In The News

February 10, 2017

The 110th General Assembly Resumes Session

Bill Filing Deadline 2017

The legislature’s bill filing deadline was Thursday, February 9th. Altogether, over 1,500 bills were filed. I am sponsoring the maximum, fifteen bills.

The more important bills that I filed include “The Student Freedom of Speech Protection Act”, requiring that Tennessee’s colleges and universities respect the First Amendment rights of its students, and formally incorporate these principles as part of its policy; “The Forfeiture Act”, a bill that would confine law enforcement asset forfeitures to criminal matters, and “The Higher Education Efficiency Audit Act.” This last bill would set the stage for a comprehensive efficiency audit of all of our institutions of higher education to ensure that our tax dollars are being put to the best, most efficient uses. I’m excited together to work on these bills as I believe they will greatly benefit our great state of Tennessee.

If you have any concerns, of if I can be of service to you at any time, during or outside of session, please don’t hesitate to contact me at rep.martin.daniel@capitol.tn.gov, or by telephone at 615.741.2287.

Tennessee Film Industry Stakes Claim As National Leader

Over the last several years, movie and television production from within the state has cast Tennessee onto the national and international stage, exposing audiences from around the world to the many benefits Tennessee has to offer.

In the process, the film and production industry has played a major role in boosting the state economy, employing thousands of residents with wages higher than the state average and generating hundreds of millions of dollars in economic investment from Memphis to Mountain City.

According to a new report released in January from the Center for Economic Research in Tennessee (CERT), the research arm of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Tennessee currently ranks No. 7 among all states in the nation for employment in the film production industry. Since 2010, employment in Tennessee’s film industry has grown 8 percent. Nearly 4,400 Tennesseans work in the film industry, earning an average of nearly $59,800 annually before benefits, a figure that is 21.3 percent higher than the average wage of all industries in Tennessee.

While Tennessee has been the birthplace and home of several movies and television series over the years, perhaps none have had the same economic impact as that of “Nashville,” which recently began airing its fifth season on the Country Music Television station.

In 2014, the Convention and Visitors Corporation surveyed overnight visitors to Nashville and found that nearly 20% of tourists came to visit Nashville because of the show. Not only do visitors attracted to Music City because of the show stay longer, the survey reported, but visitors also spend more money while they are in Nashville – on average $44 more per person per day than those tourists who have not seen the “Nashville” television show.

CERT estimates that tourism resulting from viewership of “Nashville” had an estimated $486.7 million in visitor spending and $34 million in state sales tax revenue over the three years following the show’s premier.

For a real glimpse at the impact and growth of the television and movie industry in Tennessee, download the full Economic and Community Development motion picture impact analysis by visiting http://bit.ly/2kPZk2D.

First Meeting Of Legislative Task Force On Opioid Abuse Kicks Off

This week, the first meeting of the legislative task force on opioid and prescription drug abuse kicked off, with stakeholders from across the state coming to the Legislative Plaza to speak out about Tennessee’s growing drug epidemic.

The task force was created this month by House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) with the goal of working on legislation and determining best strategies for tackling Tennessee’s opioid problems. Tennessee is consistently ranked at the top of the charts nationally with regards to prescription drug abuse. In 2015, 1,451 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses, the highest annual number in the state’s history. In addition, the number of babies born who have been chronically exposed to opioids is high, particularly in East Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Health reports that from 2000 to 2012, the rate of babies born with exposure increased 15 fold.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that prescription opioid abuse has a total economic burden of $78.5 billion per year in the United States. There is an estimated $7.7 billion criminal justice cost across the country.

Speaker Harwell kicked off the meeting with an address to those in attendance:

“Around the country, and especially here in Tennessee, we are facing an epidemic. We really are at the epicenter of the opioid crisis in America. There are more opioid prescriptions than there are people in this state.

We have some great people and groups that are dedicating themselves to tackling this problem. My hope is that this task force will look into the possibility of pilot programs, measure results of these programs, and determine best practices. The legislature has taken some great steps to fight this epidemic, but if additional legislation is needed, I want the task force to develop it.

I ask that you look into the treatment options that are available-and really delve into that data to see if there is a program being administered that we need to take statewide. Perhaps there are pilot programs across the state that could have a widespread, lasting impact on this crisis.

I’ll finish with this: since I announced the formation of this task force, I have been inundated with people from around the state sharing extremely personal and heartbreaking stories of addiction, and how it has touched them personally. It is an outpouring of people who want to help, and who are begging for a solution. It has driven home for me how incredibly important this work is.

Again, thank you for agreeing to serve. Thank you to everyone who is here today and those who come to future meetings for your interest. Now, let’s get to work.”

Opioids are a major concern that plagues the great state of Tennessee. I look forward to the opportunity to work with Speaker Harwell and the opioid task force to create viable solutions in the 2017 session. In addition, I plan to take an in depth look at the direct effects that opioids have in District 18.

Tennessee Business Expansions On Rise Across State

In 2016, Tennessee was named State of the Year for Economic Development by Southern Business & Development Magazine based on project totals and the variety of industries that invested in the state and created jobs.

So far in 2017, Tennessee is well on its way to living up to this recognition, with multiple major job announcements made since the beginning of the year.

Since January 1, Tennessee’s top economic development projects have included:

LKQ Corporation – Creation of 150 new jobs in Davidson County
Call 2 Answer, LLC – Investment of $800,000 and the creation of 250 new jobs in Maury County
AkzoNobel – Investment of $10 million over the next five years and the creation of 70 new manufacturing and professional service jobs in Davidson County
Forrester Research, Inc. – Creation of 120 new jobs and local investment of $2.8 million in Davidson County and surrounding areas
Teknor Apex – Creation of 50 new jobs and investment of $32.2 million in Haywood County
Williams Sausage Company, Inc. – Creation of 226 new jobs in Obion County over the next five years
V&F Transformer Corporation – Investment of $1.4 million and the creation of 50 new jobs in Clay County
La-Z-Boy – Investment of $26 million and the creation of 115 new jobs in Rhea County
KaTom Restaurant Supply, Inc. – Creation of 100 new jobs and investment of $3 million in Sevier County
SmileDirectClub – Creation of 440 new jobs in Davidson County

Tennessee has rapidly climbed the ladder over the last several years as one of the overall best-managed states in the nation. Not only is Tennessee one of only a handful of states with a higher bond rating than that of the federal government – a major indicator that showcases our state’s stable fiscal environment – the state continues to rack up economic development awards from publications and rating agencies from across the country.

 

Fe 06, 2017

The 110th General Assembly Resumes Session
After a brief organizational break, the 110th General Assembly resumed session on Monday, January 30. I have been appointed by Speaker Harwell to serve on the Civil Justice and the State Government Committees. These committees handle a variety of matters that directly impact Tennesseans. I look forward to working for our 18th District and for our state there.

Numerous issues will be addressed by the General Assembly in the coming months, including infrastructure funding, education (K-12 and higher education), medical marijuana, firearms, law enforcement, and the court systems. Also, there will be much debate concerning spending of our budget surplus. Notably, while other states are struggling to just balance their budget, Tennessee is enjoying sizeable budget surpluses. Tennessee is booming as people realize that we offer a high standard of living here with a friendly business environment.

If you have any concerns, of if I can be of service to you at any time, during or outside of session, please don’t hesitate to contact me at rep.martin.daniel@capitol.tn.gov, or by telephone at 615.741.2287.

General Assembly Hears State Of The State Address
Governor unveils 2017 budget proposal

Governor Bill Haslam delivered his annual State of the State Address to a joint convention of the legislature this week, unveiling his proposed budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. Governor Haslam, a resident of our West Knoxville 18th District, addressed multiple issues during the State of the State, the most prominent of which include job recruitment and infrastructure investments, bolstering the state’s Rainy Day Fund, a continued push to make government more efficient and effective, and major contributions in both K-12 and higher education.

Haslam’s $37 billion balanced budget proposal builds up state reserves, puts Tennessee on the path to catch up on long-deferred maintenance of buildings, and reinvests in the state workforce. For a second year in a row, and the second year in Tennessee recorded history, the state budget does not take on any new debt.

As Washington, D.C. and other states are mired in partisan gridlock, the Governor emphasized that Tennessee has made responsible decisions that will continue to ensure the state is positioned to be a top leader in the country on jobs.

A large portion of the Governor’s speech revolved around his “IMPROVE Act” – the “Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy” Act. The comprehensive infrastructure funding plan includes an increase in state gas taxes and tax cuts in other areas of government. The goal of the plan is to create a reliable source of funding that is capable of meeting the demands of new road construction across the state, as well as cutting down on the reported $10.1 billion backlog of road projects currently on the state’s books.

Some House Republicans have offered alternative plans to the Governor’s IMPROVE proposal, including one plan from State Representative David Hawk (R-Greeneville) which would create a reliable source of funding for transportation using existing state revenues and without raising taxes on Tennesseans.

Another prominent portion of Governor Haslam’s State of the State address focused on his proposal to offer all Tennessee adults without a degree access to community college tuition-free – and at no cost to taxpayers.

If the Tennessee Reconnect Act is approved, Tennessee would become the first state in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school students and adults – the chance to earn a post-secondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees.

As a counterpart measure, the Governor also unveiled the Tennessee STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act, establishing a four-year pilot program for eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard to receive a last-dollar tuition reimbursement toward a first-time bachelor’s degree.

Other notable investments from the Governor’s budget proposal include:
$200 million to fund the Basic Education Program (BEP), including
$100 million for teacher salaries and
$22 million for English Language Learners;
$77 million for state employee pay increases and market rate adjustments targeting high-turnover positions in state government;
$132 million to bring the state’s Rainy Day Fund to an all-time high of $800 million, well on the way to the statutory guideline of $1 billion;
$655 million in state dollars for maintenance and new buildings across general government and higher education;
$135 million transferred from the General Fund to pay back the Highway Fund;
$78 million for higher education and the Complete College Act;
$15 million for career and technology education equipment;
$21 million to fund recommendations from the Rural Task Force;
$11.6 million to fund more than 700 additional slots in the Employment and Community First CHOICES program; and
$9.5 million combined to expand substance abuse and crisis intervention treatment services and supports.
The budget will be the subject of much debate in the legislature, and amendments will certainly be offered. The complete text of the Governor’s speech, an archived video of his speech, and budget documents can be accessed by visiting http://tn.gov/governor/topic/state-of-the-state.

House Speaker Beth Harwell Creates Legislative Task Force On Opioid Abuse

Recently, I spoke at length with Dr. Jerry Epps, chief medical officer at UT Hospital, concerning our opioid abuse epidemic. We discussed several ideas that I will be considering with my fellow legislators and with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

This week in Nashville, House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) created a task force on opioid and prescription drug abuse. The task force’s immediate goal will be to work on legislation, but its efforts will be ongoing to determine the best strategies for tackling the opioid epidemic. Tennessee is consistently ranked at the top of the charts nationally with regards to prescription drug abuse.

Tennessee and our country, have a massive problem with opioid abuse. In 2015, 1,451 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses, the highest annual number in the state’s history. In addition, the number of babies born who have been chronically exposed to opioids is high, particularly in East Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Health reports that from 2000 to 2012, the rate of babies born with exposure increased 15 fold.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that prescription opioid abuse has a total economic burden of $78.5 billion per year in the United States. There is an estimated $7.7 billion criminal justice cost across the country.

Speaker Harwell has asked Taskforce members to work toward legislation that can be filed this year, as well as working collaboratively with other members who have legislation on the topic.

Tennessee Leads Nation In Small Business Job Growth

According to a report this week by Paychex – one of the nation’s largest payroll processors – Tennessee was the number 1 state for small business employment growth in January, rising over 4% last month. Paychex processes about one of every 11 employee paychecks in the United States.

Cited in the jump to number 1 were the success of startup ventures and the businesses supplying major manufacturers in Tennessee, especially carmakers, including GM, Nissan, and Volkswagen.

The Paychex index each month analyzes and tracks small business employment trends using payroll data from the Paychex client base of more than 350,000 employers across the country.

 

August 4, 2016

State Rep. Martin Daniel Wins 18th District GOP Primary

Adapted from an article by Georgiana Vines originally appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (knoxnews.com)

State Rep. Martin Daniel pushed aside a stormy confrontation with a challenger on live radio and defeated three opponents Thursday with 1,314 votes to win the 18th District House Republican primary race, according to unofficial returns.

“I feel great. The voters have seen through all the things with distractions and obstructions. There are very smart voters in the 18th. I’ve been staying in touch with and communicating with them,” Daniel said from his home in West Knox County.

Steve Hall, whom Daniel defeated two years ago and who tried to win back the seat, said before all vote totals were reported that he was out picking up campaign signs and didn’t plan to go to an event at the Crowne Plaza Hotel downtown where local Republicans gathered.

“I never go if I lose,” Hall said.

He got 964 votes.

Also in the race were James Corcoran, a lawyer specializing in Juvenile Court cases, who drew 856 votes, and Bryan Dodson, an aide to former state Sen. Stacey Campfield, who got 252 votes. The 18th District race in West Knoxville and West Knox County was the only Republican legislative contest in Knox County.

Daniel faces Democrat Brandi Price, a Juvenile Court attorney, in the Nov. 8 general election. She ran unopposed Thursday.

Daniel said he would take a little time off and then start gearing up for the “challenge” in the general election.

Daniel led in absentee and early voting results, according to unofficial returns. An aide to Hall, Lynn Redmon, said Hall could not overcome those votes in the general election.

The unofficial vote total of 3,386 showed turnout was lower than the 7,655 votes cast two years ago when Daniel beat Hall by 165 votes.

Daniel held a postelection celebration in his home in the Duncan West subdivision rather than attend the Knox County GOP election night event at the Crowne Plaza.

 

August 18, 2016

With retirement of UT Athletic Director, Rep. Martin Daniel calls for restoration of Lady Vols name, and consideration of UT graduates to fill Athletic Director position

UT Director of Athletics Dave Hart made an announcement Thursday that he intends to retire from the athletics department, effective June 30, 2017. With many voices still calling for the restoration of the Lady Vols name to all women’s athletic teams, Rep. Martin Daniel hopes that whoever assumes the Athletic Director’s mantle will be a University of Tennessee graduate and will embrace restoration of the beloved logo.

“With the pending retirements of Athletic Director Hart and Chancellor Cheek, new leadership has the opportunity to restore a big element of tradition and pride to our University,” said Daniel. “I call on UT Administration and the Board of Trustees to reinstate the Lady Vols name to all University of Tennessee women’s athletic teams.  Also, I encourage the Board of Trustees to give full consideration to University of Tennessee graduates who might apply to for the Athletic Director position.”

Daniel has been a consistent proponent of restoration of the Lady Vols logo. Daniel was a signee on a letter to the UT Board of Trustees dated June 18, 2015, asking the Board to address the Lady Vols name change at their June meeting. With Rep. Roger Kane, Daniel was present at a Dec 6, 2015 rally to restore the Lady Vols logo. Daniel was also a cosponsor on Kane’s proposed legislation to restore the Lady Vols logo (HB 1451, filed for introduction in December 2015).

Rep. Martin Daniel sees the upcoming change in leadership at the athletic department as an exciting chance to finally restore the Lady Vols logo, which is considered by its many supporters to be an important symbol of UT’s proud athletic legacy.

 

July 21, 2016

State Representative Addresses Exchange on Radio Show

On Thursday night I appeared on a local radio show with my fellow candidates in an effort to discuss the problems facing the 18th District of Tennessee.  For those of you who tuned in, prior to the last five minutes, you heard a thorough conversation about many of the topics on which I have focused my campaign.  I believe that we accomplished a lot and told the voters of the 18th District much of what they needed to know. The majority of the show functioned exactly how civil discourse should.

For those of you who tuned in, or for many who have seen the news, I am sure what happened at the end of the show has been confusing and frustrating.

What I want to do is to clear the air on what happened Thursday night and offer some words to my opponent and to voters.  At the end of the show, one of my opponents attacked me, yelling that I was a liar and aggressively gesturing at me while I made closing arguments.  I do not take lightly my integrity being questioned.  I am an imperfect man who makes mistakes, but I strive always to be honest.

The show, as many friends who were listening confirmed, became incredibly tense.  In the midst of this, I tried to respond to my opponent’s criticism and the argument escalated.  As many of you heard, what ensued could only be described as chaos.  Mr. Hall began to rise from his seat, and, fearing confrontation, I created distance between myself and my opponent, at which point our host and staff intervened in the situation.

Somehow, there was no intervention during the escalation before this brief encounter, but I am very grateful that it did not go any further.  I regret that such a productive conversation escalated so quickly into a situation that I am not proud of, and that was completely counterproductive to efficient democracy.

As I mentioned when I returned to the show briefly, I am sincerely sorry that I, personally, allowed the situation to get out of hand.  I lost my cool when attacked and did not handle the situation with the even-minded attitude I usually strive to model. I have reached out to each of my fellow candidates to make sure that they know where I stand.

While I believe this argument and situation is on the hands of at least two people, I am sorry that my behavior was not representative of the values that I espouse as a Christian, husband, and father.  My hope is that during the rest of this election season we can proceed with a more peaceful and friendly atmosphere among the candidates and that we will all be able to re-focus on the issues.  I promise that I will be spending the next few days in thought and prayer, to be sure I never let the heat of a campaign get the best of me again.

 

July 11, 2016

National Federation of Independent Business Endorses Martin Daniel

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), Tennessee’s leading small business association, has endorsed candidates in 28 state legislative primary races, including incumbent Representative Martin Daniel in the District 18 race.

In response to the endorsement Daniel stated, “I am honored to be endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Business. As a small business owner, I understand their importance to our Tennessee economy, and I will continue to support and work with NFIB on issues that impact small business.”

In addition to this endorsement, the National Federation of Independent Business has recently named Representative Daniel as a “Guardian of Small Business.”

“NFIB stands with candidates who support small businesses and who are dedicated to protecting free enterprise,” said Jim Brown, state director of NFIB/Tennessee, noting that 13 of the 28 endorsed primary candidates are NFIB members, including Daniel. “These candidates have a proven track record of defending small businesses and promoting a positive environment for small business.”

The endorsements were made by NFIB/Tennessee Save America’s Free Enterprise Trust, which is comprised exclusively of NFIB members.

State primaries are scheduled for Aug. 4, with early voting from July 15-30. Daniel faces three challengers in the Republican primary and will face a Democrat challenger in the Nov. 8 general election.

NFIB expects to announce general election endorsements later this summer.

 

July 10, 2016

Moving Money: State Senators Use Communication Funds to Aid Colleagues

Adapted from an article by Tom Humphrey originally appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (knoxnews.com)

NASHVILLE — State senators without re-election opponents this year have transferred thousands of dollars of state government funds used for voter mailings to challenged colleagues — a practice now banned for members of the state House.

The contrast reflects differing positions taken by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell on use of the “constituent communications” funds. A review of records also shows a striking disparity in the amount of money stockpiled in the accounts by senators compared with representatives.

Only two of the 99 members of the House have more than $10,000 in their accounts, and several have used their own money — or checks drawn on their political campaign accounts — to cover the cost of newsletters, constituent questionnaires and the like because they lack money in their taxpayer-provided accounts. Most senators, on the other hand, have far larger balances — topped by Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, with $117,157 stashed in his communications fund.

Bills filed in the past legislative session would have prohibited transfers from one legislator to another and put limits on stockpiling. Yet another bill would have banned mailings to voters in a legislator’s district for 90 days before an election instead of the current standard of 30 days.

The bills failed with Ramsey voicing opposition, but Harwell quietly last March acted on her own to ban transfers by members of the House, a fairly widespread practice for decades by both senators and representatives. The two speakers have overall control of how members can use the money allocated to them — $6,832 per year for senators; $2,016 for representatives.

“She firmly believes that postage money belongs to the constituents of that particular district, not the member. The funds are there to communicate with the constituents of that particular district,” said Kara Owen, spokeswoman for Harwell.

Ramsey, on the other hand, said during the session that he prefers to leave things to the speaker’s discretion on a case-by-case basis. His spokesman, Adam Kleinheider, repeated that position in an email response to an inquiry. Both Ramsey and Harwell declined to be interviewed on the matter.

Rep. Martin Daniel and Sen. Richard Briggs, both Knoxville Republicans, sponsored legislation in the past session to prohibit transfers. Daniel also handled the presentation before committee of a bill filed by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, that would have expanded the pre-election mailer blackout period from 30 days to 90 days. Daniel and Briggs in 2014 defeated incumbents who had been engaged in transfer activity.

Daniel said he has no plans to renew attempts to block transfers, citing Harwell’s action to end the practice in the House.

“Essentially, she did what we were trying to do,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’ve always thought that money belonged to the people of the district and it shouldn’t be sent by a member to another district.”

He added: “As far as the Senate goes, that’s their business. I wouldn’t want to meddle in their business any more than I’d want them meddling in mine.”

Daniel said, however, that he is inclined to try again next year, if re-elected, for expanding the mailer blackout period to 90 days. He faces three opponents in the August GOP primary, including former Rep. Steve Hall.

After losing in the 2014 primary, both Hall and former Sen. Stacey Campfield, defeated by Briggs, transferred funds from their accounts to other legislators before their terms officially expired. By doing so, they blocked Daniel and Briggs from having use of their leftover funds. Under legislative policy — unchanged by either Harwell or Ramsey — when a legislator leaves office, money in their constituent communications accounts goes to the legislator who takes the seat. That policy is partly responsible for the large stockpile of funds accumulated by senators such as Watson, who “inherited” much of the $117,000 he now holds.

Daniel has just $389 in his account, records show. He drew $2,563 from the account toward the cost of a newsletter in March, but said that wasn’t enough to cover the cost and he wrote a $3,000 check himself to cover the rest of the bill.

McCormick wrote checks to the state totaling $5,000 to avoid running a deficit in his account with spending on a newsletter in January. Others did the same in lesser amounts — just $100, for example, in the case of Rep. Harold Love Jr., D-Nashville.

The amount allocated to the accounts has not been increased in decades, while the cost of postage and printing has increased. Daniel said an increase would be appropriate.

“In my opinion, there’s not enough now to cover the cost of adequate communication to constituents, to keep them informed,” he said.

Dick Williams, who has for years lobbied on governmental ethics and campaign finance matters as president of Common Cause in Tennessee, does not disagree with the idea of an increase. There is a “valid purpose” in providing some money for constituent communications, he said, and the cost of postage alone has escalated over the years.

At the same time, Williams has pushed legislation to ban transfers and praised Harwell for doing so. Still, he said, formal legislation would be a good idea since the Senate is not covered and a House speaker in the future could quickly reinstate transfers.

The transfers may be “smart political strategy” for legislators wanting to help re-elect colleagues, he said, but “it’s not the alleged purpose of the constituent communication money to be a political slush fund, for lack of a better term.”

 

June 29, 2016

Daniel earns NFIB Guardian of Small Business Award

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NASHVILLE — The Tennessee office of the National Federation of Independent Business, the state’s leading small-business association, has presented its coveted Guardian of Small Business Award to state Rep. Martin Daniel. NFIB made the presentation this morning at Beaman Imports Parts & Service, an NFIB member in West Knoxville.

The Guardian of Small Business award is the most prestigious honor that NFIB bestows on legislators in recognition of their efforts to support small business issues. The NFIB Tennessee Leadership Council, an advisory board comprised of NFIB members, voted to present the award to the legislator for supporting small-business issues in the 109th Tennessee General Assembly (2015-2016).

Jim Brown, state director of NFIB, said, “Martin Daniel is an exceptionally strong supporter of NFIB on a variety of issues. Representative Daniel not only scored a perfect 100 percent voting record with NFIB, but he continues to lead the charge for less regulation and red tape on small business and to vote for legislation that promotes a stable business environment for free enterprise.”

Brown praised Daniel for his sponsorship of the Right to Earn a Living Act (HB 2201), which requires state government to review entry regulations for licensed professions and occupations and will help cut through some of the red tape that makes it harder for people to own and operate their own businesses.

“Tennesseans are fortunate to have leaders like Martin Daniel representing them in our legislature,” Brown said. “On behalf of all small businesses in Tennessee, NFIB wants to thank Representative Daniel for everything he’s done for our state’s entrepreneurs.”

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Daniel, who serves on the House Business & Utilities and Civil Justice committees, is an NFIB member from Knoxville.

NFIB is Tennessee’s leading small-business association. Learn more at www.NFIB.com/TN or follow NFIB on Twitter at@NFIB_TN.

 

State Representative Joins Local Officials in Effort to Bring Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center to Knoxville

June 20, 2016

State Representative Martin Daniel has joined the effort to open a Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center (BHUCC) for Knox County. Daniel intends to submit a budget amendment that would provide state funding for the project.

Daniel would join County Mayor Tim Burchett, the district attorney’s and public defender’s offices, and Knox County Sheriff’s Department in supporting the BHUCC.  Local officials have said the proposed center is a necessary part of relieving the overcrowded jail and stepping up mental healthcare in the area. Daniel plans to work closely with local officials to determine how state funding and other support can be most effective. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett had previously set aside $1 million for capital expenses for the center, and has placed $200,000 in the upcoming year’s budget for operational expenses.

