Rep. Travis: Legislative Wrapup

Monday, April 29, 2013 - by Rep. Ron Travis

This week, House lawmakers wrapped up one of the most successful legislative sessions in Tennessee history. The first legislative session of the 108th General Assembly was focused on passing commonsense legislative initiatives to aid both immediate and long-term economic development in Tennessee’s private sector.

Measures to cut taxes, ensure employers find Tennessee an attractive destination for their businesses, and reinvigorate the state’s education system to better train the next generation of Tennessee workers were among the House's priorities. In addition, House legislators worked hard this year to ensure the state continues to foster an environment where new jobs are created and small business can thrive.

After adjournment of the legislature, House Speaker Beth Harwell (R–Nashville) remarked, “I am proud of what we have accomplished together this session, and adjourning this early reflects the legislature’s commitment to conducting its business in an efficient and effective manner. I have enjoyed working with Governor Haslam and my colleagues in the General Assembly to help make Tennessee the number one location in the Southeast for high quality jobs. I look forward to building upon the progress we have made this session to make our state an even better place to live, work, and raise a family.”

With a successful year behind them, the House lawmakers are now ready to continue studying sound fiscal policy in order to carry forward this year’s efforts into the next session.

Fiscally Conservative Balanced Budget Passed By General Assembly 

Budget cuts taxes, fully funds education, moves an additional $100 million to Rainy Day Fund

In the final week of the legislative session, the House of Representatives passed Tennessee’s annual budget with an 83 – 14 vote. The bill’s passage was the culmination of months of tireless work crafting a fiscally responsible and balanced budget. The $32.6 billion budget cuts taxes by $43 million, puts $100 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, improves our educational system, and provides an even better environment for businesses to grow and for jobs to flourish.

At the beginning of the year, lawmakers promised Tennesseans that fiscal responsibility would be a priority. The budget they crafted holds true to that principle while ensuring Tennesseans get the services they expect.

Following passage of the budget, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R–Chattanooga) stated, “I want to thank my colleagues for a job well done. With the help of Governor Haslam, House and Senate legislators worked seamlessly to pass a forward-thinking budget that embodies the principles and priorities of all Tennesseans.”

Budget highlights include:

Tax Cuts

At the beginning of this legislative session, House leaders promised they would do everything to maintain the state’s strong financial record, balance the budget, and return hard-earned tax dollars back to all Tennesseans. Over the last several months, they followed through on that promise, ensuring every Tennessean across the state will realize tax savings to the tune of $43 million this year, including:

  • A drop in the state sales tax on groceries from 5.25% to a flat 5.00% rate which will save taxpayers approximately $25 million statewide. This tax reduction builds on efforts during the last legislative session which reduced the sales tax on food from 5.5% to 5.25%. Lawmakers hope to continue this trend in years to come;
  • Implementation of the second phase to eliminate Tennessee’s death tax, which is set to be completely phased out by 2016. Lawmakers argue the death tax breaks up family farms and small businesses, forcing families to make tough decisions during 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. The full repeal of the death tax will represent a $94.6 million tax cut;
  • A cut in the Hall tax for seniors 65 and older. 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. Because of this fact, lawmakers argue the Hall tax is actually an income tax, especially for seniors living on a fixed income. The Hall tax cut approved in the budget raises the income exemption level from $26,200 to $33,000 for single filers and from $37,000 to $59,000 for joint filers. Lawmakers have promised to build on this tax cut in the future;
  • And, a continuation of property tax relief efforts passed in previous years to help veterans, seniors, and the disabled population of Tennessee.

Education Improvements

The state’s Basic Education Program (BEP)—the mechanism for funding public schools—is fully funded in this year’s budget at $4 billion. In addition, the budget provides:

  • Increased funding for information technology upgrades at K – 12 schools statewide;
  • Increased funding for need-based financial aid;
  • Funding for a new building at the Tennessee School for the Deaf;
  • Continued funding for the state’s Science Alliance Museums, the Governor’s School and Family Resource Centers, the Arts Academy, and the Tennessee Holocaust Commission;
  • Increased funding for statewide equipment upgrades at community and technical colleges;
  • And over $300 million for capital outlay and maintenance projects at public colleges across the state.

