Your tax dollars are safe. The annual legislative session ended for the year last week. Highlights are below, and this year the theme was, in fact, safety: Keeping Tennesseans Safe, Keeping Children Safe, and Keeping Jobs Safe.
Keeping Tennesseans Safe
The highlight of Governor Bill Haslam’s agenda was a Juvenile Justice Reform law. The law seeks to free up space in juvenile jails for our most violent offenders. Unbelievably, Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) told us the story of a juvenile in her district who had committed murder, was not tried as an adult, and was released from prison in THREE MONTHS! A new law will require these juveniles to be imprisoned for at least a year before being released. The Juvenile Justice Reform law will free up space for these offenders by devoting $5 million to treat non-violent juveniles to help keep them from turning into more serious criminals.
The legislature addressed the opioid crisis head on by passing two laws proposed by Gov. Haslam to curb opioid addiction. The first law limits initial opioid prescriptions to a 3-day supply with reasonable exceptions only for such needs as major surgery and hospice care. The second law creates incentives for criminals to complete substance abuse treatment programs while they’re in prison and directs $15 million to new treatment programs. Another law by Senator Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) made it second-degree murder to sell fentanyl to an individual who overdoses and dies from it. This drug is one of the most dangerous in Tennessee history.
I was happy to work with Secretary of State Tre Hargett to pass a law to protect victims of domestic violence, rape, human trafficking, and stalking. The Safe at Home program will allow these victims to keep their real address safe from their abusers by having all mail confidentially forwarded to them from a public address given to them by the Secretary of State. A similar law by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) allows these victims to receive rights over their cell phone service even if it was originally registered in their abuser’s name.
Keeping Children Safe
Keeping our children safe in schools is a top priority for Tennessee government. That is why the state devoted $30 million to hiring new security officers at schools that do not have them. This fund will help ensure that all our children have at least one person on campus who is armed and trained to repel would-be shooters. In addition, a law by Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville) allows schools to hire off-duty police officers and sheriffs’ deputies to serve as school security officers.
It is also important to keep our school children safe from sexual predators. The legislature passed a package of laws by Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) aimed to prevent sexual misconduct by teachers, including laws to perform periodic background checks, post disciplinary actions on the internet, punish non-reporting of incidents by school districts, prohibit non-disclosure agreements, and update the Teacher Code of Ethics.
In addition, Tennessee took steps to prevent unwitting child brides by banning marriage under the age of 17. Seventeen-year-olds can now marry only those within four years of their own age.
I was proud to join with Rep. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) in a bipartisan effort to prohibit Tennessee judges from offering defendants sentencing incentives in exchange for sterilization. Reproduction is a fundamental right, and the right to create new life should be protected.
Keeping Jobs Safe
Tennessee is currently experiencing its lowest unemployment rate in state history. Keeping these jobs safe is a top priority for the state. That’s why I was happy to work with Memphis and Shelby County government to pass a law to allow tax incentives to build apartments and hotels in Shelby County outside downtown Memphis.
I was also able to pass through the Senate for the first time ever a constitutional amendment to forever ban the Hall tax on interest and dividends. This tax particularly hurts seniors and those on fixed incomes and is being phased out over the next three years. Hopefully, this amendment will pass the House next year.
Priority number one next year for further protecting Tennessee jobs will be to eliminate the professional privilege tax, which is an annual $400 tax paid by 22 professions like accountants, architects, and engineers. It is the last vestige of an income tax in Tennessee, and it is time for this tax to go.
Keeping on the Right Track
Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your state Senator for Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown! Our accomplishments the last four years have proven that Tennessee government is working. We have the lowest unemployment rate in state history, we are 2nd in the nation for household income growth, and we have the lowest state debt per person in the nation. Meanwhile, we have the fastest improving students in the nation in math, reading, AND science; we spent over 500 million new dollars on K-12 education; and we cut taxes 9 times more than any other governor and legislature in state history. And thanks to the leadership of Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville), we ensured that violent criminals must serve at least 85% of their sentence. While we celebrate the nomination of Sen. Norris to serve as a federal judge, it is necessary for the rest of us to step forward to ensure Shelby County continues to play a leadership role in Tennessee. I hope you will join me in that effort.