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School-Voucher Bill Moving Forward in Legislature

The debate on school choice is underway in Tennessee Legislature and one measure, supported by Gov. Bill Haslam, is working its way forward.

Last week the Senate Education Committee approved the Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act, sponsored by Chattanooga Republican Todd Gardenhire, on a vote of 8-0.

Senate Bill 999 would provide scholarships for private-school tuition to low-income students in the state’s worst-performing public schools.

The total number of vouchers the state would award would gradually increase from 5,000 available scholarships in the 2015-16 school year to a peak of 20,000 from the 2018-19 school year forward. The fiscal note on the legislation indicates a cost of $125,000 for the Department of Education to implement the policy.

The House companion legislation — HB1049 — sponsored by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, also easily cleared the House Education Planning & Administration subcommittee last week on a vote of 7-1, though not without debate.

Rep. Kevin Dunlap, a Rock Island Democrat who is also a teacher, said the “gains and strides” made in education the last few years would be endangered by potentially removing $70 million from local school district. Dunlap said he’s “very, very concerned about the future of public education” as a result.

Rep. Dunn said critics of school vouchers, like Dunlap, appear more interested in protecting the status quo and putting “the emphasis on the system” rather than focusing on academic achievement outcomes.

“I’d like to put emphasis on the student,” said Dunn.

The Tennessee Education Association, many local school officials across the state and most Democrats in the Legislature have steadfastly opposed enabling parents to spend public monies on private education for their children.

“You’re taking away funding from an already underfunded school and putting it in vouchers. I don’t think it’s productive for public schools or private schools,”said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh told the Memphis Daily News in February.

A February 2013 MTSU Poll found that while 46 percent of Tennesseans oppose vouchers, 40 percent favor the idea and 12 percent were undecided at the time.

Dunn’s legislation is scheduled to be heard in full Committee next Tuesday. Gardenhire’s Senate bill is assigned to the Finance Committee, but has not been scheduled for a hearing yet.

Another school choice proposal, sponsored by Germantown Republican Brian Kelsey, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has not received as warm a welcome.

Both Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey have said that Kelsey’s legislation is unlikely to be funded, even if it passes the Legislature.

Haslam told reporters during a press conference last week that Gardenhire’s proposal was in line with what he’s indicated the administration would be willing to fund, and as such, he intends to fund that legislation rather than Kelsey’s more expansive plan.

While both Kelsey and Haslam are supporters of vouchers, they have clashed over the scope of such legislation in the past. In 2013, Ramsey pointed the finger at Kelsey as to why the voucher bill failed in the Senate. Kelsey had indicated earlier that year that he wanted to amend Haslam’s proposal to extend it to more Tennessee students.

Haslam Announces Unipres Expanding Portland Facility

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development; March 5, 2015:

Global Automotive Parts Manufacturer to Create 435 New Jobs

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd along with Unipres USA Inc. officials announced today the company will expand its Portland facilities by adding new presses and building space to house the additional presses. The expansion will create 435 new jobs over the next five years in Sumner County.

“We want to congratulate Unipres USA on its expansion and thank the company for its plans to create more than 400 new jobs in Portland,” Haslam said. “The momentum of our automotive sector is a direct result of the success of the many manufacturers, suppliers and other thriving automotive-related companies that call our state home, and today’s announcement supports our goal to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

“Unipres USA has not only been an outstanding corporate citizen in Portland, it has also made a significant difference in the community with its contributions to local schools, parks, and fire and police departments,” Boyd said. “I would like to thank Unipres USA for its continued investment in Sumner County and look forward to the company’s future growth and success in Middle Tennessee.”

“Unipres USA would like to thank Governor Haslam, Commissioner Boyd, Tennessee Economic and Community Development, Mayor Wilber, City of Portland Economic Development, Portland Industrial Development Board, and County Executive Holt for the generous support with our business growth,” Unipres USA President Takeo Sato said. “Unipres has been fortunate with new opportunities in Portland. Unipres is committed to being a good community partner and will, as much as possible, use local companies and contractors for construction and expansion activities.  Also, we look forward to being a part of the growth in the community.”

