MURFREESBORO, Tenn. May 7, 2015– Friends, here is the final update from the 2015 legislative session. It has been an honor to serve as your Representative in Nashville.
Republicans Focus On Jobs, Education, Tax Cuts; Adjourn In Timely Manner
Late into the night on April 22, lawmakers wrapped up the first half of the 109th General Assembly, focusing efforts on passing commonsense legislative initiatives to aid both immediate and long-term economic development in Tennessee’s private sector.
Measures to empower teachers, ensure employers find Tennessee an attractive destination for their businesses, and reinvigorate the state’s education system to better train the next generation of Tennessee workers were among the House GOP’s priorities. In addition, House Republicans worked hard this year to cut taxes and ensure the state continues to foster an environment where new jobs are created and small business can thrive.
With Republicans at the helm, the legislature finished its work in record time compared to previous years, saving millions of dollars for taxpayers across the state.
With the first half of the 109th General Assembly now in the books, the House Republican Caucus is ready to continue advocating for conservative fiscal policies to carry forward this year’s efforts into the next legislative session.
Fiscally Conservative Balanced Budget Passed By House Of Representatives
Budget cuts taxes, fully funds education, moves an additional $73.5 million to Rainy Day Fund
In the final few days of this year’s legislative session, the House of Representatives passed Tennessee’s annual budget with an 80 – 12 vote. The bill’s passage was the culmination of months of tireless work crafting a fiscally responsible and balanced budget. The $33.3 billion budget cuts taxes, puts $73.5 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, improves our educational system, and provides an even better environment for businesses to grow and for jobs to flourish.
When Republicans became the General Assembly’s majority party in 2010, Tennesseans asked for fiscal responsibility to be a priority looking forward. The 2015-2016 budget holds true to that principle while ensuring Tennesseans get the services they expect from state government.
As Washington, D.C. and other states are mired in partisan gridlock and out-of-control spending, Republicans in Tennessee have made responsible decisions that will continue to ensure the state is positioned to be a top leader in the country on jobs. Since January of 2011, over 225,000 new private sector jobs have been created in Tennessee.
Highlights of the 2015-2016 budget include:
K-12 and Higher Education Investment
A large portion of this year’s budget focuses on education, including funding for K-12, higher education, and proposals designed to build on the Drive to 55 program—an effort to raise the percentage of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate beyond high school from 32 to 55 by the year 2025.
For K-12 education, budget highlights include:
• Funding of the Basic Education Program (BEP) formula;
• The repeal of Common Core in the state with funding to replace the educational standards with a system based solely on Tennessee values and ideas;
• $100 million dollars for increasing teacher salaries, which amounts to a 4% pool that education associations will have available as they make local decisions to increase teacher pay;
• An extra $30 million to pay for teacher’s health insurance;
• And $5 million to create the Educators’ Liability Trust Fund to offer liability insurance to Tennessee teachers at no cost to them.
Notable higher education investments include:
• $260 million for capital projects, including new science facilities at Jackson State Community College and the University of Tennessee, nearly $25 million for improvements to colleges of applied technology across the state, and funding for a fine arts classroom building at East Tennessee State University;
• $25 million to fully fund the Complete College Act formula;
• And $10 million for need-based scholarships for students.
The budget also includes specific workforce development investments geared toward moving forward with the state’s Drive to 55 efforts, including:
• $2.5 million for statewide outreach efforts for adult students and technical assistance to local communities that are finding ways to support adult learners;
• $2.5 million to support the success of the SAILS (Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support) program which addresses remediation in high school;
• $1.5 million to establish the Community College Reconnect Grant pilot program to provide last dollar scholarships for adults with some post-secondary credit to attend community college;
• $1 million to establish competitive grants to two-year and four-year institutions to develop initiatives specifically designed for veterans;
• And $400,000 to establish the Tennessee Promise Bridge Program (TPBP), which will bring first-generation college students to campus prior to fall enrollment, which is one more step in making sure they have the best chance possible to succeed. The TPBP will work in conjunction with the main Tennessee Promise plan.
The main Tennessee Promise Program, set to being this fall with the class of 2015, provides high school graduates the opportunity to attend a community or technical college free of tuition and fees. It is both a scholarship and mentoring program that provides last-dollar scholarship dollars that cover costs not met from the Pell, HOPE, or TSAA scholarship programs. While removing the financial burden is key, a critical component of the Tennessee Promise is the individual guidance each participant will receive from a volunteer mentor who provides guidance and assistance as the student enters higher education. In addition, under the program, students are required to complete eight hours of community service per enrolled term, as well as maintain at least a 2.0 GPA. Of the 65,000 high school seniors in Tennessee, 58,000 applied for the Tennessee Promise this year.
Job Recruitment, Workforce Development & Tax Cuts
Building on the success of other job-related legislation passed during the 108th General Assembly, the budget this year again makes investments in job recruitment and tax reforms.
