State Rep. Kelly Keisling: Capitol Hill Review
House protects students, employees against divisive concepts on campuses
The House of Representatives on Monday passed legislation that prohibits Tennessee’s public universities and colleges from taking adverse actions against students or employees for their viewpoints. House Bill 2670 aims to ensure diversity and inclusion efforts are not undermined by divisive concepts that seek to drive Tennesseans apart. It establishes that students nor employees may be discriminated against for refusing to support, believe, endorse, embrace or act upon a specific ideology or political viewpoint. It requires public universities and colleges to survey students and employees about the campus climate every two years about speaking freely on campus.
This bill defines "divisive concept" as a concept that:
Promotes the belief that one race or sex is inherently superior or inferior to another race or sex
Declaring that an individual, by virtue of the individual's race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously
Declaring that the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist
An individual should be discriminated against because of the individual's race or sex
An individual's moral character is determined by the individual's race or sex
House 2670 was amended to include a provision requiring institutions of higher education to investigate a student or employees’ complaints when they feel this law in in violation. If the institution finds that a violation has been committed, this bill authorizes the institution to reprimand the violator for a first violation or terminate the violator's employment for a second or subsequent violation. House Bill 2670 requires public colleges and universities to annually report the number of complaints, the investigative findings, and the actions taken for violations to General Assembly. The Senate companion version of the bill is expected to be up for a full vote next week. For more about House Bill 2670, visit here.
Legislation streamlines reporting system for dangerous road conditions
A bill advancing through House committees aims to make it easier for citizens to report road hazards and settle claims with the state when vehicles are damaged on state-maintained highways. House Bill 2706 requires the state treasurer to work with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to develop and implement a centralized information system for the reporting of dangerous road conditions. It expands the authority of the state treasurer to settle citizens’ claims when personal property is damaged by road hazards such as potholes. The state’s current procedure for filing such claims is a difficult process, said House Transportation Committee Chairman Dan Howell. The state received 1,800 claims for pothole and road hazard damage in 2021 and of those, only 12 were settled.
“We believe we can do better and I know we can do better,” Howell said. “This simply allows TDOT and our treasurer’s office to cooperate in creating a streamlined reporting system so our citizens may be better served.”
House Bill 2706 will be up for consideration in the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee on March 15. For more about House Bill 2706 visit here.
The General Assembly passes tax reform to spur economic growth
The House chamber this week unanimously passed legislation that continues to improve the state’s tax code and solidifies Tennessee’s standing as the most business-friendly state in the nation. House Bill 2144 would allow companies doing business in Tennessee to continue to deducting all research and development-related expenses when filing their state excise taxes. The bill permits businesses to continue expensing research and development that was first allowed in former President Donald Trump’s legislative package known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017. The soon-expiring TCJA reduced tax rates for businesses and individuals while increasing standard deductions and family tax credits. By severing Tennessee’s tax code from the federal code’s extended research and development amortization schedule, House Bill 2144 allows companies doing business in Tennessee to continue deducting those expenses from their state tax liability.
The Senate companion bill passed on March 3. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for approval. For more about House Bill 2144 visit here.
TDOE releases additional explainer resources for new funding formula
The Tennessee Department of Education this week released additional Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) resources explaining how the proposed student-based funding formula will update the way Tennessee funds public education for the first time in 30 years.
The proposal, House Bill 2143, establishes the TISA as a new funding model that prioritizes the individual needs of students rather than relying on ratio components and district averages. The plan puts direct focus on students with disabilities, students in rural and urban areas and low-income families. House Bill 2143 was introduced in the House K-12 Subcommittee this week with a presentation by Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. Action was deferred in committee until March 15.
Starting in the 2023-24 school year, the TISA would invest an estimated $9 billion in education funding for the state, including state and local funds, which would include an additional recurring state investment of $1 billion. The TISA is designed to empower each student to read proficiently by third grade, prepare each high school graduate for postsecondary success, and provide resources needed to all students to ensure they succeed.
