Rep. Travis: Weekly Wrap

Thursday, April 11, 2013 - by Rep. Ron Travis
Bills Eliminating Dozens Of Unnecessary Laws Passes House Of Representatives

Three bills that will eliminate dozens of unnecessary Tennessee laws have been approved by the Tennessee General Assembly this week and will now head to the Governor for his signature. The bills are a result of a summer project that saw House research analysts and legal staff examine portions of the Tennessee Code Annotated relative to their expertise and draft proposals to eliminate laws that were determined to be antiquated or unnecessary.
 

“One thing we hear from our constituents consistently is that there are too many laws on the books,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell. “I directed our staff to review our laws with the purpose of identifying archaic, unnecessary, and outdated language in an effort to ‘clean up the code.’ I sincerely appreciate the hard work of our House research team and legal staff. They spent several months poring over our laws and these three bills were the result.”

House Bills 325, 396, and 890 eliminate dozens of laws relating to transportation, finance, and commerce. In several cases, the bills also clarify certain language or delete repetitive or conflicting laws. Statutes pertaining to programs that have since been abolished by the federal government, reports that were assigned to come from entities that no longer exist, and several instances of repetitive language are examples of laws slated to be eliminated.

After years of writing and rewriting laws, many simply become redundant, while others are severely outdated. This effort, lawmakers agree, will streamline state laws and make them easier to interpret for all interested parties.

Workers’ Compensation Reform Scores Legislative Victory
Bill will create fairness in the system for both employer and employee

The Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 2013, an initiative that is part of Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative agenda for the year, easily passed the House of Representatives this week with a bipartisan vote from state lawmakers. 

Workers’ Compensation is an insurance program, adopted in Tennessee in 1919, that compensates employees for injuries they suffer on the job. Employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance to cover the costs of medical expenses and lost wages of employees when they suffer work-related injuries.

As passed, the Workers’ Compensation Reform Act (House Bill 194) reforms the workers’ compensation system in Tennessee to provide more certainty for businesses while also protecting the interests of employees across the state. 

Once signed by Governor Haslam, HB 194 will reduce the time it takes to receive permanent workers’ compensation benefits and improve injury medical treatment. In addition, the process for resolving workers’ comp disputes will be streamlined, allowing injured workers to receive compensation and return to work quicker.

According to critics, the current workers’ compensation process in Tennessee is unpredictable, cumbersome for determining benefits, and employees are often unable to receive benefits and return to work in a timely manner.

The new reform meets the overall goal of ensuring the most efficient and fair workers’ comp system for both employees and employers. The new system will also help Tennessee become an even more attractive place to work and do business.

Pension Reform Plan Passes House
Changes will only affect new employees hired by the State of Tennessee

Legislation proposed earlier this month to reform the state’s pension plan, the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS), passed the full House of Representatives this week in Nashville. The legislation represents a proactive approach by State Treasurer David H. Lillard and House lawmakers to ensure the security of pension benefits for current employees, retirees, as well as future employees that will be hired in years to come. 

The proposed changes, which will only affect new employees hired on or after July 1 of 2014, will change the current defined-benefits system to a hybrid plan that includes elements of defined-benefits and defined-contribution programs. A defined-benefit plan guarantees retirees a fixed pension benefit based on their years of service and earnings, while defined-contribution plans do not have guaranteed payment levels but rather specified contribution levels by the employer. 

The pension changes, once signed into law by Governor Haslam, will not affect anyone that is currently a state employee, a teacher, a higher education employee, or an employee of a local government participating in the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System.


Legislation Designed To Help Curb Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Card Abuse Advances

A bill designed to help curb abuse of purchases made using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards will be heard on the House floor early next week in Nashville.

House Bill 119, if passed by the legislature, will prohibit use of a welfare recipient’s EBT card in liquor stores, adult cabarets, casinos, and other gambling facilities. In addition, welfare recipients who use EBT benefits illegally would be subject to disqualification from the program as permitted by federal law.

House lawmakers agree the proposal is needed in Tennessee to ensure taxpayer dollars are not abused and to redirect EBT benefits to where they are intended to go – to help struggling families across the state.  

Anti-Income Tax Amendment Sails Through House Of Representatives

A constitutional amendment spearheaded by House lawmakers to clarify that Tennessee’s Constitution prohibits a statewide income tax has been approved by lawmakers this week.

The amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 1, specifies that the legislature as well as counties and cities across the state shall be prohibited from passing an income tax on the people of Tennessee.

Now that it has been approved by the legislature, the amendment will be placed on the 2014 statewide ballot for a referendum vote by the people of Tennessee. If passed by referendum, the Tennessee Constitution will then be amended to officially ban a state income tax from ever being implemented in Tennessee.

Legislation Providing Hall Income Tax Relief for Senior Citizens Heads For Governor’s Signature

More senior citizens will qualify for Hall income tax relief under legislation approved by the 
Tennessee House of Representatives this week. House Bill 192 is part of Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative package to provide tax relief to citizens across the state. 

The Hall tax is imposed on income derived from interest on bonds, notes, and stock dividends.   Since enactment of the Hall tax in 1929, the use of investment savings has grown as a primary source of retirement income. As such, the legislation approved this week raises the Hall income tax exemption level for citizens age 65 and older from $26,200 to $33,000 for single filers and from $37,000 to $59,000 for joint filers.

The action by House lawmakers builds on Hall tax relief efforts taken in 2011 which raised the exemption level for senior citizens from $16,200 to $26,200 for single filers and from $27,000 to $37,000 for joint filers.  

New Law Allows Prosecutors To Stop Statute Of Limitations When DNA Profile Is Known

Under legislation already approved by the State Senate, the Tennessee House of Representatives has passed a bill that will enable prosecutors to proceed with criminal charges against perpetrators even when they can’t be captured or identified by name, as long as the individual’s unique DNA profile is known.

At a news conference attended by leading state prosecutors and various members of the General Assembly this week, the bill’s sponsors said the measure lets prosecutors “stop the clock” on the statute of limitations—that is, the time limit by which criminal actions must be commenced in criminal cases.

The legislation codifies the practice used in the case of Robert Jason Burdick, the so-called ‘Wooded Rapist’, whose crimes spanned more than a decade. His case was kept alive because a piece of skin he left at the scene of one of his earliest crimes provided law enforcement DNA evidence linking him to the crime.  

Even though the ‘Wooded Rapist’ wasn't taken into custody until several years after the crime, investigators were able to preserve the case through the DNA that was collected at the scene. As was the case for the ‘Wooded Rapist’, the use of DNA as a way of identifying defendants and preventing the statute of limitations from running out will help bring people to justice.

Now that the measure has been approved by both the House and Senate, it will travel to the desk of Governor Bill Haslam to be signed into law



 

And in case you missed it…

Gun Carry Permit Confidentiality – House Bill 0009 passed the House of Representatives this week with full support from lawmakers on both sides of the isle. As introduced, the bill makes confidential all information contained in and pertaining to handgun carry permit applications filed in Tennessee.

Beer Tax Reform Act – The house passed The Beer Tax Reform Act of 2013 this week on a bipartisan vote of 87-2.  Tennessee has the highest beer tax rate in the nation by 12 percent over the next closest state, and it has continued to grow yearly. This law will stop the growth of the beer tax by changing an antiquated tax structure from price based to volume based, as is done in 48 other states. The bill should help job growth in Tennessee and will have a long-term positive impact on Tennessee’s economy. 

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