NASHVILLE, March 4, 2017– I hope all are enjoying a wonderful weekend! The weather is has been lovely. I just wanted to reach out and give you a few updates on what happened at the Capitol this week.
House Transportation Subcommittee Addresses Transportation Funding: Deputy Commissioner Paul Degges Visits Maury County Commission
From this point forward in the legislative session, the pace will pick up greatly! This week shed much light on some things we can expect to see through the remainder of the 2017 session. While only about 15% of the legislation that has been filed has been placed on committee calendars, policies are already beginning to take shape.
The Transportation Subcommittee met this week and passed amended legislation to address the state’s road funding needs. In its current posture, Governor Haslam’s legislation has been amended to remove taxation at the pump and shift one quarter of a cent in sales tax revenues to the transportation account. Amendments adopted in the committee also removed indexing provisions from the bill. This would have implemented incremental increases as the consumer price index grew. The legislation’s next stop will be in the full House Transportation Committee.
Every legislator up here realizes the need for a dedicated stream of funding to the Department of Transportation for road projects and bridge work. Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer Paul Degges and I spoke to the Maury County Commissioners at their last meeting about the plans for road projects and bridges in Maury County. TDOT has always been very responsive to the needs here in Maury County and I want to see them adequately funded as much as anybody. I also want to continue to “pay as we go.” And our counties and cities need to know that they are going to have help funding their projects. With that being said, Tennessee has been running an excess of tax revenue collections of about two billion dollars. Almost half of that is one-time collections and about half is recurring money. That makes it very difficult for me to justify raising tax on gas for consumers, many of whom drive hundreds of miles a month for work, and on the diesel fuel that is used in trucks that deliver our goods. I have heard many good options that would reallocate or redistribute the revenue that we already have coming in. My hope, for the sake of every Tennessean, is that those options get a fair hearing. If not, we are on track to pass a massive gas tax, with a raise in car registration fees and more tax on rental cars without making it revenue neutral for the households in Tennessee. Yes. You will hear that there are tax cuts in the legislation, however, I have mentioned that we have not even seen all of it yet. Also, from what we have seen (or at least heard about so far), the tax decrease for the average citizen is not close to the tax increases. It will bear watching to see how this legislation turns out.
Kudos to Tennessee’s Imagination Library!
On Tuesday, a representative from Tennessee’s Imagination Library and the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation testified before the Education Instruction and Programs Committee. Our committee heard testimony that the program has over 700 volunteers registered statewide who are interested in early childhood literacy and raising funds for the program. As you may know, the program provides one book per month to every child in the state between birth and five years old. This is done at no cost to parents or guardians. Since 2004, the program has grown incrementally. Today, 67% of eligible children are enrolled in the program. Please contact my office for more information about how to enroll.
Bills Filed to Fight Abuse of the Elderly
This week multiple bills were highlighted which, if passed, would enact laws that would help more fully protect the elderly from fraud and abuse.
SB1230 / HB810 –If passed, the legislation will enact the “Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act.” It adds new criminal statutes for abusing or defrauding elderly individuals in Tennessee. The bill also adds a number of new felony penalties to new and existing criminal actions. The bill would amend a number of areas of state law and is broad in nature.
SB1192 / HB304 –This piece of the plan amends the Tennessee Securities Act of 1980. It would increase some penalties for financial fraud violations involving the elderly population or other adults with mental or physical disabilities. The bill would also alter some of the filing and renewal requirements found in the Securities Act. It grants the commissioner of commerce and insurance authority to restrict certain exemptions.
SB1267 / HB1064 –If approved, this bill allows many state organizations to confer with one another on various subjects related to the protection of the elderly. These state agencies include: The Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, and the Department of Human Services. These agencies are also directed to interact with financial service providers to provide information on these subjects. These subjects include: education on the financial exploitation of elderly citizens, education on financial theft, and explore preventative measures for these areas.
These bills together are aimed to help protect elderly citizens of the state and allow them more protections in a vulnerable part of their lives. To date, none of the bills have been placed on committee calendars.
New Proposal Targets Illegal Opioid and Prescription Drug Suppliers
As the General Assembly boosts its efforts to combat the opioid and prescription drug epidemic in Tennessee, new legislation has been introduced that would impose tougher penalties on illegal opioid and prescription drug suppliers.
