Jobs Take Center Stage On Capitol Hill

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NASHVILLE —  Jobs and the economy took center stage on Capitol Hill this week as lawmakers heard good news regarding Tennessee’s economic prospects, including the forecast that employers may see reductions in their unemployment premiums as early as July.

Tennessee Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development Karla Davis and Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Bill Hagerty appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee to present their budget requests and brief members on developments taking place on Tennessee’s jobs front.

Job creation reaches highest mark since 2007 -- Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty told Senate Commerce Committee members this week that Tennessee had a very productive year with the creation of 28,500 jobs in the state, the highest mark since 2007. The Commissioner attributed the success to a realignment the Department took after Governor Haslam ordered a “top to bottom review” of its operations.  

“The result of that has been a fabulous job number in what has overall been a very tough economic environment,” Hagerty said. “The majority of job creation in this state comes from existing businesses as they expand. My challenge to the department has been to make sure that we maintain a 98 percent plus market share of all expansion that happens with Tennessee companies -- and it is working.”

Although the focus is on expanding within Tennessee, Hagerty said Governor Haslam and the Department continue to be “very aggressive” in recruiting worldwide, visiting seven different countries in the last half of last year. The department is pursuing a new initiative to open up the market for export opportunities to increase the output from Tennessee companies. In addition, they are working on a co-investment fund to make money available for early stage capital to attract new private equity into the state for Tennessee entrepreneurs.  

Unemployment Fund Projected to Trigger Employer Premium Decrease in July -- Likewise, Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development Karla Davis reported on her department’s activities this week, which included good news regarding Tennessee’s Unemployment Trust Fund. As of February 1, the balance of the fund is over $306 million.  

A law passed in 2009 contained triggers for higher premiums when the state’s unemployment fund goes down to insure solvency and keep the state from the federal mandates associated with borrowing or insolvency.  The law also contained a 0.6 percent premium in order to keep the fund solvent.  Those triggers, however, reverse to lower premiums upon reaching levels which ensure solvency of the fund.   

Tennessee employers are currently paying premiums based on Tax Table 1, which assesses the highest level of premiums.  The Trust Fund is expected to trigger Tax Table 2 in the immediate future.  Thus, the assessment will result in a lower premium to employers in July of this year.  The study also forecasts that the Trust Fund will hit the $650 million threshold in the third quarter of 2014.  At that time there will be a further decrease in the tax as well as an elimination of the 0.6 percent solvency fee.    

Legislation giving teachers more authority to relocate a student for safety reasons receives final approval

The State Senate unanimously approved legislation today giving teachers more authority to relocate a student who poses a safety threat without fear of being found liable. Senate Bill 3116 requires local education boards to adopt a policy authorizing a teacher's ability to temporarily move a student to a different location for the student's safety or the safety of others.  The bill also requires principals to fully support the authority of teachers in taking the action when it is done according to the policy.

The genesis of the bill came as lawmakers have listened to teachers who were concerned about liability while performing assigned duties or that a lawsuit could be brought against them if they try to remove a student during an altercation. The legislation is supported by the Tennessee School Board Association, the Tennessee Teacher Association, and the Professional Educators of Tennessee.

The policy required under the measure would also cover teachers’ authorization to intervene in a physical altercation between two or more students or between a student and Local Education Agency (LEA) employee. It also allows for the use of reasonable or justifiable force upon a student if the student is unwilling to cooperate and it becomes necessary to end the altercation by relocating the student to another area.

If steps beyond the use of reasonable or justifiable force are required, the proposal says the student would remain in place until law enforcement officers or school resource officers arrive.

The bill would apply to acts committed on school property, as well as those at official school functions, including sporting events and approved field trips. In addition to teachers, it would apply to administrators, school support staff, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, school resource officers, and others working in the school who interact with students.

Teachers must file a brief report with the principal detailing the situation that required the relocation of the student.  If it is found that the student's behavior violated the LEA's zero tolerance policy, the report would become part of the student’s permanent record. The student is then subject to additional disciplinary action that may include suspension or expulsion from the school. The principal or their designee must notify the teacher involved of the actions taken to address the behavior of the relocated student.

The bill does not apply to special needs students.

Issues in Brief

DUI / Child Endangerment -- Legislation sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which she chairs, to ensures a multiple DUI offender receives the appropriate punishment when he or she endangers a child in their vehicle by driving under the influence. Currently, multiple offenders do not receive an enhanced sentence like first offenders due to ambiguity in the language of a 2005 law which enhanced penalties for child endangerment for DUI offenders. Senate Bill 2607 makes sure state law is clear for multiple DUI offenders that the punishment for child endangerment, which is 30 days, runs consecutively with any other sentence received.  

Voter ID – Eighty two percent of Tennesseans consider the new voter identification law “a good idea that should be kept in place,” according to a new Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) poll. About four in five Tennesseans (83 percent) say they have heard that voters will be asked to show a photo ID at the polls starting this year, up significantly from last fall’s 71 percent.

Equal Access to Public Property Act -- The House of Representatives has approved a Senate amendment and sent to the Governor legislation to create order in the use of Tennessee’s public lands received final approval by the full Senate this week. Senate Bill 2508 makes it a misdemeanor offense to engage in the activity of camping on property owned by the state knowing that the area is not designated for that use.  The “Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012,” comes after reports of potential health threats, theft, lewd behavior and other crimes on the Capitol’s War Memorial Plaza in association with the “Occupy Nashville” encampment.
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