NASHVILLE – Jobs and the economy headlined action on Capitol Hill this week with a major announcement by Governor Bill Haslam that LG Electronics, Inc., will build a new home appliance manufacturing facility in Clarksville. The announcement followed an encouraging report about Tennessee’s efforts to be first in the Southeast for creation of high quality jobs from the Department of Economic and Community Development (TDEC) during its annual budget presentation to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. That report shows Tennessee leads the nation in multiple categories of job growth.
LG, a global manufacturer headquartered in South Korea, will invest $250 million in the facility, creating at least 600 new jobs in Montgomery County. LG’s new Tennessee facility is expected to be the world’s most advanced production plant for washing machines. Construction on the 829,000-square-foot facility will begin later this year. Longer term, the 310-acre site offers the potential to expand for production of other home appliances.
TDEC Interim Commissioner Ted Townsend reported that, in 2016, 21,063 new jobs were created statewide with a capital investment totaling $5.32 billion. Approximately 55.3 percent of the jobs created were above the county median wage, which is a 5.9 percent increase from 2015. Townsend said those jobs have been a driver for Tennessee’s economy.
Over the past several years, the General Assembly has made great strides in creating a business-friendly climate which draws new and better paying jobs to Tennessee. These efforts include passage of a number of job creation initiatives such as tort reform and workers’ compensation reform. It also includes keeping Tennessee a low-tax, low-debt state and preparing students for the 21st century marketplace.
As a result, TDEC reports that Tennessee is now first in the nation for jobs created through foreign direct investment, advanced industry growth, and small job growth. Other accolades include Tennessee being named first in the nation for its “State of Economic Development” by Southern Business and Development Magazine; third for the “Overall Cost of Doing Business” by Area Development Magazine; fifth for “Best Business Climate in the Nation” by Site Selection Magazine; and, second for “Best Infrastructure in the Nation” and fifth for “Automotive Manufacturing Strength” by Business Facilities Magazine. Business Facilities also recognized Tennessee’s education efforts ranking the state as first in the nation for “Tech Skills Leader” in 2015 and “Race to the Top Leader” in 2014.
“This is great news for Tennessee,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro). “The General Assembly has worked diligently with Governor Haslam and TDEC to grow jobs and strengthen our economy and the results show those efforts are paying off for the citizens of our state. We are particularly encouraged to see that the majority of those jobs exceed the median county wage.”
Townsend told committee members that their core strategies to create jobs include recruiting new business, expanding existing business, growing entrepreneurship, and aligning education with workforce needs. It also includes aggressive efforts to bring jobs to Tennessee’s rural communities through community development and other initiatives, like those which stem from the state’s Rural Task Force. Last year, TDEC reported $46.7 million in investment in rural and community development. The task force has asked for new funds in the upcoming budget year for the state’s Rural Development Fund, Rural Opportunity Fund and Rural Small Business, and Entrepreneur Assistance Fund.
TDEC also asked for new funds to implement a broadband initiative to promote education, deployment and adoption of broadband in Tennessee. In this budget address, the governor asked for a total investment of $15 million in the upcoming budget year for that purpose. Approximately 34 percent of rural Tennessee residents lack access to broadband at recognized minimum standards which can be a deterrent to the recruitment of new industry. The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), envisions a three-year investment of grants and tax incentives totaling $45 million to help spur deployment in rural unserved areas, opening them up to economic investment and job growth. The legislation also calls for allowing electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband. The improved connectivity would also increase education opportunities, promote agriculture advancements and provide health care options like telemedicine, which are especially important to rural communities.
Lawmakers announce comprehensive legislation to protect elderly and vulnerable adults from abuse
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), and Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) announced comprehensive legislation to address abuse of elderly or vulnerable adults in Tennessee. Senate Bills 1192, 1230 and 1267 would expand systemic protection for victims of physical, mental, or financial abuse and impose severe penalties on those who commit them.
The bills come from the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Task Force. The proposals build on a new law, sponsored by Norris and passed by the General Assembly last year, which set up Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Teams (VAPIT) in each judicial district in Tennessee to foster cooperation and information sharing between different government agencies whose purpose is to protect elderly and vulnerable adults.
