A Look at the Tennessee Legislature

March 20, 2011
State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver

The following is a weekly legislative update from State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver:

Governor Gives First State of the State Address, Outlines Ambitious Plans to Reduce, Transform Government

In a 34-minute speech that focused on reducing the size of government, balancing the budget, and reforming education, the Governor laid out a clear vision for remaking Tennessee. The Governor urged Members of the General Assembly to continue working together to find solutions for the problems voters highlighted last year.

The Governor stated, "The people of Tennessee told us to roll up our sleeves, find consensus on a responsible and realistic spending plan, educate our children, encourage great teachers, create more jobs — and do it now." Along with the annual Address, the Governor provided his budget blueprint for scaling back State spending.

The Governor’s budget proposes an average reduction throughout state government of 2.5 percent. Most executive branch agencies funded with general funds will be reduced. These cuts will save Tennessee taxpayers millions of dollars. The plan calls for reductions in the State workforce but not in the quality of services provided to Tennesseans. In fact, the Governor called for all levels of government to become leaner and more efficient to better serve citizens of the Volunteer State.

Immediately following the speech, many Members applauded the Governor for his proposal. This budget illustrates what Tennesseans have said loud and clear. It illustrates fiscal restraint and stays true to our principles. This is an opportunity for us to manage government differently in the years to come. These are common sense measures that look past partisan lines to get Tennessee back on track. His call to action transcends the political divide and transforms the way our government operates. Tennessee has a strong leader in the Governor and I look forward to working with him to create an environment where job growth is a lasting reality for Tennesseans and government is more accountable to our citizens.

General Assembly Plans to Exempt Itself from Government Pay Raise

Several Members highlighted the fact the Governor included a small raise for State workers after a four year freeze. The Governor found significant savings in many areas for taxpayers but also discussed the fact the State should be competitive in salary for its workers. While several Members were encouraged by the news, some Members of the General Assembly are proposing an amendment to the budget to exempt legislators from the raise so further savings could be realized for taxpayers.

The sponsor of the Amendment for the exemption remarked, “I am delighted the Governor has produced a budget that has made significant and responsible reductions to the overall amount of spending in our State. This is a principle we campaigned on last fall and I am proud to say Tennessee is leading the way for fiscal restraint. That said, I believe we can already go a step further. While there are many hard workers serving our State who deserve a raise—including educators and service professionals—I believe Members of the General Assembly should forego this raise and lead by example.”

A New Way Forward To Empower Teachers Emerges from Education Subcommittee

On Wednesday, a new plan emerged from the House Education Subcommittee to give a voice to every teacher and reward those educators who embody excellence in the classroom. The amendment to House Bill 130, passed by a vote of 8-5, was a collaborative effort and provides a new path for reform in an area that is key to the long-term success of education in Tennessee.

The plan allows for equal access to all education associations for teachers and calls for restrictions on what can be discussed by unions in education. Overall, the plan removes politics from the classroom and enables teachers to focus on student achievement—the State’s number one priority in education.

Instead of settling for the status quo that benefits the few, this amendment allows for us to reach higher for the benefit of all. It gives us a distinct Tennessee solution to the hurdles we face. This legislation promotes accountability in our education system because it encourages and promotes the highest-performing teachers and rewards them for the amazing work they do with our children.

The Governor weighed in with his support on the plan by saying, “It gives superintendents greater flexibility in making personnel decisions and supports my central focus of doing what's best for children in Tennessee classrooms.”

First Lady Urges Parents to Get Involved in Education

Tennessee’s First Lady championed parental involvement in education and childhood development this week. The First Lady made her remarks at Children’s Advocacy Days 2011, an event hosted by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. The First lady will creatively seek out ways to increase and inspire parental involvement, both in Tennessee schools and during early childhood development.

“To help convey the message that a parent is a child’s first teacher, I want to encourage parents, engage communities and empower families in Tennessee,” Mrs. Haslam said.

The First Lady said she plans to travel the state and meet with parents in order to listen and challenge communities to set local objectives for parental engagement. Mrs. Haslam plans to work with parents to help meet their goals.

The First Lady also announced as part of her initiative, she will be focusing this first year on early childhood reading and plans to partner with Governor Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Education to raise the literacy rates for children.

SCORE Calls for Governor’s Tenure Reforms to be Passed

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) this week released a video, narrated by Dr. Bill Frist, Chairman of SCORE and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, on the importance of reforming Tennessee’s tenure system as a way to improve teacher effectiveness.

“Teachers are the most important factor in determining how much a student learns,” said Dr. Frist. “A crucial step in ensuring there is a great teacher at the front of every classroom is reforming the way Tennessee grants tenure. Tenure should be a reward for excellent teachers and an incentive for others to improve. The legislation proposed by Governor Haslam and currently moving through the General Assembly will make tenure for teachers meaningful by clearly tying it to classroom performance.”

During the various committee assignments and Bill presentations I made this week, I had the privilege to join Leadership DeKalb for lunch and a Q and A time as well. Having folks from the fortieth come to the Capitol to observe and take part in the process is always a highlight of mine and one I encourage my district to participate in. It is indeed such an honor to serve Macon, Smith and DeKalb Counties.

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