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  • Writer's pictureState Rep. Kelly Keisling

Capitol Review from State Rep. Kelly Keisling

General Assembly passes $52.8 billion budget


Members of the 113th General Assembly on Thursday fulfilled their constitutional duty with the passage of a $52.8 billion balanced budget for the 2024-25 fiscal year.


This year’s budget highlights lawmakers’ continuous efforts to keep taxes low and remain fiscally responsible while prioritizing the needs of Tennesseans.  The zero-debt budget is a spending plan that advances Republicans’ efforts to strengthen families, improve public safety, advance education, and create new opportunities for businesses to grow.


“This budget addresses a diverse range of needs across our state while continuing our tradition of good fiscal governance,” said House Finance Chair State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain. “Crafting this budget was a challenge because we are facing increasing demands due to rising inflation. Tennessee remains a model for economic prosperity because we’ve managed our spending limits and planned well for the future.”


Total legislative initiatives make up nearly $21 million in recurring investments and $141.5 million in nonrecurring expenditures. While revenues have slowed considerably, Tennessee continues to be among the most fiscally stable states in the nation with no state income tax and low tax burden overall.


The slate of budget and legislative priorities includes significant investments in rural and behavioral health care with $303 million in new dollars directed to 17 programs. These funds will help to expand bed capacity, fund infrastructure projects for children’s hospitals and expand access to behavioral health inpatient care.


The budget adds $261 million in new recurring dollars for K-12 education, bringing the total base Tennessee Investment in Achievement (TISA) budget to $6.8 billion and the overall budget for public education to $8.55 billion.  The new dollars will cover medical insurance premiums, retirement for teachers, and funding for teacher raises to bring the annual starting base salary up to $50,000 by 2026.


Among new investments in public safety, are a $17 million investment for 60 new Tennessee State Trooper positions and $750,000 in security grants for houses of worship.


The budget includes a $36 million investment to help distressed counties and rural communities with economic development, such as community asset improvements, marketing and downtown revitalization grants.


It also makes a $100 million deposit in the state’s Rainy-Day Fund, which serves as the state’s savings account to help withstand economic downturns, bringing the fund to a historic balance of more than $2.15 billion.


Tennessee is among the lowest-taxed states in the nation and collects zero income tax. Tennessee holds the highest bond rating issued by all three of the nation’s credit rating agencies, which reflects extreme confidence in the Volunteer State’s preparedness in meeting financial commitments in tough economic times.


Jillian’s Law unanimously approved by General Assembly


The General Assembly this week unanimously approved legislation improving public safety and mental health in Tennessee.


Jillian’s Law, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, requires criminal defendants deemed incompetent to stand trial to be committed to an appropriate treatment facility. This is not currently required by state law.


“This bill absolutely will save lives in the great state of Tennessee,” Lamberth said prior to the vote on Monday. “If someone is not competent to assist in their own defense… right now under the current law we let them just walk right out the door of the jail or the courthouse to go out there and endanger our streets. It is not right, and we have an opportunity to change that today.”


House Bill 1640 also requires individuals deemed incompetent to stand trial to be entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a namecheck database of people who are prohibited from buying or owning a firearm.


The legislation is named after Jillian Ludwig, a Belmont student who was fatally shot while walking in a Nashville park in November. Her killer was a repeat violent offender who was prosecuted in April 2023 for a separate crime of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. However, the case against him was dismissed after three court-appointed physicians testified that he was incompetent to stand trial and was released from custody.


State lawmakers this week also unanimously passed House Joint Resolution 1027, filed by State Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, remembering Ludwig’s “impeccable character and her stalwart commitment to living the examined life with courage and conviction.”


“Jillian was a beacon of light in her community, not just in New Jersey, but here in Nashville,” Williams said. “It is our desire… to make sure her legacy lives on and that we honor her in this way.”


“We want to… make sure that other families in this state don’t ever have to experience the pain that (Jillian’s family) has been through.”


House Bill 1640 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. It will take effect July 1.


