Sen. Overbey outlines issues likely to be addressed in 2011 General Assembly

Sen. Doug Overbey has outlines some of the issues that are likely to be addressed in 2011 by the Tennessee State 107th General Assembly. Blount County’s legislative delegation includes Overbey and State Representatives Bob Ramsey and Art Swann.

From Sen. Overbey’s report:

“The 107th General Assembly is now in session, and the state’s finances and unemployment are at the top of the list of issues to be tackled this year along with making state government more efficient and effective.

“During his first week in office, Governor Haslam ordered a 45-day freeze in new state regulations. The new governor has called for a top to bottom review to weigh the benefits of a rule or regulation to consumers along with the cost of impacting jobs. Four separate cabinet-level working groups will be looking at the rules and regulations to see if any relief can be provided to overburdened businesses wrestling with the economic downturn. He said the groups will also be focusing on state government services to ensure they are efficient and effective and ‘customer focused.’

“As the organization of the 2011 session began in Nashville, we looked at the state’s budget and job recruitment efforts. Last week, we looked several matters likely to be considered this year, including government efficiency efforts, education reform and transportation proposals.”

Likely to be on the agenda are:

State Government Boards and Commissions

“With Tennessee facing significant budget challenges, lawmakers must look for ways to reduce the size of government and make it work more efficiently and effectively. One way to accomplish this is through the General Assembly’s sunset review process. The purpose of sunset review is to identify and eliminate waste, duplication and inefficiency in government agencies. Over 40 agencies will be up for sunset review in 2011. The Government Operations Committee reviews the policies and programs of state government departments and agencies with recommendations as to whether they should be continued, improved or abolished. Lawmakers will carefully consider all aspects of these government agencies during the review process and look for efficiencies in state government to help weather the economic downturn.”

Unemployment Fund

“The legislature will continue to monitor Tennessee’s Unemployment Trust Fund. The General Assembly passed a bill aimed at keeping the fund solvent in 2009. State officials expect the Fund to dip into the red in the first quarter of 2011 as it did in 2010. Unless the economy worsens, they believe the fund will rebound quickly and it will not be necessary to make any other provisions. Lawmakers will be watching closely to ensure the fund’s continued solvency and working to create an optimal business climate for job creation in the state.”

First to the Top

“The General Assembly will continue to monitor major education reform measures passed last session. Lawmakers passed bold initiatives last January in a Special Session designed to transform education. That legislation allowed Tennessee to receive approximately $500 million in federal funds in the federal “Race to the Top” competition.

‘Race to the Top,’ authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), is a competitive grant program to encourage and reward states which are implementing significant reforms in four education areas: enhancing standards and assessments; improving the collection and use of data; increasing teacher effectiveness and achieving equity in teacher distribution; and, turning around struggling schools. Expect lawmakers to continue to monitor the progress made under this new reform law and make any needed revisions to enhance these education reform efforts.”

School leadership

“The General Assembly could see an education proposal this year focusing on development of leadership skills at the top level of Tennessee schools. One measure being discussed aims to see that principals and supervisors are highly trained in the most effective leadership techniques.”

Charter Schools

“Legislation is expected during the 107th General Assembly to strengthen Tennessee’s public charter schools law and to widen eligibility. According to the Center for Education Reform, Tennessee has the 17th weakest of the nation’s 41 public charter school laws. Public charter schools are schools that are given flexibility to operate without the constraints of some of the rules and regulations normally imposed on traditional schools.”

Lottery

“In higher education, shoring up Tennessee’s lottery scholarship program is a high priority this year. The lottery program began in 2004 and has provided nearly $1.8 billion in scholarships to Tennessee students. The financial viability of the scholarship program is now being challenged by its own success. As more students qualify and maintain the various scholarships and grants, the total costs are exceeding the lottery revenues -- the net proceeds from the lottery games played plus interest from the lottery reserves. This shortfall is projected to be roughly $20 million a year for the foreseeable future. To make up the difference in the short term, the legislature conservatively dipped into the lottery reserves, which currently stand at over $300 million. This is not, however, a healthy long-term fiscal strategy. The interest earned from the reserves is an important part of the program’s long-term solvency. In addition, once the reserves are spent, they are unlikely to be replaced.”

Roads and rules of the roads

“Roads are always a prime legislative consideration for the General Assembly. They are seen by many as a critical economic development tool in bringing jobs to Tennessee. Funding Tennessee’s road system will continue to be a matter of importance as AARA funds expire.

“The use of traffic cameras was a matter of legislative debate during the 2010 legislative session and is expected to continue to be up for discussion in the upcoming General Assembly. The use of automated systems for surveillance of intersections and roadways is growing as more communities across the state are utilizing the devices.

“Opponents of the cameras argue that the motivation behind the cameras is money instead of safety, while those who favor the cameras claim that the devices have made streets safer. Expect several bills regarding this issue to be debated this year in the General Assembly, including comprehensive statewide guidelines that govern their use.”

Immigration

“On immigration reform, expect immigration reform legislation, similar to the Arizona law, to be introduced in the 2011 session. The four-pronged legislation will cover law enforcement, businesses, health care and higher education. The bill is expected to require police to check the immigration status of those they detain or arrest and deal with the use of E-Verify, which allows employers to check employees Social Security information.

“Similarly, expect the General Assembly to consider legislation to require that Tennessee driver license exams be given in English. The measure seeks to assure sure that all licensed drivers can read road signs and drive safely.

Photo identification

“Expect legislation to require photo identification at the polls before voting to be heard by lawmakers this year. Sponsors say the legislation is an effort to avoid election fraud and abuse and to assure that those voting are both legal residents and registered to vote.”

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