State committees remain busy: Bell
by By GREG KAYLOR Banner Staff Writer
Oct 17, 2012 | 663 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When state Sen. Mike Bell is not busy working with new pieces of Tennessee legislation, he is involved in the ongoing operation of a handful of influential committees to which he has been appointed.

These include the Judicial, Energy and Environment, and Government Operations committees, the Riceville-based legislator who represents the 9th Senatorial District told members of MainStreet Cleveland during Monday’s monthly luncheon.

At the same session, MainStreet Cleveland Executive Director Sharon Marr delivered a variety of updates on upcoming events that involve MainStreet and its downtown members.

In his legislative report, Bell pointed out the Government Operations Committee is one of the state’s broadest.

“The GOC oversees 280-plus state boards, agencies and commissions,” Bell said. “We are the only standing committee which meets year-round. We go through the Sunset Review process and audit these agencies.”

Bell said some of the agencies are as large as the Department of Education, Department of Safety and the Tennessee Department of Transportation, and the smallest is the Board of Lay Midwifery, which has only 27 licensed midwives in the state.

“The GOC has oversight on all these boards and performs audits for the State Comptroller’s Office,” Bell said. “We find out if they are doing what they are supposed to do according to legislation for what these agencies were formed to do.”

In a recent report, the Board of Probation and Paroles was found to have allegedly been monitoring people in the system who had passed away.

“Who was doing this?” Bell asked.

He said the board had an operating budget of $86 million.

“We found out the Comptroller’s Office said it was ‘Inadequate Supervision,’” Bell said.

According to Bell, the day after the findings, the commissioner over supervision resigned and those employees who had allegedly signed state documents regarding those in the parole or probation system had the opportunity to resign.

“This is a felony,” Bell said.

An investigation is ongoing and possible criminal charges could be brought against those involved.

“It makes us wonder who is watching those in the system who are still alive,” he added.

Bell said at the federal level of government, there is no oversight committee such as the GOC.

“We also approve or disapprove rules which are made by nonelected state employees,” Bell explained. “Some of these rules can hurt business and it is our job to define them.”

As for the future, Bell said Gov. Bill Haslam has several big issues on the table for the upcoming legislative session.

“The governor wants to tackle workers’ compensation reform, higher education reform and state employees’ pension reform,” Bell said.

Regarding education, Bell said costs in higher education are “skyrocketing” and officials will be looking at a shift from enrollment numbers, and watching closely for results of the value of higher education.

In her updates, Marr said the upcoming weekend includes the Apple Festival and that the final MainStreet Cruise-in will be held next week around the Courthouse Square.

The Downtown Cleveland Block Party is celebrating its silver anniversary with music, food and fun on Halloween, she said. After that, officials will be gearing up for Christmas events, including the annual Christmas Parade.