Rep. Martin Daniel, who represents West Knoxville, hopes state funding can help build the center and strengthen mental healthcare options in his district. “I am concerned about the mental health problem in Knox County and the strain it is putting on our local justice system. The Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center can be a solution that will get these individuals the care they need while saving taxpayers money,” Daniel explained. “I look forward to working with Mayor Burchett, Sheriff Jones, and many others in the community to bring this new facility to Knoxville.”

By diverting some individuals with mental illnesses or substance abuse issues to the BHUCC, the strain on the jail could be substantially reduced. Local non-profits have also expressed support for the center and could be involved in the planning and operation of the BHUCC.

“Mental health is a statewide issue in Tennessee,” Daniel said. “I believe the Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center will be an effective solution to this problem.”

 

June 8, 2016

Representative Martin Daniel One of the First to Support “Blue Lives Matter” Bill

Knoxville Rep. Martin Daniel will support House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick’s “Blue Lives Matter” bill if re-elected. Rep. McCormick announced on Tuesday his plans to sponsor the legislation that would make it a hate crime to target police and first responders.

The bill would elevate penalties and fines for criminals who specifically target officers by placing them in a “protected class.” McCormick hopes legislation like this could curb violence toward police, which he says has grown lately. In his announcement, McCormick cited specific events in Memphis as the reason for his proposal.

Rep. Daniel has said he plans to co-sponsor the “Blue Lives Matter” bill. “I commend Leader McCormick on this solution to violence against our officers, and I intend to co-sponsor the bill should I be re-elected.” Daniel is one of the first members of the House to come out in support of the bill.

 

May 23, 2016

Representative Martin Daniel’s 2016 Session Summary

INTRODUCTION

It’s my privilege to represent what I believe is one of the finest parts of our state and the place my family and I are proud to call home: the 18th District of Tennessee (West Knoxville).

The second half of the 109th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned on April 22nd. In the 109th, House Speaker Harwell appointed me to serve on the Civil Justice Committee and the Business & Utilities Committee and Subcommittee. There, we dealt with bills on a wide range of matters, including court rules, fees and procedure, child custody and support, firearms, law enforcement, economic development, tourism, and business and occupational regulations.

When I visit other states and talk with lawmakers there, I frequently hear them admiringly comment as to how they wish their state could be like ours – low in tax burden, fiscally sound, economically robust, friendly to businesses and a place of opportunity for its residents. I believe that our state is headed in the right direction, a direction of prosperity and a place of minimal government interference with personal rights and freedoms. Our governor and the legislature are intent on reducing regulations and costs and being friendly to businesses and entrepreneurs, thereby enabling maximum opportunity for Tennessee families to enjoy the benefits of their hard work.

Today, our great state has a remarkable 4.5% unemployment rate, the lowest it has been since 2007, and more Tennesseans are employed than ever.

I have summarized below some of the major bills that the General Assembly passed this year, along with discussion of other topics that developed during the session.

THE BUDGET

One of the key functions of the legislature is appropriation of money to operate the government. In Tennessee, the governor proposes a budget early in each session and it is reviewed and amended by the General Assembly. While other states such as Kentucky, Kansas, Illinois, and Connecticut struggle to balance their budgets, Tennessee has once again not only balanced its budget, but it has provided additional funds for raises for state employees and teachers, and has directed an additional $250 million in funding for K-12 and higher education and other strategic capital investments. Tennessee has substantially reduced the size of its government, cut more than $500 million in recurring spending, reduced the Hall income tax, and has the lowest debt per capita of any state in the nation.

With regard to the Hall income tax, I voted to reduce this tax as it disproportionately impacts our senior citizens. I hope that we can stay on course to eliminate it as intended, but we need to monitor the state’s financial status to ensure continuing fiscal stability.

The final budget approved by the legislature is approximately $35 billion. It includes substantial investments in transportation, education, economic development and capital improvements.

Here are some of the highlights of the 2016-2017 budget:

  • no new debt, and all projects are funded with cash;
  • an historic investment in K-12 education – the largest in state history without a tax increase – and includes recurring funds of $104.6 million to fund salary increases for teachers, $29.5 million to fund the 12th month of teacher insurance, and an additional $4.8 million for children with special needs;
  • includes $1.7 billion for higher education, with $50 million recurring for productivity increases at UT and Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) institutions. Funds of almost $297.8 million non-recurring are included for capital improvements and maintenance at higher education institutions, and over $24 million non-recurring is provided for the Drive to 55 Program Capacity Fund;
  • an additional $142 million for state and country highways, including $1.6 million that will go to Knox County (House Bill 2142, a bill which I co-sponsored);
  • TennCare’s total budget is $10.9 billion and includes an additional $141 million for the TennCare program (an increase in enrollees) and Medicare enrollees (higher drug costs), and $54 million for a new initiative, the Employment and Community First Choices Program, to assist persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities;
  • an appropriation of $71 million for the Jobs4TN program in the Department of Economic and Community Development to recruit new businesses, and to create new opportunities for Tennessee’s workforce;
  • an additional $28 million to implement performance pay raises for employees in executive branch agencies and an additional $36 million to keep certain job classifications competitive with the private sector;
  • $492 million in capital outlay, including an additional $121 million for capital maintenance of state facilities;
  • a reduction in the Hall income tax from 6% to 5% – reducing the total amount paid by 17% over last year and with the legislative mandate to eliminate the tax completely by 2021;
  • a $100 million dollar deposit into the State’s Rainy Day Fund.

TENNESSEE FUNDS ADDITIONAL EDUCATION TO ENSURE THAT IT HAS A WORKFORCE NEEDED FOR OUR GROWING ECONOMY

One of the primary factors that businesses look at in determining whether to move to another state is an adequate workforce. The objective of Tennessee’s Drive to 55 initiative is for 55% of Tennessee’s workforce to have a postsecondary credential by 2025. Tennessee is directing $30 million to help community colleges meet the growing demand for degrees and certificates and to assist communities in aligning degrees with the workforce needs.

Also, the Tennessee Promise program, paid for with lottery proceeds, pays the tuition and fees of high school graduates who want to go to a community or technical college. I support these programs as educated Tennesseans are the foundation for prosperous Tennesseans.

TENNESSEE IS LOW DEBT

Tennessee has the lowest debt per capita of any state in the nation and has no road debt whatsoever. As a business owner, I understand the importance of fiscal soundness and will continue working to ensure that Tennessee remains fiscally sound through conservative, efficient use of its resources.

FREE MARKETS, BUREAUCRATIC BURDENS & REGULATORY REFORM

Generally speaking, where possible, I believe that we should aspire to operate in a capitalist, free market economy, where the allocation of resources is determined by the supply and demand for goods or services. In the USA, we actually have a “mixed economy,” and although government is best-suited to provide basic essential services such as justice, education, and transportation infrastructure, private enterprise almost always operates more efficiently than one with government ownership.

Excessive rule-making by administrative agencies is at its worst on the federal level, where legions of bureaucrats have resulted in an explosion of red tape, politicized, unfair rules, and heavy economic costs. Many Tennesseans have strong beliefs in personal freedom and have always feared excessive government power. I share that concern, and I will continue to actively limit government’s unnecessary authority over law-abiding businesses and individuals.

Some say that the federal government is simply overrun by an out of control regulatory branch. Unnecessary and arbitrary government regulations written by unelected government employees often result in excessive burdens on people, businesses, and society at large.

Many people I speak with here in East Tennessee often feel that they are being governed by cold, faceless administrators rather than the legislators, the people that they elected. Tennessee, to a lesser extent, has also been burdened by unnecessary rulemaking. Between 2010 and 2014, over 900 administrative agency rules, composed of thousands of pages, were promulgated in our state.

With this in mind, I sponsored a bill in the recent legislative session that will provide the legislature with more oversight over the rulemaking process, put the brakes on excessive agency rulemaking, and loosen the reigns on our Tennessee economy. HB 2068 essentially reverses the presumption of power that is currently granted to administrative agencies, and sets forth additional factors that the legislative committee shall consider in reviewing rules. This places a heavier burden on the agency to show that a rule is actually necessary. A Democrat lawmaker called this change a “seismic shift” in policy. I agree!

HEALTH CARE AND DEREGULATION

A 1974 federal law required that all states enact Certificate of Need (CON) laws. These laws involved the required submission of proposals and obtaining approval from the state before beginning any major health care related capital projects, such as building expansions or ordering new high-tech devices. Incentivized by federal money, most states implemented such laws. The federal mandate was eliminated in 1987, but 36 states, including Tennessee, still retain some sort of CON laws.

These CON laws were intended to slow the growth of health care prices and limit duplication of services. They were ineffective. Instead, they have actually raised costs, limited investment, and undermined the quality of health care by restricting competition and reducing the availability of medical equipment, facilities and procedures. Tennessee has been consistently rated as having one of the most restrictive CON laws in the nation.

That has now changed. Thanks to the leadership and hard work of Rep. Cameron Sexton (HB 1730), Tennessee’s CON laws have been substantially reformed to allow for health facility expansion and purchase of medical equipment without having to go through an expensive, anti-competitive CON process.

I am proud to say that I worked with Representative Sexton on this bill and I co-sponsored it.

OCCUPATIONAL OPPORTUNITY AND LICENSING REGULATIONS

Over the years, primarily prior to 2010, numerous occupational licensing restrictions have accumulated that do little more than impose arbitrary barriers to persons who otherwise would be willing and able to work. House Bill 2201, known as the “Right to Earn a Living Act,” enables the legislature, through the Government Operations Committee, to review occupational licensing regulations to determine if they are actually necessary for our state.

I was proud to carry this legislation, and it was recently named the “Bill of the Year by the Family Action Council.

WELFARE FRAUD AND REFORM

Tennessee and the federal government make welfare payments to persons in Tennessee of over $80 million per year. Welfare was significantly reformed in 1996, allowing states more discretion in determining eligibility for payments. Thereafter, employment of mothers soared and child poverty declined. Welfare payments, however, remain at massive levels. As a state, we need to ensure that welfare acts as a safety net for the truly needy and not as a handout to able-bodied adults who can work. Furthermore, we can do more to screen applicants and prevent outright welfare fraud.

During the past session, I have been working with Rep. Dan Howell of Bradley County on a bill to further reform our welfare system within the parameters of federal mandates. Much of this reform focuses on work requirements that serve to ensure that those who are truly in need receive welfare assistance. Benefits would still be available to those who need them, but individuals who could otherwise find a job would be directed toward work. We are looking at ways to decrease fraud, to increase work requirements, to monitor the behavior of recipients, and to shorten the duration of benefits.

There is a maze of federal and state law that we must work through and amend, but we intend to work on this in the time leading up to the next legislative session with the objective of meaningful reform next year.

OUR UNIVERSITY AND POLITICAL CORRECTNESS

Our University belongs to the citizens of Tennessee, not to overpaid administrators, faculty, or an insular Board of Trustees.

I hold two degrees from the University of Tennessee, and I love our great school as much as anyone. Our flagship University, however, has done a full-on embrace of the trendy concept of “diversity and inclusion,” much to the embarrassment of many Tennesseans. Admittedly, a student body of only one color or sex would certainly be boring, but hearings before the legislature during session revealed that these programs are staffed by numerous generously paid persons without any specific goals, and that they have resulted in no significant benefit to anyone. Enrollment at UT by some minorities has actually decreased over the past few years.

I’ve researched this issue extensively, but I’m not seeing the problem that we are trying to solve with these politically-correct efforts. In fact, there is evidence that these diversity programs are ineffective, and only serve to emphasize differences among people, with a resulting sense of victimization and an increase in racial tensions.

These ineffective, feel-good programs cost tax and tuition payers over $5 million dollars per year, and the bizarre messages (gender neutral pronouns, don’t have “Christmas” party, etc.) published by these offices tend to embarrass, offend, and anger Tennesseans.

The Board of Trustees seems to be unwilling to act to control this liberal bureaucracy. The University administration pretends there is no problem and continues to profess “commitment to diversity,” whatever that means.

In response to these concerns, the legislature took action during the session: (1) it redirected $450,000 in state dollars away from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (an amount equal to the annual salaries of 3 key employees), and (2) restructured the Board of Trustees to ensure accountability of certain members over specific areas of subject matter.

I’ll continue to stay on top of this, and I believe the legislature will take significant action in the upcoming session if issues persist.

CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AND PRIVACY

It seems that our constitutional rights are under attack at every turn by, among others, overzealous agency employees and vocal minorities who want control over what individuals say or do. I take our constitutional rights very seriously, and I will always stand by them and protect them – not just the 2nd Amendment, but also including the important 1st, 4th, 5th and 10th Amendments.

One consequence of aggressive educational political correctness is that persons – students or faculty – that disagree with the idea being trumpeted feel uncomfortable in expressing their contrary views. In the 109th, I crafted and carried a bill to ensure that universities respect students’ First Amendment rights – nothing more, nothing less. As end-of-session was closing in, we ran out of time and were unable to get it in adequate form to bring it to a vote. This will be a priority for us next year.

Many of us are aware of the law enforcement practice known as “civil forfeiture.” In civil forfeiture, law enforcement may seize a person’s property without even arresting him or her. Thereafter, the owner of the property, in order to have it returned, bears the burden of later proving that it is not connected with criminal activity. In my view this is an outrageous practice that turns the Constitution on its head and encourages policing for profit.

A bill carried by Rep. Tilman Goins of Morristown that would have abolished the practice was defeated in Committee. Thereafter, I carried a bill that would have provided for significant reform of the practice, but in the face of heavy opposition from law enforcement, it was narrowly defeated in Subcommittee on a 2-3 vote. This issue is on my radar and will be a priority for next year. The vast collection of personal data by our governments is staggering. From emails to drones, health records, “stingrays” (wireless phone interceptors), surveillance cameras and license plate readers, I am concerned that our individual privacy is quickly disappearing.

I am mindful of these issues and I will always work – with legislation, if necessary – to protect our privacy. Legislation concerning body camera policies is a priority for next year.

IMMIGRATION AND STATES’ RIGHTS

The United States is essentially a country of immigrants and has always been extremely compassionate towards refugees and other immigrants. Our country, however, simply does not have the infrastructure to take in everyone who wants to come to America. Additionally, there are public safety concerns in allowing masses of persons of unknown backgrounds into our country.

Although the Supreme Court has held that most immigration matters are for Congress, I believe that our laws (whether they are perfect or not) should be respected and that those seeking to enter should go through the application process. I oppose any sort of “amnesty” that places illegal immigrants on anything near an equal level of priority as legal applicants. Furthermore, I believe that we should hit the pause button on immigration so we can evaluate matters. In the 2016 session of the legislature the General Assembly passed a resolution (SJR 467) that would enable the state to sue the federal government to respect and abide by our Tenth Amendment right of state sovereignty and ensure compliance with all aspects of the Refugee Act of 1980. I support this measure.

DECEPTIVE ADVERTISING

House Bill 2049 prohibits mail advertising that looks like an official government document. I supported and voted for this bill. Such advertising is annoying and almost fraudulent in nature.

SCHOOL GRADING

During the 2016 session, the General Assembly passed a bill that directs the State Board of Education to give schools a letter grade based on multiple factors, including collective academic achievement of its students. I supported this bill, as transparency and accountability are key parts of any quality public education system.

LAKESHORE PARK, MIDDLEBROOK PIKE, AND SIDEWALKS

Efforts by previous legislators to cause the sale of Lakeshore Park, one of Knoxville’s greatest assets, were halted in 2014.

In 2015, with Senator Briggs, I sponsored a bill to fully restore Middlebrook Pike to its “scenic highway” designation (HB 918).

Sidewalks are needed near the school on Sheffield Road in West Hills. They were promised by the city when annexation occurred 40 years ago. I’ve been working with West Hills leaders to expedite this bureaucratic process.

HEALTH CARE TASK FORCE

In April, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Governor Haslam announced the formation of a health care task force for the purpose of improving access by Tennesseans to health care (the “Three Star Healthy Project”). The task force will be charged with developing a list of options making TennCare more efficient and increasing access to care for Tennesseans. These options will be tested through a series of pilots. A report is expected in June.

OVERSIGHT AND TRANSPARENCY

In addition to our constitutional obligation to pass a balanced budget, I believe that one of the most important responsibilities of the legislature is oversight of government administration activities and personnel. Frankly, some agencies in Nashville have taken offense at my curiosity, and have even publicly claimed that it is not the legislature’s business to delve into these matters.

I disagree! With the big responsibility of oversight in mind, I will continue to be aggressively inquisitive as to government affairs and I will call out errors, neglect, and inefficiencies when I see them.

In January, I worked with our delegation to ensure that Mayor Rogero’s legislative meeting was open to the public. I’m a big believer in transparent government. Absent a compelling reason (such as an active law enforcement file), facts about government should always be available to Tennesseans. I support preserving our rights to readily obtain government records and, absent a clear showing of abuse, I oppose any legislation that would require payment by a requester of excessive copying or personnel labor expenses for providing documents or information.

PRIORITIES FOR 2017

If fortunate enough to be returned to Nashville, I will make the following issues my top priorities for our 18th District of Tennessee:

  • minimizing bureaucratic regulation, making it easier for businesses and entrepreneurs to operate, and advancing our economy;
  • guarding our constitutional rights and privacy;
  • legislation concerning law enforcement body cameras;
  • ensuring freedom of speech on college campuses;
  • an efficiency audit of Tennessee’s institutions of higher education;
  • enacting a conflict of interest code for persons on governing bodies of educational institutions and electric cooperatives;
  • reaching a comprehensive solution to highway funding;
  • ensuring the continuing financial stability of our state.

 

April 17, 2016

2016-2017 Budget Approved by Legislature

On Thursday the 109th General Assembly approved an amended version of Governor Haslam’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.

A notable adjustment to the budget is the recognition of over $27 million in adjustments to reduce the Hall Income Tax from 6% to 5% – reducing the effective rate by 17% over last year. It is the Legislature’s intent to eliminate this tax completely by 2021.

Other highlights of the $34.9 billion budget include the following:

  • Over $356 million in projects for parks, veterans, military, corrections, and children services;
  • A historic investment in K-12 education – the largest in state history without a tax increase – which includes recurring funds of $104.6 million to fund salary increases for teachers, $29.5 million to fund the 12th month of teacher insurance, $13.9 million for additional English Language Learning teachers and translators, and $3.6 million for training teachers and principals;
  • $1.7 billion for higher education, including $50 million recurring for outcomes formula productivity increases at UT and TBR institutions, $297.8 million non-recurring for capital improvements and maintenance, and over $24 million non-recurring for the Drive to 55 Program Capacity Fund;
  • $54 million for the Employment and Community First Choices Program, a new TennCare initiative to assist persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities; and
  • $142 million to repay the Highway Fund and $42 million to counties for local road and bridge projects.

 

Speaker Beth Harwell, House Republicans Announce Formation of Healthcare Task Force

Task force to develop 3-Star Healthy Project

House Republicans joined with Speaker Beth Harwell this week to announce the formation of a Healthcare Task Force for the purpose of improving access to care, named the 3-Star Healthy Project. The group made the announcement on Tuesday, joined by the members of the Task Force, Governor Bill Haslam, and other healthcare stakeholders.

Tennessee is known for innovation in its Medicaid program. It was one of the first states to move all enrollees to Managed Care Organizations and is on the leading edge of implementing payment reform and rewarding value in healthcare delivery. The 3-Star Healthy Project will build on this reputation for innovation with Tennessee principles and Tennessee solutions.

The 3-Star Healthy Project’s Task Force will be charged with developing a list of options for making TennCare more efficient and increasing access to care for Tennesseans.

These options will be tested through a set of pilots. One concept under consideration is that the pilots would be launched in different areas of the state and successful pilots would be phased in over time. Staggered implementation would ensure that the rollout of the 3-Star Healthy Project proceeds only after key benchmarks are met. Phased implementation timelines are widely used in quality improvement initiatives in the healthcare sector; they would allow Tennessee to monitor the success of three pilots to determine which work best for Tennesseans and control costs the most.

Initial discussions among members yielded the following examples of conservative ideas for the pilots:

  • Encouraging enrollees to take more responsibility for their health and use of healthcare services.
  • Creating Health Savings Accounts funded by enrollees’ premiums to pay copayments for doctor’s visits and prescriptions.
  • Providing support for enrollees who want to re-enter the workforce.

 

Another unique feature of the Project that the Task Force will consider is the concept of thresholds and “circuit breakers.” In order for these pilots to be implemented beyond an initial area, costs from the previous phase of implementation could not exceed a predetermined benchmark. The Task Force is charged with identifying such benchmarks, as well as an overall “circuit breaker,” which would immediately end a pilot should the state’s share of costs increase.

The Task Force will evaluate these ideas and others brought to the attention of its members over the next two months. The Speaker has asked the Task Force to return a report to her in June.

House of Representatives Approves Legislation to Help Citizens Wrongly Convicted of Violent Crimes

The Tennessee House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation this week to help ensure innocent individuals are not wrongly put to death for crimes they did not commit. House Bill 2377 requires law enforcement officials to indefinitely keep biological evidence collected for cases in which the defendant is sentenced to death or life without parole.

Under the legislation, all biological evidence gathered in relation to a crime in which the defendant received a death sentence must be preserved by officials until the person has passed away or all related charges that led to the conviction have been dismissed.

Over the years, there have been cases across the state where accused lawbreakers have been sentenced to death row, but have later been released based on new advances in DNA and biological evidence examination.

By now requiring law enforcement to preserve this type of evidence, supporters hope that others will not have to experience wrongful conviction in the future.

Having passed both the House and Senate, the bill now will go to the Governor for his signature before becoming law. Additional information regarding this legislation can be found at the General Assembly website athttp://goo.gl/IqR2Cx.

Prescription Safety Act Passes House with Bipartisan Support

Legislation spearheaded by House Republicans to make permanent the comprehensive prescription reform set forth in Tennessee’s Prescription Safety Act of 2012 has been approved on final consideration.

As passed in 2012, the law ensured that healthcare professionals tap into the state’s Controlled Substance Monitoring System when prescribing certain scheduled drugs.

The update to the Prescription Safety Act passed this week is in response to both the Governor’s Prescription for Success, a multi-year strategic plan to curb opiate abuse, and the 2015 comptroller’s audit of the state’s controlled substance monitoring database and prescription safety laws. In both documents, it was determined that while the state is making great strides in combating the prescription drug epidemic gripping the nation, more can be done.

This year’s proposal removes exemptions from reporting and checking of the controlled substance monitoring database recognized by the comptroller as potential loopholes.

Further, it increases the state’s ability to partner with federal agencies and other states to share information in an effort to stop prescription leakage from Tennessee’s borders, while still protecting patient records.

This year’s proposal makes bold but reasonable strides in cutting back the prescription opioids flooding Tennessee streets, while not overburdening healthcare practitioner’s care.

House Lawmakers Announce Selection of Eight Tennessee Counties Chosen to Participate in ‘Select Tennessee Property Evaluation Program’

Counties chosen by state to help expand area economic development

House lawmakers joined with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) today to announce the selection of eight Tennessee Counties chosen to participate in the spring round of the Select Tennessee Property Evaluation Program (PEP). The areas selected include Fayette, Humphreys, Lawrence, Maury, Scott, Unicoi, Van Buren, and White Counties.

Launched in 2015, the purpose of PEP is to improve the inventory of industrial sites and buildings in Tennessee by evaluating potential properties, to advise counties on where investment may be most beneficial, and to discover what is needed to address issues found that may be impeding area economic development.

Based on economic development principles found in other ECD programs and with the assistance of site selection firm Austin Consulting, PEP will benefit counties by emphasizing the importance of and assisting with planning for future industrial development.

Supporters of the Select Tennessee Program note that available and up-to-date industrial properties are essential for a community to be competitive in recruiting new business to the area. However, developing and maintaining such an inventory is a difficult task, and many communities do not have a large range of quality properties available for the market. Through the Select Tennessee Program, counties will be able to get assistance from the state that will help in readying industrial properties for near-term development as well as creating a pipeline of properties for future development.

For each county selected to participate in Select Tennessee, the program includes an educational webinar on the site selection process, an on-site visit by Austin Consulting, and a comprehensive assessment addressing each area’s strengths, weaknesses, and recommended next steps to improve marketability.

Selection into the program is based on demonstrated local need for industrial properties and also on the county’s ability to assemble viable properties with market potential.

The application process begins with the submission of a letter of intent which is accepted at any time. Upon receipt of the letter, counties are provided with the program application. The letter of intent, along with more information about the Select Tennessee Program, can be found by visiting http://goo.gl/Zms3nm.

 

April 11, 2016

Committees Set to Close with Remaining Bills to be Heard on the House Floor

The House Committees will hold their final hearings this week, and the State budget will be formulated and considered as soon as possible. Adjournment of the session is possible during the week of April 18th, with a “veto session” (a session called to consider action on any vetoes by the Governor) being a possibility in May or August.

I have two bills that will be considered: the Right to Earn a Living Act (HB 2201), a bill that will enable legislative review of excessive occupational licensing regulations, will be on the calendar of theGovernment Operations Committee;HB 1884, a bill creating a joint committee to initiate an efficiency audit of institutions of higher education here in Tennessee, will be considered by the Finance Committee. With runaway tuition increases and widespread student loan debt burdening our students, I’m hearing persons within our 18thDistrict and in Tennessee insist on a review of higher education to ensure that their resources are being used efficiently.

