State Rep. Kelly Keisling: Capitol Hill Review


State Representative Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown)

General Assembly honors fallen U.S. Army major, family


The General Assembly honored family and friends of fallen U.S Army Maj. Trevor Joseph on Monday, Jan. 24. State Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, and members of the Veterans Caucus also presented the family with framed copies of the Major Trevor Joseph Act and a resolution honoring the fallen solider.


Joseph, a Collierville native and medical services officer, was killed when his helicopter crashed while attempting to recover a soldier in Fort Polk, La. in 2019. At the time, his family requested that he be buried in the state veterans’ cemetery on a weekend to accommodate friends and family who wished to attend the ceremony. However, he was required to be interred on a weekday.


Last year, state lawmakers passed the Major Trevor Joseph Act to ensure that those who make the ultimate sacrifice are given a proper burial service that aligns with their family’s requests. The legislation requires the Department of Veterans Services to provide burial services for a person who died while on active duty with the United States armed forces, Tennessee National Guard or Tennessee Air National Guard and is being interred in a state veterans’ cemetery on a date requested by the family members of the person if the department is given at least 72 hours’ notice for the burial.


According to the Tennessee Department of Veterans Services, two weekend military burials have taken place since the Major Trevor Joseph Act was signed into law.


The General Assembly approves final redistricting plan


New redistricting maps received final approval by both chambers this week. House Bill 1034, House Bill 1035 and House Bill 1037 now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature. Every 10 years, new House, Senate and Congressional maps are drawn to reflect population changes based on U.S. Census data. The plan complies with all state and federal requirements in the Voting Rights Act and is reflective of Tennessee’s growth. The final concept ensures equal representation for all Tennesseans.


Key Redistricting Plan highlights:

  • U.S. growth was 7.4 percent

  • Tennessee’s population grew 8.9 percent, growing from 6,346,105 in 2010 to 6,910,840 in 2020.

  • Ideal district size increased from 64,102 to 69,806

  • 17 counties grew by more than 10 percent. Middle Tennessee had the highest growth

  • 30 counties experienced negative growth compared to only eight in 2010 –Rural West Tennessee, the Upper Cumberland region and Northeast Tennessee had the lowest growth

  • This caused a three-seat shift in representation to Middle Tennessee from other parts of the state

  • There are 30 split counties – nine in West Tennessee, nine in Middle Tennessee, and 12 in East Tennessee

  • Seven districts have paired incumbents and eight are without incumbents.

  • This concept maintains the current number of majority/minority districts – 13

  • Six districts remain unchanged


To view current district information and the new plans online, visit here.


Lawmakers rally against deforestation of public lands, propose to redirect proceeds from sale of TWRA assets


Bipartisan legislation filed this week would redirect proceeds from the sale of assets by the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) to the state. Current state law allows funds from the sale of TWRA assets to be managed and administered by the agency. Similar sales in nearly every other state department are deposited in the state’s general fund.


House Bill 1969 was filed in response to the agency’s controversial plan to clear cut approximately 2,000 acres of hardwood forest on publicly-owned land approximate to Virgin Falls State Natural Area in Sparta, Tenn. The Bridgestone-Firestone Centennial Wilderness Area includes more than 10,000 acres in White and Cumberland counties gifted to the state by the Bridgestone Corporation in 1998 to preserve for future generations. The site is a popular destination for camping, hiking and hunting. It is home seven waterfalls, 26 miles of hiking trails and primitive campsites. It is also home to a variety of wildlife including federally listed species and native plants.


Republicans and Democrats in both chambers have joined efforts in recent weeks to halt the TWRA’s plan to clear cut the land. Lawmakers have asked the TWRA to present a transparent conservation management plan that includes the input of citizens and protects the natural beauty of the area for continued public enjoyment. For more about the Bridgestone-Firestone Centennial Wilderness Area, visit here. For information about House Bill 1969, visit here.


Republicans reclaim religious freedom and personal liberty for Tennessee’s health care workers


Tennessee Republicans are again leading the fight against President Joe Biden’s forced government discrimination and unconstitutional plan to deny Americans their right to make personal health decisions for themselves.


House Bill 1867 requires an employer with a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy to grant an exemption for medical or religious reasons to anyone who requests to be exempt. The bill also specifies that medical practitioners are protected from civil liability and threat of disciplinary action by health-related boards for providing medical exemptions.


“Health care workers have carried us through this public health crisis for two years,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, State Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville. “They are the heroes on the front lines of this pandemic. Some of them have made a personal decision to not get vaccinated and their choice should be respected.”