Notable items include:
• A cut in the Hall tax for seniors 65 and older. The Hall tax is imposed on income derived from interest on bonds, notes, and stock dividends. Since enactment of the Hall tax in 1929, the use of investment savings has grown as a primary source of retirement income. Because of this fact, Republican lawmakers argue the Hall tax is actually an income tax, especially for seniors living on a fixed income. The Hall tax cut approved in the budget raises the income exemption level from $33,000 to $37,000 for single filers and from $59,000 to $68,000 for joint filers. Lawmakers hope to continue building on this tax cut in the future, eventually eliminating it completely;
• Making Tennessee’s tax structure more competitive with surrounding states by changing the way a multi-state company’s income and net worth is taxed for franchise and excise purposes;
• A continuation in funding of the state’s FastTrack Infrastructure and Job Training Program which aids businesses across the state in securing funding for expansion projects and ensuring employees are trained to their fullest potential;
• An increase in funding to Tennessee’s nine regional development districts to help local governments implement important infrastructure projects and recruit new business;
• And continued funding to recruit and develop the state’s film and television industry which has steadily grown in recent years and helped bring in millions of film and tourism dollars.
In addition, the 2015-2016 budget includes other strategic capital investments statewide that will help fund programs to ensure Tennesseans have the skills needed to obtain well-paying, 21st century jobs after graduation. It also important to note that in 2016, the full repeal of the state death tax will finalize — a major win for thousands of farmers and business owners. Farmers and multi-generational businesses will avoid a tax of between 5.5 percent and 9.5 percent on their estates once this repeal is complete.
Other Budget Highlights
Other highlights of Governor Haslam’s 2015-2016 budget include:
• $73.5 million dollars for the Rainy Day Fund to bring it to $568 million total in the account. This is the second highest amount ever available in the Fund;
• $250,000 for regional food banks in the state;
• $1 million for capital improvements to the state’s accredited zoos in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis, and Nashville, as well as the Tennessee Aquarium;
• $500,000 for statewide methamphetamine cleanup programs;
• And, a continuation of property tax relief efforts passed in previous years to help veterans, seniors, and the disabled population of Tennessee.
House Republicans Work To Streamline State Government
Before the start of this year’s legislative session, a joint committee of the House and Senate met to review state government agencies, commissions, and boards that are subject to termination, renewal, or modification in an effort to cut unneeded government bureaucracy and save taxpayer dollars.
The chairman of the joint committee, which abolished seventeen state entities during the 108th General Assembly, hopes to continue this trend by bringing even more state entities under legislative review.
Proponents of these audits point to numerous agencies that lack any state oversight for their next round of reviews.
Since becoming the majority party in the state legislature in 2010, Republicans have continually worked to streamline government and cut waste wherever possible.
New Legislative Website Launched
A newly designed website for the Tennessee General Assembly means a host of new interactive features that improve transparency and access to legislators.
The new website, which was last updated in 2008, includes upgraded bill tracking features, video streaming, and highlights on the latest pieces of legislation.
The House hopes the new customer-friendly website layout will allow users to more easily find information about lawmakers and the legislative process.
Over the years, the state legislative website has received multiple accolades for its citizen-friendly appeal. The new website design is expected to win even more awards for transparency and ease of use.
Tennessee General Assembly Kicks Off 2015 With
The first half of the 109th General Assembly certainly started differently than most years, as lawmakers were called into an Extraordinary Session on February 2nd to begin debate on Governor Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal, a two year pilot program unveiled at the end of 2014 with the goal of providing healthcare and Medicaid coverage to Tennesseans who currently do not have access to health insurance or have limited options.
After choosing not to expand traditional Medicaid two years ago, Governor Haslam believed his new proposal would provide a unique Tennessee solution to providing healthcare coverage for low-income Tennesseans.
After several days of debate, however, the legislation was defeated in the Senate, with House lawmakers never having an opportunity to vote on the plan.
This year’s Extraordinary Session was the 58th Extraordinary Session in the history of the state. The most recent Extraordinary Session prior to this year was in January 2010, which focused on education reform.
Of the 57 Extraordinary Sessions in the state’s history, five were called by Governor John Sevier, the State’s first Governor, and 31 were called before the year 1900.
In addition, 55 of the 57 Sessions were called by the Governor as provided in Article III, Section 9, of the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, while two were called by the Legislature as provided in Article II, Section 8.
The Extraordinary Sessions of 1971, 1982, and 1996 each lasted only one day; the Second Extraordinary Session of 1890, the Extraordinary Session of 1936, and the Extraordinary Session of 1944 each lasted four calendar days. The Second Extraordinary Session of 1866 lasted from November 5, 1866 until March 11, 1867 and is the longest in state history.
Tennessee Named State Of The Year
Also in February of this year, Business Facilities magazine, a leading national publication focused on economic development, officially named Tennessee its State of the Year for the second year in a row.
With this award, Tennessee becomes the first state in the award’s history to win back-to-back honors for economic development efforts and the first state to win the designation three times—in 2009, 2013, and 2014.
