Posted By Kim Swindell Wood | May 4, 2017 7:44 am
From State Representative Paul Sherrell
Last week, Governor Bill Haslam introduced his amendment to the fiscal year 2017-2018 budget proposal for consideration by the 110th General Assembly.
The appropriations amendment tracks closely to the Governor’s original budget proposal presented to the legislature on January 30, which for the second year in a row does not take on any new debt and makes significant investments in teachers, K-12 schools, higher education, state employees, the state’s Rainy Day Fund, and the tax cuts included in the IMPROVE Act.
The amendment builds on previous legislative priorities by making strategic and thoughtful investments across state government. Because of the conservative fiscal choices lawmakers have made over the last several years, Tennessee currently ranks as the lowest taxed and lowest debt state in the nation.
Notable investments in the 2017-2018 budget amendment include:
- $8 million to increase salaries paid to Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities service providers who care for the state’s most vulnerable,
- $2 million for prevention, education, treatment, and recovery services with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services,
- $55 million for transportation projects as the IMPROVE Act is phased in,
- $40 million for a new State Library and Archives building to collect and preserve Tennessee records of historical, documentary, and reference value,
- And $10.65 million for disaster relief in Gatlinburg and Sevier County after the devastating wildfires in November 2016.
The appropriations amendment is customarily introduced in the final weeks of the legislative session each year for consideration and approval by the General Assembly. The final 2017-2018 budget is expected to be adopted sometime in May.
New Legislation Allows American Sign Language To Satisfy Foreign Language Requirements
Last week, Republican lawmakers passed legislation that allows American Sign Language to be used to satisfy foreign language requirements in Tennessee high schools.
House Bill 462, known as the American Sign Language bill, was initiated by Molly Ridgeway — a nonverbal student at Maryville College — and her boyfriend, Joshua Anderson.
The legislation allows any high school student who enrolls in an American Sign Language course to use the credit they earn to satisfy foreign language requirements needed for graduation. Currently, more than 180 colleges and universities accept American Sign Language as a foreign language credit from incoming high school graduates.
Estimates show there are approximately 500,000 Tennesseans who are deaf or hard of hearing, many of whom use sign language to communicate.
Supporters of the legislation hope the bill will help to improve communication between verbal and nonverbal Tennesseans and lead to job growth for future nonverbal educators.
Forty other states have already passed similar measures.
House Lawmakers Encourage Tennessee Students To Celebrate Freedom
Last week, House lawmakers passed legislation that helps Tennessee students learn the principles of freedom in our nation’s founding documents.
House Bill 287 designates the week of Sept. 17 as “Celebrate Freedom Week” in Tennessee public schools. The week-long celebration will coincide with Constitution Day each September 17 and help students learn more about the original intent, meaning, and importance of documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and United States Constitution.
While these items are already included in social studies curriculum across the state, “Celebrate Freedom Week” gives educators additional opportunities to create special lesson plans and affords additional time during the school year to teach students about the historical significance of these documents and other important events.
The goal of the legislation is to help further empower current and future generations of Tennessee children to appreciate U.S. historical documents and better understand their importance in our country’s history.
General Assembly Creates Additional Protections Against Child Predators
House members unanimously passed legislation last week to create additional protections against child predators.
Communities across Tennessee already rely on the state’s sex offender registry to track and monitor convicted offenders who have moved into permanent residences upon release from prison.
House Bill 404 enables law enforcement officials to monitor offenders convicted of child rape or a child sexual predator offense who may not have a permanent address by requiring them to enroll in a satellite-based monitoring and supervision program. Anyone in Tennessee who has been convicted of a crime against a child on or after July 1, 2017 that does not have a permanent or secondary address must enroll in the program and remain in it for the duration of their parole term.
Stop Child Predators, a Washington-based nonprofit dedicated to preventing child exploitation and other crimes against children, estimates that 1 in 5 girls are exploited before they reach adulthood.
The new monitoring system will allow law enforcement to determine if probation or parole has been violated by showing the location of the sexual offender, regardless of whether they have a permanent address. This legislation adds an additional layer of protection for Tennessee children against predators.
Department Of Environment & Conservation Announces Upcoming Transportation Awards And Forum
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Transportation and Tennessee Clean Fuels, announced last week they will hold the third annual Tennessee Transportation Awards and Forum during Clean Air Month from May 23-24 at the Nashville Public Library.
The event will bring together state experts, local leaders, and community members to discuss successes and challenges facing transportation in Tennessee.
The forum, entitled “Navigating Toward a Livable Tennessee,” will highlight local transportation planning and the pursuit of policies and investments for improved transportation options in our communities. The keynote address will be delivered by Russ Brooks, Smart Cities Director at Transportation for America, an organization focused on supporting the development of smart, locally driven transportation policies across the United States.
An awards luncheon will be held on the second day of the forum, and will include remarks from TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau and Tennessee Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Toks Omishakin. The awards recognize outstanding initiatives to improve the efficiency, accessibility, affordability, and sustainability of transportation systems in the state, consistent with ongoing efforts to improve the health and well-being of Tennesseans, provide for a strong economy, and protect our state’s natural resources.