Greetings Fabulous Folks of the 40th!
Working closely together over the last few weeks, the Governor and the Legislative Body placed a preliminary 2020-2021 $39.8 billion, no-growth budget on the books to ensure that Tennessee is in good standing as we weather this storm. On Thursday around 11:30 p.m., the General Assembly recessed until June 1, 2020.
Leaving the House Chamber and going directly to the members’ garage, I started the car, put some tunes on to keep me awake on the drive home and headed east to Smith County. It had been a long hard day and to be honest I was looking forward to being quarantined in order to get some rest! These are unprecedented times, and I pray you and your family stay safe and healthy for “this too shall pass.” I intend to make good use of the time spent at home. There are some books waiting to be read, things to declutter and a few projects to finish around the house. It is also a good time to reflect and thank God for the many blessings I tend to take for granted.
Over $900 million in reductions were made to the originally proposed budget. This is what is in the budget we passed:
Education• $58.7M in new funding for state’s educators;
• $50.3M BEP investment;
• $38M to fully fund Higher Education;
Health care• $150M fund for health and safety issues resulting from COVID-19;
• $3M to maintain DIDD direct provider wages of $10/hour recurring;
• $7M to increase reimbursement for Emergency First Responders;
• $1.2M investment access Telemedicine services;
• $26.5M strengthen safety network for mental health and health care services;
Community• Double local government grants from $100M to $200M (15 distressed counties to receive additional $462,000);
• $30M Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) Disaster Relief for recovery efforts for victims of the March 3 tornado;
• $33M additional capital monies to repair damaged buildings;
• $25M additional year of broadband for rural communities;
Law & Safety• $9.9M salary increases for probation and parole officers;
• $10M additional Hepatitis C treatment in prisons; and
• $1.5M for 10 additional State Troopers.
All Tennessee schools are closed through March 31 at the request of the Governor. With these unexpected closures resulting from the tornado and COVID-19, it was important schools were not negatively impacted. HB 2818 holds all students, teachers, and schools harmless as it relates to TNReady testing, teacher evaluation growth scores, final grades, school and district accountability assessments, BEP-related requirements, and post-secondary readiness assessments for the 2019-2020 school year. We also garnered two nutrition waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide School Food Authorities flexibility to continue providing meals to our students who rely on a school meal.
HB1175 is extremely important for our Emergency Medical Services. This was funded with recurring monies of $7 million in this year’s budget. For such a time as this we need these trained paramedics that keep our loved ones alive while transporting them to the nearest hospital. For rural communities this is a vital service. Local governments can now breathe easier and our EMS services will not be forced to cut their services. This was work worth doing and I was honored to carry this legislation and to have it funded.
These last two weeks at the Capitol were, well, surreal to say the least. The halls of the Legislature were quiet, except for members of the General Assembly, a few interns and assistants. It seemed like we were in some kind of a sci-fi movie. Both sub and full committees have legislation to be debated and voted on. However, those remaining bills will be taken up when we resume in June. Due to CDC recommendations, groups of more than 10 were not to assemble. We did social distancing as best as possible. Only by the grace of God were we able to do the people’s business and pass a balanced budget in order to carry us through these uncertain times. Tennessee is postured in a good place as we press toward the mark when folks can return to work, our economy gets back on track, and our children can resume their studies.
I leave you with these words from Psalm 91 as we pause and pray for our families, our state and our nation.
“The Lord says:
I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call upon me, I will answer.
I will be with them in times of trouble.”
All Coffee Conversations are postponed until further notice. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions at all. It is an honor to serve you.
Stay safe and healthy!