Monthly Archives: December 2022

New TNJ edition alert: New battle brewing over abortion law, new faces in the legislature

New Faces 23

The Tennessee Journal’s final print edition of the year is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Exceptions to abortion ban back on table when lawmakers return, Sexton could ap-point special committee to evaluate proposals.

— New faces: Photos and bios of all 23 new additions to the General Assembly.

Also: Andy Ogles threatens Mitch McConnell, Vincent Dixie blames Cameron Sexton for his defeat his caucus leadership election, Chattanooga’s conflict of interest loses Olympic trials bid, and Justin Jones has a leg up on his new colleagues in the House.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Year in review: The most viewed TNJ posts of 2022

Here are the 10 most-viewed TNJ: On the Hill blog posts of 2022, counting up to the

10. Whoever signed this Phoenix Solutions document has some explaining to do.

March 8: An IRS W-9 form submitted to the General Assembly in January 2020 carries the signature of Matthew Phoenix, right under a section outlining the certification is made “under penalties of perjury” that the person signing the document is a “U.S. person.”

9. Trump endorses Ortagus in GOP primary for 5th District.

Jan. 25: Former President Donald Trump is endorsing Morgan Ortagus, a former spokeswoman to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for the Republican nomination in the new-look 5th Congressional District being vacated by U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville).

Cade Cothren, speaking on phone, attends a meeting with lawmakers and fellow staffers on the balcony outside the House chamber on April 29, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

8. Casada, Cothren indicted on federal bribery, kickback charges.

Aug. 23: Former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren, have been indicted on federal bribery and kickback charges. The FBI arrested both at their homes. Casada is retiring from the House this year after stepping down from the speakership amid scandal in 2019. He was overwhelmingly defeated in his bid for Williamson County Clerk earlier this year.

7. TNJ exclusive: Lee chooses Campbell for Tenn. Supreme Court.

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Jan. 12: Republican Gov. Bill Lee is naming associate state solicitor general Sarah Campbell to the bench of the Tennessee Supreme Court, The Tennessee Journal has learned. Campbell, 39, is an associate solicitor general and special assistant to state Attorney General Herbert Slatery. 

6. Read Vanderbilt hospital’s letter to lawmakers on transgender clinic.

Oct. 7: Vanderbilt University Medical Center says no minors have received genital procedures at its transgender clinic and that all patients were at least 16 years old and had parental consent. The hospital told Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) it will pause gender affirmation surgery on patients under age 18 while it seeks advice from local and national experts, a process that could take several months.

5 Here’s the backstory on the Andy Ogles attack ad.

July 18: We found Ogles appeared as a co-owner of a Franklin home between 2005 and 2015, though for reasons unknown he was not listed on the rolls in the 2013 tax year. While it’s true that property tax payments were late on nine occasions, that includes years where the Ogles family was as little as one or two days behind the deadline. But in other years it took as many as 194 and 322 days to pay the tax bill.

4 Former Tennessee first lady Honey Alexander dies at 77.

Oct. 30: Honey Alexander, who was married to former governor and U.S. senator Lamar Alexander for 53 years, died Saturday at her home outside Maryville. She was 77.

3. Rep. Ron Gant survives head-on crash.

Oct. 25: State Rep. Ron Gant was flown by helicopter for treatment at a Memphis hospital after the vehicle he was driving was struck in a head-on collision in rural West Tennessee. The other driver died in the crash.

2. Lee declines signature on ‘truth in sentencing’ bill.

May 5: Gov. Bill Lee has declined to sign a “truth in sentencing” bill championed by legislative Republicans to require people convicted of violent crimes to serve all of their sentences behind bars, The Tennessee Journal learned.

1. Hargett charged with DUI after Bonnaroo visit.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett speaks with Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) before Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

June 18: Secretary of State Tre Hargett has been charged with drunken driving after attending the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Coffee County. Hargett was at the event from Friday afternoon through around 11:30 p.m. when he was stopped by Tullahoma police. He was given a blood test and charged with DUI.

TennCare enrollees will be required to reverify their eligibility

TennCare enrollees will have to reverify their eligibility for the expanded Medicaid program starting in April under a new law passed by Congress.

