Teachers, marijuana and COVID-19 on the agenda as lawmakers meet in Nashville

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The legislature will go into session on Tuesday.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As they return to Capitol Hill in Nashville, Tennessee lawmakers are beginning to introduce bills and draw battle lines. Already in the headlines: catching up on teacher salary increases.

“Everyone knows that teachers have been under extra stress, they have to find new teaching methods, but they are also putting their lives and maybe even the lives of their families on the line,” said Senator Richard Briggs. (R-Knoxville). said.

A 4% raise for educators was cut in the face of the pandemic last summer. Now he could be back with bipartisan support.

“Why not make this payment retroactive to July 1, 2020? Rep. Sam McKenzie (D-Knoxville) asked. The freshman lawmaker said he would propose such a bill, though it’s unclear whether controlling GOP leaders would agree with it.

Also on the agenda, perhaps in a special session next week, is testing – and whether they should count against teacher performance amid quarantines and digital learning struggles.

“Over the years, I’ve been supportive of putting those measures back in place,” McKenzie said. “But currently, in the current environment, it doesn’t make sense to do that.”

Briggs agreed, “School teachers or students shouldn’t be punished if scores aren’t where they should be if they’ve had a normal year with normal classroom instruction.”

Lawmakers are also pushing through another medical marijuana bill this year, but they said it was likely to die out again.

“I am opposed to medical marijuana as long as there are federal laws prohibiting it,” Briggs said.

McKenzie is supportive of the proposal and recalled her mother’s “painful” battle with terminal cancer.

“From what I hear, marijuana helps for these medical purposes and others. Why not? We give drugs that are much more harmful than marijuana,” he said.

A bill to remove the regulatory powers of the Knox County Board of Health and the health department is also back. It would give county mayors in Tennessee’s most populous counties the power over emergency COVID-19 regulations such as mask mandates and bar curfews.

Neither McKenzie nor Briggs support the bill. Briggs fears that could give Democratic-controlled Memphis and Nashville carte blanche to impose tougher restrictions without oversight.

“You have to have checks and balances on everything. No one can have absolute power,” he said.

The Legislature hammers Tuesday afternoon.

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