Rep. Timothy Hill holds town hall event in Mtn. CityBy David Walter
Tennessee State Representative Timothy Hill spoke to local constituents last Thursday afternoon at Louis’s Country Cafe. The town-hall style event began at 6:30 p.m. and received nearly 30 participants. In the midst of countywide campaigns for the August elections, Hill elaborated that this meeting was not about campaigning. “My campaign will start shortly, but not tonight,” said Hill. “What I want to do is that at the beginning of each legislative session, each part of it, and at the end – is to do town halls to let you all know what is going on, to let you know what we did, and to take as much time possible as I possibly can to hear from you.”
Hill spoke to the members of the event for roughly 45 minutes before opening the room up to questions from the audience. The majority of topics were related to major legislation in the state assembly, bills sponsored and co-sponsored by Hill, and issues of particular interest to the citizens of Johnson County. The first piece of legislation mentioned by Hill was House Bill 2445, which now makes Tennessee the second state in the United States, after Colorado, to allow for the farming of industrial hemp.
Education was a strong focus of Hill’s presentation. He devoted several minutes introducing House Bill 1129, legislation he personally sponsored. This bill now mandates that public schools must include instruction on the three branches of government, fundamental United States’ documents, an understanding of enacting legislation, the exceptional differences of America, and “ways citizens shape and influence government and governmental action.”
Hill also mentioned the recent passage of the Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act of 2014. This act was part of Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55 Initiative where the state hopes to raise higher education attainment from 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025. “There is no financial barrier now for any graduating senior to be able go to a Tennessee Center of Applied Technology, or to a two-year institution like Northeast State,” he said. “I’m all for it.” Hill said that he also hopes to see new higher educational institutions built in Johnson County. He additionally mentioned that Tennessee saw a $277 million shortfall below the targeted budget. According to The Tennessean, the now $32.4 billion spending plan and poor revenue collection fell short of providing Governor Haslam’s intention of raising state employee and teacher pay by one and two percent, respectively.
Methamphetamine use across Johnson County and Tennessee also came to the forefront of the town hall meeting. Hill sponsored and passed legislation this year that introduced higher minimum sentencing for methamphetamine. House Bill 1661 states that Tennessee, “requires a person convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine to serve at least 180 days in confinement and a person convicted of possession of methamphetamine to serve at least 30 days in confinement.”
While this law creates stricter sentencing standards, other lawmakers have recently been heavily criticized for passing legislation allowing Tennessee to be the first state to encourage the arrest and incarceration of women who use drugs while pregnant. Senate Bill 1391’s opponents range from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to the Tennessee organization Healthy and Free Tennessee. Criticism stems from the belief that this bill is unjustly punitive, leads to unwanted abortions, creates heightened health risks, and generates a larger burden to taxpayers. The bill’s summary states that it “provides that a woman may be prosecuted for assault for the illegal use of a narcotic drug while pregnant, if her child is born addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug.” Representative Hill decided not to vote on the final version of Senate Bill 1391. When speaking on his sponsored House Bill 1661, Hill focused more on drug rehabilitation options for offenders. “We want to see these individuals return back to society, be productive, be productive members of our culture, and when they are caught up in battling addiction – they cannot be,” said Hill.