Many helpful resources are available at FundingforStudentSuccess.org including:
What is Student-Based Funding?: An animated video gives an overview of a student-based formula and how it would serve Tennessee students.
Subcommittee Recommendations: This presentation provides a snapshot of recommendations collected from each of the 18 subcommittees during the statewide engagement process.
Base Funding: This overview explains how and why student-based funding starts with a base amount for each student.
Funding Weights: This overview explains how students’ individual education needs are supported through funding weights.
Direct Funding: This overview explains how direct funding goes toward specific programs.
To learn more about student-based funding, Tennessee’s recent public engagement process and subcommittee recommendations, and to access additional resources, visit the department’s website.
Save Tennessee Students Act to address teen suicide
The Tennessee House of Representatives is expected to vote next week on legislation aimed at helping prevent suicides among teenagers.
House Bill 2062, also known as the Save Tennessee Students Act, requires local education agencies to include the telephone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline as well as contact information for at least one additional crisis resource on all new student identification cards issued for grades 6-12 beginning with the 2022-23 school year. The legislation also requires the information to be posted in visible places throughout schools that serve students in those grades.
“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15 through 24,” State Rep. Eddie Mannis, R-Knoxville, told members of the House Education Administration Committee on March 2. “Life-saving information such as how to access crisis intervention hotlines, mental health programs and suicide prevention resources should be easily accessible by all students, parents, guardians and school personnel.”
There were 45,979 Americans who died by suicide in 2020, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. There were an estimated 1.2 million suicides attempted during that same year.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
More information about House Bill 2062 can be found here.
Computer science requirement for K-12 gets committee approval
The House Education Instruction Committee this week advanced legislation that will require all Tennessee public schools to offer computer science training. House Bill 2153 marks a significant step for the Volunteer State by ensuring students are prepared for the tech jobs of tomorrow. The curriculum will set rigorous standards for computer science education by providing free professional development for Tennessee students.
Currently, only half of Tennessee high schools are offering computer science courses. The bill requires every high school student to complete a full year of computer science education in order to graduate, starting with 2024-25 incoming freshmen. Additionally, every middle school student would be required to receive at least one course in computer science education while elementary students would be required to receive age-appropriate computer science education.
House Bill 2153 helps to fulfill a growing demand for a workforce with exposure to and mastery of computer science. The bill is up for consideration in the Government Operations Committee on March 14. For more about House Bill 2153 visit here.
General Assembly strengthen punishment for certain violent offenders
The General Assembly approved legislation this week that eliminates the possibility for parole for first-degree murderers in rape cases.
House Bill 2269 requires that a person be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole if they are convicted of first-degree murder while committing or attempting to commit aggravated rape, rape, rape of a child and aggravated rape of a child. The legislation now heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature. More information about House Bill 2269 can be found here.
Bill to protect teachers from assault advances
A proposal would help protect Tennessee teachers from being assaulted on the job advanced out of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday.
House Bill 1934 expands the offenses of assault and aggravated assault against first responders or nurses to also include teachers. There are 68,838 public school teachers in Tennessee, according to information from the Tennessee General Assembly Financial Review Committee. The legislation would result in an estimated 69 convictions annually.
“All of our schools have nurses in them that are already protected by this law,” State Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, told members of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday. “Why do we not protect the teachers in the classroom?”
Assaulting a teacher would be a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $5,000 and mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail, according to the bill. Aggravated assault of a teacher would be a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $15,000 and a mandatory minimum sentence of 90 days in jail.
House Bill 1934 now heads to the full House Criminal Justice Committee for consideration.
More information about the legislation can be found here.
Bill would increase punishment for assaulting a first responder
A bill strengthening the punishment for assaulting a first responder advanced out of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday.