Here’s the release from TennCare:

Nashville, TN – [. . . ] Congress passed legislation which will end the Medicaid continuous enrollment requirement related to the COVID-19 pandemic on April 1, 2023. At that time TennCare will be required to reverify the eligibility status of everyone receiving TennCare or CoverKids benefits. One of TennCare’s top priorities during this process is to make sure all eligible members do not risk a gap in health care coverage.

Per federal requirements, the ending of the continuous enrollment requirement will represent the first time in three years that Medicaid and CHIP members will go through the renewal process, and it will be one of the most substantial health coverage processes around the country. For Tennessee, the legislation means that more than 1.7 million Tennesseans will be impacted by this process. It is imperative that TennCare and CoverKids members update their contact information with TennCare and respond to all TennCare communication.

Over a twelve-month period, TennCare will review every member’s eligibility and, where approved by state or federal rules, use available data sources, such as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) income data and Supplementation Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) information, to automatically renew members. If TennCare cannot auto-renew a person’s coverage using available and approved data sources, the member will receive a pre-populated renewal packet by mail or a notification by email, depending on the selected preference. TennCare and its partner health plans will also use texts, email, and social media when available to enhance outreach efforts. A member will be able to complete the renewal packet through a variety of ways: Online, by phone, by mail, by fax, or at any county Department of Human Services (DHS) office.

For members no longer eligible for TennCare or CoverKids benefits, TennCare will send their information to the federal Health Care Marketplace, as required by CMS, where alternative health insurance options are available. For nearly three years, TennCare has carefully planned for the end of the PHE and the resumption of renewals. The agency worked to improve TennCare Connect, the online portal where members can update their information and renew their coverage, as well as improved the mobile application for easier document submission. TennCare has also worked to increase the number of members who can be approved through the auto-renewal process. TennCare initiated several campaigns to encourage members to update

their contact information and worked closely with health plans, advocates and providers to ensure that members completed this important step. TennCare has created a public toolkit for stakeholders to continue to maximize awareness of the renewal process. The toolkit and other resources can be found here:–educate.html.

TennCare has been and is committed to making the renewal process as easy and user-friendly as possible so that those eligible can continue to receive TennCare benefits, but it is a critical requirement for Tennesseans who receive these benefits to participate in the process by updating their contact information and responding to all TennCare communication. To prepare for the renewal process, TennCare members should verify that their address is up-to-date by logging in to or by calling 855-259-0701. Information for members can be found at:

Lee announces next steps after study finds problems with lethal injection protocols

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is outlining his next steps after an independent study found his administration had failed to follow its lethal injection protocols.

Here’s a release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Following a months-long third-party review of lethal injection operations at the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), Tennessee Governor Bill Lee today announced several decisive actions to ensure the department adheres to established protocol. Additionally, the Governor proactively released the independent investigator’s third-party report to the public.

“I have thoroughly reviewed the findings in the independent investigator’s report and am directing several actions to ensure the Tennessee Department of Correction adheres to proper protocol,” said Gov. Lee. “We are proactively sharing both the third-party report and my administration’s next steps to ensure continued transparency for the people of Tennessee.”

On May 2, 2022, Tennessee retained former U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton to conduct an independent review and recommend corrective actions, following an oversight in adhering to the TDOC lethal injection protocol. After completing the independent investigation, Stanton delivered the third-party report to the Governor’s office on December 14, 2022. All legally-required redactions were applied by the independent investigator prior to the report’s delivery. The third-party report is publicly-available here.

After an internal assessment of the third-party report, Gov. Lee has directed several proactive steps to ensure TDOC adheres to established protocol, which will occur in the following sequence:

1. Make staffing changes at the department’s leadership level.

2. Hire and onboard a permanent TDOC commissioner in January 2023.

3. New department leadership will revise the state’s lethal injection protocol, in consultation with the Governor’s office and the Tennessee Attorney General’s office.

4. New department leadership will review all training associated with the revised protocol and make appropriate operational updates.

As previously planned, Interim Commissioner Lisa Helton will remain in the role until a permanent commissioner is announced in January 2023. At that time, Helton will continue serving the department as Assistant Commissioner for Community Supervision.

Gov. Lee added, “I commend Interim Commissioner Helton for her steady leadership, which has been particularly important during this time of change and transition at the department, and we are deeply grateful for her continued public service to our state.”

