The House Democrat Review is a weekly feature that gives Tennesseans an in-depth look at what our Democratic state legislators have been working on this week, and a glimpse into what’s planned for the coming week at our state house.
Precious Metals Theft Bill Overwhelmingly Passes Out of House
New Legislation brings much needed regulation and tougher penalties
NASHVILLE (Mar. 20) – This week the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that brings new regulations to the scrap metal industry and tougher penalties on violators.
“With the price of copper going up over 400% in just five years, scrap metal theft has become the new way to score big bucks,” said Chairman Mike McDonald (D-Portland), prime sponsor of the legislation. “This new legislation will significantly limit a thief’s ability to sell the metal he’s stolen and, if he still tries to do it, we’ll be able to track him down pretty quickly.”
Under the new legislation, scrap metal dealers who buy and sell in precious metals may not buy or otherwise acquire metal from anyone who does not present a valid state or federally issued photo ID and may not sell to anyone under 18.Dealers must also require a thumbprint record of a person who wishes to sell scrap metal to the dealer, and a record of that transaction with detailed information must be kept on site for at least three years. Dealers will also need to register with the Department of Commerce. First and second violations will result in a Class A misdemeanor charge, with a third violations resulting in a Class E Felony.
“These new regulations mean law enforcement can now aggressively track stolen copper and other precious metals,” McDonald said. “Thieves wanting to sell their loot will have to register with the dealer, which I’m fairly sure isn’t something they will want to do.”
HB2433 passed with a vote of 90-0-2, with two members present not voting. The bill will now be sent to the governor for his signature and will take effect on October 1 of this year.
Education Bills On Calendar for Full Committee This Week
A number of bills focusing on the spending of lottery surplus dollars are expected to be heard in the full House Education Committee this week. One of the primary bills House Democrats are supporting is a bill that would reduce the retention requirement for the HOPE Lottery Scholarship from a 3.0 to 2.75. Currently over 70% of incoming freshman who qualify for the HOPE Scholarship lose the funding after the first year.
“Hope is what this lottery scholarship is supposed to bring to thousands of Tennesseans trying to achieve the American dream of a college degree,” said Education Chairman Les Winningham (D-Huntsville). “How are we bringing hope to our students when more than two-thirds are not able to maintain the required GPA? It doesn’t add up.”
Two other bills also expected to be presented this week are the Helping Heroes Act and the Rural Health Act. The Helping Heroes Act specifically targets Tennessee’s Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are returning from service overseas and finding that the current GI Bill only covers about 65% of the total cost of college.
“It is unbelievable that our fighting men and women, who already sacrifice so much in their service to this country, are coming home to find out that college is just not possible like it was for the greatest generation coming home from World War II,” Winningham said. “We must do better for our veterans, and this bill helps bridge a gap that the federal government has been unwilling to pay for.”
Under the terms of the bill, Tennessee’s military veterans who qualify for the GI Bill would receive an additional $1,000 per semester for up to the four-year period required to graduate.
The Rural Health Act of 2008 looks to fix a problem that is plaguing many of Tennessee’s rural counties. Every year it becomes increasingly harder to find medical professionals willing to come out to rural communities and practice medicine. With medical school so expensive and the healthcare industry in such turmoil, future doctors and nurses have little incentive to give up the high-paying city life.
“People in rural parts of this state shouldn’t be forced to drive two and three hours just to get to the nearest medical professional,” said Representative Eddie Yokley (D-Greeneville). “We need to give our doctors and nurses more incentive to seek out careers beyond the major cities.”
With the Rural Health Act, for every year that a medical student commits to practicing medicine in a designated rural community in Tennessee, that student would receive one year of tuition funding. The bill provides a win-win for the community and for the students. Students can receive the funding that many so desperately need, while rural communities can have access to some of the best and brightest doctors and nurses available without the long commute into town.
“The more we work towards improving our education system, from pre-K to college, the better the long-term prognosis of our state,” Yokley said. “It all starts with education.”
Both bills are slated to be heard next week.