Bill Aimed at Preventing Allergy Emergencies in Public Places Heads to Governor’s Desk to Become Law

Legislation aimed at preventing allergy emergencies in public places now heads to the desk of Governor Bill Haslam for final signature before becoming law. Once signed, the bill will allow epinephrine auto-injectors to be available in public spaces that attract groups of people and where exposure to allergens could pose a risk to those who know they have allergies and those who are unaware that they may be at risk for anaphylaxis – a severe, sometimes life-threatening allergic reaction.

The House passed the bill by a vote of 94 to 0.

As passed, House Bill 2054 authorizes trained individuals as well as others acting under the supervision of a physician to provide or administer an epinephrine auto-injector under certain circumstances, which would allow organizations such as scout troops, daycares, colleges and universities, restaurants, sports arenas, and other business entities to obtain a prescription and have the life-saving medication on hand for use in an emergency.

The bill also protects those who prescribe, dispense, and administer epinephrine auto-injectors under the provisions of the bill from civil liability. It does not, however, protect against gross negligence, and entities that choose not to have auto-injectors available are protected from civil liability as part of the legislation.

Advocates agree this legislation will make a difference for Tennesseans that suffer from life-threatening allergies and provide another safety measure for them in a variety of public places across the state.

It is estimated that at least one in 13 children in the U.S. is living with a food allergy, and according to federal guidelines, epinephrine is the treatment that should be given first when a person is experiencing a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Nineteen states have passed similar legislation – 16 of those laws were passed in 2015, including in Michigan, New Jersey, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Legislation is also pending in additional states, including Ohio, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.

2016-2017 Budget Amendment Introduced

Legislation proposes additional investment for local transportation needs, student enrollment growth

This week, Governor Bill Haslam unveiled additions to the fiscal year 2016-2017 budget that will be considered by the 109th General Assembly in the coming days.

As introduced, the appropriations amendment closely follows the original budget proposal presented to the legislature on February 1, and it recognizes $60 million in savings from state departments returned to the General Fund.

In the amendment, Haslam proposes adding $12 million to the $130 million originally presented to repay the state’s Highway Fund. If the budget is approved as amended, $42 million of the total $142 million would go to the transportation needs of local governments as part of the state aid program.

Other notable funding priorities in the budget amendment include:

  • $9 million to fund additional K-12 student enrollment growth during the current year;
  • $2.43 million for a 1 percent provider rate increase with the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD);
  • $1.3 million to increase the work being done with adverse childhood experiences (ACE);
  • $1.04 million to leverage Tennessee State University’s land grant status;
  • $18.2 million to restore a 1 percent provider rate reduction in TennCare; and
  • $1 million to support growth in the state’s captive insurance program.

 

The appropriations amendment is customarily introduced in the final weeks of the legislative session each year for consideration and approval by the General Assembly.

House Lawmakers Pass Legislation to Serve Families of Fallen Tennessee Soldiers

Legislature approves in-state tuition for children whose parents have lost their lives while protecting Tennessee

This week, the House of Representatives unanimously approved House Bill 1407 to help serve the families of fallen Tennessee soldiers.

As passed, the legislation provides in-state tuition to any college in the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Board of Regents systems for children of military parents who die as a result of a targeted attack on Tennessee soil.  The in-state tuition would be available to these children regardless of their domicile or place of residence during the child’s enrollment in the institution.

This legislation is in direct response to last summer’s tragic attacks in Chattanooga, and helps to ensure Tennessee serves any future victims and their families. As supporters note, it is the duty of the legislature to do everything in its power to care for these families who have given so much to their state and country.

After passing in the Senate earlier this session, House Bill 1407 now awaits the signature of Governor Bill Haslam before becoming law.

The full text of House Bill 1407 can be found by visiting http://goo.gl/a4EL0C.

Legislation to Increase Awareness and Prevention of Sexual Assault on College Campuses Passes House with Overwhelming Support

Legislation aimed at increasing awareness and prevention of sexual assault on college campuses passed the House of Representatives today with bipartisan support from state lawmakers.

As passed, House Bill 2409 requires each public college in the state to require all incoming freshmen during orientation or introductory studies to receive instruction aimed at increasing the awareness and prevention of sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual harassment, and date rape. The bill also strongly encourages institutes of higher education to offer instruction of these same topics to all grades at some point during the school year.

With recent reports in the news media concerning alarming stories about sexual assault and harassment on college campuses, lawmakers feel this legislation is a strong step forward in reminding students about the importance of doing all they can to keep campuses safe. Through efforts to collaborate and work with state colleges – with students, parents, faculty, and staff – legislators are seeking to cultivate and sustain a campus culture that is free of sexual violence and characterized by caring and respect for one another.

The full text of House Bill 2409 can be found by visiting http://goo.gl/zceWrp. Having passed both the House and Senate, the legislation will now travel to the desk of Governor Bill Haslam to be signed into law.

Bill to Cut Fraud and Abuse in Tennessee’s Welfare System Passes House with Unanimous Support 

Legislation aimed at cutting fraud and abuse in Tennessee’s welfare system was approved this week on the House floor in Nashville.

The proposal makes critical changes to the way the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) contracts with and monitors organizations that receive taxpayer money to feed children and adults who need temporary help from the government. The bill passed with a unanimous 94-0 vote.

The legislation comes after investigations and audits from the Comptroller of the Treasury that identified financial mismanagement and fraud within some of the federal food programs administered by DHS. Approximately $80 million flows through DHS for program services each year.

As passed, House Bill 1940 directs the Department of Human Services to conduct background checks on each applicant of the subrecipient or sponsoring organization. It also requires sponsoring organizations applying to participate in any food program administered through the Department to obtain and maintain a performance bond. If a contract is awarded, the Department must perform both unannounced and announced physical site visits during the subrecipient monitoring process and report their findings.

Similarly, under the bill DHS must develop subrecipient monitoring plans utilizing analytical procedures that must be submitted to legislative leaders and the State Comptroller on an annual basis. In addition, the bill requires the inspector general of DHS to submit a report summarizing the results of any substantiated investigations concerning fraud, waste, and abuse regarding the child and adult care food program and summer food service program every three months.

The legislation brings more transparency and accountability to aid programs overseen by the Tennessee Department of Human Services and will help further protect taxpayer dollars by catching bad actors attempting to abuse state food and welfare programs.

 

April 8, 2016

David Martin: Pass the ‘Right to Earn a Living’ Bill

By David Martin

Originally appearing in the Chattanooga Times Free Press (timesfreepress.com)

In his 1960 book The Conscience of a Conservative, former Arizona senator and Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater wrote, “I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size.” His goal was not “to inaugurate new programs,” but to eliminate old ones that among other things “impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden.”

Talking with Tennessee State Rep. Martin Daniel, it’s hard not to hear the ghost of Goldwater. The Knoxville Republican is a staunch advocate of the free market, individual liberties and putting the government on a Weight Watchers-like diet. He also happens to be the House sponsor of one of my favorite bills introduced in Nashville this year, one that will help undo some of those “unwarranted financial burden(s)” imposed by the state.

It’s called the “Right to Earn a Living” bill. The goal of the proposed legislation is very straightforward. It seeks to eliminate unwarranted occupational licensing restrictions that prohibit Tennesseans from entering certain trades.

Let’s get one thing straight — we’re not talking about anesthesiologists, special education teachers or attorneys here. The heart of this bill is aimed at clearing the way for folks like aspiring hair professionals, nail technicians and auctioneers to pursue their chosen careers. Incredibly, those are some of the most difficult fields to enter in the Volunteer State because of overly strict licensing rules. But Daniel says those barriers haven’t always been put in place to protect the health, safety or welfare of Tennesseans. They’re often established to keep competition from entering a given industry.

And when competition is strangled, the ripple effect is widespread. As the Beacon Center of Tennessee puts it, “these laws make it harder for people to get good jobs, limit choices and drive up costs for consumers, and insert government where it doesn’t belong.” Essentially, four things conservatives should loathe.

We like to say that we live in a business-friendly state, but there’s nothing business-friendly (unless we mean entrenched business interests) about requiring a manicurist to undergo 53 days of schooling and practice beyond the national average. Or requiring a person to get 70 days of training to earn a shampooing certificate (shampooing!). Or having someone spend two years learning to be an auctioneer. These are expensive and time-consuming wastes.

That’s why it’s heartening to see the “Right to Earn a Living” bill advancing quickly through committees. Earlier this week, the legislation cleared the Business and Utilities Committee and will be taken up next week by the Government Operations Joint Committee, on which House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, sits. That would be the last major stop, Daniel hopes, before a floor vote can take place.

Every legislative session there are loud headline-grabbing bills introduced in Nashville. They often deal with guns or Bibles or which religions should be studied by middle schoolers. While some of those really are important, other impactful matters routinely hide in the margins of public awareness. So far in 2016, Daniel’s bill has done just that, but if passed, it would benefit residents across the state by creating jobs, offering consumers more options and lowering costs on a good number of services.

Though occupational licensing may not be the most glamorous topic being discussed on Capitol Hill right now, State Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, is right when he says that Daniel’s work is “one of the best bills in the legislature this session.”

Tennesseans elected a conservative legislative majority to tear down obstacles keeping individuals from enjoying their freedoms. This law, if passed, would do just that.

 

April 3, 2016

General Assembly in High Gear as End of Session Draws Near

Session Countdown. The General Assembly is entering the final phase of its 2016 session, in which bills will fly fast, up or down, with adjournment expected in the week of April 18th. Most committees – other than Finance – have or will shut down shortly, and the House will consider suspending various rules Monday so that the flow of bills can be speeded up (“Flowmotion”).

Telephone Town Hall. I will be holding a telephone town hall meeting to update participants on the Session activities and to answer any questions that you might have. It will begin at 7:00 ET on Wednesday night, April 6th. I will email you a phone number and access code at least twice prior to the meeting.  Also, you may like us over at Facebook and information will be posted there.

Agency Rules. Excessive administrative agency rulemaking has become a real problem on both the federal and state levels.  Arbitrary, unnecessary regulations often burden businesses and individuals. My bill, HB 2068, revises the Administrative Procedures Act to delete the presumption in favor of finding that, when in doubt, administrative agencies shall be deemed to have broad powers. It also provides specific factors to be considered by the legislative committee when considering whether a rule is justified, including whether the regulation exceeds that required by federal law, and whether is impacts constitutional rights.

After a hot floor debate with some of our Democratic Party colleagues on Tuesday, the House approved this bill (68-22) and these changes. It has been passed in the Senate.

One Democrat described the bill as a “seismic shift” in the law. I agree! Smaller Government!

Right to Earn a Living. House Bill 2201, which gives the legislature additional oversight over what many believe to be unnecessary, obstructive occupational licensing and certification will be heard in the Business and Utilities Committee next week.  It cleared the State Committee last week, and this is the next stop before heading on to the Government Operations Committee and to the Floor.  A lot of work has gone into this one by many people and I’m excited at the prospect of passage of what Rep. Bill Sanderson described as “one of the best bills in the legislature this session.” I am the sponsor of this bill.

Handguns. The House Civil Justice Committee, on which I serve, approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Andy Holt that enables handgun carry permit holders to carry on property of Tennessee Institutions of higher education. I support all of our constitutional rights, especially those set forth in the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5thAmendments. The bill now moves on to the Education Administration Committee.

Hall Income Tax. Word from those on the Finance Committee who should know is that this Tennessee income tax will be reduced by ¾-1%. This should be a permanent reduction, I believe, and I will work to make that happen.

CON revisions.  Tennessee is consistently ranked as one of the most regulated states in the nation with regard to health care Certificate of Need regulation (CON). These laws, a holdover of past federal regulation of the 1970s and Democratic party rule here in Tennessee, are burdensome and anticompetitive and have been shown to actually increase the cost of healthcare. Rep. Cameron Sexton has worked extremely hard on a bill that will significantly reduce this regulation and open up the market to the benefit of consumers and patients. This bill should make it through the House and Senate Committees this week. I am a co-sponsor of this bill.

Smaller government!

Focus on College and University Success Act Passes House with Bipartisan Support

Legislation will aid state in meeting Drive to 55 challenge

Education moved front and center this week as the Focus on College and University Success (FOCUS) Act passed on the full House floor with bipartisan support.

As passed, the legislation better aligns the state’s colleges and universities to meet the Drive to 55 challenge: the goal of getting 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025 to meet the demands of the 21st Century job market.

The FOCUS Act places Tennessee on a direct path to meeting the Drive to 55 by providing a sharpened focus on the governance of community colleges and colleges of applied technology, while also granting four-year state universities additional autonomy to make local decisions.

Currently, the Tennessee Board of Regents oversees 46 institutions – six public state universities, 13 community colleges, and 27 colleges of applied technology. The University of Tennessee system oversees three public state universities as well as three institutes and a health science center.

Because of new initiatives put into place through the Drive to 55 program – such as the Tennessee Promise – there has been a shift in the higher education landscape that raises questions as to whether the existing higher education structure, established in 1972, is organized appropriately for today’s needs. Last fall alone, Tennessee saw a 10 percent increase in overall first-time freshman enrollment at Tennessee universities and a nearly 25 percent increase in first-time freshman enrollment at state community colleges. With 46 institutions under its belt to look after, proponents agree it is difficult for the Board of Regents to meet all of the diverse challenges of today’s educational system.

With the FOCUS Act, the massive 46 institution conglomerate under the Board of Regents will be shifted and given their own local governing boards, allowing community colleges the ability to focus at a system level, while giving the state’s four-year universities the benefit of greater overall autonomy and decision-making.

As mentioned in a previous newsletter, I support the idea of splitting off the four year universities, but I was opposed to a governor having every selection of trustees for their governing boards.

Pro-Veteran Bill Approved by House of Representatives

On the veteran front, House Bill 1491 was approved this week which will make it easier for veterans across the state to obtain a handgun carry permit.

Under the legislation, a carry permit applicant would not be required to comply with the mandatory classroom and firing range hours if the applicant is an active, honorably discharged or retired veteran of the Unites States Armed Forces.

The person would have to present a certified copy of their certificate of release or discharge from active duty, a Department of Defense form 214 (DD 214), that documents a date of discharge or retirement that is within five years from the date of application for the permit.

The legislation will eliminate an unnecessary burden on the state’s veterans in the permitting process and is part of the legislative package sponsored by House Republicans aimed at helping veterans and their families across the state.

Jai Templeton Named New Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture

Sixth generation farmer, current deputy commissioner to lead department

Governor Bill Haslam today announced the appointment of Jai Templeton, a sixth generation Tennessee farmer, as commissioner of the Department of Agriculture effective May 1. Templeton will replace Julius Johnson who last week announced his retirement.

Templeton, 44, currently serves as the department’s deputy commissioner, leading the day-to-day operations and directing programs and services that range from food safety to animal and plant health to agricultural development.

Prior to joining the department in 2011, Templeton served as mayor of McNairy County. He and his family have farmed in McNairy and Hardin counties for decades, producing grain, cotton, hay, timber, and cattle.

From 1995 to 2003, Templeton served as field representative for former U.S. Representative Ed Bryant. He is a former McNairy County commissioner and former president of the McNairy County Chamber of Commerce, where he helped form the McNairy County Regional Alliance to focus on economic development in the area.

A native of McNairy County, Templeton has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Union University in Jackson. He is also a graduate of the University of Tennessee Certified Public Administrator program.

In Tennessee, agriculture and forestry have a profound impact on the state’s economy, with more than 67,000 farms representing 10.9 million acres in production. More than half of the state, 14 million acres, is in mostly privately owned hardwood forests. Tennessee’s top agricultural commodities include cattle, soybeans, corn, poultry, cotton, timber, greenhouse and nursery products, dairy products, wheat, tobacco, and hay. The industry has a $75 billion a year impact on the state’s economy and supports nearly 350,000 jobs.

Legislation Strengthening Asset Forfeiture Laws, Further Protecting Tennesseans Receives Unanimous Support

Although a bill providing stronger protections in civil forfeiture matters was recently rejected by the Civil Justice Committee in a close vote, this week the House of Representatives unanimously approved legislation that provides limited safeguards and makes law enforcement agencies somewhat accountable to the legislature for their civil forfeiture activities.

As passed, House Bill 1772 prohibits a general sessions judge from authorizing a magistrate or judicial commissioner that is not licensed to practice law in Tennessee from issuing a civil forfeiture warrant. The legislation requires all appointed magistrates to either be licensed attorneys or judges to help prevent unwarranted seizing of assets.

Additionally, Rep. Timothy Hill’s bill providing for regular reporting to the legislature of civil forfeiture activities passed on the House Floor by a wide margin.

Civil forfeiture is a legal process in which assets are taken from persons suspected of involvement with crime or illegal activity without necessarily charging the owners with wrongdoing. A magistrate, once authorized by a judge, can issue a warrant if they deem probable cause exists.

Over the years, this practice has caused concern and raised questions as to whether forfeiture warrants issued by those magistrates who are not licensed attorneys or judges have the necessary qualifications under Tennessee law to make such forfeiture determinations.

Proponents of the legislation agree the bill is a strong step forward in strengthening asset forfeitures laws and working to further protect the people of Tennessee from unfair seizures.

House Republicans Move Forward with Legislation Addressing TNReady Testing Requirements

The Tennessee House of Representatives today passed legislation that will give teachers across the state reprieve from TNReady testing requirements.

With the passage of House Bill 1419, Tennessee teachers will now be allowed to choose whether to include results from the 2015-2016 TNReady and TCAP tests as part of the student growth component of their annual evaluations, depending on if the results would benefit them or not. Teachers will also be allowed to exercise this option for any three year cycle.

Because of recent TNReady implementation difficulties teachers and schools have experienced, supporters agree that this legislation is absolutely needed in order to give teachers the option of opting out of these scores and to ensure no requirements are forced which might put them at a statewide disadvantage.

The bill passed the House overwhelmingly with a unanimous 95-0 vote and will now go to the Governor’s desk after having been previously passed in the Senate earlier in the week.

Additional information regarding this legislation can be found on the Tennessee General Assembly website at http://goo.gl/wMH2DK.

 

March 26, 2016

Freedom, Liberty, and Enabling Economic Prosperity are Priorities

Individual freedom, liberty, reduction of government in our lives, and acting to enable economic prosperity are my priorities.  I and other Republican members of the legislature have several bills pending that will further these objectives.

Rep. Daniel bill watch:

HB 2201, “The Right to Earn a Living Act,” will be considered by the State Government Committee next week. The bill is designed to open the door for legislative review of unnecessary, obstructive occupational licensing regulations that impose burdens on persons seeking work and on our economy. I’m big on deregulating markets and this is just another way that the legislature can move to keep government out of our business and our lives.

HB 2068, revising the Administrative Procedures Act, was approved by the State Government Committee this week. It will be considered by the Senate next week, and, if approved, will move to the floors of the respective chambers. This bill removes the existing statutory presumption in favor of a finding of administrative agency powers and provides the legislature with several specific factors that it should consider in evaluation of the agency rule. Just another way that we are working to reduce the size of government….

HB 2065, a bill that would have revised the law enforcement practice otherwise known as “Civil Forfeiture,” was defeated by a narrow 2-3 vote in the Civil Justice Subcommittee last Wednesday.  Surprisingly, two Democrats joined with a misguided Republican to defeat this bill that would have provided more rights to those who have their properly wrongfully seized. So much for Democrats protecting the innocent and the poor! This is just another facet of getting government out of our lives. We’ll have to work on this again next year.

Other important bills:

The “de-annexation” bill has been approved by the House and will soon be considered in the Senate. Various special interest groups and cities are jockeying to revise it. I support it. It gives residential areas that were annexed into cities (in a wave of abusive annexations) the right to hold a referendum to determine if they wish to be removed from city boundaries. No one is forced out of a city; we are simply enabling persons to decide if they wish to leave. Freedom, liberty, deregulation – that’s what I support.

The House passed the governor’s higher education restructuring bill 71-19 Thursday. Under the bill, the six regional universities now under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Board of Regents would have independent boards. The proposal, which enhances the authority of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, was unveiled by Gov. Bill Haslam last Dec. 1 as one of his major priorities for the session. I support the concept of splitting off the 4 year colleges from the TBR, but I opposed the provision by which a governor (possibly someone not as competent as the existing one) has ALL of the nominations. These boards should be accountable to the citizens of Tennessee for their actions, and input of the legislature in the board nomination process would best accomplish this.

Thanks to Father David Boettner of Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral for leading us in the session devotional earlier this week.

Thanks to Father David Boettner of Sacred Heart Catholic Cathedral for leading us in the session devotional earlier this week.

House Republicans Move Full Steam Ahead with Pro-Military, Pro-Veteran Legislative Package

So far this year, House Republicans have moved full steam ahead with multiple pieces of legislation designed to help military members and their families from across the state.

One of those bills, currently awaiting signature from Governor Haslam, will allow the five soldiers killed in the Chattanooga terrorist attack that occurred in July of last year to be eligible for the ‘Tennessee Fallen Heroes Medal.’ Currently, the medal is awarded to honor residents of Tennessee killed while serving on active duty or engaged in military support operations involving a conflict with an opposing foreign force.

As passed, this new legislation expands on these criteria to also allow the honor to be bestowed on those military men and women killed on Tennessee soil during an attack specifically targeting service members.

The medal is awarded solely by the governor or the governor’s designee to the immediate survivor of the recipient.

A second piece of legislation, the National Guard Force Protection Act, enhances protection at Tennessee National Guard facilities and military installations. The bill follows hearings regarding the safety of military installations by the state’s top leaders.

To fund the bill, the governor’s budget includes $1.6 million for emergency phone systems, window film, magnetic locks, security camera systems, privacy screens, and bollards to protect soldiers at state military installations.

Additionally, legislation passed the full House this week that will strengthen and make the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) program available to private, non-profit institutions of higher education throughout the state.

Passed in 2014, the highly successful VETS program encourages colleges and universities to prioritize outreach to veterans and successfully deliver the services necessary to create a supportive environment where student veterans can prosper while pursuing their education. Currently, there are 13 public institutions that claim VETS Campus Certification. The certification recognizes and promotes schools that make veteran enrollment a priority. Higher education institutions that satisfy veteran-friendly criteria, such as specialized orientation and the availability of mentoring programs, can receive the designation.

Also on the veteran front this year is House Bill 1491, which will make it easier for veterans across the state to obtain a handgun carry permit. Under the legislation, a carry permit applicant would not be required to comply with the mandatory classroom and firing range hours if the applicant is an active, honorably discharged or retired veteran of the Unites States Armed Forces. The person would have to present a certified copy of their certificate of release or discharge from active duty, a Department of Defense form 214 (DD 214), that documents a date of discharge or retirement that is within five years from the date of application for the permit. The legislation aims to eliminate an unnecessary burden on the state’s veterans in the permitting process.

Legislation to help support Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) counseling for combat veterans and their families is set to be heard next week before the House Finance, Ways & Means Committee. As introduced, the bill creates a specialty license plate which can be customized with a sticker to represent the veteran’s specific military branch with proceeds going to support these services.

Tennessee requires new specialty earmarked license plates to be subject to a minimum order of at least 1,000 plates prior to initial issuance. Any plate that does not meet the minimum order requirement within one year after passage of the authorizing act becomes invalid.

Under the bill, the money raised from these license plates is to be used exclusively in Tennessee to provide resources and support to veterans, service members, and their families, being equally allocated to Centerstone Military Services and SAFE: Soldiers and Families Embraced.

As the 2016 legislative session continues, House Republicans remain committed to helping veterans, their families, and all those involved with protecting Tennessee and the United States on a daily basis.

It's always good to see Ellie Kittrell, director of science and arts museum MUSE, at the Legislative Plaza. I fully support their efforts.

It’s always good to see Ellie Kittrell, director of science and arts museum MUSE, at the Legislative Plaza. I fully support their efforts.

Lawmakers, Farmers Celebrate Annual ‘Ag Day on the Hill’ Event

House lawmakers joined with farmers and agriculture groups from across the state this week to celebrate Tennessee’s annual ‘Ag Day on the Hill’ event at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville. Governor Bill Haslam has also proclaimed the date ‘Agriculture Day’ as part of the annual national observance to recognize the important contributions of farmers and forestland owners provide to the state and nation.

This year, ‘Ag Day on the Hill’ activities included farm animals — horses, cows, goats, sheep, piglets, and chicks — and a variety of farming equipment on display at the entrance to the Legislative Plaza in Nashville. Representatives from agricultural organizations and agencies were also available to discuss programs and opportunities for those interested in farming and forestry in Tennessee.

In addition, a corn shucking and shelling contest between House and Senate lawmakers took place, with House Speaker Beth Harwell leading the House to a blowout victory over their Senate counterparts. Following the contest, the Farm & Forest Families of Tennessee organization presented a check to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee in honor of contest participants.

The day’s events also included a sweet potato bagging project to benefit the Society of St. Andrew and a silent auction benefiting Second Harvest and the Ag in the Classroom program.

Tennessee has more than 67,000 farms representing 10.9 million acres in production. More than half of the state, 14 million acres, is in mostly privately owned hardwood forests. Tennessee’s top agricultural commodities include cattle, soybeans, corn, poultry, cotton, timber, greenhouse and nursery products, dairy products, wheat, tobacco, and hay. The industry has a $75 billion a year impact on the state’s economy and supports nearly 350,000 jobs.

