Legislative update

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News from Nashville
With the legislative session starting to wind down, it is time to take all of the bills to the floor. As we move to adorning in April and all budget hearings complete, the legislature is moving towards finalizing the state budget. Other actions include school safety plans that are on the mind of all Tennesseans.

Governor Bill Haslam’s Supplemental Budget

School safety and the state budget headlined action on Capitol Hill this week as Governor Bill Haslam presented an amendment to his fiscal year 2018-2019 spending plan. The new proposal includes $25 million in nonrecurring and $5.2 million in recurring school safety grants to protect students. The action comes as members of a School Safety Working Group, appointed earlier this month to review school safety plans in Tennessee, are finalizing recommendations to enhance security for students and educators.

The supplemental appropriations amendment is customarily introduced by the governor in the final weeks of the legislative session to make adjustments to the budget he submitted earlier in the year. The new amendment, which includes $74 million in nonrecurring funds and $9.8 million in recurring funds, also provides:
$4.5 million in recurring dollars to fund juvenile justice reform legislation;
$3 million in nonrecurring funds for grants to help school districts purchase school buses equipped with seat belts;
$1.2 million in recurring funds and $420,000 in non-recurring funds for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) research to help children with chronic trauma;
An additional $5 million in nonrecurring funds for broadband accessibility grants for a total of $15 million in the 2018-19 fiscal year;
$9 million in nonrecurring funds to purchase equipment at the 27 Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology for improving and modernizing workforce development programs;
$3.2 million in recurring funds to adjust the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) provider rate for those who care for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens;
An additional $1 million in recurring funds to provide mental health treatment and recovery services as part of TN Together to curb the opioid crisis in Tennessee;
$2 million in nonrecurring funds for an addiction services research program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in support of TN Together; and,
$10 million in nonrecurring funds for the Aeronautics Development Fund to create jobs and investment opportunities in Tennessee’s aviation industry.

The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee’s Appropriation Subcommittee began the hard work of looking at recommendations for changes to the state budget on Thursday. The committee is studying 282 appropriation amendments, filed by state senators on a wide variety of requests, which they will review alongside the governor’s supplemental budget amendment.

Celebrating the Bearden High School Dance Team on winning the national championship. We honored them on the Senate Floor
Legislation calling for juvenile justice reform in Tennessee is approved in Senate Judiciary Committee

Legislation to enact juvenile justice reform in Tennessee was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 2261 aims to begin needed reforms to strengthen families and communities in Tennessee, while promoting public safety and ensuring responsible and more effective use of the state’s limited resources.

Action on the legislation comes after the Joint Ad-hoc Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice did an in-depth study of the matter. The report showed that there are some inequalities based on where a child might live. Some courts, particularly in rural communities, may not have much choice in what to do with an unruly youth. It also showed that across all stages of the juvenile justice system, African American youth have a greater representation when compared to the general youth population. The legislation tries to address those disparities.

Due to a lack of community-based services, many youth in Tennessee are being confined for minor offenses or conduct that would not be crimes for adults. In addition, minor violations of supervision conditions have resulted in youth returning to the juvenile justice system. Misdemeanor offenses, unruly offenses and technical violations make up nearly half of youth in costly out-of-home placements.

Studies have shown that taking these juveniles out of their homes for minor offenses increases their risk for recidivism and the likelihood that they will enter into the adult criminal justice system. It also diverts the state’s limited resources away from youth who pose a risk to the community.

The bill sets a presumptive maximum length for sentencing, which can be rebutted, of six months custody, unless the child needs more time to complete treatment or commits a new offense. It also sets a maximum term of probation of six months with extension permitted for treatment completion. Research demonstrates that shorter intensive custody more effectively reduces reoffending.

The legislation is boosted by the supplemental appropriation submitted by Governor Bill Haslam on Tuesday which funds the proposal. It now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee where it is scheduled for consideration on Tuesday.
Legislation supports work-based learning apprenticeships for students

Legislation was approved by the Senate Education Committee this week to support students who are involved in work-based learning apprenticeships. Senate Bill 1649incentivizes employers to hire secondary education students in work-based learning programs by granting employers immunity from liability for actions relating to the students unless the employer acted willfully or with gross negligence.

Under this bill, employers may elect to provide worker’s compensation insurance, and the student’s local education agency would be required to maintain liability insurance to compensate the student for any injury not covered by the employer. It also authorizes employers to claim a $500 tax credit against franchise and excise tax liability.

Passed into law in 2013, the state’s Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) created a statewide, comprehensive structure enabling students in Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) and community colleges to participate in technical training developed with input from area employers. The program was designed to ensure colleges are producing graduates with the skills and credentials Tennessee employers actually need.

Now in its second iteration, the LEAP program continues this effort by encouraging and facilitating the alignment of local workforce and education partners through a $10 million competitive grant process led by the Governor’s Workforce Subcabinet. These funds are available to local collaboratives through a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) process.

According to the Department of Education, the number of students enrolled in work-based learning program in fiscal year 2016-17 totaled 10,501. Under present law, students in colleges of applied technology may participate in work-based learning, which provides credit for work experiences such as internships, practicums, or clinicals. Work-based learning is incorporated into coursework or related to a specific field of study.

This bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for consideration.

Representative of the Tennessee Architects Association
Issues in Brief

Tennessee Attorney General / Selection- A resolution that would allow voters to decide if they want their elected representatives to select the state’s attorney general (AG), rather than the current system of allowing five appointed Supreme Court justices to make that choice, was approved on final consideration. Senate Joint Resolution 88begins the process of amending the State Constitution, which if approved by voters, calls for the AG to be selected by the Tennessee General Assembly beginning March 2023. The resolution calls for the AG to be elected to a four-year term. It also provides that the AG be 30 years of age or older, a citizen of the United States, an attorney duly licensed in Tennessee and a resident of the state for at least seven years preceding the election. Under the measure, appointment would be made by joint vote of both houses of the General Assembly. The amendment process requires a simple majority by the 110th General Assembly currently in session, and a two-thirds majority in the 111th General Assembly which is elected in 2018, before going to voters in a statewide referendum in 2022.

