The House of Representatives last week concluded its work for the 107th General Assembly. By all measurements, Tennessee taxpayers will benefit from the many accomplishments of House lawmakers over the last two years. Legislators vowed to make private sector job creation the top priority for the General Assembly. Managing the State’s budget in a fiscally responsible manner was also at the top of the agenda.
The session was adjourned “sine die,” meaning” without a day specified for a future meeting” because it is the conclusion of legislative business.
Each General Assembly has 90 days over two years to meet. By adjourning on the 84th
day, taxpayers saved nearly $200,000. Representatives ushered through a number of items to cut taxes, grow Tennessee’s economy, reform government and education, and fight crime. Legislators believe these initiatives reflect the will of Tennesseans and will help make Tennessee a better place to live, work, and raise a family.
The Speaker of the House stated, “Tennesseans can be very proud of the fiscally responsible budget crafted this year. Unlike Washington, D.C. we balance our budget every year—a feat that does not come easily. In addition to these cuts, we were still able to provide more tax relief for Tennesseans than any year of my tenure, reduce the budget by two percent, and put $50 million away for a rainy day. We understand that when a surplus of money comes in, we should return it to its rightful owners: the taxpayers.”
Throughout the summer and fall of 2011, lawmakers met with business leaders and concerned citizens about ways to remove government hurdles to economic growth in the State. The House Majority Leader appointed a House Majority Small Business and Economic Development task force, charged with identifying concerns of business and community leaders and exploring ways to reduce government—thereby allowing the private sector to expand in Tennessee. The group ultimately produced several job growth and government reform bills lawmakers passed during the session.
During the 2010 election cycle, House leaders promised they would do everything to maintain the State’s strong financial record, balance the budget, and return hard-earned taxpayer dollars to Tennesseans. Over the last two years, they have followed through on that promise. Following this session, every Tennessean will realize tax savings because of these policies.
The 2012-2013 budget includes the first phase of the death tax elimination, which will be completed in 2016. Supporters argue that the measure will not cost the State money, and instead will boost revenues. Further, Tennessee is one of only two States in the South with a death tax, forcing those affected to flee to nearby States. The full repeal will represent a $94.6 million tax cut.
Conservative lawmakers argue the death tax breaks up family farms and small businesses, forcing families to make tough decisions at what is often the most difficult times in their lives: the passing of a loved one. In many cases, families are faced with selling off parts of farms and land or closing a small, family-owned business in order to pay the tax bill. With the elimination of this harmful tax, Tennesseans will benefit and prosper.
Going hand-in-hand with death tax elimination is the complete elimination of the gift tax this year—a $14.9 million tax cut. Tennessee is one of only two States in the nation—the other being Connecticut—that imposes a gift tax. Tennesseans are subject to it if more than $13,000 in cash or assets are gifted to, for example, a family member. As families pass land, businesses, and homes down to future generations Tennessee levied the tax on those individuals. Now, the fruits of this labor can transfer to the next generation without paying a hefty tax.
The General Assembly also reduced the food tax this year from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent. This creates savings of $22 million for all Tennesseans. As food and gas prices continue to increase, the food tax cut will put money back in the pockets of hard working Tennesseans. Both the Governor and legislative leaders have vowed to further cut the tax in the subsequent years.
“This is a landmark moment for Tennesseans,” stated the House Majority Leader. “We believe, when government revenues are higher, that money doesn’t belong to the State but to taxpayers and should be returned to them immediately. Our Majority was placed here to balance the budget, cut wasteful spending, and lower taxes. Today we carried through on that promise.”
One Representative, who guided the death tax repeal to full House passage, remarked, “Today is an exciting day. We looked at the numbers, rolled our sleeves up, and worked with the Governor to come up with two bills that will really benefit all Tennesseans. The repeal of the death tax is especially noteworthy because it will help convince the job creators in our State to remain here and help grow our economy. This doesn’t benefit one group; it benefits any Tennessean who is concerned about job growth.”
Another Representative, a critical cosponsor of the measure to repeal the death tax and vocal proponent for small businesses, immediately applauded the move. “With this action, we are ensuring families and small businesses won’t be harassed by government with harmful taxes after a loved one passes. Not only is this legislation pro-business, it is also pro-family.”
The food tax cut was the responsibility of a Middle Tennessee Representative. Following the final vote on the bill he stated, “This wasn’t a partisan move, it was a move to help every Tennessean. The Governor asked to work with us on lowering the food tax and this is the product of that hard work. It’s something we all can be proud of.”
