Statehouse Summaries: Legislators focus on education, workforce development
by Kevin Brooks
May 12, 2013 | 325 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of summaries taking a detailed look at the work of the Tennessee Legislature in the recently completed 108th General Assembly. The summations are being provided by State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, representing the 22nd Legislative District, and State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, representing the 24th Legislative District. The summaries are being published, as submitted by the legislators, by the Cleveland Daily Banner in alternating Sunday editions. Today’s installment is submitted by Rep. Brooks.)

The recently completed 108th General Assembly of the Tennessee Legislature accomplished an overwhelming number of goals, two of which I’m especially proud.

One is that we brought change — as we said we would — to education, to taxation, to our statewide and local economies, to workforce development and to many other issues that are important to Tennessee residents.

And two, we achieved all of this — thanks to your continued support — in a short time whose brevity will save your tax dollars.

Obviously, state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, who represents the 22nd Legislative District, and I are very proud of the Legislature’s achievements this year. The same certainly can be said by state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who represents the 9th Senatorial District, and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, who represents the new 10th Senatorial District.

Here are just a few of the General Assembly’s recent accomplishments:

Education improvements

The state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) — the mechanism for funding public schools — is fully funded in this year’s budget at $4 billion. In addition, the budget provides:

n Increased funding for information technology upgrades at K–12 schools statewide;

n Increased funding for need-based financial aid;

n Funding for a new building at the Tennessee School for the Deaf;

n Continued funding for the state’s Science Alliance Museums, the Governor’s School and Family Resource Centers, the Arts Academy, and the Tennessee Holocaust Commission;

n Increased funding for statewide equipment upgrades at community and technical colleges; and

n Over $300 million for capital outlay and maintenance projects at public colleges across the state.

Workforce development

The 2013-14 budget passed this year and reflects a commitment by GOP lawmakers to foster an environment for job growth across Tennessee. Republican legislators understand that in order for our economy to continue improving, government must stay out of the way of job creators and ensure it is not placing unnecessary burdens on business. The budget, as passed this session, includes multiple programs to help business owners grow and thrive, including:

n A continuation in funding of the state’s FastTrack Infrastructure and Job Training program which aids businesses across the state in securing funding for expansion projects and ensuring employees are trained to their fullest potential;

n An increase in funding to Tennessee’s nine regional development districts to help local governments implement important infrastructure projects and recruit new business; and

n Continued funding to recruit and develop the state’s film and television industry which has steadily grown in recent years and helped bring in millions of film and tourism dollars.

Since January 2011, nearly 80,000 new jobs have been created in Tennessee and the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since October 2008.

House pleased

with new rules

to streamline government,

save taxpayer dollars

For the first time since 1997, the Tennessee House of Representatives this year adopted permanent rules to govern the body. Following the landmark vote, House GOP leaders emphasized the move would streamline House operations, limit government and save taxpayer dollars.

Republicans said it was important to follow through on promises made to voters by working toward a more efficient and effective state government. Lawmakers also hoped the move would make it easier to prioritize the issues important to voters, including a balanced budget, jobs and lower taxes.

With the legislative session now concluded, lawmakers are pleased the rule changes did indeed lead to a successful overhaul of how government does business.

Among the successful rule changes implemented this year is the first-ever limit on the number of bills a legislator may file. For each legislative session, members of the House are now limited to 15 bills, meaning 30 total for the 108th General Assembly. Previously, the Assembly averaged more than 4,000 bills per year while surrounding states considered roughly 2,500. This year, the Tennessee Legislature considered only 1,365 pieces of legislation, thanks to the new bill limit being in place.

Another major change was the restructuring of the House committee system. Now that this year's legislative session has concluded, it is easy to see the move aided in more efficient operations by better balancing the workload of each committee. In years past, some House committees considered less than 100 bills while others were often bogged down with more than 800. Under the new system, lawmakers saw this disparity in bill workloads balance out, allowing legislators more time to give each and every bill the due diligence demanded by Tennessee taxpayers.

House Republican leaders maintain the changes will continue to, in the long run, increase efficiency, save money, streamline operations, make the process easier for the public to understand and limit government bureaucracy — all solid conservative principles.