Divisive concepts on college campuses

Published 12:21 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2022

BY REP. JOHN HOLSCLAW
The House of Representatives has passed legislation that prohibits Tennessee’s public universities and colleges from taking adverse actions against students or employees for their viewpoints. House Bill 2670 aims to ensure diversity and inclusion efforts are not undermined by divisive concepts that seek to drive Tennesseans apart. It establishes that students nor employees may be discriminated against for refusing to support, believe, endorse, embrace or act upon a specific ideology or political viewpoint. It requires public universities and colleges to survey students and employees about the campus climate every two years about speaking freely on campus.
This bill defines “divisive concept” as a concept that:
• Promotes the belief that one race or sex is inherently superior or inferior to another race or sex
• Declaring that an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously
• Declaring that the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist
• An individual should be discriminated against because of the individual’s race or sex
• An individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race or sex
House 2670 was amended to include a provision requiring institutions of higher education to investigate a student or employees’ complaints when they feel this law in in violation. If the institution finds that a violation has been committed, this bill authorizes the institution to reprimand the violator for a first violation or terminate the violator’s employment for a second or subsequent violation. House Bill 2670 requires public colleges and universities to annually report the number of complaints, the investigative findings, and the actions taken for violations to General Assembly. The Senate companion version of the bill is expected to be up for a full vote this week.
REPORTING SYSTEM FOR
DANGEROUS ROAD CONDITIONS
A bill advancing through House committees aims to make it easier for citizens to report road hazards and settle claims with the state when vehicles are damaged on state-maintained highways. House Bill 2706 requires the state treasurer to work with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to develop and implement a centralized information system for the reporting of dangerous road conditions. It expands the authority of the state treasurer to settle citizens’ claims when personal property is damaged by road hazards such as potholes. The state’s current procedure for filing such claims is a difficult process, said House Transportation Committee Chairman Dan Howell. The state received 1,800 claims for pothole and road hazard damage in 2021 and of those, only 12 were settled.
“We believe we can do better and I know we can do better,” Howell said. “This simply allows TDOT and our treasurer’s office to cooperate in creating a streamlined reporting system so our citizens may be better served.”
House Bill 2706 will be up for consideration in the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee on March 15.
TAX REFORM WILL SPUR ECONOMIC GROWTH
The House chamber last this week unanimously passed legislation that continues to improve the state’s tax code and solidifies Tennessee’s standing as the most business-friendly state in the nation. House Bill 2144 would allow companies doing business in Tennessee to continue to deducting all research and development-related expenses when filing their state excise taxes. The bill permits businesses to continue expensing research and development that was first allowed in former President Donald Trump’s legislative package known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017. The soon-expiring TCJA reduced tax rates for businesses and individuals while increasing standard deductions and family tax credits. By severing Tennessee’s tax code from the federal code’s extended research and development amortization schedule, House Bill 2144 allows companies doing business in Tennessee to continue deducting those expenses from their state tax liability.
The Senate companion bill passed on March 3. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for approval.
NEW EDUCATION FUNDING FORMULA
The Tennessee Department of Education last released additional Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) resources explaining how the proposed student-based funding formula will update the way Tennessee funds public education for the first time in 30 years.
The proposal, House Bill 2143, establishes the TISA as a new funding model that prioritizes the individual needs of students rather than relying on ratio components and district averages. The plan puts direct focus on students with disabilities, students in rural and urban areas and low-income families. House Bill 2143 was introduced in the House K-12 Subcommittee this week with a presentation by Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. Action was deferred in committee until March 15.
Starting in the 2023-24 school year, the TISA would invest an estimated $9 billion in education funding for the state, including state and local funds, which would include an additional recurring state investment of $1 billion. The TISA is designed to empower each student to read proficiently by third grade, prepare each high school graduate for postsecondary success, and provide resources needed to all students to ensure they succeed.
ADDRESSING TEEN SUICIDE
The Tennessee House of Representatives is expected to vote next week on legislation aimed at helping prevent suicides among teenagers.
