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Working for You: June 2022

Happy Pride Month! I hope everyone is enjoying the beginning of summer break with your kiddos. Special thanks to our teachers and administrators for another successful year of educating Tennessee’s future leaders.

The second session of the 112th General Assembly was a tough one, and the weeks since have only been more challenging for all of us. The recent tragedies in Buffalo and Uvalde, as well as the continued gun violence across our state, make the daily legislative battles we fight almost seem trivial. However, it is bad policy and failed leadership that make these tragedies possible. Enough is enough. Following Uvalde, I called on Gov. Lee and my colleagues to hold a special session to immediately, finally address the root causes of gun violence, but all we got was this lousy Executive Order and more inaction from Gov. Lee.

This is yet another election year, and approximately 98% of District 55 is new. I am working hard to introduce myself to new voters, and your continued support is what will make our reelection efforts possible. While having a completely redrawn district is admittedly a challenge, I view it as an opportunity to provide the fastest growing communities in Davidson County a strong voice and responsive representation. Representing the most diverse House district in the state will be a true honor. If you have friends of family residing in the new District 55, please be sure and share my contact info with them and encourage them to sign up for this e-newsletter.

If you would like to volunteer or invite me to an event in the district, please call or email me. 

I extend my sincere thanks to Sen. Brenda Gilmore, Rep. Mike StewartRep. Jason Hodges and Rep. Jason Potts for their service to our city and state. All three are voluntarily departing the state legislature this year, and their strong voices and straightforward, thoughtful approach to the issues facing Tennessee families will be missed.

The 112th Session of the Tennessee General Assembly adjourned sine die on April 28th. This was not a moment too soon for most Tennesseans.

In the House, session kicked off with the decennial debacle, otherwise known as redistricting, and immediately transitioned to anti-abortion lawsbook bansgun billsIvermectin prescriptionsa “warm body standard” for classroom instructors, the criminalization of homelessness, a “truth in sentencing” bill, and a whole host of other bizarre bills, none of which were intended to address the real issues facing working families on a daily basis. There were a few FBI raidscriminal investigations and a resignation scattered in there too. After passing the state budget, we wrapped up session by passing Gov. Lee’s new education funding forumla. If all of that raises your blood pressure, I would advise against taking a gander at the bills that never made it into print.

In what can fairly be described as a polarized environment, we managed to pass a few good bills this year. Senator Jeff Yarbro and I passed a bill amending the Community Gardening Act to ensure that the Nashville Food Project and other non-profit organizations have access to public parks in furtherance of their missions. Rep. Bo Mitchell and I called on Gov. Lee to freeze the gas tax for the summer travel season, and this resulted in Lee deciding to temporarily freeze the grocery tax. Also, I was proud to cosponsor the CROWN Act that seeks to prevent workplace discrimination and prohibits employers from adopting a policy that does not permit an employee to wear the employee’s hair in braids, locs, twists, or another manner that is part of the cultural identification of the employee’s ethnic group or that is a physical characteristic of the employee’s ethnic group. This bill narrowly passed the House with 50 votes. We also managed to pass a bill that will allow individuals who are authorized to work in this country, as verified by the SAVE program, to apply for a professional or commercial license. This bill passed with 56 votes thanks to the hard work and leadership of our friends at TIRRC.

Women’s health care rights have been under attack for decades in Tennessee, and I have battled multiple bills in the legislature every single year of my tenure. Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s recent video attacking Griswold v. Connecticut and questioning access to contraception free of state interference was alarming, but it is a telltale sign of the battle to come. If the leaked draft of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a reliable indicator of what the majority of the Supreme Court is thinking with regards to abortion rights, our state’s trigger law will go into effect, and women’s vital health care rights will be limited even more than they already are in this state. The Court’s ultimate take on one’s constitutional right to privacy could have ripple effects well beyond the health care debate.

