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Curtis Johnson: News from the Tennessee Capitol, April 1st, 2018

 

Written by Curtis Johnson
Tennessee State Representative

Tennessee State Representative - District 68

Nashville, TN – Tennessee Representative Joe Pitts was honored Thursday, March 29th, 2018 on the House Floor for his twelve years of service to his constituents in the 67th District and the citizens of Tennessee. 

Rep. Pitts earlier this year announced that he would not run for re-election to the House.

His wife, Cynthia, joined him on the House Floor. 

As for his future plans, Rep. Pitts said, “I don’t know what my future holds, but I know who holds my future.”

Tennessee Representative Joe Pitts honored by colleagues on the House Floor, Thursday, March 29th, 2018.

Tennessee Representative Joe Pitts honored by colleagues on the House Floor, Thursday, March 29th, 2018.

Working Group Releases Recommendations

Puts Forth Plan to Significantly Increase Funding For School Safety & Security

 The working group organized to make recommendations for immediate enhancements to school safety across the state officially released their proposals this week in Nashville.

The working group identified three immediate priorities:

  1. A review and risk assessment of all school facilities to identify vulnerabilities;
  2. An increase in available resources to help secure school resource officers (SROs);
  3. And a statewide technology application for anonymous reporting of security threats

The group’s proposal directs the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Education and local officials, to immediately begin development and implementation of a statewide assessment of every public elementary and secondary school in the state to identify areas of risk.  While all school districts currently have safety plans, this will be the first time that the state has led a comprehensive effort to determine the security needs at each individual school.  

The risk assessment will be based on model security standards identified by the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, with assessment training provided by state homeland security officials to local school district personnel and first responders.  As this is the first priority identified by the working group, the state agencies have been asked to complete the assessments before students return to school for the 2018-19 school year.

Following the school security assessments, and on an annual basis thereafter, each school’s emergency operations plan must ensure specific facility risks are identified and updated and that state school safety resources, including the additional $30 million proposed in this year’s budget, are utilized to address the identified risks.

One such area of risk, and the second priority identified by the working group, is the availability of trained school safety personnel and school resource officers.  For the schools in the state that do not have SROs on-site, lack of funding is often cited as a primary reason.  

The proposed 2018-2019 budget and school safety plan doubles the amount of recurring school safety grant funding for schools, which can be used toward SROs or other facility security measures.  This proposal addresses the immediate needs while furthering state, local, and federal conversations around school security and budgeting.  Total state school safety grant funding would increase by more than 500 percent for the upcoming fiscal year.

The third immediate priority of the working group focuses on providing a statewide technology application for the anonymous reporting of threats or suspicious activity by students, faculty, staff, and others.  The concept would provide for direct communication between the individuals reporting the threat or activity and the state, local law enforcement officials, and local school districts.

The working group also recommended the promotion of positive behavioral health for all students. As part of this recommendation, Governor Bill Haslam has directed the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse to work in conjunction with the Department of Education to expand training areas–including training on strategies to increase awareness and responsiveness to signs and symptoms of student behavioral health and mental health needs.

House Moves Forward With Bills To Strengthen Tennessee’s Law Banning Sanctuary Cities

The House moved forward this week with two bills designed to strengthen Tennessee’s law prohibiting sanctuary cities.

The first bill, House Bill 2315, ensures that state and local government entities are prohibited from adopting or enacting sanctuary policies.  Even if they are not in written form, they would still violate the law.

A sanctuary city is a term given to a city in the United States that follows practices that protect illegal aliens.  The term generally applies to cities that do not allow funds or resources to be used to cooperate with federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or government employees to inquire about an individual’s immigration status.

Legislation was passed in 2009 making sanctuary cities illegal in Tennessee.  However, the law defined a sanctuary city as one which has written or stated policies, leaving a loophole for those which quietly choose not to cooperate with state and federal laws.

This legislation expands the definition of what a sanctuary city is beyond a written policy.  It also creates a reporting mechanism for residents to make a complaint.  In addition, the proposal puts teeth in the law by cutting off economic and community grant money to any Tennessee city that adopts policies which are in violation.

The second bill designed to fight back against sanctuary cities, House Bill 2312, prohibits state and local government officials or employees from accepting consular identification cards and other similar documents which are not authorized by the General Assembly for identification purposes.  The bill is a preemptive measure to ensure that abuse seen in other cities in the U.S. to issue government identification cards to illegal aliens are not implemented in Tennessee.

Matricula consular cards, which are issued by the Government of Mexico to Mexican nationals residing outside the country, were prohibited as a source of identification for receiving a driver’s license under a law adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2003 after widespread abuse was reported.   Both bills will next be heard next week by the House State Government Committee.

Moratorium On New Statewide Assessments For Students

Legislation placing a two-year moratorium on any new statewide assessments for students in grades K-12 is headed to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.  House Bill 1855 prohibits the Department of Education and the State Board of Education from mandating new statewide assessments for grades and subjects beyond those assessments required as of the 2016-2017 school year until the 2020-2021 school year. 

The bill also requires the Tennessee Department of Education to report the actions and procedures that have been implemented to ensure all data associated with the assessments is accurate and timely. 

Illegal Aliens / Driver License

The full House has voted to require any applicant presenting a driver’s license from a state that issues them to illegal aliens, to establish proof of United States citizenship or legal residency when applying for one in Tennessee. House Bill 222 affects applicants from twelve states which issue a driver’s license to illegal aliens, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. 

Tennessee prohibits issuance of a driver’s licenses to an illegal alien.  The bill has passed both Houses and is awaiting action by the Governor.

Child Sex Offenders

The General Assembly passed and sent to the governor legislation ensuring sex offenders convicted of continuous sexual abuse of a child are listed on the state’s Sex Offender Registry.   In 2014, the General Assembly passed a bill creating the offense of continuous sexual abuse of a child. 

The statute allows prosecutors to try several counts of sexual offenses committed against a child victim in one trial and this prevents the child from having to testify about their victimization multiple times to several juries. 

However, when the law was passed, this new crime was not added to the state’s Sex Offender Registry.  House Bill 2092 would add the offense of continuous sexual abuse of a child to the Sex Offender Registry as a violent offender.

The amendment from the House of Representatives adds language to the bill to clarify that any conviction punishable under the statute shall be punished within the full range for which the defendant was convicted, regardless of the range for which they would otherwise qualify. 

POW / MIA Memorial

Legislation which requires a POW/MIA Chair of Honor Memorial to be placed on Tennessee’s Capitol campus will be heard in the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee next week.  House Bill 2138 allows the State Capitol Commission to select a suitable location if the costs are provided by private funds.  

A Chair of Honor is a very simple yet powerful memorial.   Generally, they include a single back chair with the POW/MIA logo on it which is then flanked by the American Flag and the POW/MIA Flag.  Over 91,000 servicemen and women nationwide remain unaccounted for since World War II.

Contact Information

Rep. Curtis Johnson
606 Cordell Hull Building
Nashville, TN  37243

615.741.4341

For more information about the Tennessee General Assembly, check our website at: www.capitol.tn.gov


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