The expansion includes significant capital investment in the renovation and retrofitting of a storage warehouse to house assembly equipment and materials. The ongoing expansion plans also include an addition to the existing manufacturing facilities of approximately 32,000 square feet to house two new 2,500-ton transfer presses and one 600-ton blanking press.

“We are very fortunate to have Unipres USA as a leader in our industrial community,” Portland Mayor Ken Wilber said. “Though the years, they have been consistent with participation in projects that enhance the quality of life for the citizens of our community. We are proud to be a part of their growth and hope to support them for many more years.”

“I would like to thank Unipres USA for expanding not only in Portland but also in Sumner County,” Sumner County Executive Anthony Holt said. “I am excited about their investment and creation of high paying jobs. I look forward to working with them and in making their investment a success not only for the company, but for our community as well.”

“TVA and Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation congratulate Unipres USA on its announced plans to expand and add new jobs at its Portland operations,” TVA Senior Vice President of Economic Development John Bradley said. “We are pleased to partner with the state of Tennessee, city of Portland and Sumner County officials to assist the growth of existing industries.”

Unipres USA, a premium automotive parts manufacturer, focuses primarily on stamping, machining and assembly of metal parts for the main portions of automotive body structures, in addition to pressing molded components and precision automatic transmission parts. The company has been in Portland since 1987 and currently employs a workforce of more than 1,000.

Haslam Announces Gruppo Opening First U.S. Facility in Maury Co

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development; March 5, 2015:

NASHVILLE—Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd along with Gruppo Concorde officials announced today the company plans to build its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Mt. Pleasant, where it will produce porcelain tiles. Gruppo Concorde, through its North American subsidiary UST Inc., will invest approximately $80 million to construct a new 600,000 square foot facility on 96 acres in Maury County, creating 180 new jobs.

“We want to thank Gruppo Concorde for its investment in Tennessee and the 180 new jobs they are creating in Maury County,” Haslam said. “Having this global company locate its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Tennessee says something—that we compete with anyone as we continue our work to become the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

Gruppo Concorde was founded in 1968, and with over 2,200 employees worldwide, the company has expanded to become one of the largest producers of high-end ceramic tile, operating production sites in Italy, France and Russia and exporting its products to more than 130 countries around the globe.

“Tennessee continues to build upon its reputation as the North American location choice for the international tile manufacturing industry,” Boyd said. “Since 2011, five ceramics companies have committed a total of 630 new jobs to our state. Gruppo Concorde, and the jobs they are creating, is a valuable addition to the community, and I look forward to their continued growth and success in Tennessee.”

“We have chosen Tennessee for a number of reasons, including the state’s vibrant and business-friendly environment and the warm and proactive welcome we have received from the local community in Maury County,” Gruppo Concorde Executive and UST Inc. President and CEO Federico Curioni said. “Tennessee is also very close to some of the most important raw material used in the tile industry, such as plastic clay and feldspar, which greatly benefits our production capabilities.”

UST Inc. is building this new facility, to be located at 1433 North Main St. in Mt. Pleasant, in order to increase Gruppo Concorde presence on the U.S. market. Through this expansion, Gruppo Concorde will be able to improve its services and products portfolio.

“We are ecstatic to have an internationally recognized company such as Gruppo Concorde locating to Maury County,” Maury County Mayor Charlie Norman said. ”Over the last two years, The Maury Alliance, The Industrial Development Board of Maury County, Maury County Government, and the City of Mount Pleasant have been working hard to ensure this project came to fruition. This is a prime example of what community teamwork can accomplish and I am proud of all of those involved.”

“TVA and Mount Pleasant Power System congratulate Gruppo Concorde on its decision to start new operations and create quality jobs in Mount Pleasant,” TVA Senior Vice President of Economic Development John Bradley said. “We are pleased to partner with the state of Tennessee, the Maury Alliance, South Central Tennessee Development District, City of Mount Pleasant and Maury County officials to facilitate Gruppo Concorde’s finding its optimum location.”

Approximately 1,260 Tennesseans are employed in the ceramics industry, representing an increase of more than 14 percent from 2010-2014.

UST Inc. expects construction to begin this month and plans to have the facility operational by the second half of 2016.

