Legislative Update

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News from Nashville

On Monday of this week, Governor Bill Haslam gave his eighth and final State of the State Address. He highlighted Tennessee’s unprecedented success, his legislative priorities, and the state budget for 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Gov. Haslam reflected on the past seven years, working with the General Assembly to create a strong commitment to jobs, education and conservative fiscal policy that has resulted in significant accomplishments including:

The lowest unemployment rates in the state’s history and a job growth rate greater than 17%, with nearly 400,000 new private sector jobs created;
The fastest-improving students in the nation, across math, reading and science, and the highest high school graduation rates the state has ever seen;
With the proposed Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget, nearly $1.5 billion invested into K-12 education, with $500 million going to teacher salaries;
A cut of $572 million in annual taxes, including a nearly 30% cut on groceries, a phase out of the Hall Income tax, and elimination of the inheritance and gift taxes;
A cut in year-to-year spending by more than a half billion dollars;
Tennesseans have access to college free of tuition and mandatory fees through Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect; and,
Recognition as having the lowest debt per capita and lowest taxes as a percentage of personal income in the nation, and as one of the best managed states in the nation.

“Seven years ago, we raised our expectations,” said Gov. Haslam. “We became the kind of leaders who didn’t just talk about cutting taxes and enhancing services, we actually did lower taxes while growing our economy and providing access to high quality education. We cannot lose the momentum we have worked so hard to build.”

On presenting his budget priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, Gov. Haslam asked legislators to approve three key initiatives, including a proposal presented last week to attack the state’s opioid epidemic. “In Tennessee, we write 7.6 million prescriptions a year and there are only 6.6 million of us, a staggering statistic,” he said. The plan addresses the issue through three major components: prevention, treatment and law enforcement.

In education, he has proposed the Complete to Compete initiative that restructures financial aid requirements for Promise and HOPE scholarships to keep students on track for on-time completion, and requires community colleges to implement structured, ready-made schedules for all incoming full-time students.

Finally, Gov. Haslam has proposed legislation based on the work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice. The task force was created to conduct a comprehensive, data-driven review of Tennessee’s juvenile justice system and develop evidenced-based policy to protect public safety, effectively hold juvenile offenders accountable, contain costs, and improve outcomes for youth, families and communities.

2018 State of the State

Governor Bill Haslam

Governor Bill Haslam as he presents his State of the State Address

The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee wasted no time in getting down to work on the budget with presentations outlining the plan from Commissioner of Finance and Administration Larry Martin the next day.
Notable budget proposals include:
  • More than $200 million in new state funding for K-12 education, including additional funds for teacher compensation;
  • Nearly $100 million for higher education initiatives;
  • $128 million for job growth investments, including programs that target rural communities; and
  • Increases to bring the state’s Rainy-Day Fund to $850 million.
The General Assembly will continue to study the governor’s financial plan in the coming weeks and months with each department presenting to the appropriate committees.
The General Assembly’s Veterans Caucus met recently to discuss eight measures benefitting veterans, including a bill to ensure that disabled veterans can continue to qualify for property tax relief if they are hospitalized or temporarily placed in a nursing home. Another key bill calls on the Governor to appoint veterans to Tennessee’s university and community college systems boards . The Veterans Caucus is made up of 35 legislators who served in the armed forces.
Tennessee law currently asks the governor to strive to select board members who are diverse in gender, race, perspective and experience. The proposal would add a person who is an honorable discharged military veteran in order to that the approximately 500,000 veterans are being served as effectively as possible. The state has numerous veteran programs including the Tennessee Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Program which allocates resources for veterans’ successful transition from military service to college enrollment.
Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Chief of Staff Jason Mumpower presented a report to members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week regarding exemptions to the Tennessee Public Records Act (TPRA). The report, which was created in response to a request from Lt. Governor Randy McNally and House Speaker Beth Harwell, identified 538 statutory exceptions currently. This is compared to 89 exceptions 30 years ago. The TPRA states that all public records are presumed open unless otherwise provided by state law, meaning an exception makes it confidential.
Common exceptions found in the report were personally identifying information and medical records. Exceptions have been added as technology has increased to protect government employees from having their identities stolen through public record access of identifying information.
A subcommittee composed of members from the Senate State and Local Government Committee and Government Operations Committee was formed. This Subcommittee will work with the Comptroller’s office to review the report and make recommendations on how the General Assembly should move forward with this information next year.

Some local Knoxville Realtors came to visit, for Realtor’s Day on the Hill

Farmers / Federal ELD Rule – The Senate’s Transportation and Safety Committee and Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee met jointly this week to hear testimony from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security regarding the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) new Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule. The regulation limits how long and how far truckers can drive, and requires truckers to purchase and install an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) costing approximately $1,500. This regulation is of particular concern to farmers and transporters of livestock, whose cargo is more sensitive and requires flexibility. It was noted that the hours of service in the ELD mandate were not written with consideration for all the different types of livestock transportation like cattle, pigs, poultry, fish, horse, pets, and wildlife. The Farm Bureau has petitioned the federal government to extend a waiver on livestock transportation for a year due to confusion and concerns from farming communities. Legislation has been drafted providing that no state money, personnel, and energy will be spent enforcing this law.
Veterans – The Senate Government Operations Committee heard testimony from Department of Veteran Services (DVS) Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder regarding how the department is working to serve veterans in Tennessee. Since 2013, the DVS has helped submit 54,000 claims for their veterans and their dependents, totaling $9.1 billion tax-free federal dollars. From 2012 to 2016, unemployment rate of veterans has fallen from 7.3 percent to 3.5 percent; the number of suicides per year has fallen from 197 to 186; and the number of incarcerated veterans has fallen from 2483 to 1307. In December 2015, DVS opened their fourth state veterans’ home in Clarksville.
Parental Rights / Surviving Parent – The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week to expand the grounds for termination of parental or guardianship rights to include a parent convicted of or found civilly liable for attempting to cause the intentional and wrongful death of the child’s other parent or guardian. Current law only affords for the termination of parental rights when the offending parent actually ends the life of the victim.Senate Bill 1608 would permit the victim to file a petition to terminate the offender’s parental rights when the offender fails to end the life of the victim.
Firefighters – Legislation that would provide a $600 supplement to volunteer firefighters to pay for their mandatory training was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week. Similar stipends are already provided to paid firefighters and law enforcement officers. Senate Bill 1582 entitles volunteer firefighters to the supplement upon successful completion of the course. Volunteer firefighters make up 80 percent of firefighters in Tennessee.
Honoring the memory of former Senator Joe Haynes – The Senate honored the memory of a former colleague, Senator Joe Haynes (D-Nashville), with passage of a resolution in appreciation of his service to the State of Tennessee. Senator Haynes sponsored and supported a number of prominent pieces of legislation, including the work of the Tennessee Sentencing Commission which rewrote the criminal statutes, the Maternity Leave Bill, and the Victim’s Rights Bill, and major legislation in the areas of domestic violence, ethics reform, education, community corrections, and prison funding. Haynes served in the Senate for 28 years.