• State Rep. Kelly Keisling

State Rep. Kelly Keisling: Capitol Hill Review


State Representative Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown)

Ag Day on the Hill celebrates Tennessee’s No. 1 industry


Tennessee Ag Day on the Hill was celebrated March 22 on the Beth Harwell Plaza and highlighted the importance of the state’s agriculture industry. Among those in attendance were Tennessee farmers, agriculture officials, legislators, Tennessee College of Applied Technology students, 4-H and Future Farmers of America members. The event coincides with National Agriculture Week and recognizes the farmers and forestland owners who are dedicated to feeding, building, clothing, and fueling our nation. It featured livestock, producers and exhibitors from across the state.


New education funding formula advances


The action on Capitol Hill began to shift from committees to the House floor this week as lawmakers worked hard to get bills approved as committees wind down. Standing committees completing their work for the second session of the 112th General Assembly include the House Transportation, Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Insurance.


Discussions continued this week about Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) program in the House K-12 Subcommittee. The proposal, House Bill 2143, advanced to the House Education Administration Committee with three amendments. Among them is an amendment that changes the weighted funding component for charter schools to a direct funding line.


House Bill 2143 establishes the TISA as a new funding model that prioritizes the individual needs of students rather than relying on ratio components and district averages. The plan puts direct focus on students with disabilities, students in rural and urban areas and low-income families. Beginning in the 2023-24 school year, the TISA would invest an estimated $9 billion in education funding for the state, including state and local funds, which would include an additional recurring state investment of $1 billion. House Bill 2143 is expected to be heard by the House Education Administration Committee on March 30. More information is available at FundingforStudentSuccess.org.


Gov. Lee announces 30-Day grocery tax relief for Tennesseans


Tennesseans may soon see some relief on their grocery bill. Gov. Bill Lee this week announced his plan to work with members of the General Assembly to suspend state and local sales tax on groceries for 30 days. This tax cut will provide direct relief for working families amid surging inflation nationwide.


“As Americans see their cost-of-living skyrocket amid historic inflation, suspending the grocery tax is the most effective way to provide direct relief to every Tennessean,” Lee said. “Our state has the ability to put dollars back in the pockets of hardworking Tennesseans, and I thank members of the General Assembly for their continued partnership in maintaining our fiscally conservative approach.”


The Governor’s proposal to suspend state and local sales tax on groceries for 30 days will be included in the fiscal Year 2022-23 budget amendment, which will be delivered on Tuesday, March 29.


Medical marijuana bill advances


The House Health Subcommittee advanced legislation this week to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee. House Bill 2641, as amended, would allow qualified patients to use and possess certain forms and amounts of medical cannabis in the state.


“This bill doesn’t allow us to grow or dispense,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro. “It decriminalizes patients that could go to a different state and come back with acceptable forms (of medical cannabis).”


The amount of cannabis a qualifying patient could have would not be allowed to exceed 3 grams of Delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a concentrated product or 3,000 milligrams of Delta 9 THC in infused products.


Recreational use of marijuana would still be prohibited. The Tennessee Medical Cannabis Commission would also be required to create and maintain a secure online database for qualifying patients, designated caregivers and qualifying physicians, according to the bill. The registry must be accessible to law enforcement as well as qualifying physicians to verify patient authorization. House Bill 2641 will now go to the full House Health Committee for additional discussion. More information about the legislation can be found here.


Bill advances to limit big tech censorship of social media users


Legislation to further protect Tennesseans’ freedom of speech on social media advanced out of the House Commerce Committee on Tuesday. House Bill 2369, as amended, would prohibit a social media platform from intentionally banning a user for certain reasons including political ideology, viewpoint discrimination or personal animosity.


“(This legislation) comes to us from a growing number of concerns and outrage from constituents around our state who have been censored, blocked or banned by big tech,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro. “This is actually to protect free speech.”


Social media companies could still restrict access to certain material that was considered to be obscene, lewd, excessively violent, harassing or otherwise objectionable as described by Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act, Powers added.


The legislation would also require an operator of a social media platform to obtain a certificate to operate as a social media common carrier from the Tennessee Public Utility Commission. If an operator is found to have wrongly banned a user, the commission could fine the social media company $25,000 or $100,000 a day until they correct the issue. The fine amount would depend on if the user was a candidate for public office. The operator’s certificate could also be suspended or revoked. House Bill 2369 will now go to the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee for additional consideration. More information about the legislation can be found here.


Tennessee Food Freedom Act passes House


The House passed the Tennessee Food Freedom Act this week which removes unnecessary and anti-competitive regulations on homemade food items. House Bill 813 recognizes the right of individuals to produce, procure and consume homemade foods of their choice. Present law requires a person to have a license from the Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture in order to manufacture, process, pack, or hold food for introduction into commerce. However, present law provides that a license is not required for certain conditions or when food is not potentially hazardous or subject to permit requirements governing dairy foods, poultry or meat processing, or permits for retail food establishments.


“This is an attempt to make it easier for folks in our communities to use (and sell) locally sourced foods to their friends and neighbors that they produce in their homes. We’re trying to make it a little simpler,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Justin Lafferty, R-Knoxville.


House Bill 813 defines a "homemade food item" as items that are produced and packaged at the private residence of the producer. The bill requires homemade food items to be labeled with the name, home address and telephone number of the producer along with the ingredients in descending order of predominance. For information about House Bill 813 visit here.


