By Rep. Timothy Hill
This year, House Republicans moved full steam ahead with multiple pieces of legislation designed to help military members and their families from across the state.
One of those bills will allow the five soldiers killed in the Chattanooga terrorist attack that occurred in July of last year to be eligible for the ‘Tennessee Fallen Heroes Medal.’ Currently, the medal is awarded to honor residents of Tennessee killed while serving on active duty or engaged in military support operations involving a conflict with an opposing foreign force.
As passed, this new legislation expands on this criteria to also allow the honor to be bestowed on those military men and women killed on Tennessee soil during an attack specifically targeting service members.
The medal is awarded solely by the Governor or the Governor’s designee to the immediate survivor of the recipient.
A second piece of legislation, the National Guard Force Protection Act, enhances protection at Tennessee National Guard facilities and military installations. The bill follows hearings regarding the safety of military installations by the state’s top leaders.
To fund the bill, the 2016-2017 budget includes $1.6 million for emergency phone systems, window film, magnetic locks, security camera systems, privacy screens, and bollards to protect soldiers at state military installations.
Additionally, legislation passed the full House this year that will strengthen and make the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) program available to private, non-profit institutions of higher education throughout the state.
Passed in 2014, the highly successful VETS program encourages colleges and universities to prioritize outreach to veterans and successfully deliver the services necessary to create a supportive environment where student veterans can prosper while pursuing their education. Currently, there are 13 public institutions that claim VETS Campus Certification. The certification recognizes and promotes schools that make veteran enrollment a priority. Higher education institutions that satisfy veteran-friendly criteria, such as specialized orientation and the availability of mentoring programs, can receive the designation.
Also on the veteran front this year was House Bill 1491, which will make it easier for veterans across the state to obtain a handgun carry permit. Under the legislation, a carry permit applicant would not be required to comply with the mandatory classroom and firing range hours if the applicant is an active, honorably discharged or retired veteran of the Unites States Armed Forces. The person would have to present a certified copy of their certificate of release or discharge from active duty, a Department of Defense form 214 (DD 214), that documents a date of discharge or retirement that is within five years from the date of application for the permit. The legislation aims to eliminate an unnecessary burden on the state’s veterans in the permitting process.
Legislation to help support Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) counseling for combat veterans and their families also received approval this year. As passed, the bill creates a specialty license plate which can be customized with a sticker to represent the veteran’s specific military branch with proceeds going to support these services.
Tennessee requires new specialty earmarked license plates to be subject to a minimum order of at least 1,000 plates prior to initial issuance. Any plate that does not meet the minimum order requirement within one year after passage of the authorizing act becomes invalid.
Under the bill, the money raised from these license plates is to be used exclusively in Tennessee to provide resources and support to veterans, service members, and their families, being equally allocated to Centerstone Military Services and SAFE: Soldiers and Families Embraced.
Lawmakers, Farmers Celebrate Annual ‘
Ag Day On The Hill’ Event
House lawmakers joined with farmers and agriculture groups from across the state in March to celebrate Tennessee’s annual ‘Ag Day on the Hill’ event at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville. Governor Bill Haslam has also proclaimed the date ‘Agriculture Day’ as part of the annual national observance to recognize the important contributions of farmers and forestland owners provide to the state and nation.
This year, ‘Ag Day on the Hill’ activities included farm animals — horses, cows, goats, sheep, piglets, and chicks — and a variety of farming equipment on display at the entrance to the Legislative Plaza in Nashville. Representatives from agricultural organizations and agencies were also available to discuss programs and opportunities for those interested in farming and forestry in Tennessee.
In addition, a corn shucking and shelling contest between House and Senate lawmakers took place, with House Speaker Beth Harwell leading the House to a blowout victory over their Senate counterparts. Following the contest, the Farm & Forest Families of Tennessee organization presented a check to Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee in honor of contest participants.
The day’s events also included a sweet potato bagging project to benefit the Society of St. Andrew and a silent auction benefiting Second Harvest and the Ag in the Classroom program.
Tennessee has more than 67,000 farms representing 10.9 million acres in production. More than half of the state, 14 million acres, is in mostly privately owned hardwood forests. Tennessee’s top agricultural commodities include cattle, soybeans, corn, poultry, cotton, timber, greenhouse and nursery products, dairy products, wheat, tobacco, and hay. The industry has a $75 billion a year impact on the state’s economy and supports nearly 350,000 jobs.
House Legislation To Ensure Transparency
And Accountability Garners House Approval
Legislation to help ensure transparency and accountability in state government regarding contracts received unanimous approval this year on the House Floor.
