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  • Writer's pictureState Rep. Kelly Keisling

Capitol Review from State Rep. Kelly Keisling


Gov. Lee unveils 2023 legislative vision in State of the State address ‘Tennessee: Leading the Nation’


Gov. Bill Lee on Monday addressed a joint session of the General Assembly in the House Chamber in which he outlined his legislative priorities for 2023 and presented a $55.6 billion budget proposal for the coming year. The governor’s fifth state of the state highlighted strategic investments in transportation, educational and economic opportunities, tax relief, supporting families and children, and protecting natural resources.


“Tennessee is leading the nation as a guiding light for opportunity, security and freedom,” said Lee. “I’m proud to propose a budget and strategic policies that ensure our state continues to be a shining example for educational opportunity, strong families, innovation and economic prosperity.”


The governor highlighted his strong commitment to modernize transportation and infrastructure across the Volunteer State. He proposed a $3.3 billion investment that aims to alleviate urban traffic congestion and improve rural roads. Among other initiatives, Lee announced a three-month-long tax break on groceries, along with teacher pay increases, major investments in technical colleges and workforce development.


In the coming weeks, members of the General Assembly will review Gov. Lee’s budget proposal and make their own budget recommendations.


Other key highlights from Gov. Lee’s 2023-24 budget proposal include:

  • $288M for a one-time three-month sales tax holiday on food from Aug. 1-Oct. 31, 2023

  • $137M in tax relief for small businesses

  • $350M in additional funding to local education agencies through TISA, including $125M for teacher pay raises

  • $60.8M to extend summer learning camps and eligibility age from 4th grade to K-9th grade

  • $29.7M for the TN School Safety Initiative, places at least one Homeland Security Special Agent in each county

  • $952M for TN Colleges of Applied Sciences – invests in six new TCATs to serve more students across Tennessee

  • 5 percent salary increase for higher ed employees

  • $80M for environmental clean-up across the state

  • $250M for the Rainy Day Fund

Children and Families

  • $100M for Crisis Pregnancy Provider Support Grants

  • $18.7M to increase the income threshold for pregnant women and caregivers to expand access to TennCare Services

  • $5M to provide 12-month continuous TennCare eligibility for low-income children

  • $10M for TN Fosters Hope grant funding

  • $33M to increase bed capacity in the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) provider network

  • $39.8M to increase payments for providers in the DCS provider network services to children in state custody

  • $7.3M to support foster families and incentivize foster care and adoption of sibling groups and teens

  • $5M for Juvenile Justice Youth Intervention Partnerships

  • $27M to expand programming for children with complex or special needs that face challenges being placed in a traditional foster or adoptive home

  • $15M to fund the Summer Youth Employment Program

Public Safety

  • Adds 100 Highway Patrol Troopers and related support staff and 25 TBI Forensic Services staff

  • $30M addition to the TN Law Enforcement Hiring, Training, and Recruitment Program

  • $50M expansion of the Violent Crime Intervention Fund

  • $357M for network expansion of the Tennessee Advanced Communication Network (TACN) to transition remaining state agencies into TACN, improve coverage and provide infrastructure grants for local agencies to join TACN

  • $10M to support re-entry by expanding Evidence-Based Programming Grants in prisons with a focus on mental health

Environment and Natural Resources

  • $66.5M for the Natchez Trace Recreation Area, establishing a sportsman’s themed park with a lodge, cabins, campgrounds and a shooting range

  • $28.3M to create Scott’s Gulf State Park, a 9,000-acre park

  • $30M to revitalize the Heritage Conservation Trust to support public-private partnerships

  • $15.4M for development of the Cumberland Trail

  • $10.3M to address critical gaps along the Wolf River Greenway, a 26-mile trail from the Mississippi River to Germantown

  • $6.3M to expand the Tweetsie Trail in Carter County, connecting four communities, two bike parks and pedestrian bridge

Republicans in the General Assembly are committed completing another fiscally conservative budget that addresses the needs of all Tennesseans. To read the transcript of Lee’s speech visit here. The 2023-24 budget overview can be found here.


Transportation Modernization Act advances in the General Assembly


Legislation that modernizes Tennessee’s infrastructure and addresses critical transportation statewide needs advanced in the General Assembly this week.


Gov. Bill Lee in his State of the State address on Feb. 6 announced a $3.3 billion strategic investment to alleviate urban congestion and fund rural road projects across the Volunteer State.


