The pace picked on Capitol Hill this week as House members worked to finalize their legislative proposals before the Feb. 2 bill filing deadline. House committees began to meet as bills are being introduced and referred to their respective committees.
Omicron COVID-19 and TANF updates heard in Health Committee
The House Health Committee met Wednesday in Nashville to hear reports on the state’s COVID-19 status and progress made toward Tennessee’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey reported to committee members that the omicron COVID-19 variant is beginning to plateau in Tennessee. The state’s latest virus data shows the rate of infection is beginning to decline in Tennessee’s larger metropolitan areas. The COVID-19 outbreak is expected to shift soon from pandemic status to a more manageable endemic, according to Commissioner Piercey.
The committee also heard an update from the Department of Human Services on the progress of the (TANF) Opportunity Act, House Bill 142, passed by the General Assembly in 2021. The TANF program is a federal workforce development and employment grant program emphasizing work, training and personal responsibility. This legislation created a two-year pilot program designed to provide monetary assistance for individuals who are actively pursuing educational opportunities. It is a temporary benefit focused on gaining self-sufficiency through employment. Several community organizations designed to help Tennesseans access income mobility have been selected to participate in the grant program that helps provide support for struggling families such as child care assistance, transportation, job training and other services.
Transportation Committee hears report on Tennessee’s waterways
The House Transportation Committee this week heard from Ingram Barge Company officials who discussed the importance of utilizing Tennessee’s waterways. Approximately 30.8 million tons of freight, valued at $5.2 billion, moved on Tennessee’s inland waterways in 2018, according to Andrew Brown, president of the Ingram Barge Company. Tennessee is home to more than 20,600 domestic maritime jobs despite being inland. Those jobs represent more than $1.2 billion in direct worker income and $4.9 billion in economic impact annually in Tennessee.
Brown supports improving the lock and dam infrastructure in Tennessee to enhance utilization of barge traffic on the state’s waterways. With these improvements and a modest increase in investment, he believes the amount of cargo moved on the state’s waterways could be doubled in the next five to 10 years.
Legislation removes residence requirement for first responders
Republicans have renewed their efforts to eliminate residency requirements for first responders in Tennessee. House Bill 0105 would increase the recruitment ability of police and fire departments in an already competitive labor market by allowing them to live where they choose. The measure is designed to boost recruitment of qualified first responders.
The bill was approved by the Tennessee Senate last year but deferred in the House of Representatives until 2022.
Most cities in Tennessee have moved away from residency requirements due to difficulties in recruiting, according to the Municipal Technical Advisory Service. In addition to increasing public safety, the bill is estimated to save taxpayers approximately $25 million annually in overtime pay for officers.
More information about House Bill 0105 can be found here.
Pilot program would offer support for Alzheimer’s patients, caregivers
Tennesseans living with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers could gain access to increased support through a proposed pilot program. House Bill 1686 would establish a respite care pilot program for caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s and related dementia. It would provide an estimated 12 hours of respite care a month for 150 individuals across the state who are currently on a waitlist for non-Medicaid support services. The program will also study whether the assistance delays placement in full-time nursing home care along with the impact on employment for working caregivers and the effect on caregiver health.
The act is named in honor of retired Col. Thomas G. Bowden, a Tullahoma native who served with the United States Army for 26 years. Bowden was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 63 and died five years later from the disease.
More than 357,000 family caregivers across Tennessee provided nearly 500 million hours of unpaid care during 2020, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Tennessee has the fourth highest Alzheimer’s death rate in the United States.
More information about House Bill 1686 can be found here.
Hemp-derived cannabinoid products could be regulated
House Bill 1690 would regulate federally legal hemp-derived THC products such as Delta 8 in Tennessee. The legislation would restrict the sale, purchase or possession of products containing intoxicating cannabinoids derived from hemp to anyone who is 21 years of age or older. It would also add a 6.6 percent tax to products containing hemp-derived cannabinoids. Additionally, retailers and wholesalers would also be required to obtain a $200 license annually. Revenue collected would be used by the Department of Agriculture to support product safety regulations and industry development.
The Tennessee Growers Coalition estimates that there are approximately 8,000 retail stores that sell Delta 8 and other hemp-derived THC in Tennessee.
More information about House Bill 1690 can be found here.
State of the State address set for Jan. 31
Gov. Bill Lee this week announced he will deliver his fourth State of the State address to members of the General Assembly and Tennesseans on Monday, Jan. 31 at 6 p.m. Central Standard Time (CST). The joint session will be in the House chamber at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville.
Gov. Lee is expected to discuss his legislative agenda for the year as well as his proposed budget for 2022-23. The address may be viewed on Gov. Lee’s Facebook and YouTube channels and will be aired statewide.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote on a proposal that redraws new legislative boundaries on Monday, Jan. 24. Redistricting is the process by which new district maps are drawn to reflect population changes based on U.S. Census data recorded every 10 years. More information about House Bill 1035 can be found here.
Sanctity of Human Life Day will be observed Saturday, Jan. 22. This day was first proclaimed a national day of observance and prayer by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 in response to the anniversary of the legalization of abortion. On this day, Republicans commemorate the lives lost to abortion and recommit to protecting human life at every stage.