Currently in her second session with the Tennessee House of Representatives, Debra Moody (R-Covington)has helped make several bills law.
She recently discussed how she's feeling about the second session as well as explained some of the bills she's sponsoring.
Q: What has prompted HB 1483, a bill you’re sponsoring that will authorize a handgun carry permit holder to transport and store a firearm in a personal vehicle? What is the current law? Why is this important? How does this differ from the Guns in Trunks bill?
A: Currently, because of legislation passed last year, permit holders are allowed to keep firearms locked in their trunk except in locations that a county or municipality has banned firearms. This bill removes that exemption and allows carry permit holders the freedom to keep guns locked in their trunk regardless of any existing local ordinances. I feel that it is important to protect permit holders who don’t intend to arm themselves in an area where guns are banned that may be inadvertently breaking the law currently by safely storing their firearm in a locked trunk.
Q: You’re sponsoring two bills related to special needs students and private educations. HB 2044 creates a scholarship grant program that presumably will allow special education students to attend private or home schools; HB 2047 creates IEPs for homeschooling students, it seems, and gives home educators funds to purchase curriculum and materials. Can you explain these further? Why are these important to the public welfare? How much will this cost taxpayers annually (no fiscal summary is listed on the bill)? Why are these bills important to you as someone who homeschooled?
A: HB 2044 and HB 2047 are both aimed at offering families who find themselves in particularly difficult situations the best option for educating their child. Special needs students often require an unorthodox approach to reach their goals that may not be attainable in all public schools across our state. I want to make sure that if a special needs child cannot get the help they need in a public school, that we as a state are providing pathways for them elsewhere.
Q: Along the same vein, you’re co-sponsoring the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, which permits students to, essentially, talk about their religious beliefs in their school work, at graduation and other events, etc. Does this apply to all religions, or just Christianity? Why is this important? How does this affect the separation of church and state (schools)?
A: This bill would apply to all religions. Some school systems err on the side of safety and prohibit students from discussing their faith during student functions or in school assignments. There is nothing in the code that currently prohibits students from doing so. I aim to make it clear that as long as a student is not causing a disturbance, they are free to discuss their faith without fear of punishment.
Q: Along with Mark Norris in the senate, you’re co-sponsoring the Educator Respect and Accountability Act and a bill requiring the Dept. of Education to reimburse LEAs for the costs of implementing and the ongoing use of Common Core. Can you explain what the ERAA will mean to local teachers if passed? How much has it cost the state to implement and use CCSS? Does the reimbursement cover only the national standards or the added state standards, which are greater in number? How much has it cost to change from TCAP to PARCC?
A: The ERAA prohibits Teacher Licensure being based, in any way, upon how their students perform on end of year standardized tests. I think that a teacher’s license, which is essentially their livelihood, should not be determined by a multiple choice test taken by students. We owe it to our teachers to provide a more thorough examination of their license renewal than what the state board has proposed.
While part of implementing common core standards does mean a different series of standardized tests in certain subjects, this bill doesn’t address the common core. Also, the costs of common core, TCAP and PARCC vary greatly from district to district depending on current resources. It would be very hard for me to guess at a number, but I do know that there have been concerns about the costs and I know that our caucus is focusing this year on making the transition as affordable as possible for locals.
Q: Last year you sponsored a bill that makes information related to the allegations of unlawful conduct, fraud, waste or abuse by government officials confidential. These records used to be public and the media often uses these documents as government oversight, it’s primary responsibility in serving the public. In what ways is this bill not violating Sunshine Laws? What is still public? How are government officials being held accountable?
A: The bill that I carried was a bill updated to bring the current law to enable the public to report fraud, waste and abuse of the tax payers money directly to the comptroller’s office AKA hot line. This would include current telephonic means. This bill updated our current communications. Importantly, this is only for reporting and updating confidentially.
Q: You’re also working with victims’ rights and the statute of limitations where they both apply to sexual offenses. Why is it important to permit rape victims eligibility for criminal injuries compensation if they fail to report the crime? How would that work? What is the importance of lengthening the statute of limitations?
A: Rape is an incredibly complex and terrifying life event for the victim. Often times they are too afraid or embarrassed to come forward and report these events to law enforcement initially. I want to make sure that victims have as much flexibility as possible so that those committing such reprehensible acts aren’t able to escape prosecution and punishment because of what I see as legal loopholes.
Q: How did you feel going into your second year in the house? What bills have you been especially proud of? Which ones do you regret didn’t pass? What’s your focus in 2014?
A: I am most proud of the work I have put into the sex trafficking legislation. Having the pleasure of working with T.B.I. and other human interest groups has helped enable me to concentrate on working with victims and law enforcement legislation. I can truly say I am doing what I love.
Moody was elected to represent Tipton County's District 81 in 2012. She is up for re-election in November. For more information on her work in Nashville, see capitol.tn.gov /house/members/h81.html.