OPINION: With the start of the 113th Tennessee General Assembly this week, I always want to make sure to address the issues that matter most to those I am honored to represent in Nashville.
My office recently conducted a legislative survey that found residents in my district view crime, education and illegal immigration as the three most important issues currently facing Tennessee.
In my opinion, illegal immigration is the number one issue. It's the greatest threat to our country's sovereignty and public safety. From terrorism, illegal drugs and fentanyl and the enormous financial burden to taxpayers, the failure of the Biden administration to address the growing crisis at our southern border is a problem that affects us all. I'm reminded of what President Donald Trump once said, "Without a border, we just don’t have a country."
As of August, there were nearly 5 million foreign nationals who had entered the United States illegally since the president took office. That number continues to climb and represents more than the individual populations of 25 states and more than 100 countries and territories. I will continue to push back against the harmful failures of the Biden administration and do what is necessary to keep our communities safe.
We took an important step to increase public safety in Tennessee last year with the passage of Truth in Sentencing. The law requires offenders convicted in eight categories of violent crimes to serve 100 percent of their court-imposed sentences. Those categories include attempted first and second-degree murder, vehicular homicide resulting from driver intoxication, aggravated vehicular homicide, especially aggravated kidnapping, especially aggravated robbery, carjacking, especially aggravated burglary.
In addition to strengthening our laws, we must also look for ways we can help Tennesseans with criminal records who want to turn their lives around. I recently partnered with several local groups to organize an expungement clinic and job fair to help individuals who have served their sentence become productive members of society once again. This will also help fill a critical need that we have for labor in our workforce and will benefit our entire state.
One key way that we can help prevent crime is by continuing to invest in education. According to a recent study, students who attend better-funded schools are 15 percent less likely to be arrested through age 30. That is why I was proud to support the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act, which updates the way our state funds public education for the first time in more than 30 years. The legislation will help ensure students have all of the resources they need for success. Every school district in Tennessee will also receive more funding, with the exact increases depending on the needs of the student population being served. In all, our state will invest a historic $6.5 billion in K-12 education this fiscal year.
In September, I also took part in an education forum at the Smyrna Event Center with Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and other members of the Rutherford County legislative delegation. The event focused on answering questions about the Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act, and the potential for some third graders to be retained if they do not meet reading proficiency standards. While I believe there will likely be legislation introduced this session that will seek to further refine this law, we must remain committed to helping our students improve their reading skills. A 33% proficiency rate among third graders is simply unacceptable. We must continue to support our students as well as our educators in every way possible, and I am confident that we will do so again this year.
Overall, Tennessee is thriving under Republican leadership, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the General Assembly to ensure that success continues in 2023.
Submitted by Rep. Mike Sparks who lives in Smyrna and represents Tennessee House District 49, which includes part of Rutherford County.