2018 End of Session Outcomes

Category: State Issues

The Tennessee State Capitol Building at sunset.

The Tennessee state legislature adjourned last week, closing the final chapter of the 110th General Assembly. Lawmakers now return to their districts, where work gears up for a busy campaign season prior to the August primaries. 2018 is expected to be a record year in legislative turnover, with 27 members of the Tennessee General Assembly either retiring or vacating their current seat to run for another public office. All state house seats are on the ballot, as well as over half the Senate.

Although summer studies, Fiscal Review meetings, Government Operations Rule Review meetings, and various oversight hearings will bring legislators back to the Capitol over the summer and fall months, lawmakers cannot procedurally pass any legislation until the start of the 111th General Assembly, unless a special session is called. The 111th General Assembly will convene January 8, 2019.


UT Legislative Outcomes – Passed/Enacted


FY18-19 State Budget

This year’s budget fully funds the state’s higher education outcomes funding formula, resulting in an $8.3 million operating increase for the UT System. The budget also sets forth funds for 2.5 percent salary adjustments for state employees, with full funding of that increase for employees at UT’s non-formula units (such as the Institute for Public Service).

Capital investments that benefit UT include:

  • $9 million for the UT Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Learning Center. UT is home to one of only 30 accredited colleges of veterinary medicine in the country. The centerpiece of this project is a clinical simulation skills lab.
  • $4 million in preplanning funds for the UT Institute of Agriculture’s Energy and Environmental Science building. Long-term, this facility will replace the Ellington Plant Sciences Building. It will house teaching laboratories, research and public service labs, new classrooms, and a 500-seat teaching and learning center.
  • $47.48 million in capital maintenance funding. This funding benefits every UT campus.

The budget includes $2 million non-recurring to the UT Health Science Center for the Center for Addiction Science focused on tackling the state’s opioid epidemic. The UT Health Science Center hosts the first nationally-designated Center for Addiction Science in the country and is uniquely situated to spearhead training for the treatment of addiction in Tennessee.

Also included in the budget is $860,000 recurring for the UT Institute of Agriculture’s Genomics Center and $200,000 non-recurring for minority teacher scholarships at UT Knoxville.

UT Focus Act — Public Chapter 657
Enacted as Public Chapter 657, the Haslam Administration’s UT FOCUS Act makes governance changes to the UT Board of Trustees. The effort was supported by the University of Tennessee and is based on best practices as articulated by the National Association of Governing Boards (AGB).

The measure reduces the number of trustees from 27 to 12, removes the Governor, the UT President, the Commissioner of Education, and the Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission as ex officio trustees. The composition of the newly constituted Board will include the Commissioner of Agriculture as an ex officio, voting trustee, as well as 10 other voting members, appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the House and Senate, and one non-voting student member. Of the 10 appointed members, at least two must come from each Tennessee Grand Division, at least five must be UT alumni, and at least seven must be Tennessee residents. A new statutory provision included in the law allows individual board members to be recalled by the legislature by a two-thirds majority vote of both Houses.

Members of the reconstituted board will serve staggered terms initially, with three members serving two-year terms, four members serving four-year terms, and three members serving six-year terms. As each initial appointee’s term expires, all subsequent appointees will serve six-year terms. Board members will be limited to two consecutive terms with the possibility for reappointment after four years of being off the Board.

The new law requires the creation of four Board committees: Executive, Audit, Finance and Administration, and Academic Affairs and Student Success. The Board will have the discretion to create other committees or subcommittees as necessary. The Academic Affairs and Student Success Committee will include one voting full-time faculty member that will rotate among the campuses. The Student Trustee also will serve on this committee.

The measure also creates seven-member campus advisory boards. Five of the seven members are Gubernatorial appointments subject to confirmation by the House and Senate. The advisory boards also include one faculty member, appointed by the Faculty Senate, and one student member, appointed by the campus advisory board. There is a statutory requirement for advisory boards to meet at least three times annually.

The law also requires trustees to establish a process for advisory boards to make budgetary and institutional strategic plan recommendations to the President and full Board.

Confirmation of New Trustees
After hours of questioning and legislative deliberation, the Senate and House ultimately confirmed the following seven individuals: John Compton, Kara M. Lawson, Donnie Smith, William Rhodes III, Kim White, Amy Miles, and Lang Wiseman. Three additional members to serve as trustees are anticipated to be named at a later date, with legislative confirmation deliberations occurring in 2019.