While politicians in Washington and around the country continue policies of reckless spending and partisan bickering, lawmakers in Tennessee have proudly passed state budgets that exercise fiscal restraint, save money for the future, cut taxes for all Tennesseans, and fully-fund our state’s educational priorities.
Some of Tennessee’s top economic development projects in 2014 included Volkswagen Group of America’s Chattanooga expansion creating 2,000 jobs with an investment of $600 million, Under Armour’s new Mt. Juliet fulfillment center creating 1,500 jobs and an investment of more than $100 million, SL Tennessee’s Clinton expansion creating 1,000 jobs and with an $80.5 investment, and Conduit Global’s new Memphis call center creating 1,000 jobs with an $8 million investment.
Tennessee has rapidly climbed the ladder over the last three years as one of the overall best-managed states in the nation. Coupled with the fact that Tennessee is one of only a handful of states with a higher bond rating than that of the federal government — a major indicator that showcases our stable fiscal environment — it is easy to see why so many are looking to the state for economic guidance.
Google Fiber Coming To Middle Tennessee
Officials at Google announced earlier this year that they have selected four areas in the Southeast — including Nashville — to receive its new fiber optic broadband service, called Google Fiber, which can deliver Internet speeds at more than 50 times the national average.
The other cities included in the first selection by Google are Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, and Charlotte. Five west coast cities previously identified as finalists remain in the running for fiber optic services later down the road.
Google Fiber boasts that its service can download an entire movie in less than two minutes, with most current broadband services ranging from 90 minutes to several hours to do the same.
The price point for Nashville is expected to be approximately $70 a month for gigabit speed Internet. For an additional $50 per month, Google’s TV service can be added which includes hundreds of TV channels and can store up to 500 hours of HD content. For basic broadband, which offers 5 Mbps download speeds and 1 Mbps upload speeds, it is free after a $300 one-time installation fee, or $25 a month for 12 months.
Google has not announced when their Google Fiber service will be available to customers in the new cities, but officials said they hope the work to be complete within the next two years.
Taskforce Examines Tennessee Sentencing Structure, Recidivism Rate
A task force formed by Governor Bill Haslam met in Nashville this year to continue studying the state’s sentencing structure and examine ways to reduce Tennessee’s high recidivism rate — that is, the number of people returning to prison within three years of being released.
The goal of the task force is to develop recommendations for the Governor and his cabinet in an effort to improve state corrections laws. The current sentencing structure in Tennessee has been in place for more than 20 years, with the recidivism rate averaging approximately 45 percent.
After the meeting, the task force is expected to release its findings to the Governor by June. At that point, the Governor will make his own recommendations to various state departments and offer changes to state law to the legislature for approval.
Tennessee General Assembly Participates In National ‘Wear Red’ Day
Members and staff of the Tennessee General Assembly participated in the national Wear Red Day this year to help spread awareness about women’s risk of heart disease and to send a clear message to the women of Tennessee that protecting their health is important to families and communities across the state.
Although significant progress has been made increasing awareness of the number one killer of women, cardiovascular disease still claims the lives of more than 419,000 American females each year. Recently, Nashville was named the least heart-healthy city for women in America.
As part of Wear Red Day in Tennessee, the American Heart Association asked for members of the legislature and staff to wear a piece of red clothing while also encouraging family and friends to do the same. By participating in National Wear Red Day, groups greatly enhance efforts to improve women’s awareness of heart disease in conjunction with the American Heart Association and the Go Red For Women campaign.
Office Of The Repealer Seeks Citizen Input
The Office of the Repealer, an initiative created with the goal of streamlining state government and saving taxpayer dollars, is currently seeking input from citizens across the state.
Brought to life in 2013, the Repealer has the sole responsibility of making recommendations to the legislature of areas of government waste, duplication, and out-of-date regulations that should be removed from the law books.
In addition, the Office of the Repealer takes recommendations directly from the public, basing its decisions on input received from business-owners, educators, activists, and concerned citizens from across the state.
Since its creation in July 2013, the Repealer has identified several major areas of waste and duplication within the Tennessee code books. Once identified, legislators within the Tennessee General Assembly must sponsor bills to remove the outdated language and other antiquated items from law.
To visit the Office of the Repealer website and submit your own ideas, visit http://www.capitol.tn.gov/joint/staff/legal/repealer.html, email email@example.com, or
call (615) 741-3056.
Veterans Remain A Top Focus For General Assembly
Republicans worked tirelessly this year to pass bills to aid Tennessee veterans and their families. From education assistance to the extension of veteran’s treatment courts, legislators have vowed to continue fighting to ensure Tennessee military men and women are taken care of.
One bill from this year, House Bill 8, will ensure high school students that train between their junior and senior year in the National Guard or go to advanced training after their senior year will still remain eligible for the state’s Tennessee Promise program.