Retention bonuses for highly skilled TN National Guard members approved


The General Assembly unanimously approved legislation authorizing bonuses for Tennessee National Guard members serving in critical roles this week.


House Bill 2088,  sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, and co-sponsored by State Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin, authorizes the Tennessee Department of Military to create a critical skills retention bonus program to award National Guard members who continue to serve.


“(This bill) allows the National Guard to establish a board to help recruit and retain those national guard members and critical combat skills that we need,” Whitson said Monday.


The board will research and identify critical job skills that if left unmanned, would pose a risk to the department’s ability to respond when called upon. The group would then provide incentive amount recommendations on each job skill, up to $10,000.


House Bill 2088 also ensures that if a state employee is called to serve and their military job pays less than their civilian job, the state will pay the difference so that the employee does not suffer from lost wages while serving our state or nation.


The legislation will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Bail reform legislation improves public safety


The General Assembly this week passed legislation improving public safety in Tennessee through a safer and more efficient bail process.


House Bill 1719, sponsored by State Rep. John Gillespie, R-Memphis, changes the process of determining bail amounts by removing the consideration of a defendant’s ability to pay.


“There is a revolving door of criminals going in and out of our judicial system,” Gillespie said. “Time and again, we have seen the deadly consequences of allowing people back into the community based on their ability to pay. We must instead focus on the danger that person poses to the community. This bill is an important step in making Memphis and all of Tennessee safer.”


House Bill 1719 only removes consideration of a defendant’s ability to pay, not their financial condition, in determining an appropriate bail amount.


Currently, several factors are considered when determining bail, including length of residence, family ties, employment status, prior criminal record, the nature of the offense and probability of conviction.


House Bill 1719 now heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


House approves bill protecting property owners from squatters


The House chamber this week passed legislation protecting Tennessee homeowners from squatters through an established and expedited removal process.


Squatting is the illegal practice of occupying a property without the owner’s lawful permission. Although squatters have no rights in Tennessee, when this happens a property owner must initiate a judicial eviction.


“Home ownership is the American dream for many, the foundation for building wealth and raising a family,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro. “This is proactive legislation that protects property owners but also deters bad actors who have learned to exploit the law and terrorize homeowners. This creates a streamlined process for Tennesseans to quickly take back control over what is rightfully theirs.”


House Bill 1259 removes much of the burden from legitimate property owners by establishing a clear process for law enforcement to restore possession. It can expedite the removal of illegal occupants in as little as 72 hours. The legislation also clarifies that the sheriff may arrest the trespassers.


It currently can take up to two years to remove an illegal squatter and can cost a property owner thousands of dollars in legal fees, lost revenue, and property repairs.


The companion version of House Bill 1259 is still advancing through the Senate. If approved, the new law would take effect July 1.


Bill creates new liquor license for barbers, beauty shops and cigar bars


The General Assembly this week passed legislation streamlining regulations for liquor-by-the-drink licenses for barber shops, cosmetology salons and cigar bars.


House Bill 2613, sponsored by State Rep. Jake McCalmon, R-Franklin, allows these businesses to charge for alcoholic beverages instead of giving them away or including them in the price of the service provided.


“This provides a less expensive but more restrictive medium for which they can sell cocktails,” McCalmon said.


Businesses are required to have a maximum of twenty seats for food service to be eligible for the new license.


Additionally, the applicant's alcoholic beverage sales may not exceed 15 percent of annual gross sales, and the license does not allow businesses to sell or give away liquor between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.


House Bill 2613 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


House approves CON reform to increase health care access, lower costs


The House chamber this week approved legislation allowing for additional health care services to be more quickly and easily accessible in Tennessee.


House Bill 2269, sponsored by State Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon, would gradually phase out the Certificate of Need (CON) permit requirements needed to provide nearly a dozen various health care services in the state during the next five years.


The Tennessee Health Facilities Commission currently regulates the health care industry statewide through the CON program. This process, which can be lengthy and costly, requires a permit to be issued for the establishment or modification of a health care institution, facility or service at a designated location.


