

And nationally, lawmakers, military and VA officials need to better collaborate to find the resources to cut through the red-tape and lack-of-personnel issues that are delaying the delivery of key services to veterans.


Tennessee bill for veterans proposes in-state tuition, other help

By Jane Roberts,
November 11, 2013

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris has drafted a bill that would make Tennessee public colleges and universities more veteran-friendly, starting with in-state tuition for vets moving to Tennessee.

“We have what I call a benefits gap when it comes to men and women returning from service,” said Norris, R-Collierville. “The G.I. Bill benefits package only pays cost of in-state tuition. Under Tennessee law, if you relocate to Tennessee, you have to wait a year before you qualify.

“This is intended to plug that gap if you relocate to Tennessee within 24 months of being discharged.”

Veterans would then have a year to establish residency and show proof with a driver’s license, motor vehicle registration, pay stub or by registering to vote.

House Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, is co-sponsor. The House and Senate bills would establish the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act, funneling resources to help vets meet their educational goals here.

The Act would also create a VETS Campus designation for colleges taking concrete steps to better serve veterans. Schools could earn the designation by offering orientation programs specifically for vets, outreach programs or by working with staff to improve awareness of issues specific to veterans.

“The designation tells prospective students who are veterans that the school has a network of resources available that they can relate to and need,” Norris said. “At these campuses, veterans would know there are others like them. With what they have gone through, it sometimes helps to know there are others with similar experiences.”

Norris worked with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission to craft the bill.

“I commend the Senate Majority Leader on this piece of legislation,” said Cato Johnson, THEC board president. “It is extremely important and extremely timely, and I know he has spent a great deal of time working with Rich Rodda (THEC executive director) and the staff as it relates to this legislation.”

Norris is chairman of the newly formed veterans subcommittee, part of the House and Senate state and local government committee. He is also on the state workforce development board of directors.

“One of the issues I have been working on is postsecondary education as it relates to workforce training and development,” Norris said. “These issues are related.”

By helping veterans connect quickly with colleges and other postsecondary options, the state can benefit from veterans’ life experiences, including training they learned in the military, he said.

Johnson, who has worked with Norris on other pieces of veteran-related legislation, represents constituents around Fort Campbell, the Army base which strides the Tennessee-Kentucky border. It is the home of the 101st Airborne Division and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

Lawmakers introduce bill that would lower tuition for some discharged veterans
November 9, 2013

State lawmakers filed a bill on Friday that would offer in-state tuition to all veterans attending public colleges and universities in Tennessee.

The legislation, titled the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act, would allow veterans moving to Tennessee and discharged within a two-year period to enroll at schools as in-state students without having to wait to estabish official residency.

The bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and House Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, would allow create a “VETS campus” designation for Tennessee schools who focus on enrolling veterans there.

“The VETS Act ensures that veterans have a clear, easy pathway to attend college in Tennessee,” Norris said. “As a state, we want to recognize and assist those soldiers who are coming home and exploring their education options.”

The bill will be considered by the state legislature when it reconvenes in January.

Improving Education a Key Theme at ECD Convention

By Michelle Willard,
October 7, 2013

Tennessee needs to develop a more skilled workforce to attract the jobs of the future, Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday at the 60th annual Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development conference.

“Only 32 percent of Tennesseans have a two-year, four-year degree or technical certificate,” Haslam said. “That means a whole lot of jobs are going somewhere else.”

To bring those jobs here, the governor lauded his “Drive to 55” initiative, which aims to encourage Tennesseans to pursue advanced education after high school.

“A lack of training beyond high school limits opportunities,” he said.

Tennessee is projected needed 55 percent of its workforce trained beyond high school to attract and retain jobs by 2025. If the state stays on track, it will only have 39 percent with a certificate or degree beyond high school in 2025.

To accomplish this, the state as a whole has to change expectations for what comes after high school and help the 940,000 adult Tennesseans who have some college credit but didn’t graduate with an advanced degree.

For this part of the equation, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris championed the Labor Education Alignment Program last session. LEAP aims to meet the demands of employers’ rising skill requirements by allowing adults to transfer technical training to four-year degrees.