Also on the education front, the House gave final approval to legislation updating the state’s laws pursuant to the Veterans Access, Choice, & Accountability Act of 2014. House Bill 715 adds spouses and dependent children as parties eligible for in-state tuition rates. Since a veteran can assign their benefits to a spouse or children, they would also qualify for these tuition and fee rates. The legislation also shifts the period of eligibility after discharge for in-state tuition rates from two years to three years. In addition, it requires the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to convene the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Board of Regents systems to review processes related to awarding academic credit to veterans. This is known as “PLA” or “prior learning assessment’” and ensures that veteran students receive as much academic credit as possible for training or skills obtained during their service.
Other veteran-related bills this year include House Bill 803, which gives non-resident veterans the same authorization as veterans who are Tennessee residents to use their experience as a military truck driver to receive a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in the state. As passed, the legislation allows experienced military drivers to waive the state’s CDL skills test requirement upon providing proof of a military license for the class of vehicle for which they are seeking licensure. This new change applies as long as the veteran’s driving record shows no accidents or citations over the past two years.
Approval was also given this year to legislation allowing 501 (c) (19) veterans organizations to raise funds for charitable purposes. House Bill 172 is the final step in ensuring that Amendment 4 to the State Constitution, which won approval by voters in November of last year, is enacted. The amendment gives veterans groups the same opportunity as 501 (c) (3) organizations to conduct annual fundraising events like cake walks, raffles, and other games of chance. Amendment 4 received 69.6 percent of the vote, outpacing all other constitutional amendments on the ballot. Any funds raised by the games under the amendment must go to purposes that benefit the community, veterans, or retired veterans.
In addition, House members unanimously moved forward with legislation designed to better support the healthcare needs of military men and women across Tennessee. As passed, House Bill 425 authorizes healthcare providers who are in the National Guard to provide volunteer clinic services in a Tennessee military armory for those in need. Currently, no authorization is in place that allows these military members to provide such care. The new program will be referred to as the Mission Tennessee for Veterans Program. While supporters agree the bill is not the final solution in solving veteran’s healthcare issues, they do agree the legislation is a great stride in ensuring veterans in Tennessee, using resources already in place, receive the healthcare they deserve.
Finally, House lawmakers voted for an extension of the state’s Veteran’s Court pilot program, which is currently in place in Shelby, Montgomery, and Davidson Counties. These courts help give service members in Tennessee the option of pursuing treatment and recovery programs rather than incarceration;
Building on bills from the last several years, the House hopes measures passed this session will continue helping to make life easier for military members and their families in the state.
Legislation To Replace Common Core Passes House With Unanimous Support
Lawmakers say no to allowing federal standards in state education system
House Bill 1035 passed the full House of Representatives this year with unanimous support from state lawmakers. The legislation establishes a process by which the state will formally replace the controversial Common Core education standards with a new set of standards crafted solely by Tennesseans.
As passed, the bill specifies that Tennessee is now fully in charge of creating its own educational standards and ensures that none will be imposed on the state by the federal government in the future. The bill establishes a Standards Recommendation Committee that will be comprised of ten members, with four appointed by the Governor, three appointed by the Speaker of the Senate, and three appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. In addition, the bill gives the legislature the power to confirm these appointments before they are finalized, ensuring no appointments are made without legislative approval of the entire body.
The legislation also requires the State Board of Education to cancel the “Memorandum of Understanding” that had previously been agreed upon concerning Common Core State Standards.
Throughout the process of crafting these new education standards, House Bill 1035 provides multiple opportunities for public input and stresses transparency. Ultimately, the legislation will fully remove Tennessee from federal Common Core Standard guidelines while empowering Tennessee education professionals to craft new standards of educational excellence without undue influence from outside the state.
Heralded by proponents as the pathway to finally implementing Tennessee-based education standards in the state, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree this legislation will finally vanquish the Common Core standards that have drawn the ire of parents, teachers, school administrators, and advocacy groups nationwide over the last several years.
House Republicans Push Pilot Program To Help Adult Learners Complete College Degree
Key education bills headlined much of the action on Capitol Hill this year in Nashville as House Republicans voted in favor of a new pilot program to help adults complete their degree in Tennessee’s community colleges. As passed, House Bill 646 establishes the Community College Reconnect Grant — a last-dollar scholarship to adults who want to return to community college and complete their associate’s degree in applied science.
Currently in Tennessee, adults account for approximately 30% of enrolled undergraduate students, which equals about 65,000 adult learners. However, the number of adult Tennesseans with some college experience but no degree is over 900,000. Legislators agree that in order to reach the state’s goal of equipping at least 55% of Tennesseans with a college degree or technical certificate by the year 2025, this bill must play an integral part in the process.
Adults who meet all of the qualifications of the new program will be expected to enroll in a Tennessee public community college in the 2016-2017 academic year. Key qualifications to receive the grant include Tennessee residency for at least one year preceding the date of application for the grant and completion of at least 30 hours towards the completion of an associates of applied science degree. Grant recipients must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA and enroll in at least 9 semester hours in the fall and spring semesters.
