This week in Nashville, both the House and Senate approved a $39.45 billion budget that addresses the unexpected revenue shortfalls caused by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic in Tennessee.
The Fiscal Year (FY) 2020-2021 budget reduces the size of government through common sense reductions and cuts totaling $1.5 billion over a two-year period in efforts to address historic revenue losses. The budget finalizes the elimination of the Hall Income Tax and does not raise taxes on Tennesseans.
The new state spending plan invests $350 million into Tennessee’s savings account (Rainy Day Fund), bringing the total to $1.45 billion. The budget also fully funds the Basic Education Program (BEP), covering both growth and inflation with a $50.3 million investment. It includes $10.6 million for health insurance and retirement for teachers and principals. The FY 2020-2021 budget supports higher education with a $50 million investment in new facilities.
The budget also focuses on boosting consumer and business confidence through the creation of a $25 million sales tax holiday, which will take place over two weekends in late July and early August 2020.
Other key allocations include a $210 million grant program for all Tennessee cities and counties. These funds have no restrictions and will be used to address unique needs that are best determined by local and county leaders. Approximately $15 million will be used to support economic and community development through broadband accessibility grants.
Finally, the FY 2020-2021 budget invests $19 million to strengthen the state’s health care safety network and $7.5 million in new funding will create a children’s behavioral safety network.
Tennessee’s new budget supports citizens across all three grand divisions of our state as they continue to recover from these extraordinary circumstances. Under conservative leadership, the Volunteer State will remain the best place in the entire nation to live, work, raise a family, and retire.
Lawmakers pass historic pro-life legislation
Lawmakers this week also passed historic pro-life legislation that bans abortion procedures after a fetal heartbeat is detected or around six weeks.
House Bill 2263 passed by a 68-17 vote tally Thursday morning. The legislation includes a ladder provision that enacts bans at various other gestation intervals up to 24 weeks. These provisions would take effect if the courts struck down the six-week ban or any other component of this measure.
House Bill 2263 requires doctors to conduct an ultrasound, show images to an expectant mother and inform her about her baby’s development.
An amendment added to the bill also requires abortion facilities where 50 or more procedures are performed a year to post signage informing patients their chemical abortion procedure is reversible. Patients would also receive the same notification prior to and after the first dose of a two dose abortion-inducing drug treatment has been administered.
Tennessee is a strong pro-life state, and this historic measure and others demonstrate our continued commitment to fight for our unborn.
House approves Right to Work constitutional amendment
The House also approved a resolution adding Tennessee’s Right to Work law to the state constitution this week.
The resolution must pass by a two-thirds majority during the 2021 or 2022 legislative sessions in order to appear on the ballot for a statewide referendum in November 2022. The Right to Work constitutional amendment would also become part of the state constitution if adopted by a majority vote during the 2022 election cycle.
Tennessee’s Right to Work statute has been state law since 1947. It stipulates workers cannot be hired or fired based on their membership in, affiliation with, resignation from, or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization. When it was introduced in 1947, supporters of the bill argued it would “be of great advantage to the average member of organized labor.” Right to Work also protects the rights of those who choose not to join a union.
Twenty-seven states have Right to Work laws, and nine of those have passed constitutional amendments, including neighboring states Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. The Alabama amendment passed most recently in 2016. Another neighbor, Virginia, is presently considering repealing its Right to Work statute. A constitutional amendment would offer greater protection for workers against such repeal efforts.
The Tennessee General Assembly remains committed to support Tennessee’s workers and businesses.
House passes drug-free zone reform
The House this week also passed legislation reforming drug-free zone laws currently on the books.
House Bill 2517 passed by an 88-4 vote on June 17, 2020. The measure right-sizes drug-free zones from 1,000 feet to 500 feet and strengthens penalties against those who sell drugs to children within these zones. At the same time, the legislation allows for a judge to use discretion and apply more appropriate sentencing in certain instances.
Drug-free zones include public or private elementary, middle, secondary schools, child care agencies public libraries, recreational centers and parks. By shrinking these zones, House Bill 2517 has the potential to create additional resources to make justice more efficient in our state.
House Bill 2517 now heads the governor’s desk for his signature.