Legislative Update, Special Session, January 16, 2010

LEGISLATIVE ACTION  ALERT               
January 16, 2010                                              

Tennessee General Assembly information and contacts: http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/
To email legislators, look on the left side of the page, select House or Senate, then ‘Members’.
Don’t forget that you can now watch on your computer the committee meetings and the floor sessions: 
http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/livevideo/
Phone calls can go to the Legislative Switchboard: (615) 741-3011 or to the Toll Free number 1-800-449-8366+1+ last four digits of office phone number (available at the same location).


"If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed, if you will not fight when your victory will be sure and not so costly, you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance for survival. There may be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves."   ~~Winston Churchill

FOR YOUR PRAYER LIST:  Congratulations to Rep. David Hawk (R-Greenville).  David and Crystal Goan were married last November.  We wish them all the best.
Rep. (Lt. Col.) John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) leaving soon for Iraq (see story below.)Please remember John Mark and the other personnel who will deploy in early February. Connie Givens, pioneer for Coordinated School Health and wife of TN Commissioner of Agriculture Ken Givens, passed away the end of November.  On Wednesday, a memorial service was held for her in the War Memorial Auditorium where hundreds paid their respects.Suzanne Cobb, wife of Rep. Jim Cobb (R-Spring City) and Sen. Diane Black (R-Gallatin) are recovering from a broken bone in the foot. 
As this legislative session begins, 132 lawmakers have the future of this state in their hands. Would you join me in praying that God would give them the WISDOM of Solomon, the COURAGE of Joshua, the business sense of JOSEPH, the governing skill of NEHIMIAH, and like the Sons of ISSACHAR, an understanding of the times. 
 

INTRODUCING OUR 2010 TN EAGLE FORUM INTERN:Cassie

Cassiah Smith is a 16-year-old home schooled student whose family moved from upstate New York to Tennessee a little over a year ago. She lives in Williamson County with her parents and seven of her nine siblings. Cassie is an accomplished musician who plays the violin, harp and piano, and is active in Christian Communicators, a debate society. She has a deep interest in politics and feels that the Lord is leading her to a career in this field. She is excited by what the Tennessee Eagle Forum is doing to promote Christian values in state government decisions. [ Cassie with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.]

REP. WINDLE TO SEEK RE-ELECTION WHILE SERVING IN IRAQ:
Democrat State Rep. John Mark Windle, scheduled for deployment to Iraq with his National Guard unit, says he intends to seek re-election while serving overseas. "My intent now is to run again. I'll make a final decision by mid-January," he said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "It would be up to the people of the 41st (House) District to decide whether I'm re-elected … (even if) I'm sitting in Bagdad on election night."
Read more here
NOTE: At the opening session of the State House, Rep. Beth Harwell (R-Nashville), read a letter from Windle who is a Lt. Colonel in 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Windle, and has been deployed twice before serving his country, is in Mississippi preparing for deployment.

LARRY TURNER’S WIDOW SWORN IN:
Johnnie Turner has been sworn in the replace her husband in District 85 of the TN House of Representatives.  Turner’s husband, Larry, died of cancer in November. The Shelby County Commission selected Johnnie earlier this week to serve out the remainder of Larry’s term.

WHITE WINS SPECIAL ELECTION, SWORN IN ON FRIDAY:
Republican Mark White won the special election to represent House District83 with 68 percent of the vote.  This seat became vacant when Brian Kelsey resigned to run for the special election for the State Senate. White’s victory insured that the GOP will maintain their 51-48 edge over the Democrats.
Read more here.

SPECIAL SESSION SEEKING FEDERAL EDUCATION FUNDS:

BACKGROUND
: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), signed into law by President Obama in February 2009, provides $4.35 Billion for the Race to the Top Fund, a competitive grant program designed to encourage and reward states that are implementing standards and assessments; building data systems; recruiting, developing and retaining effective teachers and principals; and turning around the lowest achieving schools.  This grant program is a part of Democratic President Barack Obama's efforts to overhaul the nation's schools.
          The frantic activity to pass this legislation was to clear the way for the Bredesen administration to apply for as much as $485 million in federal aid before a deadline early next week. Trying to follow the debate and amendments on this bill has been like trying to nail Jell-O to a tree and would certainly give one ‘whiplash’.
          When the dust settled, the Senate approved the much-amended "Tennessee First to the Top Act" (SB7005) by a vote of
29-3 Friday afternoon. The House followed Friday evening with a vote of 83-10.
          The two chambers initially passed slightly different versions of the bill, but resolved the differences late Friday night and gave the measure final approval, sending it to Bredesen for his signature. The biggest difference was over makeup of a new commission that will recommend criteria for teacher evaluations.
          It includes various measures of student achievement -- including their scores on standardized tests -- as an element in the formal evaluation process. Thirty-five percent of each teacher's annual evaluation will be based on student gains on the testing done under the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, for those teachers whose students take those tests. Other measures will be developed for teachers, such as special-education teachers and teachers in grades where the TVAAS tests are not given.
          Another 15 percent will be based on other empirical student performance measures yet to be developed -- such as reading assessments for elementary teachers and college entrance tests, end-of-year subject tests and advance-placement tests for high school teachers.
          The final hurdle turned out to be the composition of the panel that would work out the details of the new evaluation system. After a day of wrangling that stretched to nearly 10 p.m., lawmakers decided to give themselves more power to appoint members and added language meant to place more teachers and minorities on the committee.