“Elderly abuse is a silent crisis,” said Sen. Norris. “Crimes of elder abuse often go unreported, leaving its helpless victims to suffer silently. And, far too frequently, it happens at the hand of those whom they trust the most. Incapacitation, shame, fear of losing independence, or simply being unaware of available resources, discourages victims from reporting abuse. Often, because the abuser may be a family member, the individual may also be fearful of reprisals.”
Studies show that over the past decade, reported cases of assault and financial exploitation of vulnerable adults have increased by 20 percent or more. It is estimated that as many as one in 23 cases of elder abuse are unreported. It has also been estimated that 41.4 percent of the offenses were committed by a family member and another 13.3 percent of victims were described by law enforcement as having close relationships with the perpetrator.
Senate Bill 1230, the “Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act,” further codifies elder and vulnerable adult abuse and exploitation, creates class C and D felonies for those found guilty of committing these crimes, and requires state agencies to submit offenders’ names to the Tennessee Department of Health’s Abuse Registry.
Senate Bill 1192 makes various changes to the regulation of securities under the Tennessee Securities Act of 1980, such as granting the commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Insurance authority to restrict certain exemptions, increasing penalties for violations where senior citizens and adults with certain mental or physical dysfunctions are victims and altering filing and renewal requirements.
“Financial exploitation robs elderly victims of their money and their dignity,” said Sen. Gardenhire, who is a retired financial advisor. “It also can rob them of their independence and can even force them into depending on government assistance despite their best efforts to save for their golden years.”
Senate Bill 1267 requires the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions to consult with financial service providers, the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, and the Department of Human Services to consider ways in which the entities can collaborate to promote education and awareness of the dangers to vulnerable adults regarding financial exploitation and financial theft and explore preventative measures that can be taken by vulnerable adults to avoid such dangers.
“These three bills continue the General Assembly’s efforts to address abuse of our state’s seniors and vulnerable adults,” added Sen. Crowe, who sponsored legislation last year setting up checks on the people who are working in direct contact with the elderly in home healthcare and hospice. “These are the citizens upon whose shoulders we stand today. I am very proud of the work that our General Assembly has done and continues to do to protect them in cooperation with our Elder Abuse Task Force and other stakeholders. We will continue to look for ways to keep them from being victimized.”
The 2010 census documents the portion of the United States population over age 65 is 13.4 percent of the total population and that the fastest growing segment is those aged 85 and older.
State Senate passes legislation strengthening Tennessee’s campaign finance laws
The full Senate passed legislation, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), this week to require that funds donated to a campaign be deposited and maintained in a traditional bank or credit union account insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Current law allows campaign funds to be invested in a private or publicly traded company, causing ethics concerns and a gap in transparency in the state’s campaign finance laws.
Senator Overbey, who is Chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, said the legislation would put Tennessee in line with other states that limit lawmakers to maintain funds in federally-backed accounts.
“I think we all understand that campaign funds should not be invested in private companies,” said Senator Overbey. “This legislation will end that practice. Campaign funds should only be placed in bank accounts, CDs (Certificates of Deposits), or other safe investment vehicles, not in private corporations. Such investments should be off limits.”
Under Senate Bill 377, any investment not authorized would be prohibited and the candidate, or in the case of a multicandidate political campaign committee, the treasurer, would be subject to a civil penalty by the Registry of Election Finance of not more than $10,000 or 115 percent of the amount invested. The legislation also strengthen the state’s campaign finance laws by requiring that any interest, dividends or income earned on campaign funds by an investment made legally, such as CDs, be reported on the candidate’s financial disclosure.
The bill now goes to the House of Representatives Local Government Subcommittee.
County Road Relief Act — Legislation which permanently changes the way Tennessee manages its State Aid Road Grant Program to make it easier for counties to access state funds to upgrade, repair, and improve roads was approved by the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee this week. Senate Bill 700, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), makes permanent the County Road Relief Act of 2015 which allows a county to use state highway aid for a project as long as the county contributes at least two percent of the approved project cost or provides in-kind work as approved by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The law is set to expire in July. Before passage of the County Road Relief Act of 2015, a 25 percent local match was required by local governments to receive funding through the State Highway Aid System, an obstacle which was too great for many of Tennessee’s more distressed counties. The law was modeled after the County Bridge Relief Act of 2014, which lowered the match to allow local governments to access unused funds in Tennessee’s State Aid Bridge Grant Program. That program has allowed counties to access unused funds to improve bridges which had fallen into disrepair.
