Capitol Hill Week: Governor Haslam reflects on Tennessee’s unprecedented successes in his final State of the State Address/Budget Address

Capitol Hill Week

Governor Haslam reflects on Tennessee’s unprecedented successes in his final State of the State Address/Budget Address

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), February 1, 2018 –  This week’s action on Capitol Hill was highlighted by Governor Bill Haslam’s eighth and final State of the State Address where he talked about Tennessee’s unprecedented successes, his legislative priorities and his budget proposal to fund state government for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.  Gov. Haslam reflected on the past seven years, working with the General Assembly to create a strong commitment to jobs, education and conservative fiscal policy that has resulted in significant accomplishments including:

  • The lowest unemployment rates in the state’s history and a job growth rate greater than 17 percent, with nearly 400,000 net new private sector jobs created;
  • The fastest-improving students in the nation, across math, reading and science, and the highest high school graduation rates the state has ever seen;
  • With the proposed Fiscal Year 2018-19 budget, nearly $1.5 billion invested into K-12 education, with $500 million going to teacher salaries;
  • Cut $578 million in taxes, including a nearly 30 percent cut on groceries, phase out of the Hall Income tax, and elimination of the inheritance and gift taxes;
  • A cut in year-to-year spending by more than a half billion dollars;
  • Tennesseans have access to college free of tuition and mandatory fees through Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect; and,
  • Recognition as having the lowest debt per capita and lowest taxes as a percentage of personal income in the nation, and as one of the best managed states in the nation.

“Seven years ago, we raised our expectations,” said Gov. Haslam.  “We became the kind of leaders who didn’t just talk about cutting taxes and enhancing services, we actually did lower taxes while growing our economy and providing access to high quality education.  We cannot lose the momentum we have worked so hard to build.”

“Make no mistake – this is one of the most effective governments in Tennessee’s history, and the momentum we have created will make us the most effective state government in the country,” he added.

On presenting his budget priorities for the upcoming fiscal year, Gov. Haslam asked legislators to approve three key initiatives, including a proposal presented last week to attack the state’s opioid epidemic.    “In Tennessee, we write 7.6 million prescriptions a year and there are only 6.6 million of us, a staggering statistic,” he said.  The plan addresses the issue through three major components:  prevention, treatment and law enforcement.

In education, he has proposed the Complete to Compete initiative that restructures financial aid requirements for Promise and HOPE scholarships to keep students on track for on-time completion, and requires community colleges to implement structured, ready-made schedules for all incoming full-time students.

Finally, Gov. Haslam has proposed legislation based on the work of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice.  The task force was created to conduct a comprehensive, data-driven review of Tennessee’s juvenile justice system and develop evidenced-based policy recommendations to protect public safety, effectively hold juvenile offenders accountable, contain costs, and improve outcomes for youth, families and communities.

The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee wasted no time in getting down to work on the budget with presentations outlining the plan from Commissioner of Finance and Administration Larry Martins the next day.

Notable budget proposals include:

  • More than $200 million in new state funding for K-12 education, including additional funds for teacher compensation;
  • Nearly $100 million for higher education initiatives;
  • $128 million for job growth investments, including programs that target rural communities; and
  • Increases to bring the state’s Rainy Day Fund to $850 million.

The General Assembly will continue to study the governor’s financial plan in the coming weeks and months.  The governor’s address and budget documents are available at tn.gov/governor.

 

Legislation aims to prevent sexual misconduct by teachers with their students

Members of the Senate Education Committee, have filed five bills to prevent sexual misconduct by teachers with their students.  The legislative package follows a comprehensive report from Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson which revealed deficiencies in hiring practices for school personnel that could allow predators to slip through the cracks.

The package includes:

  • Senate Bill 2014 which ensures that background checks are conducted to identify sexual predators before a teacher license is issued and that reports are done on an ongoing basis for those who work with children.  Presently, school districts require an initial background check before hiring.
  • Senate Bill 2015 which prohibits a Local Education Agency (LEA) from entering into a non-disclosure agreement with a teacher that would prevent other school districts from knowing about sexual misconduct.  It also allows districts to access information about the previous employment of a teacher with another school district.
  • Senate Bill 2013 which updates the state’s Teacher Code of Ethics regarding inappropriate teacher-student relationships, including engaging in sexual behavior with students or furnishing them alcohol or drugs.
  • Senate Bill 2011 which grants the State Board of Education’s authority to reprimand school directors for not reporting instances of misconduct and clarifies the board’s authority to reprimand educators for violating the Teacher Code of Ethics.
  • Senate Bill 2012 which calls for the State Board of Education to post all final teacher disciplinary action on its website to allow school districts, as well as out-of-state entities responsible for the licensing and hiring of Tennessee educators, to access information regarding the final disciplinary action of an individual’s license case.  It also requires final licensure action be reported to the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) database for the same purpose.

