2014 Yearly Review

Finally passing the “Stop ObamaCare Act” was the highlight of a successful legislative session that ended for the year April 17.

Stop Obamacare Act
Federal Balanced Budget Amendment
Annexation
Education Reform
Wine in Grocery Stores
Certificates of Employability
Anti-Human Trafficking
Attorney General
Invest in Tennessee
License Plate Scanning
Tort Reform
Union Extortion
Pill Mills

Stop Obamacare Act:

Tennessee placed the final nail in the coffin of ObamaCare Medicaid expansion when Gov. Haslam signed my Stop ObamaCare Act this month. It took two years to pass the bill, but your tax dollars are now safe.

Without this law, it would have cost Tennessee taxpayers a minimum of $200 million a year to expand Medicaid, and that's assuming no more broken promises. First, President Obama claimed that if you liked your doctor and your insurance plan, you could keep them. Promise broken. Next, we were told that expanding Medicaid under Obamacare would save money because of fewer emergency room visits. In Oregon, however, those who received ObamaCare Medicaid expansion actually increased their emergency room visits 40%. Promise broken. Now Congress is promising to pay 90% of the bill to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare. As one Congressman told me in December, "If you think [the rate] is going to stay at 90%, you're kidding yourself." In 1981 Congress broke its promised Medicaid matching rate to balance its budget, and Congress will have to do it again. This law ensures that Tennessee taxpayers won't get left footing the bill. It also helps pay down the $17 trillion national debt. Contrary to liberal media reports, funds not spent in Tennessee under ObamaCare are not sent to other states. They simply are not spent.

Others in the liberal media have argued that this law still allows Tennessee to participate in ObamaCare Medicaid expansion in the future, so long as the General Assembly approves it. That is the case with all laws. The General Assembly can always change its mind and undo a law in the future. Prior to the passage of this law, a future governor simply could have requested ObamaCare Medicaid expansion in a Medicaid waiver request directly to the federal government. That is no longer the case. We now have a law on the books that is clear: “The Governor shall not make any decision or obligate the State of Tennessee in any way with regard to the expansion of … Medicaid [under Obamacare]."

Federal Balanced Budget Amendment:

This year, Tennessee became the 22nd and Michigan the 23rd of 34 states necessary to call for a federal balanced budget. My Senate Joint Resolution 493 passed the Senate 28-0 in March, and a similar resolution by Rep. Powers was signed by the governor this month! SJR 493 calls for a convention of the states to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring a federal balanced budget each year, absent a Congressional declaration of war or an economic recession. The Founding Fathers gave states the ability to call for an Article V convention to reign in the federal government. Now is the time to use it.

Annexation:

Tennessee became the 48th state to end forced annexation, thanks to a bill I was the first to co-sponsor that was signed into law this month. The new law requires a majority vote from the people prior to annexation. Cities now will have to prove to residents that they will provide sufficient services and increased property values for those they hope to annex. My Commercial Appeal column on the issue is here.

Education Reform:

The biggest disappointment this year was in education reform. Our reform efforts since 2010 were completely validated last fall when Tennessee children earned the highest gains in the history of NAEP national 4th & 8th grade math & reading scores. We moved from hovering in the 40s among the 50 states to the 30s. Unfortunately, many House Republicans decided to erase the gains we had made since "Race to the Top" with their own version of "Race to the Bottom."

The Opportunity Scholarship bill by Gov. Haslam made it further than it ever has before in the House but came up one vote short in the House Finance Committee. The bill would allow low-income children in the four large counties to take $6,500 of the funds we spend on them to whichever private school they choose. I appreciate Gov. Haslam working with me on a compromise amendment that garnered almost two-thirds of the vote in the Senate. I have worked for this bill for nine years now, and we are closer than ever to passage. Lord willing, I will bring it back next year. These children deserve the chance for a quality education.

I was happy to pass the Parent Trigger bill through the Senate Education Committee for the first time ever. It would allow parents of children in failing schools to transform the school if half the parents signed a petition. They could convert to a charter school or simply replace the principal or half the staff. Unfortunately, it too came just shy of making it to the House floor for a vote.

