Tennessee lawmakers worked at full steam during the week of February 22nd as Senate Committees began to examine budgets of departments/agencies of state government and discuss key pieces of legislation. Some of the important proposals that passed through committees are detailed below.
Tennessee Promise Scholarships — Legislation creating a pilot program for Tennessee Promise students with financial hardships advanced through the Senate Education Committee on 2/24/2021. The Tennessee Promise Program is a scholarship program through which a person may attend community college or technical college free of tuition and fees. Senate Bill 229, which I sponsor, requires the Tennessee higher education commission (THEC) to establish a four-year pilot program that awards grants to Tennessee Promise scholarship students who are receiving services as part of the college coaching initiative delivered by partnering organizations and are experiencing financial hardships that may prevent degree completion. Currently, about 57% of Tennessee Promise students complete their degree.
Protecting Women’s Sports – The Senate Education Committee stood up for girls’ sports by approving legislation seeking to maintain a level playing field for female athletes. Senate Bill 228 would prevent middle and high school students who are biological males from participating in girls’ athletic events in Tennessee by ensuring students compete in athletic competitions that correspond with their sex at birth. In 15 states across the country and Washington D.C., biological males are allowed to compete with females with no restrictions. The legislation aims to ensure that biological boys are not able to displace girls in competitive events which could deny outstanding female athlete scholarships, championships, and the ability to compete. I was happy to be the Senate Sponsor of this legislation and look forward to seeing it passed on the floor in the upcoming weeks.
Visitation / Long Term Care Facilities — The Tennessee Department of Health announced that state-specific visitation restrictions for long-term care facilities are ended effective February 28, 2021. Although limited visitation restriction will no longer be in place at the state level, facilities still remain under federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Visitation Guidance. The Department of Health said 100 percent of Tennessee’s nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities have completed both doses of COVID-19 vaccinations, and Tennessee’s assisted care living facilities and residential homes for the aged are projected to be completed this week. I understand the importance of allowing patients at long term care facilities to interact with their family members. This is vital to their health and welfare, so I am happy to see these restrictions being lifted.
Republicans in the Tennessee Senate sent a letter to the state’s university presidents and chancellors asking them to address the issue of student athletes kneeling in protest during the National Anthem prior to sports competitions. The letter points out that the National Anthem “represents not only the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, but the ultimate sacrifice paid by many in order for us to enjoy those freedoms.”
“The National Anthem is a symbol of pride for America,” the letter said. “It lifts our spirits toward the ideals upon which our great country was founded: that all are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” During athletic competitions, our student athletes represent not only themselves, but also our universities and all the citizens of this state, many of whom view this form of protest as offensive and disrespectful to the very thing our National Anthem represents. While we recognize our student athletes may express their own view on a variety of issues in their personal time, we do not condone any form of protest that could be viewed as disrespectful to our nation or flag while they are representing our state universities. When they don the jersey of a Tennessee university, they step out of their personal roles and into the role of an ambassador for our state. We expect all those who walk onto the field of play representing our universities to also walk onto the field of play to show respect for our National Anthem.”
The letter went on to encourage each of the universities to adopt policies within their respective athletic departments to prohibit any such actions moving forward.
“While we work together to make Tennessee a better place for all our citizens, let’s not focus on what divides us but on what unites us, which is being an American,” the letter concluded.