“It is essential that every community in Tennessee has access to vital health care facilities and services,” Boyd said. “This legislation represents the culmination of years of diligent work by various stakeholder groups from across Tennessee committed to ensuring that happens. These reforms will not only improve access to potentially lifesaving medical services in our state, but they will help reduce costs for patients as well.”


The timeline for removal of CON permit requirements includes:

 

  • July 1, 2025: Freestanding emergency departments not located within 10 miles of a competing acute care hospital or other freestanding emergency department would no longer need a CON. Additionally, any county without an actively licensed acute care hospital would also not require a CON for any services except rehabilitation hospitals, home health agencies, hospice, methadone clinics and nursing homes.

  • Dec. 1, 2025: Intellectual disability institutional habilitation facilities, burn units, neonatal intensive care units, magnetic resonance imagining services and positron emission tomography

  • Dec. 1, 2027: Ambulatory surgical treatment centers, linear accelerator procedures and long-term care hospitals

  • Dec. 1, 2029: Open heart surgery

 

The bill requires rehabilitation hospitals, home health agencies, hospices, methadone clinics, and nursing homes to continue operating under CON in all 95 counties. Cardiac catheterization services, outpatient diagnostic clinics, acute care hospitals, and organ transplants will, for now, remain under CON in counties that currently have a licensed acute care hospital. The companion version of House Bill 2269 is expected to be heard on the Senate floor next week.


Parental notification required for gender affirmation accommodations


Legislation expanding parental rights in Tennessee public schools was approved by the General Assembly this week.


House Bill 2165, sponsored by State Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, requires parents and school administrators to be informed if a student makes a request for an accommodation to affirm their gender identity.


The legislation also prohibits school employees from knowingly giving false or misleading information to parents regarding their child’s gender identity or their intention to transition to a gender that differs from their biological sex. Accommodations could include the student asking to be called a name not on their school registration forms or using pronouns that do not correspond with the sex listed on the child’s birth certificate.


A student’s parent may also bring civil action against a non-compliant school system, according to the legislation. House Bill 2165 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Evaluations required for students who threaten mass violence


Legislation requiring students who threaten mass violence to undergo a threat assessment was approved by the General Assembly this week.


House Bill 2487, sponsored by State Rep. Chris Hurt, R-Halls, requires that after a student is suspended for making a threat, they must undergo evaluation as part of the expulsion process. The threat must also be reported to local law enforcement.


“The superintendent would be able to use this additional information from the threat assessment team to make the expulsion decision,” Hurt said.


Currently, school superintendents have the flexibility to make case-by-case modifications when handling violations of the zero-tolerance policy.


House Bill 2487 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


General Assembly makes voter registration process more secure


Legislation making the voter registration process more secure in Tennessee was approved by the General Assembly this week.


House Bill 1955, sponsored by State Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, prohibits people and organizations from pre-filling out voter registration applications. The legislation also requires third-party voter registration organizations to register with the Secretary of State’s office and prevents certain felons from handling applications.


“The last thing we need is someone who’s been convicted of voter fraud, perjury or abuse of a senior citizen is having senior citizens’ Social Security numbers,” Rudd said.


The legislation states that it’s presumed the date an applicant signs a voter registration application is the date the person or organization received or collected the application. It also ensures no alterations to the voter registration form are made without the applicant’s consent. The state election commission can impose civil penalties of up to $5,000 for violations of bill. The legislation now heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Legislation improves safety on Tennessee lakes and rivers


The General Assembly unanimously approved legislation this week to keep boaters and workers safe on Tennessee waterways.


House Bill 2103, sponsored by State Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland, authorizes the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) to establish a special, temporary no-wake zone as necessary due to an immediate danger to the public or environment.


This legislation comes after heavy snowfall in January caused a deck to collapse at the Fort Loudon Marina in Lenoir City. While salvage teams were attempting to clean up the debris, the wake from passing boats caused a safety hazard for workers.


