Capitol Review from State Rep. Kelly Keisling
The 113th Tennessee General Assembly kicked off the 2023 legislative session in Nashville this week as Republicans gear up to focus their efforts on continuing to improve public safety, education, the economy and infrastructure across the state.
State lawmakers were officially sworn in during the first legislative day on Tuesday, Jan. 10. The House GOP gained two overall seats in a historic election last year to secure a 75-24 supermajority in Tennessee.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and Speaker Pro Tempore Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, were also both reelected to their leadership positions by House members Tuesday. On Thursday, Speaker Sexton reappointed State Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, as deputy speaker.
“My wish for us is that at the end of the day, we can come together, and even during the toughest challenges, we will all work for the betterment of Tennessee and its citizens,” Speaker Sexton told lawmakers following the vote. “We will only be limited by what we are unwilling to do. This place, this chamber, our General Assembly, is much bigger than any of us. This is the people’s house… and today it is our turn to answer our call."
Passing a spending plan that addresses the needs of every Tennessean during the upcoming year will once again be a top priority this session. Republicans will also look to address a variety of issues in the coming weeks including furthering efforts to ensure students across the state receive the world-class education they deserve. Other key issues will include addressing critical infrastructure needs and traffic congestion in both rural and urban areas of the state, as well as making the adoption process more efficient and less expensive for families.
The House Republican Caucus in November held its biennial organizational meeting to elect members to leadership positions. Members voted unanimously to reelect for a third term State Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, as majority leader, State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, as caucus chairman, and State Rep. Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, as majority whip. State Rep. Mark Cochran, R-Englewood, was elected to his first term as assistant majority leader.
Others elected to caucus leadership positions include State Rep. Paul Sherrell, R-Sparta as floor leader; State Rep. Scotty Campbell, R-Mountain City, as caucus vice chair; State Rep. Michele Carringer, R-Knoxville as secretary; State Rep. Rebecca Alexander, R-Jonesborough, as treasurer. Freshman State Rep. Jody Barrett, R-Dickson, was also elected assistant floor leader.
Speaker announces committee chair appointments
On Thursday, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, announced House committee and subcommittee assignments for the 113th General Assembly. The committee and subcommittee chairs are:
Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee: State Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County
Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee: State Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern
Civil Justice Committee: State Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville
Civil Justice Subcommittee: State Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore
Children and Family Affairs Subcommittee: State Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson
Commerce Committee: State Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville
Banking and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee: State Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro
Business and Utilities Subcommittee: State Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon
Criminal Justice Committee: State Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport
Criminal Justice Subcommittee: State Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski
Education Administration Committee: State Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis
K-12 Subcommittee: State Rep. Kirk Haston, R-Lobelville
Higher Education Subcommittee: State Rep. Justin Lafferty, R-Knoxville
Education Instruction Committee: State Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington
Education Instruction Subcommittee: State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka
Finance, Ways and Means Committee: State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain
Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee: State Rep. Gary Hicks, R-Rogersville
Appropriations Subcommittee: State Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville
Government Operations Committee: State Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge
Health Committee: State Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro
Health Subcommittee: State Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville
Population Health Subcommittee: State Rep. Michele Carringer, R-Knoxville
Insurance Committee: State Rep. Sabi Kumar, R-Springfield
Insurance Subcommittee: State Rep. Esther Helton-Haynes, R-East Ridge
Local Government Committee: State Rep. John Crawford, R-Bristol/Kingsport
Citizens Subcommittee: State Rep. Jerome Moon, R-Maryville
Election and Campaign Finance Subcommittee: State Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro
Property and Planning Subcommittee: State Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville
State Government Committee: State Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown
Departments and Agencies Subcommittee: State Rep. John Holsclaw, R-Elizabethton
Corrections Subcommittee: State Rep. Chris Hurt, R-Halls
Public Service Subcommittee: State Rep. Iris Rudder, R-Winchester
Transportation Committee: State Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland
Transportation Subcommittee: State Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin
Calendar and Rules Committee: State Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville
Ethics Committee: Deputy Speaker Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville
Ethics Subcommittee: Speaker Pro Tempore Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville
Select Committee on Rules: Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland
Tennessee Treasurer and Comptroller reelected
The opening week of the 113th General Assembly was also marked by re-elections of the Tennessee Treasurer and Comptroller, two of the state’s three constitutional officers. In a joint session of the legislature, Treasurer David Lillard and Comptroller Jason Mumpower were unanimously reelected to their positions. The comptroller audits the state agencies and county governments to ensure they run well, while the treasurer keeps track of the state’s coffers, investments and pension funds. The third constitutional office, the Secretary of State, is elected every four years.
