(NASHVILLE), March 6, 2015 — A resolution aimed at ending federal “regulation without representation” is headed to the floor of the Tennessee Senate after being approved by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee this week. Senate Joint Resolution 2, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), calls upon Congress to require that, whenever one quarter of the members of the U.S. House or the U.S. Senate transmit to the President their written declaration of opposition to a proposed federal regulation, a majority vote of the House and Senate is necessary to adopt it.
“The growth and abuse of federal regulatory authority threatens our constitutional liberties and are choking the life out of this country,” said Sen. Norris. “Relief from such excessive regulation is essential if we are to survive and prosper together as a nation. Three times in American history, starting with the Bill of Rights, states have forced Congress to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution in order to avoid a convention that would be more powerful than Congress. I am hopeful that states across the nation will join Tennessee in this effort so that the Regulation Freedom Amendment will be the fourth.”
The vote on the resolution came on the eve of the U.S. Supreme Court’s scheduled arguments in the case of King v. Burwell. The case challenges the authority of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to implement certain rules in states which did not choose to participate or set up a state-run exchange in conjunction with the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. “Whether it’s the Affordable Care Act or any other federal law, the regulatory overreach of the IRS, like so many federal administrative agencies, epitomizes federal regulation run amok,” added Norris, who joined as Amici Curiae on a brief supporting the petitioners in the case. “It undermines federalism as our Founders framed it and threatens the separation of powers which safeguard freedom and the states’ rights to exercise it.”
The Office of Management and Budget has reported that unfunded mandates and regulations cost taxpayers between $44 and $62 billion each year. Similarly, the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy estimates the cost of federal regulations at $1.75 trillion, with costs for small businesses topping $10,500 per employee each year. The number of regulators is up 13 percent over the past six years, while private sector employment shrank by 5.6 percent.
Norris cited last week’s ruling by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) taking jurisdiction over the Internet. He also pointed to a recent federal regulation promulgated pursuant to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act which restricts the freedom of local PTAs, booster clubs or athletic teams to conduct bake sales to raise funds. “A Regulation Freedom Amendment should put the appetite of federal regulators on a diet. Anything less is half-baked,” he added.
In addition, Norris noted a proposed federal regulation to define the scope of waters in the U.S., subject to the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction. Norris said the scope of waters rule would impair state authority over water within their boundaries, significantly increasing the cost and regulatory requirements for state and local governments.
“This proposed federal rule has the potential to effect even the most minor streams and standing water on personal property,” added Norris. “This is a huge issue for farmers as the federal government continues to make rules from bake sales to barnyards which affect our personal liberties.”
“Our founding fathers, including James Madison, warned of this kind of abuse saying, ‘I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.’ A runaway federal government is upon us, and we are paying a higher price each day that passes without action,” Norris concluded.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved a regulatory freedom amendment in 2013. The “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS),” however, never came to a vote in the Senate, and faces the threat of a veto from President Obama if passed.
Senate State and Local Government Committee approves legislation enabling veterans groups to hold fundraising games of chance in accordance to Amendment 4 adopted by voters
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) won approval of legislation in the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week to allow 501 (c) (19) veterans organizations to raise funds for charitable purposes. Senate Bill 325 is the final step in ensuring that Amendment 4 to the State Constitution, which won approval by voters in November, is enacted. The amendment gives veterans groups the same opportunity as 501 (c) (3) organizations to conduct an annual fundraising event like duck races, cake walks, raffles, and other games of chance
Senator Crowe was the prime sponsor of Amendment 4 and Senator Norris is Chairman of the Veterans Subcommittee of the Senate State and Local Government Committee.
Amendment 4 received 69.6% of the vote, outpacing all other constitutional amendments on the ballot. Any funds raised by the games under the amendment must go to purposes that benefit the community, veterans, or retired veterans.
“These veterans groups do a lot of good community service work and the passage of this amendment can help them in their efforts,” said Senator Norris. “Our legislation will allow this process to move forward and will ensure that the deadline affords these organizations enough time to get their applications in.”
Currently, 501 (c) (3) organizations must submit an application and all required attachments between July 1st and January 31st each year for an event which takes place between July 1 and June 30.
“Years ago, when the constitutional amendment allowing charitable gaming passed, our veterans were left out,” said Senator Crowe. “We have been working ever since to change the Constitution so they can raise charitable funds to benefit the less fortunate in our communities, like our wounded warriors.”