Department of Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson Announces Retirement Plans

This week, Department of Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson announced his official plans to retire at the end of April.

Johnson has led the Department of Agriculture since the beginning of the Haslam administration in 2011, and was Haslam’s first commissioner appointment. He has been instrumental in development of the Governor’s Rural Challenge: a 10 year strategic plan to grow Tennessee’s agricultural and forest industries. Under Johnson’s leadership, many goals of the plan have already been met and foundations laid for future projects.

Johnson joined the Haslam administration after serving 37 years at the Tennessee Farm Bureau, 15 of those years as the Chief Administrative Officer.

A native of Forbus, Tennessee, Johnson has served on the University of Tennessee Agriculture Development Board, the Maury County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the Maury County United Way Board of Directors, the Maury County Vision 2020 Board of Directors and as president of the Maury County University of Tennessee Alumni Board. He was a Kiwanian and has served as past president of the Middle Tennessee Council of Boy Scouts. He has a B.S. in Agriculture from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Johnson’s last day as Commissioner will be April 29.

House Legislation to Ensure Transparency and Accountability Now Awaits Senate Approval

Legislation to help ensure transparency and accountability in state government regarding contracts received unanimous approval this week on the House Floor.

As passed, the legislation requires vendors that are contracting with the state to notify state officials if the vendor’s business is being investigated by a law enforcement agency. These notifications will be submitted to the Chief Procurement Officer in the Office of General Services. Additionally, if a business fails to properly report any investigations, the Chief Procurement Officer can assess fines in excess of $10,000.

Supporters agree this legislation will add even more transparency to state government, a policy of great importance to House Republicans. By requiring notification from vendors, upon the occurrence of any investigation brought against that business, the state can better protect the investment of Tennessee taxpayer dollars.

Additional information regarding this legislation can be found on the General Assembly website at http://goo.gl/VvWNYF.

 

March 17, 2016

Representative Martin Daniel’s Statement on Student Freedom of Speech

I would like to clarify comments made yesterday before the House Education Administration Committee.

I fundamentally disagree with ISIS’s philosophy and I unequivocally condemn their abhorrent, cruel, inhuman acts of terror and violence. That said, the unavoidable fact is that the First Amendment guarantees us the right to express any opinion, including opinions that most of us find repugnant and fundamentally wrong, so long as they don’t cause an imminent risk of harm. To make it clear, there’s a big difference between saying that someone has a right to speak, and agreeing or disagreeing with the content of that speech. Frankly, simple recruitment efforts by any organization, standing alone, might be protected by the First Amendment. However, offering material support, including one’s service, to a terrorist organization is forbidden by the United States Patriot Act of 2001. Joining ISIS (offering one’s service to a terrorist organization) is illegal, on college campuses or anywhere else in the United States. 

Furthermore, although clearly I believe that free speech should generally be protected, if such speech should cross the line so that it becomes an imminent threat to someone, including our country, that would NOT be protected speech (see Brandenburg v Ohio, a Supreme Court opinion from 1969, in which the Supreme Court held that only speech that presents a “clear and present danger” is prohibitable). 

I realize these comments may not be satisfactory to some, who may question how I could defend the right to free speech of supporters of a cruel and evil organization like ISIS. Granted, I firmly believe that ISIS is despicable and evil, and I am confident that the vast majority of people with any sense of human decency will agree as well.     

I am sure that each of us holds many opinions that someone, somewhere, would find wrong or offensive.  My point is that if we weaken the First Amendment by making its protection selective, based on what is currently viewed as evil or inappropriate, we are weakening its ability to protect us all.  

Opponents of my Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act, by bringing up an unrelated hypothetical situation of ISIS recruiting on campus, have intentionally distracted from the point of my bill, which is to guarantee all students the right to express themselves on college campuses, whether their opinions are considered open-minded, closed-minded, religious, non-religious, anti-religious, brilliant, stupid, progressive, or offensive. I am seeing liberal college administrators impose their views of what is right and proper speech on conservative students who feel uncomfortable in disagreement. I am trying to remedy that problem. ALL students should have the right to express their opinions, and that is what this bill is about.

In conclusion, speech advocating violence is not and should not be legally protected.   The remedy for objectionable, disagreeable non-violent speech is not silence or suppression of speech – it is more speech.

The text of the Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act (HB 2063) can be found at the following link: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/109/Bill/HB2063.pdf.

 

March 11, 2016

House Subcommittees Set Final Calendars

Most of the House Subcommittees have set their final calendars for next week as many important bills are to be heard in order to move into full committee. In the House of Representatives, most of the study and work on bills occurs in subcommittee hearings. Yesterday, the House approved The Asbestos Bankruptcy Trust Claims Transparency Act (HB 2234) which is designed to prevent possible “double” recovery of asbestos injury claims by unscrupulous persons and ensure continued sustainability of the asbestos trust fund for those who need it.

Daniel Bill Watch:

HB 2068, which amends the Tennessee Administrative Procedures Act to limit presumptions of authority to administrative agencies and provides for more legislative oversight of agency rulemaking, was passed by the Government Operations Committee.  It moves on to a hearing before the State Government Committee.

HB 2201, The Right to Earn a Living Act, was passed by the State Government subcommittee.  The bill enables the review of arbitrary, obstructive occupational licensing requirements that often serve as barriers to entry into moderate skilled occupations.

HB 2065, a bill that would limit civil forfeiture of a person’s assets before they are found guilty of a crime, will be heard in the Civil Justice subcommittee next week.

HB 1884, a bill that would create a select committee to issue requests for proposals concerning efficiency audits of our institutions of higher education, will be heard in the Education Administration subcommittee next week. Once proposals have been received, the committee will review them and make a recommendation to the legislature as to which audit consultant to hire.

Tennessee General Assembly Named Most Conservative Legislature in the Country

Over the weekend, the Tennessee General Assembly was officially named the most conservative legislature in the entire country during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. The premier national conservative conference was attended by over 5,000 grassroots activists and elected officials from across the United States.

Cited in the award presentation was the General Assembly’s commitment to fiscal conservatism, cutting taxes, and efforts made to increase competition and attract new businesses to the state. In addition, earlier this year, the American Conservative Union – the nation’s oldest and largest grassroots conservative organization – presented awards to the majority of House Republicans as tribute to the positive conservative direction in which they have guided the state over the last several years.

This year’s CPAC event included panels and discussions with dozens of well-known conservatives from around the country, along with speeches from the major candidates running for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.

While I am proud to be a Republican, and am proud of my relatively conservative record, I believe that I often reach a conservative view via input from my constituents, and thoughtful consideration of what is in the best interest of our State.

‘National Guard Force Protection Act of 2016’ Passes House with Unanimous Support

Last week, House Republicans announced that the House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation that allows for homeland security upgrades that the Tennessee Military Department will implement at armories and recruiting stations around the state.

The ‘National Guard Force Protection Act of 2016’ was introduced to ensure the safety of Tennessee National Guard service members in the wake of the Chattanooga terrorist attack in July of 2015.

Upon passage of the legislation, House lawmakers cited the safety of our military men and women as being of the utmost importance, especially as service members put themselves in harm’s way to ensure the general public is secure on a daily basis.

The enhancements at armories and recruiting stations throughout the state will include mobile ballistic shields, shatter resistant film for windows and doors, barriers in front of the buildings, cameras, and more.

Having passed unanimously in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the legislation is headed to Governor Haslam’s desk for his signature.

More information about the bill can be found by visiting http://goo.gl/Gyj7I8.

School Grading Bill Secures Passage in Tennessee House

House Republicans hailed this week’s affirmative House vote on legislation that seeks to empower Tennessee families with clearer, more accessible information about the performance of their local schools.

The legislation, House Bill 155, will utilize existing resources to direct the State Board of Education to give schools an annual A through F letter grade based on multiple factors, including each school’s academic achievement, student growth, and other relevant measures of school performance.

The bill passed the State House on a 73-14 bipartisan vote and has already secured unanimous approval in the State Senate.

Supporters agree that transparency and accountability are part of the keys to the success of any quality public education system.

Although families have a wealth of information available to them through the state’s Report Card website, the information it contains will now be enhanced by adding a concise, overall rating for each school. By disclosing transparent and understandable letter grades, the legislation promises to empower parents and families with the information they need to make better-informed decisions about their child’s education, and do so at no additional cost to taxpayers.

House Republicans Work to Fulfill State’s Long-Term Energy Needs

House Joint Resolution 507 calls for Tennessee’s commitment to sustainable energy

This week, House Joint Resolution 507 sailed through the legislature with unanimous support from state lawmakers.

As passed, the resolution resolves that the 109th General Assembly supports the creation of a long-term energy plan to address the future needs of the state with affordable energy that also encourages business growth in Tennessee.

House Resolution 507 specifically urges the Congress of the United States to provide the necessary resources, needed by the Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to further research liquid-core-molten-salt-reactors and small modular reactors. Furthermore, these energy processes represent a large business opportunity that will help create hundreds of new high-paying jobs across the state.

These nuclear reactors are fueled by thorium, instead of traditional uranium, thus making the reactors fail-safe. Additionally, the reactors can also produce radioisotopes to help medical diagnoses and treatment plans, and can desalinate water to help meet the constant need for fresh water in areas across the nation and globe.

A certified copy of the House Joint Resolution will be transmitted to each member of the Tennessee Congressional delegation.

House Joint Resolution 507 is not the only piece of legislation this session focusing on the energy needs of Tennessee. House Bill 2151, set to next be heard in the House Government Operations Committee, will create a thirteen-member state energy policy council to advise the Governor and the General Assembly on Tennessee’s energy needs.

‘Slow Poke Bill’ Wins Approval in State House

Legislation designed to cut down on congested traffic and increase safety on Tennessee interstates won approval this week in the State House.

House Bill 1416 creates a $50 fine for driving slow in the fast lane on major highways in Tennessee. As adopted, the legislation requires cars to stay out of the left lane of highways and interstates with at least three lanes except in the case of passing other vehicles.

In essence, the bill restricts slow drivers from continuously driving in the far left lane and impeding the normal flow of traffic.

Currently, 29 other states have similar legislation on the books, with evidence showing such laws do increase the flow of traffic, help increase safety on busy roads, and cut down on the occurrence of traffic jams on major highways and interstates.

 

March 5, 2016

General Assembly Picks Up Pace as Significant Legislation is Placed on Calendars

We are seeing committee calendars and votes in both houses on high- profile legislation as the General Assembly shifts into high gear.

National Guard Force Protection Act. The House passed the National Guard Force Protection Act of 2016 that will enhance security at our National Guard facilities and help prevent tragedies like we saw in Chattanooga.

UT Diversity Fiasco. The Senate Education Committee recommended Wednesday eliminating funding for the UT Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which has been a source of controversy, especially since its website advice last year on how to avoid letting a holiday party become a Christmas party. The recommendation, proposed by committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), must be considered by the Finance Committee and also in the House. Much will be said and argued before anything drastic comes to pass.  The University has embarrassed Tennessee on a national and international stage. While I favor reduction of funding, monitoring of the message, and much more oversight over this diversity effort, I have doubts as to whether complete defunding is the best course.

Historical Monuments. After debate the Senate passed 28-4 and sent to the governor the “Tennessee Heritage Protection Act,” which makes it harder to remove historical monuments and markers.  This bill was passed by the House two weeks ago.

Testing in Schools. This week, the House moved forward with legislation that would put into law recommendations made by a task force of educators, legislators, parents, and other key representatives that identified the best practices for testing in Tennessee. As introduced, HB 1537 would eliminate unnecessary high school tests, allow students to retake the ACT and SAT free of charge, and renew Tennessee’s commitment to transparency in testing by annually releasing statewide assessment questions and answers.

Rep. Daniel bills. I have proposed several bills that will be heard by various committees within the next two weeks.  These include bills relating to:

  • More legislative oversight of agency rulemaking;
  • Reducing or eliminating unnecessary occupational licensing rules and regulations so that persons may more easily enter into an occupation of their choice;
  • Strengthening individual property rights when subject to the rezoning process;
  • Clarification of Tennessee’s parental relocation statute in custody matters; and
  • Several bills relating to higher education, including a conflict of interest/ethics policy applicable to those serving on governing boards, an efficiency audit of institutions of higher education, direction to institutions to respect student First Amendment rights, and, of course, diversity.

Legislature Approves Appointment of Roger Amos Page to Tennessee Supreme Court

Page replaces former Justice Gary R. Wade

Last week during a joint convention of the House and Senate, the appointment of Roger Amos Page was officially confirmed by the legislature to fill the spot of Justice Gary R. Wade, who retired from the Tennessee Supreme Court in September.

The confirmation is the first of its kind in Tennessee, brought about by a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that granted the legislature confirmation powers for all appellate court appointees. After being confirmed, Justice Page was sworn in by fellow Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Bivins.

Page has been a judge on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals since his appointment by Governor Bill Haslam in December of 2011. During his time there, he has written more than 330 appellate opinions. Prior to that, Page served as a judge for the 26th Judicial District, which includes Chester, Henderson, and Madison Counties.

Prior to his tenure on the bench, Page was assistant attorney general in Jackson from 1991 to 1998, was in private practice, and served as a law clerk for former U.S. District Court Judge Julia Smith Gibbons from 1984 to 1985.

Page received his law degree with honors in 1984 from the University of Memphis, where he ranked 4th in his class.

House Republicans Move Forward with Critical Legislation to Combat Welfare Fraud

This week, Republican lawmakers brought House Bill 1545 to the full floor and secured passage with a near unanimous vote. House Bill 1545 is a key part of Governor Haslam’s legislative agenda and seeks to increase the penalty for TennCare fraud.

As passed, the legislation alters the penalty for TennCare fraud from a Class E felony to a Class D felony, increasing the term of imprisonment from 1 – 6 years to 2 – 12 years. Furthermore, the legislation creates tiered mandatory fines in addition to required restitution.

Supporters agree that this legislation is a vital step in insuring that TennCare services are fully available to those who require it most, as fraud hinders the state’s ability to serve the interests of those Tennesseans that need it most.

Additionally, House Republicans have also introduced the HOPE Act, legislation designed to further enhance the efficiencies of Tennessee’s welfare program by reducing fraud and abuse.

Currently, Tennessee spends more on welfare in proportion to its budget than any other state in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The purpose of the HOPE Act is to remove fraudsters from the welfare rolls that are stealing money not only from taxpayers, but also from those the programs are actually intended to help – individuals who have fallen on tough times and need temporary government assistance to get back on their feet.

The HOPE Act has three key parts:

  • Asset verification – A third party vendor will be assigned to examine state databases that already exist to ensure those receiving benefits are not purchasing luxury vehicles, own multiple homes, or making excessive personal purchases.
  • Enrollee monitoring – Once individuals are enrolled in a state welfare program, regular reviews of their status will be conducted to ensure eligibility is retained. If someone goes to prison, wins the lottery, or is deceased, they no longer need the welfare assistance for which they were once eligible.
  • Taking action against fraudsters – Suspected fraud causes will be referred to state prosecutors for investigation and possible criminal prosecution or recovery of improper payments to help deter future fraud.

The HOPE Act does not change who is eligible for Tennessee welfare programs or create additional hoops for those receiving benefits to jump through.

Additionally, the cost of the program is based on how much the state saves – the third party group that will execute the enrollee verification and monitoring system will not be paid unless fraud is found in the system. Because of this, there is no incentive to falsely report fraud simply to get paid as the outside vendor will not decide what is fraud and what is not. Instead, they will turn their findings over to the state and the state will decide which cases involve suspicious behavior and further investigation.

Other states implementing similar programs have already saved hundreds of millions of dollars by reducing fraud. Estimates show Tennessee stands to save around $123 million each year with this legislation in place.

Pro-Grandparent Visitation Legislation Receives Unanimous Support in House

Bill will expand the courts’ authority to order grandparent visitation when the children are no longer in the custody of the parents

Legislation to aid grandparents caught in a visitation loophole inadvertently created within state law several years back received unanimous support this week on the House floor in Nashville.

As introduced, House Bill 1476 corrects a problem brought by those who have been caught within this law loophole that restricts a judge from granting visitation to a child’s grandparents, when the child has been removed from the custody of the parents.

Currently, if the parents of a child are out of the picture and the judge has awarded custody of that child to one set of grandparents, a judge may only make a recommendation, not a binding ruling, that the other set of grandparents should also be granted visitation. By passing this legislation, a judge will now have the option and ability to grant visitation to both sets of grandparents, if they all meet the burden of proof and the judge deems both sides worthy of such custody and visitation.

This issue was brought to the attention of lawmakers by a constituent who had the time with his granddaughter significantly reduced once a judge awarded custody to the other set of grandparents. Even though the judge believed the other set of grandparents were worthy of visitation, he could only make a recommendation that they receive visitation instead of being able to rule in that manner.

By passing this legislation, legislators are ensuring such situations do not happen again in the future, and that those children who are no longer under the care of their parents are able to have both sets of grandparents love and care for them throughout their lives. The bill is about the well-being of the child and ensures that the child is not forced into losing another loving relationship after losing his or her parents.

Once passed by the Senate and signed by the Governor, this legislation will become law. The full text of the bill can be found by visiting http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/109/Bill/HB1476.pdf.

 

February 26, 2016

Several Notable Bills Passed by the House This Week

The House and Senate Committees continue to work in near-capacity mode as legislators consider bills and other matters in the second half of the 109th General Assembly. Consideration of bills on the floor of the chambers is ramping up as legislation clears the Committees.

This week the House passed several bills, including:

HB 1469 by Rep. Travis, which confers immunity from civil liability to charitable organizations and free health clinics that dispense previously-owned eyeglasses. Risk of civil liability has previously been an obstacle to organizations such as The Lion Club to dispensing these items in the United States.

HB 1674 by Rep. Marsh, which prohibits the state or any local government from requiring a company bidding on a government construction project to employ persons who reside within the state or the boundaries of the city or county. The legislature believes that this restrictive practice obstructs employment and potentially raises the cost of construction which is ultimately borne by the taxpayers.

HB 2049 by Rep. Eldridge (Rep. Daniel co-sponsor), which prohibits deceptive advertising that simulates an official government document, or that could lead one to believe that the advertiser is affiliated with a unit of the government (see below).

Next week, I will be presenting the “Tuition Stability Act” (HB 2069) in the House Education Administration Subcommittee. This bill would effectively freeze tuition for incoming freshmen at public institutions of higher education for up to four years and otherwise limit tuition increases by the institution to changes consistent with the Consumer Price Index. It should be an interesting debate!

Republican Lawmakers Move Forward with Legislation to Help Those Affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder

House Republican lawmakers voted unanimously this week to move forward with legislation designed to help those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

As introduced, House Bill 1206 will create the Tennessee Council on Autism Spectrum Disorder – a dedicated committee that will focus solely on aiding those with special needs and their families.

Along with establishing a long-term plan for a system of care for individuals with ASD, the Council will also make recommendations and provide leadership in program development regarding matters concerning all levels of ASD services in health care, education, and other adult and adolescent need areas.

Specifically, the Council will be charged with seven tasks, including:

  • Assessing the current and future impact of Autism Spectrum Disorder on the residents of Tennessee;
  • Assessing the availability of programs and services currently provided for early screening diagnosis and treatment of ASD;
  • Seeking additional input and recommendations from stakeholders that include providers, clinicians, institutions of higher education, and those concerned with the health and quality of life for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder;
  • Developing a comprehensive statewide plan for an integrated system of training, treatment, and services for individuals of all ages with ASD;
  • Ensuring interagency collaboration as the comprehensive statewide system of care for Autism Spectrum Disorder is developed and implemented;
  • Coordinating available resources related to developing and implementing a system of care for Autism Spectrum Disorder; and
  • Coordinating state budget requests related to systems of care for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder based on the studies and recommendations of the Council.

The Council itself would serve under the Tennessee Department of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities and would be made up of the Commissioner of Health, the Commissioner of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, the Commissioner of Education, the Commissioner of Human Services, the Commissioner of Commerce & Insurance, the Deputy Commissioner of TennCare, the Commissioner of Mental Health & Substance Abuse, and six adult individuals who are either family members or primary caregivers of individuals with

The Autism Society currently estimates that about one percent of the world population has ASD, affecting over 3.5 million Americans. The organization also notes that Autism Spectrum Disorder is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States.

The legislation is set to next be heard in the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee.

House Committee Voices Support for Resolution Calling on Federal Government to Halt Overreach into State Matters

This week, House Joint Resolution 528 moved forward in the committee process after receiving unanimous support from state lawmakers. The resolution now proceeds to the House Calendar & Rules Committee, the last stop it must make before reaching the full House floor for a final vote.

As introduced, the legislation affirms Tennessee’s authority over matters of the state, in accordance with the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Additionally, it calls for the federal government to halt its practice of overreaching into the affairs of state government.

Supporters say the resolution is a direct result of concerns shared by constituents regarding the federal government’s heavy-handed involvement in the State of Tennessee.

Once HJR 0528 is signed, a certified copy of the resolution will be distributed to the President of the United States, the President of the United States Senate, the Speaker and the Clerk of the United States House of Representatives, and to each member of Tennessee’s Congressional delegation.

Student Testing Transparency Bill Receives Support from House Republicans

House Republicans moved forward this week with legislation that would put into law recommendations of an assessment task force made up of educators, legislators, parents, and other key representatives that worked for six months to study and identify best practices in testing for Tennessee students.

As introduced, House Bill 1537 acts on three main recommendations from the education task force, including:

  • Eliminating two unnecessary high school tests, reducing the overall number of tests given to students;
  • Allowing students to retake the ACT or SAT free of charge, giving them an opportunity to increase their scores and their options for postsecondary education; and
  • Renewing Tennessee’s commitment to test transparency by annually releasing statewide assessment questions and answers. This change in assessment procedure will provide parents, teachers, and students more information about the tests students take and more information about ways to best support students in their goals.

This legislation builds on the efforts of House Republicans to heavily invest in the future of education in Tennessee, working to ensure that teachers have the tools they need and that students have the freedom and ability to reach their full potential.

In addition to this legislation, Republicans have also proposed investing 261 million in new dollars for Tennessee public education this year, including $104.6 million for teacher salaries – the largest investment in K-12 education without a tax increase in state history.

Legislation to Help Protect Consumers from Deceptive Advertising Practices Passes House with Bipartisan Support

Legislation spearheaded by House Republicans to help protect consumers from deceptive advertising practices (HB 2049) passed on the full floor this week with bipartisan support from state lawmakers.

As passed, the ‘Government Impostor and Deceptive Advertisements Act’ prohibits mail advertisements that look like a summons or a judicial process notification. It also prohibits advertising that looks like a government document, whether it is through the use of language, seals and logos, or whether it implies an unauthorized endorsement by a government entity. The bill prescribes a fine of up to $100 per advertisement for violation of the proposed law.

The purpose of the legislation is to help protect consumers from possible identity and monetary theft.

In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission received 4,175 complaints of identity theft from Tennesseans, and that number has steadily increased each year. Nationally, financial losses due to personal identity theft in 2012 totaled $24.7 billion, over $10 billion more than the losses attributed to all other property crimes.

 

February 15, 2016

Bill Designed to Curb Welfare Fraud Filed

I am co-sponsoring a bill introduced by Representative Dan Howell (Bradley County) that could save the state more than $123 million each year by cracking down on waste, fraud and abuse in the state’s welfare programs.  Tennessee spends more proportionately than any other state on welfare benefits – in Tennessee, about one in four dollars goes to the welfare program.

The objective of the Act to Restore Hope, Opportunity and Prosperity is to ensure that fraudsters, cheats and thieves don’t waste the state’s welfare funds and jeopardize the benefits for everyone. The Act has several key elements.

The first component is a strong verification program that can be used to ensure that only those who truly need welfare are receiving it.

The second key aspect of the legislation would track the purchases made by Tennessee residents receiving welfare benefits. The use of EBT cards for welfare spending has made the misuse of these funds a growing problem in many states across the country. Under the Act, welfare recipients would be restricted from using their funds at certain places, including video game arcades, movie theaters, massage and tattoo parlors, theme parks, travel and cruise services, and “sexually oriented businesses.”

The final section of the legislation gives new authority and new tools to the state to identify and prosecute people taking advantage of the state’s generous welfare system.

In addition to the welfare bill, I am the primary sponsor on various bills that would increase prison time for illegal immigrants committing felonies here in Tennessee, would guarantee freedom of speech at Tennessee institutions of higher education, and would provide the legislature with more oversight over excessive regulatory rulemaking.

House Committee Passes Bill Allowing Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets

On Tuesday, February 9, the House Civil Justice Committee unanimously approved a bill (HB 774) entitled “Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets” (“UFADA”). Today, we live in a world in which much of our records, communications, and valuable personal assets are in the custody of a digital records storage entity, such as Facebook, Google, Instagram, and Comcast.

The UFADA is a model state act designed to more easily enable personal representatives and other fiduciaries of deceased or disabled account holders to access their digital assets. By the same token, it protects custodians of digital assets that grant access when the requisite criteria have been met.

The UFADA does not apply to employers and educational institutions. However, even with such limitations, the UFADA has very broad application to all sorts of electronic communications, including wire, oral, pager, and fund transfers. Almost every email account would be subject to the terms of the UFADA so long as it was subject to a “terms of service agreement” of any sort. Should that agreement seek to limit access by fiduciaries to the content of the digital account, it may do so only by a provision separate and apart from other terms of the agreement (not by a boiler plate click-through agreement).