The current law states that the TWRA can issue temporary no-wake zones, but there must be several days of public notice beforehand.


The legislation does not remove the requirement to subsequently file an emergency rule under the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act. It also requires the no wake zone to be published at least once in newspapers that circulate in the general area where the zone is placed. House Bill 2103 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. It will take effect July 1.


Bill prevents terrorist groups from recruiting on college campuses


Legislation ensuring public colleges and universities in Tennessee do not provide accommodations for terrorist groups was approved by the General Assembly this week.


House Bill 2348, sponsored by State Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, prohibits terrorist groups from being allowed to use meeting spaces or other forums, including electronic and print platforms, of publicly-funded entities to solicit support, recruit new members or encourage violent action.


“It is an insult to our taxpayers if we allow our tax dollars to support those who hate them,” Ragan said.


The bill specifically addresses entities designated by the U.S. Department of State as foreign terrorist organizations, groups found by courts of competent jurisdictions to have engaged in terrorism, and groups that receive financial or other support from designated entities.


Violations of this legislation are punishable by up to a $3,000 fine. House Bill 2348 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Briefly…


College athlete compensation: The General Assembly this week passed legislation increasing protections for students, coaches and universities related to compensation for intercollegiate athlete’s name, image or likeness (NIL). House Bill 1059, sponsored by State Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, expands the definition of intercollegiate athlete to include current and perspective students, which will allow them to determine the value of their NIL in certain situations. The bill also makes clear that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) cannot restrict an athlete’s ability to earn compensation or obtain representation to perform due diligence to determine the value of their NIL. Additionally, the legislation protects schools and their employees from potential litigation from any athlete who feels their market value was negatively affected by a lack of playing time. It also specifies that schools and their employees are not agents and are ineligible to receive compensation. House Bill 1059 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Prostate cancer screenings: The House chamber this week unanimously approved legislation improving access to prostate cancer screenings in Tennessee. House Bill 2954, also known as the Prostate-Specific Antigen Screening for High-Risk Insured Men Act, requires health benefit plans, including TennCare, to provide coverage for the early detection of prostate cancer for men between the ages of 40 and 49 who are at high risk of developing cancer. The legislation also ensures coverage is provided without a cost-sharing requirement for enrollees. In Tennessee, there were 4,526 new prostate cancer diagnosis and 677 prostate cancer deaths during 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The companion version of House Bill 2954 is still advancing in the Senate.


School safety: Legislation helping to fill school resource officer (SRO) vacancies in Tennessee was approved by the House chamber this week. House Bill 1899, sponsored by State Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro, allows retired law enforcement officers and honorably discharged veterans of the United States armed forces to serve as SROs. To carry a firearm on school grounds, SRO candidates would be required to complete at least 40 hours of basic training approved by the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission, be evaluated by a mental health professional, and undergo a criminal background check from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and FBI. They also must have the written authorization of the local sheriff. The companion version of House Bill 1899 is still advancing through the Senate.


First responder residency: The General Assembly this week passed legislation ending local governments' discrimination against first responders based on where they live. House Bill 2369, sponsored by State Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, will prevent local governments from penalizing an employee or not hiring a candidate for a job opening because of non-residence. The legislation will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Expungement: The House chamber this week approved legislation ensuring criminals are not able to have their criminal record expunged more than once in Tennessee. House Bill 2466, sponsored by State Rep. Robert Stevens, R-Smyrna, allows the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to inform a district attorney if a suspect has already been granted a prior expunction in the state. The legislation would prevent individuals who commit crimes in different jurisdictions from being able to have their criminal records expunged multiple times. The companion version of House Bill 2466 is still advancing in the Senate.