Transparency in Higher Education Act — SB2180/HB2230
In its original form, the bill would have required public colleges and universities to post to their websites standardized information about each course and course section offered each semester, including every assigned reading, audio recording, or video required for the course as well as the details of each required course assignment. The UT System has over 24,000 individual course sections each year. If faculty elected to change any of this information during the semester, these changes would have been required to be posted online. The information technology costs on this legislation would have been approximately $200,000 recurring for the UT System, with an additional $230,000 one-time implementation cost.

The UT Government Relations and Advocacy team led negotiations with House sponsor Rep. Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport) and appreciates the sponsor’s willingness to amend the legislation. The amended version simply requires public colleges and universities to post to their institutional websites information about parents’ rights to student records under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). The amended version of the bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate and effectively alleviated concerns held by public universities across the state.

Tennessee Foreign Language Institute (TFLI) — SB1842/HB2198
Legislation transferring the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute to the UT Institute for Public Service (IPS) passed unanimously. Under amendatory language offered by UT, the measure eliminates TFLI’s current governing board; transfers resources and assets of TFLI to UT; and tailors its mission to providing language services to state and local government entities in support of industrial recruitment, economic development, and provision of government services. The changes put the Center in-line with IPS’ mission and present the acquisition of the Center an exciting opportunity for IPS to further its work in the State of Tennessee.

Executive Search — Public Chapter 770
Legislation altering the higher education executive search statute was enacted as Public Chapter 770. The changes allow higher education Presidential search committees to select up to three candidates to be recommended to the institution’s governing board. Current statute requires at least three finalists to be named. The change only applies to presidential searches and will not apply to searches involving Chancellors or other senior administrators.

The new law requires governing boards to hold an open meeting prior to initiating a presidential search to establish the search process, a timeline, and a statement of qualifications for the position. It stipulates that no later than 15 calendar days before the final vote of a governing board on a candidate for president, records relating to the candidate shall be open for public inspection. It also requires that governing boards hold at least one public forum with the candidate.

Student Due Process Protection Act — SB824/HB789
Legislation stemming from a 2016 task force on student due process rights passed unanimously in both Houses. The omnibus-style legislation has provisions that will encourage college students to report cases of sexual misconduct, protect the identity of victims, and ensure uniform due process rights for students.

The measure also deals with a long-standing statutory issue that required public colleges and universities to appoint their own employees as Administrative Law Judges to adjudicate contested cases under the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act (UAPA). This requirement created perceptions of higher education institutions having a conflict of interest in resolving such cases.

The new law provides new tools for public universities to use in the adjudication of these UAPA cases. Universities will be able to appoint persons who have appropriate training but no employment relationship with the University, including former municipal, state, and federal judges. Sponsored by Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) and Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge), some key provisions of the law were advocated by UT.

American Sign Language for Admission Requirements — Public Chapter 546
Significantly amended with language provided by UT, this legislation requires public universities to accept American Sign Language for purposes of admission. UT campuses already comply with the new statutory requirement as a matter of practice. In its original form, the bill was a policy concern for UT, as it required American Sign Language courses to satisfy foreign language requirements for all degree programs at public universities. Institutions and their faculty members determine curriculum and degree requirements, and legislation in this area is always of concern for accreditation purposes.

Further, there are numerous majors where an international language is necessary to the course of study to prepare successful graduates, including international business, global studies, and the international languages themselves. Sponsored by Sen. Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Rep. Roger Kane (R-Knoxville), significant amendatory language was accepted to satisfy UT’s concerns with the original bill.

Excused Absences for Military Service — Public Chapter 647
Public Chapter 647 requires state institutions of higher education to grant an excused absence to military reserve or national guard personnel for an absence due to mandatory military service. The statute also requires state institutions of higher education to permit military reserve and national guard personnel to withdraw or receive a grade of incomplete in any course if the service member is called to active duty while enrolled. UT supported this legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) and Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge).

Tuition Transparency and Accountability Act — Public Chapter 614
The Tuition Transparency and Accountability Act, sponsored by Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) and Rep. Eddie Smith (R-Knoxville), requires all state universities to provide students, in their admission letter, a four-year, non-binding prediction of tuition and fee increases to assist in their future financial planning and help inform final decisions on college selection.

UT Government Relations and Advocacy staff were involved in successfully drafting amendatory language to this legislation that enabled support for the bill.