In order to fund this program, there will be a one-time expense to the lottery fund of $1.5 million. Legislators hope the pilot project will be the first step to a larger program that serves even more adults who choose to go back to school to meet their lifetime educational goals.
Lawmakers, Farmers Celebrate Annual “Ag Day On The Hill” Event
House lawmakers joined together with farmers and agriculture stakeholders from across the state this year to celebrate Tennessee’s annual “Ag Day on the Hill” event at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville.
Ag Day on the Hill activities included a corn shucking and shelling competition between Senate and House members, a cattle-weighing contest, farm animals, crops and equipment, as well as presentations from local 4-H and Future Farmers of America groups.
New this year, the event also featured a food drive sponsored by the Society of St. Andrew, where groups helped sack nearly 20,000 pounds of potatoes to be delivered to those in need.
Tennessee has 76,000 farms representing 10.8 million acres in production. More than half of the state, 14 million acres, is in mostly privately owned hardwood forests. Tennessee’s top agricultural commodities include cattle, soybeans, corn, poultry, cotton, timber, greenhouse and nursery products, dairy products, wheat, tobacco, and hay. The industry has a $66 billion a year impact on the state’s economy and supports nearly 337,900 jobs.
House Republicans Address Policing For Profit Issues
Though the legislation was taken off notice after an agreement was made with key law enforcement agencies to correct the problem internally, House lawmakers worked hard this year to address the issue of policing for profit in Tennessee.
As introduced, the bill required law enforcement agencies to pay for the cost of returning a vehicle back to its original condition if it is dismantled, damaged, or altered during a search and seizure operation. This requirement would only apply if the driver or passengers are not charged with a criminal offense and nothing is seized, the forfeiture warrant is denied, or if the agency does not meet its burden of proof at the forfeiture hearing.
Proponents of the legislation noted that Tennessee has experienced a serious problem over the years with certain law enforcement agencies policing for profit. This has resulted in many law abiding citizens being targeted for no reason and their personal property damaged and cash being seized.
The agreement negotiated before the bill was taken off notice involved numerous meetings with the Tennessee Department of Safety, the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association, the Tennessee Police Chief’s Association, and the Peace Officers Standards & Training Commission. Following several weeks of negotiations, all stakeholders involved agreed it made sense to develop a training curriculum to effectively deal with the problem internally, as opposed to creating a new state law.
The bill’s sponsors noted, however, they would not hesitate to take legislative action next year if the agreement fails to move forward in the coming days.
Crime Prevention Takes Spotlight In 2015 Session
Republicans worked this year to pass legislation to prevent crimes and assist victims, while working to crack down on those who choose to violate state laws. Key bills and efforts include:
• Legislation to permit the Board of Probation and Parole to deny an inmate’s parole if he or she is using the parole hearings process to intimidate and harass a victim;
• An extension of the statute of limitations for promoting prostitution from 10 to 25 years in order to give victims more time to address the issue and prosecutors more time to prosecute offenders who are promoting prostitution;
• Legislation to give law enforcement and other officials more training to identify, investigate, and prosecute cases of human trafficking in Tennessee;
• And a bill which increases the penalty and provides for harsher punishment for those convicted of the sexual exploitation of a minor.
House Passes Legislation To Help Better Protect Domestic Violence Victims
Legislation designed to help better protect victims of domestic violence passed the full House of Representatives this year with unanimous support from state lawmakers.
As passed, House Bill 41 removes the provision in state law that allows judges and magistrates to waive the 12-hour “cooling off” period during which a person charged with a domestic violence offense or an elder abuse offense cannot be released on bail.
The legislation still allows for judicial discretion based on the individual circumstances, but requires judges to list in the record why a waiver was given while also making every effort to notify the victim before the waiver is approved.
Supporters of House Bill 41 believe its passage will help prevent repeat domestic violence incidents from occurring in the future, while also equalizing the way judges currently grant these waivers.
Intractable Pain Act Repealed By House Of Representatives
After 14 years on the law books, the House of Representatives officially voted this year to repeal the state’s Intractable Pain Act. The Act was passed in 2001 after years of debate concerning how to properly treat patients suffering from acute and chronic pain.
While some members of the legislature viewed the original law as well-intentioned, critics argued the legislation has resulted in years of negative consequences related to prescription drug abuse.
The 2001 law included a “Pain Patient’s Bill of Rights”, declaring that a patient suffering from severe chronic pain has the option to choose opiate medications to relieve that pain. The law also removed disciplinary action for doctors who prescribed or administered painkilling drugs in the course of treatment for a person with intractable pain.
In the years since, Tennessee has become the state with the highest per-person average of prescription drugs, with prescription drug abuse becoming a scourge to many communities.
Advocates of the legislation hope the repeal is the first in a series of steps to curb prescription drug abuse and cut down on the number of “pill mills” in the state.
Consumer Protection Bill Passes House With Unanimous Support
New consumer protection legislation passed the full House of Representatives this year with unanimous support from state lawmakers.
