NASHVILLE, Feb. 3, 2017– This week, the 110th General Assembly got off to a brisk start. The week began with Governor Haslam delivering his seventh State of the State Address before a joint session of the House and Senate. Some of what he discussed had already been revealed before Monday night’s speech, but there were a few surprises. Members of the governor’s cabinet, other special guests, and officials from across the state filed into the house chambers to listen to the governor’s legislative agenda.
The rest of the week included organizational meetings of newly appointed standing committees. The House of Representatives has fifteen standing committees, through which all legislation introduced must pass. Of the fifteen committees, I have the opportunity of serving on two full committees and one subcommittee. This year, I am continuing to serve on the Education Committees and am newly appointed to the Health Committee. I am looking forward to serving on each of them.
Last week, the work in committees was largely organizational. By and large, committees convened to discuss rules that would govern the actions of the committees and to introduce committee members, committee staff, and other individuals important to its operation. For most committees, legislative consideration will begin taking place next week. In one of the committees on which I serve, the Education Instruction and Programs Committee, we will be hearing presentations from the Comptroller, Department of Education, and higher education officials over the course of the next three weeks.
At this time, there have been nearly 400 bills introduced in the House and just under that number in the Senate. Thus far, I have introduced five pieces of legislation, three of which focus on improving our education system. I will be sharing the particulars of that legislation in upcoming Legislative Updates and may even be asking for your grassroots support. To learn more about any legislation introduced you may visit http://www.capitol.tn.
Governor Proposes Changes to Infrastructure Funding, Education and Internet Policy
Governor Haslam’s main areas of focus during Monday’s State of the State Address were education and infrastructure. He continually stressed the need for increased funding for the state’s highway system, which was no surprise to anyone familiar with his administration’s plan to increase the state’s road funding. Under the plan, the tax on gasoline would be raised $.08/gallon while the diesel tax would see a $.12/gallon increase. The plan would be accompanied by a reduction in the grocery tax and an increase in registration fees on electric vehicles. There are also other good plans being submitted by legislators that would address the need for infrastructure funding without raising taxes. I believe that, as conservatives, with a healthy surplus in sales taxes collected, we should be able to find a way to do that. I believe we will.
As in past addresses, a major emphasis was placed on improving the state’s education system. The administration will be proposing a $100 million increase in teacher salaries as well as expanding the state’s cost-free tuition programs. The plan would expand cost-free community college tuition to all adults and service members who reside within the state. I am waiting to see the details. I do not want to reduce the current Hope Scholarship allowances or allocations to the Tennessee Promise, so I am not sure how this
He also cited his previously released plan to further broadband deployment into rural areas of the state. The plan deregulates restrictions on electric cooperatives, allowing them to provide internet services – currently not allowed under state law. It also dedicates $45 million in credits and grants for providers to expand into rural areas. He made his plans to push the initiative public last week.
These and other proposals from Governor Haslam’s 2017 legislative package will be making make their way through the legislative committee process and I am looking forward to the robust debate.
The Session Promises Spirited Debate about Important Matters for our State
It looks like the 109th General Assembly will be considering a wide variety of subjects. From Governor Haslam’s agenda, we will consider his proposal to address highway infrastructure, broadband, teacher raises and higher education policy, and a number of other subjects. Proposals to address many of these same areas of concern have also been filed by some legislators and I am looking forward to hearing them. We will learn more about their fate as these pieces of legislation are vetted through the committee system.
As always, legislation making small or large technical changes to our state laws will be introduced and considered. Usually these changes are to address a need in the law that has risen as result of another law change or other circumstance that might impact that area of the state code. Also expected, as in any legislative session, are large scale proposed changes. These may include tax considerations, criminal decisions and punishments, funding issues, and a great deal of other subjects. I will certainly be keeping you informed as we move through the legislative session. I hope you will feel free to contact my office with questions or concerns. Also, Jan and I would be delighted to host your group or your classroom at the Capitol. Our contact information is firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-741-3005.