Governor’s Opioids Plan — HB1831/SB2257 & HB1831/SB2258
TN Together, the comprehensive plan to end the opioid crisis in Tennessee, is supported by two key pieces of legislation. The first bill, sponsored by Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) and Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville), limits the duration and dosage of opioid prescriptions for new patients, with reasonable exceptions for major surgical procedures and exemptions that include cancer and hospice treatment, sickle cell disease as well as treatment in certain licensed facilities. With initial opioid prescriptions limited to a 3-day supply, Tennessee will have one of the most strict and aggressive opioid policies in the nation.

The second bill, sponsored by Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville), creates incentives for offenders to complete intensive substance use treatment programs while incarcerated and updates the schedule of controlled substances to better track, monitor and penalize the use and unlawful distribution of opioids. Notably, it adds synthetic versions of the drug fentanyl, linked to an alarming number of overdose deaths, to the controlled substance schedules.

In addition to legislation, this year’s budget included $2 million non-recurring to the UT Health Science Center for the Center for Addiction Science to assist in our efforts to tackle the state’s opioid epidemic. Dr. David Stern was also appointed to the Governor’s new Tennessee Commissions on Pain and Addiction Medicine Education. The 19-member commission, which includes 3 additional members affiliated with the UT System, is charged with formulating evidenced-based pain and addiction medicine competencies for adoption by the state’s medical and healthcare schools regarding management of pain, proper prescribing of pain medication, and diagnosis and treatment of those suffering from addiction.

Bills That Did Not Become Law

Guns on Campus — SB 1341/HB 884
Sponsored by Rep. Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma) and Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), the measure would have allowed individuals, including students, with a handgun permit to carry firearms on public higher education campuses and in all places within the state that is not prohibited by federal law. The University, along with other government, law enforcement, and private sector stakeholders, opposed the legislation. The measure failed in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee after lengthy testimony.

Higher Education Efficiency Audits by External Vendors — SB734/HB738
Legislation that would have initiated a process for “efficiency audits” to be performed by private-sector companies on public higher education institutions failed in the House Finance, Ways, and Means Subcommittee on a 0 – 10 vote. The measured was sponsored by Rep. Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville) and Senate Education Chair Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville).

The efficiency audit proposed by the bill would have been conducted by a private-sector entity and would have included recommendations, including those for legislation, on strategies to improve the efficiency of public universities. The Senate version of the bill exclusively listed the University of Tennessee campuses, the University of Memphis, and Tennessee State University for efficiency audits. The Senate version also stipulated that the efficiency audit be used by the legislature to determine if institutions have “unnecessary course offerings of little benefit to students or the public.” Public universities across the state were particularly concerned about this provision of the bill and how it could have affected legislative action on curricula, which could impact institutions’ accreditation.

The House version abandoned both of these provisions but initiated a process that would have been costly if external auditors were hired—in excess of $3-5 million. If no funds were appropriated to cover the cost of conducting an efficiency audit, it was unclear whether colleges, universities, and tuition-payers could be compelled to pay the costs. Furthermore, the State Comptroller—the state’s chief auditor—could effectively do the audits if sufficient funds were appropriated.

Although the House and Senate Education Committees looked favorably on the bill, the House Finance Subcommittee expressed skepticism. Finance leadership noted that significant funding not allocated in the Governor’s FY18-19 budget would be required. Long-time House Finance Chair Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) recognized the predicted cost savings but noted that predictions don’t always translate into real cost savings, citing examples the State has seen in the past. Other House members expressed concerns that the measure could bring back proposals such as outsourcing, a topic of concern for many General Assembly members.

As required by state law, public higher education institutions already undergo regular financial audits and performance audits. The UT System has made efficiency and effectiveness a top priority, self-identifying over $15.2 million in savings in recurring funds within the last two years.

Dual Enrollment Moratorium — SB2078/HB2155
Legislation to severely limit four-year universities’ ability to expand dual enrollment offerings to Tennessee high schools was unsuccessful. The bill would have prohibited Local Education Agencies (LEAs) from going directly to a four-year university for any new dual enrollment course offerings. It would have required LEAs to first offer the opportunity for dual enrollment to their regional community colleges, then to community colleges more broadly. Only if no community college could offer the requested course could an LEA partner with a four-year university.

Universities view dual enrollment as an important opportunity for Tennessee high school students to be exposed to college and university-level coursework and that these opportunities should not be limited to community colleges. Based on local demand, UT campuses offer many general education courses to high school students throughout the state.