In addition, committee members support an appropriation in the budget presented by Governor Bill Haslam on Monday for an additional staff attorney in the State Board of Education to review educator misconduct investigations and outstanding cases, and determine what licensure action, if any, should be taken.

The proposed reporting requirements enhance information sharing, both in Tennessee and with other states, so that no predators can fall through the cracks.

 

Legislation directs TennCare to seek federal waiver to prevent abortion providers from receiving taxpayer funds

Legislation directing TennCare officials to seek a Medicaid waiver to exclude facilities in Tennessee that perform elective abortions from receiving taxpayer money was presented at a press conference this week attended by numerous co-sponsors of the bill.

Under the administration of President Obama, states could not get waivers to exclude abortion providers, but supporters of the legislation believe that this could change with President Donald Trump’s administration.  Texas and other states have already begun to seek waivers.

The funds for other women’s health services, such as breast exams, cancer screenings and birth control, would not be affected by the proposal.  The money would be redirected from elective abortion clinics to other health care providers so women will continue to receive care.

All of Tennessee’s 95 counties have identified community health centers and other providers, aside from those who perform elective abortions, who meet criteria to receive taxpayer funding for other women’s health services.

 

Senate Judiciary Committee approves resolution calling for a Constitutional amendment to ban Hall Tax

Legislation which would allow voters to amend the Tennessee Constitution to ban the Hall income tax passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this week by a vote of 7-1.  Senate Joint Resolution 494 proposes additional language in Article II, Section 28 of Tennessee’s Constitution which would eliminate state and local governments’ authority to levy state or local tax upon income derived from stocks and bonds that are not taxed ad valorem.

The Hall income tax, enacted in 1929, is the only tax on personal income in Tennessee. It is currently a four percent tax on income derived from dividends on stock or from interest on bonds after the General Assembly has made several reductions over the past several years. Legislation was approved last year to incrementally phase the tax out by January 2021. However, the proposed amendment would constitutionally prohibit the General Assembly from ever levying or permitting any state or local tax upon income derived from stocks and bonds.

In order for a constitutional amendment to be approved, it must be receive approval by a simple majority during the current 110th General Assembly, and a two-thirds vote in the 111th General Assembly.  It would then be placed on the ballot for consideration by voters during the 2022 gubernatorial election, where it must receive a majority of votes cast in the governor’s race.

 

General Assembly’s Veterans Caucus consider legislation benefitting state’s veterans

The General Assembly’s Veterans Caucus met recently to discuss eight measures benefitting veterans, including a bill to ensure that disabled veterans can continue to qualify for property tax relief if they are hospitalized or temporarily placed in a nursing home.  Another key bill calls on the governor to appoint veterans to Tennessee’s university and community college systems.

Tennessee law currently asks the governor to strive to select board members who are diverse in gender, race, perspective and experience.  The proposal would add a person who is an honorable discharged military veteran in order to ensure that the approximately 500,000 veterans are being served as effectively as possible.  The state has numerous veteran programs including the Tennessee Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Program which allocates resources for veterans’ successful transition from military service to college enrollment.

Other proposals under consideration include:

  • Legislation setting up a process for the naming of buildings and facilities of state veterans homes in recognition of outstanding members of the U.S. military in the same manner that it is done for buildings on college campuses in Tennessee;
  • A measure prohibiting impersonation of an active duty member or a veteran for financial gain;
  • A bill to ensure that at least one military veteran is placed on the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ Statewide Planning and Policy Council which provides some treatment services to veterans;
  • A resolution recognizing Post-Traumatic Stress Injury Awareness (PTSI) Month and urging the Department of Health, the Department of Military, and the Department of Veterans Services to continue education and treatment for those who are suffering and their families; and,
  • A proposal that prohibits political parties from disqualifying an honorably discharged veteran as a candidate for any elected office based on the number of times he or she voted preceding the election.