New Dashboard App gives public increased access to legislative process
The Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives has unveiled an innovative tool that will enhance public transparency in the legislative process within the Tennessee House of Representatives.
The user-friendly TGA House Dashboard application will also give every Tennessean the same access to the legislative process as their elected officials. This resource will allow Tennesseans to view all House committee and floor calendars, legislation, and amendments — both those proposed, as well as those approved by the body — on all House legislative initiatives in a timely and straightforward manner.
“Tennesseans want transparency in our processes, and they deserve to know more about the legislation that we are proposing and attempting to pass in the House,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville. “This new Dashboard application will give Tennesseans the same access as their representative in real-time and make the legislative process the most transparent in Tennessee that it has ever been.”
To use the application, citizens simply need to visit: TGA Dashboard (tn.gov), then log in, register, and activate the application, and they will immediately have access to all aspects of the legislative process that House lawmakers currently have.
Gov. Lee unveils transportation plan for rural and urban Tennessee
Gov. Bill Lee has presented his administration’s strategic infrastructure plan to accommodate Tennessee’s record growth, address traffic congestion and meet transportation needs across rural and urban communities.
The Transportation Modernization Act of 2023, expected to be introduced in the coming weeks, will ensure the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) has the resources needed to solve the state’s current and future mobility challenges.
Proposed solutions include:
Seeking the use of public-private partnerships to allow private investment in new urban roadway infrastructure, which will allow the state to reserve funds for more rural infrastructure priorities.
The plan for public-private partnerships will include exploring Choice Lanes, which are additional, optional lanes funded in partnership with the private sector on urban Tennessee interstates to decrease congestion and increase economic impact across the state.
Expanding the alternative delivery model to save taxpayer dollars and deliver road projects more quickly.
TDOT estimates $26 billion is needed to address both urban and rural congestion in Tennessee. Of that total, only $3.6 billion is already contemplated as part of the 2017 IMPROVE Act projects list. Of TDOT’s $1.2 billion for annual construction and maintenance, only $500 million per year is available for the construction of projects that would move the needle on congestion.
The addition of choice lanes in Texas resulted in a 60 percent to 70 percent reduction in traffic congestion along with a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in speed, according to TDOT. In Georgia, there was an increase of between 30 miles per hour and 50 miles per hour in existing general-purpose lanes along with a 10 percent increase in on-time bus performance.
Information about the Build with Us plan can be found here.
Small Government Efficiency Act
Republicans have filed legislation that aims to ensure more effective local representation and the utmost efficiency for taxpayers in Tennessee.
House Bill 48, also known as the Small Government Efficiency Act, would reign in excessive government growth by lowering the maximum size of metropolitan and municipal legislative bodies in Tennessee to no more than 20 voting members.
“When government grows beyond a certain size, it hinders economic growth, taxes are inevitably raised and the standard of living for the average citizen is diminished,” said bill sponsor Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland. “Government functions best closer to the people. This legislation will strengthen local democracy and competency by improving the ability of local elected leaders to effectively represent their communities.”
Local government bodies exceeding 20 voting members would be required to dissolve and re-appropriate current districts using the latest federal U.S. Census data to ensure equal representation based on population.
Information about House Bill 48 can be found here.
Bill would increase amount teachers receive to purchase classroom supplies
Republicans have filed legislation that would give public school teachers more money to purchase supplies for their classrooms.