“These tax cuts are proof of our motto: It matters who governs,” concluded the Majority Caucus Chair. “A recent study shows a repeal of the death tax ten years ago would have grown our economy an additional 14%. While the previous generation of leadership failed to take action, this generation of conservative leadership is committed to charting a new path that creates jobs and limits government.”
Signaling this would become a banner year for tax reform, House legislators early in the legislative session took the first step on an important measure to ban any income tax from ever being implemented on Tennesseans.
Lawmakers took a strong stand on behalf of taxpayers to ensure Tennesseans will never have to face a tax on the money they work so hard to earn. Lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 221, to permanently place language in the Tennessee Constitution banning the implementation of an income tax. The amendment now must pass the next General Assembly by a two-thirds vote before being placed on the 2014 election general election ballot.
One Representative stated, “America was built on the notion of self-reliance. Our tax code should reflect that principle and provide greater flexibility for taxpayers. Countless studies have shown income taxes are hurtful to State economies and harmful to the financial well-being of taxpayers while a sales tax allows taxpayers to be in charge of their resources. With this vote, we are fulfilling our promise to Tennesseans that we will protect them from wasteful spending and government actions that hurt job creation in the private sector.”
In passing SJR 221, the Majority painted a strong contrast between how government operates in Tennessee and the dysfunctional ways of the federal government in Washington.
“SJR 221 removes all doubt about whether Tennesseans should have an onerous income tax levied against them,” stated the Chairwoman. “Clearly, we hear what the voters are telling us. I would hope Washington would do the same and get the federal government out of the way of America’s job creators.”
The House of Representatives unanimously passed a key piece of the Majority’s economic agenda that would help economically distressed parts of Tennessee.
House Bill 2344 was approved by a 96-0 vote.
The bill repurposes the FastTrack economic development program, which provides grants and loans to local governments or to their economic development organizations, to be used to facilitate pro-job growth activities. In passing the bill, it is the intent of the General Assembly that these economic development funds will only be used in exceptional circumstances when the funds will make a significant economic impact on the affected community.
“This bill helps Tennessee job creators, especially in those areas that have been hardest hit during the recession,” stated the bill sponsor. “By maintaining strong transparency requirements and oversight of this program, Tennesseans can have confidence we are expanding the mission of a program that has provided real job and economic growth results. Tennesseans want more career opportunities and I believe this program will help our business leaders and entrepreneurs deliver just that.”
The House of Representatives moved legislation to provide small business entrepreneurs with a “one stop opportunity” webpage to help incentivize and encourage small business activity throughout Tennessee. Countless studies have shown small businesses are the backbone of Tennessee’s economy. Members of the House Majority have consistently proven they are committed to removing regulatory roadblocks and refashioning government to be a resource for job creators in Tennessee. This legislation provided more evidence of this long-standing commitment.
Under House Bill 2612, the General Assembly directs the Department of Economic and Community Development, in conjunction with the Office of the Comptroller’s Small Business Advocate, to develop a web page to aid job creators desiring to form a small business in obtaining information concerning State laws, regulations, and requirements that apply to the specific type of small business the user desires to form. The web page must contain hyperlinks to relevant laws, regulations, and requirements.
In an effort to codify the agreement reached last year between the Governor and officials from Amazon.com Inc., one Representative moved legislation through the House that will help Tennessee develop and maintain 3,500 jobs in the State.
HB 2370 establishes requirements for determining whether certain business affiliates have a physical presence in this State sufficient to establish nexus for sales and use tax purposes. Nexus is a legal term referring to connection or jurisdiction within a State.
In the case of Amazon, this legislation will ensure the online retail giant will pay Tennessee sales taxes if a national online sales tax law is not passed by the federal government by 2014. Under the bill, the new Amazon fulfillment centers located across the State will meet the requirement for establishing nexus in Tennessee, ensuring fairness across the board.
“Simply put, this is a jobs bill for Tennessee,” stated the lawmaker. “It ensures a partner like Amazon and similar companies will participate in our system and it keeps all businesses on a level playing field. Most importantly, it ensures 3,500 positions are going to be created and remain here in Tennessee.”
