This is the last of a three part re-cap of the legislation passed this year. This edition reviews bills to aid veterans, reform welfare and remove unnecessary barriers to entry into Tennessee’s workforce.
General Assembly Passes Legislation Aiding and Honoring Veterans
The Senate approved a package of bills this year honoring the men and women who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, adding to significant legislation adopted during the first year of the 110th General Assembly. Last year’s action included a new law which provided protections to employers if they give hiring preference to honorably discharged veterans and their spouses, as well as the STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act, which provides funding toward a first time bachelor degree through a tuition reimbursement program for those who protect and serve our state and country.
Budget — This year, the legislature approved a state budget which provides $5.4 million in additional funds for veterans. These funds provide $600,000 for the land purchase for a new veterans’ cemetery in the Upper Cumberland, $3 million for the Cleveland Veterans Home, $100,000 for the East Tennessee Veterans’ Cemetery Fuel Dispensing Station and $700,000 for Centerstone Military Services for professional counseling for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In addition the budget provides $50,000 for the Johnson City/Washington County Veterans Memorial, $250,000 for the Coolidge Medal of Honor Museum in Chattanooga and $100,000 for the Dyersburg Army Air Base Memorial Foundation.
Tax Relief – Two tax relief measures affecting veterans were passed during the 2018 legislative session. One ensures that disabled veterans and elderly homeowners can continue to qualify for property tax relief if they are hospitalized or temporarily placed in a nursing home. The other bill exempts disabled veterans who receive a modified vehicle from the Veteran’s Administration (VA) due to a severe disability from having to pay sales tax or a registration fee on that vehicle.
Stolen Valor Act — Legislation was approved this year to safeguard the identities of Tennessee veterans who serve the state and nation by cracking down on instances of theft and fraud involving those who attempt to imitate them. The Stolen Valor Act creates a Class A misdemeanor for anyone who impersonates a veteran or individuals who fraudulently represent their service with the intent of obtaining money, property, services, or any other tangible benefits.
Veteran Input on Boards — Two bills were approved during the 2018 legislative session to ensure veteran input on boards that oversee important services to military men and women. One measure calls on the governor to appoint veterans to Tennessee’s university and community college systems. 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. The second bill ensures that at least one military veteran is placed on the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ Statewide Planning and Policy Council, which among other duties, oversees treatment services to veterans.
Veterans Seeking Public Office – Certain veterans seeking public office could benefit under two new laws adopted this year. One prohibits political parties from disqualifying an honorably discharged veteran or active duty guardsman in good standing as a candidate for any elected office based on the number of times he or she voted preceding the election. This would ensure that those who have difficulties meeting qualifications of voting in consecutive elections due to service overseas would not be disqualified. The second measure allows a veteran who has been called up for active military service during their elected term of office on a city council, to continue as a council member for up to 13 months via a two-way electronic audio-video communication.
Military Families — A bill was passed this year raising the amount of sick leave that may be used (after paid leave is exhausted) by an educator who is a reserve member of the United States armed forces when called into active duty to bridge any gap in pay that might occur. Military families are also the impetus behind the passage of legislation which allows a surviving spouse of a National Guard member to be issued a National Guard license plate until he or she remarries as many want to remember their loved one through renewal of the tag.
Veteran Memorials — Three bills were approved this year to help ensure our soldiers are not forgotten. This includes a new law calling for a POW/MIA Chair of Honor Memorial to be placed on Tennessee’s Capitol campus. The Chair of Honor Memorial will be placed at a suitable location if the costs are provided by private funds. A Chair of Honor is a very simple yet powerful memorial which generally includes a single back chair with the POW/MIA logo on it which is then flanked by the American Flag and the POW/MIA Flag. Another new law honoring veterans directs TDOT to erect signs acknowledging each branch of the United States armed forces along State Route 62 as “Veterans Memorial Mile” in Knox County. The third bill provides an exemption from certain property taxes for the Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga. The center, which plans to open in 2020, teaches about the six character traits all Medal of Honor recipients share, which are courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity, and citizenship.
Finally, a new law was approved this year that prohibits local governments from adopting or enforcing regulations that ban or restrict the display of flags of the U.S., Tennessee, POW/MIA or those representing any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Tennessee State Senate-110th General Assembly
General Assembly approves legislation during the 2018 session to strengthen the integrity of Tennessee’s assistance programs
Welfare reform was on the 2018 legislative agenda this year as a major legislation was approved strengthening the integrity of Tennessee’s temporary assistance programs for needy families. The new law is designed to reduce fraud and abuse, incentivize work, and encourage self-sufficiency. It calls for Tennessee to join a multi-state cooperative to identify dual recipient participation in the state’s programs and improves fraud investigation, including the trafficking of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card replacements. It also encourages family stabilization by linking the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) maximum benefit to the current standard of need in Tennessee, as well as offering transitional benefits in order to provide an incentive to get enrollees back to work.
