The first week of the 2020 Legislative Session was action-packed!
We started the week with hearings affecting both the Department of Correction and the Department of Human Services. As the week unfolded, there were important meetings with Lee Administration officials and legislative leadership, and TSEA was there representing you through everything!
The Department of Correction spent nearly five hours Monday before a joint house and senate committee reviewing an audit presented by State Comptroller Justin Wilson. There were multiple findings of concern in the audit regarding operations at both our state-run and private prisons. Commissioner Parker allowed unprecedented access to his department for the audit and has been working with the Comptroller’s staff to address the findings quickly.
This hearing was also a sunset hearing for TDOC, which is a standard hearing typically occurring every eight years for state departments. In a sunset hearing, the legislature reviews the function and effectiveness of each department and determines the need to terminate or reauthorize that department. During Monday’s hearing, despite the findings of the state comptroller, the joint committee voted to reauthorize the Department of Correction for four years with a Q+A review of audit findings in 2 years.
While there are serious issues to be addressed in TDOC, especially in the areas of employee safety, pay and turnover, it is important to remember that many of the problems occurring in TDOC today are rooted in decisions made by previous commissioners and administrations. Commissioner Tony Parker has shown a willingness to listen to concerns from the legislature, TSEA, and his TDOC employees. He continues to make significant changes in the areas of pay and scheduling. We are confident Commissioner Parker can and will continue to take the appropriate steps to get TDOC on the right track.
Next week, there are two additional Legislative committees scheduled to review the audit of TDOC. Legislation has been recommended to address some concerns from the audit, and TSEA will monitor these efforts for any state employee concerns.
TSEA has worked hard to maintain a strong working relationship with Commissioner Parker and other key decision-makers. We will continue to work with members of the legislature to support the department while keeping a close eye to ensure any decisions made are in the best interests of our brave TDOC state employees.
The Department of Human Services testified on Wednesday afternoon before a joint group of House and Senate members formed to study the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Commissioner Danielle Barnes and the joint committee are making progress to responsibly and effectively spend those funds to assist needy families in Tennessee. TSEA will continue to follow this issue. Commissioner Barnes and our DHS employees want and deserve the ability to help Tennesseans who can benefit from TANF funds.
Meetings and other business
TSEA also met this week, on behalf of state employees, with Public Service and Employees Sub Committee Chairman Jay Reedy, House State Government Committee Chairman Kelly Keisling, and House Calendar and Rules Committee Chairman Jason Zachery.
TSEA’s Executive Director and Lobbying team met with Caucus Chairman Ken Yager and Department of Human Resources Commissioner Juan Williams and his executive staff regarding our Burden of Proof legislation.
TSEA met with Higher Ed representatives from the University of Memphis, East Tennessee State University, and Tennessee State University.
This week, University of Memphis President David Rudd announced a series of increases in the minimum wage for University employees toward the goal of $15 per hour. We expressed our gratitude to him for keeping his promise to TSEA to meet that goal in three years and we are confident that he will succeed. As a reminder, the University of Memphis is also considering the need for compression movement, which affects numerous employees.
We met at length with U.T. Representatives on the hill. We discussed the effects of salary compression on employees at U.T. in Memphis as well as our hope that the University of Tennessee will extend paid FMLA to its employees.
Earlier today (1-17-2020) The University of Tennessee announced a new policy that provides eligible faculty and staff up to six weeks of paid time off to donate a body organ and up to one week of paid time off to donate bone marrow. This policy will be named the Laura McGinnis Policy on Organ Donation after UT Institute of Agriculture employee Frankie McGinnis’ daughter, who passed away after experiencing complications from an organ donation.
In addition, in today’s release, the University announced it has created a taskforce to make recommendations on a policy that will provide 12 weeks paid family leave for eligible faculty and staff with a goal of having a policy in place by July 1. We will keep you up to date on the progress of this policy as information becomes available.
We were glad to see East Tennessee State University President Dr. Brian Noland quickly responding to the Governor’s Executive order for paid FMLA to state employees with a promise to review ETSU’s parental leave policy.
Bills in TSEA’s 2020 Legislative Agenda
Next week, bill sponsor Rep. Timothy Hill has HB0644, the Burden of Proof bill, in the House Calendar and Rules committee. TSEA’s lobbying team will be working to move the Burden of Proof bill to the full House for a vote.
In addition, we will work on securing sponsors for the other bills in our 2020 legislative agenda.
We hope everyone has a great holiday weekend honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
PS – Go Titans!