Committee Appointments for the 109th General Assembly

On Saturday, January 17, 2015, lawmakers convened to inaugurate incumbent Governor Bill Haslam and confirm committee assignments for the 109th General Assembly.

The House Education Committee has been divided into two separate committees—the shift due in part to the high volume of legislation that the former Education Committee considered in each session.  The change is an effort to help streamline the legislative process and increase efficiency.

One of the first major hurdles any legislation must clear is passage in committee.  Clearly, the makeup of a committee could play heavily in the development and progression of new policies.

The University of Tennessee most frequently interacts with the Education and Finance Committees.  Thus, those appointments for the 109th General Assembly are listed below.

Senate- Finance, Ways and Means
Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) was reappointed as Chairman of the Finance, Ways and Means Committee, as were the first and second Vice-Chairmen, Senators Bo Watson (R-Hixson) and Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), respectively. Other committee members include:

Sen. Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville)
Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin)
Sen. Thelma Harper (D-Nashville)
Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald)
Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro)
Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville)
Sen. John Stevens (R-Huntingdon)
Sen. Reginald Tate (D-Memphis)

Senate- Education
Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) was reappointed as Chair of the Senate Education Committee.  Senators Reginald Tate (D-Memphis) and Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) will serve as first and second Vice-Chairmen, respectively.  The other members of the Senate Education Committee include:

Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City)
Sen. Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville)
Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown)
Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville)
Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin)
Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald)

House- Finance, Ways and Means
Representative Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) was reappointed to lead the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee. Representative David Alexander (R-Winchester) was reappointed as Vice-Chair. Other members of the committee include:

Rep. Joe Armstrong (D-Knoxville)
Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland)
Rep. Karen D. Camper (D-Memphis)
Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah)
Rep. Barbara Ward Cooper (D-Memphis)
Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville)
Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley)
Rep. Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville)
Rep. Mike Harrison (R-Rogersville)
Rep. David B. Hawk (R-Greeneville)
Rep. Ryan A. Haynes (R-Knoxville)
Rep. Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain)
Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough)
Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville)
Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mount Juliet)
Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga)
Rep. Steve McDaniel (R-Parkers Crossroads)
Rep. Steve McManus (R-Cordova)
Rep. Larry Miller (D-Memphis)
Rep. Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville)
Rep. Curry Todd (R-Collierville)

House- Education, Administration and Planning
Representative Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville), formerly Chair of the House Education Committee, was named the Chair of the inaugural Education Administration and Planning Committee. Representative Debra Moody (R-Covington) will serve as vice chair. The other members of the new committee include:

Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland)
Rep. Kent Calfee (R-Kingston)
Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett)
Rep. John J. DeBerry (D-Memphis)
Rep. Kevin Dunlap (D-Rock Island)
Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (R-Ripley)
Rep. Eddie Smith (R-Knoxville)
Rep. Johnnie Turner (D-Memphis)
Rep. Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro)
Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis)
Rep. Rick Womick (R-Rockvale)

House- Education, Instruction and Programs
Representative John Forgety (R-Athens), formerly Vice-Chair of the Education Committee, was named the Chair of the Education Instruction and Programs Committee. Representative Billy Spivey (R-Lewisburg) will serve as Vice-Chair. Additional committee members include:

Rep. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis)
Rep. Harry Brooks (R-Knoxville)
Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia)
Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro)
Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville)
Rep. Roger Kane (R-Knoxville)
Rep. Sabi ‘Doc’ Kumar (R-Springfield)
Rep. Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett)
Rep. Harold M. Love, Jr. (D-Nashville)
Rep. Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville)
Rep. Joe Towns (D- Memphis)
Rep. Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville)

For a full listing of House or Senate committees, please click on the appropriate link.

109th Tennessee General Assembly Begins

capitol angleState lawmakers convened on Tuesday for the first day of the 109th General Assembly.  The Oath of Office was administered to members and they officially elected leadership.

As anticipated, House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) was re-elected, as was Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville).

The first week of the legislature’s work is largely organizational:  They’ll elect the Constitutional Officers, the Fiscal Review Committee, undergo mandatory ethics training, and complete a community service project.

