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From the Hill: State leaders work to shrink budget shortfall, save major money

By State Rep. Matt Hill
The Extraordinary Session that lasted nearly a month is one step closer to paying off in a big way, as the United States Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” finalists were announced last week.
Tennessee is on the list of states that will move forward in the process, along with 15 others. The eventual winners will receive a boost in education funding.
Colorado, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina will compete with Tennessee.
Tennessee submitted the state’s application to compete for up to $501.8 million in funds under the Race to the Top program in January.
The application was submitted on the same day the president called for adding $1.3 billion to the budget for the program.
The program currently has $4.3 billion allocated to reward states which are implementing significant reforms in four education areas: enhancing standards and assessments; improving the collection and use of data; increasing teacher effectiveness and achieving equity in teacher distribution; and turning around struggling schools.
ENGLISH ON THE JOB
A proposal that would clarify that it is not against the law for businesses to require English to be spoken on the job moved forward last week.
House Bill 2685 moved out of the Employee Affairs Subcommittee, and will next face the House Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee.
Several lawmakers have supported the legislation, which has hit roadblocks in committees before. This year, however, the bill passed out of the subcommittee unanimously.
The bill does allow for some exceptions such as lunch hours or other designated breaks.
The proposed law is designed to protect businesses from the frivolous lawsuits that can emerge when private business policies are set perfectly within their rights.
The bill is also primarily a safety precaution for workers.
Businesses where employees are continuously handling toxic products or food containers have a need to require English.
Other businesses, for example many factories, have signs displayed in English that communicate critical safety information. These business practices are the ones the bill is designed to protect.
FRAUDULENT
CONTRACTORS
To help protect consumers from fraudulent contractors, legislators voted to pass House Bill 2625 out of the House Judiciary Committee.
This bill creates a criminal offense for a home contractor who defrauds a homeowner by not making substantial progress on a home improvement project within 90 days and then fails to refund money paid under a contract within 10 days of a written request.
Consumers will be able to file complaints with the state’s Consumer Protection Division. In its current form, the bill applies to written and oral contractual agreements.
Violators will be punished based upon the value of the property or services and will be subject to punishment from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class B felony.
Within 30 days of a conviction, the Board of Licensing Contractors will be required to revoke a contractor’s license and post his or her name, license number, and violation on the state’s website for three years. This will serve as a resource for consumers to check when selecting a contractor.
The legislation will prohibit a contractor from receiving a new license during the term of the imposed sentence. Violators who have been convicted two or more times for the same violation will not be eligible for a license.
SEX OFFENDERS
AS PHYSICIANS
House Bill 3063 passed out the Criminal Practice and Procedure Subcommittee and will next be heard in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill prohibits physicians on the sexual offender registry from treating children under 18.
AGGRAVATED RAPE
AN ADULT OFFENSE
A bill that adds aggravated rape of a child to the list of offenses for which a juvenile may be transferred to adult court also passed out of the Criminal Practice and Procedure Subcommittee. House Bill 2438 will be heard in Judiciary Committee this week.
NO FLOOR ON AMOUNT GOVERNMENT PAYS
Legislation that could potentially save local governments across the state money passed on the House floor unanimously last week. House Bill 2552 clarifies the law on the purchase of used or secondhand items purchased by local government.
As the law is currently written, local governments could not purchase equipment that is more than 10 percent above market value, or 10 percent below. This bill essentially clarifies that there is no floor on how much a local government may pay.
FETUS A VICTIM, TOO
House Bill 3495 specifies that when someone commits a homicide or assault against a pregnant woman, the woman’s fetus, regardless of viability, is also considered a victim of the offense.
The legislation passed out of the Public Health and Family Assistance Subcommittee and will next be heard by the House Health and Human Resources Committee.