April 3, 2015
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.”