In addition, a proposal was presented to include a budget appropriation for the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga.  The center is scheduled to open in early 2020 and will serve as the home and lasting tribute to 32 Medal of Honor recipients attributed to the Volunteer State.  Chattanooga is the birthplace and home of the Medal of Honor.

The Veterans Caucus is made up of 35 legislators who served in the armed forces.

 

Senate State and Local Government Committee hears testimony on State’s Public Records Act

Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Chief of Staff Jason Mumpower presented a report to members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week regarding exemptions to the Tennessee Public Records Act (TPRA). The report, which was created in response to a request from Lt. Governor Randy McNally and House Speaker Beth Harwell, identified 538 statutory exceptions currently.  This is compared to 89 exceptions 30 years ago.

The TPRA states that all public records are presumed open unless otherwise provided by state law, meaning an exception makes it confidential.

“The challenge for the General Assembly is to balance the need and desire for transparency in government, while at the same time protecting private information,” Mumpower stated. “Government officials have an obligation to provide records promptly, but they also have an obligation to not expose information that should not be exposed.”

Common exceptions found in the report were personally identifying information and medical records.  Exceptions have been added as technology has increased to protect government employees from having their identities stolen through public record access of identifying information.

While some of the exceptions are straightforward, others are not. Mumpower said that there are often “exceptions to exceptions,” and some exist only in specific circumstances.  Other exceptions not clearly worded and up to interpretation.

A subcommittee composed of members from the Senate State and Local Government Committee and Government Operations Committee to form a subcommittee.  This Subcommittee will then work with the Comptroller’s office and carefully review the report and make recommendations on how the General Assembly should move forward with this information next year.

 

Issues in Brief

Farmers / Federal ELD Rule — The Senate’s Transportation and Safety Committee and Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee met jointly this week to hear testimony from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security regarding the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) new Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule.   The regulation limits for how long and how far truckers can drive, and requires truckers to purchase and install an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) costing approximately $1,500.  This regulation is of particular concern to farmers and transporters of livestock, whose cargo is more sensitive and requires flexibility.  It was noted that the hours of service in the ELD mandate were not written with consideration for all the different types of livestock transportation like cattle, pigs, poultry, fish, horse, pets, and wildlife. The Farm Bureau has petitioned the federal government to extend a waiver on livestock transportation for a year due to confusion and concerns from farming communities.  Legislation has also been drafted providing that no state money, personnel, and energy will be spent enforcing this law.

Veterans — The Senate Government Operations Committee heard testimony from Department of Veteran Services (DVS) Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder regarding how the department is working to serve veterans in Tennessee.  Grinder was there to support Senate Bill 1534 to extend the department for another four years.  Since 2013, the DVS has helped submit 54,000 claims for their veterans and their dependents, totaling $9.1 billion tax-free federal dollars. From 2012 to 2016, unemployment rate of veterans has fallen from 7.3 percent to 3.5 percent; the number of suicides per year has fallen from 197 to 186; and the number of incarcerated veterans has fallen from 2483 to 1307. In December 2015, DVS opened their fourth state veterans’ home in Clarksville. The legislation was recommended by the committee for passage and will next be heard on the Senate floor on final consideration.

Parental Rights / Surviving Parent – The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week to expand the grounds for termination of parental or guardianship rights to include a parent convicted of or found civilly liable for attempting to cause the intentional and wrongful death of the child’s other parent or guardian.  Current law only affords for the termination of parental rights when the offending parent actually ends the life of the victim.  Senate Bill 1608 would permit the victim to file a petition to terminate the offender’s parental rights when the offender fails to end the life of the victim.

Firefighters – Legislation that would provide a $600 supplement to volunteer firefighters to pay for their mandatory training was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week.  Similar stipends are already provided to paid firefighters and law enforcement officers. Senate Bill 1582 entitles volunteer firefighters to the supplement upon successful completion of the course.  Volunteer firefighters make up 80 percent of firefighters in Tennessee.

Honoring the memory of former Senator Joe Haynes – The Senate honored the memory of a former colleague, Senator Joe Haynes (D-Nashville), with passage of a resolution in appreciation of his service to the State of Tennessee.  Senator Haynes sponsored and supported a number of prominent pieces of legislation, including the work of the Tennessee Sentencing Commission which rewrote the criminal statutes, the Maternity Leave Bill, and the Victim’s Rights Bill, and major legislation in the areas of domestic violence, ethics reform, education, community corrections, and prison funding.  Haynes served in the Senate for 28 years.  He was 81 years old.

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