Tennessee state lawmakers have a suitcase full of items to consider this legislative session with nearly 3,000 bills on file as of Monday.
How will schools be funded as attendance dips due to COVID-19?
Will Tennesseans over 21 be allowed to carry a loaded handgun without a license?
Will this be the year medical cannabis passes?
The Tennessee General Assembly is composed of 132 members. This includes 33 Senators and 99 Representatives.
Warren County is represented by Janice Bowling in the Senate, and Rush Bricken and Paul Sherrell in the House. Contact information is available on page 5A for these three officials, who were all re-elected in November.
Bowling is once again sponsoring a medical cannabis bill, a measure she says is badly needed.
“I pray that we get it because too many people need it as an alternative to the opioids and synthetic cocktails they are taking,” said Bowling, who pointed out 36 states already have medical cannabis and no one overdoses on it. “The more I’ve studied this, the more I realize this is a legitimate product with real benefits. This is a no-brainer when you follow the evidence.”
Statewide, one of the most important decision lawmakers will make is how schools are funded. Education funding from the state is based on average daily enrollment and COVID has created concerns because school attendance has dropped.
There is legislation filed that says a local education authority cannot receive less money next year than it received the previous year.
There will be another push to relax firearm regulations even further. Gov. Bill Lee backs a measure to allow most adults 21 and older to carry a handgun, concealed or openly, without a license that now requires a background check and training.
The bill is projected to cost the state $2.4 million a year, according to the Tennessee Firearms Association, due to money lost from handgun permits. It’s also projected to add $17.7 million in expenditures due to additional money for the crime portion of the bill.
State Rep. Rush Bricken says he will be following several bills closely that address criminal justice reform. Bricken said there are different measures, but the gist remains the same.
“We’re trying to get criminals out of the jail system, get them some job skills, and make it so they’re not a burden,” said Bricken. “I think we also need to improve our probation system for people who are not a threat to society. If they have a probation violation, we don’t need to dump them back in jail.”
Bricken said the governor’s budget for this current fiscal year contained $210 million to return to local governments. This year’s budget under consideration contains a similar number and Bricken hopes that money is not removed.
“Communities have used it to improve infrastructure and perform maintenance on buildings,” said Bricken. “It’s uninhibited dollars that will help Warren and Coffee counties.”
As for a bill he’s filed himself, Bricken said he hopes a measure passes to allow Tennesseans age 75 and older to excuse themselves from jury duty if they wish.
“Most people probably wouldn’t do this, but it gives those 75 and older and exception for serving on a jury if they choose,” said Bricken. “They don’t have to jump through hoops. All they have to say is they’re 75 or older and they don’t want to serve. There are 33 states that already have an age exception ranging from 60 to 80 years old.”
State Rep. Paul Sherrell said the bill to allow medical marijuana and the bill to carry a handgun without a permit are two pieces of legislation he will be following closely this session. Sherrell added he’s not in favor of a bill to eliminate early voting.
“I like early voting and that’s my opinion on that,” Sherrell said.