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State Rep. Rebecca Alexander’s Capitol Report

General Assembly celebrates agriculture in Tennessee

Tennessee’s annual Ag Day on the Hill was held at the State Capitol in Nashville on March 19 and featured a variety of events, exhibits, activities and livestock along with producers and exhibitors from across the state. The event coincided with National Agriculture Week. In Tennessee, agriculture-related industries employ 324,000 people and contribute $89 billion into the economy. Among those in attendance were farmers, foresters, agriculture officials, legislators, 4-H and Future Farmers of America members. A $1,000 check was also presented to the Shooting Hunger Backpack program on behalf of the Farm and Forest Families of Tennessee organization.

House Republicans kill massive $800 million tax increase

House Republicans on Wednesday successfully defeated a major tax increase on Tennessee businesses. 

House Bill 2043, sponsored by a Democrat lawmaker, would have enacted the Business Enterprise Tax Act, raising taxes on all Tennessee businesses with gross receipts of $250,000 or more annually. An amendment passed by House Majority Whip Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, eliminates a nearly $800 million annual tax increase on Tennessee businesses. It also strips a proposal to enact a burdensome multinational reporting requirement, known as the Worldwide Combined Reporting Act. 

“This is a bait-and-switch bill that punishes virtually every business owner in Tennessee with a massive tax increase,” Garrett said. “Our small businesses are the backbone of our state economy, and the more money they keep, the better able they are to expand and hire more workers.”

Tennessee remains one of the lowest-taxed states in the nation. Tennessee Republicans have in the last decade cut $2.5 billion in state taxes through sales tax holidays and elimination of other taxes, including the Hall income tax, inheritance tax and nearly all professional privilege taxes on citizens in certain occupations. 

Republicans last year passed the largest tax cut in state history, including a three-month-long tax holiday on groceries, through the Tennessee Works Tax Act of 2023. In addition to benefitting families, these cuts provide important relief for small businesses through various changes to business, franchise, and excise tax collections. These reforms will encourage future entrepreneurship and further strengthen our state’s economic competitiveness.

Additional protections against divisive concepts advances

A bill that aims to strengthen protections for free expression at public universities in Tennessee advanced out of the Higher Education Subcommittee this week.

House Bill 2784, sponsored by State Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, would require public colleges and universities to investigate alleged violations of the state’s divisive concepts law and report the findings in a timely manner.

“We don’t know (how many complaints have been made) because we didn’t have a reporting mechanism in place,” Ragan said. “This bill is designed to create a tracking mechanism so that we know if we have a problem.”

The results of each investigation must be reported to the Comptroller’s office within 10 days of being completed, according to the legislation. Status updates for ongoing investigations must be submitted every 30 days. State lawmakers must also be notified if an institution receives more than 10 reports during a single academic year.

The General Assembly approved the Tennessee Higher Education Freedom of Expression and Transparency Act last year, which allows any student or employee of a public university to file a report of an alleged violation of the state’s divisive concepts law. 

Divisive concepts are those that exacerbate and inflame divisions on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin and other criteria in ways that are contrary to the unity of the United States of America and the well-being of Tennessee and its citizens. 

House Bill 2784 is scheduled to be heard in the Education Administration Committee on March 27.

Bill would allow Tennesseans to declare party affiliation

A Republican proposal would establish a process for voters to declare their party affiliation in Tennessee. 

House Bill 1616, sponsored by State Rep. Bryan Richey, R-Maryville, would allow residents to register with a statewide political party or recognized minor political party. 

“No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, voters should have the right to declare their political affiliations,” Richey said. “This is a simple bill that gives all Tennesseans a choice when it comes to how they wish to express their political beliefs.” 

The legislation would also allow voters to remain unaffiliated. On Election Day, voters registered as either Republican or Democrat will be given their respective party ballot, while unaffiliated voters will be able to choose either ballot. 

House Bill 1616 has been placed behind the budget and will be considered at a later date. 

General Assembly increases support for sexual assault victims

Legislation that gives sexual assault victims more time to file a civil lawsuit against their attacker has been unanimously approved by the Tennessee General Assembly. 

House Bill 2216, also known as Danielle’s Law, will extend the statute of limitations from one year to three years for civil lawsuits relating to a sexual assault injury or illness. The time would increase to five years if a police report was filed.

“This allows survivors to have time to process the trauma and navigate the legal process,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin. “There have been cases where rape kits have not been processed within a year of the assault occurring, leaving survivors with no option to pursue civil action.”

The legislation is named after Nashville resident Danielle Pyle, who found out 13 months after filing a police report that the local district attorney’s office had declined to pursue charges against her alleged rapist. Existing state law prevented her from taking civil action since it had been more than one year since the crime occurred. House Bill 2216 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.

