• WOPC Staff

Haston's Office Releases Weekly Legislative Update

Charter School Commission Bill Passes House

This week, House lawmakers passed House Bill 940 in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

This initiative – which is part of the Governor’s legislative agenda this year – establishes a 9-member independent charter commission to ensure that all Tennessee charter schools can best serve the state’s student population that relies on these institutions to achieve their academic goals and dreams. Additionally, the measure clarifies that a majority of commission members must reside in counties where at least one public charter school is operating.

House Passes Bill Promoting Civics Education

Lawmakers passed House Bill 944 recognizing Tennessee’s public schools and school districts that implement high-quality civic education because it is essential to preserving our constitutional democracy.

In partnership with the Secretary of State’s office, this initiative seeks to promote efforts to increase access to quality civics education, while also recognizing our schools for their excellence in civics education.

Standards established by this legislation include instructional criteria, professional development for teachers, project-based assessment implementation, real-world learning activities, and high-performance on Tennessee’s mandated exam for our high school seniors.

House Supports Resolution Calling for New Ad Hoc Task Force on Education

This week, House lawmakers supported a Joint Resolution that creates a new Ad Hoc Task Force on Education.

This House-led initiative — in partnership with the Governor and the Senate Speaker — will focus on untying the hands of our educators, students, and schools in efforts to solidify Tennessee’s future.

Under House Joint Resolution 394, the task force will study and evaluate the overall effectiveness and necessity of state testing practices, curriculum, and other mandated academic policies and procedures that are currently imposed upon our school boards, school directors, principals, teachers, students, and their parents. This will improve overall education outcomes and enhance Tennessee’s future economic standing.

The Ad Hoc Task Force on Education will include members of the Governor’s Cabinet as appointed by the Governor, as well as members of both the House and Senate as appointed by the Speakers. Tennessee educators, school administrators, and parents will also be chosen to participate by the Governor, the Lt. Governor, and the House Speaker, as they see fit.

Tennessee has made remarkable progress improving education over the past decade. Because of strategic and record-breaking investments, our students are now the fastest improving in the entire nation across math, reading, and science. Last year, we also achieved the best high school graduation rates ever — 89.1 percent.

The creation of this important task force is another example of the House’s commitment to education and strong desire to lead. It is imperative that we build upon our recent successes in the areas of career readiness and aptitude for our K-12 students, and this task force gives us that opportunity.

Lawmakers Pass Legislation to Protect Tennessee’s Elections from Fraud

Legislation to protect Tennessee’s elections from fraud and abuse passed the House of Representatives with strong support this week.

House Bill 1079 requires a person or organization that plans to conduct a registration drive attempting to collect 100 or more voter registration forms and pays individuals to collect the voter registration forms to register with the Coordinator of Elections and receive training prior to conducting drives.

This measure makes intentional violations a Class A misdemeanor for each offense on an individual or an organization that fails to adhere to new requirements under the measure. It also allows the State Election Commission to assess civil penalties to persons/organizations submitting a high number of deficient forms.

As amended, House Bill 1079 only applies to a person or organization that pays individuals to collect voter registration forms. The bill would not apply to individuals or organizations that collect forms using unpaid volunteers, such as the Boy Scouts, churches, or college student government associations.

It is important for every Tennessean to vote, but we must ensure voter registration is done in a responsible and lawful manner. This bill will ensure applications are timely filed and our election process is not compromised.

Lawmakers Create Balance within Community Oversight Boards

This week, House members strengthened House Bill 658 by adopting a recent Conference Committee amendment that gives community oversight boards subpoena power through their local legislative body.

As amended, the local legislative body must vote in support of a community oversight board’s subpoena request. Additionally, the subpoena may not be issued in the form of a blanket authorization; it must specify each document to be produced or witness to testify and cannot be issued for confidential documents.

House Bill 658 balances both the interests of our citizens to voice their opinion while also protecting the fundamental rights of officers and their families from malicious or politically focused persecution.

Community oversight boards have existed since the 1950s, and there are presently no guidelines outlined in Tennessee state law that defines how they are created, who can serve on them, and what their specific function is.

This important initiative provides much needed structure to all current and future community oversight boards in Tennessee, which is critical to their overall success, as well as overall safety in Tennessee.

House Continues to Lead on Criminal Justice Reform

Earlier this week, lawmakers advanced House Bill 839 to ensure accountability and also support rehabilitation efforts for those with a strong desire to work towards prosperity.

This measure creates a statewide payment plan for individuals who submit proof of their inability to pay fines, taxes, or court costs on citations and have had their licenses suspended. This will allow them to obtain restricted drivers licenses so they can work, pursue their education, or attend church.

Additionally, lawmakers passed House Bill 950 to fund the state’s electronic monitoring indigency fund, which was exhausted last year. The measure adds $1.5 million in new funding and creates a state and county matching grant program to distribute funds.

These and other initiatives throughout the 111th General Assembly are a small part of a much larger criminal justice reform plan that will create a system of justice tempered with mercy.

Governor Lee Signs Legislation Tossing Gym Tax

This week, the Governor signed legislation that tosses the amusement tax on small gyms.

House Bill 1138 eliminates the amusement tax on small gyms, fitness studios, and similar entities across Tennessee. It levels the playing field for these facilities so they can compete against their larger counterparts, which obtained an exemption from this burdensome regulation in 1986.

Currently, Tennessee ranks in the bottom five states for obesity and fitness. The overall goal of this initiative is to promote a healthier workforce, reduce obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and improve the overall quality of life for the citizens of this state.

Feds Grant Governor’s Request for Major Disaster Declaration for Flood Relief in 56 Tennessee Counties

The federal government has approved the Governor’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration to make federal recovery assistance available to 56 county jurisdictions impacted by February’s flooding and severe storms.

The following counties are included in this declaration: Bedford, Bledsoe, Blount, Campbell, Carter, Cheatham, Claiborne, Clay, Cocke, Coffee, Decatur, Dekalb, Dickson, Dyer, Fentress, Gibson, Giles, Grainger, Greene, Hamblen, Hamilton, Hancock, Hardin, Hawkins, Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Knox, Lake, Lauderdale, Lewis, Lincoln, Marion, Marshall, McNairy, Moore, Morgan, Obion, Overton, Perry, Rhea, Roane, Robertson, Scott, Sequatchie, Sevier, Smith, Tipton, Unicoi, Union, Van Buren, Warren, and Wayne.

The major disaster declaration covers the time period of Feb. 19, to March 30, 2019, and will allow government entities and certain private non-profits in the eligible counties to apply for reimbursement of specific expenses related to the disaster under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Public Assistance (PA) program.

FEMA is still reviewing Gov. Lee’s initial request to provide assistance in five other Tennessee counties – Decatur, Hardin, Humphreys, Perry, and Sevier – through the Individual Assistance (IA) program.

The February storms impacted 83 of Tennessee’s 95 counties and caused more than $80 million in damages to the state’s transportation network. The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) has executed more than 50 emergency contracts to repair nearly 300 locations in 73 counties. TDOT has received $10 million in federal disaster relief funds and will work with the Federal Highway Administration for reimbursement for costs related to the storms.

Additionally, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture is coordinating with partners to assist farmers experiencing flooding in low-lying areas and river bottomlands, particularly in West Tennessee.

Information about FEMA's PA program and its eligible reimbursement categories is available at https://www.fema.gov/public-assistance-local-state-tribal-and-non-profit.

The federal declaration also makes Tennessee eligible for the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which provides assistance to communities to prevent or reduce long-term risks to life and property from natural hazards.

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