On the positive side, Tennessee finally passed the state charter authorizer law by Sen. Gresham that I co-sponsored. It will allow the state board of education to grant quality charter schools the opportunity to operate even if the local school board disagrees. No longer is the fox guarding the henhouse. In fact, there will now be an incentive for local boards to grant quality charters because if they do not, the scores of those students will not be calculated in their performances.

The governor’s Tennessee Promise also passed to offer all Tennesseans free community college. The “last dollar scholarship” had been funded privately in Shelby County and elsewhere but is now available statewide. It is paid for in part by changing the Hope Scholarship amount at four-year colleges to $3,500 for the first two years and $4,500 the last two.

Wine in Grocery Stores:

A law to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores passed the Senate 23-8 and the House 71-15. I voted, "yes." Communities like ours that already allow liquor sales in liquor stores and restaurants will now be allowed to hold a referendum to decide whether wine should be sold in grocery stores. The referendum vote could be held as early as this November. If approved by the voters, wine sales in food stores will begin July 1, 2016.

A separate law that I co-sponsored also will allow high gravity beer to be sold in grocery stores.

Certificates of Employability:

I was happy to work in a bipartisan fashion with Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis) to help reformed former felons find employment and end a life of crime. Senate Bill 276 will allow a person who has turned his life around to receive a certificate of employability. The certificate will give businesses who hire these reformed felons protection from negligent hiring lawsuits. The new law protects the public by requiring a judge to determine that an individual does not pose a risk to public safety before he can receive a certificate of employability. An editorial in favor is here.

Anti-Human Trafficking:

Building on our success from last year, I was proud to introduce another package of bills with Senators Crowe, Norris, Overbey, and Yager to keep Tennessee at the forefront of the fight against human trafficking. This year we made patronizing prostitution of a minor a Class A felony and added those individuals to the sex offender registry. Under another law, promoting prostitution now constitutes severe child abuse. Finally, we eliminated the time limit on when charges can be brought against a rapist as long as the rape was reported within three years of its occurrence.

Attorney General:

Tennessee is the only state in the union in which the Attorney General is selected by the Supreme Court. He is actually twice removed from the people because our Supreme Court also is not elected. This lack of accountability leads to such unpopular decisions as not joining the lawsuit against ObamaCare. It also leaves him unaccountable when officials commit acts of public corruption. I filed bills this year to solve both problems and to change how we select the Attorney General, but all came up short. We need to change this system to give the people a voice in the Attorney General's office.

Invest in Tennessee:

A new law I passed will encourage start-up companies in Tennessee by allowing crowdfunding, or the raising of money through small contributions from a large number of people. The law allows the raising of up to $1 million in increments of $10,000 per Tennessee investor.

License Plate Scanning:

Did you know that cameras on streets and on police cars are constantly scanning your license plate to search for outstanding warrants? I passed a new law to mandate that this information about where you park be destroyed within 90 days. A TV story is here.

Tort Reform:

Accountants and attorneys finally got to take advantage of tort reform this year in a new law I passed granting them a five year statute of repose. Such a statute requires that all lawsuits against accountants and attorneys must be brought within five years from the date on which the act or omission occurred. Like all tort reform, this bill furthers the administration of justice by requiring lawsuits to be brought in a timely manner, while memories are fresh.

Union Extortion:

Tennessee must protect its workforce and maintain a safe workplace environment that is free from coercion and intimidation by unions or others. Under a new law I passed, it constitutes extortion to impair the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured by the laws of Tennessee in an effort to obtain something of value. This will help remove disorderly conduct from the workplace.

Pill Mills:

Prescription drug addiction is becoming a bigger and bigger problem in Tennessee, especially after Florida passed legislation to shut down “pill mills,” or pain clinics that dole out drugs to patients without symptoms. In an effort to shut down these “pill mills,” Rep. Shipley and I passed a law modeled after the one Florida had pioneered with encouraging results.