The company will begin hiring for these new positions sometime in the second half of 2015, and will later communicate the details for the application process.

AG Pressed to File Suit Over FCC Broadband Ruling

A trio of prominent Tennessee House Republicans on Tuesday called for the state’s attorney general to challenge the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to strike down state restrictions on municipal broadband expansion.

Last week the FCC ruled in favor of the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga and their request to set aside a 1999 Tennessee law limiting municipal electric providers to offering internet services only within their electric footprint.

House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham and House GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, both of Franklin, as well as Dresden Rep. Andy Holt, vice chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, are urging state Attorney General Herbert Slatery to fight back against what they term the FCC’s “unconstitutional violation” of Tennessee’s sovereignty.

The three Republicans are accusing the FCC of having “usurped Tennessee law.”

In a press conference at the state Capitol Tuesday, Durham questioned the legality and appropriateness of “an unelected, federal body…overturn(ing) laws that have been made by the duly elected members of the Tennessee General Assembly.”

“I believe it’s another example of federal overreach. It doesn’t have to be the pen of Barack Obama and an executive order, sometimes it’s these unelected bodies like the FCC,” Durham said.

Whether or not the FCC ruling constitutes “good public policy or bad,” isn’t so much the issue as that the subverting of state laws sets “a very dangerous precedent,” said Durham.

According to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the decision was made because “some states” have limited competition by designing “thickets of red tape,” and through its action, the commission is “cutting away that red tape consistent with Congress’s instructions to encourage the deployment of broadband.”

EPB officials, though cautious of possible pending litigation, praised the decision last week.

“Many neighbors have been struggling with the economic and educational disadvantages of not having access to broadband services. We are looking for the quickest path forward to help those neighbors join the 21st century information economy,” said Harold DePriest, EPB’s president and CEO, in a press release.

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Tuesday he’s still weighing options and mulling the FCC ruling and hadn’t made a decision on if he supports Tennessee appealing. “Before you decide to appeal something, you have to make certain that there’s a reasonable reason to do that,” Haslam said, adding that he’ll be looking to Slatery for guidance on the issue.

Haslam said he recognizes “value” in people gaining access to high-speed Internet if it is otherwise unavailable, but there are also concerns about “the local government subsidizing something that makes it hard for business to compete.”

The General Assembly’s Democrats issued a press release Tuesday afternoon criticizing the governor and lawmakers for working “to limit consumer choice,” instead of supporting the FCC’s decision to expand the choice for Tennesseans.

According to both chambers minority leaders — Memphis Sen. Lee Harris and Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley — Tennessee consumers “consider the matter settled” with the FCC ruling, and “don’t care so much about these technicalities,” if it means having access to high speed internet service.

Tullahoma Sen. Janice Bowling, a Republican, is pushing legislation this year to let municipal electric companies offer their services to what she called the “under-served or un-served” areas of the state.

Neither chamber has taken action on the bill.

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TN Senate Dems Criticize Haslam, Lawmakers for Opposition to FCC Municipal Broadband Ruling

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; March 3, 2015:

Consumers want choices, not government obstruction to limit Internet options

NASHVILLE – Tennessee lawmakers should embrace competition when it comes to broadband services, not work to limit consumer choice, Democratic leaders said.

“Anyone who has spent hours on the phone with a service provider to dispute a bill or get proper services knows consumers need more choices when it comes to Internet service,” Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said. “It is disturbing to see lawmakers act so quickly to limit consumer choice when Tennesseans are demanding more.”

Last week the Federal Communications Commission ruled that Chattanooga’s EPB could provide lightning-speed Internet outside the municipal power distributor’s service area. The move would mean new options for consumers in the Chattanooga area and increased broadband speeds, which are a critical tool for economic development outside of major cities.

However, the governor, the attorney general and other lawmakers have stood in opposition to consumer choice, even considering a lawsuit against the federal government at great cost to the taxpayer.

“Communities like mine in rural West Tennessee don’t care so much about these technicalities,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “They care less about service areas and more about having access to fast, reliable Internet. If a provider wants to bring that to my constituents, I don’t think I want the state to get in the way.”

