|May 2, 2016–
I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve been working on in Tennessee and Washington this past month:
The new law fixing No Child Left Behind must be implemented by the U.S. Education Department the way Congress intended
At an education hearing I chaired, I said to U.S. Education Secretary John King that there is already disturbing evidence that the Dept. of Education is ignoring the law that Congress passed in December to fix No Child Left Behind and return control of schools to states and local communities. At that hearing, the second of at least six oversight hearings I intend to hold this year, I said I would use every power of Congress to make sure the law is implemented the way Congress wrote it. I said to Dr. King that if he tried to force states and school districts to follow the department’s regulations that ignore the law Congress wrote, I will encourage them to request a hearing with the department. And if they lose, I will tell them to take the department to court. Click here to watch my opening remarks where I said to Dr. King: “I am making a point of this today because we are at the beginning of implementation of a law that affects 3.4 million teachers and 50 million students in 100,000 public schools.”
On April 25, I told students, teachers, legislators and education leaders at Belmont University about how Tennessee public school classrooms are back in their hands, thanks to the new education law that fixes No Child Left Behind and restores local control of public schools to those closest to the children. This new law is the biggest devolution of federal control in a quarter century, according to the Wall Street Journal, which means that now Tennessee has the ball and my role is to be its most aggressive defender.
Bipartisan energy legislation will help fuel innovation and put the U.S. on a reasonable path to doubling energy research
On April 20th, the U.S. Senate passed a broad, bipartisan energy bill that will bolster the United States’ competitive advantage and help create clean, cheap, reliable energy. The bill, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016, reauthorizes programs in the Energy Title of America COMPETES Act and puts the Dept. of Energy on a conservative path to double basic energy research over the next 10 years. The legislation also authorizes the Dept. of Energy to continue building and researching the world’s fastest and next generation supercomputers, which are essential to maintaining national security and competitiveness and creating high-wage jobs. Read more on the Energy Policy Modernization Act here.
Polk Home in Columbia, Tenn., deserves protection within the National Park System
My James K. Polk Home Presidential Study Act was included in an amendment to the Energy Policy Modernization Act I discussed above and directs the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study and evaluate the suitability and feasibility of designating James K. Polk’s presidential home in Columbia as a unit of the National Park System. Wouldn’t it be appropriate for the presidential home of the president who created the Dept. of the Interior, the home of the National Park Service, to be managed by the National Park Service? I sure think so. Read more on the James K. Polk Home Presidential Study Act here.
Tennessee should be reimbursed by the federal government for keeping the Smokies open during the 2013 federal government shutdown
Another amendment passed as part of the Energy Policy Modernization Act would reimburse the state of Tennessee as well as Blount and Sevier counties for the around $60,000 spent to reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park when the federal government shut down more than two years ago. Shutting down the government, which I opposed, was a mistake, and Tennessee should not have to pay for Washington’s failure. Learn more here.
Senate health committee completes work on companion to House-passed 21st Century Cures
At a committee meeting at the beginning of April, the Senate health committee I chair approved the last of 19 bipartisan bills. I hope that this package, along with an agreement on a one-time surge in funding for the National Institutes of Health, will become the Senate companion to the 21st Century Cures Act which passed 344-77 last summer by the House of Representatives. At that meeting, I said that because this legislation will affect virtually every American, it will be the most important new law if it’s enacted this year. I told the story of Nashville resident, Douglas Oliver, who as recently as August was legally blind due to an incurable form of macular degeneration, but can now see—well enough to get back his Tennessee driver’s license—thanks to advancements in regenerative medicine. His is a remarkable story, but it’s just one story, and there are millions of other Americans who could be helped if we complete the work that we set out to do.
On April 18, with Sen. Corker and Governor Haslam, I attended the opening of Wacker Chemical’s facility in Charleston. This is a significant step for Tennessee manufacturing as skilled Tennesseans are being called to manufacture some of the world’s purest silicon, a key ingredient in solar panels.
President signs bills passed by Senate health committee to support Tennessee seniors and spur Zika treatments
Last month, the president signed two bills that the Senate health committee passed earlier this year. One of the bills reauthorizes the Older Americans Act, which ensures services for the nearly 150,000 Tennesseans who rely on programs like Meals on Wheels and provides grants to states so they can help seniors live more comfortably at home. A second bill will help researchers find a treatment or cure more quickly for the Zika virus that causes heartbreaking birth defects. I’m glad to see these important pieces of legislation signed into law.
Aviation bill makes it easier and safer for Americans to travel
On April 19th, I voted for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act because it provides the appropriate tools and additional resources to protect Americans against terrorism and supports aviation jobs. In fact, the aviation industry supports more than 172,000 Tennessee jobs. This legislation will require the FAA to recognize graduates of Middle Tennessee State University’s Air Collegiate Training Initiative when these graduates apply for FAA air traffic controller jobs and preserves air traffic control services in Millington, Jackson and Smyrna airports. Learn more here.
Tennessee hospitals should be paid fairly for their services
I joined a bipartisan group in introducing legislation to protect hospitals from shrinking Medicare reimbursements. Because of Medicare’s flawed reimbursement formula called the Area Wage Index, Tennessee hospitals have lost nearly $99 million since 2011 while hospitals in other areas of the country get more and more for the same services. This bill will protect Tennessee hospitals, and others around the country, from these decreasing payments that make it harder for them to recruit skilled doctors and nurses, make payroll, pay bills and care for patients. Read more here.
On April 13, I welcomed representatives from Camp Koinonia to Washington, DC. Camp “K” is a week-long outdoor education program for children ages 7-21 who have multiple disabilities. The camp is located in Knoxville and was selected as this year’s featured charity for Taste of the South, one of the largest charity galas in D.C. Proceeds will be used to create scholarships and activities for campers and replace and advance medical supplies.
I also thought you might be interested in the following articles:
Chattanooga Times Free Press: Senate budget plan adds $37 million to construction of new Chickamauga lock
Knox News Sentinel: Alexander blasts U.S. Dept. of Ed. chief over new school reform law
The Tennessean: Lamar Alexander sponsors bill to boost Medicare payments
Knox News Sentinel: James K. Polk home moves closer to national park status
Chalkbeat TN: Sen. Lamar Alexander on the nation’s new education law and how it could shape Tennessee schools
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