The legislation would have carried major implications for the UT System. UT Martin, for example, has increased dual enrollment offerings by 278 percent since 2015 based on demand for UT Martin courses, which are taught by University faculty. Dual enrollment offerings have attracted more students to the institution for additional studies, helping increase overall enrollment numbers.

Key K-12 stakeholders opposed the attempt to limit local choice on dual enrollment providers.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission will be assembling a task force of stakeholders to study the issue over the summer.

Quality Assurance Funding Based on Educator Preparation Programs — SB1844/HB1481
Legislation impacting how higher education performance funding is awarded in Tennessee was taken “off notice” in the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee after several weeks of testimony from higher education stakeholders, including UT.

This legislation would have tied all of an institution’s quality assurance funding to Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS) scores of graduates of Tennessee’s teacher training programs. TVAAS scores are one measure of teacher effectiveness utilized by the state. If passed, the measure would have been the first time that quality assurance funding was tied to one specific academic program rather than a broad set of institutional performance metrics that span a number of different academic programs. UT opposed the bill.

Public Higher Education “General Education” Course Requirement Changes — SB1846/HB1754
Legislation that was of concern to all state universities dealing with general education requirements did not become law this session. Sponsored by Senate Education Chair Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Rep. Tilman Goins (R-Morristown), the measure would have stipulated that public colleges and universities could not require completion of more than six credit hours of humanities coursework to satisfy the institutions’ general education requirements. It further mandated that students must complete at least three credit hours of economics to satisfy the general education requirement. The measure would have represented the first time in state law that specific course requirements or limits on general education were prescribed. Potential impacts on institutional accreditation were unclear, and ultimately, the Senate sponsor of the legislation sent the bill to “General Subcommittee,” where it remained for the session.

In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students — SB2263/HB2429
Sponsored by House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee Chairman Mark White (R-Memphis) and Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), legislation to allow undocumented students who graduated from a Tennessee high school to receive in-state tuition at public universities did not receive enough support to become law this session. The measure was successful in passing its initial hearing in the House Education Administration and Planning Subcommittee but was never brought to a vote in either the full House or Senate Education Committees. There were a number of counter-proposals to this legislation that also did not advance this session.

Prohibition of Fraternities and Sororities at Public Colleges and Universities — SB2541/HB2042
Legislation that would have banned all fraternities and sororities, except professional fraternities and honor societies, at state institutions of higher education did not advance this session. The legislation would have prevented Greek organizations from being recognized by, associated with, or operated on the campus of any state institution of higher education. Sponsored by Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis) and Sen. Reginald Tate (D-Memphis), the measure sought to bring attention to the sponsors’ concerns and encourage fraternities and sororities to hold themselves to high behavioral standards.

UT Government Relations and Advocacy staff coordinated a meeting of student affairs professionals with Rep. DeBerry to discuss campus conduct policy changes as well as efforts underway with Greek communities on UT campuses. Rep. DeBerry then worked with UT in crafting a resolution encouraging members of the Greek community to lead societal and cultural change on issues such as sexual assault, drug and alcohol abuse, respect for all people and their rights, and hazing. The resolution passed unanimously in the House and Senate and will be presented to sorority and fraternity leaders at public universities across the state.

“Complete to Compete”
Following months of stakeholder testimony and legislative deliberation, the Haslam Administration’s “Complete to Compete” initiative failed on the House floor with a 41-46-10 (present not voting) vote and was not heard on the Senate floor. The measure was nine votes short of passage. The original bill would have required students receiving the Tennessee Promise or HOPE scholarships to complete a minimum of 30 credit hours in a 12-month period or receive a $250 reduction in award aid. Currently, to be a “full-time” student, students are required to take a minimum of 12 credit hours per semester. However, in recent years, UT campuses have encouraged, but not required, students to take 15 credit hours per semester to better enable a path to a bachelor’s degree within four years.

UT advocated for key provisions, ultimately included in amendatory language on the bill, that exempted students pursuing co-ops and internships, and provided an appeals process for students facing extenuating circumstances, such as medical hardships. Other amendatory efforts were led by the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association (TICUA), who sought to totally exempt students at four-year institutions from the 30-in-12 requirements, making the bill only applicable to Tennessee community colleges. Some House members voiced concerns during the floor debate that the legislation would be punitive to students needing to work full-time, while also taking a full course load. Other members in the House voiced support that the legislation was needed to ensure timely graduation.

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