Law and Safety

Earlier in the year, Governor Haslam announced his plan to address violent crime in Tennessee. Among the measures fully funded in this year’s budget are laws addressing gang violence, prescription drug abuse, repeat domestic violence offenders, and synthetic drugs. These measures include:

  • Funding for increased sentencing for gang-related crimes;
  • Funding for the expansion of the Southeastern Tennessee Regional Correctional Facility;
  • Funding to address an increase in the number of felons in local jails;
  • And an array of measures designed to battle the rise of human trafficking across the state.

Workforce Development

The 2013-2014 budget passed this year reflects a commitment by lawmakers to foster an environment for job growth across Tennessee. House legislators understand that in order for our economy to continue improving, government must stay out of the way of job creators and ensure it is not placing unnecessary burdens on business. The budget passed this session includes multiple programs to help business owners grow and thrive, including:

  • A continuation in funding of the state’s FastTrack Infrastructure and Job Training program which aids businesses across the state in securing funding for expansion projects and ensuring employees are trained to their fullest potential;
  • An increase in funding to Tennessee’s nine regional development districts to help local governments implement important infrastructure projects and recruit new business;
  • And continued funding to recruit and develop the state’s film and television industry which has steadily grown in recent years and helped bring in millions of film and tourism dollars.

Since January 2011, nearly 80,000 new jobs have been created in Tennessee and the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since October 2008.

House Pleased With New Rules To Streamline Government, Save Taxpayer Dollars

For the first time since 1997, the Tennessee House of Representatives this year adopted permanent rules to govern the body. Following the landmark vote, House leaders emphasized the move would streamline House operations, limit government, and save taxpayer dollars.

Legislators said it was important to follow through on promises made to voters by working toward a more efficient and effective state government. Lawmakers also hoped the move would make it easier to prioritize the issues important to voters, including a balanced budget, jobs, and lower taxes.

With the legislative session now concluded, lawmakers are pleased the rule changes did indeed lead to a successful overhaul of how government does business.

Among the successful rule changes implemented this year is the first-ever limit on the number of bills a legislator may file. For each legislative session, members of the House are now limited to fifteen bills, meaning thirty total for the 108th General Assembly. Previously, the Assembly averaged over 4,000 bills per year while surrounding states considered roughly 2,500. This year, the Tennessee legislature considered only 1,365 pieces of legislation thanks to the new bill limit being in place.

Another major change was the restructuring of the House committee system. Now that this year's legislative session has concluded, it is easy to see the move aided in more efficient operations by better balancing the workload of each committee. In years past, some House committees considered less than 100 bills, while others were often bogged down with more than 800. Under the new system, lawmakers saw this disparity in bill workloads balance out, allowing legislators more time to give each and every bill the due diligence demanded by Tennessee taxpayers.

House leaders maintain the changes will continue to, in the long run, increase efficiency, save money, streamline operations, make the process easier for the public to understand, and limit government bureaucracy—all solid conservative principles.

Governor Bill Haslam Announces Tennessee Will Not Expand Medicaid Rolls

In March, Governor Bill Haslam announced to a Joint Session of the Tennessee General Assembly that he will not expand the state’s Medicaid rolls pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as ObamaCare.

Instead, Haslam plans to independently pursue a “Tennessee Plan” for expanding healthcare coverage to those truly in need.

“I believe Tennessee can be a model for what true health care reform looks like; reform that will take significant steps to save the state and the nation from the unsustainable path we are now on,” Haslam said.

The central premise of the “Tennessee Plan”, which includes helping insure an additional 175,000 Tennesseans currently in need of health insurance, would save the state millions of dollars by allowing the Department of Human Services to buy policies for the uninsured from private insurers, rather than adding them to the state’s TennCare rolls.

Following the announcement, lawmakers commended the Governor on his decision and praised Haslam for moving forward with a plan to ensure all Tennesseans have access to quality and affordable healthcare without being tied down by federal bureaucracy and mandates. They also praised the Governor for thoroughly researching the issue and approaching it in a thoughtful manner.

Haslam told lawmakers he had not received any assurances from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that the state could proceed with a "Tennessee Plan" under President Obama’s proposal and thus he would not be including the federal funding offered for expansion in his budget.

Constitutional Officers Tout Tennessee Financial Success

Earlier this year, State Treasurer David H. Lillard, Jr. and Comptroller of the Treasury Justin P. Wilson discussed the positive financial position of Tennessee state government.

Both Constitutional Officers credit the financial success the state has experienced over the last two years to conservative fiscal policies implemented by Governor Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly.

Despite a poor economy nationwide, both Lillard and Wilson believe Tennessee is on a clear path towards economic recovery, especially when compared to other states across the country.