Transportation chairs State Rep. Dan Howell, R-Ocoee, and State Sen. Becky Massey, R-Knoxville, will guide passage of the Transportation Modernization Act, House Bill 321 / Senate Bill 273, through their respective chambers this session. The plan does not raise fuel tax which currently sits at 26 cents per gallon for gasoline and 27 cents per gallon for diesel.


“We are making a generational investment with this plan that will create new opportunities for Tennesseans,” Howell said. “In partnership with Gov. Lee and TDOT, we will provide greater mobility for our citizens and our businesses, further strengthening our economy and continuing our tradition of good fiscal governance – all without raising taxes.”


The full House Transportation Committee is expected to consider the bill on Feb. 14. The companion bill is expected to begin moving through the Senate in the coming weeks. For information about House Bill 321 / Senate Bill 273, visit here.


Transportation Modernization ACT highlights:

  • $3B to the Transportation Modernization Fund to alleviate urban congestion and fund rural road projects

  • $750M allocated to each of TN’s four TDOT regions

  • $300M to expand the State Aid Program for local road projects

  • Proposing new comprehensive legislation centering on Alternative Delivery Models, Public-Private Partnerships, Electric/Hybrid Vehicle Fees


TVA officials discuss Winter Storm Elliott response, rolling blackouts


Members of the House Business and Utilities Subcommittee were briefed Tuesday about the issues the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) faced during Winter Storm Elliott in December.


Officials with the public power company testified that heavy rains coupled with sudden temperature decreases, high winds and flash freezing on Dec. 23 and Dec. 24 impacted equipment at TVA-owned and contracted facilities, knocking them offline. As a result, local power companies across the state were forced to implement rolling blackouts to help reduce system-wide power consumption.


“The issues that we saw were predominately in our coal and gas fleet,” TVA Vice President of Coal Operations Kris Edmondson told members of the subcommittee Tuesday. “Although we spent a lot of effort trying to make sure that we were as ready as possible, some of the systems that we had in place were just not enough to withstand those conditions that we faced.”


The majority of failures TVA experienced during the winter storm were due to outdoor critical instrumentation freezing. The most impacted units were located at the Cumberland Fossil Plant in Stewart County, which is the largest power-generating asset in the company’s coal fleet.


According to TVA, the company supplied more power to customers on Dec. 23 than at any other time in its nearly 90-year history. It also marked the first time TVA had to direct local power companies to perform targeted blackouts due to the extreme demand.


“In a matter of about nine hours we lost somewhere over 7,000 megawatts of internal capacity and ended up needing to escalate through our emergency procedures rather rapidly,” said Greg Henrich, vice president of transmission operations and power supply for TVA.


As TVA lost power generation capabilities, the company was able to import power from neighboring utilities to help meet increasing demand. However, Henrich said that those providers later retracted their sales to TVA as the winter storm moved further east and that electricity was needed to serve their own customers. TVA did not export any of its own power during the event.


On two occasions during a 24-hour period, TVA directed local power companies to reduce power consumption across the network through the implementation of rolling blackouts. The specific areas that were affected by the outages were determined by each individual local power company.


TVA officials testified Tuesday that the company is in the process of conducting a comprehensive after-action review of what happened during Winter Storm Elliott. The review will also include what actions can be taken to help prevent potential failures in the future. More than 250 issues have already been addressed.


“We feel very confident that we have hardened the areas that we failed,” Edmondson said. “It’s hard to guarantee 100 percent because when you are dealing with a storm you just don’t know what all you’re going to face, but we feel like we have certainly taken action on every item that caused us issues before.”


TVA assets in Tennessee include: 19 hydroelectric dams, 13 non-power dams, 4 coal-fired plants, 2 nuclear plants, 7 natural gas-fueled facilities, 1 pumped-storage hydroelectric plant.


Lawmakers strengthen police hiring standards


Legislation that would strengthen the certification process for police officers in Tennessee advanced out of the House State Government Subcommittee on Tuesday.


House Bill 313 would require the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission to first evaluate the qualifications of a person certified as a law enforcement officer in another state by reviewing their training, practical experience in law enforcement and education before issuing a certificate of compliance. The legislation would also prohibit the commission from certifying anyone who has been decertified in another state due to criminal or other misconduct.


