Tag Archives: norris

Norris leads Legislature in Taking a LEAP

In a trip to Germany last November, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris was impressed with BMW’s long-running apprenticeship program, which retains more than 90 percent of its recruits for careers at the company, reports Richard Locker. Gov. Bill Haslam, meanwhile, has been talking up the notion of having state schools do more to train students in job-specific skills for businesses.
Norris, a lawyer, drafted a bill himself to try to accomplish that, enacting the Labor Education Alignment Program, or LEAP, that he and others shepherded through the General Assembly this year with the backing of the Haslam administration and the state’s higher education governing boards.
LEAP is a statewide comprehensive program to provide students at community colleges and the former Tennessee Technology Centers — which were renamed Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology on July 1 — the opportunity to combine occupational training in a high-skill or high-tech industry with academic credit applied toward post-high-school credentials. Students would take academic courses tailored for careers and work in paid apprenticeships and get academic credit for both.
…Norris said he believes LEAP was one of the most significant programs enacted by the 2013 legislature, even if it received little publicity.
“It’s work, earn and learn. The goal is to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential — an associate degree or higher — from 32 percent now to 55 percent by 2025,” Norris said.
That’s the goal of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative, in which he cites studies showing that by 2025, at least 55 percent of jobs in the state will require some level of higher education. “The risk is that Tennessee doesn’t prepare the graduates that we need for the workforce and all these businesses that we’re recruiting go somewhere else. It’s really that simple,” the governor told business and education leaders when he kicked off the series of discussions last July at the governor’s residence.
The new LEAP law requires a curriculum focused on high-skill jobs, emerging occupations and skilled manufacturing jobs, including advanced manufacturing, electronics, information technology, infrastructure engineering, and transportation and logistics. Some will be offered to students starting in 2014.
Norris said he believes LEAP was one of the most significant programs enacted by the 2013 legislature, even if it received little publicity.
“It’s work, earn and learn. The goal is to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential — an associate degree or higher — from 32 percent now to 55 percent by 2025,” Norris said.
That’s the goal of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative, in which he cites studies showing that by 2025, at least 55 percent of jobs in the state will require some level of higher education. “The risk is that Tennessee doesn’t prepare the graduates that we need for the workforce and all these businesses that we’re recruiting go somewhere else. It’s really that simple,” the governor told business and education leaders when he kicked off the series of discussions last July at the governor’s residence.
The new LEAP law requires a curriculum focused on high-skill jobs, emerging occupations and skilled manufacturing jobs, including advanced manufacturing, electronics, information technology, infrastructure engineering, and transportation and logistics. Some will be offered to students starting in 2014.

Norris Reelected TACIR Chair

News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), June 20, 2013 — Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) has been reelected Chairman of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR). The election took place during a two-day meeting of the commission in Nashville on June 19 and 20. Norris has served as Chairman since 2009 and begins his third two-year term.
“I appreciate the confidence that the members have placed in me to serve another term in this leadership role, ” said Senator Norris. “I look forward to continuing to build strong relationships between state, municipal and county governments and to work on solutions to substantive issues that we face together as Tennesseans.”
The General Assembly approved legislation this year directing TACIR to conduct a comprehensive study on annexation and make recommendations to the General Assembly on how to improve the process statewide. Their report is due in January. “This study requires in-depth research by the staff and thoughtful consideration by the members of the commission. I am pleased to continue to lead TACIR as we look into this issue as well as many others.”
TACIR began in 1978 after legislative findings indicated the need for a permanent intergovernmental body to study and take action on questions of organizational patterns, powers, functions, and relationships among federal, state and local governments. The 25-member group is made up of public officials from state, county and municipal governments as well as private citizens. Mayor Tom Roland of Cleveland, TN, was reelected to serve as Vice-Chairman.
Senator Norris has served as Tennessee’s Senate Majority Leader since 2007. He is Chair-elect of the Council of State Governments, a national organization which also fosters and encourages intergovernmental cooperation.