"There have been numerous media reports over the last few years about serious financial problems experienced by governments elsewhere in our country and around the world. Tennessee stands in sharp contrast to those governments. Here, despite a fragile economy, our state government is managing its expenses and meeting its obligations quite well," stated Comptroller Wilson.

Indeed, despite the failure of some states to adequately manage their expenditures in a fiscally responsible way, Tennessee leads the nation in several key economic areas, including being named by Barron’s Magazine as the 3rd best-managed state in the country.

"Tennessee is in good financial shape – and that isn't just our assessment of our own situation. The bond rating agencies and other organizations that monitor government finances have given Tennessee strong marks for its financial practices. Tennessee's ability to control spending, manage debt, and adequately forecast revenues have all contributed to the state's strong financial condition," Treasurer Lillard continued.

Going forward, Lillard and Wilson agreed, Tennessee must continue its focus on providing essential services while still leaving room to cut unneeded expenses and keep debt costs low. 

"I have confidence that Governor Haslam and the members of the Tennessee General Assembly will take the appropriate steps over the coming weeks and months to keep Tennessee moving on the trajectory of long-term financial success," Wilson concluded.  

Anti-Income Tax Amendment Passes

TN General Assembly

A constitutional amendment spearheaded by House members to clarify that Tennessee’s Constitution prohibits a statewide income tax was approved by lawmakers this year.

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.

Landmark Annexation Legislation Wins Approval

Bill will give all citizens a voice in the annexation process   

Landmark legislation designed to reform Tennessee’s outdated annexation laws passed the Tennessee House of Representatives in the closing days of the legislative session with a 59 – 32 vote. The bill was spearheaded by pro-property rights legislators from across the state.  

As passed, the bill places a one-year moratorium on the annexation of any residential property or farmland across the state. In addition, the bill directs TACIR, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Affairs, to conduct a comprehensive study of the issue and make recommendations to the General Assembly on how to better improve the process statewide.

For years, legislators have been trying to change Tennessee’s abusive and antiquated annexation laws. With the passage of this legislation, this year's legislators become the first group of lawmakers in decades to achieve substantial annexation reform for Tennessee.

House Legislators Spearhead Effort to Cut Size of State Government

House legislators passed a new measure this year aimed at cutting the size of Tennessee government. The initiative, referred to as the Office of the Repealer, follows through on a promise to streamline state government, save taxpayer dollars, and make the legislative process more transparent to the general public.

The Office of the Repealer will be a one-time, four-year position with the sole responsibility of making recommendations to the legislature of areas of government waste, duplication, and out-of-date regulations that should be removed from the law books. The Repealer will take recommendations directly from the public, basing its decisions on input received from business-owners, educators, activists, and concerned citizens from across the state.

In addition to this measure, three bills that will eliminate dozens of unnecessary Tennessee laws were approved by the Tennessee General Assembly in the closing days of session this year. 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 (R–Nashville). “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 Passes With Flying Colors

Bill will create fairness in the system for both employer and employee

The Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 2013, an initiative that was part of Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative agenda for the year, easily passed the House of Representatives this session 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 fully implemented, 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.

Tennessee Pension Reform Plan Becomes Law

Changes will only affect new employees hired by the State of Tennessee

Legislation proposed earlier this year to reform the state’s pension plan, the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS), passed the full House of Representatives in Nashville during this legislative session. The reform represents a proactive approach by State Treasurer David H. Lillard, Jr. and House leaders 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 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 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. 

Lawmakers Score Victory With Bill To Reform Tennessee Asset Forfeiture Law  

Legislation designed to curb abuse of a Tennessee law that allows government agencies to take cash off drivers without a warrant unanimously passed the House of Representatives this year with a 95-0 vote. The bill will reform the practice known as asset forfeiture—the ability of law enforcement officers to take people’s personal property without charging them with a crime.

As passed, the bill ensures a fair hearing to any person suspected of being in possession of property subject to asset forfeiture. Specifically, the legislation spells out that such person is entitled to appear in court at a stated date and time to contest the issuance of a forfeiture warrant by a law enforcement officer.

Currently, Tennessee law requires such a hearing to take place without the person whose assets are being seized in attendance. It is not uncommon for some asset forfeiture cases to take months to settle.

When House legislators sat down and really started studying the issue of asset forfeiture, it was obvious that people are not being given the opportunity to be heard by a real judge in a reasonable amount of time. A prime example, they cite, is the New Jersey man who had $22,000 in cash taken from him during a traffic stop and was not immediately given a hearing to get his money back.