House Bill 7, introduced by State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, would increase the amount each local education agency and public charter school must pay K-12 teachers for the purchase of the supplies from $200 to $500 beginning with the 2023-24 school year.
The money must be used for instructional supplies and must be given to each teacher by Oct. 31 of each school year, according to the legislation. The funds cannot be used for basic building needs such as HVAC equipment, carpet, furniture or items or equipment for the teachers’ lounge.
Any funds not spent by the end of the school year must be pooled at the school level and used to purchase equipment that would benefit all teachers. However, the pooled funds cannot be used for basic building needs.
Information about House Bill 7 can be found here.
Proposal filed to extend HOPE scholarship eligibly for students who graduate early
Republicans have introduced legislation that would allow students who earn their bachelor’s degree early to continue receiving the Tennessee HOPE scholarship while they pursue an advanced degree.
House Bill 27 would allow a student to continue receiving the scholarship if they continue to meet all eligibility and academic requirements, earned their first bachelor’s degree early while receiving the scholarship, and are admitted and enrolled in coursework in pursuit of a master’s degree, doctorate or other advanced degrees at an eligible postsecondary institution within three months of graduating.
The legislation would allow an eligible student to continue to receive the scholarship in the amount they received for the last semester before receiving their bachelor’s degree and for each semester they would have been eligible to receive the scholarship if they had not completed their program of study early.
A student would not be allowed to receive a HOPE scholarship if five years had passed from the date of their initial enrollment at a postsecondary institution unless an exception or other provision of law applied.
Last year, the General Assembly approved an $85 million increase in funding for the HOPE scholarship. With the increase, the scholarship award was raised from $3,500 to $4,500 per year for freshmen and sophomores at four-year institutions and from $4,500 to $5,700 for juniors and seniors. It also increased from $3,000 to $3,200 per year for students at two-year schools.
Information about House Bill 27 can be found here.
Legislation would make it easier for employees to save for retirement
Republicans have filed legislation that would provide a more convenient option for many private sector employees to open a retirement savings account in Tennessee.
House Bill 13, also known as the Tennessee Retirement Savings Plan Act, would require businesses with more than five employees to allow them the opportunity to contribute to a state-managed retirement plan through payroll deductions unless a qualifying retirement plan is already offered. Employee participation in the program would be voluntary and employer contributions to plans would not be required.
“Tennesseans can always choose to go to a local bank or financial planner to begin preparing for their retirement,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro. “But for those individuals who have not done so already, this legislation would hopefully encourage them to start saving money now by making it more convenient to do so.”
The retirement savings program would be developed, maintained and overseen by a seven-member board that would include the state treasurer or their designee as well as other members appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the house.
According to the AARP, nearly 57 million Americans, or 48 percent of private sector employees between the ages of 18 and 64, are not offered either a traditional pension or retirement savings plan through their employer. The organization also found that individuals are 15 times more likely to save for retirement when they can do so through work, and 20 times more likely to do so if their workplace savings are automatic.
Information about House Bill 13 can be found here.
Gov. Lee inauguration date set: Gov. Bill Lee will take the oath of office for his second term on Saturday, Jan. 21. The inauguration ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. on Legislative Plaza in Nashville. The Tennessee: Leading the Nation celebratory events will take place Jan. 20-21. A full schedule of events can be found here.
Bill filing deadline approaching: The bill filing deadline for the 2023 legislative session will be Tuesday, Jan. 31. As of Thursday, 191 bills have already been filed in the House.
State offices will be closed in observance of the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Jan. 16.The House Finance Committee will begin budget hearings on Thursday, Jan. 19. Other members of the House of Representatives will return to Capitol Hill on Friday, Jan. 20 at 2 p.m.
The first full week of committee meetings will begin on Monday, Feb. 6. The next edition of the Capitol Review will publish again on Thursday, Feb. 9.
Kelly Keisling serves as State Representative for House District 38 which encompasses Macon, Clay, Pickett, Scott, and part of Fentress Counties. To reach State Representative Kelly Keisling, call 615-741-6853 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with Kelly on Twitter.