Governor Bill Haslam and state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) were members of an all-star assemblage of political and business figures who gathered at the Smith and Nephew plant on Thursday for a ceremony celebrating the successes of the administration’s two-year-old Tennessee Reconnect program.
Tennessee Reconnect, a component of the Governor’s Tennessee Promise initiative offering free tuition for post-secondary education, provides free education to adults who wish to attend a Tennessee college of applied technology (TCAT) to gain certification or an associate’s degree.
The program’s intent, as Haslam pointed out, is to raise the number of properly credentialed workers to fill tech jobs that are going wanting — like the 150 positions that cannot yet be filled with qualified employees at Smith and Nephew, company officials confirmed Thursday. Or like the Electrolux plant at Memphis, which, as Haslam acknowledged in a group chat with reporters, failed to meet its first-quarter production and sales goals for lack of a complete workforce.
Norris told the Flyer
that he would be steering through to passage a piece of supplementary legislation that would include adults within the free-education initiative at community colleges which is already offered to younger students through Tennessee Promise.
That would be SB 605/HB 646, co-sponsored by Norris and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), which, in the language of the bill summary, would create a"Community College reconnect grant for independent students seeking to complete an associate of applied science degree....." The bill is headed toward floor action in both chambers.
In a conversation with reporters, Governor Haslam took time to address some issues still hanging fire in the current legislative session, which is expected to wind down this month. Some of his comments:
On his likely action regarding gun legislation that would broaden carry rights in the state’s parks and at one point had included a provision allowing gun carry on the Capitol grounds
: “We don’t know. We don’t know what form it’s going to be in yet. It’s taken a couple of turns here recently. We obviously didn’t like the part where they had the Capitol included in that. We’re concerned about parks that are not owned by schools but are used by schools. We’re waiting to see how that works out.
On FedEx's wish for a tax break on aviation fuel purchases
: "They're paying 2/3 of the tax statewide. And so they rightfully came and said, 'We don’t’ mind carrying our load, but we don’t want to carry everybody’s load.' It’s a fair argument. They also have a choice to land those airplanes somewhere else, and we definitely don’t want that happening.
"They’re paying more in Tennessee than they would be paying in other states. We don’t want to be where they say, ‘We’ll land that plane in Indianapolis or Dallas or Louisville. We want to keep them in Memphis….Right now there’s a fairly good balance for the funding that’s needed. We’re going to have to live like other states have, with less money going into it than has historically gone into it. . I still think we can have a first-class aviation program in our big cities as well as in our small towns on the lesser amount."
On a bill going forward that would establish the Bible-as-the state’s official book
: " I have a real concern with that...in this sense. There’s nothing more important to me than my faith. I had time with the Bible this morning. But I don’t think it should be relegated to…like the salamander as the official lizard or whatever we call the different things we have official in our state.
“I’ll say this thing, too, from the church’s standpoint. Whenever the church has become part of the official government, it hasn’t worked out well for the church. We look around the world, and where the church is strong and where it’s not, and historically where it’s gotten to be a close part of the government, it hasn’t ended well for the church.”
Norris also expressed vehement opposition to the Bible-as-official-book legislation, and had this to say about it: “It will get to the floor, and it may pass, but at the end of the day it won’t stand."