The story referred to by lawmakers occurred in 2012, when an officer took George Reby's money based on the suspicion it might be drug money, even though Reby stated he was in the process of buying a new vehicle through the popular auction website, eBay. Once the case went to court, the police officer who had seized the money had a judge sign off on the seizure in a secret hearing, but never told the judge about Mr. Reby's side of the story. 

Legislation To Better Protect Student Athletes Easily Passes House

Legislation designed to protect student athletes who suffer concussions from risking further medical complications passed the House this year with full support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

As passed, House Bill 867 ensures guidelines are in place to help coaches, youth athletic instructors, and parents recognize a concussion and its symptoms in order to keep an injured player from risking their health by returning to competition too soon.

In addition, the legislation requires that schools and organization develop a policy of removing youth from sports activity who show signs of concussion until they receive a medical evaluation from a licensed doctor stating they are clear to return to play.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that from 2001 to 2009, concussions among youth increased 60%, leading the agency to label concussion frequency as reaching “epidemic” proportions.

Statewide Partnership Addresses Human Trafficking in Tennessee

House lawmakers joined law enforcement officials from across the state this year to address the issue of human trafficking in Tennessee.

In 2010, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation conducted a study regarding human sex trafficking in the state. The results of the study found trafficking and sex slavery in Tennessee is more common than previously known. The report cited that one in four children who run away from home are approached for commercial sexual exploitation within 48 hours of running away. In addition, the average age of a sex trafficking victim is 13, according to the study.

Building on the success lawmakers had during the 2011-2012 legislative session to cut down on crimes such as this across the state, lawmakers introduced a crime prevention package this year to address issues related to crimes against children, criminal gang offenses, and human organ trafficking.

In total, fifteen bills were filed, including:

House Bill 520, which changes the offense of promoting prostitution of a minor from a Class E felony to a Class A felony – a move which will greatly increase the punishment for such crimes;

House Bill 131, which increases penalties for gang members who commit trafficking for commercial sex acts;

And House Bill 357, which adds to the law books a new offense for the trafficking of human organs.

By working together with various anti-trafficking groups in the state, lawmakers hope they will be able to shine a spotlight on the disturbing crime trend of sex slavery and human trafficking in Tennessee.

Ignition Interlock Legislation Scores Legislative Victory

Bill will help crack down on drunk driving in Tennessee

In a unanimous vote of the House and Senate, landmark legislation that will strengthen Tennessee’s DUI laws was passed by the Tennessee Legislature this year and was signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam. 

As adopted, House Bill 353 requires that interlock devices be installed in the vehicles of all drunk drivers convicted with a blood alcohol rate of .08% or higher. Interlock devices are small pieces of equipment attached to the steering wheel of a car with a tube that the driver must breathe into in order to allow the ignition to start.   

These devices are critical to eliminating drunk driving, as 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunk drivers will continue to drive on a suspended license. 

The legislation is backed by numerous local and nationwide safety agencies, including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, AAA, the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association, the National Transportation Safety Board, Direct General Corporation, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and the Tennessee Association of Police Chiefs. 

Now that the bill has passed, Tennessee becomes the 18th state to enact interlock requirements for all convicted drunk drivers. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show requiring interlock devices for convicted drunk drivers is effective in reducing drunk driving recidivism by 67 percent.

House Lawmakers Change Legislative Per Diem Rules

Legislation will save taxpayer dollars and streamline state government

A bill that changes the way per diems are granted to lawmakers in the Tennessee General Assembly passed the House earlier this year. House Bill 80 eliminates the lodging reimbursement for members living within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol. Currently, all members of the General Assembly are paid $173 per day which is the federal per diem rate. The money is used to cover lodging, food, and other costs.

Since 1984, the legislature has used the federal per diem rate. In addition, the state law which provides for the reimbursement of per diem is not a permissive statute, meaning reimbursement is not optional.

The House sponsor said the proposal eliminates the automatic reimbursement for lodging and will save taxpayer money, while continuing efforts to reform state government. Lawmakers also say the proposal is a more business-like approach that voters expect and deserve.

Legislation Designed To Help Curb Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Card Abuse Signed By Governor Haslam

A key bill designed to help curb abuse of purchases made using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards passed the General Assembly earlier this year.

House Bill 119 prohibits 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. 

