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Capitol Hill Review: 03/31/17

Broadband Accessibility Act Clears Additional Key Legislative Hurdle

House Bill 529, the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, cleared an additional key legislative hurdle this week after gaining unanimous approval from the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee.

As introduced, the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act seeks to expand broadband internet services across the state, especially to Tennessee’s rural areas that currently completely lack coverage.

Tennessee ranks 29th in the country for broadband access, with 13 percent of the state lacking accessibility to high speed internet. While only 2 percent of the state’s urban citizens lack access, 34 percent of rural residents are without coverage, placing them at a distinct disadvantage over their city counterparts.

House Bill 529 addresses broadband accessibility and adoption through business investment and deregulation. Coupled with the state budget, the legislation makes targeted investments through grants and tax credits that focus on the state’s unserved areas. The legislation also permits the state’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service — something they have been completely unable to do in the past.

Earlier this year, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) produced a report that outlined several municipal broadband failures and made recommendations about how more Tennesseans can adopt broadband services. Of particular interest, the report noted, is finding ways to provide broadband access to Tennessee’s rural areas.

House Bill 529 will next be heard by the full Finance, Ways & Means Committee.


House Approves Legislation Protecting Identities Of Minors In Crime Situations

Earlier this month, House lawmakers unanimously approved legislation designed to protect the identities of Tennessee minors who fall victim to crimes, especially those that are sexual in nature.

House Bill 344 protects the identities of minors in a crime situation, unless a court waives confidentiality at the request of the victim’s parent or legal guardian. The legislation designates as confidential a minor’s name, contact and personal information — including social security number — as well as photo or video evidence of the crime and any relationship between the minor and offender.

It does not hinder the ability of law enforcement agencies and legal representatives to prosecute offenders in order to ensure that justice is served.

Supporters of the legislation agree that minors who have been victimized, especially from those crimes that are sexual in nature, should not be subjected to additional emotional or psychological damage caused by having their identities and other sensitive information revealed to the public.

Proponents also stress that the bill ensures offenders will still be held accountable for their actions.

The full text of House Bill 344 can be accessed by visiting the Tennessee General Assembly website at:

House Republicans Pass Legislation Strengthening Tennessee Campaign Finance Laws

The full House passed legislation this week to strengthen Tennessee campaign finance laws, with House Republicans leading the charge to require funds donated to a campaign be deposited and maintained in a traditional bank or credit union account insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).  Current statute allows campaign funds to be invested in a private or publicly traded company, causing ethics concerns and a gap in transparency in the state’s campaign finance laws.

The legislation places Tennessee in line with other states that limit lawmakers to maintain funds in federally-backed accounts.

Under House Bill 704, any investment not authorized would be prohibited and the candidate, or in the case of a multicandidate political campaign committee, the treasurer, would be subject to a civil penalty by the Registry of Election Finance of not more than $10,000 or 115 percent of the amount invested.

The legislation also strengthen the state’s campaign finance laws by requiring that any interest, dividends, or income earned on campaign funds by an investment made legally be reported on the candidate’s financial disclosure.

The bill now travels to the desk of Governor Bill Haslam to be signed into law.


Bill Aimed At Safeguarding Personal Information Of Tennessee Tourists Moves Forward

On Monday, lawmakers unanimously approved legislation that safeguards the personal information of Tennessee tourists who visit state parks by restricting access to the personal information of park guests.

Under current law, Tennessee state parks must disclose personal information of its guests when it receives a public records request, because there is no exemption protecting this information.

This personal information includes the name, phone number, address, and email address of any guest at a state park. In addition, reservation information, such as the dates of a particular guest’s stay, is also not protected.

House Bill 312 promotes privacy and security for all state park guests by creating an exemption to the current public records requirement. The move places Tennessee state parks on equal footing with the private sector regarding the privacy of personal information.

Currently, at least 25 states protect this personal information from public disclosure.

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