As the new year looms, so does the new legislative session and Wilson County’s state lawmakers are preparing their to-do lists now.
Rep. Mark Pody said he plans to sponsor about 20 separate bills, but much his focus will be on creating a leaner state government, both fiscally and statutorily.
“I’m more going to try to take things off the books than put them on,” said Pody, who serves on the Fiscal Review Committee, a joint House and Senate body.
“I’m probably going to do more good on fiscal review than carrying more bills,” said Pody. “I can kill things that are on fiscal review – or I can at least get the state to where we’re not spending near as much money on contracts in fiscal review – than I can by doing it on the Floor.”
He and Beavers do plan to address a few key issues when the session resumes in January, though. The following rundown highlights some of the bills the Wilson County lawmakers plan to work on in the coming session.
Pody and Beavers plan to team up to again try creating a state Health Care Compact.
Pody plans to re-introduce a bill that would let Tennessee join with states and ask Congress for permission to run most federal health care programs in their states.
The legislation, backed by several conservative groups, was first proposed in 2011 in opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. It seeks to create an interstate compact in which states would petition Congress for permission to run most federal health care programs inside their states.
This will be Pody’s second attempt to pass this bill, which failed narrowly, by a 9-9 vote, in the House Insurance and Banking Committee in February. The Senate version, sponsored by Beavers, is still in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
Beavers said she plans to address issues with Common Core during the upcoming session.
She said parents, teachers and administrators have voiced concerns about several aspects of the recently implemented education initiative, particularly about the teacher evaluations. But that is just part of the issue, according to Beavers.
“My grandson is in a school in another county where they’ve completely implemented Core curriculum, and in the third grade all they’re doing is testing all day long – there’s not the instruction that was there before,” said Beavers.
She said she also wants to address the information now required of parents as part of Common Core.
“I think one of the most important parts of it is the data collection that they’re doing on our children,” said Beavers. “I heard this week about a form that had been sent out to parents in our county asking for lots of information about income levels and all kinds of private information. What does this have to do with educating your children?”
She also cited concerns about the curriculum and textbook content.
Pody, however, said he plans to stay away from Common Core in the upcoming session.
“I am very much hoping that we can stop tinkering with education for a while,” said Pody. “I would love to see some of the things that we’ve got in place to stay in place – give them a chance to work and such so we’re not continuing to change the rules on teachers, on administration and such like that.”
He said lawmakers should take a hands-off approach for at least a little while.
“We’ve changed it every year that I’ve been up here in pretty significant ways,” said Pody. You’ve got to give it a chance to work even to see if some of the changes we have made will work…Give [teachers and school administrators] a little bit of rest to absorb everything that’s been thrown at them and find a proper way to implement it in the classroom to help the kids.”
He does, however, plan to re-introduce a bill that would limit the statutory power of the state education commissioner.
“Right now he is the only commissioner that can literally override some state statutes concerning charter schools, and I don’t think its right that anybody should be able to override a statute,” said Pody.
Existing state law allows the state education commissioner to override local school board decisions pertaining to charter schools.
“He should not have the right to come down and say, ‘I don’t agree with the school board,’ and change it,” said Pody.
Another key issue will relate to guns in vehicles, according to Pody.
He said that under existing law, a handgun owner with the proper permits can keep a gun in their vehicle and still stay within the law – but not if the vehicle belongs to someone else.
“If somebody has a gun in their car, they can drive it onto a place where they work and such and they’re fine,” said Pody. “But if, for example, they drove their parents’ car, it wouldn’t be legal or if they broke down and they had to rent a car, then it’s not legal. I mean if a husband and wife were married, but they each had car before they got married and they were not jointly owned, then the husband or the wife would be able to carry it in their own vehicle. They couldn’t carry it in their spouse’s vehicle.”
He said he plans to sponsor a bill that would change the law to allow properly permitted gun owners to carry their guns in vehicles they don’t own.
Pody also hopes to beef up the state’s driver financial responsibility law.
Under existing state law, which was implemented in 2002, all drivers must carry at least liability insurance.
“Right now, it says that they’re supposed to have it anyway, but there’s no real enforcement of it,” said Pody. “I’m looking to possibly add a little bit of enforcement on it.”
As of 2009, anyone convicted of driving without insurance cannot renew their vehicle’s registration until they can provide proof of insurance. Pody, however, wants to take that one step further.
“If somebody does not have insurance when they’re stopped, maybe they shouldn’t be able to drive until they get insurance,” said Pody.
Another bill Pody plans to introduce would shore up the county’s ability to collect property taxes.
He said Wilson County Register of Deeds Bev Spickard made him aware of a loophole some property owners found to avoid paying taxes.
“When people are doing property transfers, there’s ways that they’re doing it without paying all the property tax that’s due and that doesn’t make sense,” said Pody. “We all should pay our fair share. It’s already a law saying we should, we shouldn’t be able to find a loophole around it.”
Beavers said she plans to address privacy issues, among others, during the upcoming session.
“We’ve heard stories about police stopping people or taking their cellphones and actually going through their cellphones,” said Beavers. “One of the bills I intend to introduce would make them have to have a search warrant in order to go through your cellphone.”
Another bill planned relates to citizens’ electronic privacy.
“[It] has to do with spying on you as far as your telephone calls, your computer, your emails and so forth,” said Beavers.