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General Assembly back is session, education tops list

A strike of the gavel at noon Tuesday echoed in the chambers of the General Assembly, signaling the Second Session of the 108th Tennessee General Assembly had convened. 
According to Williamson County’s four state legislators—Sen. Jack Johnson, Reps. Glen Casada, Jeremy Durham and Charles Sargent, this will be a fairly quiet year. 
Top issues for the 2014 session include the annual budget, education issues such as charter schools, vouchers and textbook adoption and once again, wine in grocery stores.
Local legislators predict that a bill “to allow cities and counties to hold a referendum to authorize selling wine in grocery stores” will easily pass both houses this year.
When opening day business was completed Tuesday, Johnson was first to present a bill he called boring but necessary. 
The bill addresses businesses that lend money to litigants until lawsuits have been settled, an action that some say prolongs settlements, Johnson said.
“These people are not regulated in any way,” he added. “Any other institution at least has to register with the state.”
As Republican Caucus Chair, Rep. Casada said he is charged with working with the governor and speaker of the house on moving the conservative Republican agenda forward. 
That includes dealing with a $71 million budget shortfall in projected revenue. 
Rather than raise taxes, the governor asked all government departments to cut budgets by five percent in case projections don’t pick up, Casada said, adding that K-12 education would be fully funded.
“We will come up with a balanced budget with no tax increase,” he added.
Rep. Durham’s focus will continue to be cutting redtape on small businesses and with his cohorts, while “keeping spending down and taxes low.”
He is drafting a bill to make it easier for Tennessee businesses to raise capital.
“I will continue to fight against using taxpayer dollars to fund a possible expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare,” he said. “I’m also evaluating ways to reign-in entitlement abuse.” 
Sen. Johnson, chairman of the Commerce Committee, and Rep. Sargent, chairman of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee echoed Casada.
Demonstrating his commitment to lowering taxes, Sargent said one of his bills would reduce the Hall Income Tax rate even more. 
Another bill will level out the current Hall Income Tax exemption. Enacted in 1929, the Hall Tax is an individual income tax imposed on individuals and other entities that receive interest from bonds, notes and dividends from stock. 
Last year, the rates were reduced and the income exemption raised to $59,000 a year earned by people age 65 and older; however if the bill fell short and income was more than $59,000 that meant no tax exemption on any of the amount. 
Sargent’s bill will exempt all income up to $59,000 for everyone over age 65 and only income more than $59,000 taxed. 
Bills to address charter schools, vouchers, school funding; textbooks and curriculum are the issues that will add a bit of excitement to the Session.
“If I was chairman of the education [Senate] committee—this would be a doozey of a year,” Johnson said.
Casada has two education bills ready to present—one to allow cameras on school buses and the other addressing inaccuracies and bias in textbooks. 
“I have been working with the [Williamson County] school board to develop a bill that will allow the Local Education Association (LEA) to install cameras on buses to catch motorists passing [a stopped bus] while kids are loading or unloading,” he said. 
In 2013, 12 children were killed nationwide while getting off or heading to get on a school bus. 
Casada and state Sen. Mike Bell will present bills addressing inaccuracies found in textbooks used in Tennessee schools.
The bills give parents and LEAs more authority in deciding the content and curriculum taught in their schools. 
“These inaccuracies were slowly sneaking into schools before Common Core,” Casada said. “An example is a passage in a high school textbook that says capitalism is the cause of poverty.”
Casada is also working on a bill to open up the textbook adoption procedure, which because of a high bond required by textbook manufacturers, allows only large California-based textbook companies to submit books for adoption in Tennessee and doesn’t give smaller book companies a chance.
When the budget is approved Sargent hopes to see about $37 million included for the construction of up to three buildings on the new Columbia State campus on Liberty Pike.
With a fairly quiet legislative year on the horizon, the legislators expect to adjourn by mid-April so they can get back to their regular jobs. Until then, keep a close eye on your wallet, Casada joked.

Posted on: 1/16/2014


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