Legislative Update


Senate Transportation Committee hears testimony from Audi regarding new automated vehicles

Members of the Senate Transportation Committee heard testimony from Brad Stertz, Director of Audi’s Government Affairs, regarding the company’s efforts to put automated cars on the road.   As the technology for autonomous vehicles continues to develop, states have found it may be necessary for state and municipal governments to address the potential impacts of these vehicles on the road. Three bills have been filed on the subject in the Tennessee General Assembly this year.

(Getting ready to go for a test ride)

Audi also offered automated rides to legislators, allowing them to experience this new technology in a freeway setting. I was able to go on one of the test rides and it was very impressive and I felt very safe.  Stertz told members of the committee that it is important Audi work with the state legislatures across the country to develop a consistent regulatory framework for automated vehicles.

Automated vehicles are those in which at least some aspects of a safety-critical control function (e.g., steering, throttle, or braking) occur without direct driver input. Complete automation, where one can drive from his or her home to the office while reading a book in the backseat is about 20 years away, Stertz said, but right now the Audi Q7 has semi-autonomous driving. This is where one can take his or her hands off the wheel for a few seconds at a time. In a few years, according to Mr. Stertz, they are coming out with a system that will allow driving hands-free up to 35 miles per hour in highway traffic jam conditions.

The car has 24 sensors connected to a central computer which uses redundant systems for increased safety. Mr. Stertz said, “The main element of automated driving is safety. Ninety to 93 percent of accidents according to the federal government have some element of human error.”

The director assured that turning the automated feature off is not that much more difficult than turning off today’s cruise control, “We think that, ultimately at the time being, it is really the human driver who is in charge,” he said.   

In Brief… 

Care Alert — The State Senate unanimously approved legislation on Monday creating a “Care Alert” system that would enable local law enforcement agencies to enter a report to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and alert media outlets to promote the safe recovery of a missing person over the age of 18 with an intellectual, developmental or physical disability.  Senate Bill 1485extends the definition of a “missing citizen” from a missing person over the age of 60 with dementia or physical impairment to include those over the age of 18 with an intellectual, developmental or physical disability.  

Repealing the Hall Tax – Legislation advanced through the Senate Finance Committee this week that would begin the process of repealing the Hall Income Tax in Tennessee. The Hall Income Tax levies six percent on earnings from stocks and bonds, with 3/8 of the revenue going to cities and counties. Since enactment of the tax in 1929, the use of investment savings has grown as a primary source of retirement income. Senate Bill 47 makes a single cut of one percent to the state’s portion of the Hall Income Tax when a two-year average of three percent growth occurs. When the last cut of the state portion reaches .75 percent, the legislation provides that a phase out of the local portion would begin unless communities decide in a referendum to continue collecting the local portion of the tax. I am pleased to be a co-sponsor of this bill.  In other news on the Hall Tax, it was announced that the Revenue Subcommittee will consider several more bills on this subject next week.    

TDOT / Priority Projects — Commissioner John C. Schroer and Chief Engineer Paul Deggs of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) discussed their system of prioritization for road projects before the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee this week. TDOT uses seven guiding principles when formulating their annual three-year plan: roadway safety, traffic operations, regions and legislation, economic development, funding, roadway classification and environmental impact. Of these, safety and traffic are weighted at 52.1 percent in the ranking process. TDOT also takes strides to balance projects between the four departmental regions, urban and rural areas and schedules. Schroer said he is very proud that the department has utilized transparency and objectiveness in their prioritization during his tenure as commissioner.      

Uniformed Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act — The full Senate has approved a bill which sets the framework for how provisions can be made by persons while living for alternative access to digital assets such as Facebook, Linked-in and email accounts.  The Uniformed Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act makes such access after death of the account holder consistent with other existing Tennessee statutes on estates and related matters. Senate Bill 326 follows cases where heirs were unable to terminate or access digital accounts after the death of a family member or loved one.  The bill clarifies that if done in accordance with the proposed law, access to digital assets is not a violation of Tennessee’s Personal and Commercial Computer Act.  It also provides a new section to the Uniform Durable Power of Attorney Act adding the authority to access any catalog of electronic communications and any other assets by power of attorney.  In addition it provides that heirs can use online tools or a power of attorney to override the terms of agreement that does not require the deceased account holder to act affirmatively.

State Symbol — The full Senate acted this week to designate the Tennessee’s flag’s center emblem of a blue circle with three white five-pointed stars as the official state symbol. The flag was adopted as the official flag of the state of Tennessee by an act of the General Assembly passed and approved April 17, 1905. It was designed by LeRoy Reeves of the Third Regiment, Tennessee Infantry, who made the following explanation about the center emblem: “The three stars are of pure white, representing the three grand divisions of the state. They are bound together by the endless circle of the blue field, the symbol being three bound together in one-an indissoluble trinity.” Senate Bill 1430 is set for final consideration in the House of Representatives next week.