“LEAP provides the pathways we need to enable Tennesseans to work, earn and learn,” Norris said.

The program was recognized Friday by a report from the Brookings Institutions’ Advanced Industries Series for meeting the demands of employers’ rising skill requirements.

“Brookings confirms this and suggests strategies to implement action between the public and private sectors designed to maintain competitiveness and move Tennessee forward,” the Collierville Republican said.

In his speech Friday, Haslam said public and private partnerships are exactly why businesses are coming to Tennessee.

The public and private sectors have worked together over the years to create excellent infrastructure and raise the quality of life in the state, he said. Both have also invested heavily in education.

State Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, agreed, pointing to the state-funded technical education center that is being built in Smyrna. The $38 million education center is a joint venture by the Tennessee Technology Center in Murfreesboro and Nissan.

“This is the largest investment in Smyrna since Nissan opened,” Sparks said, adding the tech center will provide training on maintaining high-tech manufacturing equipment like robots and other computer-controlled processes.

“We want to be the best location in the Southeast for quality jobs,” Haslam said, which means tech centers need to focus on emerging sectors of the economy.

The Smyrna tech center is doing just that, Sparks said, by teaching skills that can be used at area manufacturing facilities like Nissan, Bridgestone and General Mills and distribution facilities like the ones opened by Amazon.

“We have a lot going for us right now,” Haslam said.



Gathering Targets Region’s Workforce Development

By Bill Dries,
September 4, 2013

When state officials gather at The University of Memphis University Center Wednesday, Sept. 4, to talk about workforce training, it won’t be with a check in hand to lead the effort.

State Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, who organized the 8:30 a.m. to noon session, wants state labor commissioner Burns Phillips and others from Nashville to listen to details of the training programs local business and higher education leaders have cobbled together over the last three years.

The goal of the Conversation About Work gathering is to begin to put that response on a more permanent footing, with the hope that such a response will be another incentive for businesses looking to relocate or expand in the Memphis area.

“It is sort of all getting on the same wavelength so we can say what, if anything, can we do to help,” Norris said.

So Phillips and other state leaders will hear about programs like the Assisi Foundation of Memphis’ use of the Bridges Out of Poverty concept. It is a comprehensive approach to poverty that has the ambitious goal of changing the circumstances and conditions of poverty.

They will also hear about specific training programs at Southwest Tennessee Community College that were the immediate response to the first pool of job applicants at Blues City Brewing and Electrolux.

Executives at both plants said the pool yielded too few qualified and trainable workers. That set in motion the local effort to find workers in Memphis who could be trained or had manufacturing experience who would also be better suited.

The effort put employers in the classrooms to not only teach but also to get a look at prospective employees to see directly a more specific pool of job seekers.

The University of Memphis is also involved, with interim president Brad Martin setting a goal of 10-year workforce development plans with the top 30 employers in the region.

Martin’s vision is workforce development that leads to bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as certificates of training and associate degrees.

The goal underlies the drive to make such training more comprehensive than a specific skill for a specific job.

For Norris, the Wednesday session had its origins in an exchange he saw a year ago in Memphis during a roundtable with business and higher education leaders chaired by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

Among the business leaders was Larry Gibson, plant manager at the Unilever facility in Covington, Tenn.

“We are really desperate for technical skills – people who understand human-machine interface and how to run an automatic packaging line,” Gibson said. “There’s something that goes back to the fundamentals of education. You have to know how to do math. It’s not like technology is leaping forward. It’s creeping forward.”

Gibson’s point was confirmed in a more recent Greater Memphis Chamber-Workforce Investment Network survey of manufacturers in the region, many of whom said they were unaware of workforce training programs offered by higher education institutions.

Gibson’s comments drew an immediate response from Southwest Tennessee Community College leaders at the same session and led to a training program specifically for Unilever.

At the same session, other business leaders told Haslam they are looking more for critical thinking skills and adaptability in the workforces they will employ in the future than the ability to perform a specific task.




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