“This is not reducing the standards for officers because it will consider the officer’s experience and education in addition to just the officer’s basic training,” said bill co-sponsor State Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore.


The POST Commission is responsible for developing and enforcing standards and training for all local police officers. State law currently allows the commission to certify a person who has received training in another state if it is determined that such training is at least equivalent to that required by the commission for approved police education and training programs in Tennessee. The officer must have satisfactorily complied with all other requirements under present law. House Bill 313 is scheduled to be head in the State Government Committee on Feb. 15.


Bill strengthens punishment for catalytic converter thefts


Legislation has been filed that would increase the punishment for catalytic converter thefts in Tennessee.


House Bill 484 would make the theft or possession of a stolen catalytic converter a Class E Felony punishable by up to six years in prison. The current penalty is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by only a fine.


“Communities across Tennessee have increasingly been targeted by catalytic converter thieves in recent years,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon. “By increasing the punishment for this costly crime, would-be criminals should think twice before attempting to steal these devices in our state.”


Catalytic converters are used to reduce toxic gases and pollutants that are created by a vehicle’s internal combustion engine. They also contain valuable precious metals which have made them increasingly a target for criminals in recent years.


More than 52,000 catalytic converter theft claims were filed in the U.S. during 2021 – a 1,215 percent increase when compared to 2019, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.


Tennessee implemented additional consumer protections in 2021 to help deter the rising theft and resale of catalytic converters statewide. Violations of the law can result in a Class A misdemeanor. The seller of a detached or stolen catalytic converter is also liable to the victim for the repair and replacement of the device. House Bill 484 is scheduled to be heard in the Business and Utilities Subcommittee on Feb. 14.


House honors pregnancy centers


The Tennessee House of Representatives on Thursday honored pregnancy centers across the state for the life-changing services they provide.


House Joint Resolution 133, sponsored by State Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington, recognized the centers for their efforts to improve the lives of women, men and children in Tennessee by providing free access to various medical and material services.


“They accept whoever comes in their door and they speak candidly with them,” Moody said Thursday. “Whatever their decision is, these centers don’t turn them away when they come back seeking other help. They are doing great work. This [resolution] is honoring the work that they do to help women be informed and then to make their own choice.”


Pregnancy centers provide thousands of pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, sexual risk screenings, parenting classes, mentoring sessions, baby showers and sexual risk avoidance courses annually in Tennessee. They have also assisted parents in choosing life for their children in addition to offering post-abortive care, counseling and resources to those in need.


Learning camps


House Bill 68 State Rep. Kirk Haston, R-Lobelville, advanced legislation that would indefinitely extend summer and after-school learning camps implemented on a temporary basis during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the summers following the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years, all school districts in the state were required to offer in-person learning loss remediation and student acceleration programs, including summer camps, summer learning camps, after-school learning mini-camps and learning loss bridge camps. These programs have been a success: in the summer of 2021 more than 121,000 students participated with an attendance rate of 96 percent. In the summer of 2022, more than 90,000 students participated in the camps. House Bill 68 would continue the successful track record of these camps by making them permanent. The House Education Administration Committee will consider House Bill 68 on Feb. 15.


Home school immunization records


House Bill 252, sponsored by State Rep. Jody Barrett, R-Dickson, would remove a requirement that proof of a home school student’s immunizations and receipt of health services or examinations be provided to their local school system. Currently, a parent who chooses to home-school their child must submit the records to the director of schools. Home school students who choose to participate in interscholastic athletics with a public school would still be required to satisfy all eligibility requirements established by the organization or association that regulates the athletic competition. House Bill 252 is scheduled to be heard in Education Administration on Feb. 15.


Sentencing


House Bill 385 sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, this week advanced to the House Justice Committee on Feb. 14. The bill requires the superintendent or jailer to notify the department of corrections of the amount of sentence reduction credits for good institutional behavior that a convicted felon should receive for the felon’s time incarcerated prior to the imposition of the sentence instead of the superintendent or jailer objecting to an award of credits at the rate of eight days for each month served.


County election dates


House Joint Resolution 13, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, proposes an amendment to Tennessee’s Constitution that would move county primaries to August and county elections to November. Currently, they are held in May and August respectively. Having all federal, state and local elections on the same day is expected to save the state and local governments money while also helping to increasing voter participation. House Joint Resolution 13 is scheduled to be heard in the Local Government Committee on Feb. 14.

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