The 2020 legislative session begins this week, and my colleagues and I will focus on building upon our recent conservative achievements.
This year, one of our main priorities is passing a fiscally responsible and balanced budget that keeps taxes low, improves education, supports job growth and economic development, expands access to quality health care, and strengthens public safety. Because the House held budget hearings earlier this year than in previous years, we can really focus on creating a budget that better addresses the unique needs of all Tennesseans.
Additionally, we will advance discussions about overhauling our current criminal justice system, so it meets present day standards, not those of 30 years ago. We share a belief with our Governor that we need a system of justice that is tough on crime and holds the worst of the worst accountable. At the same time, we can be smart on crime by supporting those who desire to overcome their previous mistakes to lead successful, productive lives.
Recent recommendations made by Governor Lee’s Criminal Justice Investment Task Force are an important part of our conversations and work this upcoming year. Last month, the task force released a comprehensive package of data-driven ideas aimed at making communities safer. These included strengthening responses to individuals with behavioral needs, improving public safety, increasing reentry support and reducing recidivism rates. We will also focus on reviewing current sentencing codes in preparation to recommend changes during the first half of the 112th General Assembly.
Education will also be front and center over these next few months. Last year, we made an $11.3 billion total investment in education — including $6.6 billion in K-12 funding. As a result of our recent, strategic investments, Tennessee students have become the fastest improving in the entire nation across math, reading and science. However, we cannot accept that two-thirds of our students aren’t reading proficiently by the 4th grade. If someone cannot read – how can they write or achieve success in math, science, or social studies?
We must focus on improving early childhood literacy rates across this state; every year that we wait, is another that our students are falling further behind. We can change early academic trajectories of our children through targeted investments, attracting and incentivizing educators who specialize in these areas, and through community programs and partnerships. Every student should have the same resources and opportunities, so our current and future workforces are prepared for successful futures and Tennessee continues to thrive.
Finally, we must build upon our efforts creating a healthcare system that improves access and the quality of care available, while lowering overall costs. This year, we will look to continue to increase access through telemedicine, and we will focus on promoting competition through Certificate of Need (CON) reform. We will also support the rural health safety network so citizens in our rural cities and towns have critical resources that will improve their overall health outcomes and address their health needs. Our current healthcare system will continue to shift towards a more patient-centered approach, which will allow patients and their loved ones to make all medical decisions, instead of insurance companies or the government.
These are exciting times, and our work in 2020 will continue to improve the lives of our citizens across all regions of this state. Together, we will ensure Tennessee remains the best place in the entire nation to live, work, raise a family, and retire.
William Lamberth is the House Majority Leader for the 111th Tennessee General Assembly. He is also a member of the House Finance, House Government Operations, and House Calendar & Rules Committees, as well as the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. Lamberth lives in Portland and represents Tennessee House District 44, which includes part of Sumner County.