Legislative Review

by | April 9, 2018 6:25 am

By State Representative Paul Sherrell

Working group releases recommendations; puts forth plan to significantly increase funding for school safety and security

The working group organized to make recommendations for immediate enhancements to school safety across the state officially released their proposals in Nashville. The working group identified three immediate priorities:

  1. A review and risk assessment of all school facilities to identify vulnerabilities;
  2. An increase in available resources to help secure school resource officers (SROs);
  3. And a statewide technology application for anonymous reporting of security threats.

The group’s proposal directs the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Education and local officials, to immediately begin development and implementation of a statewide assessment of every public elementary and secondary school in the state to identify areas of risk. While all school districts currently have safety plans, this will be the first time that the state has led a comprehensive effort to determine the security needs at each individual school. The risk assessment will be based on model security standards identified by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, with assessment training provided by state homeland security officials to local school district personnel and first responders. As this is the first priority identified by the working group, the state agencies have been asked to complete the assessments before students return to school for the 2018-19 school year.

Following the school security assessments, and on an annual basis thereafter, each school’s emergency operations plan must ensure specific facility risks are identified and updated and that state school safety resources, including the additional $30 million proposed in this year’s budget, are utilized to address the identified risks.

One such area of risk, and the second priority identified by the working group, is the availability of trained school safety personnel and school resource officers. For the schools in the state that do not have SROs on-site, lack of funding is often cited as a primary reason. The proposed 2018-2019 budget and school safety plan doubles the amount of recurring school safety grant funding for schools, which can be used toward SROs or other facility security measures. And, to address immediate needs while further state, local, and federal conversations around school security and budgeting take place, total state school safety grant funding would increase by more than 500 percent for the upcoming fiscal year.

The third immediate priority of the working group focuses on providing a statewide technology application for the anonymous reporting of threats or suspicious activity by students, faculty, staff, and others. The concept would provide for direct communication among and between the individual reporting the threat or activity and the state, local law enforcement officials, and local school districts.

The working group also recommended the promotion of positive behavioral health for all students. As part of this recommendation, Governor Haslam has directed the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse to work in conjunction with the Department of Education to expand training areas, including training on strategies to increase awareness and responsiveness to signs and symptoms of student behavioral health and mental health needs.

All children in Tennessee deserve to learn in a safe and secure environment and House Republicans stand in support of the recommendations of the working group to make immediate, impactful, and unprecedented security improvements in Tennessee schools.

Statewide unemployment rate remains at historic low levels

Recently, House Republicans joined with Governor Bill Haslam to announce the statewide unemployment rate remained near historic low levels in February with a rate of 3.4 percent.

February’s rate is up just 0.1 of a percentage point from January’s rate of 3.3 percent. Over the past 12 months, Tennessee’s unemployment rate decreased a full percentage point from 4.4 percent to 3.4 percent and remains less than the national average of 4.1 percent.

The consistently record low unemployment rate showcases the impact of the policies passed by House Republicans. These initiatives have helped to foster an environment where businesses can thrive and create jobs.

Tennesseans can access the latest job openings across the state, as well as job interview preparation information, on the state’s workforce website at www.jobs4tn.gov.

House moves forward with bills to strengthen tennessee’s law banning sanctuary cities

The House moved forward last week with two bills designed to strengthen Tennessee’s law prohibiting sanctuary cities.

The first bill, House Bill 2315, ensures that state and local government entities are prohibited from adopting or enacting sanctuary policies, whether they are in written form or not, which shield illegal aliens from state and federal immigration laws.

A sanctuary city is a term given to a city in the United States that follows practices that protect illegal aliens. The term generally applies to cities that do not allow funds or resources to be used to cooperate with federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or government employees to inquire about an individual’s immigration status.

Legislation was passed in 2009 making sanctuary cities illegal in Tennessee. However, the law defined a sanctuary city as one which has written or stated policies, leaving a loophole for those which quietly choose not to cooperate with state and federal laws.

This legislation expands the definition of what a sanctuary city is beyond a written policy. It also creates a reporting mechanism for residents to make a complaint. In addition, the proposal puts teeth in the law by cutting off economic and community grant money to any Tennessee city that adopts policies which are in violation.

The second bill designed to fight back against sanctuary cities, House Bill 2312, prohibits state and local government officials or employees from accepting consular identification cards and other similar documents which are not authorized by the General Assembly for identification purposes. The bill is a preemptive measure to ensure that abuses seen in other cities in the U.S. to issue government identification cards to illegal aliens are not implemented in Tennessee. Matricula consular cards, which are issued by the Government of Mexico to Mexican nationals residing outside the country, were prohibited as a source of identification for receiving a driver’s license under a law adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2003 after widespread abuse was reported.

Both bills will next be heard by the House State Government Committee.

Paul Sherrell serves as a member of the House Criminal Justice and House Health Committee, as well as the House Health Subcommittee. He lives in Sparta and represents House District 43, which includes White, Grundy, and part of Warren Counties. He can be reached by email at Rep.Paul.Sherrell@capitol.tn.gov or by calling (615) 741-1963.

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