Several State Troopers, as well as officers from the Franklin Police Department and the Columbia State Community College Department of Public Safety showed up to the Williamson Inc. legislative update on Friday morning. / Photo Matt Blois
By MATT BLOIS
The first Williamson Inc. legislative update on Friday morning event ran much like the chamber’s previous town hall events.
The chamber recently changed the name of the event after a woman confronted legislators in February about the appointment of Representative David Byrd to an education subcommittee.
Several women told WMSV that Byrd sexually abused them in the 1980s when he was their basketball coach. This week, Speaker of the House Glen Casada asked Byrd to step down as chairman of an education subcommittee.
That was the first topic legislators discussed on Friday. Casada said he asked Byrd to resign because he was a distraction.
“Many members have to me and said, Glen, this is a distraction … Both Republicans and Democrats came to me. Based on that I asked for his resignation,” Casada said. “What must transpire is that peoples’ business must be done, and it must be done in an orderly fashion. Anything that is a hinderance or a distraction must be moved out of the way.”
Several State Troopers, as well as officers from the Franklin Police Department and the Columbia State Community College Department of Public Safety were at the legislative update, presumably to move any distractions out of the way.
Despite several confrontations at the state capitol last month that ended with state troopers arresting protesters or removing them from hearings, the officers didn’t need to take any action on Friday morning. Business proceeded in an orderly fashion.
After the event, Williamson Inc. Director of Government Affairs Kel McDowell reiterated that the event still has the same basic format as the town hall. He said the chamber wanted to change the name to better reflect its purpose.
The event was moderated as usual by Dave Crouch, who asked the legislators about criminal justice reform, budget projections and other proposals. Crouch didn’t open the floor to audience questions, but he did select two members of the audience to chime in.
Williamson County Juvenile Judge Sharon Guffee shared her opinion on proposals for criminal justice reform. Crouch also gave the microphone to Franklin Tomorrow Executive Director Mindy Tate, who challenged legislators on a bill from last year related to affordable housing.
Crouch didn’t give the microphone to former Democratic congressional candidate Justin Kanew, who recorded much of the event on a phone.
After the event, legislators stayed behind to talk with members of the audience and answer questions.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson spent several minutes near the beginning of the event to explain why he supports a proposal to create an education savings account program for areas with underperforming schools.
“If getting those kids out of failing schools and into a private school will help them have an opportunity to go to college instead of going to prison, we should do it,” he said.
An education savings account bill passed through a house education committee this week.
Representative Sam Whitson said he disagreed with Johnson’s position, and worried that the proposal would lead to unintended consequences.
Whitson said the legislature is still considering a bill that would grant tax credits for historic restoration projects, but the proposal comes with a big price tag. He said the legislature will have to find a way to pay for it.
Williamson Inc. recently called a long term solution for funding public education its number-one priority. The chamber endorsed a bill that would use some of the state’s sales tax revenue to fund districts that are growing quickly, such as Williamson County.
Johnson said he hoped that proposal would pass, but we wasn’t optimistic that it would be successful during this legislative session.
“Like the historic tax credit, I don’t think there’s any objection to doing it but it’s got a sizable fiscal impact,” Johnson said. “It’s not just Williamson County. There’s a number of districts across the state that would qualify for the additional funding.”
A bill that would allow Williamson County residents to vote at any polling location regardless of their precinct seems to have a better chance of success.
Rutherford County successfully implemented these convenient vote centers last year. Johnson said legislators have considered making that system permanent in Rutherford County and expanding the program to several other counties, including Williamson County.