Livestock Video Abuse Bill Clears Senate

The Senate has approved, 22-9, legislation that requires anyone filming livestock abuse to turn over all “unedited photographs, digital images or video” to law enforcement authorities within 48 hours.
Proponents say the bill (SB1248) is aimed at stopping animal abuse promptly. Critics said it actually protects animal abusers by targeting only those make photographs or video.
The measure is scheduled for a House floor vote today.
In Senate debate Tuesday, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, cited abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses recorded on video by the Humane Society of the United States as illustrating the need for legislation. The HSUS video led to successful prosecution for abuse of the animals, but Bell said the animals themselves suffered.
“They sat on it (the video) for four months… then released it at an opportune time for them,” said Bell, suggesting the recording was to “benefit fundraising” by HSUS. “They had no concern for that (abused) horse.”
But Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, noted that if HSUS had “sat on the film forever” the proposed new law would never have come into play and the abuse would have continued.
“You’re criminalizing the film-making, not the abuse,” said Norris. “That puts the lie to the assertion that it’s the abuse you’re concerned with.”
The bill makes it a misdemeanor crime, punishable by a fine of up to $500 but no jail time, to fail to turn over all recordings of livestock abuse to a law enforcement authority.
Norris proposed an amendment that would have required anyone having knowledge of animal abuse to report it to authorities as well. He said that would “get to the root of the problem” by targeting the abuse, not the photographing of the abuse.
Sponsor Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, opposed Norris’ revision, saying it would “make every person who ever saw or observed what they might think animal unreasonably treated, a criminal if don’t turn in.” Norris’ amendment was then tabled, or killed, on a 17-10 vote.
The bill was also debated Wednesday in the House Calendar Committee, where Rep. Jon Lundberg, D-Bristol, tried to have it sent back to the House Civil Justice Committee, which Lundberg chairs, for further hearings.
Lundberg said he believes the bill infringes on First Amendment rights, but his motion was killed with only seven committee members voting for it while 12 opposed. Critics of the bill said amendments may also be filed for today’s House vote.

Haslam Abandons Push for Voucher Bill This Year

NASHVILLE – By pushing for a more expansive school voucher program than Gov. Bill Haslam wanted, key state Senate Republicans probably have assured that no voucher bill of any sort will be enacted this year.
Haslam decided Wednesday to abandon for the year efforts to pass his bill to provide “opportunity scholarships” to a limited number of low-income students in the state’s lowest-rated schools.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, announced the governor’s decision.
“He did not want it to become a political football at the expense of the children,” said Norris, adding that the situation had devolved into “gamemanship.”
Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, had been leading an effort to broaden the voucher bill to cover far more students than the Haslam bill. Their plans called for transforming the governor’s bill with amendments to accomplish that goal.
By yanking the bill from further consideration this year, Haslam and Norris avoid that possibility and, as a practical matter, eliminate chances for any voucher bill to pass this year.
Kelsey, however, said he has not given up and Gresham said she would be looking at options.

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Haslam Draws Line in Voucher Bill Sands

Gov. Bill Haslam is prepared to withdraw his limited school voucher proposal from the Legislature if Senate Republicans carry out current plans to expand it, its sponsor says.
From Andy Sher’s report:
“It won’t be expanded, because I’ll withdraw it,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville.
Norris said this isn’t a case of brinkmanship on Haslam’s part. He said he has sponsored “hundreds of bills” for the governor “and he always works with the General Assembly.”
But Norris said that Haslam “filed exactly what he thought was appropriate” in light of “all the other education reforms” he has implemented since taking office in 2011.
Last week, Haslam reminded reporters his plan came out of a yearlong task force headed by his education commissioner, Kevin Huffman.
“It’s not like we’re people who say it’s just our way or the highway, the Legislature shouldn’t have input,” Haslam said. He noted he has agreed to lawmakers’ proposed changes in areas such as limiting lawsuit damage awards.
“On this issue we really have worked hard to say this is where we really think the right place is,” Haslam said. “We think if somebody thinks something different, they should run their own bill.”
…Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville, favors a broader bill.
But noting Haslam’s concerns, he told reporters last week, “I’m letting the committee system play out on that. Whatever happens, happens.”
He said Haslam’s bill is included in the proposed budget.
“So if you’re going to put an amendment on, it probably needs to be on the governor’s bill,” he said.
He acknowledged the possibility that Haslam could yank his bill.
“I could vote for either bill when it comes to the floor,” Ramsey said. “Obviously my preference is a more expansive one. But it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. I’d like to pass something.”