States / Policies Differences and Travel Bans — A resolution, which points out the absurdity of California’s ban of state-funded and state-sponsored travel based on a policy difference with Tennessee, was approved by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee this week. After passage of Assembly Bill 1887 last summer, the State of California’s Department of Justice issued a travel ban based on Tennessee’s passage of Public Chapter 926. That law protected the rights of counselors to refer a client to another therapist when the goals, outcomes, or behaviors for which they are seeking counseling are a violation of his or her sincerely held beliefs. The ban applies to California’s state agencies, departments, boards, authorities, and commissions, including an agency, department, board, authority, or commission of the University of California, the Board of Regents of the University of California, and the California State University. California’s travel ban also applies to North Carolina, Mississippi and Kansas based on other policy differences. Senate Joint Resolution 111, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), points out that travel bans based on policy differences can lead to economic warfare and are counterproductive to the common objectives that all states have. It also points out that the Tenth Amendment grants states sovereignty in addressing issues solely within their jurisdiction.
Human Trafficking / Prostitution – Legislation which strengthens the penalty for patronizing prostitution was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 551, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), increases the crime from a Class B to a Class A misdemeanor. The sentence for a Class B misdemeanor is up to six months imprisonment, a fine up to $500, or both; whereas, the sentence for a Class A misdemeanor is 11 months and 29 days in prison, a fine up to $2,000, or both. The bill aims to attack the demand-driven problem of human trafficking in Tennessee.
Drivers Licenses / VISA — The Senate Transportation Committee voted this week to require the word “VISA” rather than “Temporary” to be printed on the Tennessee driver license of a citizen from a foreign country who is in the state based on that permit to enter, leave or stay for a specified period of time in the United States. Senate Bill 272, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), would assist in recognizing voter fraud.
Antique License Plates — The full Senate gave final approval to a bill this week to increase the number of days that cars with antique license plates can drive on Tennessee roads. Antique license plates are available to owners of passenger vehicles or motorcycle more than 25 years old with a non-modified engine and body at a one-time cost of $27.75. Currently, vehicles with these plates are allowed to drive during weekends. Senate Bill 223, sponsored by Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), clarifies that Saturday and Sunday are permitted and adds federal holidays to the allowable time in which they can travel without having to get a regular license plate. Federal holidays include New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.
Pornography / Public Health – The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved a resolution this week which recognizes pornography as a public health hazard in Tennessee which is leading to a broad spectrum of individual and societal harms. Senate Joint Resolution 35 recognizes the public health crisis created by pornography and acknowledges the need for education, prevention, research and policy change at the community and societal level in order to address it. The resolution particularly stresses the harm pornography poses to children due to advances in technology and the universal availability of the internet which has led to young children being exposed at an alarming rate. Twenty-seven percent of millennials reported they first viewed pornography before reaching puberty. Internet safety is the 4th top ranked issue on the list of health concerns for U.S. children. Utah, South Dakota, and Virginia have all declared the pornography industry to be a public health crisis. The resolution is sponsored by
Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet).
Elected Attorney General — A resolution that would allow Tennessee voters to decide if they want to popularly elect the state’s attorney general (AG) is headed to the Senate floor for a final vote after being approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Joint Resolution 57, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), begins the process of amending the State Constitution, which, if approved by voters, calls for the AG to be elected beginning with the November 2024 general election. Unlike any other state, Tennessee’s AG is appointed by the justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court for a term of eight years. The resolution calls for the AG to be elected to a four-year term, and would limit the elected AG to two consecutive terms. The amendment process requires a simple majority by the 110th General Assembly currently in session, and a two-thirds majority in the 111th General Assembly which convenes in 2019, before going to voters in a statewide referendum. The resolution also provides that the AG be 30 years of age or older, a citizen of the United States, an attorney duly licensed in Tennessee and a resident of the state for at least five years preceding the election.
Teacher Training Programs — Legislation was approved by the full Senate this week which requires the Department of Education to allow state-approved teacher training programs to access annual evaluation data for teachers and principals graduating from their programs for a minimum of five years after graduation. Before a teacher training program may access the evaluation data, however, they must enter into a data sharing agreement with the department that includes provisions safeguarding the privacy and security of the data. The information will help the schools evaluate and improve the effectiveness of their programs. Research shows that teachers have the most impact of any in-school factor on student achievement. Senate Bill 575, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), is one of several bills progressing in the General Assembly this year to improve teacher training programs in Tennessee.