As passed, the legislation requires vendors that are contracting with the state to notify state officials if the vendor’s business is being investigated by a law enforcement agency. These notifications will be submitted to the Chief Procurement Officer in the Office of General Services. Additionally, if a business fails to properly report any investigations, the Chief Procurement Officer can assess fines in excess of $10,000.
Supporters agree this legislation will add even more transparency to state government, a policy of great importance to House Republicans. By requiring notification from vendors, upon the occurrence of any investigation brought against that business, the state can better protect the investment of Tennessee taxpayer dollars.
Additional information regarding this legislation can be found on the General Assembly website at http://goo.gl/VvWNYF.
Focus On College And University Success Act Passes House With Bipartisan Support
Legislation will aid state in meeting Drive to 55 challenge
Education moved front and center this year as the Focus on College and University Success (FOCUS) Act passed on the full House floor with bipartisan support.
As passed, the legislation better aligns the state’s colleges and universities to meet the Drive to 55 challenge: the goal of getting 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025 to meet the demands of the 21st Century job market.
The FOCUS Act places Tennessee on a direct path to meeting the Drive to 55 by providing a sharpened focus on the governance of community colleges and colleges of applied technology, while also granting four-year state universities additional autonomy to make local decisions.
Currently, the Tennessee Board of Regents oversees 46 institutions — six public state universities, 13 community colleges, and 27 colleges of applied technology. The University of Tennessee system oversees three public state universities as well as three institutes and a health science center.
Because of new initiatives put into place through the Drive to 55 program — such as the Tennessee Promise — there has been a shift in the higher education landscape that raises questions as to whether the existing higher education structure, established in 1972, is organized appropriately for today’s needs. Last fall alone, Tennessee saw a 10 percent increase in overall first-time freshman enrollment at Tennessee universities and a nearly 25 percent increase in first-time freshman enrollment at state community colleges. With 46 institutions under its belt to look after, proponents agree it is difficult for the Board of Regents to meet all of the diverse challenges of today’s educational system.
With the FOCUS Act, the massive 46 institution conglomerate under the Board of Regents will be shifted and given their own local governing boards, allowing community colleges the ability to focus at a system level, while giving the state’s four-year universities the benefit of greater overall autonomy and decision-making.
Jai Templeton Named New Tennessee Commissioner Of Agriculture
Sixth generation farmer, current deputy commissioner to lead department
Governor Bill Haslam announced in late March the appointment of Jai Templeton, a sixth generation Tennessee farmer, as commissioner of the Department of Agriculture effective May 1. Templeton will replace Julius Johnson who announced his retirement earlier in the year.
Templeton, 44, currently serves as the department’s deputy commissioner, leading the day-to-day operations and directing programs and services that range from food safety to animal and plant health to agricultural development.
Prior to joining the department in 2011, Templeton served as mayor of McNairy County. He and his family have farmed in McNairy and Hardin counties for decades, producing grain, cotton, hay, timber, and cattle.
From 1995 to 2003, Templeton served as field representative for former U.S. Representative Ed Bryant. He is a former McNairy County commissioner and former president of the McNairy County Chamber of Commerce, where he helped form the McNairy County Regional Alliance to focus on economic development in the area.
A native of McNairy County, Templeton has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Union University in Jackson. He is also a graduate of the University of Tennessee Certified Public Administrator program.
Legislation Strengthening Asset Forfeiture Laws,
Further Protecting Tennesseans Receives Unanimous Support
This year, the House of Representatives unanimously approved legislation that strengthens state asset forfeiture laws and further protects Tennesseans from unfair seizures of property.
As passed, House Bill 1772 prohibits a general sessions judge from authorizing a magistrate or judicial commissioner that is not licensed to practice law in Tennessee from issuing a civil forfeiture warrant. The legislation requires all appointed magistrates to either be licensed attorneys or judges to help prevent unwarranted seizing of assets.
Civil forfeiture is a legal process in which assets are taken from persons suspected of involvement with crime or illegal activity without necessarily charging the owners with wrongdoing. A magistrate, once authorized by a judge, can issue a warrant if they deem probable cause exists.
Over the years, this practice has caused concern and raised questions as to whether forfeiture warrants issued by those magistrates who are not licensed attorneys or judges have the necessary qualifications under Tennessee law to make such forfeiture determinations.
Proponents of the legislation agree the bill is a strong step forward in strengthening asset forfeitures laws and working to further protect the people of Tennessee from unfair seizures