Legislation to add an additional exception to the limitations on noneconomic, punitive, and exemplary damages that were passed as part of the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 passed the House. Under present law, compensation for any noneconomic damages suffered by an injured plaintiff may not exceed $750,000 for all injuries and occurrences that were or could have been asserted, unless the injury or loss is catastrophic in nature, in which case the amount of noneconomic damages awarded may not exceed $1 million.
Additionally, punitive or exemplary damages in a civil action may not exceed an amount equal to the greater of two times the total amount of compensatory damages awarded or $500,000.
The House advanced legislation to provide transparency and accountability in tax increment financing (TIF) law. Additionally, House Bill 2231 streamlines the Tennessee Code to place all TIF references into one section. TIF is an economic development tool that local governments use to redevelop areas. Without TIF, some of the redevelopment projects may never occur, costing areas potential economic growth and jobs.
While many may be unfamiliar with the product, wild ginseng is actually harvested in Tennessee and comprises a $5 million industry in the State. The legislation, HB 2768, aligns the reporting requirement for ginseng dealers to the new start of the harvest season. The change was necessary due to a new federal rule. The bill ensures the continuation of this important industry. The bill was approved by a vote of 89-0.
Small business owners will see one of their regulations cut thanks to legislation that passed the House. House Bill 2406 will reduce a burdensome requirement on small businesses. It is designed to help avoid unreasonable penalties for taxpayers who have paid 90% of their franchise and excise taxes totaling at least $10,000 and need a simple extension. Those falling below the $10,000 threshold would merely need to properly request the extension. The bill sponsor described the measure as a common sense “taxpayer protection” bill.
Two recent studies of business friendly States have put Tennessee at the top of the list. A recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce study says Tennessee is a leading “Enterprise State” for its remarkable environment of low taxes and navigable regulations.
The Chamber report notes “Tennessee’s low cost of living, fourth lowest State and local tax burden and manageable budget gap place it first in this year’s tax and regulation ranking.” The State moved up two places from last year’s ranking.
In the same vein, Chief Executive Magazine ranked Tennessee the 4th best State in the nation for business in 2012. Factors included a quality workforce, low taxes, friendly regulations, and good infrastructure.
The Governor, the Economic and Community Development Commissioner, and a West Tennessee Representative, along with representatives from Armstrong World Industries, Inc. during the legislative session took time to announce the company plans to add an additional 95 jobs to its Jackson, Tennessee facility with the addition of a third production shift targeted for completion by the end of May.
"I applaud Armstrong World Industries for expanding their workforce here in Madison County by providing 95 additional jobs to our community,” stated the Representative. “Last year, the General Assembly passed pro-business reforms that aid in recruiting new businesses to Tennessee as well as helping our existing job creators like Armstrong.”
Shelby County lawmakers, along with Shelby County officials and Nucor representatives, announced the company’s plans for modernizing and enhancing its Memphis facility. The company will create approximately 27 new jobs. “Tennessee’s economy continues to improve thanks in large part to our existing industries that choose to reinvest right where they are,” said one legislator.
The Governor, the ECD Commissioner, and a Middle Tennessee Representative also announced that Kyowa America Corporation will open a new facility in Portland, Tennessee, creating 160 jobs and investing $12 million. The company, a leader in automotive plastic injection molding, will locate at 1039 Fred White Blvd. in the Robertson County section of Portland and is expected to be operational by late summer.
"I’m proud Kyowa America has selected Robertson County as the site of their newest facility and investing $12 million into our community,” stated the lawmaker. “Without a doubt, our State is on the right track for recovery when it comes to job creation and economic development.”
Middle Tennessee received good news that Nissan Motor Corporation’s manufacturing plant, located in Smyrna, could eventually employ nearly 6,000 workers by early next year. That sum would be double the current total. Workers there are busy building two new crossover utility vehicles plus batteries and eventually the Leaf electric car will be built at the facility.
New jobs are coming to Cumberland County. StonePeak Ceramics has announced a $15 million expansion of its state-of-the-art porcelain tile manufacturing facility in Crossville, Tennessee. The expansion will add a new product line to the facility as well as allow for increased storage space of its finished product and bring 50 new jobs to the community.
"I applaud StonePeak investing $15 million to expand their operation in Cumberland County and provide 50 additional jobs to our community,” stated one lawmaker. “Announcements like this prove our pro-growth economic agenda is working and our State is setting the standard for economic growth.”
