IMPROVE Act Passes House Of Representatives
This week, members of the Tennessee General Assembly passed House Bill 534, the “Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads, and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy (IMPROVE) Act” — a proposal that Governor Bill Haslam introduced in January in an effort to help fund the state’s $10 billion backlog of road construction projects.
House Bill 534 is a sustainable plan that improves the state’s infrastructure, cuts taxes at historic rates, and encourages high quality jobs that maintain Tennessee’s economic momentum. While the legislation raises the tax on gas and diesel by .06 and .10 cents respectively over a three year period, it also reduces taxes by more than $300 million annually. Tax breaks in this year’s IMPROVE Act include a $125 million decrease in the sales tax on groceries, a $113 million reduction in taxes to Tennessee’s manufacturers, and a decrease on the Hall income tax over time before it is completely phased out.
The bill’s momentum was boosted by an endorsement from the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) organization which confirmed that the legislation’s net tax decrease meant a vote in favor would continue to honor the Taxpayer Protection Pledge signed by many General Assembly members. Americans for Tax Reform is a national conservative group formed by Grover Norquist in 1985 at the request of President Ronald Reagan. The flagship project of ATR is the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a written promise by lawmakers and candidates for office that commits them to oppose any effort to increase income taxes on individuals and businesses.
The conservative group’s approval follows an earlier announcement in January of this year by the American Conservative Union naming the Tennessee legislature as the most conservative in the nation. Since 2011 and prior to the passage of the IMPROVE Act this week, lawmakers have cut $438 million in taxes, eliminating the death and gift tax, reducing the sales tax on food, and working to phase out the Hall income tax.
In addition to the new funding the IMPROVE Act will provide to the Tennessee Department of Transportation, local governments will also benefit. In total, counties across the state will receive $79 million and cities will see a revenue increase of approximately $35 million per year to use for local road and infrastructure projects.
Before heading to the desk of Governor Haslam to be signed into law, the House and Senate versions of the bill must first be reconciled between the two bodies, which should take place over the next week.
The full text of House Bill 534 can be accessed by visiting the Tennessee General Assembly website at: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/110/Bill/HB0534.pdf
Legislation Aimed At Protecting Elderly Tennesseans From Abuse Moves Forward
Legislation sponsored by House Republicans that cracks down on elder abuse and exploitation continues to advance through the House committee process.
House Bill 810, known as the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act, closes legal loopholes in existing abuse laws to further protect some of our most vulnerable from criminal targeting. The legislation increases penalties and raises fines for elder abuse offenders while also enabling the Tennessee Department of Human Services to track serial abusers by placing them on a registry.
House Bill 810 is part of a larger effort by lawmakers this year to help ensure the safety of Tennessee’s senior citizens. Over the last several years, there has been a nationwide increase in the number of cases related to the financial exploitation of seniors as technology and internet related scams have been on the rise.
Two additional pieces of legislation that have already passed the full House this year include House Bill 304, which helps protect the elderly and those at increased risk of cognitive impairment from financial exploitation by providing the Tennessee Securities Division with the tools needed to help detect and prevent financial fraud and abuse.
Similarly, House Bill 1064 adds tools and greater flexibility as to how financial institutions can best protect their customers when they have reason to suspect financial exploitation of elderly or vulnerable adults is occurring or being attempted.
Studies show that approximately 20% of seniors have been a victim of financial exploitation at a cost of approximately $2.9 billion annually. Moreover, these numbers are likely low as it is also estimated that only one out of every 44 instances of financial abuse is actually reported.
House Republicans Enhance Transportation Safety For Tennessee Students
Monday evening, House lawmakers unanimously approved legislation designed to enhance safety and create more oversight of school bus transportation for Tennessee students.
As passed, House Bill 322 requires all school districts, including charter schools, to appoint a transportation supervisor to monitor and oversee student transportation. This supervisor must receive annual training developed from the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) and the Tennessee Department of Safety (TDS) and must also implement a school transportation policy adopted by the local board of education. Additionally, House Bill 322 requires all new bus drivers to complete a driver training program based on standards developed by the TDOE and the TDS prior to transporting any students.
Another key provision of the bill requires any school bus driver to be 25 years old and have five years of unrestricted driving privileges, areas that came into question after the Chattanooga school bus crash last year that killed six children where the driver, who was 24 at the time, had several previous traffic violations. A 2014 school bus crash in Knoxville — caused by distracted driving — also killed two children and a teacher’s aide.
Supporters of the legislation hope the new transportation oversight will help prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
The full text of House Bill 322 can be accessed by visiting the Tennessee General Assembly website at: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/110/Bill/HB0322.pdf.
House Approves Legislation To Remove Burdensome And Outdated Regulations From Law Books
The full House passed legislation this week to remove unneeded governmental regulations and red tape from the system by exempting those whose profession is shampooing hair from having to acquire a barber or cosmetology license before being able to run their businesses.
Currently, a person in the shampooing business must submit an application, pay a fee, and take 300 hours of education at a cosmetology school before being able to offer their services to the public — burdens that supporters of the legislation believe are excessive and unneeded.
Similarly, the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee will hear legislation this week to authorize any individual, firm, or corporation that holds a cosmetology, manicurist, aesthetician, or natural hair styling license to practice in a customer’s home or place of business instead of being required to have a separate business location of their own. Presently, with a few exceptions, cosmetology services must be provided in a salon. House Bill 710 removes that restriction and allows for willing providers and willing recipients to transact that business outside of a salon.
The support of these bills by House Republicans are part of a broader effort to relieve the burden of regulation on the right of an individual to pursue a chosen business or profession without first having to jump through governmental hoops.
As part of the same effort, lawmakers earlier this month moved forward with legislation to encourage the growing and selling of Tennessee-based agricultural products across the state by removing governmental regulations that have placed undue burdens on the distribution of homegrown, locally produced food products.
Prior to the passage of House Bill 299, all food manufacturers, regardless of size, were required to be licensed and inspected by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, incurring fees and other payments due to the state. House Bill 299 removed 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 seen newly established farmers markets and local kitchens pop up that continue to grow in size and offerings to the public. Because of the regulations in place, however, these groups had difficulty expanding because of the high fees associated with providing these services.
Now that the legislation has passed, House Bill 299 will 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.
As the 2017 legislative session continues, House Republicans remained committed to fighting back against governmental overreach and working to empower individuals to succeed without the worry of burdensome governmental regulations.