NASHVILLE, TN, April 15, 2011 – I am very pleased to report that our Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee has approved my legislation to stiffen penalties for making methamphetamines in the presence of a child and to implement a statewide electronic tracking system to curb meth production in the state.
he system, called NPLEx (National Precursor Log Exchange), would monitor and block illegal purchases of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE), a key ingredient in methamphetamine production.
Meth has destroyed many lives in Tennessee. I am pleased this bill is proceeding through the legislature and believe it will help fight the terrible problem we face with this illegal drug in our state
There is currently no mechanism in place in Tennessee to block illegal PSE sales in real time, as many pharmacies and retailers rely on handwritten, paper logbooks to track purchases. As a result, criminals have learned to circumvent the current system.
Senate Bill 1265 will give us the real time tracking needed to stop an illegal transaction and provides pharmacists the right to decline the sale if it is deemed not to be for a legitimate medical purpose. The proposal also prescribes tougher penalties against meth cookers who endanger children and those who go from store to store to buy pseudoephederine products. Fines assessed under the proposal will be used for cleanup of meth labs.
In addition, the bill calls for the Comptroller to conduct a thorough study of meth and the availability of pseudoephedrine as a factor in the manufacture of meth, with the results of the study to be released no later than January 1, 2013. This will help us monitor progress made under provisions of the bill.
HOPE Scholarships / Summer Classes -- Education also headlined this week’s action on Capitol Hill as the Senate Education Committee approved a bill to allow HOPE scholars to use their scholarships to take summer classes. Last year, the General Assembly passed the Complete College Tennessee Act with the goal of raising educational attainment rates in Tennessee by promoting and incentivizing college completion. The HOPE scholarship bill builds on that legislation by giving students the option to attend summer classes in order to progress and graduate in a timely manner. It also allows our colleges and universities to better utilize their buildings and campuses all year long.
Current law allows up to five years on the lottery scholarship but does not include funding for summer semesters. Senate Bill 1529 redefines “academic year” for the purpose of the lottery scholarship program and includes the summer semester, making it possible for student to use their lottery scholarships during the summer.
The bill extends summer eligibility to all current and future lottery scholarship recipients, but it grandfathers in all but current freshmen. A 120-hour cap on lottery funding, with exceptions allowed for programs that require more than 120 hours for completion, will apply to students who first received a lottery scholarship in the fall semester of 2010 or thereafter. Students who first received the lottery scholarship prior to the fall semester of 2010 (current sophomores, juniors, and seniors) will be eligible for summer funding while having up to five years to complete their studies utilizing scholarship money. For those students who will be subject to the 120-hour cap, courses taken this summer (2011) that do not receive lottery funding will not count against their cap.
Revenue Collections -- Tennessee revenue collections for March continued to exceed the budgeted expectations. The Department of Finance and Administration announced that overall March revenues were $815.5 million, which is $9.5 million more than the state budgeted. It marks the eighth consecutive positive growth month for this fiscal year. The general fund was over collected by $9.6 million and the four other funds were under collected by $100,000. The year-to-date growth rate for eight months was positive 4.45%. Year-to-date collections through March compared to the February revision are $2.3 million above the total estimate, and $6.0 million above the general fund estimate. The four other funds that share in state tax collections are $3.7 below the revised estimate.
Anti-terrorism – Two expert witnesses appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which I chair, this week to testify on Senate Bill 1028, the “Material Support to Designated Entities Act of 2011.” Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Meyers, told our committee members there is a “documented Tennessee nexus to terrorism.” Meyers was joined by former Inspector General of the Department of Defense, Joseph Schmitz, who also testified in favor of the bill and provided information regarding the constitutionality of the measure. The anti-terrorism bill provides that the Director of Tennessee’s Office of Homeland Security can make a recommendation to the Attorney General and the Governor to “designate” a terrorist entity, effectively isolating them from support. Once designated, anyone who knowingly provides material support or resources may be prosecuted or fined under the bill. “Apart from the FBI special agent, the border patrolman or the alert immigration officer, it is your ‘beat cops,’ your county deputies and your highway patrolman, who have the closest eye to the ground of potential threats,” said Meyers, a 30-year Army veteran whose experience includes planning defense strategies to counter the nexus of terrorism. A vote on the bill was deferred until next week.
Election Process / Tie Vote – Finally, members of the Senate Finance Committee have approved a bill to allow county commissions to call for a run off election in cases where there is a tie vote for a county office. Under present law, if there is a tie vote between two or more persons having the highest number of votes for an office, the county legislative body cast the deciding vote to break the tie. Senate Bill 1225 rewrites that law to place counties in the same posture as cities under state law, so there will be an opportunity for a run-off election to let the peoples’ voice be heard.