The following is a legislative update from State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver
Greetings, Fellow Folks of the Fortieth! My thanks go out to the 4-H groups, from all three of my counties, who spent the day with me this past week. I love it when our youth come to the Capitol.
Also, I am blessed to have such wonderful water resources in my district. I called for an informational meeting involving Dale Hollow Lake and all marina owners of Center Hill Lake. It was a positive proactive turnout with emphasis on keeping our water clean for generations to come. Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA), the Corp of Engineers, and local officials joined us for lunch and discussion.
On another note, this week has been very busy here at the state capitol both for me and my fellow colleagues. I struck back at the Tennessee Democratic Party (TNDP) today after they made false allegations about a bill I am currently sponsoring in the Tennessee General Assembly. House Bill 3627 would encourage the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to take into account quality of life and economic impact when prioritizing road projects. The TNDP falsely accused me of jeopardizing federal funding by requiring the General Assembly to approve road projects.
It is clear to me that the Tennessee Democratic Party has no interest in the truth. This legislation would simply encourage TDOT to consider certain important factors when prioritizing road projects. There is no price tag on the bill, and the Tennessee Democratic Party would have realized this if they had actually read it.
The bill specifically encourages TDOT to prioritize projects with the following objectives in mind:
Ensuring the continued viability of and improving the quality of life in rural communities affected by any projects;
Promoting economic development and tourism in affected communities;
Improving public safety;
Improving the efficiency of transportation routes and
Coordinating the traffic flow between local communities to maximize opportunities for all of the state.
While the Tennessee Democratic Party plays deceitful politics, I have been working tirelessly with TDOT and the constituents in my community to make District 40 an even better place to live, work, and raise a family. It is disappointing that they are taking cheap political shots, but it will not deter my work for the people of Macon, Smith, and DeKalb Counties.
Also, this week the House Industrial Impact Subcommittee passed the ‘Tennessee Health Freedom Act’ this week, which is aimed at protecting the right of an individual to purchase—and the right of doctors to provide—lawful medical services without penalty. The bill would also require the state Attorney General to take the necessary steps to defend these rights.
House Bill 3433 was presented as a crowd lined the aisles and the hallway outside of the committee room in support of the bill. The measure is just one of many that Republicans hope will protect individuals from an increasingly heavy-handed federal government. Other states have passed similar legislation, and many are already in the process of filing a lawsuit against the federal government regarding the healthcare overhaul.
Concerned that expanding government programs are rarely effective solutions to efficient complex issues, we have argued that the federal government takeover of healthcare will only prove to balloon the cost of healthcare services to the states. Having passed the subcommittee, the bill will be presented to the full House Commerce Committee next Tuesday morning.
Another measure that achieved passage by the Industrial Impact Subcommittee Wednesday would put into Tennessee’s Constitution language that prohibits laws that would compel a person, employer, or healthcare provider to participate in any healthcare system. Similar to the bill in context, House Joint Resolution 745 has now cleared one hurdle, but faces Tennessee’s lengthy constitutional amendment approval process, which can take up to four years.
A constitutional amendment must be approved by one General Assembly by a majority, and a subsequent General Assembly by a two-thirds vote. Following its passage by the legislature, the amendment goes on the ballot in the next gubernatorial election, and must receive approval from a majority of those voting in the gubernatorial race.
The House Commerce Committee also approved two measures this week that Republicans hope will send Washington a message. House Bill 2681 would prohibit using tax dollars for abortions. The legislature’s Fiscal Review Office has said the bill does not put the state in jeopardy of losing any federal funds, and the sponsor impressed upon the committee the need to be proactive. Due to its passage out of Commerce this week, the bill could be scheduled for a floor vote as early as next week.
Finally, the House Commerce Committee also approved a resolution that expresses opposition to the government takeover of healthcare, and the creation of a public option healthcare plan. House Joint Resolution 704 will be heard in the House Calendar and Rules Committee which will schedule the resolution for a floor vote should it pass.
The United States Department of Education announced Monday that Tennessee has been chosen to receive millions of dollars from the federal government’s “Race to the Top” program. Only two of 16 finalists—Tennessee and Delaware—were ultimately selected. Tennessee hoped to receive $500 million, and early reports indicate the state stands to receive approximately that amount. The Tennessee General Assembly met for two weeks in early January for an Extraordinary Session to pass a bi-partisan, comprehensive education reform plan.
We stood together Monday and praised the efforts of everyone involved who had worked together toward true education reform. Tennessee presented their plan to a panel of independent evaluators in Washington, D.C., who reportedly were impressed by the strong accountability measures in Tennessee’s proposal.
The “Race to the Top” competition is designed to reward states that are leading the way in comprehensive, coherent, statewide education reform across four areas:
Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace;
Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and informing teachers and principles how to improve instruction;
Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principles, especially where they are needed most; and
Turning around their lowest-performing schools.
The Transportation Committee approved the “English Only” legislation this week, which would require driver’s license exams to be given only in English. The Republican sponsor argued that House Bill 262 is needed so that drivers can read road signs and other critical information. Republicans also say drivers need to be able to communicate with police and other emergency personnel in case of an emergency.
In the same vein, the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee approved House Bill 270, which would require voter registration forms to carry a disclaimer that clarifies giving false information to register to vote carries a criminal penalty, and also requires that the applicant affirm that they are lawfully in the United States. The bill will now move the House Calendar and Rules Committee.
We also scored a majority victory on Wednesday, after passing House Bill 2685. The “Protecting English in the Workplace” proposal experienced no resistance on the House floor and passed by an overwhelming majority.
The legislation clarifies that employers can require that English be spoken on the job, but does allow for some exceptions such as lunch hours or other designated breaks. The bill would protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits that can emerge when private policies are set perfectly within their rights.
The Republican sponsor said requiring English is often a safety precaution. Businesses where employees are continuously handling toxic products or food containers have a need to require English. The sponsor also cited industrial businesses, where signs in English often display critical safety information.
For many years, all three bills have faced resistance by Democrat-controlled subcommittees, but due to a Republican majority in the House and Senate, the legislation has been successful thus far this year.
Tennessee celebrated ‘Tax Freedom Day’ on April 1st this year, which according to the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation, Tax Freedom Day answers the basic question, “What price is the nation paying for government?” Based on their calculations, Tennesseans worked for 91 days before they earned enough money to pay this year’s federal and state tax obligations. In addition, Tax Foundation reports that Americans will pay more taxes in 2010 than they will spend on food, clothing and shelter combined.
House Bill 3576 places restrictions on the amount of reimbursement legislators can receive for in-state flights. Currently, legislators have the option of flying or driving from their respective districts to Nashville to serve in the legislature. This legislation would limit the reimbursement to simply mileage or the cost of the airline ticket, whichever is less. The bill passed out of the House State Government Subcommittee and will next be heard in the full State and Local Government Committee.
House Bill 2885 will next be heard in the House Budget Subcommittee. A bill that would create a “small business advocate” within the state Comptroller’s office passed out of the House Commerce Committee this week.
House Bill 3301 passed on the House floor this week, and would enact the “Freedom from Coercion Act.” If a pregnant female is a minor, the attending physician or health care professional must inform the minor that no one can force her to have an abortion and the procedure cannot be done unless she provides her freely given, voluntary and informed consent. The legislation has already passed the Senate.