I am sponsoring the bill in the House; Senator Mark Norris is sponsoring it in the Senate (SB 326), where it has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It will soon be before the entire House of Representatives for consideration.

Voucher Bill Withdrawn in Absence of Necessary Support

On February 11, the primary sponsor delayed a bill that would have enabled parents of economically disadvantaged students to take public school funding to pay private school tuition, on the same per-pupil funding level – an average of $7,000 statewide – as public schools receive from state and local appropriations. The bill was written so that initially, only students attending schools in the bottom 5 percent statewide in terms of student achievement could qualify, and only if their household incomes qualified them for free or reduced-priced school lunches under federal guidelines. However, if enough eligible students did not sign up for vouchers, they would be available to any student in a school district with at least one low-performing school.

In the face of uncertainty, voucher advocates made an unsuccessful last-ditch effort by advancing an amendment that would have limited vouchers – at least initially – to low-income students in the Shelby County School system, on an experimental basis. Under that plan, the state comptroller’s office would have evaluated the “pilot” voucher program and reported to the legislature yearly, and the legislature would have been able to expand it at any time.

House Republicans Back Historic Increase in Teacher Pay, Introduce Legislation to Reward Hard Work and Dedication of Tennessee Teachers

Last week, Governor Bill Haslam delivered his annual State of the State Address to a joint convention of the legislature, unveiling his budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

While a host of issues were discussed, the most prominent portions of the Governor’s address centered on the future of education in Tennessee, with major proposed investments in both K-12 and higher education.

Since Republicans became the majority party in 2011, the state’s educational system has experienced dramatic improvements – student test scores now lead the nation in growth, Tennessee has the fastest growing graduation rate of any state, students have experienced consistent gains on TCAP every year, and the ACT statewide average has increased to 19.4.

This year, House Republicans are continuing their record of working to improve education in Tennessee, with several key pieces of legislation filed to reward teachers for their hard work in the classroom.

Along with $261 million in new spending proposed for K-12 investments – including $104.6 million for increasing teacher pay – additional bills include allowing every full-time certified public school teacher in Tennessee to receive a 25 percent discount on tuition to any state-operated institution of higher education, and legislation awarding teachers across the state with a $5,000 bonus if they receive performance evaluations reflecting above expectations” or “significantly above expectations in at least four years during any five year period.

Along with these bills, House Republicans have also proposed major investments to aid the Drive to 55 initiative, the state’s effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential to 55 percent by 2025. These investments include $50 million for the Complete College funding formula for higher education, $20 million for the Drive to 55 Capacity Fund to help community and technical colleges meet the growing demand for degrees and certificates, and $10 million for the Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) helping communities align degree and course offerings with the needs of the local workforce.

The 2016-2017 budget also invests $581.6 million to build new buildings and fix existing higher education facilities. This includes the top recommended capital projects for both the University of Tennessee (UT) system and the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR):

  • $85.5 million for a new Tennessee Tech University laboratory science building;
  • $39 million for a new dentistry building at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis;
  • $38.8 million for Tennessee State University’s new health science building; and
  • $36 million for renovations to UT-Chattanooga academic buildings.

As the 2016 legislative session continues in full-swing, House Republicans are committed to finding ways to show appreciation to the state’s high-performing teachers and working to support their success in the classroom.

Early Voting for Tennessee Presidential Preference Primary Begins

Early voting for the March 1 presidential preference primary began this week across the state.

Because of unpredictable weather this time of year, early voting often becomes an important option for many. The number of presidential candidates as well as the number of delegates could also create abnormally long ballots for some voters.

Six other southern states will join Tennessee to help decide who will become the next president of the United States.

Tennessee’s 95 counties conduct early voting at their local election commission offices or at another location designated by the election commission. Some counties also offer early voting at satellite locations.

Tennesseans voting early or on Election Day should remember to bring valid photo identification. A driver’s license or photo ID issued by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security as well as photo IDs issued by the Tennessee state government or the federal government are acceptable even if they are expired. College student ID cards are not accepted.

Early voting runs Mondays through Saturdays and ends Tuesday, February 23. Election Day is Tuesday, March 1.

 

February 6, 2016

Subcommittees and Committees Open for Business

The Legislature’s House and Senate Subcommittees and Committees ramped up their activity as proposed legislation was placed on notice by sponsors. A bill that would enable a program whereby economically disadvantaged students of failing K-12 public schools could receive vouchers to attend a private school cleared House and Senate Committees and will be debated and voted on next week.

Other probable forthcoming legislation to be considered includes bills concerning civil forfeiture, the Hall Income tax, activities and oversight of and funding of higher education, control of agency rulemaking, health facility certificates of need, and privatization of maintenance for state-owned facilities.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, Randy Boyd, reported to the Business and Utility Committee that almost 26,000 new jobs committed to Tennessee in 2015 and that 161 new projects with capital investment of $5.5 billion committed to Tennessee in 2015.  Among others, UBS continues to import and hire employees at its Nashville business solutions center. Currently, there are 1,400 UBS employees and word has it that eventually 2,500 people will be employed in and around Nashville. Tennessee’s relatively low cost of living and excellent transportation infrastructure is the big attraction for firms like UBS. Tennessee’s robust economic activity is the envy of other Southern and Midwestern states.

General Assembly Hears State of the State Address

Governor unveils budget proposal, makes largest K-12 education investment without a tax increase in state history

Governor Bill Haslam delivered his annual State of the State Address to a joint convention of the legislature this week, unveiling his proposed budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. Haslam addressed multiple issues during the State of the State, the most prominent of which include job recruitment and workforce development, a continued push to make government more efficient and effective, and major investments in both K-12 and higher education.

Among the key points in the Governor’s speech was a focus on a balanced budget, low taxes, fiscal responsibility, and the proposal of 261 million in new dollars for Tennessee public education, including $104.6 million for teacher salaries – the largest investment in K-12 education without a tax increase in state history.

As Washington, D.C. and other states are mired in partisan gridlock, the Governor emphasized that Tennessee has made responsible decisions that will continue to ensure the state is positioned to be a top leader in the country on jobs.

Haslam’s $34.8 billion balanced budget proposal builds up state reserves, puts Tennessee on the path to catch up on long-deferred maintenance of buildings, reinvests in the state workforce, and focuses one-time dollars on reducing the state’s ongoing costs.

Including the current fiscal year’s appropriation, state government will invest more than 414 million in new dollars in Tennessee schools. Additionally, Haslam proposed funding the 12th month of health insurance for teachers and doubling the state’s recurring contribution for technology needs at schools.

The governor’s proposal puts $100 million into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, bringing it to an estimated $668 million on June 30, 2017, $60 million for salary increases for state employees, and another $36 million for market rate adjustments for state employees making less than $50,000 annually.

Haslam proposed significant investments in higher education and the Drive to 55 initiative, the state’s effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential to 55 percent by 2025, including:

  • $50 million for the Complete College funding formula for higher education;
  • $20 million for the Drive to 55 Capacity Fund to help community and technical colleges meet the growing demand for degrees and certificates; and
  • $10 million for the Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) helping communities align degree and course offerings with the needs of the local workforce.

The proposal invests $581.6 million in state and other funds to build new buildings and fix existing higher education and general state government facilities. This includes the top recommended capital projects for both the University of Tennessee (UT) system and the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR):

  • $85.5 million for a new Tennessee Tech University laboratory science building;
  • $39 million for a new dentistry building at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis;
  • $38.8 million for Tennessee State University’s new health science building; and
  • $36 million for renovations to UT-Chattanooga academic buildings.

Other notable budget investments are:

  • $130 million from the General Fund to repay the Highway Fund;
  • $24 million in state funds for the Employment and Community First (ECF) CHOICES program to allow the state to serve more people currently on the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ waiting list and others eligible for services;
  • $12.8 million for facilities and homeland security upgrades for the Military Department;
  • $10 million for the Department of Economic and Community Development’s Rural Development Initiative; and
  • $1.27 million to increase the number of drug recovery courts from 41 to 50 and for two additional veterans courts.

The complete text of the governor’s speech, an archived video and budget documents are available at http://tn.gov/governor/topic/state-of-the-state.

 

January 25, 2016

State Lawmakers Prepare to Debate College Tuition Freeze

By Jason Lamb

Originally appearing on NewsChannel 5 (newschannel5.com)

NASHVILLE — Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been preparing to debate a college tuition freeze.

It would apply to in-state undergraduates at four-year public universities in Tennessee.

Sen. Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Rep. Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville) are sponsoring the bill.

Under the plan, four-year public universities would not be able to raise undergraduate tuition or fees for two years.

After that, tuition increases would be tied to changes in the consumer price index, and would require a 2/3  or even unanimous Board of Regents vote if tuition was raised beyond that.

The bill would also freeze tuition for each class of incoming freshman until they graduate on time.

Republican representative Eddie Smith from Knoxville has also filed similar tuition freeze legislation.

 

January 20, 2016

Representative Martin Daniel Files Bill to Protect Tennessee Student Free Speech

Representative Martin Daniel (R-18th District) has filed a bill that would confirm the First Amendment right of students enrolled in Tennessee institutions of higher education.

House Bill 2063, entitled “The Tennessee Student Free Speech Protection Act,” would require that institutions of higher education adopt a policy on speech and expression that would confirm students’ freedom of speech as a fundamental right, guarantee them the broadest latitude to speak about any issue that presents itself, and allow students to openly and vigorously discuss ideas that other members of the institution’s community might oppose. Furthermore, the Act would prohibit higher education institutions from discouraging any type of lawful speech or expressive activity, establishing speech “safe zones,” or shielding individuals from ideas and opinions that they might find disagreeable, unwelcome or offensive.

“In Tennessee, the First Amendment does not stop at the campus gate,” said Representative Daniel. “This Bill would confirm the nearly forgotten concept of free speech. We can’t allow politically correct policies to smother free speech. Courtesy and sensitivity, while encouraged, can never trump basic constitutional rights. Tennessee higher education should prepare our students for the real world, and encouraging expression of all sorts of viewpoints is essential to that objective.”

The Free Speech Bill is being sponsored in the Senate by Joey Hensley.

 

January 19, 2016

George Korda: The Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Inigo Montoya factor

By George Korda

Originally appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (knoxnews.com)

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Inigo Montoya was talking about another character’s inappropriate use of the word “inconceivable.” In this case the word in question is “diversity,” and its murky meaning as employed by defenders of the University of Tennessee’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI, for short) is under a battery of heavy-firing rhetorical guns principally for two reasons: its “suggestions” over the past months that UT students and faculty adopt bizarre pronouns to define those who might prefer not to be identified by the “gender binary” (meaning male or female); and best practices for “inclusive” holiday parties that were anything but inclusive. The latter suggested taking a don’t ask, don’t tell approach to religious holiday observances.

In December, U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan was asked about the guidelines on national news – and a firestorm erupted. The latest development is that Knox County’s state legislative delegation has asked Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell to name a House-Senate committee to look into the ODI’s operations and activities.

ODI’s defenders have been pushing a 1990s singer M.C. Hammer defense of ODI: You can’t touch this. Even as defenders counterattack on behalf of the ODI, they can find themselves – without realizing it – contradicting their own views of diversity because this isn’t really a discussion about cultural and ethnic diversity: it’s a clash over social politics.

One example of this contest was on the Dec. 13, 2015 edition of WATE-TV’s “Tennessee This Week,” (on which, in the interest of full disclosure, I appear weekly as political analyst). Dr. Candace White, a professor in UT-Knoxville’s School of advertising and Public Relations, was a guest along with State Rep. Martin Daniel. Rep. Daniel has been looking into the cost and operations of the ODI since its journey into the world of peculiar pronouns.

Questioned by moderator Stephanie Beecken, Dr. White and Rep. Daniel debated ODI’s cost and effectiveness.

Rep. Daniel said that at a state senate hearing, UT President Joe DiPietro and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek could give “no specific guidelines to this program.” Through his research he pegged UT’s ODI cost at $5.5 million, with Dr. White correcting him to say it is $4.9 million, a distinction, if true, perhaps lost on taxpayers.

What Dr. White said about the holiday guidelines generally is interesting.

“I think so many companies, big corporations, lots of companies, have similar guidelines. I mean, there was nothing new about the guidelines, as I say they’re similar to what we see posted everywhere, and I think, yes, even the controversy I think is evidence of how we need to be reminded to just be mindful that people, that everybody at a party might not think exactly like you think (emphasis added), so I think it was just a good reminder this is nothing new, these guidelines aren’t unusual and they’re nothing new…I imagine that the people who might have been offended would be the least likely to say so.”

Exactly, because people on-campus who might be offended by the guidelines would run afoul of the not-so-aptly termed diversity culture, and therefore intimidated into silence.

On the basis of people being mindful that not everyone might think as they do, shouldn’t the ODI’s advocates be mindful that not everybody might think exactly as they do about ODI’s approach to diversity? Or must everyone – citizens, legislators, members of Congress – be silent on the ODI or be labeled as anti-diversity?

How diverse is that?

The holiday guidelines were presented by an official UT office. Suggestions or not, they were the opposite of diversity.

Several years ago I had as a guest on my radio show an ultra-liberal UT professor in a discussion of perceived liberal bias on college campuses. He maintained there is no such bias. I offered that he was swimming with the current and as an experiment he should take a couple of conservative positions and see how his tolerant and open-minded colleagues would react. I asked him to let me know the outcome. I haven’t heard anything, and am not waiting by the phone.

President DiPietro and Chancellor Cheek are in a tough situation. They’re caught between opposing forces. One side is the faculty with whom they have to live and some student body members who want to man the barricades to fight any examination of the ODI. The other side is legislators who make budget decisions and the taxpayers they represent, those people who might not think exactly like the ODI’s advocates think.

The ODI is an official campus office, so it’s natural that some would look at it and conclude this is how diversity is discussed at UT and to be outside those parameters is not diverse, and therefore, not allowed without some form of official or social penalty. That’s pretty much the attitude that “diversity” was intended to reverse.

This discussion is about politics, not principles. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

 

January 11, 2016

Knox County Legislative Delegation Requests Special Committee to Examine UT Office of Diversity

Group would convene to investigate how taxpayer dollars are being spent and hear testimony regarding university office and related personnel

NASHVILLE — This week, members of the Knox County Legislative Delegation, led by State Representative Eddie Smith (R–Knoxville), submitted letters to Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell requesting a special committee be appointed and convened to examine and hear testimony related to the activities of the University of Tennessee Office of Diversity and Inclusion along with related personnel.

In recent months, the UT Office of Diversity has come under scrutiny from across the state and nation. The office first made national news in August when it encouraged students to use so-called “gender neutral” pronouns like ‘ze’, ‘hir’, ‘hirs’, ‘xe’, ‘xem’, and ‘xyr’ so as to not offend those on campus who may no longer identify with the gender they were born with. In its release, the Office of Diversity said these pronouns are encouraged for use within the campus, while gender specific pronouns such as ‘he’ and ‘she’ are strongly discouraged.

Following this event, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion again made national headlines in December after posting on the school’s website asking employees to ensure their “holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.” The post gave tips on how to avoid endorsing a specific religion or culture over Christmas break, including the recommendation not to participate in the popular gift-swap game of “Secret Santa.”

If granted by Ramsey and Harwell, the joint committee of the legislature would be composed of members of the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Administration and Planning Committee and would be convened as soon as possible. In addition, the Knox County Delegation has asked for permission to expand the scope of their investigation to include all Offices of Diversity for public higher education schools, which are funded through taxpayer dollars, in the State of Tennessee.

Also according to the official request, the investigation would include, but would not be limited to, the identity of persons and committees involved in diversity efforts, funding of and spending by these offices and persons, objectives of these offices, the practices and nature of activities by persons within these offices and colleges, resource allocation, and the actual productivity and efficiency of persons engaged in diversity activities.

“The people of Tennessee deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent, especially in situations like this,” Representative Smith stated.

Following the investigation, the joint committee would issue a written report to the full Senate and House of the 109th General Assembly no later than March 30, 2016. The report would include fact findings, conclusions, and recommendations for action.

The full text of the group’s letter can be found here: https://goo.gl/glSAzO

 

January 5, 2016

Rep. Martin Daniel Enthusiastic about New “Credit Freeze” Law

Recently Enacted Law Helps Protect Minors, the Disabled, and the Elderly from Identity Theft

Rep. Martin Daniel (18th District, R-Knoxville) is enthusiastic about a recently enacted law (Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-18-2111) that enables parents of children and guardians of incapacitated persons to “freeze” credit records of the person under their care, thereby preventing fraudulent use of the data in those records. “I’m really excited to see this law take effect. It will help protect the sensitive information of minors and disabled persons,” said Daniel, who sponsored this bill in the 2015 legislative season.

Under the new law, parents and guardians can contact credit reporting agencies on behalf of the protected person and request that a security freeze be put in place. Along with this request, the parent or guardian must send proof of identification and proof of authority over the protected person’s affairs (for details on what constitutes proof of authority and proof of identification, please refer to Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-18-2111(a)(5,6)). After a freeze has been put in place, the consumer reporting agency cannot release any information about the protected person until the parent or guardian (or the protected person, if the person has become an adult) requests that the security freeze be lifted.

The full text of Tenn. Code Ann. § 47-18-2111 can be found at this link: <http://www.tn.gov/sos/acts/109/pub/pc0282.pdf>.

 

December 4, 2015

Rep. Daniel: UT Diversity Efforts Going Too Far

By MJ Slaby

Originally appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (knoxnews.com)

The latest controversy from the University of Tennessee, over the Office for Diversity and Inclusion’s recommendations that holiday parties exclude all religious and cultural references, is one of several over the past year.

State Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, has been one of UT’s most outspoken critics. His criticism continued in a letter to Chancellor Jimmy Cheek on Wednesday, which he called a follow-up to a Monday meeting he had with Cheek.

Daniel wrote that he supports the concept of diversity, as higher education would be boring “indeed, if all of the students or faculty were of one type or one color.”

However, he said the university’s diversity efforts are “going far beyond … and seem to be an unnecessarily aggressive indoctrination of our students with a general liberal ideology. This part of the diversity effort does not seem to be counterbalanced with conservative or moderate opinion.”

Daniel asked that UT limit diversity programs to “what I believe is their originally-intended purpose (nondiscrimination, minority recruitment, minority graduation) and to conserve valuable taxpayer and tuition money.”

He said a recent email from Cheek about diversity to UT students, faculty and staff could be taken as a decree to avoid disagreeable, insensitive or controversial speech.

“In my days at UT, I saw and heard many things that I did not like or that offended me, and I’m probably better off for it,” Daniel wrote.

“Needless to say, the University of Tennessee is not a day care. It cannot be a guarantor to all that feelings will not be hurt from time to time. Moreover, while harassment and intimidation cannot be allowed, no one has a right to be free from mere offensive remarks or actions,” he wrote.

“I agree with those who believe that promotion of a politically-correct culture where students are insulated from insensitive or disagreeable thoughts effectively coddles students and does not actually prepare them for the real world.”

Daniel then outlines a doctrine of free speech called “The Chicago Principles” and asks Cheek to adopt the core principles.

In his email to the UT community, Cheek wrote that he knows “acts of hatred happen” and go unreported on campus. “I know that students, faculty, and staff experience oppression because there are those among us who do not believe that diversity makes us stronger. … We may not be able to prevent every act of bigotry on our campus, but we must wage the fight as if we can.”

Earlier this fall, Daniel requested a list of diversity-related salaries from the UT system and shared it with legislators, saying diversity spending at UT was too high. In October, UT leaders met with the Senate Higher Education Committee to discuss diversity spending.

Legislators in August criticized a post from the UT Office of Diversity and Inclusion suggesting use of gender-neutral pronouns such as “xe,” “xem” and “xyr.”

Lawmakers also have expressed disapproval over the university’s “Sex Week,” which has included such events as drag shows and lectures given by a porn actress.

Others have criticized UT’s announcement that every UT women’s athletics team except for basketball was mandated to switch their nickname from the Lady Vols to the gender-neutral Volunteers beginning July 1. Opposition to that decision has been impassioned.

 

October 21, 2015

The Potential Political Price of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion

By George Korda

Originally appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (knoxnews.com)

State Rep. Martin Daniel broke into a wry smile in reacting to a comment from me about the political implications of the University of Tennessee’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Rep. Daniel was a guest Sunday, Oct. 18, on my radio show, “State Your Case,” on WOKI-FM, to talk about his interest in finding out the total costs of diversity and inclusion offices throughout the UT system, which he says may be as much as $6 million when everything is calculated.

The Knoxville campus’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion became a subject of national attention in September, when it recommended a series of strange-sounding pronouns be used on campus for those who might prefer not to be identified according to the “gender binary” (as in, male and female).

After a week of increasing scorn in the news media and public comments from state legislators, UT President Joe DiPietro stepped in and said the pronouns wouldn’t be promoted on UT’s campus. Nevertheless, it generated interest in the office and its activities, which motivated Rep. Daniel to seek from UT a breakout of the office’s costs.

There are campus offices of equity and diversity at UT Knoxville; UT Martin; UT Chattanooga; UT Health Sciences Center; and the UT Space Institute.

While Rep. Daniel and I were speaking and taking calls I had the office’s website up on the computer and was reading a section about the offices diversity efforts. One section promotes the Pride Center and its programs, such as, Out@UT;  inQUEERies; SexEd Queered; the Ambassador Program, “a student leadership initiative for LGBTQIA+ and ally students” (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual); and SpeakOut, which reports its goal is to “reach members of the university community in their classroom, office, or residence hall to create dialogue on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The Pride Center was formerly named “The OUTreach: LGBTQ+ & Ally Resource Center.” The name was changed in August. The Diversity and Inclusion office hailed the change in a news release on its website, announcing a grand re-opening on Oct. 6 with an ice cream social.

In other words, study it, talk about it, celebrate it.

This entry and others on the Office of Diversity and Inclusion website were of interest when contrasted to the website’s best practices suggestions concerning “inclusive holiday celebrations.”

For example, the website cites a best practice as, “Holiday parties and celebrations should celebrate and build upon workplace relationships and team morale with no emphasis on religion or culture. Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.”

The best practices suggestions also contain this: “If sending holiday cards to campus and community partners, send a non-denominational card or token of your gratitude.”

The concluding statement is, “celebrate your religious and cultural holidays in ways that are respectful and inclusive of our students, your colleagues, and our university.”

In other words, don’t talk about it, and if you’re going to celebrate it, keep the reason quiet. If asked, don’t tell, don’t share, and don’t “disguise” (as if it’s doing something wrong)  festivities as Christmas parties.

So, if a Christian student, away from home for the first time, an unfamiliar environment, wants to hold or attend a Christmas party on the campus, the UT office in charge of inclusion and diversity suggests to him or her that they’re somehow being disrespectful and non-inclusive of others.

It’s difficult to understand how that works, exactly.

Aren’t others free to come, or not come, as they wish? And shouldn’t these students be able to celebrate their culture, history, tradition and beliefs without fear of running afoul of UT’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s “best practices” suggestions?

Which brings us back to my discussion with Rep. Daniel.

As we were talking it dawned on me the extent to which this is a potential political issue in upcoming legislative campaigns, and why he was smiling at me. Wryly.

I asked Rep. Daniel if the legislature could individually withdraw items from UT’s budget as the legislature considers the 2016 state budget. Yes, he said, it could.

That can put incumbent legislators on something of a hot seat. If they vote for a budget with UT’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion untouched, it gives challengers a golden seed to plant in voters’ minds, particularly in light of UT’s never-ending quest for state funding and routine tuition increases.

You can probably write the campaign adds yourself.

As I saw Rep. Daniel smiling, I understood the reason, and said, “This isn’t the first time you’ve heard this as a potential political issue, is it?”

No, he said. He added during our talk that the costs of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion may be “just the tip of the iceberg” in UT system spending that should be examined.

He pointed out that his degrees are from the University of Tennessee, and that he loves the institution, as do many multiplied thousands of Tennesseans. No one wants to see the university hurt.

But it’s hard to imagine legislators running the risk of losing an election because of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s decisions what to cite as “inclusive,” what to recommend students avoid, and the costs of it all.

Rep. Daniel knows this is already being discussed in campaign circles. The surprise won’t be if it becomes a campaign issue in individual legislative races. The surprise will be if it doesn’t.

 

October 13, 2015

Diversity Efforts Not All the Same

By Victor Ashe

Originally appearing in the Shopper-News (shoppernewsnow.com)

To view the original article, please click here.

State Rep. Martin Daniel of Knoxville has released figures showing that the University of Tennessee is spending $2,549,882 on diversity programs. Of this amount $1,667,195 is at the Knoxville campus.

Some totals suggest it exceeds over $4 million on all UT campuses.

The request for this information was generated by the recent controversy on the “gender neutral” pronouns published on the UT Office of Diversity webpage. Vice Chancellor Ricky Hall, who oversees diversity, is paid $217,252 including benefits. In the recent controversy over gender-neutral pronouns use, Hall was seldom if ever mentioned, even though it occurred on his watch in his area of authority.

One has to wonder where he was when this issue triggered national news?

