Late April saw the second half of the 109th Tennessee General Assembly come to a close. It was a historic and eventful legislative session. Here are just a few of those accomplishments:
Justice Roger Page of West Tennessee was unanimously confirmed to the Tennessee Supreme Court by the Tennessee General Assembly early in 2016, marking the first time that the confirmation process approved by the voters in a constitutional amendment adopted in 2014 was used, ensuring the people’s voice was heard in selecting the Court’s membership. Justice Page’s confirmation gives Republicans a majority of the Court.
The Rural Economic Opportunity Act passed this session to spur economic development in rural counties. The Act restructures the county tier system used for determining job tax credits, providing grants to counties to help build sites and infrastructure to incentivize businesses to set up shop in the most distressed areas of Tennessee.
The General Assembly also took steps this year to aid the agriculture industry in Tennessee. The “Right to Farm Act” will protect farmers from illegitimate nuisance suits. Also passed this year was a bill which gives the Commissioner of Agriculture the authority to regulate seeds that are sold, purchased and planted in Tennessee. This will reduce the risk of potentially harmful seeds from other parts of the world from coming into our state.
This year’s budget funded $142 million to the Highway Fund. $42 million of that is to go to counties for local road and bridge projects.
Growing out of the Governor’s Sentencing and Recidivism Task Force, the Public Safety Act addressed the most serious offenses driving Tennessee’s violent crime rate by establishing mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of three or more charges of aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary, or drug trafficking. The bill also allows a law enforcement officer to seek an order of protection on behalf of a domestic abuse victim and makes third and subsequent convictions a class E felony.
In response to the repulsive videos of Planned Parenthood employees discussing selling fetal remains, we passed the Fetal Remains Act requiring not only increased reporting of the disposition of fetal remains but prohibiting reimbursement of any kind for any costs associated with shipping or disposing of an aborted fetus or fetal remains.
At the end of session this year, the General Assembly voted on one of the largest tax cuts in state history. The Hall Income Tax was cut by 17% this year and is set to be repealed gradually until 2021 when it will be repealed completely.
The budget also provided the largest investment in education in the state’s history without a tax increase. The $261 million investment includes $104.6 million for teacher salaries, $29.5 million to fund 12 months of health insurance for teachers, $13.9 million for additional English Language Learning teachers, and $3.6 million for training teachers and principals.
Senate Joint Resolution 467 urges the Tennessee Attorney General to commence legal action in response to the federal government forcing Tennessee to spend state dollars for the Refugee Resettlement Program. This legislation seeks to protect Tennesseans and prevent the federal government from forcing the state to spend money on a program with which it does not agree.
The General Assembly took several steps this year to preserve the Second Amendment rights of Tennesseans. A bill passed which allows full-time public college and university employees to carry a handgun on school property. Further legislation passed which allows private schools to develop and institute their own weapons policies. In addition, legislation also passed which extended the current 5-year handgun carry permit to 8 years and lowers the initial fee to $100.
Finally, SB 2389 moves legislative oversight of the administrative rule process back to its constitutional foundations. When new rules are proposed, the administrative agency must demonstrate to the Government Operations Committee the necessity for the rule and allows the Committee to request the General Assembly repeal the regulation, returning power to the people’s representatives instead of in the hands of unelected bureaucrats.
Though the General Assembly has ended, my office is still open and prepared to serve you. If you need any assistance please contact my office at 615-741-4576.