Legislation includes improvements for broadband, school safety, opioid addicton, and higher education

Published 11:46 am Monday, March 26, 2018

This week, Governor Bill Haslam introduced his amendment to the fiscal year 2018-2019 budget proposal that will be considered by the 110th General Assembly.
The amendment builds on previous legislative priorities by making strategic and thoughtful investments across state government. Because of the conservative fiscal choices lawmakers have made over the last several years, Tennessee currently ranks as the lowest taxed and lowest debt state in the nation.
In early March, Governor Haslam appointed a School Safety Working Group to review school safety in Tennessee and provide recommendations to enhance the security of school children. In the coming days, the working group will submit options for consideration that will serve as a basis for state action and approved school safety measures. As part of these efforts, the budget amendment includes $30 million to help improve school safety across the state.
These additional school safety funds, which include doubling the current amount of recurring funding available through school safety grants, will provide Tennessee schools with additional resources to meet their specific needs.
The budget amendment also contains $3 million in nonrecurring funds for grants to provide funding for school districts to address the extra costs associated with purchasing buses equipped with seat belts.
Other notable investments in the budget amendment include:
• $5 million in nonrecurring broadband accessibility grants, in addition to the $10 million initially included in the fiscal year 18-19 budget. The governor’s Broadband Accessibility Act became law in 2017 and committed $30 million in grants over three years;
• $9 million in nonrecurring funds to purchase equipment at the 27 Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology to improve and modernize a broad variety of workforce development programs;
• An additional $1 million in recurring funds to provide mental health treatment and recovery services as part of TN Together — the comprehensive plan to end the opioid crisis in Tennessee;
• $2 million in nonrecurring funds for an addiction services research program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in support of TN Together;
• And $10 million in nonrecurring funds for the Aeronautics Development Fund to create jobs and investment opportunities in Tennessee’s aviation industry.
The budget amendment is customarily introduced in the final weeks of the legislative session each year for consideration and approval by the General Assembly. The final 2018-2019 budget is expected to be adopted sometime in mid-April.
House lawmakers — including State Representative John Holsclaw (R-Elizabethton) — joined with farmers and agriculture groups from across the state this week to celebrate Tennessee’s annual ‘Ag Day on the Hill’ event at the Cordell Hull building in Nashville. Governor Bill Haslam has also proclaimed the date ‘Agriculture Day’ as part of the annual national observance to recognize the important contributions of farmers and forestland owners provide to the state and nation.
This year, ‘Ag Day on the Hill’ activities included farm animals and a variety of farming equipment on display. Representatives from agricultural organizations and agencies were also available to discuss programs and opportunities for those interested in farming and forestry in Tennessee.
Tennessee has more than 67,000 farms representing 10.9 million acres in production. More than half of the state, 14 million acres, is in mostly privately owned hardwood forests. Tennessee’s top agricultural commodities include cattle, soybeans, corn, poultry, cotton, timber, greenhouse and nursery products, dairy products, wheat, tobacco, and hay. The industry has a $70 billion a year impact on the state’s economy and supports more than 340,000 jobs.
This year, Representative Holsclaw and House Republicans are leading efforts to reform Tennessee’s welfare system, including reinstituting work requirements for those receiving benefits from the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and TennCare.
By reinstituting work requirements for SNAP, approximately 58,000 able-bodied adults who are not currently meeting the work requirement but still receive assistance will now be able to capitalize on an overabundance of jobs in order to secure meaningful employment. This will help move them along a pathway from dependency to independence and self-sufficiency.
The restoration of these stipulations will not impact residents who currently depend on these key benefits in 16 Tennessee counties still designated as distressed by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. They will also not apply to Tennessee’s senior citizens or disabled residents.
Similarly, House Bill 1551 directs the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration to file a waiver instituting reasonable work requirements for TennCare enrollees. The measure comes as the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued new guidelines for states, allowing Tennessee to implement work requirements on citizens who receive TennCare benefits.
As leaders of the state, House Republicans want Tennessee residents to have meaningful employment so they can take care of their families and make contributions that enable communities to continue their economic development and prosperity. These new initiatives accomplish these goals while also ensuring state resources are managed in the most efficient and effective way possible.
This week on the House floor, Representative Holsclaw and lawmakers supported passage of a measure designed to save Tennessee taxpayers an estimated $6 million dollars annually on the cost of state testing.
House Bill 2247 — which passed unanimously by a 94-0 bipartisan vote — is designed to simplify testing methods for students while also outlining expectations for Tennessee’s educators.
The measure reduces a requirement for the creation of new test questions on state assessments from 70 percent annually to just 30 percent. This will free up additional resources in order to streamline reporting of results to students, teachers, and families.
As passed, House Bill 2247 ensures that Tennessee children are being properly prepared and that teachers better understand where they need to focus their time and energy in the classroom. House Republicans are committed to working to make the state’s testing process as seamless as possible for all involved and will continue work to identify other areas where testing efficiency can be improved and additional money for taxpayers can be saved.”
Under the leadership of House Republicans, Tennessee students are the fastest improving in the entire country across math, reading, and science. Last fall, high school graduation rates for the 2016-2017 school years reached 89.1 percent — the highest in recorded state history.
Monday night, Representative Holsclaw and House lawmakers unanimously supported passage of a measure designed to support Tennessee’s military families. House Bill 1573 allows spouses of deceased members of our military reserve to be issued a National Guard license plate until a time when they remarry.
The measure is the latest in a series of initiatives designed to ensure that those who defend our state and our country are not forgotten.
During the 2017 legislative session, House Republicans spearheaded the Support, Training and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsman (STRONG) Act. It provides last dollar-scholarships to our state’s service members who meet eligibility requirements, allowing them to pursue their educational goals and dreams without fear of financial struggle.
Additionally, lawmakers supported passage of House Bill 433 — an initiative to assist veterans by determining how their military training can count as college credit at Tennessee’s colleges and universities. It also grants in-state tuition to anyone currently living in Tennessee who is using Veterans Affairs educational benefits, regardless of their official home of record.
Tennessee military members and their families make incredible sacrifices in serving and defending Tennessee and the United States. These initiatives are a small way that lawmakers can thank and show gratitude to these brave individuals who risk their lives every single day in the name of freedom.
(John Holsclaw serves as Chairman of the House Business & Utilities Subcommittee. He is also a member of the House Business & Utilities and House Health Committees. Holsclaw lives in Elizabethton and represents House District 4, which includes Unicoi and part of Carter Counties. He can be reached by email at Rep.John.Holsclaw@capitol.tn.gov or by calling (615) 741-7450.)

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