NASHVILLE, April 10, 2015– Republicans in the House have spent a great deal of time this legislative session focusing on bills to assist veterans and currently serving military personnel in Tennessee. Building on legislation passed over the last several General Assemblies, the House hopes to continue finding ways to make life easier for military members and their families in the state.
One bill from this year, House Bill 8, will ensure high school students that train between their junior and senior year in the National Guard or go to advanced training after their senior year will still remain eligible for the state’s Tennessee Promise program.
The Tennessee Promise Program, set to being this fall with the class of 2015, provides high school graduates the opportunity to attend a community or technical college free of tuition and fees. It is both a scholarship and mentoring program that provides last-dollar scholarships that cover costs not met from the Pell, HOPE, or TSAA scholarship programs. While removing the financial burden is key, a critical component of the Tennessee Promise is the individual guidance each participant will receive from a volunteer mentor who provides guidance and assistance as the student enters higher education. In addition, under the program, students are required to complete eight hours of community service per enrolled term, as well as maintain at least a 2.0 GPA.
Also on the education front, the House recently gave final approval to legislation updating the state’s laws pursuant to the Veterans Access, Choice, & Accountability Act of 2014. House Bill 715 adds spouses and dependent children as parties eligible for in-state tuition rates. Since a veteran can assign their benefits to a spouse or children, they would also qualify for these tuition and fee rates. The legislation also shifts the period of eligibility after discharge for in-state tuition rates from two years to three years. In addition, it requires the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to convene the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Board of Regents systems to review processes related to awarding academic credit to veterans. This is known as “PLA” or “prior learning assessment’” and ensures that veteran students receive as much academic credit as possible for training or skills obtained during their service.
Other veteran-related bills this year include House Bill 803, which gives non-resident veterans the same authorization as veterans who are Tennessee residents to use their experience as a military truck driver to receive a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in the state. As passed, the legislation allows experienced military drivers to waive the state’s CDL skills test requirement upon providing proof of a military license for the class of vehicle for which they are seeking licensure. This new change applies as long as the veteran’s driving record shows no accidents or citations over the past two years.
Approval was also given this week to legislation allowing 501 (c) (19) veterans organizations to raise funds for charitable purposes. House Bill 172 is the final step in ensuring that Amendment 4 to the State Constitution, which won approval by voters in November of last year, is enacted. The amendment gives veterans groups the same opportunity as 501 (c) (3) organizations to conduct annual fundraising events like cake walks, raffles, and other games of chance. Amendment 4 received 69.6 percent of the vote, outpacing all other constitutional amendments on the ballot. Any funds raised by the games under the amendment must go to purposes that benefit the community, veterans, or retired veterans.
Finally, House members unanimously moved forward this week with legislation designed to better support the healthcare needs of military men and women across Tennessee. As amended, House Bill 425 authorizes healthcare providers who are in the National Guard to provide volunteer clinic services in a Tennessee military armory for those in need. Currently, no authorization is in place that allows these military members to provide such care. Once passed by both chambers and signed into law by Governor Haslam, the new program will be referred to as the Mission Tennessee for Veterans Program. While supporters agree the bill is not the final solution in solving veteran’s healthcare issues, they do agree the legislation is a great stride in ensuring veterans in Tennessee, using resources already in place, receive the healthcare they deserve.
As the first half of the 109th General Assembly moves forward, House Republicans will no doubt continue their efforts of working to make Tennessee the best possible state for veterans and their families to work and call home.
Right To Try Bill Passes With Unanimous Support
Legislation referred to as the “Tennessee Right to Try Act” passed the full House of Representatives this week with unanimous support from state lawmakers.
As passed, House Bill 143 nullifies certain federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules that prevent terminally ill patients from accessing experimental treatments. Currently, patients with life-threatening diseases may access experimental drugs, but only after receiving FDA approval. House Bill 143 allows eligible patients to bypass this FDA approval process and receive their experimental drugs directly from the manufacturer.
The legislation does not mandate participation by pharmaceutical companies and includes protection for healthcare providers, with a prohibition against revoking a license or issuing sanctions based on the issuance of investigational or experimental treatments.
Currently, 13 other states have already passed “Right to Try” laws similar to House bill 143, and more than 20 states are considering such measures in 2015.
Now that the bill has successfully passed through the state House, it will next be heard in the Senate before moving to the desk of Governor Bill Haslam to be signed into law.
House Republicans Push Pilot Program To Help Adult Learners Complete College Degree
Key education bills headlined this week’s action on Capitol Hill in Nashville as House Republicans voiced strong support of a new pilot program to help adults complete their degree in Tennessee’s community colleges. As introduced, House Bill 646 establishes the Community College Reconnect Grant — a last-dollar scholarship to adults who want to return to community college and complete their associate’s degree in applied science.
Currently in Tennessee, adults account for approximately 30% of enrolled undergraduate students, which equals about 65,000 adult learners. However, the number of adult Tennesseans with some college experience but no degree is over 900,000. Legislators agree that in order to reach the state’s goal of equipping at least 55% of Tennesseans with a college degree or technical certificate by the year 2025, this bill must play an integral part in the process.
Adults who meet all of the qualifications of the potential new program will be expected to enroll in a Tennessee public community college in the 2016-2017 academic year. Key qualifications to receive the grant include Tennessee residency for at least one year preceding the date of application for the grant and completion of at least 30 hours towards the completion of an associates of applied science degree. Grant recipients must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA and enroll in at least 9 semester hours in the fall and spring semesters.
In order to fund this program, there will be a one-time expense to the lottery fund of $1.5 million. Legislators hope the pilot project will be the first step to a larger program that serves even more adults who choose to go back to school to meet their lifetime educational goals.
Legislation To Unlock State Asphalt Grant Dollars Receives House Support
Legislation that will aid in unlocking nearly $23 million dollars statewide to taxpayers in the form of asphalt infrastructure improvements was approved by the House this week in Nashville.
The bill, which changes the way the state currently manages its State Aid Asphalt Grant Program, will allow funding set aside by the state to now be used in the form of direct expenditures to upgrade, repair, and rehabilitate roads that have fallen in disrepair over the years.
Currently, in order to receive funding through the Asphalt Grant Program, a 25% local match must be made. However, because many local governments cannot afford the match, a large percentage of the asphalt funding set aside by the state has gone unused. House Bill 1105 reduces the local match percentage to only 2%, ensuring that local governments can now afford the grant funding and are not burdened by excessive infrastructure expenses.
The main goal of the legislation is to take existing funds and convert them to asphalt infrastructure repairs. The funds are already allocated each year and House Bill 1105 creates a pathway to increase access for much-needed road improvements across the state.