House Bill 2247 expands the offenses of assault and aggravated assault against a first responder or nurse to include offenses committed against any licensed emergency healthcare provider. It also increases the mandatory minimum jail sentence for each offense.
“My purpose (with) this bill is to draw attention to the fact that evil doesn’t discriminate against only policemen,” State Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, told members of the subcommittee. “It discriminates against anybody in a uniform doing their job. We’d like to call attention to that fact… and then put evil where it belongs.”
The legislation was prompted by a fatal shooting at a grocery store in Collierville last fall that left two people dead, including the shooter, and a dozen others injured.
According to the bill, assault of a first responder or other licensed emergency healthcare provider would be a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a mandatory $5,000 fine and minimum sentence of 90 days in jail. Aggravated assault would be a Class C felony punishable by a mandatory $10,000 fine and minimum 180 days in jail.
Any aggravated assault that resulted in the death of a first responder or other licensed emergency healthcare provider would be a Class A felony. It would carry a mandatory $50,000 fine and mandatory minimum jail sentence of 15 years.
House Bill 2247 will now go to the full House Criminal Justice Committee for consideration.
More information about the legislation can be found here.
New Tennessee Composer Laureate named
Members of the House of Representatives unanimously approved House Joint Resolution 749 on Monday naming Michael Kurek as the state composer laureate for Tennessee.
Kurek is an internationally-known composer from Goodlettsville whose music has been performed across the United States and in 43 countries. He has received numerous national and international accolades for his work including the Academy Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Academy’s Charles Ivey Award and the Tanglewood Music Center’s Fromm Fellowship in Composition.
In 2017, Kurek’s album “The Sea Knows” debuted at the top of Billboard’s Traditional Classical Music chart. His original music theater show, “Dear Miss Barrett,” had its world premiere at the Hendersonville Performing Arts Company in June of 2021.
Kurek received his bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and doctorate in composition from the University of Michigan. He spent 14 years as the chair of Vanderbilt University’s department of composition and is a professor emeritus of composition at the school.
The only other known composer laureate of Tennessee was David Van Vactor, who received the distinction in 1975, according to information provided by the Legislative Library. Van Vactor died in 1994. More information about House Joint Resolution 749 can be found here.
Update to E-Verify system
The Tennessee House of Representatives approved House Bill 1853 on March 3 to update state law regarding the use of the E-Verify system to confirm employment eligibility of individuals. The legislation reduces the threshold for employers to use the system from 50 employees to 25, prohibits the rehiring of illegal aliens and adds protections for employers if E-Verify fails or is not operational. It also expands resources that are already available to help employers that either do not have internet access or employ fewer than 50 people. The Senate companion bill is expected to be considered in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on March 15. More information can be found here.
Compensation for families of deputy jailers killed in the line of duty
Legislation that offers a compensation program for families of first responders killed in the line of duty now heads to the governor’s desk for approval this week. The House chamber passed the legislation in 2021, but it was held over in the Senate until gaining final approval on Feb. 28. House Bill 549 expands the definition of a law enforcement officer in the program to also include deputy jailers, retroactive to March 1, 2020. The program offers families of first responders killed in the line of duty a $250,000 annuity paid over five years in $50,000 installments. Read more about House Bill 549 here.
The General Assembly passes legislation to curb opioid overdoses
Both chambers of the General Assembly approved legislation authorizing health care broadly distribute an opioid antagonist such as naloxone. The drug has been proven safe and effective at reducing fatal overdoses of opioids. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature. Read more about House Bill 2465 here.
The Tennessee House of Representatives unanimously approved House Joint Resolution 927 on Thursday honoring the brave people of Ukraine for defending their country against the communist aggression of Russia. State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, called Russia a “bully” on the House floor and said Tennessee stands with the “freedom-loving people in the Ukraine.” The resolution will now be sent to the Senate for approval.
Kelly Keisling serves as State Representative for House District 38 which encompasses Macon, Clay, Pickett, Scott, and part of Fentress Counties.