House Bill 786 would enable law enforcement to charge illegal suppliers with voluntary manslaughter when they cause death to a user by unlawfully distributing or delivering controlled substances. The voluntary manslaughter charge in Tennessee is currently a Class C felony and carries a penalty of 3-15 years in prison, as well as a fine of up to $10,000.
Supporters of the legislation hope the bill will reduce access to illegal opioid and drug distribution by creating greater punishment and determent for those who go around doctors and traditional prescriptions to supply the narcotics.
Tennessee consistently ranks at the top of the charts nationally as it relates to prescription drug abuse. In 2015, 1,451 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses, the highest annual number in our state’s history. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that prescription opioid abuse has a total economic burden of $78.5 billion per year in the United States.
In meeting with the District Attorneys across the state who were in Nashville this week, it was often stated that closing our Southern Borders would also be instrumental in stopping the flow of drugs into our State and even into our own Districts.
Legislation Advancing to Establish Long-Term Care For Those With Autism Spectrum Disorder
This week, members of the House Health Committee advanced legislation that that would establish a long-term system of care for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families.
House Bill 384 establishes the Tennessee Council on Autism Spectrum Disorder. This 16-person advisory council would make recommendations and provide leadership in program development regarding matters concerning all levels of ASD services in health care, education, and other adult, adolescent, and children’s services.
Specifically, the Council will be charged with seven tasks:
- Assessing the current and future impact of Autism Spectrum Disorder on Tennesseans;
- Assessing the availability of programs and services currently provided for early screening diagnosis and treatment of ASD;
- Seeking additional input and recommendations from stakeholders that include providers, clinicians, institutions of higher education, and those concerned with the health and quality of life for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder;
- Developing a comprehensive statewide plan for an integrated system of training, treatment, and services for individuals of all ages with ASD;
- Ensuring interagency collaboration as the comprehensive statewide system of care for Autism Spectrum Disorder is developed and implemented;
- Coordinating available resources related to developing and implementing a system of care for autism spectrum disorder;
- Coordinating state budget requests related to systems of care for individuals with autism spectrum disorders based on the studies and recommendations of the council.
The Tennessee Council on Autism Spectrum Disorder would consist of the Commissioner of Health, the Commissioner of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, the Commissioner of Education, the Commissioner of Human Services, the Commissioner of Commerce & Insurance, the Deputy Commissioner of TennCare, the Commissioner of Mental Health & Substance Abuse, one representative of the council on developmental disabilities, and six adult individuals who are either family members or primary caregivers of individuals with ASD.
Autism’s most-obvious signs tend to appear between 2 and 3 years of age. In some cases, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. The Autism Society currently estimates that about one percent of the world population has ASD, affecting over 3.5 million Americans. The organization also notes that Autism Spectrum Disorder is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States.
The legislation will next be heard in the Government Operations Committee.
Legislation to Encourage Growing and Selling of Tennessee-Based Agricultural Products
This week House legislation moved forward that will encourage the growing and selling of Tennessee-based agricultural products across the state.
As filed, House Bill 299 is a pro-small business bill that removes governmental regulations and red tape that have placed undue burdens on the distribution of homegrown, locally produced food products.
Currently, all food manufacturers, regardless of size, are required to be licensed and inspected by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, incurring fees and other payments due to the state. House Bill 299 removes these licensing costs, allowing home-kitchens and small start-up companies the ability to thrive without being burdened by unnecessary fees and expenses.
Over the last several years, many rural communities across Tennessee have newly established farmers markets and local kitchens that continue to grow in size and offerings to the public. Because of current regulations, however, these groups have had difficulty expanding because of the high fees associated with providing these services.
If passed, House Bill 299 would stop the licensing and inspections required by the Department of Agriculture at over 150 existing domestic kitchens. This will allow for growth in our rural communities and at small business start-ups and farmers markets in all parts of the state.
I am looking forward to a couple of visits from High School Seniors in Maury County who will be coming to my office and asking questions for a Senior Project. Also, I was invited to read for Mrs. Allred’s 3rd grade class at J.E. Woodard Elementary School last Friday. I just happen to have a little granddaughter in that class, Nora Kate Butt, and it was fun for both of us!