As passed, House Bill 114 prohibits the printing of a social security number on a check as a requirement for a person to receive a benefit, good, or other service of value unless that person provides written permission to do so.
Currently in Tennessee, no restriction exists in law that prevents businesses or individuals from requesting or requiring that a customer provide their social security number on a personal check before it will be accepted. As common as identity theft has become across the nation, this ability represents an unnecessary and dangerous practice.
In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission received 4,175 complaints of identity theft from Tennesseans, and that number has steadily increased each year. Nationally, financial losses due to personal identity theft in 2012 totaled $24.7 billion, over $10 billion more than the losses attributed to all other property crimes.
As a recent article in the Jackson Sun warned, thieves often use social security numbers written on personal checks as a first step in stealing an identity. In addition, the article noted many surrounding states have already enacted laws that prevent this practice. While merchants and individuals may not intend to abuse information provided on checks, anyone to whom that check passes could potentially use what is given to steal a customer’s identity.
Once in effect, House Bill 114 will increase inherent consumer protections against crimes of identity theft by preventing consumers from being asked to disclose more personal information than is necessary to transact business.
Driver License Reform Bill Receives Legislative Approval
Legislation designed to save money and cut down on the time spent renewing driver licenses passed the full House of Representatives and Senate earlier this year.
As many Tennesseans note, despite technologies that allow licenses to be renewed online or in mobile kiosks, driver license centers across the state are often overcrowded.
House Bill 198 will help solve this problem by moving the driver license renewal period from five to eight years. As the law stands now, Tennessee has among the shortest periods of time that a license is valid when compared to other states. Most states already have either a seven or an eight year license.
Currently, driver license centers in Tennessee average over one and a half million renewals per year, with most being done in person. Once House Bill 198 goes into effect, the number of renewals will drop to around nine-hundred thousand, with annual processing dropping by over forty percent.
Because Tennesseans will be issued cards less frequently over the course of their lifetimes, the state of Tennessee also will not have to produce as many each year. The cost to produce a plastic driver license is about $2.23. The estimated savings for the state in cards that it will not produce is over $1.7 million per year after the longer driver license period is fully implemented.
Part of this bill also includes a reduction in the price paid for the privilege of holding a driver license. Class D, M, and Photo ID license fees will be reduced by around 10% each. While that difference in cost might be negligible to individual drivers who only save a couple of dollars every 8 years; collectively, that keeps millions of dollars from being spent by the Department of Safety on plastic and the process of making additional licenses.
Bill To Decriminalize Cannabis Oil Passed By General Assembly
Legislation designed to decriminalize the possession of cannabis oil in Tennessee for the purpose of treating children who suffer from life-threatening seizures passed in the Tennessee General Assembly this year in Nashville.
The motivation behind filing House Bill 197 occurred after learning of the plight of 7-month-old Josie Mathes, who lives in Greene County, and suffers from infantile seizures. Her parents, Stacie and Logan Mathes, believe she would be relieved by the use of cannabis oil.
As passed, the bill mandates that the oil must have less than .9% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the “high” causing agent in marijuana. Typically suspended in coconut or olive oil, cannabis oil is strictly a byproduct of a low-THC hybrid plant that contains high doses of Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, the main ingredient proven to aid with infantile seizures. It is important to note that the bill neither legalizes the smoking of marijuana nor permits the use of medical marijuana in Tennessee.
Proponents of the legislation argue the bill will help countless children across Tennessee who currently suffer from life-threatening seizures.
Childhood Apraxia Of Speech Awareness Resolution Unanimously Passes House
Earlier this year, a resolution sponsored to raise awareness regarding childhood apraxia of speech passed the House of Representatives with unanimous support from state lawmakers.
As introduced, the resolution details the importance of early and intensive intervention to address the needs of children with apraxia of speech and the importance of supporting improved awareness of this condition.
Childhood apraxia of speech is a neurological and motor disorder of unknown cause. Children with apraxia have trouble enunciating sounds and coordinating the muscles used for speech. These children are often misdiagnosed as having delayed speech, hearing disorders, or even as being autistic. Because of misdiagnoses and delayed treatment, many of these children suffer from self-esteem issues and even bullying.
The full text of House Joint Resolution 12 can be found by visiting
Good Samaritan Legislation Receives Overwhelming Support to Include Animals
In last year’s session, House Republicans moved forward with legislation to implement liability protection for Tennesseans that break a car window in an attempt to rescue a minor locked in a vehicle if they believe the situation threatens the child’s well-being.
The bill was filed following tragedies that have occurred across the state over the years when infants and young children have lost their lives after being left unattended in hot vehicles, especially during the summer months.
The requirements under last year’s legislation deemed that it was still necessary for the citizen to make sure the car was locked and there was no other way for the minor to get out of the vehicle without outside assistance.
Over the past year, citizens across the state have asked this protection to also extend to those who break a car window to rescue an animal. This year, the House passed House Bill 537 to do exactly that.