House Bill 2062, also known as the Save Tennessee Students Act, requires local education agencies to include the telephone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as well as contact information for at least one additional crisis resource on all new student identification cards issued for grades 6-12 beginning with the 2022-23 school year. The legislation also requires the information to be posted in visible places throughout schools that serve students in those grades.
“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15 through 24,” State Rep. Eddie Mannis, R-Knoxville, told members of the House Education Administration Committee on March 2. “Life-saving information such as how to access crisis intervention hotlines, mental health programs and suicide prevention resources should be easily accessible by all students, parents, guardians and school personnel.”
There were 45,979 Americans who died by suicide in 2020, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. There were an estimated 1.2 million suicides attempted during that same year.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
K-12 COMPUTER SCIENCE REQUIREMENTS
The House Education Instruction Committee this week advanced legislation that will require all Tennessee public schools to offer computer science training. House Bill 2153 marks a significant step for the Volunteer State by ensuring students are prepared for the tech jobs of tomorrow. The curriculum will set rigorous standards for computer science education by providing free professional development for Tennessee students.
Currently, only half of Tennessee high schools are offering computer science courses. The bill requires every high school student to complete a full year of computer science education in order to graduate, starting with 2024-25 incoming freshmen. Additionally, every middle school student would be required to receive at least one course in computer science education while elementary students would be required to receive age-appropriate computer science education.
House Bill 2153 helps to fulfill a growing demand for a workforce with exposure to and mastery of computer science.
PUNISHENT FOR VIOLENT OFFENDERS
The General Assembly approved legislation this week that eliminates the possibility for parole for first-degree murderers in rape cases.
House Bill 2269 requires that a person be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole if they are convicted of first-degree murder while committing or attempting to commit aggravated rape, rape, rape of a child and aggravated rape of a child. The legislation now heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature.
BILL TO PROTECT TEACHERS
A Republican proposal would help protect Tennessee teachers from being assaulted on the job advanced out of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday.
House Bill 1934 expands the offences of assault and aggravated assault against first responders or nurses to also include teachers. There are 68,838 public school teachers in Tennessee, according to information from the Tennessee General Assembly Financial Review Committee. The legislation would result in an estimated 69 convictions annually.
“All of our schools have nurses in them that are already protected by this law,” State Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, told members of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday. “Why do we not protect the teachers in the classroom?”
Assaulting a teacher would be a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $5,000 and mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail, according to the bill. Aggravated assault of a teacher would be a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $15,000 and a mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days in jail.
House Bill 1934 now heads to the full House Criminal Justice Committee for consideration.
ASSAULTING A FIRST RESPONDER
A bill strengthening the punishment for assaulting a first responder advanced out of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday.
House Bill 2247 expands the offenses of assault and aggravated assault against a first responder or nurse to include offenses committed against any licensed emergency healthcare provider. It also increases the mandatory minimum jail sentence for each offence.
“My purpose (with) this bill is to draw attention to the fact that evil doesn’t discriminate against only policemen,” State Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, told members of the subcommittee. “It discriminates against anybody in a uniform doing their job. We’d like to call attention to that fact… and then put evil where it belongs.”
The legislation was prompted by a fatal shooting at a grocery store in Collierville last fall that left two people dead, including the shooter, and a dozen others injured.
According to the bill, assault of a first responder or other licensed emergency healthcare provider would be a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a mandatory $5,000 fine and minimum sentence of 90 days in jail. Aggravated assault would be a Class C felony punishable by a mandatory $10,000 fine and minimum 180 days in jail.
Any aggravated assault that resulted in the death of a first responder or other licensed emergency healthcare provider would be a Class A felony. It would carry a mandatory $50,000 fine and mandatory minimum jail sentence of 15 years.
House Bill 2247 will now go to the full House Criminal Justice Committee for consideration.
(Rep. John Holsclaw serves as Chairman of Departments & Agencies Subcommittee. He is also a member of State Government Committee, Commerce Committee, Business & Utilities Subcommittee, Local Government Committee, and Election & Campaign Finance Subcommittee. Holsclaw lives in Elizabethton and represents House District 4, which includes Unicoi and part of Carter counties.)

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