Instead, UT President Joe DiPietro, who normally shuns involvement in purely campus issues, assumed command of the issue and ordered the offending words removed from the university website after a few days. It is unclear whether DiPietro even spoke to Hall on this issue.

This is the same UT president who a few months earlier had written a piece for the News Sentinel outlining his reasons for not getting involved in the Lady Vols name-change controversy on the grounds it was a UT-Knoxville campus issue. It was a matter for Chancellor Jimmy Cheek and Athletic Director Dave Hart to resolve, even though it has generated 25,000 signatures on an online petition and a letter to the UT Board signed by over one-third of the General Assembly.

The pronoun issue created a national outrage that caused DiPietro to reverse course and move quickly to end the controversy, which could have handled by Chancellor Cheek or Vice Chancellor Hall acting alone or together. Board members were caught off guard.

While the pronoun controversy has ended, the fiscal issue continues on the very valid matter of how many tax dollars should be spent on diversity.

Diversity is a worthwhile issue and should be discussed. In the American system, diversity has a valid role. Diversity should be promoted, but does it require $2.5 million a year to do it? It is legitimate to question the amount being spent, as Daniel has stated.

Over 30 employees on the Knoxville campus alone are pushing this. The gender-neutral pronoun memo was one of their achievements. Easily discarded, one could assume this was a waste of tax dollars and not required by federal law. What does this office do?

My own governmental experience tells me that anytime $2.5 million is being spent, there is an easy 20 percent that could be shaved off with little impact.

UT spokesperson Margie Nichols says it is mostly to comply with federal regulations. That is the UT line, and they are sticking to it. Well, citizens and legislators should ask UT to explain precisely what federal regulations require such a cost.

If UT cut staff from 30 to 15, what would suffer? Why do individual colleges have their diversity officers in addition to the campus office? That includes the Law School, the College of Engineering, Haslam College of Business, College of Veterinary Medicine and College of Arts and Sciences, to name several. Can this not be streamlined and consolidated to save costs?

The trustees and/or UT staff may have to answer these questions or face a legislative inquiry. Some at UT resent Daniel raising these issues, but saving money is good for taxpayers if it results in that.

 

September 29, 2015

Tennessee Small Businesses Growing

Loans, led by Areawide, attest to gains

By News Sentinel staff

Originally appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (knoxnews.com)

Tennessee’s small businesses are growing, especially in urban areas such as Knoxville, as evidenced by the number of new U.S. Small Business Administration loans, state SBA Director Walter Perry III said during a recent stop in Alcoa.

Speaking to the annual membership meeting of the Areawide Development Corp., one of five SBA loan processors in Tennessee, Perry said there was a 40 percent increase in SBA lending statewide last year, both in dollar volume and the number of new loans.

“We have good news to report across the state of Tennessee,” Perry told the group, according to a release from Areawide Development Corp.

At the meeting, Perry recognized Areawide as the SBA’s Tennessee Certified Development Company of the Year for its generation of the largest amount of new loans by dollar volume for fiscal 2014 — a total of $6.8 million.

Areawide is one of five such certified development companies in the state marketing and processing SBA loans to small businesses in partnership with financial institutions. The loans are earmarked for capital projects.

In his address to the Areawide meeting at the Green Meadow in Alcoa, Perry said the SBA now has 567 small-business loans outstanding in Tennessee, totaling $318 million. That’s up from 403 loans, totaling $228 million, a year ago, he said.

Lodging establishments and restaurants are among the growth leaders in the state, Perry said, adding that “retailing is starting to come back too.”

He said that includes online retailers as well as “mom-and-pop” brick-and-mortar stores on small-town main streets.

Agriculture, manufacturing and health care are also gaining, he said.

Growth in loans is coming mostly from the SBA’s 7(a) program, which is used to provide working capital, inventory and debt refinancing, Perry said.

“We do really well in urban areas,” Perry said, noting that SBA lending is strong in Knoxville and surrounding counties, including Blount, Sevier and Anderson.

But he said rural areas are still lagging, and he said lenders in those areas need to take better advantage of the available SBA programs.

“Let’s connect,” he said.

Terry Bobrowski, executive director of the East Tennessee Development District, told the group that small business development is most important for growing rural communities.

“In the rural areas, they’re still feeling the impact of the Great Recession,” he said, adding that they are not likely to attract large investments from outside their areas.

“Consistently, what they need is new business development,” he said. “And that’s what Areawide is all about. It’s their best chance for improving their economies over the long term.”

 

September 28, 2015

Lawmaker Questions UT Salaries in Diversity Programs

By Tom Humphrey

Originally appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (knoxnews.com)

NASHVILLE — A Knoxville legislator is questioning the University of Tennessee’s annual spending of more than $4.7 million on salary and benefits for employees involved in diversity programs, contending both the total employees involved and some individual salaries are excessive and should be reviewed with an eye toward cuts.

“If we could cut that $4.7 million by $1.5 million a year, that would be $15 million over 10 years,” said Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville. “That would be saving a lot of tuition dollars and a lot of taxpayer dollars” for other university needs.

Margie Nichols, UT vice chancellor for communications, said the diversity efforts are largely mandated by federal law and cover a wide array of programs benefiting women and minorities. UT officials believe the expenditures are warranted and are open to a review, she said.

The $4.7 million total may overstate expenditures because it includes gross salaries of staff who have duties other than diversity matters. Only about $2.55 million in salary and benefits is directly attributed to diversity activities, though Daniel says all figures may understate actual spending because it does not include related employee travel and other expenses.

At Daniel’s request, UT provided a list of budgeted spending on salaries and benefits of personnel involved in its diversity efforts.

Daniel, who said he was inspired to make the request by recent controversy over a UT website posting that encouraged the use of gender-neutral pronouns by students, sent a chart compiled from the UT information to fellow legislators, along with a memo. After legislator complaints, UT President Joe DiPietro had the website posting removed, though declaring UT diversity efforts in general justified.

In his memo to fellow legislators, Daniel notes the diversity spending can be broken down into “compliance” and “noncompliance” programs. Compliance programs are those designed to assure that UT is following federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination — quoting a listing on the diversity program’s website — “on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, physical or mental disability, or covered veteran status.”

Daniel said he especially questions the noncompliance spending, though the compliance spending also should be reviewed. Of the total $4.7 million, the memo designates about $2.55 million as “noncompliance.”

Nichols said the majority of money designated for diversity is tied in one way or the other to legal mandates whether designated “compliance” or “noncompliance” — and includes federal funding. It also ties into the university’s policy of providing a “welcoming environment” to all students regardless of their background, she said.

Initially, Martin said, any review by legislators will be on an informal basis.

“We’ll sit down with UT (administrators) and talk about it,” he said.

Ultimately, though, lawmakers could hold formal hearings and make changes to UT’s budget for the next year, he said.

“Many” fellow legislators have voiced concern after reading his memo, Daniel said.

Daniel said he also has discussed the diversity spending with Raja Jubran, a Knoxville businessman who currently serves as vice chairman of the UT board of trustees. Gov. Bill Haslam is officially chairman of the board, but Jubran effectively serves as chairman in the governor’s absence at meetings. Jubran expressed interest in diversity spending, Daniel said, and indicated it would be reviewed at the UT board’s next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 8-9 on the Knoxville campus.

Rickey Hall, UT vice chancellor for diversity, tops the listing in Daniel’s chart with salary and benefits totaling $217,252. For comparison, DiPietro’s base salary is listed on a UT website as $465,618; Nichols as $201,230. Daniel said Hall’s pay level seems excessive to him.

The listing of salary and benefits includes the percentage of each UT employee’s diversity-related responsibilities.

In Hall’s case, 100 percent of his duties are deemed to involve diversity efforts. But for some included on the list to reach a $4.7 million total, diversity activities amount to a small portion of the salary and benefits compared to their other responsibilities — some as little as 5 percent and a few who are assigned to participate in diversity matters on an apparently voluntary basis.

When eliminating the non-diversity activities involved in salary and benefits, the direct total paid by UT for diversity staffing is $2,549,883, according to the chart.

Of that, the UT Knoxville campus has the most, $1,667,195; followed by the Chattanooga campus with $498,084; Memphis with $208,184; Martin with $168,514; and the UT Space Institute and the UT Institute for Public Service combined with $7,904.

 

September 15, 2015

Student Code of Conduct Revision Under Scrutiny

By Tanner Hancock and Heidi Hill

Originally appearing in The Daily Beacon (utdailybeacon.com)

This Thursday, Vice Chancellor for Student Life Vincent Carilli will meet with members of the Student Government Association and Interfraternity Council to discuss a proposed revision to the Student Code of Conduct. The revised document, which includes changes ranging from judicial processes to rights of accused students, will be submitted to the Board of Trustees for approval during their Oct. 8-9 fall meeting. The document would then be subject to approval in the Tennessee legislature under the Government Operations Committee, but the proposed changes have already caught political criticism ahead of Thursday’s meeting.

Earlier last week, Rep. Martin Daniel of West Knoxville’s 18th district filed a letter to Vice Chancellor Carilli outlining his specific issues with the proposed changes. Rep. Daniel made it clear that should the Board of Trustees approve the new Student Code of Conduct in October without first addressing those sections he finds issue with, he would personally work to block its passage within the legislature.

In an interview with The Daily Beacon, Rep. Daniel went over his seven-page letter to Vice Chancellor Carilli, and touched on the major issues he found within the proposed changes.

Rights of the Accused

Under the new Student Code of Conduct, the section outlining the Fundamental Rights of the Accused has been completely omitted. The Rights of the Accused, similar to the Bill of Rights, grants students certain liberties, such as being presented as innocent in a judicial hearing. While these rights would likely be implied in other parts of the proposed code, Daniel feels having these rights “expressly set forth” as a matter of policy would prevent later confusion.

Changes to Student Disciplinary Board

Under the current version of Hilltopics, the Student Disciplinary Board consists of three to seven student members responsible for making sure the student code of conduct is observed by students without infringing on their rights. Under the proposed changes, a new Student Conduct Board would perform in the same capacity, yet would consist of only one student member alongside two UT faculty or administrative members. Additionally, all judicial boards, including The Greek Judicial Board, would be collapsed into the singular Student Conduct Board. “It would result in a more one sided process against the students,” Daniel said of the proposed change. “I would think the accused (student) would want to be tried by their peers.”

Individuals attributable to organizations

Citing a lack of general guidelines, Rep. Daniel found that the proposed revisions were too vague in defining when actions of an individual might be attributed back to an organization of which they were members. Whether an individual claims membership in the chess club or a fraternity, no standard of when to punish students separately from their member organizations is proposed under the revised student code of conduct, leaving the decision “totally within the discretion of the Office of Student Life,” Daniel said.

Increase in handbook size

In reading the proposed Student Code of Conduct handbook, Daniel found it to be “not user friendly at all,” citing the handbook’s expansion to 51 pages in all, as opposed to the 18 page Hilltopics manual currently in use. With students from all walks of life likely to be affected by the proposed changes, Daniel feels as if clarity is essential if revisions are to be made. “If this document is difficult for me to read, it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult for any student to read,” Daniel said.

Burden of Proof

Currently, the Student Disciplinary Board can find a peer guilty by a 4-3 vote. Because a conviction by either the Student Disciplinary Board or Student Conduct Board has the potential to adversely affect a student’s future, Daniel feels the burden of proof necessary to convict an accused student should be provided either by a unanimous vote of the Student Conduct Board or by clear and convincing evidence.

Vice Chancellor Carilli was not immediately available for comment.

Speaking on behalf of student interests, SGA president Will Freeman said while SGA was withholding its official stance until after Thursday’s meeting with Carilli, he and his fellow student government members were currently reviewing the proposed changes.

“We have no reason to not disown this amendment,” said Freeman, who maintained that SGA would act in the best interests of the student body based upon their findings. “If there’s anything in this amendment that is not best for students, it’s our responsibility to say ‘absolutely not, you can’t do this.’”

Interfraternity Council Executive Board President Alex Clark similarly claimed to be reviewing the proposed amendments ahead of Thursday’s meeting “in order to figure out what the next best step is for fraternity life on campus.”

 

September 8, 2015

Representative Martin Daniel Raises Issues Concerning UT’s Proposed Code of Student Conduct

Representative Martin Daniel (18th District, R-Knoxville) has expressed concerns about the University of Tennessee’s revised Code of Student Conduct.  In a seven-page letter dated September 4th to Vice Chancellor for Student Life Vincent Carilli, Daniel sets forth numerous issues with regard to the Code.

In the letter, Daniel cites a Student Judicial Affairs Team Report issued by the University in 2013-2014.  That report recommended revisions to the code, including a “very serious review” of the current system to “move away from a legalistic model to an educational student conduct model.”  Among other issues, in the letter, Daniel notes that there would be a substantial expansion in the length of the Code from 18 pages (now in Hilltopics Student Handbook) to an “enormous” 51 pages.  He questions whether this is necessary, and says that the “proposed Code is framed in an abundance of technical legalistic terms,” is “not user-friendly,” and would be “intimidating for most students to read.”

Additionally, Daniel is concerned about:

  • the failure to address Team Report concerns that off-campus incidents “may be addressed inconsistently and unfairly”;
  • the deletion of the equivalent of students’ Bill of Rights, now found in Hilltopics Student Handbook and described as “Fundamental Rights of the Accused”;
  • the substantial revision of the composition of the Student Disciplinary Board, from an entirely student body, to one that would have a majority of University faculty and staff;
  • the burden of proof by which one is judged in a disciplinary matter – by a preponderance of the evidence – which is fundamentally unfair and does not afford the student due process of law;
  • the absence of any definition or guidance as to when individual or multiple-person conduct is to be attributable to that of an organization;
  • the absence of specific policy of the University with regard to search and seizures in University housing;
  • the elimination of the Greek Judicial Board.

Daniel further requests that the University include “The Chicago Principles” in its revised code.  The Chicago Principles are a set of guidelines on free expression developed by the University of Chicago, essentially guaranteeing persons of university communities free and open inquiry in all matters and the broadest possible latitude to speak.  Daniel said, “Public universities should be a place where ideas are freely exchanged, particularly those of students.  Pursuant to The Chicago Principles, the University would expressly commit to the principle that it will not restrict speech because the ideas put forth are thought to be offensive, immoral, unwise, or wrong-headed.  It is for the members of the University community to make those judgments for themselves.”

 

August 31, 2015

Alcohol On Tap for Non-UT Events? School Leaders Will Discuss

By Mike Donila and Jim Matheny

Originally appearing on the WBIR website (wbir.com)

(WBIR – KNOXVILLE) State lawmakers are expected to push the University of Tennessee into tapping what many believe could be new revenue – by serving beer and wine at big concerts and other non-school related events.

Officials say the university’s ongoing stance against selling alcohol at Neyland Stadium and Thompson-Boling Arena is hurting the school’s bottom line, and that early estimates suggest UT is missing out on at least $500,000 a year in sales.

State Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, said he plans to meet with UT President Joe DiPietro and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek in the coming weeks to discuss the matter further.

He said top school officials have “talked a lot about the business model at UT being broken,” which means they “can’t continue to implement steep tuition increases.”

Daniel said he’ll ask school officials to “look at all sources of revenue,” including “efficient use of their facilities.”

“Selling beer and wine at non-university events is just part of maximizing the revenue and lightening the load on Tennessee taxpayers,” he said. “We hope the university would take the action on their own. It’s part of the overall picture whether the university is maximizing their facilities.”

The Tennessee General Assembly will convene again in January.

School leaders, however, said they should reach a decision before then.

Cheek said officials began talking about the matter during a retreat last winter, but said the decision ultimately will be up to the university’s Board of Trustees.

“We’ve been doing some work in the whole alcohol issue,” he told WBIR 10News during its Sunday political talk show “Inside Tennessee.”  “Our students have indicated that this is something they want to talk about this year through the student Senate. And we’re currently having ongoing conversations at the highest levels of the University of Tennessee Knoxville about those issues.”

Knoxville attorney Don Bosch, who has worked with the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, the Tennessee Theatre and AC Entertainment, said alcohol sales will increase revenues that could eventually entice bigger acts into the Knoxville market.

He said a venue like Thompson-Boling that packs in 10,000, for example, would make about $100,000 in additional revenue per show – after taxes and expenses.

In addition, the move could lead to cheaper ticket prices, Bosch said.

“It also increases and improves the experience,” he added. “And, most importantly in some people’s minds, it increases the ability to manage alcohol – to prevent or at least lessen the possibility of people arriving at the venue already who have consumed alcohol or too much alcohol, and from trying to sneak it in, which increases security costs for the venue or promoters.”

School officials stressed that, if approved, alcohol sales would be limited to non UT-related events.

Currently, Southeastern Conference policy prohibits the sale and public consumption of alcohol to most fans during on-campus games. The prohibition does not apply to private, leased areas, like sky boxes.

Colleges around the country, including Ohio State whose Buckeyes won the BCS national championship game, often sell alcohol at their stadiums and facilities for non-school related events.

Ohio Stadium even sold its own locally-brewed “Buckeye” beer at the Rolling Stones concert in May.

 

July 7, 2015

Lawmaker Seeks Refund Over State Logo Flap

By Tom Humphrey

Originally appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (knoxnews.com)

NASHVILLE — State Rep. Martin Daniel, citing personal business experience in developing “hundreds” of advertising designs over many years, is calling for a refund of all but $10,000 of the $46,000 paid for development of a new Tennessee state logo.

The Knoxville Republican made the request in a letter sent last week to executives of GS&F, the Nashville advertising firm that developed the logo, with copies to Gov. Bill Haslam and state General Services Commissioner Bob Oglesby, whose department oversaw the firm’s contract with the state.

As the owner and operator of outdoor advertising businesses for 23 years, Daniel wrote, he has “developed hundreds of outdoor advertising designs and numerous logos for my firm and others.” Further, Daniel said that in his successful political effort last year to defeat former Rep. Steve Hall, Daniel said, he also “worked with graphic designers to develop at least two logos for my campaign and several other advertising designs, with dozens of design concepts considered along the way.”

After examining all the documents involved in the contract and conferring with General Services department officials, Daniel said it appears the firm was obliged to produce five “initial concepts” for state review, but actually only produced the one that was finally approved — the letters TN in white over a red background in a square with blue and white lines beneath.

Daniel told Jeff Lipscomb, CEO of GS&F, and Roland Gibbons, executive vice president, that his review indicates the company was “substantially over-compensated for its work on the project.”

“This conclusion is based on the nature of the final logo product, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s recent rejection of the state’s application for trademark registration and the widespread public discontent with your work,” he wrote.

“In view of the above, I would generously estimate the value of your work to be no more than $10,000. I realize that GS&F has a binding contract with the state and have already received payment for its services, but I respectfully request that you acknowledge the significant problematic issues surrounding the logo and refund $36,000 to the state,” Daniel said in the letter dated July 1.

In an interview, Daniel said he reviewed documents and made the request that the company “do the right thing” in response to concerns expressed by “a lot” of constituents, though acknowledging a refund may be unlikely at this point. He said the refund would be “a good way to eliminate the controversy” and the company has otherwise benefited “a lot of exposure” and an official embrace by the state of Tennessee, which should help the firm’s future marketing efforts.

The GS&F executives could not be reached for comment and Haslam spokespeople did not respond to an emailed inquiry sent over the holiday weekend. Daniel said Sunday he had received no response from his letter from either the company officials or state officials.

Greg Boling, managing director of GS&F, earlier told The Tennessean that the company devoted nine months to developing the logo, including “all stages of information gathering, stakeholder meetings, collaborative sessions and creative development for the actual visual identity system.” He said the project was a “collaborative effort” with the governor’s office and 23 state government departments with “hundreds of ideas” considered.

The newspaper also noted that $10,500 of the $46,000 contract was specifically intended for a “roll out plan and initial brand expressions and messaging” initiative, according to the purchasing order. As things turned out, that did not go as expected with the new logo revealed in the media — initially by the Tennessee Watchdog website — before any state “roll out plan” was launched.

GS&F submitted the lowest of three bids for development of the new logo. Knoxville-based Designsensory submitted a $47,500 bid while Sullivan Branding, which has offices in Memphis and Nashville, suggested costs of up to $50,000, including creating and analyzing an online survey.

 

May 3, 2015

Tom Humphrey on This Year’s Freshman Legislators

The following excerpt by Tom Humphrey originally appeared on page F4 of the Knoxville News Sentinel on Sunday, May 3, 2015.

Newcomers to Supermajority membership this year generally abided by the old rule that freshmen should be seen and not heard in their first year, devoting their first year to learning the ropes. An exception was Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station, who starred as sponsor of the Bible bill. Honorable mention to Rep. Martin Daniel of Knoxville, who pushed some worthy measures that turned out not to be all that popular with colleagues — an example being a couple of bills that would have put some new restrictions on legislator use (or abuse?) of taxpayer funds they get for communicating with constituents.

 

April 25, 2015

The 109th General Assembly wrapped up its first half on Wednesday night, April 22nd.

Some of the legislative highlights from this last week of session include passage of:

  • The Tax Modernization Act, which will lessen some of the franchise and excise tax burden on Tennessee businesses, but will extend Tennessee’s tax reach to out-of-state firms doing business in Tennessee (often by internet), and not subject to current statutory definitions;
  • A Bill providing for electronic verification of automobile insurance and strengthening penalties for violations of the current mandatory insurance law (I co-sponsored this one);
  • A Bill effectively repealing “Common Core” and replacing it with standards designed by the Tennessee Board of Education and reviewed and implemented by a ten (10) member panel appointed by the Governor and the respective Speakers of the House and Senate; and
  • A Bill banning speed cameras (except in school zones) and imposing significant limitations on the use of “red light cameras.”

The House passed several bills that I sponsored, including:

  • HB 216, a Bill designed to put the brakes on the making of excessive government agency rules and regulations by giving the legislature more oversight of this process;
  • HB 776, a Bill that enables parents of children and guardians of incapacitated persons to “freeze” credit records of the person under their care, thereby preventing fraudulent use of the data in those records; and
  • HB 918, A Bill restoring the “scenic highway” designation to a segment of Middlebrook Pike located within West Knox County.

Although the legislature is in adjournment, my work for West Knoxville’s 18th District is ongoing. I encourage you to contact me if you have concerns as to state government issues that might affect you, or if I can otherwise be of service.

 

April 23, 2015

Republicans Focus on Jobs, Education, Tax Cuts; Adjourn in Timely Manner

This week, House Republicans wrapped up the first half of the 109th General Assembly, focusing efforts on passing commonsense legislative initiatives to aid both immediate and long-term economic development in Tennessee’s private sector.

Measures to empower teachers, ensure employers find Tennessee an attractive destination for their businesses, and reinvigorate the state’s educational system to better train the next generation of Tennessee workers were among the House GOP’s priorities. In addition, House Republicans worked hard this year to cut taxes and ensure the state continues to foster an environment where new jobs are created and small business can thrive.

With Republicans at the helm, the legislature finished its work in record time compared to previous years, saving millions of dollars for taxpayers across the state.

With the first half of the 109th General Assembly now in the books, the House Republican Caucus is ready to continue advocating for conservative fiscal policies to carry forward this year’s efforts into the next legislative session.

Several of the highlights from this year include:

Fiscal Responsibility and Tax Cuts

In the final few days of this year’s legislative session, the House of Representatives passed Tennessee’s annual budget with an 80 – 12 vote. The bill’s passage was the culmination of months of tireless work crafting a fiscally responsible and balanced budget. The $33.3 billion budget cuts taxes, puts $73.5 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, improves our educational system, and provides an even better environment for businesses to grow and for jobs to flourish.

In addition, Republicans cut $43.9 million in taxes this year, including a cut in the Hall income tax and the continuation of property tax relief for veterans, seniors, and the disabled.

Education Made Priority

A large portion of this year’s budget efforts focused on education, including funding for K-12, higher education, and proposals designed to build on the Drive to 55 program–an effort to raise the percentage of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate beyond high school from 32 to 55 by the year 2025. This year’s budget includes an approximate $170 million increase in education funding over last year.

Other education highlights include:

  • The repeal of Common Core in the state with funding to replace the educational standards with a system based solely on Tennessee values and ideas;
  • $100 million in funding for teacher raises, which amounts to a 4% pool that education associations will have available as they make local decisions to increase teacher pay;
  • An extra $30 million to pay for teachers’ health insurance;
  • And $5 million for liability insurance for all teachers.

Crime Prevention Takes Spotlight in 2015 Session

Republicans worked this year to pass legislation to prevent crimes and assist victims, while working to crack down on those who choose to violate state laws. Key bills and efforts include:

  • Legislation to permit the Board of Probation and Parole to deny an inmate’s parole if he or she is using the parole hearings process to intimidate and harass a victim;
  • An extension of the statute of limitations for promoting prostitution from 10 to 25 years in order to give victims more time to address the issue and prosecutors more time to prosecute offenders who are promoting prostitution;
  • Legislation to give law enforcement and other officials more training to identify, investigate, and prosecute cases of human trafficking in Tennessee;
  • A bill which increases the penalty and provides for harsher punishment for those convicted of the sexual exploitation of a minor;
  • And legislation that removes the provision in state law that allows judges and magistrates to waive the 12-hour “cooling off” period during which a person charged with a domestic violence offense or an elder abuse offense cannot be released on bail.