Now that the bill has been signed into law, citizens attempting to rescue an animal will not be considered liable for damages as long as the citizen believes the animal is in eminent danger before acting.
Just like last year’s legislation, this bill is the first of its kind implemented in the entire nation and proponents hope the bill will lead to the prevention of unnecessary and unintentional deaths of minors and animals across the state.
Tennessee Main Street Communities See Big Success In 2014
1,565 New Jobs Created, 171 New Businesses Started
House Republicans joined with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development this year to announce the 2014 economic impact statistics from Tennessee’s 28 Main Street communities for activities occurring between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2014. These Main Street communities generated more than $95 million of public and private investment in 2014 and continue to be a vital part of the state’s economic and cultural identity.
Tennessee Main Street provides technical assistance and training for communities in developing real-world solutions to make downtowns safe, appealing, vibrant places where people want to shop, work, live, invest, and make memories. With regard to Tennessee’s Main Street program, supporters agree that flourishing downtowns help provide a sense of pride for communities which in turn helps spur tourism, promote entrepreneurship, and ultimately create jobs.
Investment statistics from the designated Main Street communities report includes:
New jobs created: 1,565
New businesses started: 171
Building rehabilitation projects: 298
Public improvement projects: 248
Net new housing units: 54
Volunteer hours contributed: 114,807
Total public & private investment: $95,500,000
This year’s annual reinvestment statistics make a strong statement about the economic activity occurring within our Tennessee Main Street program districts. New jobs, businesses and investment, along with an impressive number of volunteer work hours, prove this community-based approach to downtown revitalization is hard at work.
There are currently 28 designated Main Street program communities across Tennessee: Bristol, Brownsville, Cleveland, Collierville, Columbia, Cookeville, Dandridge, Dayton, Dyersburg, Fayetteville, Franklin, Gallatin, Greeneville, Jackson, Jonesborough, Kingsport, Lawrenceburg, Lebanon, McMinnville, Murfreesboro, Morristown, Rogersville, Tiptonville, Savannah,
Sweetwater, Union City, Ripley, and Winchester.
For more information about the Tennessee Main Street Program, visit
Legislature Acts to Ban Powdered Alcohol in Tennessee
Legislation to ban the sale of powdered or crystalline alcohol in Tennessee was approved this year in the state legislature. House Bill 404 makes it a Class A misdemeanor offense to sell the product, which is currently pending approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Palcohol, which is the brand name for the new product, was approved last year by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau before the agency rescinded that decision over labeling issues. When mixed with water the powdered alcohol becomes an instant cocktail. It is being promoted as a product that can be easily transported by the consumer.
The powdered alcohol product is creating concern nationwide that it would be an easy and accessible target for abuse by underage drinkers, including the possibility of being snorted. There is also concern that the product could be misused by adults if it is sprinkled onto someone’s food or drink without their knowledge. In addition, there are concerns that it would greatly increase the risk of over-drinking and alcohol poisoning if it is not properly mixed.
Powdered alcohol products would not be defined as an alcoholic beverage under current Tennessee law because it is not a liquid and would be free from regulation by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. This means it could be sold directly to minors in grocery stores, over the Internet or in any other location.
Thirteen states have enacted similar legislation banning powdered alcohol.
Right To Try Bill Passes With Unanimous Support
Legislation referred to as the “Tennessee Right to Try Act” passed the full House of Representatives this year with unanimous support from state lawmakers.
As passed, House Bill 143 nullifies certain federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules that prevent terminally ill patients from accessing experimental treatments. Currently, patients with life-threatening diseases may access experimental drugs, but only after receiving FDA approval. House Bill 143 allows eligible patients to bypass this FDA approval process and receive their experimental drugs directly from the manufacturer.
The legislation does not mandate participation by pharmaceutical companies and includes protection for healthcare providers, with a prohibition against revoking a license or issuing sanctions based on the issuance of investigational or experimental treatments.
Currently, 13 other states have already passed “Right to Try” laws similar to House bill 143, and more than 20 states are considering such measures in 2015.
Legislation To Unlock State Asphalt Grant Dollars Receives House Support
Legislation that will aid in unlocking nearly $23 million dollars statewide to taxpayers in the form of asphalt infrastructure improvements was approved by the General Assembly this year in Nashville.
The bill, which changes the way the state currently manages its State Aid Asphalt Grant Program, will allow funding set aside by the state to now be used in the form of direct expenditures to upgrade, repair, and rehabilitate roads that have fallen in disrepair over the years.
Currently, in order to receive funding through the Asphalt Grant Program, a 25% local match must be made. However, because many local governments cannot afford the match, a large percentage of the asphalt funding set aside by the state has gone unused. House Bill 1105 reduces the local match percentage to only 2%, ensuring that local governments can now afford the grant funding and are not burdened by excessive infrastructure expenses.
The main goal of the legislation is to take existing funds and convert them to asphalt infrastructure repairs. The funds are already allocated each year and House Bill 1105 creates a pathway to increase access for much-needed road improvements across the state.
