Thursday, April 16, 2009
- by Rep. Eric Watson
A proposal that would allow Tennesseans to ship wine directly to their homes passed out of subcommittee this week, after months of negotiations. The bill was discussed last year, but lawmakers deferred it to a "summer study" committee which effectively kills legislation for the year. In the Local Government Subcommittee this week, however, legislators said they had thoroughly discussed all aspects of the bill and felt comfortable with the final version drafted.
Specifically, House Bill 1155 stipulates that Tennessee consumers may purchase up to three cases of wine per year through direct shipment from a winery to their home. Wineries will initially have to apply for a $300 license that can be renewed annually for $150. Upon delivery, proof of legal drinking age must be shown.
Opponents raised concerns in committee about the availability to underage drinkers. They said it would be easier for teens to purchase alcohol through direct shipment. But supporters argued that other states have enacted similar direct shipment legislation, and have not seen an uptick in teen drinking.
Supporters also say the bill has the potential to bring a large amount of revenue to the state, and can also create jobs and spur entrepreneurship. Budget analysts say the legislation will bring in roughly $4.6 million in the revenue the first year, and almost $10 million in subsequent years. Local governments stand to receive between $1.1 and $2.2 million per year. Some of Tennessee's local wineries are cropping up where farms have moved from tobacco to growing grapes for winemaking. Proponents of the bill said these wineries would be able to flourish, thus creating jobs and generating income for fledgling farms.
The proposal, having already passed the Senate, next faces the State and Local Government Committee.
The Republican-sponsored House Bill 1838 failed in the Elections Subcommittee this week on a tie vote with all three Democrats on the subcommittee voting to kill the bill. The seemingly straightforward and common-sense legislation would have required proof of citizenship to register to vote. Republicans have carried the legislation for several years, arguing that requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote works to curb voter fraud.
The legislation is not unprecedented. Arizona has adopted the measure, and eleven other states are considering such legislation this year. Advocates say the measure will curb voter fraud and protects the system through which citizens practice one of the most treasured right: the right to vote.
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House Bill 1346 has cleared the committee system and will be presented on the House floor next Monday. The bill requires the Adjutant General to notify the Governor in the event of the death of any Tennessee National Guard member that is called into active military service and who is stationed outside the United States. In any month in which one or more notifications of death given to the Governor, the Governor will be required to proclaim a day of mourning and order the state flag to be flown at half mast to honor the deceased National Guard member or members.
The House has, for many years, published a weekly "Legislative Record" that contains every bill number and a short summary of each piece of legislation, and made one available to all 99 members. Because the cost for producing the books is $90,000, and because the information is available online, legislation that would end the publication for cost-saving reasons. The bill passed out of the State and Local Government Committee this week, and was amended to clarify that any member of the House will be provided one upon request only.
House Bill 337 requires TEMA to add a certain number of warning sirens per year in each county, beginning with areas that are the most populated. The number of sirens to be added will be based on the disaster risk of each county. According to the provisions in the bill, every county in the state will be required to add anywhere from one to four sirens annually. The bill passed out of the House State and Local Government Committee.
The Commerce Committee passed the "Market Regulation Act of 2009" this week, which is legislation brought forth by AT&T Tennessee that would deregulate much of AT&T's operations. The Republican sponsor of the bill said the proposal can lower rates and level the playing field, and would maintain Tennessee's pro-business and pro-job reputation. In addition, the state could see more companies relocating here, investing, and creating jobs with the passage of the legislation. The Senate has already passed the legislation.