This session will go down as one of the most successful in Tennessee history. For five months, the General Assembly worked hard to pass legislation that reflected the will of Tennesseans and reformed the way government operates in the state.
Following the adjournment, the Speaker of the House stated, "This was an incredible session for the General Assembly. The House passed a number of common sense reforms to limit government, enhance the environment for businesses to grow and reform education so every child can have a great education. By adjourning five weeks earlier than last year, we have saved Tennessee taxpayers $450,000. Truly, this was a banner year for Tennesseans."
A major reform for education made its way through the General Assembly over the weekend. After many hours of debate, an agreement was reached that takes away the mandatory authority of unions in education, and instead allows all Tennessee teachers to directly take part in education policy discussions.
The Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act of 2011 does away with the antiquated model of adversarial mandatory negotiating by the education union and provides a route for every individual teacher to have a voice at the education negotiating table. It opens up direct lines of communication between all education stakeholders so that education policy will reflect the will of teachers, parents and administrators.
One legislator who supported the measure stated, "This was a strong bill to empower all teachers in Tennessee. For far too long, I have heard about the teacher who works long hours and patiently leads our children while receiving little recognition. This legislation ensures that will no longer be the case. We need to encourage teaching excellence and this bill does just that."
In the collaborative environment envisioned by this historic legislation, all teachers and their invaluable perspectives will be accounted for in curriculum and education policy. Teachers will have direct input about items such as salary and benefits. Under this system, teachers will be viewed on the basis of their achievements in the classroom, not their seniority. Additionally, lines for free-flowing communication are established between the directors of school and the professional employees who work for the local board of education — a reform that recognizes the free-speech rights of all teachers.
As the legislative session came to an end, one key reform sent to the governor's desk for signature will have far-reaching positive effects on education in Tennessee. House Bill 1989 removes the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state and opens enrollment to more students.
“Creating an environment that promotes the growth of high-quality charter schools provides parents with more education options for their children and school districts more innovative tools to address their unique challenges,” stated the governor. "In our mission to improve education and provide every child in Tennessee the opportunity to receive a high quality education, public charter schools are critical assets."
The sponsor of the legislation remarked, "I am grateful for the opportunity to lead this legislation through the General Assembly and present it to Gov. Haslam. Gov. Haslam has a strong vision for education in Tennessee. He believes we must promote student achievement and reward teaching excellence. In the long run, this law will ensure all children in Tennessee are equipped with the knowledge and skills they will need to make Tennessee a more dynamic and competitive economy."
The legislation is part of a targeted package to bring accountability to education and, more importantly, make student achievement the top priority for Tennessee.
As the session came to a close, legislators ushered through a fiscally conservative state budget that embodies the principles of Tennesseans.
The budget contains no tax increases and, more importantly, reduces Tennessee's spending by $1.2 billion from last year.
A conservative legislator stated, "This is a responsible budget that meets the needs of our state. We have taken care to not overextend ourselves or commit taxpayers to outrageous long-term outlays. Instead, we have wisely decided to stretch every penny as far as possible to scale back government, yet ensure Tennesseans get the service they expect."
The budget is approximately 3.9 percent less than last year and is a balanced budget, per the requirements of the Tennessee Constitution.
At a ceremony in his Capitol office, the governor signed into law HB 724/SB 655, the "Blue Alert Act." The new law allows the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to utilize the existing "Amber Alert" infrastructure to notify the public in an efficient and timely manner about violent criminals who have either severely injured or killed a law enforcement officer. The law costs nothing to Tennessee taxpayers, yet it greatly enhances the information available to the public about violent criminals who are at-large in their communities.
Upon signing the bill into law, the governor stated, "Tennessee is blessed with police officers and law enforcement officials committed to the safety of our communities. This law gives us the ability to swiftly notify the public so we can more quickly respond to such attacks on our law enforcement."
The House member who developed the original language for the bill added, "As a retired law officer, I believe this will be an invaluable tool for apprehending criminals who commit heinous acts against our police men and women. This law uses technology to inform the public so they may be vigilant after an officer has been harmed in the line of duty." He concluded, "My community knows firsthand the heartache of losing a member of our police force. This law will help us swiftly enlist the public, capture violent criminals and hopefully save lives."
The bill passed the House on April 25, 2011 with unanimous bipartisan support. Similarly, in the Senate the measure passed unanimously on April 28, 2011.