House Resolution 195 cleared the House in the middle of the session. The resolution supports the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Gulf Coast and encourages President Obama to approve TransCanada's permit application for such project. Many energy analysts and economists believe the creation of this pipeline would help mitigate high gas prices as well as produce a substantial amount of new American jobs.
In the final week of the legislative session, the House of Representatives passed the State's annual appropriations bill with a 64-28-1 vote. The bill’s passage was the culmination of months of tireless work crafting a fiscally responsible budget. The $31.5 billion budget is a two percent reduction from last year, puts $50 million in the State's Rainy Day Fund (including last year’s addition, House lawmakers have added $72.4 million to the fund), and includes three the significant tax cuts Representatives made a priority this year—a phase out of the death tax, elimination of the gift tax, and a reduction in the food tax. The Tennessee General Assembly is charged, by the Tennessee Constitution, to balance the budget every year.
The budget saves an additional $200 million in anticipated revenues for the potential cost of the Affordable Care Act and due to future global economic uncertainty. Lawmakers successfully fought off several attempts to spend the extra revenue on projects, stressing the need to be prudent in budgeting for the future.
"I proudly voted for the budget this year. While the stalemate in Washington has yet to produce one, Tennessee's leaders came together to craft a balanced budget that slashes spending by two percent while still providing millions in tax relief to all Tennesseans. This fiscally responsible plan will return tax dollars to their rightful owners and improve the economic outlook for Tennessee," said a House Member.
As State leaders await the United States Supreme Court opinion on the federal healthcare takeover, the decision was made to refrain from spending some $200 million in anticipated future revenue to curb the potential cost of the law. If the Supreme Court does not overturn the law, Tennessee could be expected to pay as much as $1.5 billion over five years. Further, members of the Governor’s Administration stressed that the money should be saved due to global uncertainty. Currently, Tennessee is faring better than most States because of prudent budgeting. House leaders point to Tennessee’s AAA+ bond rating, meaning our economic outlook is currently better than the United States government. In addition $50 million is being restored to the State's Rainy Day Fund to boost it to a projected $356 million by June 30, 2013.
“Unlike Washington, we are taking the necessary steps to keep our fiscal house in order. Clearing out areas of waste in government and providing a better service to Tennesseans are at the top of our budget priorities,” stated one freshman Representative.
Legislative leaders prioritized spending and fully funded education, TennCare, and several crime initiatives. In addition, the budget restores over $120 million of previous cuts to core services. Leaders have stressed that government should be lean and efficient, while providing the best services possible to Tennesseans.
The State's Basic Education Program (BEP)--the mechanism for funding public schools--was fully funded at $5.3 billion. The BEP funding contains an additional $47.8 million for annual growth and inflationary adjustments as well. Likewise, higher education funding was increased by over $81 million, bringing the total appropriation to $3.8 billion.
A supportive lawmaker remarked, “With this budget, we very clearly want to reform how government works and, in turn, grow the career opportunities for Tennesseans. I believe these priorities, in the form of a balanced budget, will help place our economy back on a solid footing once again.”
Earlier in the year, the Governor announced his Public Safety Plan, which aims to address violent crime in Tennessee. Among the measures funded fully in the budget are laws addressing gang violence, prescription drug abuse, repeat domestic violence offenders, and synthetic drugs.
“This budget reflects what many of us understand: Our economy is slowly rebounding, but we have a ways to go,” said one Representative. “I believe the Governor is the right man to lead us at this time because of his strong business background and his vision for transforming the way government operates in Tennessee.”
The Speaker and Majority leadership have consistently called for a review of how the government operates. Last year, under her leadership, the House literally reduced its size by closing down several duplicative committees, saving taxpayers approximately half a million dollars. The movement to refashion government from a hurdle to a resource continued in this legislative session.
A bill to bring major reforms to Tennessee’s unemployment insurance program passed the House late in the session following a back-and-forth debate centered on helping individuals who have lost their jobs.
An East Tennessee Representative authored House Bill 3431—the Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act of 2012—after a series of meetings with Tennessee businessmen and job creators. He served as chair the House Majority Small Business and Economic Development Task Force. The task force held a series of hearings with members of the small business community, entrepreneurs, and other individuals involved with private economic development. Each came back with serious proposals to jumpstart Tennessee’s economy, but the main complaint focused on government and the lack of accountability in the unemployment insurance program.
The bill’s author cited these concerns during the House debate. “We are for helping everyone with legitimate needs and building them up into the economy,” he said. “Our intent, with this legislation, is to motivate and help those citizens who need the support.”
