Speaking to members of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club, he said there was “a chance” legislators could “be done by next Friday.”
During the question-and-answer session that followed his main speech, a Sunrise Rotarian asked Watson what he meant when he said budgetary issues might keep the General Assembly in session longer.
Watson explained that the state had seen a $160 million budget “shortfall” because the state “mismanaged” money by giving estimates of future revenues too much weight.
One example was in the case of the amount of sales taxes the state had expected to collect over the past year. More and more Tennesseans had purchased items from websites like Amazon.com rather than brick-and-mortar stores, which he said had hurt the state’s estimates.
“Taxes — like the Amazon taxes — have really hurt us in Tennessee,” Watson said. “It’s hard to project those things.”
He said the drop in state revenues will likely impact the bills legislators consider for the remainder of the current session.
Some frequently discussed bills like one to start a program called Tennessee Promise to provide students with scholarships to community colleges “may not pass” if the money cannot be found to fund them.
While he did not address specific House bills by number or name, Watson spoke to the Rotarians to give them a look at some of the issues lawmakers in Nashville have been considering — some of them “major.”
The first was human trafficking. Watson said women, teenagers and even children being prostituted is not something just seen overseas today.
“It involves our American young kids as young as 13 years old,” he said.
Watson said he did not always know that it was a problem in this area, and he was “floored” when he learned about the issue. He said there was a human trafficking bust in Chattanooga not long ago that involved 36 people.
It is also a problem statewide, and it is especially prevalent in the areas surrounding events like Tennessee Titans and University of Tennessee football games, he added.
He said human trafficking is an issue he really cares about because it is hurting both minors and adults statewide every day. Watson said the children involved in human trafficking are often lured in by “johns” on the promise of friendship. Some of them live in poor areas and come from broken homes. Often a “john” will shower the young person with gifts and kindness before beginning to demand sexual favors in return.
“Kids are searching for a friend,” Watson said.
Unfortunately, they sometimes find that a “friend” they thought they could trust eventually forces them into prostitution.
He said the state needs to continue to track down and punish those who prostitute minors, and he and other legislators have passed “major legislation” that allows law enforcement officers to more harshly punish those involved in prostitution.
One such piece of legislation will soon change “promoting the prostitution of a minor” from being a Class E felony to a Class A or B felony, depending on the severity of a case.
While he spent the bulk of his time discussing that issue, there were some ideas which would have had a big impact on the entire state if they had become law. One was a proposed bill that would have kept the state on daylight saving time all year. Another idea that had been discussed was the possibility of starting school after Labor Day each fall.
Both ideas had been championed by businesses like theme parks that employed many high school students in summer jobs, Watson said.