Prescription costs: The General Assembly this week unanimously approved legislation that aims to save Tennesseans money on their prescription medications. House Bill 2897, sponsored by State Rep. Sabi Kumar, R-Springfield, encourages pharmacies to make a reasonable effort to notify a person of the lowest available cost of their prescription prior to their purchase. If the cash option is cheaper than insurance, the customers are able to apply the cash payment towards their deductible after legislation passed last year. House Bill 2897 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


GPS monitoring devices: Legislation enhancing the penalty for tampering with a court-ordered GPS monitor device was approved by the General Assembly this week. House Bill 2790, sponsored by State Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, would make it a Class B misdemeanor for a person released on probation or parole to tamper with a GPS monitoring device, or for a person to assist them in doing so. If the device is damaged, it would be a Class A misdemeanor. The legislation also clarifies that it is a Class B misdemeanor to knowingly tamper with, remove or vandalize any court-ordered monitoring device. House Bill 2790 will now go to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Juvenile offenders: The General Assembly unanimously passed legislation this week requiring children admitted to a juvenile detention facility be allowed at least one phone call and one half-hour in-person visit with a parent or guardian within 24 hours of being admitted to the facility. House Bill 2665, sponsored by State Rep. William Slater, R-Gallatin, also allows a juvenile at least three phone calls and one in-person visit per week following the initial 24 hours after being admitted, but before being adjudicated. House Bill 2665 now heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Cash payments: A bill requiring public schools to allow students to purchase tickets to athletic events with cash was unanimously approved by the General Assembly this week. House Bill 2008, sponsored by State Rep. Kirk Haston, R-Lobelville, ensures students who do not have access to debit or credit cards and other non-cash forms of payment are still able to attend athletic events. The legislation allows public schools to offer cash payment at the event or in advance. House Bill 2008 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Parental leave: The General Assembly this week passed legislation granting six weeks of paid leave to public charter school employees following the birth or stillbirth of their child. House Bill 2697, sponsored by State Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington, also allows for six weeks of paid leave for teachers who adopt a minor child. The leave must qualify under the Family and Medical Leave Act, according to the legislation. This bill expands on actions taken by the General Assembly last year when lawmakers approved similar legislation for public school teachers. House Bill 2697 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Property rights: The General Assembly this week approved legislation allowing Tennesseans to take legal action against a local government that implements or seeks to enact prohibited property right restrictions. House Bill 2117, sponsored by State Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, expands on legislation approved last year preventing political subdivisions from crafting policies that deliberately or inadvertently restrict private property rights without due process. House Bill 2117 now heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Education: House Bill 1831, sponsored by State Rep. Kevin Raper, R-Cleveland, authorizes a parent or guardian to voluntarily retain their child if they have documented academic or behavioral delays. The student must be enrolled in kindergarten through 2nd grade, and cannot be retained in any grade level more than once. The legislation was approved by the General Assembly this week. It will take effect beginning with the 2024-25 school year.


Supporting live music: Legislation supporting the live music industry in Tennessee was approved by both chambers of the General Assembly this week. House Bill 2712, sponsored by House Majority Whip Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, defines many elements of live music in state law. The bill also establishes the Live Music and Performance Venue Fund under the Tennessee Department of Tourism to support and promote live music performances, artists and promoters. The bill will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


World Health Organization: A resolution urging Tennessee’s United States representatives and senators to work towards ending taxpayer funding of the World Health Organization (WHO) passed the House on Monday. House Joint Resolution 820, sponsored by State Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, outlines the WHO’s history of mismanagement, embrace of authoritarian leaders and policy mistakes during the COVID-19 pandemic as reasons for withdrawal. It pushes President Joe Biden and his foreign policy officials to reject policies that could further empower the WHO. The resolution calls for the federal government to instead enact policies promoting the fundamental freedoms of all Americans against the influence of corrupt international organizations.


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Media Contact:

Zach Stephens


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 rep.kelly.keisling@capitol.tn.gov. Connect with Kelly on Facebook and X.


Representative Keisling serves as Chairman of the State Government Committee as well as serving as a member of the Calendar & Rules Committee, Finance, Ways & Means Committee, Government Operations Committee, Appropriations Subcommittee, Corrections Subcommittee, Departments & Agencies Subcommittee, Public Service & Employees Subcommittee.

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