The following is a legislative update from State Senator Mae Beavers
Three contentious topics were addressed during a special two-week “Extraordinary Session” called by the Governor, including issues concerning worker’s compensation insurance, higher education reform, and K-12 reform. Senator Mae Beavers and the General Assembly addressed a law that went into effect on January 1 of this year that required small contractors to carry worker’s compensation insurance. In addition, the General Assembly passed a higher education reform bill that attempted to allow more Tennesseans to pursue a post-secondary education that fits their academic and workplace needs. Finally, Senator Beavers was one of only three senators to vote against President Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” stimulus fund bill, a bill that was rushed through the legislature and one that Sen. Beavers and others feared would heap unfunded mandates onto our local schools and teachers, all in order to apply for the possibility of stimulus dollars and stray further from Tennessee’s ‘pay-as-you-go’ economic history.
General Assembly Delays Law Requiring the Purchase of Worker’s Compensation Insurance by Small Contractors
Senator Mae Beavers helped pass a worker’s compensation law that would seek to delay the implementation of a 2008 law that required all sole proprietors to carry worker’s compensation insurance. Beavers also plans to present a bill during regular session that would outright delete the 2008 law, a law that would force the purchase of insurance on single individuals and small companies that could account for expenses high enough to put them out of business.
“We cannot expect small businesses, particularly those sole proprietors and small contracting companies, to emerge from what has been a devastating few years in the economy and housing market if the state and federal governments continue to burden them with regulations and fees,” said Sen. Beavers. “Self-employed contractors are hurting enough as it is; the state doesn’t need to help put them out of business.”
The particular law addressed was a bill passed in 2008 that required all contractors and subcontractors – even those sole proprietorships whose owner is the only employee – to carry additional workers compensation insurance.
Beavers was one of only five senators who voted against the bill on the floor last session, and the only Republican to do so. “You have to be aware of the economic climate and what effects that state mandates will have when the legislature passes bills,” said Beavers. “I believe many legislators were quite short-sighted when they passed this law.”
Beavers urges everyone to call their legislators and ask them to support the bill she will be filing to repeal the 2008 law, in particular those who voted “aye” for the 2008 bill.
General Assembly Passes Higher Education Reform
Tennessee ranks 40th in the nation in completion of college bachelor’s degrees and 45th in associate degrees. Our dismal college attendance and graduation rates are not only educational problems, but in an ever-expanding and competitive global economy, they are proving to be an economic problem as well.
The higher education bill passed this week, called the "Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010," revises the Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s master planning responsibility to increase college completion, address economic development needs and differentiate institutional missions to increase collaboration and efficiency between Tennessee’s post-secondary schools. The legislation also hopes to gear state funding for colleges based more on graduation and retention rates, rather than purely based on enrollment.
The legislation also hopes to make credits earned at community colleges easily transferrable to four-year college institutions. This system will provide a clearly designated path for students to further their education after completion of an associate degree in the state’s community colleges.
Finally, the bill originally had provisions regarding transferring authority over adult education programs to another department, a move that possibly would have financial consequences. However, Sen. Beavers and other legislators expressed concern over meddling in many programs in District 17 that are quite successful and serve to provide job training and career enhancement opportunities for adults, and therefore the provision was removed from the final bill.
Senator Beavers Votes to Refuse Federal Dollars and Mandates on our Local Schools
Senator Beavers was the sole Republican alongside two Democrats to vote against Governor Phil Bredesen and President Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” education bill last Friday. The bill was introduced in a special extraordinary session called by the Governor that lasted approximately three days in order to rush through Washington-mandated and open-ended legislation to compete for federal stimulus dollars.
“By not spending the necessary time debating and coming up with sound conservative education reform – reform that gives more choice to parents and students and that enables local school boards to dictate what is best for their schools – we instead wrote the governor a blank check that includes federal guidelines in order to receive money that will bring this state further away from its ‘pay-as-you-go’ history,” said Beavers. “The last thing Tennessee’s students and teachers need is to be bribed into more centralized bureaucracy that enacts what President Obama thinks is best for all American schools.”
Another primary reason for Beavers’ opposition to the bill comes from the fact that many of the ‘reforms’ are initiatives that have been in place for many years now, as well as others that could have been enacted by the legislature during regular session. The bill contained many nonspecific guidelines, using words such as ‘may’ and ‘could’ instead of ‘shall,’ making many conservatives weary of what exactly the bill hoped to accomplish that could not be accomplished by the Republican-controlled legislature later in the year. A large portion of the federal guidelines and stimulus preconditions would be contained in the Governor’s “Race to the Top” application, which was kept hidden from the legislature when voting on the bill.
“I feel like leaders across the state need to take a step back and see why the country is in the shape that it is in – and I guarantee you that the mess we are in is not because of fiscal or constitutional conservatives who refuse to leave our grandchildren in the financial hole in order to placate President Obama and his stimulus dollars,” said Beavers “I did not vote against this bill because I disagreed with some of its conservative goals – I voted against it because it was rushed policy that not even every legislator understood that required more centralized control of our school system in the hands of the Governor and Washington…all in order to possibly receive stimulus dollars that will then not be there in a few years.”
Senator Beavers is eager to work with other legislators during the regular session to examine the effects of this legislation and help pass further meaningful reforms that will not be tied to federal stimulus mandates. In addition, if the state does not receive the federal stimulus money, lawmakers will have to cope with yet another new law and program that the state will have to fund with current revenues during this economic recession.