Another meaningful reform bill passed this year encourages self-sufficiency for those receiving TennCare. The legislation directs TennCare to apply for a Medicaid waiver from the federal government to require enrollees who are able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 64 and don’t have children under the age of 6 to work, volunteer, or further their education. The legislation does not set policy; rather it directs TennCare to negotiate with the federal government. The waiver request must meet the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidelines, which means that per CMS policy, it would not apply to individuals with disabilities, elderly beneficiaries, children and pregnant women, as well as those who are caregivers or are undergoing job training or education, among other categories.
Encouraging Self Sufficiency by Removing Barriers to Licensing – The Tennessee General Assembly approved key legislation this year which encourages self-sufficiency for low-income individuals by waiving the initial license fee for trade professions which can be a barrier for entry. Low income is defined under the bill as someone who is enrolled in a state or federal public assistance program, including but not limited to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Bills approved during recently-adjourned legislative session removes unnecessary barriers to entry into the workforce in Tennessee
Legislative action taken this year continues the General Assembly’s multi-year effort to address a rising tide of government licensing requirements by removing unnecessary barriers to entry into the workforce in Tennessee. In 1950, just one in 20 American workers were required to have a license or certificate in order to obtain a job, as compared to 30 percent who need it to earn a living today. Action taken this year includes passage of a key bill that helps to ensure Tennessee’s occupational licensing does not keep offenders who have served their time in prison from obtaining employment and getting a fresh start in life. The state requires a license for about 110 different jobs, many of which impact “blue collar” workers. The Fresh Start Act reduces barriers to entering a profession by only allowing a state licensing board to deny licenses for past crimes that are directly related to the job sought, excluding certain felonies.
Lawmakers also voted to repeal a license requirement for those engaged in animal massage. The bill permanently eliminates the veterinary board’s rule and allows Tennesseans looking to enter the profession to practice with minimal regulations and without a government license after posting or obtaining a $25,000 insurance policy, while creating a voluntary certification program for those who choose to complete more extensive requirements.
Legislation was approved this year aiding workers seeking to enter Tennessee’s workforce through a licensed profession by establishing an apprenticeship program. The program affects professions regulated by the Division of Regulatory Boards of the Department of Commerce and Insurance by requiring certain licensing authorities to issue licenses to those who complete apprenticeship programs. Both the employer and the employee benefit from this job creation measure which makes it easier for the employee to obtain “hands-on” learning” to get their licenses.
These bills build on two measures passed last year to relieve excessive regulations on the right of an individual to pursue a chosen business or profession when it does not directly pertain to the health, safety and welfare of the general public. This includes a new law exempting those whose sole professional responsibility is that of shampooing hair from having to obtain a barber of cosmetology license. It also included passage of the Freedom to Prosper Act which prohibits local entities from imposing fees on occupations that go beyond the state’s requirements, except those associated with first responders and emergency service providers. All of these new statutes follow the Right to Earn a Living Act adopted in 2016 which compelled various licensing authorities to review their entry regulations in various occupations to help remove unnecessary restrictions and demands.
I was honored, along with Rep. Mike Carter, to receive the Disability Champion Award from the Disability Policy Alliance. This is a collaborative group of the following organizations: The Arc Tennessee, Disability Rights Tennessee, the Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Statewide Independent Living Council of Tennessee
Wide variety of bills seek to improve life for Tennesseans
A wide variety of other bills passed by the General Assembly seeking to improve life for Tennesseans winds up this series of three articles on the 2018 legislative session. The legislation includes:
- A consumer bill which addresses the growing problem of websites that use deceptive names and trademarks posing as places of entertainment and entertainers, in order to confuse consumers into buying tickets at a considerably higher price;
- Legislation to repeal and replace emissions testing for Hamilton, Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson Counties where the test is still required prior to vehicle registration or renewal;
- A measure that changes the focus of a parent’s relocation to the best interest of the child in cases of divorce;
- A law directing the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) to conduct a study examining the overall effects of creating a grant or loan program for food relief enterprises who sell fresh food in low-income and underserved areas of Tennessee;
- Two bills to help firefighters, with one exempting volunteer firefighters or rescue squad members from having to pay the regular registration fee for their license plate and the other calling for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) counseling for EMS or professional firefighters;
- Legislation directing health care providers to offer a woman information about her ultrasound if performed as part of an examination prior to an abortion, including the presence or absence of a heartbeat;
- A bill protecting landowners by allowing local governments to regulate the wind energy industry in Tennessee; and,
- Legislation that creates a “free-use area” in state forests where Tennessee residents are allowed to remove downed and dead timber under certain conditions.