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Tennessee State Senate Passes County Sanctuary Legislation

General Assembly passes key bills, including budget, as lawmakers look to close 2021 session

From the office of 28th District State Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald.

The state budget led a host of important bills approved the week of April 26 as lawmakers prepare to close the 2021 legislative session.

The General Assembly, which may adjourn the week of May 3, has completed the vast majority of its business with most remaining action pending on bills that were behind the budget due to their cost.

The no-debt budget, which will fund state government for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, continues lawmakers’ efforts to take care of the state’s most vulnerable citizens, ensure public safety, keep promises to state employees and maintain fiscal discipline. It prioritizes education, health care, and job development, including a record investment in broadband.

The structurally-balanced budget also makes a significant deposit in the state’s Rainy-Day Fund, which helps the state withstand economic downturns, bringing the fund to a historic level of $1.55 billion.

The new budget funds many of last year’s budget priorities, which were put on hold as Tennessee’s attention shifted toward addressing the health and economic effects of the pandemic, including $250 million for a Mental Health Trust Fund to provide mental health supports to K-12 students.

Education, Health Care, Jobs, and Public Safety are priorities of 2021-2022 budget – Tennessee’s 2021-2022 budget funds $143 million in improvements made by the General Assembly during the Special Session on Education to tackle student learning loss.

It also includes funds to raise literacy rates, provide pay increases for teachers and fully fund the state’s Basic Education Plan (BEP).

The BEP is the funding formula by which state education dollars are generated and distributed to Tennessee schools to provide students and teachers with tools for academic growth.

Key expenditures in higher education include $36 million to fully fund the Outcomes-Based Funding Formula to help stabilize budgets in Tennessee’s colleges and universities and keep tuition increases at a minimum.

It provides $79 million to eliminate Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCAT) waiting lists, currently at 11,400 students, to equip students with critical job skills. It also provides $42 million for a TCAT in Shelbyville to meet growing student needs in Middle Tennessee.

The budget also puts a strong emphasis on job creation and rural development with a significant $100 million investment to expand high speed broadband to unserved Tennessee communities.

A second large investment is expected next year. These funds are in addition to federal coronavirus stimulus money.

In other jobs investments, the budget provides $190 million for Fast Track Infrastructure Grants to add high quality jobs. It also provides $7 million to help support Tennessee entrepreneurs and innovators with promising start-up companies.

Health care is another key budget priority. It provides $37.9 million to fully fund medical inflation in the TennCare program and adds $5 million to further widen the Health Care Safety Net, bringing it to over $30 million. The Health Care Safety Net focuses on services that help uninsured patients get preventative and disease management care and avoid more costly hospitalizations.

A Senate amendment also added $1.5 million to the state’s Graduate Medical Education (GME) Program for a total of $5.5 million in recurring funds to get more residents into rural hospitals, particularly family practice doctors, pediatricians and psychiatric physicians.

These funds will be used as stand-up money for five medical residents per year per hospital. Research shows 70 percent of doctors end up practicing where they do their residency.

In addition, the budget provides $38.9 million for a pay increase for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), who care for some of Tennessee's most vulnerable citizens who suffer from disabilities. The budget supports pay increases for DSPs from a minimum of $10.50 to $12.50 per hour.

Tennessee Election Integrity Act – Legislation to uphold the integrity of elections by ensuring absentee ballots are not fraudulent was approved by state senators.

Senate Bill 1315, which I sponsored, requires all absentee ballots to include an easily discernible watermark approved by Tennessee’s Coordinator of Elections, except those officially authorized to be delivered electronically.

Called the Tennessee Election Integrity Act, the legislation also requires absentee ballot counting boards of local county election commissions to reject any absentee ballot without the approved watermark to prevent election fraud.

Tennessee Second Amendment Sanctuary Act – The Senate voted to enact legislation making it clear that state and local officials must not enforce laws, treaties, executive orders, rules or regulations of the U.S. government that violate the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Senate Bill 1335 affirms that such laws, treaties, executive orders and rules or regulations are null, void and unenforceable in Tennessee and prohibits using public resources to enforce them.

The Tennessee Second Amendment Sanctuary Act also provides that any official who violates the statute is subject to ouster, unless excepted by the State Constitution. I was happy to sponsor this bill to strengthen our fundamental 2nd amendment right to bear arms.

Hensley represents Giles, Lewis, Lawrence, Maury, Perry and Wayne counties in the State Legislature.

Hensley may be reached at 425 Rep. John Lewis Way N., Suite 742, Nashville, Tenn., 37243, at 615-741-3100, toll free at 1-800-449-8366 ext. 13100, by fax at 615-253-0231, by mail at 855 Summertown Highway, Hohenwald Tenn., 38462, by telephone at 931-796-2018, by cell phone at 931-212-8823 or by e-mail at sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov

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Information in this column comes from the office of 28th District State Sen. Joey Hensley M.D., who represents Giles and five other counties. From school bus drivers to trucking, the lack of Commercia