Welfare Reform- A bill strengthening the integrity of Tennessee’s temporary assistance programs for needy families by reducing fraud and abuse, incentivizing work, and encouraging self-sufficiency passed the Senate on final consideration. Senate Bill 2247seeks approval for Tennessee to join a multi-state cooperative to identify dual recipient participation in the state’s programs. It also strengthens investigations of multiple Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card replacements, as well as providing other tools which will help the state investigate fraud and abuse. EBT is a system for delivering Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, and Families First benefits to eligible Tennesseans. In addition, the welfare reform legislation encourages family stabilization by linking the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) maximum benefit to the current standard of need in Tennessee. The state has the second lowest TANF allotment in the U.S. The boost in monthly payments for those enrolled in the program would be the first in 21 years. Finally, the bill reduces the fiscal cliff for families meeting the TANF or Families First work requirements by providing a work incentive transitional benefit.

Child Sexual Abuse / Admissibility of Non-testimonial Statements- The full Senate approved legislation on Thursday to create an exception to the hearsay rule in criminal proceedings regarding statements made by young children relative to sexual and physical abuse. Senate Bill 1593 applies to non-testimonial statements made by children under the age of 12. The hearsay rule is a basic rule that testimony or documents which quote a person not in court are not admissible. Under the legislation, the admissibility of a non-testimonial statement must be made by the judge in a separate hearing outside the presence of the jury. The bill also sets the stipulations to guide the judge in making the decision as to whether the out-of-court statement is trustworthy. For example, the judge would consider spontaneity or consistency of the statement, the mental state of the child, the motive or lack thereof, and the terminology used, before deciding whether the statement could be used in court. The bill is modeled after an Ohio law which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alzheimer’s Disease- The Senate passed a resolution this week seeking to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease and its impact on Tennesseans. Senate Joint Resolution 619 urges the Department of Health to designate Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias as a public health issue. One in eight Tennesseans, aged forty-five and older, reported an increase in confusion or worsening memory loss and almost half of them (46.1 percent) had not discussed these cognitive concerns with a healthcare provider. While there are promising prevention interventions, including physical exercise, dietary considerations, cognitive exercise, and social engagement, there are currently no known definitive interventions to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in adults aged eighteen or older in the United States of America and Tennessee.

Public Benefits / Food Stamps- The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) recently welcomed its 19th law enforcement partner in an ongoing initiative to fight abuse of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps). SNAP provides nutritional assistance benefits to nearly a million people in Tennessee. The program helps supplement the monthly food budgets of families with low-income to buy the food they need, maintain good health and allow them to use more of their income for essential living expenses. These State Law Enforcement Bureau (SLEB) agreements between the TDHS and agencies give investigators more tools to catch business owners who are fraudulently using another person’s SNAP EBT card for profit or SNAP recipients who are selling their own cards. Under the agreements, investigators have access to purchasing information and actual EBT cards to conduct undercover selling operations. DHS officials are continuing to reach out to other law enforcement agencies with the goal of increasing the number of partnerships across the state.

Adult Family Caregivers- Last Monday, the full Senate adopted a House amendment and sent to the governor legislation to allow religious organizations or institutions to provide limited respite services for primary in-home caregivers of elderly or vulnerable adult family members. The programs for these caregivers are similar to “mother’s day out” programs for young children. Research has shown that caregivers need these breaks for a variety of reasons. It also provides socialization and different activities for those elderly or vulnerable adults participating. Senate Bill 1487 would limit the program to no more than six hours per day or 12 hours per week. It also calls for registration of the program with the Department of Human Services. It is estimated that Tennessee will go from 970,000 elderly citizens to over 1.4 million in the next 15 years.

February Unemployment Rate / Record Lows- Tennessee’s unemployment rate remained near historic low levels in February with the preliminary rate at 3.4 percent. February’s rate is up just 0.1 of a percentage point from January’s revised rate of 3.3 percent. Over the past 12 months, Tennessee’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased a full percentage point from 4.4 percent to 3.4 percent and remains less than the national average of 4.1 percent. Tennesseans can access the latest job openings across the state, as well as job interview preparation information, on the state’s workforce website.

Ag Day on the Hill- State leaders and citizens celebrated agriculture in Tennessee on Tuesday with “Ag Day on the Hill,” an annual event that brings a little bit of country life to the state’s capitol. The event coincides with National Ag Day and recognizes the farmers and forestland owners who are dedicated to building, feeding, clothing, and fueling our world. This year’s annual competition spotlighted the role of forestry in Tennessee as lawmakers from the Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives tested their skills on the crosscut saw in a wood-cutting competition. The fastest time earned the House of Representatives a commemorative award and bragging rights. Agriculture is one of the top industries in Tennessee, contributing more than $82 billion a year to the state’s economy and employing more than 173,000 citizens. The state has more than 66,000 farms representing 10.8 million acres.

National Guard License Plates- On Thursday, the Senate approved and sent to the Governor legislation designed to support Tennessee’s military families. Senate Bill 1900 allows a surviving spouse of a National Guard member to be issued a National Guard license plate until he or she remarries. The surviving spouse would be required to show adequate proof of service by providing the appropriate forms and the plate would be distinguished by a surviving spouse decal. There are currently three other military plates which are similar to this. The bill is the latest in a series of initiatives designed to ensure that those who defend our state and our country are not forgotten.