On Saturday, the first official “legislative” day,  legislators will meet in Joint Convention for the Inauguration of Governor Bill Haslam.  They will also adopt the official schedule for each House and appoint standing committees.

Lawmakers will then recess until Monday, February 2, when they return for a special session called by the Governor on his “Insure Tennessee” plan.

“Insure Tennessee” is a proposed two-year pilot program to provide health care coverage to Tennesseans who do not currently have access to health insurance or have limited options.  The plan would provide coverage to more than 200,000 uninsured Tennesseans earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level, valued at slightly over $16,000 a year for an individual and $27,000 for a family of three.

The plan does not create any new taxes nor adds any state cost to the budget.  The hospital industry has committed that it will cover any additional cost to the state, and the program will automatically terminate in the event that either federal funding or support from the hospitals is modified.

Check back soon for more information and to view the committee assignments for the 109th General Assembly.

Governor Names New Commissioners; THEC Executive Director Retires

Several leadership changes have occurred within the Haslam administration over the course of the month.  This certainly is not a unique situation for any administration:  typically, Commissioners and staff commit to a certain period of time and then transition on, they retire, head back to their previous work, or take on new positions entirely.

Three transitions of note are the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) Executive Director, the Education Commissioner, and the Economic and Community Development (ECD) Commissioner.

Governor Haslam has announced his selection of Candice McQueen to serve as Education Commissioner.  McQueen currently serves as senior vice president and dean of Lipscomb University’s College of Education.  Before joining Lipscomb in 2001, McQueen was a teacher in elementary and middle schools. She will replace Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who announced his departure last month.  She begins her work as Commissioner on January 20.  Read more about her here.

The Governor also recently announced his selection of current Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) Chair Randy Boyd to serve as Commissioner for Economic and Community Development.  He replaces Commissioner Bill Hagerty, a former White House staffer at the Domestic Policy Council under President George H. Bush.  Boyd is best known in education circles as a former unpaid higher education advisor to Haslam who helped developed TNAchieves, the program that later developed into the TN Promise Scholarship program.

Creating a vacancy at THEC is the retirement of Dr. Richard Rhoda.  Rhoda’s retirement was announced last month, and it becomes effective December 31. A replacement has not yet been named.

State Revenue Update

The first three months of the State’s fiscal year, which began in August, held good news:  revenues bounced upward, a welcome trend after lagging revenues plagued the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

However, the most recently released figures from November mark the first point in the 2014-2015 fiscal year where revenues were less than the budgeted estimate:  $6.1 million less to be precise.  The gap is mostly attributed to a volatile situation surrounding the State’s franchise and excise taxes.

The State Funding Board released a consensus report this month showing that 2015-2016 fiscal year revenues are generally expected to grow at slower rates than in previous years.  They anticipate overall growth for FY 2015-2016 between 2.55 and 2.95 percent, with growth in the general fund ranging from 2.6 to 3 percent.

For contrast, final projections for the current fiscal year have overall total tax revenue growing in the range of 3.45 to 3.8 percent, and the general funding growing between 3.85 to 4.2 percent.

These revenue figures and projections are significant because they will, in large part, require the Governor and legislature to craft a more conservative budget than in years past (assuming the absence of any new revenue).

Several revenue measures have been publicly discussed by key legislators, including an increase to the gas tax and tightening loopholes in the franchise and excise tax structure.

We will keep you updated on the revenue situation as it relates to the State budget and the funding of public higher education.  Much more will be known once the Governor releases his proposed budget, which typically occurs after the State of the State address in late January or early February.

Legislative Leadership Elected for 109th General Assembly

State CapitolRepublican and Democratic Caucuses in both the House and Senate have now elected leadership for the 109th General Assembly, which will convene on January 13, 2015.

Perhaps the most-watched race was for the Republican House Speaker nominee, with current House Speaker Beth Harwell being challenged by Rep. Rick Womick (R-Rockvale).  In the House Republican Caucus election on Wednesday, Harwell defeated Womick by a significant 57-15.

Legislative Leadership for the 109th General Assembly

Senate Republicans:

Senate Democrats:

 House Republicans:

 House Democrats: