State Rep. Kelly Keisling: Capitol Hill Review
The General Assembly adopts “I’ll Leave My Heart in Tennessee” as state song
Members of the House were treated to a performance of newly adopted state song “I’ll Leave My Heart in Tennessee” on Thursday, Feb. 17. The song was performed by the group Dailey & Vincent along with songwriter Karen Stanley, left. Lawmakers unanimously approved House Bill 1731 in February adding the song to the list of officially recognized state songs. The song was approved unanimously by the Senate on Monday. House Bill 1731 now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.
Gov. Lee to unveil new education funding formula Feb. 24: Education Commissioner addresses House committee ahead of announcement
Gov. Bill Lee this week announced he will share legislation for the new student-based funding formula, known as the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement formula (TISA), on Thursday, Feb. 24.
“After an extensive process with input from thousands of Tennesseans, we are on the cusp of achieving an updated approach to public education that prioritizes students and invests in the future of Tennessee,” said Gov. Lee. “I thank our partners in the General Assembly who have worked with us for months to improve the way we fund public schools, and I have every expectation that we will get this done during the current legislative session.”
The TISA will include the following components:
Student-based funding starts with a base funding amount for every public-school student.
Additional funding may then be allocated based on weights to address individual student needs.
Direct funding is another opportunity for students to receive additional funding allocations to support specific programs, like tutoring.
Outcome incentives are awarded based on student achievement to empower schools to help all students reach their full potential.
Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn on Wednesday appeared before members of the House Education Instruction Committee to answer questions about the proposed new funding formula ahead of its unveiling next week.
Schwinn noted that Tennessee is one of about nine states that still use a resource-based funding model for education. She added that moving to a student-based funding formula will help “ensure that students who need the resources and additional support receive the funding attached to them.”
The amount the state would spend on each student beyond the set base funding amount would “vary pretty significantly” with the new plan depending on each individual student’s specific needs, according to Schwinn.
“Those schools that have high concentrations of students who are economically disadvantaged, they will likely have additional funding on top of what they already get,” she added. “Very candidly, that tends to benefit our rural and urban communities the most.”
Once the new formula is released, school districts are expected to receive information regarding how much funding they would receive from the current Basic Education Program funding formula compared to the proposed new student-based formula.
To learn more about student-based funding, Tennessee’s recent public engagement process and subcommittee recommendations, and to access additional resources, visit the Department of Education’s website.
Ranked choice voting banned in Tennessee
Both chambers of the General Assembly this week approved legislation banning ranked choice or instant runoff voting in state and local elections.
Ranked choice voting is a voting method in which voters rank candidates by preference. The candidate with a majority of first-preference votes wins. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, then the candidate with the lowest preference is eliminated and their votes are redistributed among the remaining candidates.
“It is a confusing methodology of tabulating votes,” said House Bill 1868 sponsor State Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville. “The counting method is confusing and complex, creates a lack of confidence in the vote totals and what we’ve heard from constituents is keep things simple and transparent.”
Instant runoff voting has been proven to increase voter confusion, decrease voter turnout and confidence and produce results that leave no candidate with a majority of total votes.
House Bill 1868 heads to the governor’s desk for his signature. To read more about the bill visit here.
Legislation formally establishes the University of Tennessee Southern
The House Education Administration Committee this week approved legislation formally creating the campus of the University of Tennessee Southern in Pulaski, Tenn. The college is a four-year liberal arts university originally formed as Martin Methodist College in 1870. The boards of both schools approved the merger last year.
The Pulaski campus becomes the fifth site under the University of Tennessee System. The school is located about 75 miles southwest of Nashville near the Alabama border.
The original college was named after Thomas Martin who provided $30,000 in his will for the establishment of a school for girls in Giles County in 1870. A new chapter for the college began in 2021 when Martin Methodist College merged with the University of Tennessee System and became the University of Tennessee Southern. House Bill 2019 grants the trustees of the University of Tennessee the same power, authority, and discretion to take necessary actions to accomplish of the university’s mission. House Bill 2019 moves on to the Calendar and Rules Committee before heading to the House floor for a full vote. For more about House Bill 2019 visit here.
