This week’s action on Capitol Hill was highlighted by passage of a number of important initiatives as lawmakers continue discussions on the state’s budget. The upcoming week is filled with more floor discussion as the legislator looks to adjourning soon.
Legislation preparing Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology headlines Capitol Hill Week
This includes legislation which accelerates investment in mobile broadband infrastructure and prepares Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology.
Senate Bill 2504 creates a uniform, statewide and predictable application and deployment process for small cell wireless broadband providers no matter what community is being served. Once implemented, it would enhance existing networks and encourage wireless broadband providers to invest in the latest small cell technology. When installed, these small cells will increase capacity to handle a huge amount of data with up to one hundred times faster connectivity than current 4G networks.
The legislation, called the Competitive Wireless Broadband Investment, Deployment, and Safety Act of 2018, creates a predictable “how to manual” for providers and local governments to work together to manage the right-of-ways and to get investment deployed as soon as possible. While the legislation calls for a statewide application process to reduce local hurdles, it affirms that local governments retain their nondiscriminatory authority to:
manage placement of utility poles and facilities in the right of way;
establish aesthetic plans that govern facilities in the right of way;
protect historic districts;
manage and protect areas with underground utilities;
require damage repair in the right of way;
manage and reject any deployment based on public safety concerns; and,
apply right of way permitting and fees.
Studies show that deployment of 5G alone will create more than 16,000 new jobs in Tennessee. It would also lead to more than $1 billion in investment and grow the state GDP by nearly $3 billion. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.
Legislation aims to curb opiate abuse among TennCare enrollees
Two bills addressing opiate abuse among Tennessee’s TennCare enrollees were approved by state senators this week. This includes Senate Bill 1227, which I sponsored, which directs TennCare to promulgate permanent rules to promote safe and responsible coverage for enrollees of the program. The rules, at a minimum, must address prior authorization requirements to reduce the development of opioid dependency and addiction.
The legislation is part of the legislature’s overall effort to reduce dependency on opioids. Although it could impact chronic opioid users, the more basic purpose is to curb opiate abuse among women of child-bearing age. It seeks to ensure there is prior criteria supporting screening for substance abuse and counseling on effects of opioids should they become pregnant.
The bill was approved by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee and now heads to the Senate floor for a final vote.
The second bill, Senate Bill 2155, ensures providers are not penalized for the increase in health care costs associated with opioid-prescribing restrictions as it pertains to TennCare payment reform, more commonly referred to as “episodes of care.” Episode-based payment seeks to align provider incentives with successfully achieving desired outcomes during an “episode of care,” which is acute or specialist-driven health care delivered during a specified time period to treat a clinical condition. The legislation provides a pathway to address and appeal the episodes of care’s risk-sharing payment that may be assessed if a provider uses a more costly non-opioid modality like physical therapy or chiropractic services.
This bill seeks to address disincentives associated with other treatment modalities because of the episodes of care payment system to curb opioid abuse among TennCare enrollees.
The legislation was approved by the full Senate and now heads to Governor Bill Haslam’s desk for his signature.
4-H Students stopped by on their visit to Nashville
Tennessee Reconnect Scholarship Program draws 10,000 adult applicants
More than 10,000 adults have applied for Tennessee Reconnect, the state’s program for adult learners to earn an associate degree or technical certificate tuition-free, since applications opened mid-February. The groundbreaking program covers tuition and mandatory fees at a Tennessee community or technical college for eligible adults that do not yet have a college degree. It was implemented as a result of Senate Bill 1218that was approved last year. It is also part of Governor Bill Haslam’s initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025.
Among those who have applied for the scholarship, more than two-thirds have previously enrolled in college and just more than half of all applicants have attended college in the past five years. The average age of applicants is 34 years old and nearly 90 percent of those who applied plan to work while enrolled through Reconnect.
The Tennessee Reconnect application will remain open year-round; adults hoping to enroll in community or technical college in fall 2018 are encouraged to apply by April 15 to ensure time to complete all enrollment steps. The application for Reconnect requires four simple steps:
Complete the application at TNReconnect.gov;
Apply to a local community college or eligible Tennessee Reconnect institution;
File the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at FAFSA.ed.gov; and
Enroll in a degree or certificate program at least part-time.
Tennessee is the first state in the nation to offer all citizens, both high school graduates and adults, the chance to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate tuition-free.
