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Working for You: October 2021

Thank goodness for Fall Break. It was nice to be able to spend some extra time with our boys just before I returned to the legislature for the first of two extraordinary sessions this month. Given all the recent and upcoming legislative activity – some good, some bad – I wanted to provide you with a few key updates.

The deadline for outside organizations to submit a redistricting proposal through a sitting legislator is November 12, 2021 at 12pm CT. Plans must use the same data as the Tennessee House; you must submit whole plans, rather than one district or county; must use Maptitude or another importable electronic format; and, plans must state population for each district, as well as the deviation from the target population and percentages. More information and rules are available at this site

I have been informed that the GOP intends to substantively redraw District 55. Your support for our campaign heading into 2022 will make a real difference.

Last week we passed legislation to facilitate the Ford Motor Company and SK Innovation plans to invest $5.6 billion and build a 3,600-acre mega campus called “Blue Oval City” on the 4,100-acre West Tennessee Megasite. The site is intended for production of next-generation, all-electric F-series trucks scheduled to begin in 2025. This investment is expected to result in the creation of 5,800 new jobs in rural West Tennessee. Because of the significant economic boost this is expected to generate for rural West Tennessee, I ultimately voted in favor of the legislation.

My main concerns with the legislation, which were shared by members on both sides of the aisle, were as follows: the broad scope of powers granted to the megasite authority board; the governor’s control of the board; the absence of any local representation on the board; and, an almost complete lack of oversight of the board’s actions. Having discussed these issues with several former legislators and residents of West Tennessee earlier this week, I introduced an amendment to try and address our mutual concerns. In the final version of the legislation, Gov. Bill Lee will appoint and effectively control six of the 11 members on the board. Lee will also sit on the board, unilaterally appoint the chairman of the board, and hire the authority’s first chief executive officer. During the floor debate, I outlined how my amendment sought to reduce the board from 11 to nine members, decrease the number of gubernatorial appointments, remove the governor from the board, allow the Haywood, Tipton and Fayette county commission’s to each appoint a member to the board, and empower the board to elect its own chair and hire its own CEO.

The state’s current leadership mostly refused to share credit or acknowledge those who made this economic boost possible, so I will happily do so. To this end, I thank former Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, Matt Kisber, Gov. Phil Bredesen, Mayor Craig Fitzhugh, former Rep. Gerald McCormick, Gov. Haslam, and many other former staffers, legislators and local officials. 

Much appreciation is also owed to President Joe Biden’s challenge to the automotive industry to ensure that half the vehicles sold in the U.S. are battery electric, fuel-cell electric or plug-in hybrid by 2030. This was undoubtedly a motivating factor in this significant investment by the Ford Motor Company.

Now our next steps must be to increase K-12 education funding and make strategic investments in higher education so that Tennessee students benefit from the best education possible, generating a well-educated and skilled workforce and ensuring that these well-paying jobs are filled by Tennesseans.

Gov. Bill Lee announced a 90-day “review” of the Basic Education Program (“BEP”) for the purpose of writing a new education funding formula from scratch. While I, and many others, have been arguing for revisions to the BEP formula for several years, this governor’s true motivations are fairly questioned. There are several reasons you should pay close attention to Lee’s plan.

First, the education funding lawsuit pending before the newly created three-judge chancery panel is obviously a motivating factor here, at least in part, so be careful about interpreting this as a well-intentioned, proactive policy move. Second, Gov. Lee’s administration has been administratively and legally challenged since day one, so it is fair to question their ability to create an entirely new education funding formula in 90 days that will pass legal muster. His rushed timeline tends to indicate that the public input and citizen committees are more for show than consideration. Lee & Co. likely already have their scheme drawn up. Third, let’s be honest – Bill Lee is no friend to public schools or teachers. When Gov. Lee and Commissioner Schwinn start talking about redistributing school dollars and using ALEC talking points, alarm bells should be going off statewide.  Frankly, this is not the pair you want “to build something new, from scratch.”  

Finally, our state underfunds public education by $1.7 billion per year. We rank near the bottom nationally in per pupil funding and spend about $4,000 less per student than the national average. We can try to slice up the pie a bunch of different ways or rewrite the formula however we want, but the fact remains that the pie is way too small. Our students, teachers and families deserve better. 

As a strong supporter and advocate for women’s health care rights, I proudly joined 895 other state legislators from across the country, including three others from Tennessee, in filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court of the United States in support of Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The question of law before the Court is “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.” Oral arguments in this landmark health care case are scheduled for December 1, 2021.

Pursuant to Article II, Section 8 of the Tennessee Constitution, the speakers of both houses of the state legislature have called us back for another extraordinary session that will convene this week on October 27th. Given the broad scope of the call, we could be in for an extended period of time. Gov. Lee and I have both expressed our concerns about this type of extraordinary session. The purpose of this session appears to be to allow every radical conspiracy theory about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine to take the form of legislation, so get ready – it’s sure to be a haunting Halloween week. I’ll send another newsletter after we adjourn to summarize what takes place.
Photo of Wrigley the Dog
It is important that the families of Nashville have a voice in our state legislature, and I am honored to represent your family and neighborhood.

Also, I sincerely appreciate everyone who reached out after we lost our dog Wrigley recently. We were truly fortunate to have him in our lives and family for over 13 years.  

If I can be of assistance in any way, please call me at (615) 741-4410 or email me.
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