Upon launching the independent investigation in May, Lee issued temporary reprieves for five executions scheduled to take place in 2022. The Tennessee Supreme Court will be responsible for setting new execution dates after the Governor’s reprieves expire. Currently, Tennessee has no scheduled executions in 2023.

Year in review: Tennessee obituaries of 2022

Here are some of the notable people who passed away in 2022, as covered in the print edition of The Tennessee Journal:

Honey Alexander, 77, who was married to former governor and U.S. senator Lamar Alexander for 53 years.

Brown Ayres, 90, Knoxville investment banker who as a state senator sponsored legislation to do away with the state’s “bone dry” law that made it legal to possess up to a gallon of alcohol in all 95 counties.

Gene Barksdale, 99, the sheriff of Shelby County from 1976 to 1986.

Joe Biddle, 78, a longtime sports columnist for the Nashville Banner and The Tennessean.

Joseph Patrick Breen, 87, a prominent Nashville priest whose progressive positions were often at odds with church leaders.

Joe Casey, 96, Nashville’s law-and-order police chief from 1974 to 1989.

Larry Cole, 83, a former lawmaker who served two separate stints as House clerk.

Joe Cooper, 76, “The Marryin’ Squire” of Shelby County who later cooperated with the FBI in a bribery sting operation against Memphis City Council members.

Barbara Cooper, 93, a retired teacher, former chair of the African American Peoples Organization in Memphis, and a state House member since 1996. She was the recipient of then-Sen. Jim Summerville’s 2012 missive that he didn’t “give a rat’s ass what the black caucus thinks.”

Larry Crim, 66, a perennial candidate for federal office.

Mark Flanagan, 79, a perennial Democratic primary challenger of then-U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Sr. and a friend and adviser to Memphis’ current congressman, Steve Cohen.

Darrell Freeman, 57, a businessman and mentor to aspiring African-American entrepreneurs who clashed with fellow trustees at Middle Tennessee State University over what he called efforts to silence him on matters of race.

Harry Green, 89, the executive director of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations from 1981 until 2012.

Robert Hicks, 71, a battlefield preservationist in Franklin and author of the bestselling 2005 novel Widow of the South.

George Jaynes, 80, a 24-year mayor of Washington County who fought efforts to remove a Ten Commandments plaque from the courthouse in Jonesborough in the 1990s.

Dale Kelley, 82, a 30-year mayor of Huntingdon, former TDOT commissioner, and a onetime SEC basketball referee.

Paul Kwami, 70, the musical director of the Fisk Jubilee Singers for 28 years, including for its Grammy-winning album Celebrate Fisk!

Jim Lewis, 78, a former state senator who drew attention – but no charges – for having a loan co-signed by the head of a bingo manufacturing firm during the FBI’s Rocky Top public corruption probe.

Loretta Lynn, 90, country music legend.

Gilbert “Gil” S. Merritt Jr., 86, a federal appeals judge who made the short list of candidates for a U.S. Supreme Court opening in 1993.

Bryant Millsaps, 75, a former House clerk who was appointed as Secretary of State following the suicide of Gentry Crowell amid the Rocky Top investigation in 1989.

Millard Oakley, 91, a former state insurance commissioner and attorney for former Gov. Ray Blanton.

Ken Roberts, 89, a banking executive who challenged Howard Baker for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate in 1964.

John Ryder, 72, a Memphis attorney, redistricting expert, and general counsel to the national Republican Party.

Wilson “Woody” Sims, 97, a Nashville attorney who during his single term in the state House spearheaded efforts to defeat a 1959 bill seeking to exempt children from mandatory attendance at desegregated schools.

Tim Skow, 64, the host of Nashville’s First Tuesday Club featuring Republican speakers.

Jim Stewart, 92, the cofounder of Stax Records who helped create the soulful “Memphis sound.”

Charles D. Susano Jr., 86, a former state appeals judge from Knoxville who authored more than 1,000 opinions before retiring in 2020.

Earl Swensson, 91, the architect of the Gaylord Opryland Resort and the downtown Nashville office tower known as the Batman Building.

Larry Wallace, 77, former commander of the Tennessee Highway Patrol who was named director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation after lawmakers complained his predecessor spent too much time assisting the FBI on the Rocky Top public corruption probe.

John Everett Williams, 68, the presiding judge on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals and a proud member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.

