Proposed bill could allow free college education for law enforcement officers, firefighters, their families


The Senate Education Committee recently approved two bills sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and that would make education more accessible for law enforcement officers, firefighters and their families.

According to a news release, Senate Bill 1719 would allow full-time officers and firefighters to enroll in one course per term at any state-run secondary education institution at no charge. They would not pay tuition, maintenance fees, or student activity or registration fees.

“Our law enforcement officers and firefighters put their lives on the line every day,” Gardenhire said in a prepared statement. “This bill simply provides them with the ability to take a course at our state-operated colleges and universities, which is especially useful if he or she has encountered too much physical or mental stress on the job and are looking to develop other employment skills.”

Enrollment would be on a first-come, first-serve basis, an official in Gardenhire’s office said.

The other bill (SB 1720) would allow children of full-time law enforcement officers and firefighters the opportunity to go to school at a 25 percent discount on tuition at any state-operated college or university, the news release said.

Eligible students must be less than 24 years of age, the news release said. There is language within the bill that would allow a student to continue to receive the discount even if their parent dies, an official said.

“Law enforcement officers and firefighters make a lot of personal sacrifices to serve the public,” Gardenhire said. “Many of them forgo more financially profitable careers because they believe protecting the public is more important. This bill is a small token to help them with the expenses of putting a child through college. I am very pleased that both of these bills were approved by the committee.”

Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher said he supported the bills, as long there were “no additional riders attached.”

Jack Thompson, president of the Chattanooga Fire Fighters Association, said he and the CFFA were in full support of these bills.

“We wholeheartedly support both of Sen. Gardenhire’s bills and will be actively lobbying other members of the Legislature to support his proposals,” Thompson said via email. “The opportunity for firefighters to continue their education, while serving the public, will not only improve their own lives but also the level of service they provide the municipalities in which they serve.”

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said he, too, thought these bills would serve both their recipients and the communities where his deputies work.

“I appreciate Sen. Gardenhire’s efforts to support our community’s first responders by proposing legislation that will focus on improving access to secondary education for both law enforcement and their families,” Hammond said via email. “Education and training is always very important to any law enforcement agency, and the more educated our officers are, the more opportunities they will have to better serve our community and within their individual agencies.”

The news release said both bills will go to the Senate Finance Committee to determine the “financial impact” before their final vote on the Senate floor.

Brooks was not available for comment at the time of publication.