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State Update: State Transportation Chair visits Vanderbilt; Bass Military Scholars featured at House Education Committee

This update from the Office of State Government Relations is part of ON THE HILL - Issue 10ON THE HILL is a biannual report summarizing activity at all three levels of government, as outlined by representatives from our Offices of Federal Relations, State Government Relations, and Local Government Relations.  


Senate Transportation Committee chair visits Vanderbilt



Tennessee State Senate Transportation Committee Chair Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) gets an inside look into the I-24 MOTION testbed and CIRCLES Consortium at Vanderbilt. (Vanderbilt University)

Early this month, the Office of State Government Relations hosted Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) at Vanderbilt to discuss VU’s partnership with the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the university’s involvement with the CIRCLES Consortium, which is aimed at reducing instabilities in traffic flow which cause congestion and wasted energy. This visit also dove into VU’s partnerships with Nissan North America along with other university and industry collaborators addressing traffic mitigation and smart mobility. Sen. Massey got a presentation of the I-24 Mobility Technology Interstate Observation Network (MOTION) testbed—a four-mile section of I-24 in the Nashville-Davidson County metropolitan area with 294 ultra-high-definition cameras to gain traffic insights using artificial intelligence algorithms.

Given the support and partnership with all three levels of government for the work of the CIRCLES Consortium, Vanderbilt’s Government and Community Relations invited elected officials and key staff from Metro government, the Tennessee General Assembly and the Tennessee congressional delegation to an event late last fall to get a first look into a five-day open-track experiment conducted by the CIRCLES team. Of those invitees, district staff from the offices of Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN05) and Rep. John Rose (R-TN06) attended the VIP event. From the Tennessee General Assembly, State Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) and State Rep. Sam Whitson (R-Franklin) attended (Rep. Whitson chairs the House Transportation Subcommittee). From Metro government, Mayor John Cooper’s director of development/special projects for transportation and his chief sustainability and resilience officer both attended, as well as Councilwoman Joy Styles. These attendees heard from the leads and key partners on the project and received a first look into what went on during the experiment and the impact it will have in the future on mitigating traffic.  


Bass Military Scholars featured at House Education Administration Committee


Director of the Bass Military Scholars Program Gen. Scott Brower presented to the House Education Administration Committee and afterward spoke to two veterans on the committee. (State of Tennessee/Vanderbilt University)

Earlier this month, SGR facilitated a presentation by the director of the Bass Military Scholars Program at Vanderbilt to the House Education Administration Committee at the Tennessee General Assembly. Members of the committee, a handful of which are veterans, were very impressed by the program. A video of the presentation can be found here (starts at 1:16:00).


General Assembly begins

On Tuesday, Jan. 10, the 113th General Assembly convened in Nashville to begin their work for the year. Both Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) were re-elected easily to their leadership positions in their respective chambers.


Legislative committees announced

The big item from the first week of the General Assembly is always the announcements of the full House and Senate standing committees for the next two years. While these decisions are made by the lieutenant governor and speaker of the House, the SGR team spent significant time in the summer and fall visiting with members and leadership staff to stress the importance of good members on the committees that we interact with the most. The committee announcements were incredibly positive for Vanderbilt. The House Higher Education Subcommittee, which is typically the location where the SGR team can halt any harmful education legislation, was strengthened with the addition of several members with very strong ties to the university and our lobbying team. 


TICUA Executive Leadership Institute Panel

SGR participated in a panel discussion representing Vanderbilt during Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association’s Executive Leadership Conference last fall at Sewanee: The University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. The conversation focused on advocacy strategies and political considerations when interacting with policymakers. The audience comprised 22 fellows from TICUA member institutions (including André Christie-Mizell, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School at Vanderbilt). This event is a great example of the continued partnership between GCR and TICUA.


General Election – State Results

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Gov. Bill Lee (R) was re-elected to a second four-year term by more than 30 percentage points. The Associated Press officially called the race just two minutes after the polls closed at 7 p.m. Central time. Once Gov. Lee avoided a primary opponent during this cycle, his re-election was never really in doubt. A Democrat hasn’t been elected statewide in Tennessee since Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) won his second term in 2006. Every seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives was up for grabs this past election cycle, as well as half the state Senate. The GOP had a net gain of two seats (going to a 75-24 majority), largely due to new districts via redistricting. There were no contested races in the state Senate in November, and the GOP majority in that chamber remains at 27-6.


SGR attends SEC Government Relations Conference

Last fall, OFR and SGR were part of the annual Southeastern Conference Government Relations Conference where state and federal government affairs teams at the participating institutions come together to share information, network, and learn about conference updates. This past year’s conference was hosted by the University of Kentucky. The agenda was heavily focused on the topic of name, image and likeness and featured multiple roundtable discussions with the SEC’s team of federal consultants who described the current situation for NIL legislation in Washington, D.C. SGR also had the opportunity to speak with several colleagues to get updates from states such as Alabama and South Carolina where NIL laws have been repealed or delayed. There was also a portion of the conference that allowed each state delegation to provide updates on the types of legislation and higher education policy initiatives that their state has dealt with in the past year. Then-U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey also provided remarks during the conference.


State Government Relations Team





Daniel Culbreath
Assistant Vice Chancellor for
State Government Relations


Collier Roberts
Project Manager, Executive Projects