Medicaid Expansion: Arkansas Plan Eyed; Shelby Mayor Backs It

Gov. Bill Haslam’s health policy specialists are probing into what Arkansas is doing with respect to increasing Medicaid coverage as part of federal Affordable Care Act reform initiatives, according to TNReport.
During a press conference last week in Nashville, Tennessee’s Republican chief executive said his administration is “learning some things” from policies being pursued under Obamacare by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat.
Beebe appears to have secured approval from the Obama administration to funnel federal dollars earmarked for Medicaid expansions into private insurance for those eligible. According to the Washington Post’s “Wonkblog” today, other states considering such an approach are Florida, Ohio, Louisiana and Maine and perhaps even Texas.
…Republicans in the Tennessee Legislature are divided between those who want to inoculate Tennessee against Obamacare to the greatest extent possible, and those who’re inclined to defer to Gov. Haslam to prescribe policy treatments that best suit the state’s unique conditions.
“Nobody likes the idea of just a sort of blanket Obamacare expansion, but that’s not what the governor is looking at,” said Mark Norris, the Tennessee Senate majority leader. “He’s real curious about what is happening in Arkansas, with their initiative to use Medicaid dollars for private insurance.”
Norris said he doesn’t anticipate Haslam making any decisions that could potentially put state government over a financial barrel. “He’s doing his due diligence. He’s doing what a good governor ought to do,” said the Republican from Collierville.
Norris added, “I have enough respect for the separation of powers and the three branches of government, and this particular governor, to wait and let him reach his own decision before we jump in and try to preempt something that he may never do anyway.”


And from the Commercial Appeal:
Shelby County’s Mayor Mark Luttrell has encouraged Gov. Bill Haslam to pursue expansion of Tennessee’s Medicaid program, saying in a letter that the benefits of extending health coverage to 60,000 to 80,000 additional low-income Shelby County residents outweigh the concerns.
The mayor, like Haslam a Republican, also said the impacts of not participating in the Medicaid expansion authorized by President Obama’s Affordable Care Act “would be damaging to The Med, if not devastating.”

Bill Revising Virtual School Law Clears Senate

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to tighten enrollment requirements at privately run online schools has passed the Senate.
The measure guided by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville was approved 27-2 on Thursday.
The proposal would allow beginning online schools to start with an enrollment of 1,500 and continue to expand as long as they meet performance requirements. If they fell to do so for three consecutive years, then the state education commissioner can cap enrollment, or direct the local school board to close it.
Haslam’s initial proposal sought to cap online school enrollment at 5,000.
Critics have pushed for capping enrollment following the low performance of Tennessee Virtual Academy, the state’s only privately operated virtual school.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman called its first-year test results “unacceptable.”

