Republicans advance ban on taxpayer-funded transgender surgeries
The House Insurance Subcommittee this week advanced Republican legislation to protect taxpayer money from being used for transgender surgeries in Tennessee.
House Bill 1215 would prohibit a managed care organization (MCO) contracted with TennCare from covering any medical procedures performed for the purpose of changing a person’s sex.
“(This bill) does not deny access to the transgender community or any community to health care,” said bill co-sponsor State Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro. “This bill does not discriminate and it also does not outlaw the surgery. This simply states that Tennessee tax dollars are not to be used for it.”
If approved, any MCO that is in violation of the bill and contracted with TennCare would have 90 days to come into compliance. House Bill 1215 is scheduled to be heard in the Insurance Committee on Feb. 21.
General Assembly passes bill requiring GPS for ignition interlock devices
Both chambers of the General Assembly this week unanimously passed legislation designed to keep those convicted of drunk driving (DUI) from becoming repeat offenders by getting behind the wheel under the influence.
House Bill 77, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, will require all ignition interlock devices installed on vehicles after Jan. 1, 2024, to be equipped with Global Positioning Satellite technology to geotag a vehicle’s location whenever an ignition interlock device is used to start a vehicle.
These devices are installed on vehicles of drivers convicted of a DUI and require drivers to pass a breathalyzer test to ensure they are not under the influence of alcohol before they can operate their vehicle. When the driver blows into the breathalyzer, a photo is taken to confirm the driver is the one blowing.
Current law does not allow law enforcement to prosecute a driver when photo evidence confirms when someone other than the driver blows into the breathalyzer. Without a geotag at the time the ignition interlock device is used, it is unclear which jurisdiction the driver should be prosecuted.
Brownfield clean-up proposal advances
Legislation that will fast-track redevelopment of former industrial sites advanced in the House the week. The proposal is one of Gov. Bill Lee’s legislative priorities this session and is being sponsored in the House by State Rep. Ron Gant, R-Rossville.
A brownfield is a property or development that expansion or use is complicated by the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. Brownfields are generally defined as abandoned or underutilized properties like industrial facilities. They often contribute to blight and community decline.
House Bill 319 creates a state-administered brownfield grant program with the goal of providing technical and financial resources directly to communities while bolstering incentives for developers. It helps to remove financial barriers that often hinder communities from cleaning up brownfields. Brownfields are numerous and exist in every Tennessee county.
Tremendous economic and population growth has impacted the availability and conservation of agricultural, recreational, and green space in recent years. House Bill 319 supports the redevelopment in rural communities by empowering local governments and development boards to conserve greenspaces and agricultural land by utilizing these sites that are already available. House Bill 319 is scheduled for consideration in the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee on Feb. 22.
Republicans address truck driver shortage, help veterans
The House Transportation Committee this week advanced Republican legislation to help address the truck driver shortage by making it easier for qualified veterans to receive a commercial learner’s permit.
House Bill 88 would require the Department of Safety to waive the knowledge test to obtain the permit if an applicant provides documentation showing that they possess certain relevant military experience and a clean driving record.
“The American Trucking Association estimates that we currently have an over 80,000 truck driver shortage in the United States,” said bill sponsor Speaker Pro Tempore Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville. “That could grow to 160,000 by 2028. We have a real problem. This is a pro-veteran bill that would allow current military personnel or veterans within one year of honorable discharge to help acquire a commercial driver’s license.”
According to the legislation, any applicant who received a knowledge test waiver would still be required to complete any applicable vision and skills test and pay the appropriate fees.
House Bill 88 is scheduled to be heard in the Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee on Feb. 22.
Bill creates grants for workforce training programs
Republican legislation that would provide financial assistance to students enrolled in non-degree workforce training programs in Tennessee advanced out of the House Education Subcommittee this week.
House Bill 391 would create a two-year pilot program to award grants to students enrolled in training programs identified by the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR). Currently, those students are not eligible to receive a Tennessee Promise Scholarship or Tennessee Reconnect Grant.
“Some of those certifications would be for something like CDL truck driving, heavy equipment operator, certified nursing assistant and production technician,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka. “We need individuals that are trained to do these jobs.”
The majority of all non-degree-seeking workforce training programs are expected to be offered at a Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT). During the 2021-22 academic year, there were 6,103 students who took a lineworker training class in addition to 3,959 students who took part in various other training programs, according to information provided by TBR.
The legislation would not prohibit existing industries from training their own employees. House Bill 391 will now go to the Education Administration Committee for further consideration.
Anti-stalking legislation advances in the House
House Bill 1008, sponsored by State Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern, expands the meaning of stalking methods to include use of an electronic tracking or Global Positioning System (GPS) device to secretly monitor the location of an individual and/or their property without their consent. State law currently requires at least two separate noncontinuous acts to occur before someone could be charged with the offense.