Veterans Remain a Top Focus

Republicans worked tirelessly this year to pass bills to aid Tennessee veterans and their families. From educational assistance to the extension of veterans’ treatment courts, legislators have vowed to continue fighting to ensure Tennessee military men and women are taken care of. Some of these bills from 2015 include:

  • Legislation designed to better support the healthcare needs of military men and women by authorizing healthcare providers who are in the National Guard to provide volunteer clinic services in a Tennessee military armory for veterans in need;
  • A bill giving 501 (c) (19) veterans organizations the same opportunity as 501 (c) (3) organizations to conduct annual fundraising events like cake walks, raffles, and other games of chance to raise funds for charitable purposes. This legislation codifies the passage of Amendment 4 to the State Constitution, which won approval by voters in November of last year;
  • The extension of the Veterans Court pilot program, which is currently in place in Shelby, Montgomery, and Davidson Counties. These courts help give service members in Tennessee the option of pursuing treatment and recovery programs rather than incarceration;
  • Legislation that adds spouses and dependent children of veterans as parties eligible for in-state tuition rates;
  • A bill that gives non-resident veterans the same authorization as veterans who are Tennessee residents to use their experience as a military truck driver to receive a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in the state;
  • Legislation that ensures high school students who train between their junior and senior year in the National Guard or go to advanced training after their senior year will still remain eligible for the state’s Tennessee Promise program;
  • And $1 million to establish competitive grants to two-year and four-year institutions to develop initiatives specifically designed for veterans.

Abortion Regulations Passed

Legislative proposals sponsored this year to place restrictions on abortion procedures following the passage of Amendment 1 last November took center stage during the last few weeks of this year’s legislative session.

Amendment 1, which was approved by the people of Tennessee during the November 2014 general election, overturned a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision that restricted the legislature’s ability to provide commonsense regulations on the state’s abortion policies.

Two of the major bills passed by Republicans this year pertaining to abortion include House Bill 1368, which requires state licensure and inspection of abortion facilities in Tennessee, and House Bill 977, which provides for informed consent and establishes a 48-hour waiting period following that consent before an abortion can occur. Currently, Tennessee has no laws regarding these areas of abortion law.

While the United States Supreme Court prohibits states from unduly burdening the basic right to an abortion, these Tennessee laws put in place minimally restrictive, commonsense procedures when an abortion is sought.

Additional Key Bills

Other key bills passed by Republicans this year include:

  • House Bill 10, which promotes civics education in Tennessee classrooms;
  • House Bill 606, which establishes an online verification program to help ensure compliance with state laws requiring motorists to have car insurance;
  • House Bill 404, which bans the sale of powdered or crystalline alcohol in Tennessee;
  • House Bill 537, which extends civil liability protection to those who break a car window in an attempt to rescue an animal locked in a vehicle if they believe the situation threatens its well-being. This protection already applies to children and minors locked in a vehicle unattended;
  • House Bill 138, which provides additional pathways to customized education for students with special needs, giving parents the flexibility to direct their child’s funding to the schools, courses, programs and services that best fit the learning needs of their child through an Individualized Education Account (IEA);
  • House Bill 556, which allows the Department of Safety and Homeland Security to develop an electronic driver’s license system;
  • House Bill 935, which authorizes the seizure of assets derived from, used, or intended for use in acts of terrorism upon conviction;
  • House Bill 197, which aims to help children with life-threatening seizures by decriminalizing the possession of cannabis oil as a treatment;
  • House Bill 745, which creates a voluntary program to purchase a lifetime handgun carry permit in Tennessee;
  • House Bill 646, which establishes the Community College Reconnect Grant program–a last-dollar scholarship for adults who want to return to community college and complete their associate’s degree;
  • House Bill 24, which establishes the “Go Build Tennessee Act” to promote and encourage the recruitment of students in the construction industry;
  • House Bill 198, which increases the time period a driver’s license is valid from five to eight years, cutting down on the wait time at driver’s license centers statewide;
  • House Bill 1341, which prohibits public funds or resources in Tennessee from being allocated towards enforcement of federal laws if that results in a violation of any other Tennessee law or the Tennessee Constitution;
  • House Bill 114, which prohibits the printing of social security numbers on checks in order to receive a benefit, good, or service;
  • House Bill 1105, which changes the way Tennessee currently manages its State Aid Road Grant Program to make it easier for counties to access state funds to upgrade, repair, and improve roads and infrastructure.

 

April 20, 2015

House Passes Amendment to Change Franchise and Excise Tax Rules

An amendment to the Revenue Modernization Act passed by the House last Thursday will make Tennessee’s tax structure more competitive with surrounding states by changing the way a multi-state company’s income and net worth is taxed for franchise and excise purposes. The amendment will alter the apportionment formula to give sales triple weight, which will benefit large companies with many Tennessee employees and many out-of-state sales.

Amendment Prohibits Local School Systems from Using State Funds to Sue State

An amendment passed in both houses will prohibit local school systems from using state educational funds to bring lawsuits against the state. Republicans argued that state educational funds should be used to pay for education, not litigation costs. Local school systems will still be able to use local funds to bring lawsuits against the state if they wish.

 

April 16, 2015

Fiscally Conservative Balanced Budget Passed by House of Representatives

Budget cuts taxes, fully funds education, moves an additional $73.5 million to Rainy Day Fund

In the final few days of this year’s legislative session, the House of Representatives passed Tennessee’s annual budget with an 80 – 12 vote. The bill’s passage was the culmination of months of tireless work crafting a fiscally responsible and balanced budget. The $33.3 billion budget cuts taxes, puts $73.5 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, improves our educational system, and provides an even better environment for businesses to grow and for jobs to flourish.

When Republicans became the General Assembly’s majority party in 2010, Tennesseans asked for fiscal responsibility to be a priority looking forward. The 2015-2016 budget holds true to that principle while ensuring Tennesseans get the services they expect from state government.

As Washington, D.C. and other states are mired in partisan gridlock and out-of-control spending, Republicans in Tennessee have made responsible decisions that will continue to ensure the state is positioned to be a top leader in the country on jobs. Since January of 2011, over 225,000 new private sector jobs have been created in Tennessee.

Highlights of the 2015-2016 budget include:

K-12 and Higher Education Investment

A large portion of this year’s budget focuses on education, including funding for K-12, higher education, and proposals designed to build on the Drive to 55 program–an effort to raise the percentage of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate beyond high school from 32 to 55 by the year 2025.

For K-12 education, the budget includes nearly $200 million, including:

  • Funding of the Basic Education Program (BEP) formula;
  • $100 million dollars for increasing teacher salaries, which amounts to a 4% pool that education associations will have available as they make local decisions to increase teacher pay;
  • Funding to begin the process of repealing and replacing current Common Core educational standards in the state with a system based solely on Tennessee values and ideas;
  • And $5 million to create the Educators’ Liability Trust Fund to offer liability insurance to Tennessee teachers at no cost to them.

Notable higher education investments include:

  • $260 million for capital projects, including new science facilities at Jackson State Community College and the University of Tennessee, nearly $25 million for improvements to colleges of applied technology across the state, and funding for a fine arts classroom building at East Tennessee State University;
  • $25 million to fully fund the Complete College Act formula;
  • And $10 million for need-based scholarships for students.

The budget also includes specific workforce development investments geared toward moving forward with the state’s Drive to 55 efforts, including:

  • $2.5 million for statewide outreach efforts for adult students and technical assistance to local communities that are finding ways to support adult learners;
  • $2.5 million to support the success of the SAILS (Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support) program which addresses remediation in high school;
  • $1.5 million to establish the Community College Reconnect Grant pilot program to provide last dollar scholarships for adults with some post-secondary credit to attend community college;
  • $1 million to establish competitive grants to two-year and four-year institutions to develop initiatives specifically designed for veterans;
  • And $400,000 to establish the Tennessee Promise Bridge Program (TPBP), which will bring first-generation college students to campus prior to fall enrollment, which is one more step in making sure they have the best chance possible to succeed. The TPBP will work in conjunction with the main Tennessee Promise plan.

The main Tennessee Promise Program, set to being this fall with the class of 2015, provides high school graduates the opportunity to attend a community or technical college free of tuition and fees. It is both a scholarship and mentoring program that provides last-dollar scholarship dollars that cover costs not met from the Pell, HOPE, or TSAA scholarship programs. While removing the financial burden is key, a critical component of the Tennessee Promise is the individual guidance each participant will receive from a volunteer mentor who provides guidance and assistance as the student enters higher education. In addition, under the program, students are required to complete eight hours of community service per enrolled term, as well as maintain at least a 2.0 GPA.

Job Recruitment, Workforce Development & Tax Cuts

Building on the success of other job-related legislation passed during the 108th General Assembly, the budget this year again makes investments in job recruitment and tax reforms.

Notable items include:

  • A cut in the Hall tax for seniors 65 and older. The Hall tax is imposed on income derived from interest on bonds, notes, and stock dividends. Since enactment of the Hall tax in 1929, the use of investment savings has grown as a primary source of retirement income. Because of this fact, Republican lawmakers argue the Hall tax is actually an income tax, especially for seniors living on a fixed income. The Hall tax cut approved in the budget raises the income exemption level from $33,000 to $37,000 for single filers and from $59,000 to $68,000 for joint filers. Lawmakers hope to continue building on this tax cut in the future, eventually eliminating it completely;
  • A continuation in funding of the state’s FastTrack Infrastructure and Job Training Program which aids businesses across the state in securing funding for expansion projects and ensuring employees are trained to their fullest potential;
  • An increase in funding to Tennessee’s nine regional development districts to help local governments implement important infrastructure projects and recruit new business;
  • And continued funding to recruit and develop the state’s film and television industry which has steadily grown in recent years and helped bring in millions of film and tourism dollars.

In addition, the 2015-2016 budget includes other strategic capital investments statewide that will help fund programs to ensure Tennesseans have the skills needed to obtain well-paying, 21st century jobs after graduation.

Other Budget Highlights

Other highlights of Governor Haslam’s 2015-2016 budget include:

  • $73.5 million dollars for the Rainy Day Fund to bring it to $568 million total in the account;
  • $250,000 for regional food banks in the state;
  • $1 million for capital improvements to the state’s accredited zoos in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis, and Nashville, as well as the Tennessee Aquarium;
  • $500,000 for statewide methamphetamine cleanup programs;
  • And a continuation of property tax relief efforts passed in previous years to help veterans, seniors, and the disabled population of Tennessee.

April 12, 2015

Numerous Important Bills to be Considered in April

Although the first half of the 109th General Assembly has begun to wind down and most Committees have closed, numerous important bills remain to be considered on the floor of the General Assembly. These bills will be on a variety of topics, ranging from state government to health and to transportation. The House Finance Committee, the House, and the entire legislature will consider and debate the budget next week and the following week.

Earlier this week, the House approved of my bill, HB 776, which enables parents of minors and guardians of incapacitated persons to place a “freeze” or “lock” onto the credit file personal information of those under their care, thereby preventing fraudulent use of that information. Under current law, adults have this ability, but this bill will enable parents and guardians to protect this sensitive information.

I encourage you to contact me anytime to express your views on pending legislation or any state government matters. Please see my contact information on our Contact Us page.

 

April 9, 2015

House Focuses on Assisting Veterans in Tennessee

Republicans in the House have spent a great deal of time this legislative session focusing on bills to assist veterans and currently serving military personnel in Tennessee. Building on legislation passed over the last several General Assemblies, the House hopes to continue finding ways to make life easier for military members and their families in the state.

One bill from this year, House Bill 8, will ensure that high school students who train between their junior and senior year in the National Guard or go to advanced training after their senior year will still remain eligible for the state’s Tennessee Promise program.

The Tennessee Promise Program, set to begin this fall with the class of 2015, provides high school graduates the opportunity to attend a community or technical college free of tuition and fees. It is both a scholarship and mentoring program that provides last-dollar scholarships that cover costs not met from the Pell, HOPE, or TSAA scholarship programs. While removing the financial burden is key, a critical component of the Tennessee Promise is the individual guidance each participant will receive from a volunteer mentor who provides guidance and assistance as the student enters higher education. In addition, under the program, students are required to complete eight hours of community service per enrolled term, as well as maintain at least a 2.0 GPA.

Also on the education front, the House recently gave final approval to legislation updating the state’s laws pursuant to the Veterans Access, Choice, & Accountability Act of 2014. House Bill 715 adds spouses and dependent children as parties eligible for in-state tuition rates. Since a veteran can assign their benefits to a spouse or children, they would also qualify for these tuition and fee rates. The legislation also shifts the period of eligibility after discharge for in-state tuition rates from two years to three years. In addition, it requires the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to convene the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Board of Regents systems to review processes related to awarding academic credit to veterans. This is known as “PLA” or “prior learning assessment” and ensures that veteran students receive as much academic credit as possible for training or skills obtained during their service.

Other veteran-related bills this year include House Bill 803, which gives non-resident veterans the same authorization as veterans who are Tennessee residents to use their experience as a military truck driver to receive a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in the state. As passed, the legislation allows experienced military drivers to waive the state’s CDL skills test requirement upon providing proof of a military license for the class of vehicle for which they are seeking licensure. This new change applies as long as the veteran’s driving record shows no accidents or citations over the past two years.

Approval was also given this week to legislation allowing 501 (c) (19) veterans organizations to raise funds for charitable purposes. House Bill 172 is the final step in ensuring that Amendment 4 to the State Constitution, which won approval by voters in November of last year, is enacted. The amendment gives veterans groups the same opportunity as 501 (c) (3) organizations to conduct annual fundraising events like cake walks, raffles, and other games of chance. Amendment 4 received 69.6 percent of the vote, outpacing all other constitutional amendments on the ballot. Any funds raised by the games under the amendment must go to purposes that benefit the community, veterans, or retired veterans.

Finally, House members unanimously moved forward this week with legislation designed to better support the healthcare needs of military men and women across Tennessee. As amended, House Bill 425 authorizes healthcare providers who are in the National Guard to provide volunteer clinic services in a Tennessee military armory for those in need. Currently, no authorization is in place that allows these military members to provide such care. Once passed by both chambers and signed into law by Governor Haslam, the new program will be referred to as the Mission Tennessee for Veterans Program. While supporters agree the bill is not the final solution in solving veterans’ healthcare issues, they do agree the legislation is a great stride in ensuring that veterans in Tennessee, using resources already in place, receive the healthcare they deserve.

As the first half of the 109th General Assembly moves forward, House Republicans will no doubt continue their efforts of working to make Tennessee the best possible state for veterans and their families to work and call home.

Right to Try Bill Passes with Unanimous Support

Legislation referred to as the “Tennessee Right to Try Act” passed the full House of Representatives this week with unanimous support from state lawmakers.

As passed, House Bill 143 nullifies certain federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules that prevent terminally ill patients from accessing experimental treatments. Currently, patients with life-threatening diseases may access experimental drugs, but only after receiving FDA approval. House Bill 143 allows eligible patients to bypass this FDA approval process and receive their experimental drugs directly from the manufacturer.

The legislation does not mandate participation by pharmaceutical companies and includes protection for healthcare providers, with a prohibition against revoking a license or issuing sanctions based on the issuance of investigational or experimental treatments.

Currently, 13 other states have already passed “Right to Try” laws similar to House Bill 143, and more than 20 states are considering such measures in 2015.

Now that the bill has successfully passed through the state House, it will next be heard in the Senate before moving to the desk of Governor Bill Haslam to be signed into law.

House Republicans Push Pilot Program to Help Adult Learners Complete College Degree

Key education bills headlined this week’s action on Capitol Hill in Nashville as House Republicans voiced strong support of a new pilot program to help adults complete their degree in Tennessee’s community colleges. As introduced, House Bill 646 establishes the Community College Reconnect Grant — a last-dollar scholarship to adults who want to return to community college and complete their Associate of Applied Science Degree.

Currently in Tennessee, adults account for approximately 30% of enrolled undergraduate students, which equals about 65,000 adult learners. However, the number of adult Tennesseans with some college experience but no degree is over 900,000. Legislators agree that in order to reach the state’s goal of equipping at least 55% of Tennesseans with a college degree or technical certificate by the year 2025, this bill must play an integral part in the process.

Adults who meet all of the qualifications of the potential new program will be expected to enroll in a Tennessee public community college in the 2016-2017 academic year. Key qualifications to receive the grant include Tennessee residency for at least one year preceding the date of application for the grant and completion of at least 30 hours towards the completion of an Associate of Applied Science Degree. Grant recipients must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA and enroll in at least 9 semester hours in the fall and spring semesters.

In order to fund this program, there will be a one-time expense to the lottery fund of $1.5 million. Legislators hope the pilot project will be the first step to a larger program that serves even more adults who choose to go back to school to meet their lifetime educational goals.

Legislation to Unlock State Asphalt Grant Dollars Receives House Support

Legislation that will aid in unlocking nearly $23 million dollars statewide to taxpayers in the form of asphalt infrastructure improvements was approved by the House this week in Nashville.

The bill, which changes the way the state currently manages its State Aid Asphalt Grant Program, will allow funding set aside by the state to now be used in the form of direct expenditures to upgrade, repair, and rehabilitate roads that have fallen in disrepair over the years.

Currently, in order to receive funding through the Asphalt Grant Program, a 25% local match must be made. However, because many local governments cannot afford the match, a large percentage of the asphalt funding set aside by the state has gone unused. House Bill 1105 reduces the local match percentage to only 2%, ensuring that local governments can now afford the grant funding and are not burdened by excessive infrastructure expenses.

The main goal of the legislation is to take existing funds and convert them to asphalt infrastructure repairs. The funds are already allocated each year and House Bill 1105 creates a pathway to increase access for much-needed road improvements across the state.

 

April 2, 2015

Pro-Life Bills Advance in House

Legislative proposals sponsored this year to place restrictions on abortion procedures following the passage of Amendment 1 last November moved forward this week in the House committee process.

Amendment 1, which was approved by the people of Tennessee during the November 2014 general election, overturned a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision that restricted the legislature’s ability to provide commonsense regulations to the state’s abortion policies.

Two of the major bills that moved forward this week pertaining to abortion include House Bill 1368, which requires state licensure and inspection of abortion facilities in Tennessee, and House Bill 977, which provides for informed consent and establishes a 48-hour waiting period following that consent before an abortion can occur. Currently, Tennessee has no laws regarding these areas of abortion law.

Supporters of these bills agree the proposals fulfill a promise made by legislators last summer that the General Assembly would work to restore commonsense protections for women considering abortion in Tennessee.

As data from the Centers for Disease Control notes, 1 of 4 abortions in Tennessee are performed on women residing in another state, the 3rd highest out-of-state abortion rate in the nation. Such numbers have resulted in Tennessee becoming known as an abortion destination.

Legislators hope by passing these bills that safeguards will finally be in place to ensure state laws are strong enough to protect women seeking an abortion in Tennessee.

Governor Haslam Announces Federal Disaster Assistance for 35 Tennessee Counties

This week, Governor Bill Haslam announced the federal government has agreed to provide assistance to 35 Tennessee counties still recovering from the severe winter storm of February 15 to February 22, 2015. The storm took 30 lives and caused widespread damage across the state.

The following counties are included in the declaration: Anderson, Bedford, Bledsoe, Blount, Campbell, Clay, Coffee, Cumberland, Fentress, Giles, Grainger, Grundy, Hamblen, Hancock, Hardeman, Jefferson, Knox, Lawrence, Loudon, Marshall, McMinn, McNairy, Meigs, Monroe, Moore, Morgan, Obion, Overton, Putnam, Roane, Scott, Sevier, Van Buren, Warren and White.

The disaster declaration has a designation of DR-4211 and will allow government entities and certain private non-profits in the declared counties to apply for reimbursement of specific expenses related to disaster response and recovery, under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance Program.

State and local governments and electrical utilities spent more than $30.4 million in their response and recovery actions before, during, and after the winter storm.

The federal assistance will allow eligible entities in the designated counties to receive a 75 percent reimbursement for costs related to debris removal, emergency protective measures, and rebuilding and repairing roads, bridges, water control facilities, buildings, utilities and recreational facilities.

The severe winter weather event began in West Tennessee in the early morning of February 15, with record snow and sleet accumulations and then lesser amounts of ice and freezing rain. The winter storm continued in multiple waves, with sleet, snow, freezing rain, and dangerously cold temperatures and wind chills throughout each region of Tennessee before ending on February 22.

For only the seventh time in the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency’s history, the State Emergency Operations Center activated to a Level II state of emergency as the storm progressed. Emergency Services Coordinators and TEMA staff maintained operations at the SEOC on a 24-hour basis through the duration of the emergency.

The National Weather Service characterized the event as one of the worst ice storms to hit Tennessee in two decades and temperatures reached record lows in many parts of the state. Of the 30 reported weather-related fatalities, more than half were due to hypothermia.

Power outages peaked at 67,000 people on February 16, and more than 32,000 people were still without power on February 22. The lack of power forced businesses, universities, K-12 schools and daycares to close, disrupting communities and residents throughout the state.

Multiple state agencies were involved in the response, including the Tennessee departments of Agriculture, Commerce and Insurance, Correction, Environment and Conservation, Finance and Administration General Services, Health, Human Resources, Human Services, Transportation, Military, Safety and the Tennessee National Guard, Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Commission on Aging. The response involved approximately 3,500 state employees.

For more updates regarding the state’s response, visit the TEMA website at www.tnema.org.

Childhood Apraxia of Speech Awareness Resolution Unanimously Passes House

Earlier this week, a resolution sponsored to raise awareness regarding childhood apraxia of speech passed the House of Representatives with unanimous support from state lawmakers.

As introduced, the resolution details the importance of early and intensive intervention to address the needs of children with apraxia of speech and the importance of supporting improved awareness of this condition.

Childhood apraxia of speech is a neurological and motor disorder of unknown cause. Children with apraxia have trouble enunciating sounds and coordinating the muscles used for speech. These children are often misdiagnosed as having delayed speech, hearing disorders, or even as being autistic. Because of misdiagnoses and delayed treatment, many of these children suffer from self-esteem issues and even bullying.

The full text of House Joint Resolution 12 can be found by visiting http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/109/Bill/HJR0012.pdf.

Good Samaritan Legislation Receives Overwhelming Support to Include Animals

In last year’s session, House Republicans moved forward with legislation to implement liability protection for Tennesseans that break a car window in an attempt to rescue a minor locked in a vehicle if they believe the situation threatens the child’s well-being.

The bill was filed following tragedies that have occurred across the state over the years when infants and young children have lost their lives after being left unattended in hot vehicles, especially during the summer months.

The requirements under last year’s legislation deemed that it was still necessary for the citizen to make sure the car was locked and there was no other way for the minor to get out of the vehicle without outside assistance.

Over the past year, citizens across the state have asked that this protection also extend to those who break a car window to rescue an animal. This week, the House passed House Bill 537 to do exactly that.

Once signed into law by Governor Haslam, citizens attempting to rescue an animal will not be considered liable for damages as long as the citizen believes the animal is in imminent danger before acting.

Just like last year’s legislation, this bill is the first of its kind implemented in the entire nation and proponents hope the bill will lead to the prevention of unnecessary and unintentional deaths of minors and animals across the state.

Tennessee Main Street Communities See Big Success in 2014

1,565 New Jobs Created, 171 New Businesses Started

House Republicans joined with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development this week to announce the 2014 economic impact statistics from Tennessee’s 28 Main Street communities for activities occurring between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2014. These Main Street communities generated more than $95 million of public and private investment in 2014, and continue to be a vital part of the state’s economic and cultural identity.

Tennessee Main Street provides technical assistance and training for communities in developing real-world solutions to make downtowns safe, appealing, vibrant places where people want to shop, work, live, invest, and make memories. With regard to Tennessee’s Main Street program, supporters agree that flourishing downtowns help provide a sense of pride for communities which in turn helps spur tourism, promote entrepreneurship, and ultimately create jobs.

Investment statistics from the designated Main Street communities report includes:

New jobs created: 1,565

New businesses started: 171

Building rehabilitation projects: 298

Public improvement projects: 248

Net new housing units: 54

Volunteer hours contributed: 114,807

Total public & private investment: $95,500,000

This year’s annual reinvestment statistics make a strong statement about the economic activity occurring within our Tennessee Main Street program districts. New jobs, businesses and investment, along with an impressive number of volunteer work hours, prove this community-based approach to downtown revitalization is hard at work.

There are currently 28 designated Main Street program communities across Tennessee: Bristol, Brownsville, Cleveland, Collierville, Columbia, Cookeville, Dandridge, Dayton, Dyersburg, Fayetteville, Franklin, Gallatin, Greeneville, Jackson, Jonesborough, Kingsport, Lawrenceburg, Lebanon, McMinnville, Murfreesboro, Morristown, Rogersville, Tiptonville, Savannah, Sweetwater, Union City, Ripley, and Winchester.

For more information about the Tennessee Main Street Program, visit www.tennesseemainstreet.org.

Legislature Acts to Ban Powdered Alcohol in Tennessee

Legislation that would ban the sale of powdered or crystalline alcohol in Tennessee continued to move forward in the legislature this week in Nashville. House Bill 404 would make it a Class A misdemeanor offense to sell the product, which is currently pending approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Palcohol, which is the brand name for the new product, was approved last year by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau before the agency rescinded that decision over labeling issues. When mixed with water the powdered alcohol becomes an instant cocktail. It is being promoted as a product that can be easily transported by the consumer.