Liquor PACs Gave $364K to Legislator Campaigns Last Election Cycle

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Contributions totaling more than $364,000 have poured into lawmakers’ campaign accounts over the past two years from liquor wholesalers, package stores and the beer industry — three groups that have traditionally opposed changing state law to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets.
An Associated Press analysis of campaign finance data shows that six of the 11 members of the Senate Finance Committee, which is scheduled to take up a bill Tuesday to hold local referendums on whether to expand wine sales, received a combined $38,000 from the three political action committees. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville alone received $13,000. (Note: The vote was postponed until next week.)
The remaining five members of the Senate panel received no contributions from the three groups.
Norris, who voted against the measure when it eked out of the Senate State and Local Government Committee by a one-vote margin last week, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

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Shelby Suburban School Bills Filed

Shelby County’s suburban Republican state legislators filed new bills Thursday that they hope will remove court barriers to the creation of new municipal school districts in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington, reports Richard Locker.
The main bill would repeal the 1998 statewide ban on new municipal school districts. The suburban lawmakers said they believe that and three other bills will win legislative approval, including in the House of Representatives where reluctance to allow new school districts outside of Shelby County last year led to passage of a Shelby-only law that was later struck down as unconstitutional.
A federal court ruling last November halted the movement toward the creation of six new municipal districts in the suburbs, even after they were approved by voters in local referendums in August. Suburban voters also elected their first school board members in November, before the court ruling, and the boards would have worked to open the new municipal schools late this summer when the merger of the old Memphis City and Shelby County school systems will be complete.
“I expect the House to pass it,” said Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who is sponsoring the main bill with Senate Majority Leader Mark Morris, R-Collierville. All five suburban Republican House members from Shelby are co-sponsoring all four bills.
Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, said that from his conversations with lawmakers from elsewhere, “the rest of the state would really like for Shelby County to get its school situation settled.” White chairs the House Education Subcommittee, the bill’s first stop in the House.

Republican Caucus Meetings: Open in the Senate, Closed in the House?

While leaders of the House Republican Caucus contend the group can continue holding meetings behind closed doors, Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris said Wednesday that he believes the Senate Republican Caucus is obliged to meet in public.
Norris said he would be willing to support an amendment to Senate rules that would “clarify” that GOP caucus meetings are open, though he believes they already are. His comments came during debate before the Senate Rules Committee on a proposal by Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, to make the Senate subject to the state’s “open meetings law,” which now exempts the Legislature while applying to city and county government meetings.
Norris said the Senate in May of 2011 voted unanimously to incorporate a 2006 statute that says meetings of a quorum of the House and Senate must be open to the public except when considering impeachments of matters of state and national security. And to close meeting in such cases, there must be a two-thirds vote of the House or Senate, the statute says.
A quorum of the Senate is 22 members. This year there are 26 Republicans in the Senate Republican Caucus – up six from last session. That, said Norris, means the Senate Republican Caucus must follow the rules and have open meetings.
House rules, on the other hand, do not incorporate a reference to the 2006 statute and, therefore, the old statute does not apply. The law itself, enacted as part of a special session on ethics in 2006, says that it can not impact future legislative session but declares future sessions are “strongly encouraged” to bind themselves by incorporating the statue.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said in an interview that he the issue of opening caucus meetings has been discussed and there was an general agreement that, this year, the meetings would be open is legislative matters were discussed but close when “personal matters” are discussed. He conceded that what is covered by personal matters can be “deep and wide.”
In the last legislative session, House Republican Caucus meetings were routinely and regularly closed to the media and public.
Last session, the House Republican Caucus had 64 members, two shy of a quorum of the full House. This year, the Caucus has 70 members, well over a quorum.
Casada said he had not considered the suggestion made by Norris that, since the Republican caucuses now constitute a quorum of the full Legislature, they should have open meetings. He said the issue would be discussed in future House Republican Caucus meetings, including the possibility of incorporating the 2006 statute into House rules.
Norris suggested that Kyle’s push for a floor debate on adopting the open meetings law “would be a show” and that open meetings are already assured in the Senate. Kyle said he believes the current setup is not working and openness and transparency would be enhanced with legislators following the same law that applies to cities and counties.
Kyle put of a vote of the Rules Committee on his proposal.
The panel did approve six minor changes to Senate rules. One of them would change the titiles of committee officers from chairman, vice chairman and secretary to chairman, first vice chairman and second vice chairman. The panel was told that Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey believes the term “secretary” is “antiquated.”