A federal highway bill that is expected to receive final approval today in Congress could lead to far fewer red-light traffic cameras across the country, reports Michael Collins. The legislation, a massive bill that overhauls highway and transit programs, bars the use of federal money to purchase red-light cameras or other automated traffic enforcement cameras.
“Since most highway money, even at the state level, comes from the federal government, and most of the work that is being done locally involves federal money, what hopefully it will mean — and should mean — is that there will be many, many fewer red-light cameras all over the country,” said U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., a Knoxville Republican.
Duncan said he was able to insert the red-light provision into the final highway bill during negotiations between the House and the Senate.
Duncan serves as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. He also was a member of the House-Senate conference committee that pieced together the final highway package.
Both the House and the Senate are scheduled to vote on the highway bill later today
Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday a compromise with the Tennessee State Employees Association on civil service reform legislation and plans to add about $28 million in spending to his proposed state budget for the coming year.
The governor’s proposed amendment to the state budget calls for increasing fees paid to local governments for housing prisoners in county jails, in part to reduce complaints about an administration bill to imposing longer sentences for repeat domestic violence offenders. Some local governments had protested what the called an “unfunded mandate” from the state, since they will have to cover the costs of keeping jailed offenders longer.
The increase in prisoner payments by $2 per day will cost the state an estimated $4 million per year. The increase in domestic violence sentences is projected to cost local governments collectively about $8 million per year.
Other changes in the$30.2 billion budget plan from the original version submitted in February include:
-The governor’s proposal to reduce the state sales tax on groceries from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent is revised to set the new rate at 5.25 percent next year. Under the Haslam plan, the rate would then fall to 5 percent in the following year. The change from 5.3 to 5.25 percent costs the state an estimated $3.3 million in lost revenue while saving consumer another nickel on a $100 grocery bill, or a total of 25 cents.
Center for Child Welfare to Close
The governor’s budget would effectively kill MTSU’s Center for Child Welfare by ending a contract with the Department of Children’s Services next fiscal year, reports the Daily News Journal. The center, which is responsible for training social workers across Tennessee, employs nearly 60 people who are based at the Bank of America building in Murfreesboro. It runs social worker training with eight universities across the state through a $14 million state contract with the Department of Children’s Services.
Interim Director John Sanborn predicted 80 to 90 people would lose jobs if the contract is not renewed. It is the center’s main contract and makes up 99 percent of its work.
“We will no longer exist if this happens,” Sanborn said.
Under Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget proposal, the state would see a savings of $11.7 million, some $3.1 million of which would be from the state level, according to a state spokeswoman.
DCS would bring the training service “in-house” and hire several positions to replace those lost through the Center for Child Welfare, Suddarth said.
— Family Service Agencies Cut
Some local folks are decrying a cut in Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed budget that could mean the end for the Family Resource Center, which provides a myriad of important services for Sevier County residents, reports the Mountain Press. A letter-writing campaign is being mounted in support of the local agency, which is led by Kim Loveday, and the 103 other ones across the state in hopes Haslam or state lawmakers will be swayed to save the funding. If he doesn’t, it could slash a big hole in a safety net that protects at-risk children, provides education for new parents, allocates resources to help pregnant teens and watches out for the elderly.
Loveday, an eternally busy woman who speaks quickly and with deep passion about the cause she leads, says there’s no certainty what will happen if the state funding is lost. While the agency also gets money from county and federal coffers, it’s unlikely those sources would be able to step up to cover the shortfall, meaning she may have to close her doors.
“We just don’t know because there could be a way that it survives, but who has the money right now to make that up? Everybody is trying to keep their budgets tight,” she says. “Right now it looks like all the centers are likely to be closed unless something is changed.”