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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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For new Sen. London Lamar, a trio of issues remain the priority

Former State Rep. London Lamar (D-Memphis) is settling into her new role after assuming the District 33 senate seat as the youngest woman and African American to serve in the Tennessee Senate.

The former District 91 representative was sworn into the interim senator role on Tuesday – days after being appointed by the Shelby County Commission.

Lamar, 31, was appointed March 3 to complete the term vacated by Katrina Robinson, who was ousted from the position earlier this year following a federal fraud conviction.

For Sen. Lamar, much of the District 33 territory is familiar as it overlaps with the district she served after joining the Tennessee legislature in 2018. She will serve in the interim role until the November 8 election and has pulled a petition to run for the four-year term.

The New Tri-State Defender spoke with Lamar about her work in the House, and how she plans to elevate her platform of building “strong schools, healthy families, and safe communities” in the state Senate.

Sen. London Lamar will represent District 33 from this desk on the floor of the Tennessee Senate. (Courtesy Photo)

TSD: You were … serving your second term in the House of Representatives. Why did you choose to make the move to fill the interim senate seat?

Sen. London Lamar: With part of my former house district overlapping with this district, I felt it would be appropriate to offer myself for the position, to not only give many of the constituents someone they are familiar with, but to ensure that they have good representation here in the Senate to continue advocating for the issues that are important to this community. And these are also issues that we can work on both sides of the aisle here in the state capitol to get things done. 

I believe that if we prioritize the three issues I’m advocating for— strong schools, healthy families and safe communities—then the district will continue to be in a strong position. 

TSD: Because of the redistricting plan approved by the General Assembly earlier this year, you and fellow Democrat Rep. Torrey Harris would have been running in the same seat. How do you think you shifting gears and running for senate will impact the race for District 91?

Sen. Lamar: I want to be very clear that I did not go for this appointment to solve the redistricting issue, because Rep. Harris and I were drawn into the same district. I ran for this seat because I was the most formidable candidate to take on the work and continue the work in the state capitol, and again to advocate for those issues that I’ve previously mentioned. 

It just so happened that by making the decision, it also provides an opportunity to resolve the redistricting issue Rep. Harris and I were faced with. So, it’s just a two-for-one win. 

TSD: You’ve gotten several pieces of legislation passed since taking office four years ago—comprehensive legislation focused on a large array of issues including human trafficking, maternal health, and even assistance for pregnant HOPE Scholarship recipients. Which are you most proud of?

Sen. Lamar: Although I am proud of all of them, I am probably most proud of the work I’ve done around maternal health. Because not only have I worked around maternal health advocacy prior to entering the legislature, but also bringing my personal story as well and the stories of the mothers in my community, makes me feel very proud. 

TSD: Education is a hot button topic in Tennessee right now, from the Basic Education Program (BEP) funding formula to school vouchers. What would you say are the issues surrounding education that should be prioritized right now?

Sen. Lamar: Right now, the biggest focus is the BEP funding. And there are some good things in it; but there are also some things that we have some concerns about. The biggest thing that we need to pay attention to is the burden on local government. In the formula, initially we saw that there is a lot more money allocated to solve issues and provide more wraparound services and funding for students; but much of that funding tapers off in the first couple of years and the burden of the responsibility will be put on local government. 

All local governments across the state of Tennessee have a different capacity to fund schools. Because of this, it will probably lead to raising taxes on citizens to make up for the cost difference. So, what we don’t want is to put more tax burden on our citizens. We want to advocate that the state should be consistent in its allocation of funding to local government.

TSD: There may be many citizens who don’t understand the full extent of the governor’s proposed BEP plan. What do you plan to do to ensure your constituents are aware of the nuisances of this bill?

Sen. Lamar: We are working with our research analysts and our attorneys to really dissect this bill piece by piece. It was just introduced to us not too long ago and it’s a big bill. So, we are combing through it right now, and what we want to do is take our time on this because this is monumental. And that’s one of the biggest responsibilities that we have to our students, teachers, and school systems. We will be communicating soon our position on this piece of legislation based on how we are coming together as a Caucus. 

I would tell my constituents to stay tuned. As we get more information, we will provide them with that information.  

TSD: You’re working on getting a gun violence prevention bill passed. What impact do you think it can have on curtailing crime, specifically in Memphis?

Sen. Lamar: My bill was to create a multi-agency approach to gun crime and prevention; and it’s getting a little opposition on the other side of the aisle. But I’ve always said that we should not put the full burden and responsibility to solve violent crime on local law enforcement alone. 

We are going to have to bring in more agencies to come up with more preventative measures, like conflict resolution training, creating job opportunities, and distracting youth from getting involved in violent crime. We have to be sure we are tackling some of the root causes of violent crime. 

TSD: Your interim term ends Nov. 8, but you will be running to maintain the seat. What is your primary focus before the legislative session concludes in a few weeks?

Sen. Lamar: Really, the same things I was already focusing on, and what I think this district needs—strong schools, healthy families, and safe communities. My goal is to come into this role and work with both Democrats and Republicans on the pieces of legislation concerning those issues that are going to help our community. 

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