Senate approves legislation protecting landowners by allowing local governments to regulate the wind industry in Tennessee
The State Senate unanimously approved legislation this week protecting landowners by allowing local governments to regulate the wind energy industry in Tennessee. Senate Bill 1793 comes after legislation was passed last year requiring a study be conducted regarding wind turbines and their impact on Tennessee communities and surrounding property owners.
The legislation, which follows the recommendations of the joint legislative study committee, provides reasonable regulations of the wind industry. It protects the property rights of non-participating landowners, while setting uniform minimum requirements for the construction, operation, or redevelopment of wind energy facilities in the state. The bill was developed with input from the wind energy industry, the Cumberland Mountain Preservation Coalition, and other key stakeholders.
Local governments would have the authority to go beyond the minimum standards set by the bill. The requirement of an environmental impact and a wildlife impact assessment will allow an opportunity for public hearings and public involvement. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) would have the ability to review the wildlife impact assessment and approve, grant conditional approval or deny the permit.
Finally, the legislation calls for local governments to report annually on activity regarding legislation adopted, the number of approved permits, environmental impact assessments and data of any decommissioned facilities.
The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.
General Assembly approves Primacy and Reclamation Act allowing Tennessee to reclaim control over state’s surface mining coal industry
Legislation allowing Tennessee to reclaim control of the state’s surface coal mini ng industry is on its way to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature after the Senate approved a minor House amendment. The Primacy and Reclamation Act brings direct oversight to the state through a system of issuing permits and enforcing regulations by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).
The Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement (OSM) within the U.S. Department of the Interior was given the authority to control surface mining in Tennessee 34 years ago.
Tennessee is the only actively producing coal state that does not regulate itself and instead is regulated by the Office of Surface Mining in the federal government. By bringing direct oversight to the state through TDEC, Tennessee’s coal mining industry will gain permit predictability, benefit from local regulation and enforcement, and be on a level playing field with other states across the nation. The Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee maintains stringent environmental control over coal mining, while providing an opportunity for the state to control its own destiny, stimulate investment and create jobs.
The legislation makes clear that all funding for primacy will come from the federal government and the surface coal mining industry. Bill sponsors have worked with members of the Haslam and Trump administrations and Tennessee’s congressional delegation to identify potential sources of funding. Once the program is up and running, the legislation provides that ongoing costs will be split evenly between the federal government and fees assessed on the industry. If the federal funding does not come through, then the state will not be obligated to implement or run the primacy program.
Lacy Wallace, with Regions Bank dropped by for a visit on Mortgage Bankers Day on the Hill
Issues in Brief
James K. Polk / Tomb Relocation- Legislation which supports the relocation of President James K. Polk’s tomb from the State Capitol grounds to the President James K. Polk Home and Museum State Historic Site in Columbia, Tennessee received final approval in the Senate this week after adoption of a House amendment. Senate Joint Resolution 141 aims to bring better recognition to the 11thPresident of the U.S. who was one of only three Tennesseans ever to hold the nation’s highest office. The action to move the tomb to the state-owned site in Columbia is supported by the James K. Polk Memorial Association. Both of Tennessee’s other presidents, President Andrew Johnson and President Andrew Jackson, are buried on land they owned. Polk had requested burial at his home, Polk Place, which no longer stands. The James K. Polk Home and Museum State Historic Site in Columbia was Polk’s only other residence, besides his residency at the White House. The resolution is part of a multi-step process, before relocation can occur with the next steps being approval by the Tennessee’s Historical Commission and Capitol Commission, before going to Chancery Court where Polk’s descendants would have an opportunity to weigh in on the matter. The resolution now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.
Seven-day sales of wine-Final approval was given this week to legislation that permits retail food stores to sell wine and retail package stores to sell alcoholic beverages seven days a week. Senate Bill 2518 puts retailers on par with restaurants, hotels, convention centers, tourist resorts and other businesses in Tennessee which are already allowed to sell wine and spirits any day of the week under state law. As amended, the measure allows Sunday sales to take place between the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. The bill prohibits sales on Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature. The bill will become effective for liquor sales upon the governor’s signature, and for grocery stores, it will take effect on January 1, 2019.
