I visited the scenes of the worst devastation in Bradley County on Thursday morning and as we clear away debris and start the process of repairing lives, there are many in Bradley County facing the unimaginable loss of a family member. On behalf of all the members of the General Assembly, our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those affected by these storms and I'll continue to be on the ground working with the local and state authorities to provide any assistance needed.
Last week, the House began moving a plan authored by the House Speaker that literally downsizes government operations and saves Tennessee taxpayers money. The legislation calls for the elimination of duplicative committees. Overall, the move is expected to save nearly $1 million in taxpayer funds.
In praising the legislation, the House Speaker stated, "This legislation will save the state money while also eliminating duplication in our committee system. As Tennesseans are setting priorities in their family budgets so too should the Legislature."
The House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee week approved a measure that calls for a constitutional amendment that forever bans a state income tax in Tennessee. While many are comfortable with the Tennessee Constitution saying as much, many legislators believe there needs to be a concrete prohibition enshrined in Tennessee law to prevent future legislators from examining an income tax as a source of revenue.
A member who supports the constitutional amendment said, "We all understand an income tax is not something any Tennessean ever wants to deal with. Our state has carefully cultivated a low-tax, business-friendly image and passage of this bill will help make sure we never ruin that reputation." The measure now goes to the full Finance Committee.
Tennessee was recently ranked as one of the friendliest states for business development and small business creation. Additionally, it was placed in the top five states for its low tax burden.
Late in the week, an amendment to House Bill 130 was unveiled that promotes student achievement and encourages teaching excellence in Tennessee classrooms.
The amendment, added to the Senate version of the legislation, is a boon for Tennessee's education system. It was crafted with the input of all interested stakeholders in education and empowers Tennessee teachers like never before.
Essentially, the amendment moves the education negotiating process from an adversarial approach to one of collaboration to do what is best for our students. Under the legislation, school boards and teachers will work together to advance a positive agenda for children in the classroom without dealing with the roadblocks of the past.
Most importantly, the bill now ensures individual teachers have a seat at the negotiating table and that their much-needed input will be fully utilized. Teachers are put in control of their careers with a hands-on approach. While critics say the bill does away with unions, that is not true under this amendment. In fact, all professional associations are preserved. The only item this bill ensures is that teachers no longer have to pay dues in order to have their voice heard at the negotiating table.
One legislator stated, "This amendment takes the best ideas from the House and the best ideas from the Senate and brings them together to move education forward in Tennessee. Our teachers are given the authority they need to excel and our school boards have a roadmap for a collaborative way to raise education standards."
Legislation that caps non-economic damage awards at $750,000 and at $1 million in cases where victims suffer certain catastrophic injuries was given final approval to move to the House Floor next week for full consideration by the Chamber. The bill also caps punitive damages meant to punish accidental negligence by businesses or individuals. Awards for injuries that can be quantified, such as medical care, rehabilitation or loss of income, are not capped.
The bill is a central focus of the majority's legislative agenda. Proponents of the legislation believe these reforms will bring stability to the legal environment companies have to account for when considering relocation to Tennessee or doing business here.
On numerous occasions, the Majority Leader has talked about the fact this reform will drastically improve the business prospects for Tennessee.
"Leveling the playing field so Tennessee is more competitive with other states in the region is the smart thing to do for our citizens," he said recently.