Vernon Winfrey, 89, a Nashville barber, 20-year Metro Council member, and father of Oprah Winfrey.

Les Winningham, 81, a former state House member from Huntsville who was one of committee heads to buck leadership in a 2002 floor vote on a state income tax.

Joe Worley, 74, a former executive editor of the now-defunct Nashville Banner, who went on to head the Tulsa World from 1995 to 2014.

Tennessee Medical Association reiterates support for Sen. Briggs following Right to Life’s disavowal

Sens. Ken Yager (R-Kingston), left, and Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), attend a hearing in Nashville on Jan. 30, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Medical Association is doubling down on its support of state Sen. Richard Briggs after the state chapter of Right to Life announced it was revoking its endorsement of the Knoxville Republican over his concerns about a new sweeping abortion ban.

Briggs, a physician, in a recent interview with ProPublica took issue with a provision of the law requiring a doctor to mount an “affirmative defense” about why the termination of a pregnancy was necessary to save the life of the mother.

“The defendant is guilty until he can prove that he’s not guilty,” Briggs told the publication. “In my opinion, that is a very bad position to put the doctors in — why should this doctor have to pay his own legal bills for saving a woman’s life?”

TMA Chair Lee Berkenstock of Memphis and the group’s president, Edward Capparelli of Oneida, issued a statement saying Briggs’s position reflects a recognition of the ”unintended consequences” of the law.

“The affirmative defense in place for physicians caring for affected patients is merely a legal maneuver that undermines the legislative intent of the law. It places doctors in the unconscionable position of having to choose between saving a patient’s life or committing a felony,” according to the TMA statement. ”Regrettably, this stance has subjected Sen. Briggs to political retribution and attempts to disparage his character.

Here’s the full release from the TMA:

“The Tennessee Medical Association (TMA) reiterates its support for Tennessee state Sen. Richard Briggs, MD, a longstanding leader and member within our organization, for his recent comments on behalf of physicians, women, and families in the state.

Like many elected officials, Sen. Briggs has aligned his position with that of his constituents, Tennesseans who recognize the unintended consequences of the state’s recently enacted abortion ‘trigger’ law and want it amended.

As written, the law contains no legal exceptions—not even for the life and health of the mother. Sen. Briggs has reasonably indicated he would like to see the law offer clear exceptions when the mother’s life or health are at risk, for non-survivable fetal anomalies, and rape and incest.

The affirmative defense in place for physicians caring for affected patients is merely a legal maneuver that undermines the legislative intent of the law. It places doctors in the unconscionable position of having to choose between saving a patient’s life or committing a felony.

Regrettably, this stance has subjected Sen. Briggs to political retribution and attempts to disparage his character.

Sen. Briggs’ background is one of service. Previously a Knox County commissioner, he has represented Tennesseans in the legislature since 2014 and the Knoxville community as a respected heart and lung surgeon for over 40 years.

He has also heroically served our country. A retired Army colonel with a more than 30-year military career, he served the United States as a combat trauma surgeon during Operation Desert Storm and was awarded the Bronze Star. In recent years, he completed combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq as a senior war trauma surgeon caring for wounded American troops.

Given Sen. Briggs’ experiences, his real-world perspective and leadership role in this conversation is unique. His counsel around this complex issue should be valued and sought after rather than dismissed. TMA invites other members of the Tennessee General Assembly to disregard similar efforts from outside groups and protect families by joining Sen. Briggs and a majority of Tennesseans in making needed changes to this law.”

Lee Berkenstock, MD, Memphis

Chair, Board of Trustees, Tennessee Medical Association

Edward Capparelli, MD, Oneida

President, Tennessee Medical Association

New TNJ edition alert: SCOTENN applicants, lobbying spending, Vandy poll

The Tennessee Supreme Court building is seen in Nashville on Dec.8, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— 3 judges, defense attorney, and trial lawyer seek to fill high court vacancy.

— Lobbying spending jumps as much as 12% over pre-pandemic levels.

— Vanderbilt poll gauges attitudes toward abortion, transgender laws

— Truth in gifting: A look at what the political set can expect to get on Christmas.