The decision whether to sue the FCC on this issue will be a true test of the attorney general’s independence.

“With the FCC ruling, consumers consider this matter settled,” Sen. Harris said. “No one wants to see our attorney general give in to demands from lawmakers who want to play politics rather than do what’s best for consumers and our economy.”

Haslam Announces More Than $20.6 M in Water, Wastewater Construction Loans

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation; March 2, 2015:

Low-Interest Loans Help Fund Infrastructure Improvements 

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau today announced that seven communities and one utility district have been approved to receive more than $20.6 million in low-interest loans for water and wastewater infrastructure improvements.

The State Revolving Fund (SRF) Loan Program provides low-interest loans that help communities, utility districts, and water and wastewater authorities finance projects that protect Tennessee’s ground and surface waters and public health.  Loans are used to finance the planning, design and construction of water and wastewater facilities.

“The State Revolving Fund Loan Program helps communities address current infrastructure needs and prepare for future needs, improving the health of our communities and their ability to grow,” Haslam said.

Through the SRF Program, communities, utility districts, and water and wastewater authorities can obtain loans with lower interest rates than most can obtain through private financing.  Interest rates for loans can vary from zero percent to market rate based on each community’s economic index.  Loans utilizing EPA grant funds can include a principal forgiveness component.

“Community investments in our drinking water and wastewater systems are vital to maintaining environmental and public health,” Martineau said.  “These loans will help keep our communities moving forward, and the principal forgiveness provisions help local communities accomplish this work in difficult economic times.”

The Department of Environment and Conservation administers the SRF Loan Program for the state of Tennessee in conjunction with the Tennessee Local Development Authority.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides grants to fund the program, and the state provides a 20 percent match.  Loan repayments are returned to the program and are used to fund future SRF loans.

The funding order of projects is determined by the SRF Loan Program’s Priority Ranking Lists that rank potential projects according to the severity of their pollution and/or compliance problems or for the protection of public health.

Wastewater Loans were announced today for the following recipients:

  • Town of Carthage (Smith County) – The Town of Carthage will receive $625,000 for a Pump Station Rehabilitation/Replacement (Replace existing main pump station) project.  The project will be funded with a 20-year, $593,750 loan with an interest rate of 0.83% and $31,250 in principal forgiveness that will not have to be repaid.
  • City of Cleveland (Bradley County) – The City of Cleveland will receive $2,500,000 for a Water Meter Replacements project.  The project will be funded with a 20-year, $2,325,000 loan with an interest rate of 1.38% and $175,000 in principal forgiveness that will not have to be repaid.
  • City of Crossville (Cumberland County) – The City of Crossville will receive $1,950,000 for an Infiltration and Inflow Correction project that includes Dayton Ave/Oakmont Drive, Miller Ave/Harper Ln, and Holiday Drive Areas.  The project will be funded with a 20-year, $1,755,000 loan with an interest rate of 1.61% and $195,000 in principal forgiveness that will not have to be repaid.
  • Town of Erwin (Unicoi County) – The Town of Erwin will receive $4,000,000 for an Infiltration and Inflow Correction and WWTP Improvements project.  The project will be fundedwith a 30-year, $3,800,000 loan with an interest rate of 1.39% and $200,000 in principal forgiveness that will not have to be repaid.
  • City of Fayetteville (Lincoln County) – The City of Fayetteville will receive $4,000,000 for a WWTP Improvements project.  The project will be funded with a 20-year, $3,720,000 loan with an interest rate of 1.38% and $280,000 in principal forgiveness that will not have to be repaid.
  • City of Fayetteville (Lincoln County) – The City of Fayetteville will also receive an additional loan of $1,700,000 for the WWTP Improvements project.  This loan will be funded for a20 years term with an interest rate of 1.38% and will not include principal forgiveness.
  • Town of Oliver Springs (Anderson, Roane and Morgan Counties) – The Town of Oliver Springs will receive $3,458,000 for a WWTP Improvements project.  The project will be fundedwith a 20-year, $3,215,940 loan with an interest rate of 0.68% and $242,060 in principal forgiveness that will not have to be repaid.