Pilot program helps low-income college students remain in school
A pilot program approved by the General Assembly last year is already helping some of Tennessee’s lowest-income college students remain in class, tnAchieves Executive Director Krissy DeAlejandro told members of the House Education Administration Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 16.
The first grants were awarded to eligible Tennessee Promise scholarship students last fall to cover expenses beyond tuition that could prevent them from completing a postsecondary degree or credential.
In all, 1,197 grants were distributed to 668 students across 85 counties statewide, according to DeAlejandro. The average grant amount was $184. Of the amount awarded, 27 percent went to computer/technology uses while 20 percent was used for gas/transportation expenses and 18 percent was used for groceries. Other uses included housing, textbooks, supplies and class fees. The grant dollars were provided through House Bill 006 and approved by the General Assembly in 2021.
“Students reported back that 85 percent of them are returning (to class) in the spring,” DeAlejandro said. “This far outpaces what we see with our typical low-income students. If you look at the state average, it’s 49 percent.”
Students who received the grants had a household income of $30,000 or less. More information about tnAchieves can be found here.
Republicans protect religious freedom in Tennessee
House Republicans on Monday passed legislation further protecting Tennesseans’ First Amendment right to hold religious services during a state of emergency, major disaster or natural disaster. The measure passed the House chamber with 73 Republicans voting in favor and 19 Democrats voting against it.
House Bill 1694 prohibits the state, a government entity or a public official from restricting worship services or activities during a state of emergency such as a pandemic or natural disaster.
The First Amendment guarantees the right of all citizens to freely practice their religion and to peacefully assemble at their chosen house of worship. Though Tennessee has not imposed any restrictions on religious services since the pandemic began, other states have. House Bill 1694 ensures the government will not infringe on those rights. The bill now awaits approval in the Senate Chamber. To read more about House Bill 1694, visit here.
Republicans seek to prohibit early release for 14 violent crimes
Legislation to eliminate the possibility of parole for individuals convicted of certain violent crimes advanced out of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week.
House Bill 2656 requires offenders to serve 100 percent of the sentences handed down by a judge or jury for an additional 14 violent offenses. Those crimes include aggravated assault resulting in death, attempted first-degree murder with serious bodily injury, second-degree murder, aggravated vehicular homicide, aggravated kidnapping, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, aggravated arson, aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect or endangerment, carjacking, and possessing or employing a firearm during a dangerous felony among other types of violent crimes.
“During my 36-year career in law enforcement, I saw first-hand the pain these senseless crimes caused victims and their families,” said State Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, who is a retired police lieutenant. “This bill sends a strong message that we will not tolerate these violent offenses in our state by ensuring those who commit them serve their full sentence.”
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, partnered with Hulsey to serve as the co-prime sponsor of the bill as it travels through the committee process. It now moves to the House Criminal Justice Committee for additional discussion and debate.
“(This) will ensure violent criminals serve their entire sentence after a guilty verdict, not just a portion,” Speaker Sexton said about the legislation.
Last year, state lawmakers approved truth in sentencing reform for 31 crimes historically targeting women and children.
More information about House Bill 2656 can be found here.
Transparency in Sentencing for Victims Act advances
Republican legislation to improve sentencing transparency in Tennessee advanced out of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week.
House Bill 2657, also known as the Transparency in Sentencing for Victims Act, is designed to better inform crime victims and their families about the lengths of sentences offenders will serve when a sentence is announced by a judge or jury. It now moves to the House Criminal Justice Committee for additional discussion and debate.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, partnered with State Rep. Michael G. Curcio, R-Dickson, the co-prime sponsor of the bill. House Bill 2657 would require all Tennessee courts to place on the record — either orally or in writing — the estimated number of years and months served before a criminal is eligible for parole.
Improving transparency in sentencing will ensure victims have accurate information about the individual who perpetrated a crime against them so they know whether that individual will serve their entire sentence — a certain number of years or 100 percent of the sentence handed down — or just a portion before they are eligible for parole.
More information about House Bill 2657 can be found here.