The powdered alcohol product is creating concern nationwide that it would be an easy and accessible target for abuse by underage drinkers, including the possibility of being snorted. There is also concern that the product could be misused by adults if it is sprinkled onto someone’s food or drink without their knowledge. In addition, there are concerns that it would greatly increase the risk of over-drinking and alcohol poisoning if it is not properly mixed.

Powdered alcohol products would not be defined as an alcoholic beverage under current Tennessee law because it is not a liquid and would be free from regulation by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. This means it could be sold directly to minors in grocery stores, over the Internet or in any other location.

Thirteen states have enacted similar legislation banning powdered alcohol.

The bill now goes to the House Calendar & Rules Committee for consideration before moving to the full House floor for debate.

March 29, 2015

Bill Targets Posthumous Social Media Rights

By Tom Humphrey

Originally appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (knoxnews.com)

NASHVILLE — Legislation setting rules for access to digital information after death or disability — declaring void as a matter of Tennessee “public policy” any conflicting provisions set by Facebook and other social media sites in their user contracts — has won initial approval in a House subcommittee.

The “Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act” has drawn opposition from representatives of Facebook, Google, Amazon.com and others, according to Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, sponsor of House Bill 774. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is sponsor in the Senate, where the bill has not yet come up for a vote.

Drafted as model legislation by the Uniform Law Commission last year and thus similar to measures introduced in some other states, the bill includes provisions saying that the legal representative of a deceased or incapacitated person — a fiduciary — can decide disposition of pictures and postings on a site even if the deceased or incapacitated person has approved a contract giving the site rights to control such things.

Allan Ramsaur, executive director of the Tennessee Bar Association, said many social media sites include such rules in the fine print of their sign-up contracts and that has led to unfortunate situations — for example, the parents of a teenager who committed suicide being unable to block dissemination of emotionally distressing pictures or postings without filing a lawsuit to obtain a court order.

Daniel said he read an article about such situations and decided legislation was needed last year, then learned that Norris was also advocating the idea.

His take on the opposition from social media representatives: “They just don’t want to be bothered.”

 

March 27, 2015

It’s been an exciting week in Nashville for the 18th District of Tennessee.

On Monday, Speaker Beth Harwell issued an administrative order prohibiting transfers among members of their mailing allowances. This essentially accomplished much of what we were intending in my House Bill 215. Taxpayer-funded postage allowances will now remain with the district to which they were originally allotted.  Thank you for your leadership, Madam Speaker!

On Monday night, I presented my first Bill on the Floor of the General Assembly. House Bill 1031 changed the required date for notification of Tennessee teachers of their failure of reappointment from June 15 to within 5 days after the last instructional day of the school year. It passed by a near unanimous vote.

 Also, our Bill (HB 918) reinstating the “scenic highway designation” to a portion of Middlebrook Pike, along with a Bill reducing the burden of record keeping for unpaid notaries, passed on the House Consent Calendar (HB 1033).

The House of Representatives is now at the height of its activity. Committee meetings will continue next week, and budget matters will soon be taken up. An especially interesting Bill that will be considered soon in Committee (HB 774) will enable fiduciaries of deceased digital account holders to more quickly and easily access accounts containing important assets accumulated by the decedent. More on that and others as they move through Committees.

March 26, 2015

House Passes Legislation to Help Better Protect Domestic Violence Victims

Legislation designed to help better protect victims of domestic violence passed the full House of Representatives this week with unanimous support from state lawmakers.

As passed, House Bill 41 removes the provision in state law that allows judges and magistrates to waive the 12-hour “cooling off” period during which a person charged with a domestic violence offense or an elder abuse offense cannot be released on bail.

The legislation still allows for judicial discretion based on the individual circumstances, but requires judges to list in the record why a waiver was given while also making every effort to notify the victim before the waiver is approved.

Supporters of House Bill 41 believe its passage will help prevent repeat domestic violence incidents from occurring in the future, while also equalizing the way judges currently grant these waivers.

Consumer Protection Bill Passes House with Unanimous Support

New consumer protection legislation passed the full House of Representatives this week with unanimous support from state lawmakers.

As passed, House Bill 114 prohibits the printing of a social security number on a check as a requirement for a person to receive a benefit, good, or other service of value unless that person provides written permission to do so.

Currently in Tennessee, no restriction exists in law that prevents businesses or individuals from requesting or requiring that a customer provide their social security number on a personal check before it will be accepted. As common as identity theft has become across the nation, this ability represents an unnecessary and dangerous practice.

In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission received 4,175 complaints of identity theft from Tennesseans, and that number has steadily increased each year. Nationally, financial losses due to personal identity theft in 2012 totaled $24.7 billion, over $10 billion more than the losses attributed to all other property crimes.

Once passed by the Senate and signed into law by Governor Haslam, House Bill 114 will increase inherent consumer protections against crimes of identity theft by preventing consumers from being asked to disclose more personal information than is necessary to transact business.

Bill to Decriminalize Cannabis Oil Debated in General Assembly

Legislation designed to decriminalize the possession of cannabis oil in Tennessee for the purpose of treating children who suffer from life-threatening seizures was debated in the Tennessee General Assembly this week in Nashville.

The motivation behind filing House Bill 197 occurred after learning of the plight of 7-month-old Josie Mathes, who lives in Greene County, and suffers from infantile seizures. Her parents, Stacie and Logan Mathes, believe she would be relieved by the use of cannabis oil.

As introduced, the bill mandates that the oil must have less than .9% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the “high” causing agent in marijuana. Typically suspended in coconut or olive oil, cannabis oil is strictly a byproduct of a low-THC hybrid plant that contains high doses of Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, the main ingredient proven to aid with infantile seizures. It is important to note that the bill neither legalizes the smoking of marijuana nor permits the use of medical marijuana in Tennessee.

Proponents of the legislation argue the bill will help countless children across Tennessee who currently suffer from life-threatening seizures.

March 25, 2015

Editorial: Senate Should Stop Transferring Outreach Funds

Originally appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (knoxnews.com)

A dubious legislative practice is ending in the Tennessee House of Representatives but continuing in the Senate.

State lawmakers have a long-standing tradition of helping each other out in re-election campaigns by transferring among themselves money intended for constituent communications.

State Sen. Richard Briggs and state Rep. Martin Daniel, both Knoxville Republicans in their first terms in office, filed bills this session to ban the practice. Another bill, originally filed by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick but now shepherded by Daniel, would expand the time limit on the use of the funds.

The use of these public funds for what amounts to political purposes should end, either by legislation or, as House Speaker Beth Harwell admirably did late last week, by setting new legislative rules.

Legislators receive funds every year for constituent communications, money that is supposed to go toward keeping the folks back home abreast of events in Nashville and otherwise staying in touch with voters. A common, if suspect, practice is for legislators who are not facing re-election challenges to transfer their funds to colleagues who are facing challenges as Election Day nears. The recipient can then send materials or otherwise contact constituents under the guise of keeping the voters informed. In reality, these are campaign messages.

Senators get $6,832 per year, while House members get $2,016 annually. Money left over at the end of the year can stay in the accounts, leaving many legislators with huge bundles of cash to distribute to colleagues as they see fit. Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, has amassed more than $100,000 in his account.

The Briggs-Daniel bill would have banned these transfers altogether. McCormick’s bill would expand “blackout period” — the time frame in which legislators could not use the money for constituent contact — from 30 days prior to an election to 90 days.

The Briggs-Daniel bill apparently struck a nerve in the Legislature’s Republican leadership.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey persuaded Briggs to drop the bill and will continue to consider approval of the transfers on a case-by-case basis. In other words, the status quo will be maintained in the Senate.

Harwell, on the other hand, decided to change the House rules to achieve the same end. While her move does not have the force of law and the rule can be changed at any time, Harwell is acknowledging the importance of fairness in the electoral process. Incumbents already have enough advantages; allowing them to use thousands of dollars in public money — funds they never were entitled to control — without reporting the transfers as campaign contributions runs counter to the spirit of fairness that ideally should permeate American elections.

Constituent communication can lead to better governing, but money set aside for one district’s representative should not be spent to aid the re-election of a representative of another district. Ramsey should follow Harwell’s lead in making changes to the administrative rules to stop the transfer of these funds.

 

March 22, 2015

Ramsey Blocks Effort to Ban Fund Transfers

By Tom Humphrey

Originally appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (knoxnews.com)

NASHVILLE — At the request of Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, state Sen. Richard Briggs has shelved an effort to block transfers of taxpayer funds from one legislator to another in “constituent communications” accounts use to pay for direct mailings to voters.

In contrast, House Speaker Beth Harwell has decided to stop the transfers, acting on her own, for state representatives, according to a spokeswoman. Ramsey will continue to decide on a “case-by-case basis” whether to allow state senators to shift money from one account to another, according to a spokesman.

The speakers’ moves come with bills pending in the General Assembly to both authorize and to prohibit shifting the taxpayer funds from one lawmaker to another.

Briggs and Rep. Martin Daniel, a fellow Knoxville Republican, introduced at the outset of the 2015 session a bill (HB215) that would end transfers from one legislator to another of the “constituent communications” funds. Typically, such transfers occur from a legislator who has no opponent to his or her re-election to another legislator in the same party who does face opposition.

Briggs and Daniel both defeated incumbent lawmakers in last year’s August Republican primary — Briggs unseating former Sen. Stacey Campfield and Daniel former Rep. Steve Hall.

After the primary but before the November general election, both Campfield and Hall as lame duck lawmakers transferred funds from their accounts to other legislators — effectively preventing the winners from using the money. Under current rules, money remaining in an account when a legislator leaves office goes to his or her successor in office.

The Briggs-Daniel bill would also put a cap on how much money legislators can stockpile in their accounts. There’s no limit currently and Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, holds the record with more than $100,000 stockpiled — though most legislators spend their money and some even run up deficits, requiring reimbursement to the state from their campaign or personal funds.

State senators automatically get $6,832 per year placed in their account; representatives $2,016 per year. The bill would cap accumulations at five years’ worth of money — or a bit more than $34,000 for senators, just over $10,000 for representatives. Legislative staff estimates that passage of HB215 would mean about $186,000 immediately taken out of legislative accounts and transferred to the state general fund, followed by perhaps $150,000 per year afterward.

Briggs had the bill scheduled for a Senate committee vote last week, but instead had it sent to “general subcommittee” — a legislative euphemism that typically means a bill is being abandoned for the year. Asked about the move afterward, Briggs said he shelved the bill at the Ramsey’s request, relayed through an aide.

“The speaker wants this done through rules rather than through statute,” said Briggs. “That’s all right with me as long as it gets done. … I think that money belongs to the people in the district (representing the legislator who receives it)” and should not be transferred to benefit a legislator in another district.”

But Ramsey spokesman Adam Kleinheider subsequently said the speaker has no present plans to seek a change in Senate rules on the matter and that “transfers will continue to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis” — in effect no substantive change from the legal status quo.

Currently, each transfer must be officially approved by the speaker of the House or Senate and that has been done as a matter of routine. The speakers can thus act on their own to stop transfers without legislation and Harwell, unlike Ramsey, is acting to do so.

“Because the Senate is not moving the bill, Speaker Harwell has decided to end the practice of transfers through House administrative policies,” said Harwell spokeswoman Kara Owen in an email. “Legislative Administration is preparing a formal notice for the members that will go out soon” to notify representatives of that transfers will no longer be approved.

Harwell also is “supportive” of putting a cap on the amount that can be accumulated in constituent communications accounts, Owen said, but “there will obviously need to be another vehicle to accomplish that” given that the Briggs-Daniel bill seems dead in the Senate.

Daniel said he intends to continue push for passage of the bill this session, along with another originally filed by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick. That measure (HB9) would extend the blackout period for using constituent communications money to send mailers to voters from the present 30 days before an election to 90 days. McCormick said he is turning sponsorship of the measure over to Daniel because of the heavy load of other legislation that he must deal with as majority leader.

Daniel has put both bills on notice for a hearing this week in the final scheduled meeting of the House State Government Subcommittee. The Senate sponsor of HB9, Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, has also scheduled a hearing on the measure in a Senate committee.

Also on notice for a hearing in the House subcommittee is HB1226 by Rep. Joe Towns and Sen. Reginald Tate, both Memphis Democrats. It would do just the opposite of the Briggs-Daniel bill, declaring that transfers between members are appropriate and “no law, rule, or policy” can prevent them — a move that, if approved, would effectively block Harwell from stopping the transfers.

Briggs said in an interview shortly after shelving the no-transfer bill that, if there is no action by rule or policy changes to stop transfers, he will look to reviving the proposed legislation later. Since this is the first year of the two-year 109th General Assembly, all bills introduced this year but not approved can be considered again next year.

Subsequently, Kleinheider sent this email:

“After an open dialogue regarding his bill, Speaker Ramsey and Senator Briggs agreed that the issues brought up in his bill would be best addressed though policy rather than statute. Speaker Ramsey looks forward to reviewing policies regarding postage and printing accounts with an eye toward preventing any and all abuse of the system.”

March 20, 2015

All House Committee Meetings Now Open to the Public

The 109th General Assembly is near the apex of its activity for this year. We are analyzing and reviewing bills to determine which are in the best interest of Tennesseans.

I commend Speaker Beth Harwell for opening all House Committee and Subcommittee meetings to the public. Transparency is always good and promotes public trust in the legislative process.

I encourage constituents from our 18th District to contact me at any time concerning views or opinions that you have on issues that interest you. Please see my contact information on our Contact Us page.

March 19, 2015

Legislation to Replace Common Core in Tennessee Moves Forward in House

 Lawmakers say no to allowing federal standards in state education system

House Bill 1035 advanced out of the Education Instruction & Programs Subcommittee this week and will now move on to the full Committee, where it is scheduled to be heard on Tuesday, March 24. The legislation establishes a process by which the state will formally replace the controversial Common Core education standards with a new set of standards crafted solely by Tennesseans.

As amended, the bill specifies that Tennessee is fully in charge of creating its own educational standards and ensures that none will be imposed on the state by the federal government in the future. The bill establishes a Standards Recommendation Committee that will be comprised of ten members, with four appointed by the Governor, three appointed by the Speaker of the Senate, and three appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

In addition, the legislation requires the State Board of Education to cancel the “Memorandum of Understanding” that had previously been agreed upon concerning Common Core State Standards.

Throughout the process of crafting these new education standards, House Bill 1035 provides multiple opportunities for public input and stresses transparency. Ultimately, the legislation will fully remove Tennessee from federal Common Core Standard guidelines while empowering Tennessee education professionals to craft new standards of educational excellence without undue influence from outside the state.

Heralded by proponents as the pathway to finally implementing Tennessee-based education standards in the state, supporters on both sides of the aisle agree this legislation will finally vanquish the Common Core standards that have drawn the ire of parents, teachers, school administrators, and advocacy groups nationwide over the last several years.

Lawmakers, Farmers to Celebrate Annual “Ag Day on the Hill” Event

House lawmakers will join with farmers and agriculture stakeholders from across the state on Tuesday of next week to celebrate Tennessee’s annual “Ag Day on the Hill”event at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville.

Ag Day on the Hill activities will include a corn shucking and shelling competition between Senate and House members, a cattle-weighing contest, farm animals, crops and equipment, as well as presentations from local 4-H and Future Farmers of America groups.

New this year, the event will also feature a food drive sponsored by the Society of St. Andrew, where groups will help sack nearly 20,000 pounds of potatoes to be delivered to those in need.

Festivities kick off at 8 a.m. with special presentations to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee getting underway at 10:30 a.m.

Tennessee has 76,000 farms representing 10.8 million acres in production. More than half of the state, 14 million acres, is mostly privately owned hardwood forests. Tennessee’s top agricultural commodities include cattle, soybeans, corn, poultry, cotton, timber, greenhouse and nursery products, dairy products, wheat, tobacco, and hay. The industry has a $66 billion a year impact on the state’s economy and supports nearly 337,900 jobs.

House Republicans Address Policing for Profit Issues

This week, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee heard testimony regarding House Bill 284, which deals with the issue of policing for profit in Tennessee. However, the legislation was taken off notice after an agreement was made with key law enforcement agencies to correct the problem internally.

As introduced, the bill requires law enforcement agencies to pay for the cost of returning a vehicle back to its original condition if it is dismantled, damaged, or altered during a search and seizure operation. This requirement would only apply if the driver or passengers are not charged with a criminal offense and nothing is seized, the forfeiture warrant is denied, or if the agency does not meet its burden of proof at the forfeiture hearing.

Proponents of the legislation note that Tennessee has experienced a serious problem over the years with certain law enforcement agencies policing for profit. This has resulted in many law-abiding citizens being targeted for no reason and their personal property being damaged and cash being seized.

The agreement negotiated before the bill was taken off notice involved numerous meetings with the Tennessee Department of Safety, the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association, the Tennessee Police Chiefs’ Association, and the Peace Officers Standards & Training Commission. Following several weeks of negotiations, all stakeholders involved agreed it made sense to develop a training curriculum to effectively deal with the problem internally, as opposed to creating a new state law.

The bill’s sponsors noted, however, that they would not hesitate to take legislative action if the agreement does not move forward in the coming days.

March 18, 2015

Harwell: No More Secret Meetings

By Richard Locker

Originally appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel (knoxnews.com)

NASHVILLE — State House Speaker Beth Harwell asked chairmen of House committees and subcommittees Wednesday to give public notice of “pre-meetings” in which bills are discussed and to open those meetings to the public.

In a memorandum sent to all House chairmen, Harwell cited concerns raised by media revelations Tuesday about the House’s systemic use of unannounced, secret meetings in which members discuss and, according to one House Republican leader, sometimes take a “show of hands” on support or opposition to bills.

“With regards to the pre-meetings that some committees choose to have in order to ensure this process continues to move efficiently, I respectfully request two things: that these meetings be announced, and that you have an open-door policy,” Harwell wrote.

The “I respectfully request two things” portion was underlined.

“I know some of you already practice this, but concerns have recently been raised, and I would like to ensure the process is open and accessible. I believe these are two things the public expects and deserves, and we always want the citizens of Tennessee to have faith in this process,” Harwell wrote.

A coalition of five media outlets — the Commercial Appeal, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Tennessean and the Associated Press — reported Tuesday that at least 10 of the House’s 15 standing committees have been holding unannounced meetings to discuss upcoming bills on their regular public meeting agenda. The meetings are often held in small conference rooms tucked away in the office suites of the committee and subcommittee chairmen rather than the open hearing rooms that line the main corridor of the Legislative Plaza building. The meetings also are not posted on the legislative calendar, are not live-streamed and are not recorded or archived for public viewing on the Legislature’s website, as are the regular public meetings.

Reporters were barred Monday from admission to one of the meetings, the House Civil Justice Committee, by its chairman, Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol. That meeting was held in the speaker’s conference room.

When reporters asked Harwell, R-Nashville, about the practice, she asked Lundberg to open the meeting. Reporters were allowed in for the last half of the meeting, where all but two of the committee’s members discussed the pros and cons of bills but did not vote on them.

When reporters showed up for other pre-meetings Monday evening and Tuesday, the chairmen admitted them, but no members of the public were present other than an occasional lobbyist.

Also on Wednesday, former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, a Democrat from Covington, took exception to assertions by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada on Tuesday that secret meetings were more prevalent when Democrats controlled the House until 2009.

Naifeh, who retired from the Legislature four years ago, said Wednesday that the only “secret” meetings he knew of during his tenure were of the Budget Committee and occasionally of the Industrial Impact Subcommittee, which no longer exists.

“As usual, Mr. Casada doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. We did have secret budget meetings in my office, but it was always posted on the bulletin board — ‘secret budget meeting in Speaker Naifeh’s office 4 p.m. Tuesday.’ The doors were open. I had it in there because we could all feel like we were closer together than sitting around a conference table,” Naifeh said. “Republicans were there. They were not closed.”

Naifeh said in his last two years in the legislature, the House budget committee had “closed secret meetings and Democratic members weren’t allowed in. The only other one I can remember when I was speaker was the Industrial Impact Subcommittee that would get together sometimes when they had some very hard issues. I didn’t participate, but I knew it was going (on). Each bill was discussed, and the (bill) sponsor could come in.”

“It seems to be” more systemic now, he said.

Harwell’s email also cited the volume of bills moving through the Legislature this year and indicated the purpose of the pre-meetings was to help the House operate more efficiently. But Democrats and some Republicans have criticized the speed of the public meetings move, arguing many bills are not given the full discussions they need.

Harwell noted 507 bills were “on notice” in the House this week alone — meaning the bills are scheduled for review either on the House floor or in its committees and subcommittees. She said House committees have spent 88½ hours, and the House floor has met for 9 hours and 12 minutes in session through last week.

March 17, 2015

Representative Martin Daniel on the Proposed Revised Ozone Standards

As the State Representative for Knox County’s 18th District, as a father, and as a U.S. citizen, I want what is best for my constituents, for my children, and for the people of the United States. High levels of ground level ozone lead to serious health problems. I therefore applaud the successful efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency and of the Knox County Air Quality Department to lower levels of ground level ozone. In particular, I congratulate the Knox County Air Quality Department on their finding that Knox County’s ozone levels are now low enough to bring us into attainment with the current 75 parts per billion (ppb) National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone.

In addition to recognizing the need for good air quality, I also recognize the very real economic needs of the people of Knox County—the need for more jobs that will allow people to continue to provide for themselves and for their children. In order for there to be more Knox County jobs, more businesses need to locate in Knox County. Changing the current ozone NAAQS to the proposed range of 65-70 ppb would once again cause Knox County to be in a state of nonattainment, making businesses less likely to locate here. While I care very much about air quality, I am nevertheless disappointed that the ozone NAAQS may be changed again so soon after Knox County and other counties have successfully achieved attainment levels.

In order to avoid causing Knox County and other counties to receive the nonattainment designation, which would be harmful to the economy and the people of Knox County, I support maintaining the current ozone NAAQS for the time being, allowing time for ozone levels to be reduced gradually so that when the new ozone NAAQS are finally implemented, Knox County and other counties may avoid the nonattainment designation.

March 13, 2015

Redesignating Middlebrook Pike as a Scenic Highway Advanced in Tennessee General Assembly

Legislation that would redesignate State Route 169, also known as Middlebrook Pike, as a state scenic highway is advanced with approval this week in the House Transportation Committee. House Bill 918, sponsored by Representative Martin Daniel, would affect the portion of Middlebrook Pike from its intersections at Weisgarber Road to Hardin Valley Road.

The property restrictions of a scenic highway would not apply to the segment which has already been zoned for construction of a new hospital.

The road’s previous designation as a scenic highway was removed by a law passed by the General Assembly in 2013. That action removed several prohibitions, including restrictions regarding the height of structures and signage along the highway.

“We have listened to the views of nearby property owners and responded,” said Rep. Daniel. “With regard to building restrictions, this puts the highway back in the position it was prior to the 2013 law.”

The bill now goes to the Calendar Committee in the House of Representatives, before being heard on final consideration. The Senate version will be heard in the Senate Transportation next Wednesday, March 18.

March 12, 2015

New Legislative Website Launched

The newly redesigned website for the Tennessee General Assembly has once again improved its constituent-friendly and transparent design with a mobile-friendly feature.

The website has now been optimized for various devices from laptops to smartphones to tablets.

Using responsive web technology, flexible images, and a complex grid system, the site is able to resize its viewing screen based on the device’s screen size.

The website’s upgraded bill tracking features, live video streaming, legislation highlights, and more will continue to be available on the desktop website, and now the mobile site.

Over the years, the state legislative website has received multiple accolades for its citizen-friendly appeal. The new website design is expected to win even more awards for transparency and ease of use.

The General Assembly website can be accessed by visiting www.capitol.tn.gov.

Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act Approved by House Subcommittee

Members of the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee voted this week 7 to 1 to approve the “Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act.”

As introduced, the bill gives parents of disadvantaged students the option of sending their child to a school of their choice and authorizes state education payments to follow.

If passed by the full House and Senate and signed into law by Governor Haslam, the legislation would have an initial cap of 5,000 participants in its first year of implementation. The program would expand each year to a maximum of 20,000 students statewide in the fourth year.

In addition, the students would also have to be from families who qualify to receive free or reduced price lunch under federal standards and from a school district with at least one failing school ranked in the bottom 5% of schools statewide.

The bill will next be heard in the full House Education Administration and Planning Committee.

Bill to Ban Red-Light Cameras Statewide Moves Forward in House

Legislation aimed at banning red-light and traffic cameras in Tennessee moved one step closer to final approval this week after receiving a green light from the House Transportation Subcommittee.

As introduced, the bill bans cities from deploying any additional red-light cameras in their areas and calls for a wind down of any current camera contracts to take place. The measure also bans the use of unmanned speed and traffic cameras that collect cell phone or GPS data.

Proponents of the bill argue various studies show red-light cameras might actually cause more accidents than they prevent as drivers often slam on their brakes to avoid tickets when they spot a camera. In addition, supporters feel the cameras infringe on the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ principle and are merely a scheme for raising revenue, which is often sent to out-of-state and third-party companies.

Currently, those caught by red-light cameras face a maximum $50 fine, according to Tennessee law. Across the state, 24 towns and cities currently deploy speed and red-light cameras.

The bill will next be heard in the House State Government Subcommittee.