Identity Theft – Legislation was passed by the full Senate this week allowing victims of identity theft to receive a new driver license with a new distinguishing number upon presenting proof of the crime. Senate Bill 912, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), aims to prevent identity theft.
School Counselors / Additional Services — Members of the Senate Education Committee approved a bill this week which clarifies that a certified school counselor, in collaboration with a parent, may recommend additional mental health counseling for a student without obligating the cost of that counseling to the school system. Senate Bill 341, does not change or interfere with the services already provided by the school system. Any student who receives services under IDEA law will continue to receive these services. The legislation simply eliminates the ambiguity that is often a barrier for school counselors to make this referral, which their ethics and training require, to a private counselor or therapist when the student’s needs fall outside their scope of services. The bill is sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains).
Alcoholic Beverage Commission — The State Senate gave approval to legislation this week which increases from three to five the number of members serving on the Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC). The two new members will be appointed by the Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and they will serve four-year terms beginning on July 1, 2017. Senate Bill 556 also raises the quorum to three and provides that members who are absent more than 50 percent of the scheduled meetings in a calendar year will be removed from the commission. The legislation aims to put more eyes on the actions of the commission due to the increasing demand from the implementation of the Wine in Grocery Stores Law last year. The bill is sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro).
Financial Literacy – Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard told members of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee this week that over 10,000 Tennessee students have benefitted from the Department of Treasury’s Financial Literacy Program implemented in June 2012. The program has provided materials and training to nearly 4,000 K-8 educators representing 612 schools. In addition to the Financial Fitness for Life curriculum, the program also provides Tennessee schools with free access to an interactive digital platform called Vault – Understanding Money. The easy-to-use online program teaches student a wide variety of sound financial practices from how to differentiate between financial needs and wants, to setting both short and long term goals for their financial future. The Financial Literacy Program was created by legislation passed in 2010 sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) and Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Memphis). Tennessee ranks among the top two states in the nation for bankruptcy.
Unclaimed Property –The Tennessee Treasury Department has returned a record amount of unclaimed property in 2016 to Tennesseans across the state, marking a 28 percent increase over the prior year according to Treasurer David Lillard, who spoke to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday. In total, 41,827 claims were processed in 2016, totaling more than $34 million with an average claim amount of $817. Unclaimed property is money that has been turned over to the state by businesses and organizations that cannot locate their original owners. Each year, millions of missing dollars are returned with the assistance of the Tennessee Treasury Department helping get that money back to original owners. While $34 million was returned during 2016, there is currently $789.2 million of money and property still waiting to be claimed. You can visit the Treasury’s searchable online database at: www.ClaimItTn.gov or for those without internet access, the Unclaimed Property Division can be contacted by phone at (615) 741-6499.
Asian Carp — On Monday, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) met with the Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources to discuss their budget for upcoming fiscal year and environmental hurdles the agency is facing. One hurdle is the growing number of Asian Carp, an invasive species which threatens to disrupt the native aquatic ecosystems in Tennessee’s lakes and rivers. The diet of Asian carp overlaps with the diet of native fish in the Tennessee, Cumberland, and Mississippi Rivers. The commercial value of Asian carp is quite low and much less valuable than the native fish they replaced. The TWRA has continued efforts with Kentucky to tackle the problem in the state’s northern lakes, while the Corps of Engineers and TVA are working to limit the travel of these fish in streams. TWRA said China’s desire to catch the fish for food, coupled with the proposal of “rodeo fishing,” could aid to reduce the population. Last year, the General Assembly passed a measure, sponsored by Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), creating a nine-person task force to research and report possible solutions to the General Assembly.
Lottery Scholarship Programs / Retention Rate — Mike Krause, Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), told members of the Senate Education Committee this week that there is a 63 percent retention rate in the Tennessee Promise Scholarship Program, outpacing that of the HOPE Scholarship Program. Tennessee Promise is both a scholarship and mentoring program focused on increasing the number of students that attend college in Tennessee. It provides students a last-dollar scholarship, meaning the scholarship will cover tuition and fees not covered by the Pell grant, the HOPE scholarship, or state student assistance funds. The Tennessee Hope Scholarship Award is merit based; therefore, the student must meet certain criteria to receive the award and maintain a minimum level of academic achievement to continue to receive it. Krause estimated the highly successful retention rate at Tennessee’s Colleges of Applied Technology (TCAT) as being in the 80 percent range. Krause assured committee members that all the scholarship programs supported by the lottery are viable, even with the addition of Governor Bill Haslam’s proposal to expand the state’s Reconnect program to all adults without a degree. The Reconnect initiative helps more adults enter higher education to gain new skills, advance in the workplace, and fulfill lifelong dreams of completing a degree or credential.