Gov. Bill Lee has signed a handful of bills that undercut our public schools one piece at a time, but this year he rammed through the largest piece of the special interest scheme to date: TISA. Of course, his heavily litigated and investigated voucher bill is a close second. TISA is based on a national organization’s model that was delivered and gift-wrapped by another national organization‘s local affiliate for a governor and leaders in state government who are far less interested in fundamentally reshaping education funding in a thoughtful, equitable manner and much more focused on passing something on which to campaign for reelection, kowtowing to special interest organizations with significant financial resources, and attempting to sidestep yet another court loss.

As the chair of the Democratic caucus’ ad hoc TISA committee, I spent the bulk of this session working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle parsing Lee’s TISA bill as it evolved throughout the committee process. After countless hours of review and research and weeks of committee hearings, as a public school advocate and parent of three MNPS students, opposing this legislation was a no-brainer. In addition to the dual false narratives and constant stream of misinformation flowing from the governor’s office, the new law is entirely devoid of substance and transparently crafted to punish MNPS and expedite the dismantling of our entire state’s public education system. Their math simply does not add up, and the funding mechanisms in the legislation will necessarily result in a heavier financial burden on every local government in years to come. The bill should have never seen the light of day outside of a subcommittee this year.

In direct contrast to everything stated by Lee, Commissioner Penny Schwinn and their spin machine, the TISA bill contained no new money for public education. There is not a single dollar amount in the bill. Rather, Lee simply dangled additional educational funds in his budget as a carrot for legislators to vote in favor of TISA. It is worth noting that the additional funds amount to only about fifty percent of the additional funds TACIR said were necessary to fully fund our schools. There are also no guarantees in the legislation that any education funds will be spent in the amounts or for the purposes that the administration publicly alleged.

There are simply too many holes in TISA, too many unanswered questions and way too much unilateral authority granted to an administration that has proven itself an enemy of public education from day one. Again, much of what TISA supporters are touting in the new law is not actually in the law. Most of it is wholly contingent upon future administrative rulemaking by unelected individuals who Lee and Schwinn handpicked, and all of it is contingent on the legislature increasing the education budget annually by a fixed percentage. The rushed passage of this bill represents an abdication of the legislature’s duty and is tantamount to policy-making malpractice.

Ultimately, the BEP and TISA were not our only two options for a state education funding formula. While most of us openly acknowledged that the BEP required reform or a complete re-write, the reality is that the BEP’s biggest flaw may have been that the state purposefully underfunded the formula for over a decade.  As I told my colleagues, you can own a Ferrari, but if you intentionally choose not to keep enough oil in the engine it is never going to perform as designed. The BEP was no Ferrari, but you get my point. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of us were fully prepared and willing to spend significant time and effort crafting a true “Tennessee plan,” but Gov. Lee and legislative leadership robbed of us of that opportunity to do something truly meaningful and productive for the benefit of our students and educators.

Recently, the Tennessee Supreme Court used some incredibly strained reasoning to hold that Gov. Lee’s voucher scheme does not violate the Home Rule Amendment to the Tennessee Constitution. Nashville has rightfully requested further review.Chalkbeat Tennessee recently published a comprehensive overview of some of the highest-profile education-related legislation that passed this year. You can read it here
One of the more enjoyable parts of the legislative session is taking the opportunity to recognize community leaders for their hard work, achievements, and positive impact on our city.  A complete list of my resolutions from the 112th General Assembly is here.This year, as many of you know, our community lost Tallu Schuyler Quinn. To memorialize her and her lasting impact on our community, Sen. Yarbro and I worked together to name the Briley Parkway bridge over Centennial Boulevard the “Tallu Schuyler Quinn Memorial Bridge.” We felt this location was appropriate given that this is the bridge over which many of you travel to volunteer at the Nashville Food Project in the Nations. Stay tuned for a special unveiling event.

Sen. Heidi Campbell and I also got the opportunity to honor several groups together, including Park Manager Steve Ward (and the baby eaglets) at Radnor Lake State Park.



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