The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 12 struck down the Biden Administration’s vaccine or testing mandate for employers with more than 100 employees. The high court allowed a policy requiring vaccinations for the health care workers at facilities that receive Medicaid and Medicare funds. There is no testing alternative for health care workers. The mandate was issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on behalf of the Biden Administration. It applies to more than 10 million health care workers nationwide. Those that don’t comply face losing their jobs. House Bill 1867 adds an additional layer of protection for Tennessee’s health care workers who do not want to be vaccinated. For more about House Bill 1867, visit here.


Education Instruction Committee hears update on Ford Megasite


The House Education Instruction Committee received an update this week regarding progress being made at Ford Motor Co.’s massive new automobile manufacturing facility planned in West Tennessee.


Infrastructure instillation work continues at the site, according to Mark Herbison, president and CEO of HTL Advantage, an economic development coalition formed to bring new industries into Haywood, Tipton and Lauderdale counties. Officials estimate as many as 3,000 people could be on site working on the project by the end of the year.


Ford and SK Innovations announced plans in September to build a state-of-the-art automobile and battery production facility on a 3,600-acre campus called Blue Oval City in Haywood County. The $5.6 billion project is the single-largest economic development investment in the state’s history and will create 5,800 new jobs in West Tennessee.


The Tennessee General Assembly, in partnership with Blue Oval City, committed $40 million to build a Tennessee College of Applied Science onsite that will provide customized training developed in conjunction with the two companies. The training will focus on electric vehicle manufacturing with a curriculum concentrating on mechatronics engineering and auto mechanics.


Additional highlights from the presentation:

  • The facility will be Ford’s most sustainable in the world and will be powered by renewable energy. It will be carbon-neutral from the beginning and feature a battery recycling facility on site.

  • It is expected to add an additional $3.5 billion annually in Tennessee’s gross state product once complete.

  • 960,000 people live within 45 minutes from Blue Oval City. Of those individuals, 186,000 already have the training necessary to work in an automobile manufacturing facility while 187,000 are qualified to work in a battery plant. There are 1.83 million people who live within 90 minutes of the site.

  • At peak construction next summer, nearly 7,000 people are expected to be working at the site.

  • Permanent workers are expected to be hired starting in 2024 with all of the assembly and battery plant jobs being online by 2026.

  • Ford is working to develop a dual-enrollment curriculum that will allow high school students to graduate with the necessary certificates and credentials needed to work in the assembly and battery production facilities.

  • Various road improvement projects are planned on the northern and southern side of I-40 in the immediate area, including a new interchange at Exit 39. Road work is expected to be completed by the summer of 2026.

  • Officials have already started seeing an incredible amount of development occurring in Haywood County along with increased interest in nearby areas such as Covington and Atoka.

  • The project is expected to reverse negative population growth in the area. Thousands of new residential housing developments will be needed in order to accommodate expected population growth in the region.


$28.5 million awarded to 62 communities for housing, infrastructure


Republicans in the General Assembly joined Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe on Monday to announce $28.5 million in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for 62 communities across Tennessee.


Funds will be used for water and sewer improvements and new extensions, housing rehabilitation and health and safety projects. They were allocated based on priorities set through the public meeting process at the local community level. The CDBG program is allocated under a procedure authorized by the Tennessee General Assembly. The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development administers the grant program based on priorities set at the local level where community needs are best known. More information about the 62 communities that received grants can be found here.


Proposal gives schools flexibility for 10 days of remote learning


Republican leaders this week filed legislation that would give Tennessee public schools the option to offer remote class instruction in the event of extreme weather or outbreaks of illnesses on a school-by-school basis. House Bill 1912 gives local school districts the flexibility to provide up to 10 days of remote instruction of the required 180 days per school year. If the bill becomes law, districts could utilize the rule to allow individual classes or schools to learn remotely rather than shutting down an entire district. For information about House Bill 1912 visit here.


State of the State address set for Jan. 31


Gov. Bill Lee will deliver his fourth State of the State address to members of the General Assembly and Tennesseans on Monday, Jan. 31 at 6 p.m. Central Standard Time (CST). The joint session will be in the House chamber at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville.


Lee is expected to discuss his legislative agenda for the year as well as his proposed budget for 2022-23. The address may be viewed on Gov. Lee’s Facebook and YouTube channels and will be aired statewide.


Unemployment


The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development this week reported the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell from 4 percent in November 2021 to 3.8 percent in December 2021. The unemployment rate decreased in five counties, increased in 87 counties and remained the same in three counties. Williamson County reported the lowest rate at 2.1 percent while Perry County reported the highest rate at 7.9 percent. During the same time period, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the United States decreased from 4.2 percent to 3.9 percent. Tennessee’s December Labor Force Report can be found here.