A Drinking Water Loan was announced today for the following recipient:

  • Bloomingdale UD (Sullivan County) – The Bloomingdale UD will receive $2,200,000 for a Water System Improvements project.  The project will be funded with a 20-year, $1,430,000 loan with an interest rate of 0.91% and $770,000 in principal forgiveness that will not have to be repaid.

A traditional Drinking Water Loan was announced today for the following recipient:

  • Town of Livingston (Overton County) – Town of Livingston will receive an increase of $250,000 to an existing Water Treatment Improvements project. This loan will be funded for a20 years term with an interest rate of 1.64%.

Since its inception in 1987, Tennessee’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund Loan Program has awarded more than $1.6 billion in low-interest loans.  Since its inception in 1996, Tennessee’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Loan Program has awarded more than $252 million in low-interest loans.  Both programs combined award more than $80 million annually to Tennessee’s local governments for water and wastewater infrastructure projects.

Cohen: TN Promise ‘Robs’ Existing Lottery Scholarships

Press release from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. 09; February 23, 2015:

[MEMPHIS, TN] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), who is known across the state for his twenty-year fight to create a state lottery as “The Father of the Tennessee Education Lottery” and because Tennessee Lottery money is the source of the funding for Tennessee Promise has already been dubbed by some as “The Grandfather of the Funding of Tennessee Promise,” released the following statement regarding Governor Bill Haslam’s recent criticisms of America’s College Promise, which is President Obama’s new plan to provide two free years of community college:

“Governor Haslam says he is ‘flattered’ that President Obama used Tennessee Promise as a model for the national America’s College Promise program. But, in reality, the biggest correlation between the two programs is the name.

First, as Governor Haslam acknowledged this week, Tennessee’s program does not come out of the general budget. Instead, Tennessee Promise robs the existing Lottery Scholarship programs. Tennessee Promise takes $500 per year from college students who worked hard in high school to earn the Tennessee HOPE Lottery Scholarship to attend a four-year college or community college. It reduces by $125 per semester the HOPE Access Grants for achieving, low-income students to attend four-year colleges. Tennessee Promise also eliminates future growth of the HOPE Lottery Scholarships.  As a result, the HOPE Lottery Scholarships will now cover less and less of the cost of college as tuition continues to increase. Unlike the Tennessee Promise, the President’s plan would not destroy Pell grants or other current programs designed to provide opportunity to attend college.  America’s College Promise would supplement, not supplant, those programs.

Second, Tennessee Promise is a “last dollar” program, which means that it will only cover the cost of tuition and will not provide any financial support for housing, books or school-related expenses. Because it reduces the HOPE Lottery scholarships for students attending community college, some students who earn that scholarship will have less money for non-tuition expenses than they would have had before the enactment of Tennessee Promise. The federal program would allow for students to receive more than the cost of tuition to help cover those extra costs of attending college.

Third, Tennessee Promise will help the wealthier and less-accomplished students attend community college.  The Tennessee Education Lottery already provides scholarships for students who worked hard and achieved in high school to attend 4-year colleges and universities, community colleges and technical schools.  Since the last increase in 2007, the base HOPE Scholarship awards have covered $4,000 at 4-year schools and $1,500 at community colleges.  The Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills grant provide $2,000 for students to attend technical schools, which covers nearly two-thirds the cost of attendance.

Finally, President Obama set reasonable requirements in order to maintain America’s College Promise. Students benefitting from the President’s plan would need to maintain at least a 2.5 GPA in order to remain in the program.  Conversely, Governor Haslam’s plan had no academic standards when he proposed the program and no academic standards when it passed the legislature. Eventually, a 2.0 minimum college GPA requirement was set for the Tennessee Promise program.

Prior to the Governor’s unveiling of the Tennessee Promise program, I spoke and wrote to him suggesting that the income threshold for the HOPE Access grants be raised or that the value of those awards be increased to allow more opportunities for the most disadvantaged.  I remain disappointed that so much of the opportunity for the growth of the HOPE Scholarship programs has been destroyed by Tennessee Promise.