The bill now goes to the Senate floor for a final vote.
Senate Judiciary Committee Acts to Ban Powdered Alcohol in Tennessee
Legislation that would ban the sale of powdered or crystalline alcohol in Tennessee has cleared its first hurdle with passage in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 374, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), would make it a Class A misdemeanor offense to sale the product, which is currently pending approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Palcohol, which is the brand name for the new product, was approved last year by the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau before the agency rescinded that decision over labeling issues. When mixed with water the powdered alcohol becomes a cocktail. It is being promoted as a product that can be easily transported by the consumer.
“The powdered alcohol product is creating concern nationwide that it would be an easy and accessible target for abuse by underage drinkers, including the possibility of being snorted,” said Senator Ketron. “There is also concern that the product could be misused by adults if it is sprinkled onto someone’s food or in their drink without the other person’s knowledge.”
“It could easily be over-consumed by a person not knowing how much to dilute it by, by eating it undiluted, or by mixing it with an existing alcohol to create a drink with an unknown potency. This would greatly increase the risk of over-drinking and alcohol poisoning,” Ketron added.
Powdered alcohol products would not be defined as an alcoholic beverage under current Tennessee law because it is not a liquid and would be free from regulation by the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. This means it could be sold directly to minors in grocery stores, over the Internet, or in any other location. “In addition, powdered alcohol could create liability issues for owners of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants, as the accessibility of the product and the ease in which it can be snuck into an establishment could unintentionally lead to the illegal over-serving of a customer by the establishment,” Ketron continued.
Thirteen states have enacted similar legislation banning powdered alcohol. The bill now goes to the full Senate for final consideration.
Resolution to let voters decide if they want to popularly elect Tennessee’s Attorney General meets Judiciary Committee Approval
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6 to 3 on Wednesday in favor of a resolution that would allow Tennessee voters to decide if they want to popularly elect the state’s attorney general (AG). Senate Joint Resolution 63, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), would begin the process of amending the State Constitution, which if approved, would go to voters in the 2018 general election.
“Tennessee is the only state in the nation in which the people have neither a direct nor indirect voice in the selection of their attorney general, and we are the only state that gives that power to our Supreme Court,” said Senator Beavers.
Beavers’ resolution calls for the AG to serve a six-year term, but would limit it to two consecutive terms. The resolution requires approval by the 109th General Assembly currently in session, and the 110th which will take office in 2017, before going to voters in a statewide referendum.
Beavers said that when Tennessee’s Constitution was written, calling for nomination of the AG by the state’s Supreme Court justices, the court was popularly elected. Forty-three states already select their attorney generals through popular election. In six other states, the AG is selected by either the popularly elected governor or the popularly elected state legislature.
“Along with the overwhelming majority of Tennesseans and 96 percent of the rest of this nation, I feel that the citizens of this state ought to have a ‘say so’ in the highest legal office in Tennessee,” she concluded.
The bill now goes to the Senate floor where it will be heard on three readings before taking a final vote. It will then travel to the House of Representatives for approval there.
Gift Vouchers Now Available to Buy Tennessee Specialty License Plates
Tennessee Specialty License Plates, which support over 100 different organizations and charities, are now available as gifts through a new website hosted by the State Department of Treasury office: Tennessee Gift Center (tngiftcenter.com). Senators Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Doug Overbey (R-Knoxville), Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), and Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) joined other lawmakers, as well as Anne Pope, Executive Director, Tennessee Arts Commission and State Treasurer David Lillard at a press conference this week to roll out the new gift voucher program which helps support the arts in Tennessee.
Senator Norris was the sponsor of the law which enacted the program, while Senator Overbey is Chairman of the Tennessee General Assembly’s Arts Caucus.
The GIFT-A-TAG Gift Voucher Program is the first offering on the Tennessee Gift Center website and it can be accessed directly by going to tngiftcenter.com/giftatag. Each GIFT-A-TAG is good for the purchase of a Specialty Plate or the personalization of any license plate. GIFT-A-TAG vouchers are $35 and individuals can buy as many as they want for family and friends.
The Tennessee State Treasurer’s office took on the task of creating an online system for the GIFT-A-TAG program. The GIFT-A-TAG vouchers can also be used to renew Specialty License Plates.
“This has been my goal over the last five years, to develop the license plate gift voucher program,” said Senator Majority Leader Mark Norris. “I am delighted to say it is now possible.”
