Earlier this year, I sent out a questionnaire to registered voters in my district to collect responses to issues before the Tennessee General Assembly. These responses are an important tool used to help determine how citizens in the district feel about various issues. Between the online and mail-in surveys sent out, over 1,800 people responded. Additionally, many caring citizens also responded by including letters and comments.
These responses will help influence my vote in the Tennessee Senate. Here are the highlights of the wide range of subjects covered:
There was great clarity among citizens on the topic of abortion. Seventy percent of respondents agreed with legislation to restrict an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Likewise, Republican lawmakers took a strong pro-life stance in this session and passed a comprehensive pro-life bill that includes such a prohibition on abortion. I was happy to support this legislation enhancing Tennessee’s pro-life laws and I am grateful to represent a district that values protecting the lives of the most vulnerable among us: the unborn.
On firearms, only 29 percent of respondents agreed that any citizen who can legally purchase a firearm should be able to carry a gun without obtaining a permit. This policy is often referred to as “Constitutional Carry.” As an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment, I also support reasonable gun safety. I am in agreement with the 65 percent of citizens in my district who see the value in the current carry permit system and would like to maintain it as a prerequisite to publicly carrying a handgun.
Another firearm issue with overwhelming support from citizens is the “red flag law.” The survey shows 81 percent of citizens support a red flag bill which would allow law enforcement and family members to seek a court order to temporarily remove a gun from potentially dangerous owners with severe mental illness diagnoses, as long as due process court protections are in place. Again, I also agree with the sentiment of my constituents. A red flag law is a common-sense protection that will help us keep guns out of the hands of unstable individuals.
On school safety, 62 percent of citizens agree that teachers should be allowed to carry a firearm if they volunteer and go through professional training. In recent years, this has been proposed as a solution to the growing concern about school safety following school shootings in Connecticut, Florida, and other states. I agree with the majority of citizens that arming teachers
with enhanced training is an additional measure that can be used to ensure more adults are equipped to stop a school shooter.
Third-grade literacy was another education issue posed in the survey. The results show that 59 percent of citizens support increasing funding and resources to ensure third-grade students are proficient readers before entering fourth grade. Studies show that if students are not proficient readers when they enter 4th grade, much of the classroom curriculum will be incomprehensible.
While 41 percent of citizens were opposed to increasing resources and funding to third-grade literacy, many noted they supported improving third-grade literacy, however, did not think increasing funding to those programs was the best way to achieve success. Many comments suggested trying new methods of teaching for the students. There must be a balance between ensuring teachers and students have the resources they need while also improving the methods used to effectively teach the students.
Surprisingly, in a group of questions asking citizens to rate education institutions, was the finding that 49 percent of citizens were undecided on Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs). These higher education institutions are extremely important to our education system. They provide workforce development skills and certifications for careers in the automotive industry, dental assistants, welding, and more. TCAT has opened the door to a variety of great job opportunities.
Additionally, the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect scholarships will cover the costs of the first two years of coursework at these institutions to Tennessee high school graduates and adults without an undergraduate degree or certificate. I hope many more Tennesseans take advantage of the incredible opportunities TCATs have to offer.
Criminal justice reform has been a hot topic over the last couple of years. The survey shows 79 percent of citizens are in favor of comprehensive criminal justice reform. The goal is to reduce recidivism rates and increase public safety by transitioning incarcerated individuals back into society. The conversation about criminal justice reform is expected to continue in the coming years.
Not only is public safety an important factor when addressing criminal justice reform, but progress must be made in an efficient manner that places as small a burden on taxpayers as possible.
I appreciate everyone who participated in this survey and will use these results to guide me as I vote on these issues in the Tennessee Senate.
Ferrell Haile is a state senator from Gallatin.