LONGTERM CONSEQUENCES?  Time will tell – the carrot is the possibility of $4.35 million…we will just have to see how the ‘stick’ plays out. Many lawmakers saw this opportunity as a way to bring about long-wanted and needed policy changes.  Some were concerned that should Tennessee receive the grant, what happens when the money runs out.  Will the state become financially responsible for the continued funding?  There were assurances to the contrary, but, things like that don’t always work out as anticipated.  Will the federal government change the requirements to continue to receive the funds over the four-year period?   Is there enough accountability built into the legislation?

AND ABOUT THOSE FAILING SCHOOLS: Tennessee has 144 “High Priority” Schools.  See list HERE.  Despite all the ‘attention’ these have received in the past, many have been on this list for multiple years. Think about that, a child entering the first grade in a failing school might spend the majority of his/her elementary education in an inadequate school.  Likewise, a student entering the ninth grade of a failing school could spend his/her entire high school career in sub-standard circumstances.

TENNESSEE’S EDUCATION PIPELINE:
For every 100 ninth grade students – 67 graduate from high school in four years; 43 go directly to college the fall following graduation; 29 return for their sophomore year of college; 19 graduate with an associates’ degree in three years of a bachelor’s degree in six years. (Whatever happened to graduating from college in four years?)

TN PAPER BALLOT LAW DELAYED UNTIL 2012:
The gallery of the State Senate on the opening day of the second session of the 106th General Assembly was packed with local election officials eager to see if the lawmakers would delay the very expensive implementation of a law passed in 2008. Last year, the House had passed HB614
73-20. But the Senate vote was 16-14, one short of the 17 needed for passage.
          Sponsors said a delay will save money for counties in tight financial times and state Election Coordinator Mark Goins says no machines are currently available to meet criteria set out in the law enacted last year.  Enthusiastic applause broke out when the
22-10 went up on the board. More details HERE.

CHALLENGING ISSUES FACING THE SECOND SESSION OF THE 106TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY:

TN LAWMAKERS SEEK ACTION TO THWART FEDERAL HEALTH-CARE BILL:
They say legislation may cost state $1.4B
 State Reps. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, and Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, are asking the state's attorney general to take legal action to stop the federal health-care reform bill because it would expand Medicaid.
They say such an expansion without proper funding would be a violation of state sovereignty.
"Under this bill, Tennessee would be forced to expand our Medicaid program, potentially costing the citizens of the state $1.4 billion dollars in additional state taxpayer funds annually,"
Maggart and Lynn wrote in a letter to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper on Monday. "Such an increase would place a great burden on the citizens of this state. It is clear by the wording of the legislation itself that not every state would face a similar and equal burden.
"We see this as a violation of the equal protection of the law, an affront to our sovereignty, and a breach of the U.S. Constitution."
Read more here.   Read Letter HERE.

SPEAKER RON RAMSEY WANTS TN OUT OF HEALTH BILL:
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says there’s no better time than the present to start planning legal strategies  to potentially block the federal health care package from being implemented in Tennessee.
In
a letter sent Tuesday to Attorney General Bob Cooper, Ramsey asked what legal maneuvers are available to the State of Tennessee in on order to protect taxpayers from what Ramsey estimates is a $1.2 billion unfunded federal mandate.
“It is time for the Attorney General’s office to offer preliminary legal options to the legislature as to how we may best protect Tennessee citizens from this unfair and quite possibly unconstitutional federal action,” according to Ramsey’s letter. “(T)he General Assembly must be proactive in dealing with what Governor Bredesen has called “’the mother of all unfunded mandates.’” Read more
HERE.


STATE FUNDING BOARD PROJECTS REVENUE DECLINE:

The State Funding Board reached consensus Friday on the state’s revenue estimates for fiscal years 2010 and 2011. The board expects the revenue growth rates to range between -1.50% and -0.25% for fiscal year 2010 and 1.7 percent to 2.2 percent for fiscal year 2011.
The Funding Board’s revenue estimates are used by the administration and legislature in determining steps necessary to close the current year budget, ending June 30, 2010, and in preparing the budget for state government for the new fiscal year beginning July 1, 2010. The estimates are based on the assumption that there will be no increases or decreases in the state’s tax rates or its schedule of fees, fines or other charges.
Read more here. See projections HERE

.

FAITH GUIDES VOLS' CROMPTON IN TOUGH TIMES:

I know that many UT fans are very upset with the decision that Lane Kiffen made recently, but thought this might be a bit of encouragement.
For University of Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton, they are outward signs of an inward commitment. The fist-to-chest means "I'm giving"; the point-to-the-sky signifies "glory to God." They occur after Crompton throws a touchdown pass. See story HERE.