Safeguarding tax dollars from gender reassignment surgeries for inmates

The House Corrections Subcommittee this week advanced legislation to protect Tennessee tax dollars from being used to pay for gender reassignment surgeries for inmates.

House Bill 2619, sponsored by State Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, would prohibit the Department of Corrections from using state funds to pay for the procedures or any new hormone replacement therapy for incarcerated individuals.

“We currently have 89 inmates in our state prisons that are getting hormone replacement therapy in preparation for a sex change,” Ragan said Tuesday. “This bill says that the taxpayer should not be the one to foot a bill for (these procedures).”

The proposed legislation would not prevent an inmate from using private funds to pay for gender surgeries or hormone replacement therapy. House Bill 2619 is scheduled to be heard in the State Government Committee on March 27. 

Grant program would provide anti-choking devices to schools

The K-12 Subcommittee on Tuesday advanced legislation to increase the availability of anti-choking devices in Tennessee schools. 

House Bill 2028, sponsored by State Rep. Greg Martin, R-Hixson, would require the Tennessee Department of Health to administer a grant program to reimburse public and private schools and first responders for anti-choking devices. 

“These devices safely remove food, candy, coins, balloons and (whatever) else might be stuck in an airway,” Martin said.

Anti-choking devices help clear objects out of airways using negative pressure. The program would reimburse schools for the purchase of one device for each cafeteria in a school and medical first responders for one device in each emergency response vehicle. 

More than 12,000 children in the United States are taken to the hospital every year for choking on food. It is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death in children younger than five. House Bill 2028 is scheduled to be heard in the Education Administration Committee on March 27. If approved, the three-year grant program would take effect July 1.

Bill proposes free feminine products in high schools

The General Assembly is considering legislation to ensure young women have access to feminine hygiene products at school. 

House Bill 2207, also known as the Menstrual Hygiene Products Accessibility Act, would provide the products for free to students in public and charter high schools statewide. 

“For young ladies that do not have access, they may stay home from school and increase absenteeism rates,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Elaine Davis, R-Knoxville. “My goal is to bring dignity for these young ladies, and keep them healthy and in the classroom.” 

Tennessee taxes menstrual products as non-essential luxury goods, which means that public assistance programs such as TANF and WIC do not cover the cost of these necessary products. 

The bill would allocate 20 percent of the tax revenue from the items sold in Tennessee to a special account that would be distributed to eligible schools. The menstrual hygiene products would then be placed in women’s restrooms, locker rooms and the nurse’s office.  House Bill 2207 has been placed behind the budget to be considered for funding at a later date. 

House celebrates Down Syndrome Awareness Day

The House of Representatives commemorated Down Syndrome Awareness Day in Tennessee on Thursday, March 21. Lawmakers were also joined by members from the Down Syndrome Association of Middle Tennessee who performed the song “True Colors.” 

House Joint Resolution 968, sponsored by State Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin, honors and commends the many achievements and valuable contributions from individuals with Down syndrome. It also highlights the need for further education, awareness and support for these individuals to ensure they have the dignity, success and inclusion they deserve. Down syndrome is a naturally occurring, lifelong genetic condition that occurs in one out of every 800 births worldwide.

Towing bill provides protections for drivers against booting

Legislation that streamlines Tennessee’s towing laws and provide protections for drivers against car booting advanced out of the Commerce Committee this week.

House Bill 1731, also known as the Modernization of Towing, Immobilization and Oversight Normalization (MOTION) Act, restricts commercial parking lot owners from unnecessarily booting vehicles. It also caps removal fees at $75 and offers drivers other guarantees against unfair booting and towing. 

“With regard to towing, we’ve had more than just a few bad apples in this sector,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Jake McCalmon, R-Franklin. “We’re essentially prohibiting booting except on commercial parking lots with employees there… being the only ones able to put boots on those vehicles.” 

The MOTION Act prohibits commercial parking lot owners from booting vehicles if the vehicle is not abandoned, immobile or unattended. It also prohibits lot owners from the use automatic license plate readers as an enforcement mechanism and from charging penalties for non-payment of parking fees if certain conditions have been met. 

The legislation also includes several other consumer protections such as preventing a vehicle in most cases from being towed without authorization from the owner until 12 hours after first being identified as abandoned, immobile or unattended. Additionally, it would ensure tow operators release a vehicle if the driver pays a release fee before the car in question leaves the lot. 

House Bill 1731 will now go to the Government Operations Committee for additional consideration.

Bill establishing stronger penalties for threats of mass violence advances

A bill currently advancing through the House would establish stronger penalties for those who threaten mass violence in Tennessee.  

