By RICK NORTON
Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State remarks dominated the week’s legislative summary by two local lawmakers who attended the historic Nashville address.But, state Reps. Kevin Brooks and …
Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State remarks dominated the week’s legislative summary by two local lawmakers who attended the historic Nashville address.
But, state Reps. Kevin Brooks and Dan Howell also gave thumbs up to proposed legislation blocking Medicaid funds to abortion providers.
Brooks (R-Cleveland), a 12-year legislator representing District 24 who is leaving state government after six terms, and Howell (R-Georgetown) who represents the 22nd Legislative District, praised Haslam’s vision on education, tax reform and government efficiency.
“Gov. Haslam addressed multiple issues during the speech and challenged all Tennesseans to lead the nation in creating high-quality jobs, improving the education of students, and working to provide the most efficient and effective state government services possible,” Brooks said.
Howell concurred, but also reflected on Haslam’s impact since taking the governor’s office in 2011.
The Bradley County legislator credited the former Knoxville mayor — prior to his 2010 run for governor — for his commitment to many of the same “conservative fiscal policies” that both he and Brooks share.
“… [These] have resulted in multiple significant accomplishments for the state,” Howell said.
In the legislative summary — which Brooks and Howell provide jointly to the Cleveland Daily Banner near the close of each week during the General Assembly session — the duo listed some of what they called the overall result of Haslam’s efforts in leading change in Tennessee:
• Lowest unemployment rate in Tennessee’s 222-year history and a job growth rate greater than 17 percent, with nearly 400,000 net new private-sector jobs created;
• Fastest-improving students in the nation — across math, reading and science curricula — and the highest high school graduation rates the state has ever seen;
• Nearly $1.5 billion invested in K-12 education, with $500 million going to teacher salaries;
• Nearly $800 million in tax cuts to Tennesseans, including a 30 percent cut on groceries;
• Named “State of the Year” in back-to-back years, becoming the only state to ever do so;
• Ranking No. 1 for new jobs from foreign direct investment and being named the No. 1 state for retirement;
• A cut in year-to-year spending by more than half-a-billion dollars; and
• Tripling of the state’s Rainy Day Fund, bringing it to its highest amount in state history.
Brooks and Howell collectively pointed to the significance of legislation giving all state residents access to college free of tuition and fees through the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect programs.
“To assist in ensuring that those incoming students complete college and enter the workforce with degrees or certificates in a timely manner, the governor also announced the ‘Complete to Compete’ initiative,” Brooks said.
Howell said the latest program holds strong potential for future students.
“Once passed by the Legislature, this new plan will restructure financial aid requirements for Promise and HOPE scholarships to keep students on track for on-time completion, and requires community colleges to implement structure, ready-made schedules for all incoming full-time students based on their academic program,” Howell explained.
Local legislators also lauded Haslam’s plans for the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018, an initiative created based upon recommendations made by members of House Speaker Beth Harwell’s Joint Ad Hoc Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice.
“Research suggests that taking youths out of their homes and schools for minor offenses increases the risk of recidivism, diverts resources from youth who pose a risk to the community, and uses taxpayer dollars unnecessarily because community-based services are often more effective and cost efficient,” Brooks said.
He added, “The Juvenile Justice Reform Act will tackle these problems and help strengthen families and communities while promoting public safety and ensuring a responsible and conservative use of resources.”
Howell pointed to a third major initiative inspired by the governor’s desire to tackle the worsening opioid epidemic. The Georgetown lawmaker called the Tennessee Together program a needed step in the right direction.
“Tennessee Together is a multifaceted plan comprised of legislation, $30 million in funds through Gov. Haslam’s proposed budget, and other executive actions to battle opioids through the three major components of prevention, treatment and law enforcement,” Howell stressed.
The District 22 legislator said Tennessee Together incorporates recommendations made by Harwell’s Ad Hoc Task Force on Opioid Abuse. Howell credited Brooks for his work as a member of the opioid abuse task force.
Howell and Brooks pointed to a few other highlights of Haslam’s proposed state budget that still faces the Legislature’s scrutiny before passage.
Some include: More than $200 million in new state funding for K-12 education, including additional funds for teacher compensation; nearly $100 million for higher education initiatives; some $128 million for job-growth investments, including programs that target rural communities; and investments to bring the state’s Rainy Day Fund to $850 million.
to abortion providers
In their weekly summary, Brooks and Howell targeted legislation that — if approved by their state colleagues in the House and Senate — would block TennCare reimbursements to clinics providing abortion services in Tennessee.
In the House of Representatives, the bill is being co-sponsored by state Rep. Jimmy Matlock (R-Lenoir City). His co-sponsor on the Senate side is a familiar name and face, Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) whose 9th Senatorial District includes Bradley County.
“House Bill 2251 aims at protecting the sanctity of life by eliminating taxpayer funding to facilities that perform elective abortions,” Brooks explained. “It does not impact the availability of other critical health care services offered to women.”
Howell pointed out the proposed legislation seeks to rectify a popular misnomer about abortions in Tennessee.
“While some believe taxpayer dollars have been banned from funding abortions in Tennessee, documents from the Tennessee Department of Finance & Administration show providers across our state have received almost $1 million in funding from 2012 to 2017,” Howell said. “Supporters of House Bill 2251 hope to change this by ending taxpayer assistance to these facilities once and for all.”
Brooks pointed out Republican lawmakers have dedicated much of their energy in recent years “… to protect Tennessee’s unborn.”
He pointed to the 2017 legislative session in which lawmakers passed the Tennessee Infants Protection Act.
“It prohibits abortions after 24 weeks — except in medical emergencies — and requires testing to determine viability of an unborn child if a woman is at least 20 weeks pregnant,” Brooks said.
Howell added, “The Tennessee Infants Protection Act also holds physicians who perform late-term abortions accountable for their actions.”
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