Also: An overhaul in the House speaker’s office, lawmakers confer in Hawaii, law enforcement training center gets green light (without Tullahoma element), and a new restaurant in Memphis will be called The Lobbyist.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Johnson named new chief of staff for House speaker

Senate Speaker Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton confer in the House chamber on Feb. 3, 2020. Walking past the podium at center is Kevin Johnson, Sexton’s new chief of staff. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton has named Kevin Johnson as his new chief of staff. Johnson, who previously worked as general counsel and senior adviser, succeeds Sammie Arnold.

Sexton (R-Crossville) also named Rosie Anderson, his executive assistant and scheduler, as director of operations.

Here’s the release from the speaker’s office:

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) today named Kevin Johnson as chief of staff and promoted Rosie Anderson to director of operations. 

“I am excited to announce Kevin Johnson as my new chief of staff and Rosie Anderson as my new director of operations,“ said Speaker Sexton. “Both are dedicated and hardworking professionals who have played a prominent role in serving our members and contributing to the House’s sustained success during the 112th General Assembly.”

A Christian Brothers University graduate, Johnson has served as general counsel and senior advisor to the speaker since 2019. He has previously served as counsel, campaign manager, and field representative for Congressman David Kustoff. Johnson earned his J.D. from Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in Memphis; as chief of staff, he will be responsible for managing daily operations within the House, overseeing strategic projects, and he will continue serving as chief legal counsel to Speaker Sexton.

Rosie Anderson has been promoted to the role of director of operations within the speaker’s office. The University of Tennessee Knoxville graduate holds bachelor’s degrees in both psychology and political science with a concentration in law and courts. A product of the General Assembly’s internship program, the third-year student at Nashville School of Law previously served as the speaker’s executive assistant and scheduler. She will oversee the operations within the speaker’s office —including scheduling, and special projects — and have a role in Speaker Sexton’s legislative initiatives. 

Sexton today also announced the hiring of two new staff members.

Mississippi native and former Bill Lee Campaign team member Chad Bobo joins Speaker Sexton’s Office. The University of Mississippi graduate, husband, and father of two has served as a volunteer with several community organizations — including Community Service Development of Nashville, which works with at-risk children. An experienced community engagement leader who holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration, Bobo will be responsible for constituent and member relations services.    

James Harris joins Speaker Sexton’s Office as executive assistant to the speaker. A native of Nashville and a graduate of Glencliff High School, Harris has previously participated in the legislature’s internship program. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science with a concentration in pre-law from Middle Tennessee State University. In his role as Executive Assistant, Harris will serve as a primary point of contact for all external communications received and manage the speaker’s daily workflow. 

“Chad and James are incredibly talented individuals, and I am grateful they have decided to join my staff. They are strong additions to the Tennessee House of Representatives, and their unique experiences will help them be successful in service to our members, citizens, and our state,” Sexton concluded.

The 113th General Assembly officially convenes on Jan. 10, 2023.

Right to Life revokes endorsement of recently re-elected Sen. Briggs

Senators reach to their voting buttons during a floor session on March 16, 2020. Seated from left are Republican Sens. Mark Pody of Lebanon, Paul Rose of Covington, Richard Briggs of Knoxville, Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, and Paul Bailey of Sparta. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Right to Life’s PAC says it is revoking its endorsement of state Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) over his recent comments questioning a sweeping abortion ban enacted in the state. Briggs was elected to a third four-year term last month.

The anti-abortion group’s move came as a poll by Vanderbilt University showed broad support for including exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.

Briggs, a physician, in a recent interview with ProPublica took issue with a provision of the state law requiring a doctor to mount an “affirmative” defense about why the termination of a pregnancy was necessary to save the life of the mother.

“Here, the defendant is guilty until he can prove that he’s not guilty,” Briggs told the publication. “In my opinion, that is a very bad position to put the doctors in — why should this doctor have to pay his own legal bills for saving a woman’s life?”

Here’s the release from Tennessee Right to Life.

Knoxville, TN – Yesterday, the Tennessee Right to Life Political Action Committee (PAC) notified State Senator Richard Briggs, of Knox County, that it was revoking his endorsement due to his public reversal of political stances which he pledged earlier this year during his respective contested primary and general election campaigns. The organization made the rare move because of public comments the Senator has made about the Human Life Protection Act, which was passed in 2019 and went into effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.   

