Third in a series of interviews with area lawmakers about this year's legislative session.
A big part of state Sen. Rusty Crowe's legislative agenda in the Tennessee legislature this year again focused on helping military people and their families.
The Johnson City Republican, an Army veteran who served in Southeast Asia in the late 1960s, sponsored and passed two higher education bills for military personnel and their dependents. He chairs the Tennessee Joint Select Committee on Veterans Affairs.
The first bill adds a new combat activity under which dependent children, and spouses of prisoners of war or deceased veterans may qualify for a higher education tuition and fee waiver. Those involved in submarine combat are covered under the bill.
Crowe's second bill provides a tuition and fee freeze for students who are in the military reserves or National Guard and are mobilized to active duty.
"If you're in the National Guard and you signed up for school, and all of a sudden you get called up, whatever the tuition was when you signed up you will get that same tuition. Because tuition will go up this year," Crowe said of the bill.
He also voted for legislation creating property tax relief for Tennessee veterans who have been permanently and totally disabled by service-connected injuries.
Under the bill, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs will determine which veterans qualify for property tax relief. The General Assembly's Fiscal Review Committee estimates that at least 2,150 Tennessee veterans will qualify for an annual tax break of $845 on average.
While addressing veterans' issues, Crowe also got his first major committee chairmanship this year and led the Senate General Welfare, Health and Human Resources Committee. He also served on the Senate Education Committee that studied Gov. Phil Bredesen's education funding reform plan.
While he supported Bredesen's education initiative, Crowe sided with Senate Republicans who voted against its funding mechanism - a 42-cent per pack cigarette tax increase. The measure passed 17-16 in the Senate and by a larger margin in the Democrat-controlled House.
"The entire Republican Senate was concerned about the tobacco tax ... even though we did not vote for that tax, I don't feel we wasted it at all," Crowe said. "My thought was if you don't have to tax, you don't tax. In the Senate we had a budget worked out with zero tax that would have totally funded this education plan the governor had. I would have been even more comfortable voting on the 42 cents had we used it to offset and take the tax off food, but the administration didn't want to go that route."
Still, Crowe complimented Senate passage of a $27.9 billion budget that included a record $253 million going into the state's Rainy Day Fund and bringing the fund to a total record reserve of $750 million.
"I've been down there 20 years, ... I've never seen us spend so much, save so much and bring in as much money as we have this year," Crowe said.
For more about Crowe go to www.legislature.state.tn.us. Click on "Senate" and then "Members" to see a list of bills sponsored and co-sponsored by Crowe.