Updating Tennessee’s 2021 Literacy Success Act to strengthen student outcomes
(March 20, 2023) - The Senate Education Committee last week passed a bill that would update Tennessee’s Literacy Success Act law to allow for additional information to be considered when making 3rd grade retention decisions and provide more resources to help students as they learn to read. The law was first passed in 2021 to improve literacy rates in the state and get students on track in the early grades so they can become proficient readers by 3rd grade.
Senate Bill 300 will allow school districts to advance a student to fourth grade if the student scores in the approaching category on their third grade Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test and if they score in the 50th percentile on the third-grade reading screener given in the third year if the screener administered is provided by the Department of Education and administered in a testing setting.
Students advanced using the additional screener data must also receive additional tutoring in fourth grade, and school districts must notify parents to encourage them to enroll their students in summer programming.
The bill allows school districts to assist parents when filing an appeal if their student is identified for retention. The bill requires the Department of Education to provide a comprehensive report to the General Assembly on the number of students identified for retention, the interventions given to those students and the number of students promoted based on those interventions.
The bill ensures students held back before third grade get reading intervention to catch them up and allows the Department of Education to contract up to three additional online tutoring providers to meet the needs of students. The bill also provides additional tutoring to school districts in first and second grades.
Increasing penalties for crimes against children
Senate Bill 1319, which I am sponsoring, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. This bill seeks to clarify that the offense of custodial interference would apply to a situation where a parent or guardian flees with the child and attempts to evade service of process after an emergency custody order has been entered into by a court. This would only apply in a situation where the Department has completed an investigation and a judge or magistrate has executed an emergency or protective custody order after finding that the child is at risk of substantial harm. The parents would still be entitled to all their rights. Parents or guardians who attempt to flee with children after they have been advised by the Department or law enforcement that a protective custody order has been entered, further endanger the safety of the child as this results in an endangered child alert being issued and engagement by law enforcement to find the child.
Reconstituting certain airport authorities
The Transportation and Safety Committee approved Senate Bill 1326 that would reconstitute the Board of Commissioners for an Airport Authority in a metropolitan county with a population over 500,000 and gives two appointments each to the Governor, Speaker of the Senate, Speaker of the House, and Mayor.
This bill is needed to give the state more influence over the operations of the airport given it is a regional airport with more than 70% of the travelers it serves living outside of Davidson County.
The Airport Authority was created in 1970 by the 86th Tennessee General Assembly with all appointments to the Board made by the Mayor. Since that time, the primary funding source for the airport has been through the General Assembly, federal funding, and airline/concession fees collected. The airport footprint is owned and controlled by the Airport Authority under the regulations of the FAA.
Increasing ability to carry handguns while hunting
The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced legislation that is part of an effort to ensure Tennessee’s gun laws are consistent with the recent United States Supreme Court Case, New York State Rifle v. Bruen (2022). Senate Bill 494 ensures that any person can carry a handgun while hunting, as long as the handgun is not used to hunt game and the person is not otherwise prohibited from possessing a handgun. This bill now advances to the Senate floor.
Funding Governor’s Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives
The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved Senate Bill 279 to provide more resources to community services throughout the state that are powered by compassionate and faithful Tennesseans.
The bill allows the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to use state dollars to fund its partnerships with nonprofit organizations. The Office leverages the power of faith communities, nonprofits, and government to improve life for every Tennessean by bringing people together to solve tough issues Tennesseans are facing.
In recent years, the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives has taken on more responsibilities as a result of its success, and this bill will allow the office to strengthen its services and continue to improve lives.
Increasing tools for law enforcement agencies to crack down on crime
A bill that makes it easier to install license plate readers to fight crime was passed by the Transportation and Safety Committee. Senate Bill 439 will allow companies that manufacture license plate readers (LPRs) and are able to meet strict guidelines to place LPRs on state and federal roadways.
The bill also allows local law enforcement to decide which vendors and LPR technology it wants to use to protect its communities. Under current conditions, local law enforcement agencies have faced unintended restrictions that have prevented them from installing license plate readers, which are already permitted and used throughout the state.
LPRs are a cost effective and safe tool used by law enforcement to prevent crime and enhance safety. They can be used to locate dangerous criminals and recover missing persons, among other uses.
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