County Mayor, Commissioners Give Wish List At Legislative Breakfast

  • Friday, January 27, 2023
  • Hannah Campbell

Vocational education and the county’s growing Latino population top Hamilton County Mayor Weston Wamp’s lists of challenges in the state legislature this year, the Mayor said.

Hamilton County officials and local state legislators met at Construction Career Center off Wilcox Boulevard to discuss top issues for the 113th General Assembly.

"My hope is that ideologically we are more aligned than ever," County Mayor Wamp told the group.

The technical school opened in October and serves East Ridge High School and Howard High, giving students technical skills, industry certifications and exposure to contractors for jobs right out of high school.

"The quality of our workforce will define just how far we can go," County Mayor Wamp said. Tennessee is one of the top three states attracting businesses right now, he said.

Hamilton County’s Latino population has grown 81 percent in the last 10 years, Mayor Wamp said. He said 20 percent of students in Hamilton County schools are Latino.

State Senator Todd Gardenhire told commissioners and legislators that he is presenting two bills this year to attract and hire Latino teachers in local schools.

"We (would) have now students of color learning from teachers of color," Senator Gardenhire said.

One bill gives in-state tuition to certain non-resident Latino students at two-year community colleges to earn teachers aid certificates and then work in local schools.

The other bill gives the same benefits at four-year institutions. Those teachers would then be committed to teach in Hamilton County for five years, or be required to repay the difference between in- and out-of-state tuition.

The programs would help alleviate the worsening teacher shortage and provide much-needed translating and cultural advocacy for the local Latino student population, Senator Gardenhire said.

The bill would not block enrollment of traditional in-state residents, he said. Participating colleges must use enrollment vacancies to participate in the program.

County Commissioner Joe Graham of District 11 asked that state legislators see fit to widen the railroad bridge over Cummings Highway so that Cummings Highway itself can be widened. The road can't manage traffic when I-24 is backed up and drivers reroute, he said.

"It shuts down Chattanooga," Commissioner Graham said. "I'm asking that you fight it with me."

"First responders can't get through there either. It's a dangerous situation," he said.

Commissioner Graham also asked state legislators to reopen the boat launch at Lookout Creek near Reflection Riding, which was shut down by state authorities in the wake of a homeless camp set up there. His constituents in Lookout Valley want access to the creek, he said.

He also asked that any extra money be given to Howard High School to deal with overcrowding.

State Rep. Greg Martin of District 26 said he's filing a bill to make purchases of baby formula, bottles and diapers tax-free for one year.

"We are a pro-family state," he said.

Along with State Senator Bo Watson, Rep. Martin will promote a bill allowing school security officers to use mechanical restraints when needed for the safety of students with special needs. He said Hamilton County Department of Education attorney Scott Bennett approached him to write the bill to protect students from harming themselves and others.

"There's a gap in the law," Rep. Martin said.

State Rep. Greg Vital of District 29 said he will push a bill to designate and authorize chaplains, mental health professionals and others to transport people with mental health issues and dementia, freeing police from these duties.

Hamilton County Commissioners pitched their concerns to legislators, too.

"We need an exit 13 on I-75 so badly," said Commissioner Steve Highlander. He also asked for an entrance ramp to I-75 from Hunter Road.

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