Beth Harwell, State Speaker of the House of Representatives, addressed a joint meeting of the McKenzie Rotary and the McKenzie Lions Clubs Monday, along with several special guests.
She discussed what her role as speaker entails in the General Assembly and the happenings of the last General Assembly.
She was introduced by Lions Club member Bob Rutledge who told of some of her many accomplishments.
She is a graduate of David Lipscomb College and has a PhD from Vanderbilt University. She is the first female Speaker in both Tennessee and the entire Southeast. She represents State House District 56, which includes a part of Davidson County. She has been a strong advocate for tougher sexual abuse laws, victims’ rights, welfare reform, children’s issues and most notable, education.
She said she sits at a podium and if any of the 99 House members want to speak they must raise their hands. She says her role is much like that of a teacher.
“They have microphones at their desks and I acknowledge them and turn their microphones on,” she said. “I also have the ability to turn them off and I have been known to do that.”
She said her job is to maintain proper decorum so she doesn’t allow the members to get off their original topic.
Her second job is to make sure all bills are passed in the proper parliamentary procedure and thirdly, she makes all committee appointments.
“Committees are very important,” she said. “I try to place legislators on committees where they have a level of expertise.”
One of the most important jobs of the General Assembly is to balance the budget.
“That’s the best gift we can give you and your children,” she said.
Tennessee is the third lowest tax state in the nation and is the lowest debt state in the nation. The state is one of 11 in the United States that has a Triple A bond rating.
This year, the state had some excess money, she said. Some of it was placed in the Rainy Day Fund for emergencies. The fund could keep the state running for 23 days if something bad happened financially.
Some of the money was given to Gatlinburg to help rebuild the area after the devastating fire last year. Mental health funding was increased, as were teacher’s salaries and TennCare.
Inheritance tax was eliminated that allowed family farms and small businesses to be passed onto family members without being taxed.
She discussed the Improvement Act that added a gas tax at the pump. She said that was not the way she would have done it. Rather she would have put a tax on vehicles at the time of purchase with the funds dedicated to roads.
A proponent of education, she said she disliked Common Core.
She said that she was for high stimulus accountability in education.
The state passed the Reconnect Act this year that allows someone who had some college credits to return to school to complete their degree.
Tennessee history has been returned to middle school students. Broadbent is now available to Tennesseans due to the legislature’s passage of a bill.
School bus safety was also addressed.
One of the biggest problems now facing the state is drug use.
“It’s a public health issue and is devastating to families,” she said.