Charles Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center- The full Senate approved legislation this week to aid the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga. The Medal of Honor, which was created by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861, is our nation’s highest and rarest military decoration. It is bestowed by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against the enemy of the United States.” Approximately 3,500 individuals have received the Medal, many of which were posthumously awarded. The center teaches about the six character traits all Medal of Honor recipients share, which are courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity, and citizenship. Senate Bill 2346exempts from property taxes all tangible personal property owned and used by a nonprofit organization that has a historic sole purpose for the provision of educational programs about recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The museum plans to open in February of 2020.
Appointments / UT Board of Trustees- Members of the Senate Education Committee heard testimony from Governor Bill Haslam’s nominees to the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees this week. The board was restructured under legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this month to improve governance of the system. The new law calls for legislative confirmation of the appointees. The 10-member UT board will oversee the multiple campuses that comprise the UT system, including the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, University of Tennessee at Martin, and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Education Committee members confirmed John Compton, former President of PepsiCo and current partner with Clayton Dubilier & Rice; Kara Lawson, former Lady Vol and current basketball television analyst for ESPN and the Washington Wizards; Donnie Smith, former President and Chief Executive Officer of Tyson Foods; Kim White, President and Chief Executive Officer of River City Company; and Bill Rhodes, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of AutoZone. Those nominees now move to the full Senate for approval. The appointments are effective July 1, 2018.
Welfare Check / Endangered Children- Legislation, which I sponsored, received final Senate approval this week calling for law enforcement agencies to determine if an arrested person is the parent or legal custodian of any children who would be unattended or endangered due to their absence after the arrest. Senate Bill 1512authorizes law enforcement agencies to develop policies and procedures for conducting welfare checks on any children identified by the arrested person that are determined to be endangered. Child welfare checks are currently conducted by local law enforcement agencies as part of their authorized duties. The bill seeks to ensure the safety of children by having law enforcement booking agencies inquire of arrested persons whether that person has children and the status of the children in the home to make sure they are not alone and vulnerable.
Court-Ordered Learning Centers / BEP Dollars-The full Senate approved legislation that allows Basic Education Program (BEP) funds to “follow the child” to a learning center when a youth has been ordered by a juvenile court to attend a non-public school. Currently, there are only two caveats for BEP dollars going to non-Local Education Agency (LEA) settings: children for whose education the state is directly responsible and those in residential mental health facilities. Senate Bill 1803 adds a third caveat for youth who are court ordered to attend a Tennessee Department of Education-approved non-public school in order to prevent children from entering state custody. There are presently four Teen Learning Centers in Tennessee funded with the Department of Children’s Service’s Custody Prevention Funds. All youth served in these centers come through their respective county juvenile court orders and have a variety of status and juvenile offenses that put them at serious risk of entering state custody. Approximately 90 percent of students discharged from the centers remain out of juvenile court.
Henry’s Law- Drug dealers or others who unlawfully distribute Schedule I or II drugs to minors will be facing more jail time when it results in a death under legislation unanimously on final Senate consideration this week. I sponsored Senate Bill 1875which is named Henry’s Law for a Knoxville teenager, Henry Granju, who died due to a lethal opiate overdose. The killing of a minor in Tennessee when the drug is a proximate cause of death is second degree murder, which is a Class A felony. Under the state’s current sentencing guidelines, a standard Range I offender for a Class A felony can receive 15 to 25 years in jail, but the 30 percent requirement places the actual sentence at 4.5 to 7.5 years. The bill proposes to make that same Class A felony a Range II offense, carrying a 25 to 40 years sentence at a 35 percent requirement. This means offenders would serve a minimum of 8.8 to 14 years behind bars. Schedule I drugs include heroin and other psychedelics, while Schedule II drugs include opiates, cocaine, methadone, methamphetamines and amphetamines. Approximately 70 to 80 juveniles die each year in the state of Tennessee due to opioid overdose.
Statute of Limitations / Sexual Offenses- Senate Bill 2538 was approved by the full Senate this week instructing the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) to conduct a study and report back next year on the effectiveness of the state’s statutes of limitations, including crimes involving sexual offenses against children. According to the National Center for Victims Rights, most states have a basic suspension of the statute of limitations for civil actions while a person is a minor. Many states have also adopted additional extensions, specifically for cases involving sexual abuse of children and a handful of states have removed the statute of limitation completely for child sex crimes.