(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), February 20, 2014 – It was a short, but busy week on Capitol Hill as lawmakers returned from observing the President’s Day holiday to act on a wide variety of issues. Meanwhile, Senate Committees concentrated on reviewing the budget requests of several departments and agencies of state government this week. Among departments presenting their budget to committees was the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development where Commissioner Bill Hagerty told members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee that 155,000 net new private sector jobs have been created in the state since January 2011. The department worked on 187 projects which yielded commitments for over 23,000 new jobs, breaking a 2012 record for growth. As a result, Tennessee now ranks 6th in the nation in terms of job growth and Hagerty believes those numbers will continue to grow.
“There are commitments that we generate that are on a delayed basis because ground has to be often purchased, cleared, buildings have to be built, factories erected, people have to be hired and trained,” said Hagerty. “So there’s a lag effect to the numbers that I’m sharing with you on this 23,000. Since Governor Haslam took office, our department has received commitments for over 60,000 new jobs. That is what our pipeline looks like and we are in the process now of putting those jobs into play.”
Hagerty said the department has been very focused on the quality of jobs in the state. He said the measure for determining the number of quality jobs coming into the state is through personal income growth. Tennessee is 2nd in the Southeast and 14th in the nation in personal income growth, with an increase of 10% since 2011.
“This is great news for Tennessee,” said Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Jack Johnson (R-Franklin). “Job growth is a top priority as we work to be the fastest growing state in the Southeast and the nation in creating quality jobs for Tennesseans.”
Job growth in rural Tennessee communities is also a key priority for the department. Last year, the “Select Tennessee” program was launched to help counties across the state inventory their industrial properties and bring them up to international site standards certification. Since that time, 26 sites have been certified. This certification helps new or expanding companies have the certainty that these sites meet special standards and are ready to be operational in the shortest possible timeframe.
Another rural economic development tool is the state’s new certification for “Adventure Tourism” under the state’s Adventure Tourism and Rural Development Act sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston). Adventure Tourism is outdoor recreational opportunities such as equine and motorized trail riding, white water rafting and kayaking, rappelling, road biking, rock climbing, hang-gliding, spelunking, shooting sports, mountain biking, canoeing, paragliding, zip lining and other such tourist and recreational activities. Last week the department announced that applications are available for communities seeking to become certified as adventure tourism districts pursuant to that act. This allows certain tourism-related businesses within adventure tourism districts to qualify for a jobs tax credit.
“Many rural counties in Tennessee, which also have some of the highest unemployment rates, will benefit from this program,” said Yager. “This not only showcases our beautiful outdoors but gives communities a chance to find tools to create jobs.”
“Adventure tourism is an industry gaining popularity throughout the world, and it is only fitting that Tennessee’s abundance of natural resources would lend the ideal setting to support this segment of the tourism industry.” Hagerty said.
Tennessee earned a number of accolades in 2013, including being named No. 1 in the nation by Business Facilities for automotive manufacturing strength for an unprecedented four years in a row Business Facilities. Tennessee was also ranked in the top five states with the best business climate by Site Selection. CEO respondents voted Tennessee the fourth best state in the U.S. for business in Chief Executive Magazine’s Annual Best & Worst States for Business Survey.
Legislation aims to attract new business to the state
Legislation which is designed to help attract new businesses to the state met approval in the Senate Commerce Committee this week. Senate Bill 1763, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), allows new companies coming to Tennessee to base their unemployment insurance premiums on the past history of the state from which they are relocating.
Under present law, workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own are provided weekly unemployment insurance payments. These payments are funded by employers who pay taxes on the wages paid to employees. The tax rate that employers must pay is based on whether they are a new employer or an experience-rated employer. New companies locating to the state must currently pay a higher rate because they have no prior experience in Tennessee.
“This change will not only attract new businesses to the state but is a more accurate way in which to determine the amount of premiums which are owed,” said Senator Ketron. “It is another tool in our toolbox to help bring new jobs to our state.”
The legislation calls on companies participating in this new program to provide the department with all necessary employment data dating back three years. Proponents of the legislation believe this change in the unemployment insurance law will help recruit an additional five manufacturers to the state each year.
Senate Judiciary Committee votes to require local police and sheriffs offices to take inventory of all untested rape kits
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted this week to take inventory of all untested rape kits and forensic evidence and turn those numbers over to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to help in the pursuit of justice for victims and survivors. The legislation, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), stems from recent information that there are as many as twelve-thousand rape kits with evidence that has not been tested in Shelby County.
Shelby County is not alone. Untested rape kits are a national problem.
