By RICK NORTON
Legislation advancing welfare reform, ending mandatory emissions testing and spearheading key initiatives in education highlighted the past week of work by lawmakers in the Tennessee General …
Legislation advancing welfare reform, ending mandatory emissions testing and spearheading key initiatives in education highlighted the past week of work by lawmakers in the Tennessee General Assembly.
An assessment of each has been provided in a summary report filed jointly by two members of Bradley County’s legislative delegation.
State Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland), who is closing out his career in state government after a 12-year tenure, and state Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown) focused much of their report on education; however, they suggested action supporting welfare reform and opposing mandatory emissions testing is moving ahead in the Republican-dominated Legislature.
House Bill 1782 targets residents of Hamilton, Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties where vehicle emission testing is still required prior to vehicle registration or renewal.
“The 1990 Federal Clean Air Act required the state to develop more restrictive regulations to control air pollution from mobile sources in counties that were not meeting the federal standards for air quality,” Brooks, who represents the 24th Legislative District, explained.
Currently, testing is done on vehicles with a model year of 1975 and newer if they are powered by a gasoline or diesel engine, and weigh up to 10,500 pounds, the joint report cited. Brooks and Howell pointed out more than 1.5 million vehicles went through emissions testing in Tennessee in 2017 in the six counties where it is required.
“The idea for House Bill 1782 resulted from conversations with Tennesseans who have voiced concerns about the burdensome costs of testing on families across the state,” Howell said. “Once the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation released a report last August revealing that all 95 Tennessee counties now meet federal air quality health standards, it became clear that mandatory testing was no longer needed.”
Howell and Brooks said they joined with other state lawmakers who agreed “… vehicle emissions testing is a perfect example of a well-intentioned government program with harmful, unintended consequences for Tennessee’s middle class.”
“The passage of this legislation will help relieve this burdensome regulation for Tennessee citizens,” Howell said.
According to the legislators, House Bill 1782 will be heard first by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee.
in state House
Welfare reform is a trending state target on which Howell has keyed much of his focus over the past two years. This includes reinstituting work requirements for those receiving benefits from the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and TennCare.
“By reinstituting work requirements for SNAP, approximately 58,000 able-bodied adults who are not currently meeting the work requirement, but who still receive assistance, will now be able to capitalize on an overabundance of jobs in order to secure meaningful employment,” Howell said. “This will help move them along a pathway from dependency to independence and self-sufficiency.”
Brooks stressed welfare reform will not impact residents who currently depend on these benefits in 16 Tennessee counties that are still designated as “distressed” by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. Additionally, welfare reform will not apply to Tennessee’s senior citizens or disabled residents, he added.
Howell pointed out House Bill 1551 also directs the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration to file a waiver “… instituting reasonable work requirements for TennCare enrollees.
Legislators said the measures are coming as the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services issues new guidelines for states.
“… This allows Tennessee to implement work requirements on citizens who receive TennCare benefits,” Howell cited.
The Brooks-Howell summary repeated an explanation included in a previous update: “[State leaders] 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.”
in the forefront
of new legislation
Mindful that Tennessee recently became the first state in the nation to give all Tennesseans access to college free of tuition and fees through the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect programs, legislators agreed this type of legislation is all about the future.
The duo stressed there’s more to come.
“We are moving forward this year with the Complete to Compete initiative … that, once passed, will restructure financial aid requirements for Promise and HOPE scholarships to keep students on track for on-time completion,” Brooks said.
He explained the premise of how it will work.
“This will require community colleges to implement structured, ready-made schedules for all incoming full-time students based on their academic program,” Brooks noted.
In past days, the House has also completed initial steps toward adopting the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018. This is an initiative created in part from 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,” Howell 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 state resources.”
Brooks said House members continue to work on Tennessee Together, a multi-faceted plan detailed in Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent State of the State Address. The governor’s proposed budget includes $30 million in funding, as well as proposed legislation and executive actions, to battle opioid abuse through three major components: Prevention, treatment and law enforcement.
Similar to the Juvenile Justice Reform Act, Tennessee Together incorporates recommendations made by the House Speaker’s Ad Hoc Task Force on Opioid Abuse.
Over the past week, legislators partnered with the Tennessee Department of Education to announce “critical funds” that will go to education initiatives across the state.
“The funding is a result of efforts by the General Assembly last year not only to fully fund education in the state, but also provide $18 million to cover school-district growth as part of Gov. Haslam’s 2017 budget,” Howell said.
He added, “These significant investments will allow many of the state’s school districts with growing populations to maintain proper student-to-teacher ratios so that they can continue offering quality education for the next generation of leaders.”
Brooks pointed to the importance of additional funding for education.
“Funding advocates agree that when the Legislature is able to supply teachers and students with the resources they need in order to achieve their educational goals and dreams, everyone in the state benefits,” Brooks said.
Legislators confirmed an additional $18 million in funding has been proposed for the 2018-19 budget, because of the popularity of the 2017 growth funds.
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