House Expands Second Amendment Rights For Tennesseans

House lawmakers moved forward this year with several pieces of legislation aimed at expanding the Second Amendment rights of Tennesseans by allowing those licensed by the state to carry firearms in certain places where they were previously prohibited. Tennessee’s Constitution guarantees “that the citizens of this State have a right to keep and bear arms.”

Firearm legislation moved forward this year in a bi-partisan manner, including a key measure that allows permit holders to carry firearms safely secured in the trunk of their vehicles in parking lots.

Most recently, Texas became the latest state to prohibit employers from adopting policies that interfere with an employee's right to transport firearms to work and keep them in their locked, private vehicles while parked in an employer-provided parking area. In addition, 18 other states besides Texas have some varying degree of this law, including 5 of Tennessee's 8 bordering states.

The General Assembly exhaustively debated the subject, with a supermajority determining that legal carry permit holders were responsible individuals who should be able to protect themselves, regardless of where their vehicle may be parked.

Another firearm measure that passed this session will help prevent school violence by providing faculty with the resources needed to protect Tennessee students.

As amended, the bill will allow previous or current law enforcement officers across the state to possess a firearm on school property if the person has a handgun carry permit, is authorized in writing by the school superintendent, is in compliance with all laws, rules and regulations of the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission, and has had at least forty hours of basic school police training.

In the wake of the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, House lawmakers are committed to doing everything in their power to protect the children and educators of Tennessee.

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

Under legislation approved by the Tennessee House of Representatives this year, prosecutors are now able 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 key members of the General Assembly, 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.

Representative Ron Travis Passes Key Consumer Advocacy Legislation  

(NASHVILLE) – State Representative Ron Travis (R–Dayton) announced this week the passage of House Bill 478, a consumer advocacy bill which makes providing proof of car insurance an easier task.  

As passed, Rep. Travis' bill will allow “proof of financial responsibility to be demonstrated by an electronic certificate”. This change will give individuals the opportunity to provide proof of automobile insurance via electronic document. 

Currently, state law provides that proof of financial responsibility be proven through a hard-copy, paper document only. HB 478, in contrast, opens up this language to also allow an individual to provide proof of insurance in an electronic format using a smart phone, laptop, or other electronic device. 

“As state government continues its evolution into more streamlined and efficient ways of doing business, we must be willing to implement new consumer-friendly policies to make that transition a success,” stated Travis. “This bill is one step in that direction and I look forward to discussing new and exciting ways to continue the move into the age of information and technology during next year's legislative session in Nashville.” 

Ron Travis is a member of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee and House Insurance & Banking Committee. He lives in Dayton and represents District 31, which encompasses Rhea, Sequatchie, Bledsoe, and a portion of Roane Counties.

And in case you missed it…

Beer Tax Reform Act – The House passed The Beer Tax Reform Act of 2013 this year 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 will help job growth in Tennessee and will have a long-term positive impact on Tennessee’s economy.

Safe Harbor Bill – Legislation which will improve health outcomes for infants born to drug-addicted mothers easily passed the House earlier this year. House Bill 277 encourages pregnant women who misuse prescription drugs to access early prenatal care and drug rehabilitation. In exchange, they would be given a safe harbor from having their parental rights terminated through a petition filed by the Department of Children’s Services due to prenatal drug abuse. The safe harbor only applies if the mother is seen by an obstetrician provider within the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy, attends regular prenatal visits, and complies with substance abuse treatment.

Prescription Drugs – House Bill 519 was approved by the House this year and restricts any person, besides a licensed medical professional, from selling, delivering, or obtaining a drug through the use of TennCare. Written to stop potentially fraudulent abuse of TennCare benefits, the legislation makes such an offense a Class E Felony, a sentence that includes mandatory jail time. 

Home School Students – The House of Representatives passed legislation this year authorizing home school students to participate in interscholastic athletics at the public school in which they are zoned. House Bill 222 gives home-schooled students an opportunity to try out for local school sports teams if they meet the same health, academic, and conduct standards required of other participants. The bill was fueled by the success of NFL quarterback Tim Tebow who was a home schooled student. The legislation is not in conflict with Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) standards as the organization has opted to leave the decision about participation of home schooled students to local boards of education.

In Closing... 

Having completed its business for the year, the first session of the 108th General Assembly is now complete. One General Assembly is comprised of two sessions, with the next meeting of the body beginning Tuesday, January 14th, 2014 at high noon.

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