Legislature completes its work with focus on education, meth
by Kevin Brooks and Eric Watson
Apr 20, 2014 | 570 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last week, state legislators wrapped up the second half of the 108th General Assembly, focusing efforts on passing commonsense legislative initiatives to aid both immediate and long-term economic development in Tennessee’s private sector.

Measures to protect teachers, ensure employers find Tennessee an attractive destination for their businesses, and reinvigorate the state’s education system to better train the next generation of Tennessee workers were among the House priorities. In addition, House Republicans worked hard this year to ensure the state continues to foster an environment where new jobs are created and small business can thrive.

With Republicans at the helm, the state Legislature finished its work in record time, saving taxpayers millions of dollars across the state.

After adjournment of the Legislature, House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, remarked, “I am proud of what we have accomplished together this session, and adjourning this early reflects the Legislature’s commitment to conducting its business in an efficient and effective manner. I have enjoyed working with Gov. Haslam and my colleagues in the General Assembly to help make Tennessee the number one location in the Southeast for high quality jobs. I look forward to building upon the progress we have made this session to make our state an even better place to live, work and raise a family.”

With the 108th General Assembly now in the books, the House Republican Caucus is ready to continue advocating for conservative fiscal policies to carry forward this year’s efforts into the next legislative session.

Anti-Meth legislation

wins lawmakers’ approval

Legislation aimed at combating the illegal manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine in Tennessee won approval from state lawmakers las week in Nashville, highlighting the efforts of House Republicans to do everything possible to rid Tennessee of the scourge of meth.

House Bill 1574, the Tennessee Anti-Meth Production (TAMP) Act, cuts the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be bought in Tennessee from the current limit of 9 grams a month to 5.76 grams, which is equivalent to 24 days of self-medicating treatment, in a month’s time. The legislation also sets an annual limit on pseudoephedrine purchases of 28.8 grams without a doctor’s prescription. The amounts are designed to target meth users while protecting allergy sufferers who need access to the drug.

In addition, the bill targets the activities of “smurfers” who buy pseudoephedrine from a variety of stores in small quantities and in turn supply illegal meth manufacturers with enough product to create the drug.

Another piece of legislation, House Bill 1661, imposes a minimum mandatory jail time for any individual convicted of a meth-related crime, including a 30-day prison term for possession and a 180-day prison term served for illegally manufacturing methamphetamine, with the option of drug court and treatment at the discretion of the presiding judge.

Currently, Tennessee ranks second in the nation, behind Indiana, in meth lab seizures per year. In 2013 alone, 266 children were removed by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) from homes due to meth-related incidents at an estimated cost of more than $7 million. Additionally, the state spends approximately $2 million annually on meth lab clean-up, and in 2013, 1,691 labs were seized in Tennessee. This is in addition to tens of millions of dollars in TennCare costs associated with meth lab burns.

Tennessee Promise plan

is passed by House

Legislation proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam earlier this year to ensure every student in the state can attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology absolutely free passed the full House of Representatives last week with bipartisan support from state lawmakers.

It is pleasing that the Legislature and Gov. Haslam agreed to the changes that were very important to the TICUA institutions, both in Cleveland and all across our great state. The amended version of this bill, with its slight changes, was approved by all. It is always great when we can work out our differences and create a win-win for all parties.

Passage of the proposal makes Tennessee the first state in the entire nation to offer such a program.

Following two years of free schooling, if a student then chooses to go on to a four-year school, the state's transfer pathways program makes it possible for that student to start as a junior. By getting their first two years free, the cost of a four-year degree is cut in half.

In addition, the cost of the Tennessee Promise program itself will be paid for through a strategic transfer from the lottery reserve fund into an endowment fund with absolutely no cost to the state or taxpayers.

The plan also alters the current $4,000 per year Hope scholarship college students are currently eligible to receive, changing the total to $3,500 for each of the freshman and sophomore years of college, and increasing the amount to $4,500 during the junior and senior years. The result will still be a total of $16,000 in Hope grants over four years, with proponents agreeing the change will better incentivize students to retain good grades in order to continue receiving the newly established higher scholarship award amount.

Legislation overhauling

Tennessee textbook

selection process moves

to Haslam for signature

This bill ensures parents, teachers and everyday citizens have a say in which textbooks are used in Tennessee classrooms.

The House approved legislation that will move the Tennessee educational bar forward by overhauling the way our State Textbook Commission conducts business while also helping to empower parents to become more involved in the daily lives of our students.

The State Textbook Commission, which is responsible for recommending an official list of textbooks for approval by the Tennessee Board of Education, has come under fire in recent years by parents statewide for having adopted books containing inappropriate language and controversial interpretations of historical facts.

House Bill 2249 is designed to remedy these problems by providing greater transparency and more public and parental input in the way textbooks are selected for use in our communities and local schools.

In summary, the bill has four major components, the first of which establishes specific criteria for reviewing textbooks by the commission, including verifying information contained in the text is factually accurate.

Second, the legislation allows the Legislature to appoint members to the current governor-only appointed Textbook Commission, ensuring more legislative oversight of the textbook selection process with the input of Tennesseans across the state.

Third, the bill requires that any book currently being reviewed by the Textbook Commission or set to be reviewed in the future to be placed online for public review and public comment.

And, finally, the legislation gives parents, teachers and local education experts who are knowledgeable on the subject a place at the review table by allowing them to be appointed to local textbook review committees.

Now that the bill has passed, this legislation will completely overhaul the way textbooks are chosen in Tennessee. Currently, the State Textbook Commission is not even required to look for factual errors in the reading. This new legislation will create a stronger, more accountable textbook review process that ensures our children’s textbooks are factually correct, free from grammatical errors and do not contain the historical inaccuracies we see in so many schools today.

Over the next several months, leaders in our state must continue to build on the momentum we are currently experiencing in moving the educational bar forward. By revamping our state textbook system and creating new initiatives to bring parents more fully into the selection process, we will better prepare our students for life after school. By ensuring our students are equipped with sound educational knowledge, tools and resources, we help maximize their future potential in fulfilling their dreams. By pushing to implement positive education programs like the legislation described here, we can continue down the path of making Tennessee the best place in the nation to live, work and raise a family.

In Closing ...

Having finished its business for the year, the 108th General Assembly is now complete. The 109th General Assembly will be gaveled in on Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, at high noon.

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(Editor’s Note: This legislative summary has been provided by state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland representing the 24th Legislative District, and state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland representing the 22nd Legislative District.)