I will be extremely interested to see how Tennessee Promise performs during its first year in effect which begins this fall.  I suspect community college students will receive more financial aid dollars from the HOPE Scholarship program and Pell grants than from the Tennessee Promise program.

I hope that Governor Haslam and the legislature will consider increasing the amount of the HOPE Lottery programs this year, as they have not been raised to compensate for the rise in tuition during the past eight years—and, in fact, were lowered by the passage of Tennessee Promise.”

TN Senate Dems: Haslam’s Longevity Pay Cut Won’t Improve State Workforce

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; February 19, 2015:

NASHVILLE – Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to slash longevity pay takes money out of state employees’ paychecks without doing anything to improve our state workforce, Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said.

“The governor seems to propose taking part of these employee paychecks, using that part to create a pool of money, and giving it right back to the same employees and calling the process a raise,” Sen. Lee Harris said. “That’s not what most people in the private sector would call a raise. There’s got to be some way to give our top performers in government a real raise without the subterfuge.”

The governor’s plan to eliminate longevity pay would end the $100 raises workers receive for each year after three years of service. In lean budget years, it may be the only increase employees receive to keep up with cost of living.

“Some employees have worked and earned these paychecks for decades,” Sen. Harris said. “These paychecks are not bonuses. They are, more or less, part of our employees’ salaries. These employees depend on the income and had no reason to believe it was in jeopardy.”

Haslam Appoints Nicoll 14th Judicial District Public Defender

Press release from the office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; February 18, 2015:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has appointed John E. Nicoll as the public defender for the 14th Judicial District, which covers Coffee County.

Nicoll fills the vacancy left by the late B. Campbell Smoot, Jr., who passed away November 18, 2014.

“John’s strong academic record and broad experience in criminal cases, both as an Army JAG officer and as managing partner of his own firm, will serve him and the citizens of Coffee County well in this important role,” Haslam said.

Nicoll, 41, is founder and managing partner of the Nicoll Law Firm, PLLC, in Manchester. He has represented more than 200 indigent criminal defendants in the state and federal courts of Tennessee and has served as a member of the Criminal Justice Act Panels for the U.S. District Courts for the Middle and Eastern Districts of Tennessee.

As a U.S. Army Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps officer from 2000-2004, Nicoll successfully prosecuted more than 150 felony cases.

”Campbell Smoot served this community well for more than two decades, and his passing is a great loss.  I am honored and humbled to receive Governor Haslam’s appointment and to assume the duties of public defender,” Nicoll said. “I am blessed to have inherited an office filled with an experienced and professional staff dedicated to serving our community.”

Nicoll is a 1999 magna cum laude graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, where he received numerous certificates for academic excellence and the James L. Powers III Excellence in Criminal Advocacy Award. He graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Furman University in 1996.

He and his wife, Chasity, live in Manchester with their son. Nicoll, along with his wife and other volunteers, helped establish the Coffee County Humane Society, and he enjoys coaching youth basketball and football teams.

Norris: Haslam Budget Includes Funding for Additional TBI Forensic Scientists, Will ‘Expedite’ DNA Testing

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; February 12, 2015:

NASHVILLE –  Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) recognized the Haslam Administration for funding three new forensic scientists at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) in next year’s budget. The TBI processes forensic evidence at no charge to local law enforcement.

“These funds will expedite the processing of rape kits and other DNA testing by providing additional essential personnel. They will be trained in accessing and updating the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) which is part of the FBI’s network for tracking perpetrators of crime — a critical weapon in the fight against crime,” said Norris, who sponsors the budget in the Senate.

Norris enacted the law repealing the Tennessee statute of limitations in rape cases last year. He also led the effort to require all local law enforcement agencies to inventory back-logged inventories of rape kits across the state. Last September, the TBI reported 9,062 kits remained untested statewide.

“Progress is being made getting the old evidence tested, but this will help facilitate more timely testing of all DNA evidence,” said Norris.

The TBI has not received funding for new personnel for many years, even though the demand for more resources has increased dramatically.

According to City of Memphis officials, an initial backlog of 12,000 kits has now been reduced by nearly 5,000 kits since 2013 and has resulted in some 170 new investigations and 52 indictments including 19 rapists.