Senate Bill 1426 requires all law enforcement agencies or departments charged with the maintenance, storage, and preservation of sexual assault kits to generate a report based on that inventory by July 1, 2014. The report must contain the number of untested kits and the date the evidence was collected. After receiving the information, the bill calls for the TBI to deliver a report to the speakers of the State Senate and House of Representatives regarding their findings. That report would provide information regarding a possible backlog in other Tennessee counties.
“We need to quantify the scope of the problem first,” said Leader Norris. “This will be a fundamental step in helping us accomplish that task so we can take the steps needed to help victims and survivors find justice.”
Commerce Committee approves “Stop Obamacare Act”
Legislation which requires the governor to receive approval from the General Assembly through joint resolution before expanding Medicaid under Obamacare was approved this week by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Under the Medicaid expansion envisioned by the Obamacare, Tennessee is estimated to pay $200 million a year for its 10% share to expand Medicaid to individuals with incomes up to 138% of the poverty level. The federal government promised to pay 100% of the expansion cost for the first three years, diminishing to 90% in future years. However, many financial experts are skeptical about the federal government’s ability to maintain the level of funding promised due to mounting national debt.
“In 1981, Congress reduced its Medicaid funding match to help cut the federal budget deficit, and with over $17 trillion of debt, I suspect they’ll do it again,” said Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), sponsor of the Stop Obamacare Act. “That would leave state taxpayers to foot the bill. This bill will ensure that Tennessee budgets remain fiscally sound for years to come.”
In June 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius that states have the right to opt out of Medicaid expansion without losing pre-existing federal Medicaid funding.
Other states that have opted not to expand their Medicaid programs have also cited their doubt that the federal government will keep its promised level of funding, thus leaving state taxpayers to foot the bill.
Legislation helps ensure innocent victims are not jailed on felonies without cause
State Senators voted on Thursday to approve legislation which helps ensure innocent individuals are not arrested and jailed on felonies just because someone else has a grudge against them and uses the judicial system to carry out their feud in court. The bill, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), calls for a law enforcement officer to sign an affidavit of complaint for a felony arrest before a warrant can be issued unless the accusations include domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
“If a serious felony has been committed it deserves to be properly investigated and prosecuted by members of law enforcement,” said Senator Overbey. “This bill will require an officer to sign the affidavit, thus ensuring they have investigated the case at least to the point where probable cause exists. This should reduce the number of people that are wrongfully charged and provide greater protections for innocent citizens.”
Under current law any private citizen can give a statement to an officer, take that statement to a judicial commissioner and swear out a warrant against another private citizen with a simple signature. The judicial commissioner is asked to make a probable cause determination based only on one side of the story. This situation results in too many innocent individuals being arrested and imprisoned until they can make bond and push through the judicial system.
Overbey said the situation was portrayed in detail with the Keith Bullock arrest last year. The case was dismissed within weeks by an Assistant District Attorney, after a cab driver had him arrested for robbery.
Senate Bill 1434 still allows for a private individual to obtain a misdemeanor warrant on their signature alone, but a presumption is created encouraging a citation or summons so people are not arrested and forced to make bond just because another private individual says they should be without any law enforcement investigation at all. Private individuals would still be able to obtain a felony or misdemeanor indictment through the Grand Jury process.
“This bill will free up valuable law enforcement and judicial resources so they can focus on actual criminal actors,” added Overbey.
Legislation provides greater accountability and transparency in the TNInvestco Program
The Senate has approved legislation, sponsored by Senators Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), that provides greater accountability and transparency in the state’s TNInvestco Program. TNInvestco is a program administered by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (EDC) that provides benefits to small, medium-sized, and start-up businesses to encourage job growth in the state.
“This legislation will provide greater oversight and ensure that companies receiving tax credits are completing their statutorily required investment strategy scorecards,” said Senator Ketron. “It also helps to ensure investment strategy benchmarks are being met and that investments are free from fraud, waste, and abuse.”
“The overwhelming majority of jobs in this state are created by small businesses,” said Senator Overbey. “This bill helps to ensure that entrepreneurs have access to capital in order to grow jobs, but that it is done in an accountable and transparent manner.”
Some of the key provisions included in Senate Bill 766 are:
- requires the department to obtain sufficient documentation to support the state’s profit share percentage;
- changes the date through which the TNInvestcos submit their information in the annual report to provide better accuracy of investment activity for the calendar year;
- changes the number of days that a TNInvestco has to submit their annual audited financial statements from 180 days to 120 days so that information is received in a more timely fashion;
- changes the number of days that the TNInvestco has to cure any areas of non-compliance from 60 days to 45 days to ensure that policies and procedures are being met without substantive delays;
- allows ECD to promulgate rules and regulations to ensure compliance with requirements of the program; and
- gives ECD greater enforcement capability by allowing them to assess a penalty for persistent non-compliance by a TNInvestco.