Addison’s Disease — The Senate unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) which authorizes school personnel to inject medication for adrenal insufficiency to a student with Addison’s Disease who is experiencing an adrenal crisis. Addison’s disease is a life-threatening illness that prevents a person’s body from creating hormones that help it respond to stress. An adrenal crisis can be triggered by an injury, surgery, infection or emotional stress. Death may occur without immediate treatment. Currently, only school nurses are authorized to administer these injections, but under Senate Bill 117, any willing school personnel receiving the proper training may be permitted to aid a student in an adrenal crisis on a volunteer basis. The bill was brought to the legislature by the Adzima Family and their son, Landon, who testified before the committee about the student’s near-death experience while at a wrestling tournament. The coaches saw the importance of being able to help in this kind of emergency situation in the future but current policy prohibited their assistance. In the absence of a school nurse, there is no backup plan to aid these students when a crisis occurs.
Vertical Licenses / Underage Drinking — Legislation requiring all new drivers’ licenses issued to persons under the age of 21 in Tennessee be printed in a vertical format to help businesses easily identify those who cannot drink alcohol is headed to the Senate floor after approval this week in the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee. Senate Bill 384 would give drivers the option to change their license to horizontal upon turning age 21 for the reduced cost of a duplicate license. Presently, a thin red bar along the side of the photo on the license indicates a person is under the age of 21. It is unlawful to serve, sell, or permit the furnishing of alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 in the state. Tennessee made national headlines in 2007 when it became the first state to make store clerks card everyone who bought carry-out beer. The carding requirement for off-premise consumption was expanded in 2014 to include liquor and wine as part of the wine-in-grocery-stores law. More than two-thirds of the states across the nation have vertical licenses for drivers under the age of 21. The bill is sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville).
DUI Memorial Signing Program — The full Senate gave final approval to a bill which enhances the Driving Under the Influence (DUI) memorial signing program passed by the General Assembly last year. The Tyler Head Law, upon request, erects and maintains memorial signs on the state highway system commemorating victims who died as a result of a DUI-related accident after an offender’s conviction. The new law, however, inadvertently omitted the opportunity to erect a sign for victims when the offender also dies as a result of the crash. Senate Bill 17, sponsored by Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), comes after the mother of Shadow “Shada” Brooke Lowe, who was a victim of a drunk driver, applied for a memorial sign and was denied due to the requirement that the offender, who was deceased, must be convicted. This legislation closes the loophole to allow for these DUI victim’s families to have the opportunity to have a memorial sign erected in their family member’s honor.
Gatlinburg Wildfires – Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) guided passage of legislation through the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee’s Revenue Subcommittee this week authorizing local governing bodies, by a two-thirds vote, to prorate real and personal property damaged by the November wildfires. Senate Bill 114 is modeled after similar legislation which granted tax relief to victims of the 2010 floods in Nashville. The legislation calls for prorating the 2016 tax assessment for a homeowner’s real property or business owner’s personal property, if the property was damaged as a result of a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-certified disaster between September 1, 2016, and December 31, 2016. It would not become effective until approved by a two-third vote of the local governing body of the county and/or city in which the property is located. If the tax computed for the 2016 tax year has been paid prior to the proration, the victim would receive a refund under the bill. The legislation is retroactive to January 1, 2016.
Stroke Centers – Legislation which aims to reduce the risk of preventable complications and death due to stroke passed the full Senate this week. Senate Bill 544 comes from recommendations from the Tennessee Stroke Best Practices Task Force. The legislation strengthens the state’s existing Stroke Registry by requiring all certified comprehensive and primary stroke centers to share blinded data with the registry in order to compile a complete report on stroke care in Tennessee. The data would enable health organizations to study the fifth highest killer of Tennesseans in depth, including best practices for treatment. It will also provide evidence to allow hospitals and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) agencies to apply for federal level grants. The legislation is sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro).