The General Assembly recently finished its second Special Session of the year. Here are the highlights of what we accomplished for you in 2021:
- Putting the Right to Work in the state constitution
- Returning to in-person learning
- Working to let First Responders live where they want
- Punishing drag racing
- Recruiting Ford Motor Company jobs to West Tennessee
- Banning Critical Race Theory from our schools
- Protecting constitutional rights during the pandemic
Putting the Right to Work in the state constitution
One of the best ways we can bring more jobs to Tennessee is to strengthen our Right to Work law, which guarantees you the right to hold your job, whether you choose to join a union or not. My proposal to add the Right to Work law to our state constitution passed both chambers of the General Assembly again this year. This will protect future generations of Tennessee workers.
Twenty-seven states are Right to Work, and nine of those have constitutional amendments. Three of those are our neighbors: Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. But one of our other neighbors, Virginia, also enacted Right to Work when we did back in 1947 and seriously debated repealing it this year until the governor put a stop to efforts. We can avoid such threats to our law in Tennessee by passing a constitutional amendment, so please vote “Yes” for Amendment #1 next November!
Returning to in-person learning
It’s hard to believe, but back in January, students in Shelby County Schools were still meeting only online. Two days after the Senate Education Committee passed my bill to allow the governor to order them back to in-person learning, they changed their position. Thankfully, every school system in Tennessee has been meeting in-person ever since.
We also put tremendous resources into our public schools to help resolve the learning loss of our students who missed a year of in-person learning. We funded new after-school programs, summer school programs, and tutoring programs to help students who have fallen behind. We gave teacher raises, too, to recruit the best leaders for our classrooms. We also took the important step to demand that our third graders read on grade level before we push them through the system. Now, we are giving them the literacy tool they need to succeed.
Working to Let First Responders live where they want
Our Police, Fire, and EMS officers work every day to keep us safe and healthy. We should let them live where they want to live. Most officers want and deserve the same as the rest of us: to live in a safe community with affordable houses and good schools. Unfortunately, in Memphis we have a shortage of over 500 police officers and a residency requirement to live within Shelby County that greatly disadvantages our recruiting efforts. With a record-breaking homicide rate in our city and with police officers having to be stationed inside our grocery stores, we cannot afford to turn away high-quality applicants because of where they live. I passed a bill through the Senate to end residency requirements for first responders across the state. Next year, we should all unite to pass this bill through the House.
Punishing drag racing
Unfortunately, drag racing has become a huge problem in Memphis and Shelby County. I was proud to pass a law this year to increase the maximum penalty for drag racing to up to a year in jail.
Recruiting Ford Motor Company jobs to West Tennessee
The legislature played a critical role in recruiting Ford Motor Company to bring nearly 6,000 jobs to West Tennessee. The Megasite near Brownsville will be a short drive down I-40 from Shelby County. By 2025, Ford will produce thousands of all-electric F-150 trucks there. This could lead to more than 20,000 additional spinoff jobs, including those committed by SK Innovation to build electric batteries for the trucks. This massive production facility will transform the West Tennessee economy for years to come.
Banning Critical Race Theory from our schools
Followers of Critical Race Theory in public schools mandate horrible practices such as dividing children into groups by race and telling some students, based on their skin color, that they are oppressors and should apologize for their racism while telling others that they will always be oppressed. They teach children to hate America and the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that his children would be one day be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. That is why I was proud to draft the conference committee report to ban Critical Race Theory from our schools. Of course, schools will continue to teach the unfortunate history of American slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination, but they will also teach the American ideal of equal protection under the law. This is the right balance we need to protect our children from the irreversible harm caused by Critical Race Theory.
Protecting constitutional rights during the pandemic
Recently, legislators met in a special session to ensure the constitutional rights of Tennesseans are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, county mask mandates will be triggered only when severe active case rates are met. The same triggers will be required for masks in public schools. The new law will make it easier for the Attorney General to overturn on appeal the unlawful ruling of the local judge requiring masks for all students in Shelby County. Private schools and businesses may continue to require masks if they want, but they cannot require vaccines. COVID-19 vaccination will remain a private healthcare decision under state law. Finally, county public health directors will be appointed by the state health commissioner with input from the county mayor.