NASHVILLE, May 1, 2017– Last week saw lots of action at the state capitol, as is naturally the case when Session is about to meet its end for the year. Here are a few updates on what happened.
House to Vote on Protecting the Unborn
As is the case every session, the weekly pace of the General Assembly changes as we near adjournment. Most committees were closed last week, so the regular schedule everyone had become accustomed to was changed. We met three times on the House floor instead of the traditional two times. This is because bills have moved through the committee process and have been passed along to the floor for action. This will continue until we adjourn in the next few weeks.
Very soon we will consider legislation on the House floor that I had the opportunity to vote in favor of when it was before the Health committee and to co-sponsor. House Bill 1189 prohibits abortions of a viable fetus after the 20-week mark of pregnancy. It complies with all United States Supreme Court decisions. Adhering to Supreme Court doctrine is important because it can prevent our state from facing legal challenges as result of the proposed law. It includes several exceptions and protections for the mother’s health. Exceptions may also be made when a physician determines the unborn child is not viable.
Our intent is to protect unborn children and to ensure that no viable unborn child is aborted. I believe the abortion of a healthy unborn child is a crime and does not have a place in our world. This legislation gives plenty of flexibility in case of emergency or risk for both the child and mother. House floor consideration of the bill has not yet been scheduled.
Election Sign Guidelines to be Adopted
Legislation was sent to Governor Haslam this week which restricts local governments and other bodies from placing restrictions on election signage. The legislation puts in place several guidelines newly developed homeowners’ associations must follow if they are regulating a citizen’s ability to display election signs.
Under current law, local regulatory bodies such as these have the legal ability to dictate size, location and number of signs someone within their jurisdiction may display. Supporters of the legislation argue these restrictions impede the First Amendment rights of citizens who live in these areas. Detractors say that homeowners’ associations exist to protect the aesthetics and property values of a community, thus should have the full ability to dictate what may be displayed.
The bill specifies that only newly-formed entities will be forced to comply with the law. It also stipulates that if covenants are revisited the organization must revise codes to reflect the newly implemented law.
Governor Presents Budget Supplements
The Department of Finance and Administration presented Governor Haslam’s appropriation amendments on Tuesday. Presentations were made to the Senate and House Finance, Ways, and Means Committees. Every year, the administration offers its budget amendment package in order to make financial adjustments as a result of unforeseen circumstances, legislative initiatives, and adjustments in revenue estimates.
Commissioner Larry Martin and staff provided the presentations and reported almost $60 million in reversion adjustments. These revisions are a result of state agency savings. The commissioner testified that these reversions can be attributed to strong financial and resource stewardship of departments. They also reported one-time funds coming into the state budget from a court settlement relative to F&E Tax payments. That item equates to a $51 million increase.
In terms of proposed new expenditures, there have been several adjustments made for legislation, which will not materialize in the 2017 session. Additionally, proposed new expenditures are being made to promote Sevier County and Gatlinburg following last year’s wildfire disasters. The commissioner explained nearly $5 million would be designated for relief and stimulation efforts. They also alluded to a tax refund effort for those buying materials to help the area rebuild. Also, the administration is proposing an additional $55 million be shifted to the state highway fund in addition to that designated by the IMPROVE Act. Commissioner Martin pointed out the additional transfer to the highway fund was to kick start new projects and expedite infrastructure improvements.
Governor Haslam is also proposing $40 million to help preserve parts of Tennessee’s historical integrity. The allocation is to assist with construction of a new State Library and archives facility.
The commissioner pointed out that the intention of his department and the administration is to follow guidelines in order to maintain the state’s AAA bond rating.
Other investments in the FY 2017-1018 budget amendment include:
1) $8 Million to increase salaries paid to Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities service providers who care for the state’s most vulnerable.
2) $2 million for prevention, education, treatment and recovery services for use in the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. These extra funds were allocated hoping to reduce the recidivism rate.
Gas Tax Passes and Is Signed into Law
The Gas Tax (Improve Act) passed the House and Senate. I fought very hard for an alternative plan that would have fully funded our transportation needs without any tax increases. Unfortunately, the plan that does increase taxes on gas and registration fees was passed. There was a slight 1% tax decrease on food and a tax breaks for businesses. The Hall Tax reduction was included which had already been approved and committed to by the General Assembly last year. I believe that the cost of transporting goods will rise because businesses are not going to simply absorb the tax increase and lower profits. There was also the ability for local governments to raise taxes on 6 other items with local approval. Overall, I believe that this was not in any way a win for the average taxpayer in Tennessee. Also, because of state expenditures, we are in the unenviable position of having a budget that will break the Copeland Cap unless we find cuts.
Sign Language Will Now Satisfy Foreign Language Requirements
Legislation was passed that now allows for American Sign Language (ASL) to be used to satisfy foreign language requirements in Tennessee high schools. Estimates show that there are approximately 500,000 Tennesseans who are deaf or hard of hearing and use sign language to communicate. Forty other states have passed similar legislation.
As we come near to the end of the first Session of the 110th General Assembly, I will keep you informed. I also look forward to getting back into the District and being an active part of our fantastic community!