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From left, State Sen. Paul Bailey, Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton and U.S. Congressman John Rose spoke on the upcoming legislative sessions during the annual Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast held Jan. 4.

Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton said his district will be changing next year with the release of the first set of maps from the state redistricting panel.

The 25th District will lose Van Buren County but extend further into Putnam County into the Algood area. Sexton, who has represented the district since 2010, will be up for re-election in 2022.

“We have talked to every single member in the House about their district,” said Sexton during the annual Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast.

Maps have not yet been released for state Senate districts or U.S. Congressional districts.

The House maps were released mid-December and immediately approved by the Tennessee House Redistricting Committee. The proposal must still go before the full legislature for approval.

Sexton said the redistricting effort has been a bipartisan effort, with a 16-member panel that included 12 Republicans and four Democratic representatives.

The proposal has drawn criticism for eliminating five Democratic incumbents who face re-election in 2022, putting nine Democratic incumbents representing urban areas in Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis into four districts.

Six Republicans saw their districts paired under the plan, though two of those representatives had previously announced they would not be seeking re-election.

Sexton pushed back on comments from Democratic lawmakers that the process had been a partisan effort.

Much of the state’s population growth over the past 10 years occurred in Middle Tennessee. Sexton said there are specific rules about redistricting regarding limits on splitting counties and population variances. 

“The map basically draws itself,” Sexton said.

State Sen. Paul Bailey said the Senate has not yet released its redistricting plan. He’s heard of multiple changes to his district in the past few weeks.

“My main focus is making sure I represent as many counties in the Upper Cumberland as possible,” Bailey said.

When looking at legislative priorities, Sexton said he wants to address “Truth in Sentencing” during the upcoming session. 

Under Tennessee law, judges have sentencing guidelines that provide a range of years of incarceration for various felony offenses, with a percentage of time an offender must serve based on number of prior convictions. This can range from 20% for someone with no prior convictions to 60% for a “career” offender.

Last year, the state approved requiring defendants convicted of certain crimes to serve 100% of the sentence. The legislation addressed felony domestic assault, human trafficking, rape, soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor, child abuse or endangerment, observation without consent, and other crimes Sexton said the crimes typically victimize women and children.

Now, Sexton said he wants to look at sentencing for other violent crimes.

“There’s nothing worse than a victim leaving court after a jury or judge delivers a sentence of eight years and that person gets out in three-and-a-half,” Sexton said. “That’s not justice. That’s not victim’s rights.”

The state also needs to enhance its juvenile intervention services, Sexton said. 

“People who become career criminals don’t start in their adult life. They start in their juvenile life,” he said. Services like counseling, mentorship and education could help those youths find a new path and offer a long-term solution for crime in the state, Sexton said. 

The state has also struggled with mental health services. Sexton proposed mental health courts that offered access to counseling and mental health services instead of incarceration.

“When we started closing a lot of inpatient facilities and moving them to community-based services, all we did was move them to Sheriff [Casey] Cox’s office or to the state penitentiary,” Sexton said. “We need to move them out of prison and get them the help they need so they can get back on with their lives.”

Higher education in the state also needs to look at shorter programs that help people ready for specific jobs or change careers.

Bailey said the state needs to address a national shortage of truck drivers that is exacerbating the supply chain crisis. He attributed much of the shortage to the retirement of many truck drivers. When he entered office in 2014, the average trucker was about 56 years old.

The federal government sets most of the requirements for issuance of a Commercial Driver’s License. Tennessee and other states issued executive orders in November to ease state regulations on drivers.

“Even though we have a lot of ships anchored off the coastline, the fact is they can’t get trucks in there fast enough to move the freight,” Bailey said.

Bailey warned that the education system is also facing a retirement crisis. By 2025, 14,000 Tennessee educators will be eligible for retirement, he said. 

“That is going to be a huge gap that we have to face,” he said.

 

Road Projects

Work continues of several state road projects in the area, most notably Hwy. 127 N. from Interstate 40 to the area of Potato Farm Rd.

Other projects include construction of the next phase of the Northwest Connector from Hwy. 127 N. to Genesis Rd. and a proposal to improve the intersection of Hwy. 127 S. and Hwy. 68 in the Homesteads community.

“We are growing, so get used to construction and dirt,” said Sexton of the ongoing road projects.

Right now, utility relocation is underway on Hwy. 127 N. The $62.9 million project is scheduled for completion by June 30, 2025.

Bailey said discussions continue to add a third lane eastbound on Monterey Mountain. As traffic increases, so do safety concerns. However, it has been estimated the project could cost $250 million to $300 million due to the topography and the need for multiple bridges.

Bailey said he believes state leaders will be discussing how to fund road projects in the future amid the increase in electric and hybrid vehicles. While legislation a few years ago required owners of these vehicles to pay a fee to help alleviate the loss in gas taxes, which make up about half the state’s highway budget, electric vehicle adoption is growing. 

Tennessee is also a growing center of electric vehicle manufacturing. In addition to the announcement last year that Ford Motor Company will manufacture its electric F-150 models in West Tennessee, the state also hosts Nissan, which produced its first electric car in 2013, and Volkswagen and General Motors.

The Chronicle will be speaking to Sexton to learn more about proposed changes to the state’s education funding formula. See an upcoming issue of the Chronicle for that report.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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