“Senator Briggs pledged to us in writing that he would protect unborn children by protecting the Human Life Protection Act from hostile amendments. Despite making similar pledges to our legislative liaison after the Dobbs decision was issued, Senator Briggs now claims that he does not support the HLPA because he never believed it would be enacted because he never believed Roe v. Wade would be overturned,” said former State Representative and Tennessee Right to Life PAC President Roger Kane.

The voters of the 7th Senate District deserve to know the truth. Senator Briggs ensured support of the law on June 14, which was a time when the Dobbs decision had been leaked and, therefore, the overturning of Roe seemed like a probability rather than a distant dream.

The Tennessee Right to Life PAC endorses candidates who pledge to support legislation that will protect our most vulnerable citizens and to defend existing protections from future legislative attacks.  The PAC did its due diligence in the endorsement process and received assurance from Senator Briggs of his continued support of the HLPA, which he voted for and even co-sponsored in 2019. 

“The candidate endorsement process only works if those answering the questions are honest and forthright. Obviously, Senator Briggs was not honest in his answers and can no longer be trusted by the voters,” said Kane.   

“I applaud the PAC’s decision to revoke Senator Briggs’ endorsement,” said Will Brewer, Director of Government Relations for Tennessee Right to Life. “While I respect disagreements from trusted colleagues, Senator Briggs’ mass publicity tour is more than a mere disagreement. Once his election was over and he had secured the political benefit of the PAC’s endorsement, he reversed course on his views. He has engaged in a media tour to justify his actions and has even posed for photo shoots to make himself the headline for hostile articles set out to tear down the Human Life Protection Act. His constituents deserve better than a legislator who only votes for legislation because he never believes it will come to fruition and then reverses his philosophy only when it is least consequential,” said Brewer.

“The Human Life Protection Act is doing exactly what members of the General Assembly intended – saving an estimated 900 lives every month in our state. We are grateful to all the members who voted for the legislation and now stand behind that vote. That is what integrity looks like. We hope Senator Briggs will work to regain our trust and use his medical expertise to recognize the unborn child as a patient deserving of care,” said Kane. 

Study: Driver’s ed available in just two out of five Tennessee school districts

A new study by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office finds just 60 of the state’s 141 school districts offer driver’s ed courses to students.

Here’s the release:

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) has completed a review of driver education in Tennessee, including issues of availability and affordability, particularly for students in Title I high schools. The study was conducted at the request of the General Assembly.

While past studies vary in their conclusions about the effectiveness of driver education on the safety of teen drivers, more recent studies, including studies conducted in Nebraska and Oregon, have linked driver education to fewer traffic crashes. Teen drivers are involved in an average of 21 percent of Tennessee traffic crashes each year.

Driver education is offered in 60 Tennessee school districts, but its popularity has declined. According to an OREA survey of district superintendents, the overall number of districts offering driver education courses has decreased slightly over the past few school years. On a survey of Title I high school principals, 41 percent of principals indicated that driver education is offered at their schools. Those whose districts or schools do not offer driver education cited funding concerns, a lack of qualified teachers, decline in student interest, and the prioritizing of academics and graduation requirements as reasons they do not offer driver education. Most districts and Title I high schools that do offer driver education do not charge students for the course, mostly relying on state and local funding sources to cover the costs.

Tennessee state law allocates a percentage of revenue from litigation privilege taxes (imposed on all criminal and civil cases in the state) to the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security for the purpose of promoting and expanding driver education and highway safety. TDOE distributes a portion of this revenue annually to districts that offer driver education based on their total number of students enrolled in the course. In fiscal year 2022, 60 districts received a portion of litigation privilege tax revenue to help fund driver education, a total of over $1.2 million. Other possible funding sources for public school driver education are explored in the report.

Additionally, OREA looked at private driver education companies, which are popular alternatives to public school programs. As of May 2022, there were 17 approved driver training and testing programs operating in 10 Tennessee counties. The average minimum fee for these programs (typically including 30 hours of classroom instructional time and six hours of behind-the-wheel training) is $462.67.

The Comptroller’s Office has included several policy options for the General Assembly and TDOE in its report. These include improving data collection to allow for more thorough studies of the effectiveness of driver education and increasing the percentage of litigation privilege taxes that is earmarked for driver education.

To read the report, please visit the Comptroller’s website at:


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