The 2015 session of the Tennessee General Assembly adjourned two weeks ago today, but much of the legislature's work was left unfinished.
Insure Tennessee The biggest failure of the legislature was neglecting to pass the governor's Insure Tennessee plan. One committee voted to advance the proposal, and one committee voted against it. But most legislators didn't vote on Insure Tennessee one way or the other. Drawing down federal funds to expand health coverage to nearly 300,000 Tennesseans is a no-brainer that would improve our economy and our health. Moving past politics and doing the right thing on health care must be Priority #1 as we prepare for the 2016 session.
Tuition equality Allowing lawfully present immigrants to pay in-state tuition passed with an overwhelming margin in the Senate, but came up one vote short in the House. I joined Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire as a co-sponsor of this legislation, which will hopefully become law next year to provide meaningful opportunities to new Americans making their home in Tennessee.
Education funding Tennessee is ranked 48th in education dollars per student. We began closing that gap this year with $170 million in new education funding. This is a good start, but to meet the Governor's objective of having the fastest increases in teacher salaries − as well as to meet our moral and constitutional obligations to provide adequately for our students − more work will have to be done. A proposal that would have diverted millions of public school dollars to an ill-conceived private school voucher program was defeated, but that fight will likely continue.
Women's rights Following the narrow passage of Amendment 1, the legislature enacted a series of legislative hurdles to reproductive rights and rejected common sense exceptions for women who become pregnant through rape or incest. The Senate also eliminated the Tennessee Economic Council for Women, despite the fact that women in Tennessee are far more likely than men to live in poverty or work in minimum wage jobs. Next session, we will have to work hard to achieve more steps forward and fewer steps back for women.
The good news
Despite a session focused more on naming an official state book and official state sniper rifle than addressing the critical issues facing the state, the legislature managed to pass some meaningful and beneficial legislation.
Affordable housing Rep. John Ray Clemmons and I sponsored legislation that will make it easier for Nashville to invest in affordable housing by allowing Metro to donate property obtained through delinquent tax sales to the Barnes Housing Trust and empowering the city to approrpirate funds to create incentives for the development of affordable and workforce housing options.
Benefit corporations Legislation crafted by Rep. Jason Powell will authorize the creation of for profit benefit corporations. These "B corporations" will be authorized to focus their corporate activities not just on bottom line profits but on making a positive impact to society and the environment.
State employees Proposed changes in the compensation of state employees − which could have led to pay decreases for workers who haven't received meaningful raises in more than a decade − were largely defeated. And Rep. Bill Beck and I sponsored successful legislation to ensure that employees would be guaranteed their full paid leave when welcoming a new child to their family.
I had a productive first session, sponsoring 11 bills that were passed by both chambers and will become laws, including an animal abuser registry that will prevent convicted animal abusers from obtaining new animals, a prohibition on perpetrators from suing survivors of rape for custody, and tougher penalties for people who are found guilty of elder abuse.
Let's Keep in Touch
The opportunity to represent you in the legislature this year was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life, and I appreciate your trust in me and support. Throughout the legislative session, I was pleased to see so many people who were willing to share ideas, visit or call the office, or even just post encouraging messages on Facebook and Twitter. I will continue to strive to be available and responsive to constituents, to pass meaningful legislation, and to fight for common sense answers to the challenges facing the state. I welcome your suggestions on how I can best represent you in the state Senate.
Finally, I saw the tremendous difference that can be made when more people pay attention and take part in the legislature's work. For us to avoid the silly diversions and take on the truly important tasks ahead, it is essential that good people outside the legislature play an even bigger role.
To that end, I want to invite you to one of three town hall meetings I will be holding at the Capitol this summer. After a brief tour, we will discuss some of the key issues facing our state. I hope you will make time to attend and make your voice heard.
Do you like this post?