The lawmaker also discussed the work of the small business task force that helped him craft this legislation. He remarked, “We spent a lot of time figuring out the best way to reform the process and ensure those who have legitimate needs can get that help without taking advantage of taxpayer dollars.”
The legislation makes the following revisions to the system:
- Increases definition of misconduct to absenteeism;
- Increases audits of those seeking unemployment benefits;
- Heightens work search requirements for those utilizing unemployment benefits;
- Prohibits claimants from obtaining benefits if the claimant is "incarcerated four or more days in any week for which unemployment benefits are being claimed";
- Ensures claimants cannot receive both severance package and draw unemployment support at the same time.
In a major reform move, House Members approved plans to completely overhaul guidelines for Tennessee government’s hiring processes and agency rules.
The legislation, House Bill 2384 known as the TEAM Act, establishes a system that will attract, select, retain, and promote the best applicants and employees based on performance and equal opportunities. The bill ensures these practices are free from coercive political influences and mandates employees to render impartial service to the public at all times. Additionally, the bill would give agencies greater flexibility in personnel management and increase customer-focused effectiveness and efficiency of State government within a best practice environment.
The bill passed on a 74-19 bipartisan vote after a thorough debate regarding the merits of the legislation. Supported by the Governor, the bill also allows merit raises for high-performing workers and greater flexibility for poor performance. The bill comes on the heels of a report by the Comptroller’s Office that suggested Tennessee’s civil service system is inefficient, unfair and outdated.
The system, developed in 1939, centralizes the process for people who wish to apply for civil service jobs within the State’s Department of Human Resources. The department maintains lists, or registers, of potential candidates for job openings.
A Representative from Knoxville stated, “This bill is a much-needed update to our outdated employment system. Tennesseans will see an increased range of service and efficiency from State workers because, now, we will be able to identify and promote the best workers.
Along with the TEAM Act, the House passed major legislation that reforms and downsizes the more than 200 boards and commissions operating within State government. House Bill 2387, carried by the Majority Leader, is the result of the Governor’s review of State boards and commissions. The review determined what duplications and inefficiencies exist within the board and commission structure and sought to determine ways to increase accountability. The bill includes structural changes to 22 boards and commissions with a focus on performance, accountability, and effectiveness.
The legislation also merges six boards into three for increased efficiency, eliminates 138 board positions for increased effectiveness, gives a Cabinet level commissioner oversight over five boards for increased accountability, and gives the Governor hiring authority for four executive directors for increased accountability.
According to one influential committee chairman who helped in passing the bill, “We are literally downsizing government while, at the same time, increasing efficiency and effectiveness on behalf of taxpayers. That is a win for Tennessee and yet another promise kept by this Majority.”
The legislation passed the House by a vote of 66-26.
House Joint Resolution 614 is successfully passed the House in April. The legislation is aimed squarely at Congress and asks the federal legislative body to return to the original constitutional understanding of the Commerce Clause in lawmaking. Conservatives believe Congress has overstepped its authority in a number of areas and has used the Commerce Clause as its justification.
House lawmakers sent legislation to the Governor that raises standards for those holding public office in Tennessee. House Bill 2763, passed by the House unanimously, makes elected and appointed public officials ineligible for diversion for criminal offenses committed in their official capacity or that involve the duties of their offices. Pre-trial and judicial diversion are the processes in criminal law when a person pleads guilty to a crime and can later have the charge expunged, or removed, from their record following a period of probation.
Following the passage of the legislation, one Representative, the House sponsor of the bill, stated, “I am proud to have the unanimous support of my House colleagues on this legislation. In the past few years, we have seen the public grow more and more skeptical of public officials because many of them have abused the powers of their office. I believe that must end. I think it is important we hold ourselves, and other officials, to a higher standard. Tennesseans agree with that principle.”
In the 2nd session of the General Assembly, House legislators continued their work to reform education in Tennessee by making student achievement and teacher excellence the top priorities in State schools. A number of items passed the Legislature to help school districts encourage higher teacher performance and raise student scores.
The House took a strong step to protect the First Amendment rights of school personnel, including teachers and administrators. One Representative sought to ensure educators can participate in programs that take place either before or after school hours and do not interfere with their school duties. The legislation passed 93-0.
