Tennessee 28th District Capitol Hill Week in Review with Senator Joey Hensley, MD
August 11, 2022
Parents can download SafeTN app as part of back-to-school preparations
The first day of school for many students, teachers and parents can elicit mixed emotions. There is much preparation that leads up to the first day of school. Students worry about if they will have friends in their class, what their schedules will be, and what their new teachers will be like. Teachers finalize new lessons plans and refine old ones. They organize and decorate their classrooms for eager young learners to spend the year. Parents plan how their children will get to and from school, replace worn backpacks, ensure their growing children have clothes and shoes that fit and school supplies to start the year.
The last thing that parents should have to worry about is school safety. Unfortunately, school safety is on the minds of many parents and teachers this year as a part of their back-to-school preparations.
That is why I join Governor Bill Lee in urging parents to download the SafeTN app managed by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security to ensure all parents have the ability to play an active role in school safety. The mobile app gives parents, guardians, and students a direct line for confidentially reporting suspicious or concerning activity within schools. Concerns and tips are vetted by law enforcement 24/7 to address circumstances like: violence or assault, threats of violence or a planned attack, and physical injury or harm to self or others.
In addition to this tool, the Tennessee General Assembly has a record of prioritizing school safety. We have worked to allocate additional resources to schools and districts to improve their security measures. This year, the General Assembly made a $20 million investment to prioritize grants for School Resource Officers (SROs).
In 2019, the General Assembly doubled the state’s annual investment in school safety funding from $10 million to $20 million and established a School Resource Officer (SRO) Grant program to increase the number of schools supported by local law enforcement. Since passage of this legislation, districts have leveraged the additional school safety funding to implement building security measures and increase violence intervention programming.
The legislation accommodates underserved counties working to secure schools and fill SRO positions by adjusting the match requirements to be proportional with districts’ fiscal capacity.
This helped approximately 500 schools in Tennessee that did not have an SRO. It allowed schools that had an SRO to use the grants to fund other school safety priorities, including implementation of building security measures or developing youth violence prevention programs.
After the School Safety Act of 2018 was implemented by the General Assembly, all 147 Tennessee public school districts submitted risks and vulnerabilities assessments. The results enabled districts to use grants to make both major and minor school safety improvements, ranging from better door locks and updated visitor screening procedures, to adding mental health staff positions. I was proud to support these initiatives to help increase safety at our Tennessee schools.
School security is something that constantly needs to be assessed and reassessed, so there is always work to be done. But by partnering with parents and the general public to report potential threats to school safety, I think we can help ensure a safer environment for children to grow, thrive and receive a quality education.
Tennessee Suspends Grocery Tax Through the End of August
Tennesseans may notice their grocery bills are a little less this month, as Gov Bill Lee announced August 1st that the long-awaited suspension of tax on groceries went into effect state-wide. The governor first proposed the idea in March. “As Americans see their cost-of-living skyrocket amid historic inflation, suspending the grocery tax is the most effective way to provide direct relief to every Tennessean,” Lee said at the time. In a tweet Monday morning, Gov. Lee echoed the sentiment, writing, “This month, we’re taking a bite out of rising food costs w/ a 30-day grocery tax suspension to provide direct financial relief to Tennesseans.”
The state grocery tax being suspended is currently four percent, with local grocery taxes varying slightly.
During the 30-day period, all food and food ingredients are exempt from sales tax. Food and food ingredients are defined as liquid, concentrated, solid, frozen, dried, or dehydrated substances that are sold to be ingested or chewed by humans and are consumed for their taste or nutritional value, as outlined by the Tennessee Department of Revenue. Food and food ingredients do not include alcoholic beverages, tobacco, candy, dietary supplements, or prepared food however. Food and food ingredients purchased from a micro-market or vending machine remain subject to sales tax, the Department of Revenue notes.
Another sales tax holiday that is currently taking place in the state is on gun safes and safety devices. The tax suspension began on July 1st and ends at 11:59 p.m. on June 30th, 2023. A “gun safe” is defined as a locking container or other enclosure equipped with a padlock, key lock, combination lock, or other locking device that is designed and intended for the secure storage of one or more firearms. A “gun safety device” is defined as any integral device to be equipped or installed on a firearm that permits the user to program the firearm to operate only for specified persons designated by the user through computerized locking devices or other means integral to and permanently part of the firearm.