Senator Southerland updates constituents in ”Senate in a Minute”

Infrastructure Needs, Education Priorities, and Firefighter Compensation

Infrastructure Needs and Requests

The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee received a report from the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) on Tuesday regarding the state’s infrastructure needs and requests. The General Assembly passed legislation in 1996 requiring TACIR to compile and maintain an inventory of infrastructure requests and present them to lawmakers each year. The inventory, by law, is designed to support the development of goals, strategies, and programs that could improve the quality of life for Tennesseans and enhance economic development statewide.

Transportation, utilities, and education account for the 89 percent of the projected $3.4 billion increase in conceptual projects which were in the inventory. Transportation and utilities are always the largest categories of infrastructure inventoried and account for $2 billion in this report. The education inventory increased by $987 million, mainly attributable to post-secondary education needs and reflects the building or renovation requests for K-12 schools. The next largest increase was in the health, safety, and welfare category at $575 million. TACIR officials explained the bulk of these requests were for law enforcement and fire protection. In addition, TACIR has projected an increase of $7 million for recreational projects.

TACIR’s staff is reviewing the currently available federal funding for public infrastructure to see how it might meet some of these needs. They estimate the American Rescue Plan (ARP) will provide Tennessee state government with $3.9 billion and Tennessee local governments with $2.3 billion; while they project the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) could provide $8 billion for infrastructure projects. In August 2021, Tennessee’s Financial Stimulus Accountability Group dedicated $1.35 billion of the state’s fiscal ARP recovery funds for water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure.

Education Recovery and Innovation Commission

The Senate Education Committee heard testimony this week from officials with the Education Recovery and Innovation Commission to modernize education in Tennessee and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on student learning. In 2020, the Tennessee General Assembly formed the Commission through Public Chapter 792 to examine the short- and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on education in the state.  The group was charged with addressing learning gaps and modernizing the state’s education system from kindergarten through career.

In their second of two reports, the Commission identified nine priority areas for improvements. The recommendations include policies ensuring students master literacy and numeracy skills; addressing learning remediation and acceleration needs; and strengthening, retaining, expanding, and diversifying the state’s education professionals. They also recommend equipping Tennessee schools and districts to address students’ well-being; optimizing capacity for flexible, high-quality school options; and incentivizing locally-led innovation. In addition, the Commission recommends that schools be redesigned to ensure students have access to flexible pathways to college and careers and that the state’s postsecondary systems be streamlined to facilitate lifelong learning.

The Commission’s report states that impacts of COVID-19 and other disruptions to schooling in the past two years extend far beyond academics, negatively impacting students’ social development, as well as their mental, emotional, and physical health. The report states: “These domains not only affect students’ academic achievement but also underlie the development of skills such as critical thinking and analysis, problem-solving, self-management, and working with people — all of which are skills increasingly prioritized by employers.”

Many of the Commission’s recommendations will be considered through legislation during the 2022 legislative session.

Firefighters the “Barry Brady Act”

A committee that I serve on, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, this week advanced legislation that amends the “Barry Brady Act,” which provides compensation to firefighters for certain types of cancers. SB 1569 adds testicular cancer and leukemia to the list of cancers covered under the law.

Thank you for reading this edition. Your concerns as a constituent are very important to me and I encourage you to contact me with them. My office can be reached by phone at: (800) 449-8366, Ext: 13851, or by e-mail at: sen.steve.southerland@capitol.tn.gov. I look forward to hearing from you and thank you for the honor to serve as your State Senator. God bless!