“Ben Woodruff and Mike Locke Act” Passes General Assembly With Unanimous Support
Legislation dedicated to the memories of Ben Woodruff, Mike Locke, and all others affected by vehicular homicide over the years passed the full House of Representatives and Senate with unanimous support from state lawmakers during the final week of the 2015 legislative session in Nashville.
As passed, House Bill 45 bill prohibits the release eligibility for those convicted of vehicular homicide until the offender has served at least 60 percent of their sentence. Before the bill’s passage, such an offender was eligible for release after serving only a mere 30% of their punishment.
The legislation is named after Ben Woodruff and Mike Locke, both of whom were struck and killed by drunk drivers. The individual who struck Mr. Woodruff with his vehicle had 7 prior Driving Under the Influence (DUI) convictions, and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. However, because state law allowed that sentence to be reduced to 30% based on credits and time served, the individual was released after only 3 years in jail.
According to statistics from the Tennessee Department of Correction, the average sentence received for aggravated vehicular homicide over the last ten years is 19.64 years. However, the average time served for the same crimes over the same period averages only 7.87 years.
Pro-Life Bills Take Center Stage In Nashville
Legislative proposals sponsored this year to place restrictions on abortion procedures following the passage of Amendment 1 last November took center stage during the last few weeks of this year’s legislative session.
Amendment 1, which was approved by the people of Tennessee during the November 2014 general election, overturned a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court decision that restricted the legislature’s ability to provide commonsense regulations to the state’s abortion policies.
Two of the major bills passed by Republicans this year pertaining to abortion include House Bill 1368, which requires state licensure and inspection of abortion facilities in Tennessee, and House Bill 977, which provides for informed consent and establishes a 48-hour waiting period following that consent before an abortion can occur. Currently, Tennessee has no laws regarding these areas of abortion law.
Supporters of these bills agree the proposals fulfill a promise made by legislators last summer that the General Assembly would work to restore commonsense protections for women considering abortion in Tennessee.
As data from the Centers for Disease Control notes, 1 of 4 abortions in Tennessee are performed on women residing in another state, the 3rd highest out-of-state abortion rate in the nation. Such numbers have resulted in Tennessee becoming known as an abortion destination.
Legislators hope by passing these bills that safeguards will finally be in place to ensure state laws are strong enough to protect women seeking an abortion in Tennessee.
House Expands Second Amendment Rights For Tennesseans
House Republican lawmakers moved forward this year with several pieces of legislation aimed at expanding the Second Amendment rights of Tennesseans.
The first measure, House Bill 994, expands on a bill passed last year which allows individuals to carry their firearms safely secured in the trunk of their vehicle when on private property. This tweak to last year’s law creates a cause of action against an employer if they discharge or punish an employee based solely on the transportation or storage of a firearm or firearm ammunition in the trunk of a car while on the employer’s parking lot.
House Bill 683 prohibits schools from requiring students, parents, or employees to provide information on firearm ownership. In addition, the bill prohibits adverse disciplinary or employment action based on information of firearm ownership that is voluntarily provided.
House Bill 745 creates a lifetime handgun carry permit program which entitles the permit holder to carry any handgun that the permit holder legally owns or possesses without expiration. The application fee for the new lifetime handgun carry permit is set at $500, with no additional payments needed thereafter.
House Bill 934 permits the use of exploding targets in lawful sporting activities and exempts the use of such materials from the Tennessee Blasting Standards Act of 1975.
And, finally, House Bill 995 allows a person with a handgun carry permit to carry a firearm in any state, county, or municipal park, or other recreation area in Tennessee.
As Tennessee’s Constitution guarantees, “the citizens of this State have a right to keep and bear arms” — a right that House Republicans have actively sought to protect and expand over the last several years.
In Case You Missed It
Other key bills passed by Republicans this year include:
• House Bill 10, which promotes civics education in Tennessee classrooms;
• House Bill 606, which establishes an online verification program to help ensure compliance with state laws requiring motorists to have car insurance;
• House Bill 138, which provides additional pathways to customized education for students with special needs, giving parents the flexibility to direct their child’s funding to the schools, courses, programs and services that best fit the learning needs of their child through an Individualized Education Account (IEA);
• House Bill 556, which allows the Department of Safety and Homeland Security to develop an electronic driver’s license system;
• House Bill 935, which authorizes the seizure of assets derived from, used, or intended for use in acts of terrorism upon conviction;
• House Bill 24, which establishes the “Go Build Tennessee Act” to promote and encourage the recruitment of students in the construction industry;
• House Bill 1341, which prohibits public funds or resources in Tennessee from being allocated towards enforcement of federal laws if that results in a violation of any other Tennessee law or the Tennessee Constitution;
Having completed its business for the year, the first session of the 109th General Assembly is now complete. One General Assembly is comprised of two sessions, with the next meeting of the body beginning Tuesday, January 12, 2016 at high noon.