As amended, House Bill 2538 would make it a Class E felony to knowingly, through any means of communication, threaten to commit an act of mass violence. The punishment would increase to a Class D felony if the threat was made against a school, house of worship, or government facility. It could also be enhanced to a Class D if the defendant had a prior conviction for threatening mass violence, or they had taken a substantial step towards carrying out the crime.

“There aren’t a lot of great tools for a (district attorney) if someone calls and makes a credible, knowing threat of violence against a location,” said bill sponsor Assistant House Majority Leader Mark Cochran, R-Englewood. “It’s either a misdemeanor charge or you can be charged with an act of terrorism… so this gives them another type of charge to go after in that type of situation.”

The bill requires, as a condition of bail or other pretrial release, a court to order a defendant charged with threatening to commit an act of mass violence to undergo a mental health assessment to determine if emergency involuntary admission to a treatment facility is needed. It also authorizes a court to order a defendant to undergo a mental health evaluation to determine whether the defendant is competent to stand trial or the defendant’s mental capacity. 

House Bill 2538 is expected to be considered in the Finance Ways and Means Subcommittee on March 27. 

Republican legislation protects against animal fighting, cruelty

The House this week advanced multiple bills relating to animal cruelty crimes in Tennessee. 

House Bill 1875, sponsored by State Rep. John Crawford, R-Kingsport, would add animal fighting to Tennessee’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act of 1989.

“Any time that there’s dog fighting going on, it’s been proven that there [have been] people involved in organized crime, sexual traffickers, drug dealers… just all these different things go along with that,” Crawford said. “This will allow law enforcement and our judges to be able to proceed in having better cases against them.” 

A separate piece of legislation, House Bill 2691, would require local law enforcement agencies to be notified before a person entered into an area to investigate suspected animal cruelty. Justification for the entry would also be required.

The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, would also ensure state or local employees had probable cause prior to entering private property or an animal facility. Law enforcement would also have to be notified prior to an arrest being made for alleged cruelty to non-livestock animals. Both bills are scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on March 26.


Child safety: The House chamber this week passed legislation to increase the punishment for putting young children in danger. House Bill 1817, sponsored by State Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, would increase the punishment for negligently placing a child 8 years of age or younger in imminent danger of injury or death to a Class B felony. The crime is currently a Class D felony. The legislation seeks to prevent young children from being exposed to illegal and potentially deadly drugs like fentanyl. The companion version of the legislation is still advancing in the Senate. If approved, the new law would take effect July 1.

Domestic abuse victims: Legislation to increase protections for domestic abuse victims in Tennessee was unanimously approved by the House chamber this week. House Bill 2168, sponsored by State Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, would require an order of protection related to allegations of domestic abuse to remain in effect during an appeal unless it expires. The companion version of the legislation is still advancing through the Senate. 

Substance-abuse treatment: The House chamber this week passed House Bill 2363, sponsored by State Rep. Michele Carringer, R-Knoxville, which would require anyone convicted of vehicular homicide or aggravated vehicular homicide due to intoxication to attend substance-abuse treatment if released on parole. The individual must also not possess or consume alcohol or a controlled substance without a valid prescription during that time. Failure to do so would result in a parole violation. The requirement would only apply to individuals convicted of the crimes prior to July 1, 2022. Anyone convicted of vehicular homicide or aggravated vehicular homicide due to intoxication after that time must serve 100 percent of their sentence before being released. The companion version of the legislation is still advancing through the Senate.

Debanking: The House on Monday approved legislation to protect Tennesseans from discrimination by financial institutions for their personal beliefs. House Bill 2100, sponsored by State Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, would prohibit financial institutions and insurers from discriminating, denying or canceling services to Tennesseans based on political opinions, religious beliefs, social credit scores and other factors. The practice is commonly referred to as “debanking.” The companion version of the bill is still advancing in the Senate. If approved, House Bill 2100 would take effect July 1. 

Juvenile offenders: The House Children and Family Affairs Subcommittee on Tuesday advanced legislation requiring a child admitted to a juvenile detention facility to be allowed at least one phone call per day before being adjudicated. House Bill 2665, sponsored by State Rep. William Slater, R-Gallatin, would also require an alleged juvenile offender to receive one half hour in-person visit per day with a parent or guardian. The legislation will now head to the Civil Justice Committee for further consideration.

Ocoee River: House Bill 1946, sponsored by State Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, would allow for additional days of water releases on the Ocoee River for whitewater rafting. The legislation also designates a portion of the Ocoee as an Olympic River because of its role in the 1996 Summer Olympics. House Bill 1946 is scheduled to be heard in the Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee on March 27. 


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