A Look at the Issues for 2013

Today officially marks the start of a new legislative session in Tennessee.  The first items up for consideration will be organizational in nature—committee assignments, the selection of committee chairs, and the consideration of newly proposed rules in the House of Representatives.  The rules, proposed by House Speaker Beth Harwell, impact several organizational areas.  Perhaps the most notable proposed changes include the restructuring of House Committees and the establishment of a filing limit of 10 bills per individual legislator (with some exceptions, such as honorary resolutions, sunset legislation, and administration bills).

A number of issues will arise this session that will impact the University of Tennessee System.  As in previous years, gun legislation is expected to be filed and debated at length.  Proposals may vary from arming teachers in K-12 schools, to expanding the current law surrounding guns on public college campuses, to providing that businesses cannot prohibit guns in trunks of locked vehicles on company property.  As occurred with the “guns-in-bars” debate, posting provisions will likely be discussed.  As this issue relates to higher education, the University of Tennessee System continues to support the law in its current form.

State funding is again strained this year.  The Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s (THEC) operating budget recommendation includes a $35.5 million increase and a $14.1 million increase for non-formula units, such as the UT Institute for Public Service, the Institute of Agriculture, and the UT Health Science Center.  The recommended increase for non-formula units is critically important due to potential federal reductions in areas such as agriculture extension and agriculture research funding.  Unlike UT’s traditional three campuses, these units have a more limited (if any) tuition mechanism to help offset either state or federal cuts.  A growing interest exists amongst the legislature to establish recurring funding for the Institute for Public Service’s Law Enforcement Innovation Center (LEIC). This nationally acclaimed law enforcement center provides innovative and technology-based training and technical assistance to law enforcement agencies and communities.

THEC’s recommended capital budget includes two major UT projects: the UT Health Science Center’s renovation to the Crowe, Nash, and Mooney Building Complex and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s new multidisciplinary science laboratory facility. These projects account for $135.9 million, or 47%, of THEC’s recommended capital budget.  In regard to capital maintenance, THEC recommends an appropriation of $44.3 million for the University of Tennessee System.

These recommendations were made by THEC to the Governor in November 2012.  The Governor’s budget proposal will likely be released later this month in conjunction with his State of the State Address, tentatively set for January 28th.

Other issues that will arise this session include those listed below.  The list is not exhaustive.

  • Supercomputer
    The U.S. Department of Energy  is currently considering funding its third and final supercomputer program.  Matching support from the State of Tennessee in the amount of $20 million would demonstrate the state’s commitment to the partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and would help advance computational modeling for scientific research and economic development. UT and ORNL have maintained the world’s fastest supercomputer, processing over 60% of the National Science Foundation’s funded research.  The supercomputer positions the state to be a world leader in climate and pharmaceutical research, materials science, and computational modeling.  The remote connection ability that the supercomputer provides allows for statewide access and benefit, attracting high levels of economic investment and high paying jobs.
  • Proton Therapy
    Again this year the University of Tennessee System is looking to advance a unique opportunity in the area of proton therapy research and treatment.  The University is not seeking state funding for this area, but is seeking permissive language that clearly authorizes the UT Research Foundation to partner with a private entity that is  bringing this technology and treatment to Tennessee.
  • UT Peds
    UT Peds, which seeks to advance research and treatment of childhood diseases, has requested matching state funds of $2.96 million annually for five years.  UT Peds is a partnership between St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, LeBonheur Children’s Medical Center, and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

In Washington, the University is focused on two key areas:  Securing new partnerships with federal agencies to generate research opportunities and funding, and building understanding amongst lawmakers and agency officials of UT’s value to current areas of research.  Although overall cuts to funding at the federal level are virtually unavoidable, the University hopes to protect funding for many of its key initiatives and activities.

As session begins this year, advocates can play a key role in building support for the University by staying informed and engaged in the political process.  Check the advocacy website as often as possible for updates.  Don’t miss an opportunity to tell elected officials who you are and why you support the University of Tennessee.  Ask them to support the University of Tennessee.