The nation’s top school operators are competing for the opportunity to open schools in Tennessee. In an effort to ensure the lowest performing 5 percent of schools in the State will perform among the top 25 percent within five years, Tennessee’s Achievement School District is working to expand existing, high-performing charter schools as well as attract new operators that will provide transformational educational opportunities for students in the State.
To ensure a fair evaluation process, the Achievement School District will work with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers to manage the evaluation process. Evaluation teams are comprised of national charter school experts, local community evaluators and representatives from the Tennessee Department of Education. Application evaluations and interviews will take place throughout April and May. ASD plans to announce approved school operators on June 1st. The timeline gives school operators a full year to plan for their opening, secure facilities and engage students and families in the process.
House leaders lauded the approval by U.S. Department of Education officials of Tennessee’s waiver request from certain portions of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Tennessee was the first State to request a waiver and was one of only 10 recipients of the first round of waivers. The Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) accountability model under NCLB has been an ongoing obstacle for schools and districts because it does not fully account for schools’ growth. Under the waiver, Tennessee proposes to raise overall achievement by three to five percent each year and to cut achievement gaps in half over an 8-year period.
The major education reform efforts in Tennessee are on the right track in terms of addressing issues identified by researchers, a new study by the Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) says. Last year, the General Assembly asked OREA to review major education initiatives in Tennessee, including Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind, and efforts of education-focused groups such as the Hyde Foundation and Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
Representatives in the House of Representatives took two major steps in the battle against the manufacture and usage of synthetic drugs with passage of a landmark bill by one Upper East Tennessee Representative and a bill to strengthen the penalties against synthetic drug peddlers by another East Tennessee lawmaker. Earlier this legislative session, the General Assembly passed House Bill 2645, authored by one Representative that defined the chemical compounds that make up the synthetic drugs.
House Bill 3175 received bipartisan support, passing the House by a 94-0 vote. The legislation creates various felony offenses regarding synthetic drugs such as bath salts. The legislation also maintains continuity throughout the Tennessee Code by ensuring that most present law provisions regarding controlled substances would also apply to synthetic drugs and the bill strengthens certain criminal penalties.
“As we all know from numerous recent new reports, ‘bath salts’ are ripping our communities apart and hurting Tennesseans,” stated the bill sponsor. “This bill will put our laws at the forefront of the fight against synthetic drugs that have already claimed far too many lives.”
He believes the bill breaks new ground in the fight against illegal analogue synthetic drugs because it criminalizes the drugs and takes the additional step of listing the effects of the drugs on the users so magistrates will have a detailed understanding of the substances. This allows for greater judicial flexibility in determining felony violations.
Additionally, while the first legislation takes an innovative way to combat the drugs, the other bill takes aim squarely at illegal drug manufacturers and sellers.
HB 2286 makes it a Class E felony for a person to knowingly manufacture, deliver, sell, or possess with the intent to sell, deliver, or manufacture an imitation controlled substance. The bill received the overwhelming support of the House, passing 99-0.
“When Virginia first banned these drugs, a wave of illegal drugs hit my district hard. These bills will make sure we equip law enforcement personnel with what they need to fight back and protect our communities from these illegal drugs,” stated that bill’s author.
Along with those bills, House Bill 2645 adds over twenty synthetic derivatives or analogues of meth to the current Tennessee Code and criminalizes possession of the bath salts. The bill overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives in bipartisan fashion, 95-0, on April 9th. The legislation continues lawmakers’ fight to crack down on meth production that is derived from the use of ingredients found in bath salts or Molly’s Plant Food. The three lawmaker’s respective bills complement one another as the State has been under fire with the recent scourge of synthetic drug use.
One Member said, “With the passage of these bills, the House has spoken with one voice that stopping these illegal drugs is a top priority of our State. When these bills become law, the manufacture, distribution, use, and possession of these analogues will be met with serious consequences and anyone involved with these drugs should take notice.”
The General Assembly passed a major initiative to implement drug tests for those individuals seeking certain public benefits, a move many view as one that will save valuable taxpayer dollars from being wasted.
The measure requires applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program benefits to undergo a drug test before receiving such benefits. Under the bill, the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) must develop a plan to implement a program of suspicion-based drug testing for each applicant who is otherwise eligible for TANF benefits.
“This measure is about restoring some measure of accountability for taxpayers and ensuring the proper fiscal management of our State’s limited financial resources,” said the bill’s author following the passage of the legislation on a 73-17 bipartisan vote. “Tennesseans want to have confidence in the system. They want to know these benefits are helping those families who need assistance, not greedy individuals who are trying to get money for drugs. We need to help those individuals who need legitimate support, not those trying to milk the system.”