The GIFT-A-TAG program will be promoted by the Tennessee Arts Commission, the state’s arts agency. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Specialty License Plates fund local arts programming for children and communities distributed through the Commission. Last year, the Arts Commission awarded grants totaling $5.1 million with the largest source of funding $4.5 million coming from the sale of specialty plates.
Issues in Brief
Choice and Opportunity Scholarships – Members of the Senate Education Committee voted this week to approve the “Tennessee Choice and Opportunity Scholarship Act.” Senate Bill 999, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), would authorize state payments to follow the child to public or private schools for up to 5,000 students in its first year of operation. The program, which gives low-income parents a choice regarding the school that their child attends, would expand each year to a maximum of 20,000 statewide in the fourth year. The students would also have to be from families qualified to receive free or reduced price lunch under federal standards and from a school district with at least one failing school ranked in the bottom five percent of schools statewide. If caps are not reached each year, scholarships would be offered to other low-income children in those counties in which a school in the bottom 5 percent of schools is located. Currently, five counties meet that standard including Davidson, Hamilton, Hardeman, Knox and Shelby. The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration there.
Undocumented Students / In-State Tuition — Members of the Senate Education Committee approved legislation this week authorizing individuals without lawful immigration status to receive in-state tuition at Tennessee Board of Regents and University of Tennessee institutions. Senate Bill 612, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), allows students that have been a Tennessee resident for at least one year prior to their enrollment to pay in-state tuition as long as they file an affidavit proving they have applied for citizenship. As amended, the bill requires the undocumented student to have a high school grade point average of at least 3.0 or they must obtain a composite ACT score of 21 or SAT score of 980. The student also must have attended a Tennessee high school for four years immediately prior to applying to college, or have completed their GED, or a home school program. The out of state tuition exemption does not apply to international students or trainees who are non-immigrants.
STEM Education — Legislation designed to amplify and accelerate regional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in Tennessee was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Senate Bill 453, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), requires the Tennessee STEM innovation network to establish a STEM innovation hub that is dedicated to serving rural areas of Tennessee, including the northwest portion of the state. It also calls for making a curriculum available to all middle schools that educates students on the variety and benefits of STEM careers. The demand for professionals in TEM fields is projected to outpace the supply of trained workers and professionals. Additionally, STEM competencies are increasingly required for workers both within and outside specific STEM occupations. The Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) estimates there will be one million fewer STEM graduates over the next decade than U.S. industries will need.
E-Filing / Courts — The full Senate has voted to approve a bill that calls for adoption of an electronic filing system for Tennessee’s court system. Senate Bill 41, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), creates a nine-member task force to review and propose a process to implement e-filing of documents in the state’s courts.
Pharmacy Drug Disposal Program – State Senators gave final approval to legislation this week authorizing any licensed pharmacy in this state to participate in a drug disposal program to collect and destroy unwanted or unused prescription drugs. The Patient Access to Pharmacy Drug Disposal Programs Act of 2015 is sponsored by Senate Doug Overbey (R-Maryville). Safe disposal programs help prevent unused drugs from getting into the hands of children who could ingest them or adults who could abuse them. It also helps remove them in a way that is environmentally friendly. Senate Bill 409 exempts any participating pharmacy’s liability regarding theft, robbery, or other criminal activity in regards to a pharmacy’s participation in a disposal program.
Honoring Korean War Hero – The flag over Tennessee’s State Capitol was at half staff on Friday as Governor Bill Haslam declared it a day of mourning for Private First Class Lotchie John Ray Jones of Jasper, Tennessee. Mr. Jones went missing on or about November 2, 1950 in the vicinity of Unsan, North Korea and is believed to have died while in enemy captivity at the Pyoktong Prisoner of War Camp 5 on February 28, 1951. The Marion County native was serving with “B” Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division during the Korean War when he went missing. He was 17 years old. His remains were turned over to his family recently after mistakenly being identified as another soldier.
Predictive Analytics — Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons appeared before the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee this week to present their budget request, which includes funding for the Tennessee’s Highway Patrol (THP). The THP is the first state law enforcement agency in the nation to use predictive analytics to deploy resources in the best possible way to prevent tragedies on Tennessee roadways. The analytic software allows the THP to plug in crash data, weather patterns, special events and other factors to get a prediction of when and where the most serious traffic accidents are most likely to occur. The THP can then send troopers to problem areas ahead of time, to help deter predicted crashes or to be on hand to help. Officials believe the proactive enforcement will help deter fatalities.