The bill also allows a TNInvestco to re-invest their returns and the state’s returns in equal portions up to the 7th anniversary of the fund. Finally, it adds new language to the law that requires ECD to liquidate all remaining ownership interests by the state beginning December 31, 2021.
State Senate Continues War on Human Trafficking
TBI Releases New Report
State Senators gave final approval to another bill in the legislative package designed to curb human trafficking in Tennessee. Under present law, the statute of limitations for prosecution for the offense of trafficking a child for a commercial sex act, soliciting sexual exploitation of a minor, or exploitation of a minor by electronic means is no later than 15 years from the date the child becomes 18 years old. Senate Bill 1658, sponsored by Senator Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), extends the statute of limitations to 25 years after the child turns 18 for these offenses. The bill applies to offenses that are committed against a child on or after July 1, 2014.
On Wednesday, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation released a follow-up study to its 2011 report on Human Sex Trafficking and its impact on Children and Youth. This report shows that sex trafficking of minors occurs in rural and urban areas of Tennessee and has an effect in both wealthy and poor households. It was also discovered that minors who come from impoverished households may be especially vulnerable to victimization.
The follow-up study showed more cases of sex trafficking were reported by social service respondents than by law enforcement respondents. Counties that reported over 100 cases of minor sex trafficking were Coffee, Davidson, Knox and Shelby. Counties that reported 26-100 cases of minor sex trafficking were Franklin, Rutherford, Warren, Carter, Hamilton, Lawrence, Madison, Roane and Washington. Counties that reported 16-25 cases of minor sex trafficking were Bradley, Dickson, Lake, Lewis, Marshall, Montgomery, Putnam and Sevier.
As of July 2013, twelve new anti-human trafficking laws have been created to address this epidemic. Domestic issues, the drug trade, poverty and other socio-economic factors serve as catalysts for human sex trafficking. Eleven measures, including Senator Crowe’s bill, have been proposed this year by the Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition to toughen state laws, help survivors, and aid law enforcement in the quest to eradicate human trafficking in Tennessee.
Crime Victims / Court Process — The full Senate gave final approval to two bills this week to help crime victims and their families from being further victimized by an unjust court process. Senate Bills 1796 and 1797, sponsored by Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), stem from the brutal murders of Knoxville residents Channon Christian and Chris Newsom, who were carjacked, brutally raped, tortured and murdered. Senate Bill 1796 creates a presumption applicable to a successor judge that the presiding judge, who serves as the 13th juror, is presumed to have completed his duties once the judge accepts the verdict of the jury. Senate Bill 1797 puts new restrictions on bringing into evidence presumptions or false information that are related to the victim that is totally unrelated to the crime. This measure would put Tennessee law into agreement with the constitutional amendment passed by Tennesseans in 1998 which states crime victims should be free from intimidation, harassment or abuse throughout the criminal justice system.
Fee Cut / Charitable Organizations — Charitable organizations and the people who raise funds for them might end up paying a lot less to register with the state under legislation that advanced in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week. Senate Bill 1919, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), would cut fees across the board by 20 percent. For a charity raising between $30,000 and $48,999.99 per year, the new annual fee would be only $80. At the top end of the scale, a charity raising $500,000 or more would pay $240 per year. The bill would also reduce the annual registration fees for professional solicitors from $800 to $250 and for fundraising counsels from $250 to $100. The changes would affect about 8,100 organizations and individuals who must register with the division.
Student Health – Legislation received final Senate approval that prohibits schools from using the time provided to students to walk from one class to the next from being used as 90 minutes per week required under Coordinated School Health Law for students to receive physical activity. Senate Bill 1760, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), ensures that schools abide by the spirit of that law intended to help students make healthy choices through physical activity. Tennessee ranks among the highest in the nation in child obesity and diabetes.
Teachers / Classroom Supplies – Legislation to help ensure teachers receive their classroom supply allowance at an earlier date has been approved by the full Senate. The bill clarifies that at least $100 out of the $200 allotted for supplies under current law, be distributed by August 31. Senate Bill 2277, sponsored by Senator Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), allows teachers to spend the allowance at any time during that school year on instructional supplies as determined necessary by the teacher. It also requires Local Education Agencies (LEA) to send a written explanation for any noncompliance.
Pledge to the Flag — The Senate State and Local Government Committee has approved a resolution recognizing February 10 as the 60th anniversary of the addition of the words “under God” to the United States Pledge of Allegiance. The date recognizes when U.S. Senator Homer Ferguson of Michigan introduced a bill in the 1954 United State Congress to amend the text. Senator Ferguson chose this date because it marked the 1949 anniversary of the imprisonment of Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty of Hungary, who was jailed and tortured by Communists for his sermons exposing the goal of Communism to eradicate all religion. The Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag was first recited using the words “One Nation Under God” on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.