Law enforcement agencies across the nation have warned citizens about the growing problem of stalking with electronic tracking devices being secretly used by criminals to follow vehicles they intend to steal or worse. The bill provides another way to help protect people, their property and their privacy, said Grills.
Approximately 1,850 cases of stalking were reported in Tennessee during 2021, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s most recent annual report. A person guilty of this crime should it become law would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. The offense is enhanced to a Class E misdemeanor if the defendant is a registered or violent sex offender.
House Bill 1008 would not prevent law enforcement from using an electronic tracking device during an ongoing criminal investigation.
Legislation makes Silver Alert Awareness Month permanent
The Tennessee General Assembly in 2021 passed the Silver Alert program to ensure the safe return home of those with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or an intellectual, developmental or physical disability.
The House Public Service Subcommittee this week advanced House Bill 17, sponsored by Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison, R- Cosby, to permanently designate May as Silver Alert Awareness Month.
This legislation will help spread the word about the program to the public and aid the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in safely returning these individuals to their families. The program has had tremendous success; it has safely returned 153 Tennesseans to their loved ones since June 2021.
Early childhood literacy: The House Education Administration Committee will hold a hearing on Feb. 22 regarding early childhood literacy as it relates to third-grade retention in Tennessee. The two-hour hearing will feature testimony from local teachers, superintendents and other experts in early childhood literacy. No bill discussion will take place. The hearing will take place at 1:30 p.m. CST and will also be streamed online at www.capitol.tn.gov
Enabling pay increases for Department of Children’s Services teachers: Sponsored by Majority Leader William Lamberth and State Rep. Brock Martin, R-Huntingdon, House Bill 62 makes DCS-employed teachers who work at youth developmental centers eligible for pay performance increases and longevity pay if they qualify. It also ensures that special school districts educating juveniles in youth development centers are eligible for the same federal funding as other school districts in the state. The Wilder Youth Development Center in Fayette County is currently the only youth development center in the state. House Bill 62 is scheduled for consideration in the Civil Justice Committee on Feb. 22.
Lowering state expenditures: In 2016, the state abolished Common Core standards and put into place a new, more transparent review system for educational materials. At the time, the textbook review period was set to six years. House Bill 896 extends the review period to eight years, which reduces local expenditures by more than $16 million and lowers state expenditures by $101,000. Sponsored by State Rep. Chris Hurt, R-Halls, the bill also creates more time for both the Textbook Instructional Materials Quality Commission and teachers to teach to the standards set by the legislature. House Bill 896 advanced this week to the Education Instruction Committee for Feb. 21.
Prisoner work release monitoring: House Bill 452, sponsored by State Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore, would require prisoners in Tennessee to wear an electronic monitoring device if they are released from custody on work release or otherwise allowed to leave the grounds of a county workhouse or jail for employment or to perform work in the community. The entity employing the prisoner or utilizing them for work must pay the costs associated with the device. The law would not apply to a prisoner who is supervised by, and remains in the direct eyesight of, an armed law enforcement or corrections officer. The State Government Committee is scheduled to discuss House Bill 452 on Feb. 22.
Sergeant Chris Jenkins Law: House Bill 353, sponsored by State Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore, would make it a crime for a person to transport a ladder that is not properly secured to prevent it from falling onto a public roadway. The legislation is named after Sgt. Chris Jenkins who was fatally struck by a semi-truck while removing a ladder from Interstate 75 in Loudon County on Feb. 3, 2022. If approved, a violation of the law would be a Class C misdemeanor while an improperly secured ladder that caused a motor vehicle accident would result in a Class A misdemeanor. The bill would not change any additional requirements that currently exist for commercial motor vehicles. The Transportation Committee is scheduled to discuss House Bill 353 on Feb. 21.
Sales tax holiday for gun safes: Two House bills sponsored by State Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, would extend the sales tax holiday for gun safes and gun locking devices purchased in Tennessee. House Bill 343 would continue the tax cut until June 30, 2024 while House Bill 342 would make it permanent. The legislation is meant to help encourage responsible gun ownership. Without approval from the General Assembly, the state’s current sales tax holiday for the gun safety devices will expire on June 30.
State revenue collections exceed targets: Tennessee remains financially strong thanks to continued conservative budgeting by the state’s Republican supermajority. During the first six months of fiscal year 2022-23, Tennessee’s year-to-date revenue collections were $10.58 billion, which exceeded projections by $1.31 billion. The state’s general fund collections also totaled $8.97 billion – an increase of $1.19 billion more than projected.
Sales tax: $6.96 billion ($704 million more than targeted)
Franchise and excise taxes: $2.03 billion ($532 million more than targeted)
All other taxes exceeded projections by a total of $71.9 million
State offices will be closed Monday, Feb. 20 in observance of President’s Day.