Following an initial positive drug test, the applicant would undergo a confirmation test using the same urine sample from the initial positive test prior to determine TANF eligibility. The results of the confirmation test would be used to determine final eligibility of these benefits.
In these cases, "drug" shall mean marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, and opiates such as morphine. The DHS Commissioner may add additional drugs by rule. No drug for which an applicant has a current valid prescription will be a basis for denial of TANF benefits under this amendment. The implementation would occur in phases over a two year period.
The effort to combat human trafficking received a major boost with passage of an important bill in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Under the law, victims of human trafficking offenses would have a civil right of action for actual damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, any combination of these, or any other appropriate relief.
One Memphis-area Representative, a strong advocate for the rights of victims, celebrated the passage of House Bill 2489—a personal priority for him. The legislation passed with unanimous, bipartisan support.
“This is a strong first step for what I expect will be several measures to battle human trafficking,” stated the Representative. “I have laid out a robust agenda that focuses on ways to strengthen the hands of law enforcement and gives victims a better ability to prosecute those who would perpetrate such deplorable things.”
Under the legislation, "Trafficked person" is defined as a victim of a human trafficking offense, which is the commission of any act that constitutes the criminal offense of:
(1) Involuntary labor servitude;
(2) Trafficking persons for forced labor or services;
(3) Trafficking a person for sexual servitude; or
(4) Promoting the prostitution of a minor.
The bill also extends to loved ones of the victim. A legal guardian, family member, representative of the trafficked person or court appointee may represent the trafficked person or the trafficked person's estate if deceased. If the trafficked person dies as a result of a human trafficking offense, a surviving spouse of the trafficked person is eligible for restitution.
The House agreed to tough new restrictions against irresponsible conduct behind the wheel that will save the lives of children. House Bill 2751 increases provisions of the law. Under his bill, a minimum incarceration of 30 days must be served consecutively with any sentence for convictions of DUI, vehicular assault, vehicular homicide, or aggravated vehicular homicide. “As a former emergency responder, I have seen too many careless individuals willing to risk the life of others. That must be stopped. This bill increases penalty for that type of violation,” stated one lawmaker after passage of the legislation. “This bill is a personal priority of mine and I believe it will help save the lives of our most vulnerable citizens—our children.”
House lawmakers passed legislation, HB 2389, to require mandatory jail time for people with repeat domestic violence convictions. The bill was approved in strong bipartisan fashion, 98-1. With the passage of the bill, Tennessee will increase the reimbursement to local jails by $2 dollars per day, at a total annual price tag of about $4 million. The mandatory sentence for a second conviction will be 30 days. A third conviction of domestic violence brings a mandatory 90 day sentence.
“Passage of this legislation shows we are serious about cracking down on domestic violence in Tennessee. We earn top rankings in a number of business friendly categories, but we are also near the top in domestic abuse rankings. We need to drop in those rankings immediately,” said a lawmaker. “I believe this legislation will help do just that.”
The Tennessee General Assembly this year passed legislation to keep Tennesseans safe from criminal gang activity. One Representative was given the responsibility of guiding two top anti-crime priorities through the House of Representatives because of his deep understanding and professional experience in law enforcement matters. The key bills passed the House unanimously.
The first bill, House Bill 2390, establishes enhanced punishment for crimes of force or violence committed while acting in concert with two or more other persons. The second piece of legislation, House Bill 2388, takes a hard line against criminals with a felony history by increasing their punishment for unlawful possession of a firearm.
“These bills are a vital addition to the crime-fighting tools law enforcement personnel use to keep our streets safe,” said the lawmaker. “In fact, I believe as a result of these changes, Tennesseans will be safer. We have a problem with gangs in this State and, this week, the General Assembly took a strong stand against criminal activity. I’m proud to have carried this legislation to move Tennessee forward.”
With a vote of 90-0, the House of Representatives passed tough new legislation targeting individuals who promote sex as a profession, also known as “pimps.” The bill, House Bill 2853, adds the names of individuals convicted of promoting prostitution to the sex offender registry. First time offenders will be listed for ten years. Individuals with second offenses would be there for life. The legislation was inspired by findings from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) 2011 report on human trafficking in Tennessee and the detrimental effects that activity has on individuals throughout the State.