House passes Israel anti-boycott legislation


The House chamber this week approved legislation that aims to ensure taxpayer dollars are not used to subsidize the movement to boycott Israel. House Bill 2050 prohibits a public entity from entering into a contract with a company unless the agreement includes written certification that the company is not and will not be engaged in a boycott of Israel. The bill includes an exemption for contracts with a total value less than $250,000 and contractors with fewer than 10 employees. The bill now heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature. Information about House Bill 2050 can be found here.


Noah’s Law to expedite Amber Alerts in certain cases


Following a nationwide manhunt for a missing Sumner County 3-year-old last year, Tennessee lawmakers this week approved legislation that allows for an Amber Alert to be issued faster in certain cases.


House Bill 2354 also known as Noah’s Law, allows a custodial parent to seek an emergency court order declaring their child to be in imminent danger if the child is not returned by their non-custodial parent in accordance with a current visitation order or parenting plan.


The ruling could expedite the Amber Alert process for certain cases, according to House Majority Whip Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, who sponsored the bill.


“A missing child must be in imminent danger before an Amber Alert can be issued,” Garrett said. “Unfortunately, that can be difficult for law enforcement to determine in some cases. With this legislation, authorities will have yet another tool they can use to help find a missing child and bring them home safely.”


In order to be declared in imminent danger, a child must have been reported as missing and 48 hours have passed without contact from the non-custodial parent or the return of the child, according to the bill. There must also be a pending custody, parentage, child support, or dependency and neglect proceeding in court.


The legislation is named after Noah Clare, of Gallatin, who went missing after his non-custodial father failed to return him following a scheduled visit in November. The child was found safe in California later that month. However, it took more than a week for an Amber Alert to be issued since the case did not initially meet the imminent danger threshold.


Noah and several members of his family were in attendance when the new law was unanimously approved by the House chamber on Monday, March 21. The Senate approved the bill earlier this month.


The legislation does not limit the authority of a law enforcement agency to investigate a report of a missing child, notify local media about a missing child or issue any form of missing child alert.


House Bill 2354 will now go to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. Information about Noah’s Law can be found here.


General Assembly enhances foster youth support services


The House on Thursday unanimously passed legislation aimed at enhancing the support system for young people in foster care. House Bill 2145 expands eligibility for Extension of Foster Care (EFC) Services, a wraparound services program for young adults still in DCS custody when they turn 18. Presently, these services are available up until age 24 for young adults that meet certain requirements, such as being enrolled in a four-year institution. House Bill 2145 will expand those services to include young people who are employed full time and taking non-credit vocational training programs. The expansion will help an additional 300 young Tennesseans get on their feet.


The bill also allows reimbursement to relative care givers at 50 percent of the full foster care rate if certain conditions are met. The current average foster care board rate is about $31 a day, per child. Many times, relatives of foster children would like to provide care but lack the financial resources to do so. The bill aims to keep these children with their family so they can avoid entering into state custody and experiencing the trauma that can occur. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for approval. For information about House Bill 2145, visit here.


House passes bills to address health care, EMS staffing challenges


The House chamber passed two Republican pieces of legislation this week to help address heath care staffing challenges in Tennessee. House Bill 2275 allows former emergency medical services (EMS) employees who have been retired for at least 60 days to temporarily return to work without the loss or suspension of their retirement benefits.


“This allows for EMS workers to… get back to work and fill, for a limited period of time, positions that are shorthanded in our communities across the state,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville.


Qualified personnel may only work for an additional year unless re-appointed to additional one-year terms, according to the legislation. The bill would be effective from July 1, 2022 until June 30, 2025. Returning EMS employees would be entitled to 70 percent of the retirement allowance they would have received in absence of returning to work. They would also not be entitled to additional retirement benefits as a result of their reemployment.


A separate piece of legislation, House Bill 2667, would give the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health the authority to allow out-of-state licensed health care professionals to operate in Tennessee temporarily during a health care staffing crisis resulting from an infectious disease or catastrophic event.


“As we are all… happy that it appears the COVID pandemic is approaching our rearview mirror, we’ve still got some issues in front of us that relate to a health care staffing crisis across our state,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville. “The health care workforce shortage continues to be a great challenge for providers.”


According to the bill, the commissioner would have the authority to allow health care professionals to perform tasks outside of their scope of work in certain facilities during the crisis. A graduate nurse could also perform practical nursing without a license for up to 120 days. The commissioner could not extend the health care staffing crisis determination for more than 180 days unless additional findings were provided to the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House.

Both pieces of legislation must still be approved by the Senate chamber before they can go to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. Information about House Bill 2275 can be found here. Additional information about House Bill 2667 can be found here.


Bill improves transparency, access for public meetings


The House of Representatives unanimously approved legislation this week to make government meetings with electronic participation more accessible and transparent. House Bill 2864 states that the governing body that allows members to participate electronically must also allow the public to access a meeting by electronic means in real time. Members of the public would also be allowed to provide comment by electronic means if participation would normally be allowed at the meeting.


“The bill greatly improves transparency… and it will also bring code up to present day technology,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro. “It also guarantees the public can have access to these meetings.”


The legislation requires public notice of a meeting to include members of the governing body who are participating electronically. It must also contain information on how the public can access the meeting electronically as well as how to provide comments electronically if public comments are allowed during the meeting.


Meetings with electronic participation must be recorded and made accessible online within three days. A recording or link to a recording must be kept for at least three years. A companion version of the bill is currently making its way through the Senate. More information about House Bill 2864 can be found here.


Legislation prevents COVID-19 vaccination discrimination during organ donations


The House of Representatives approved legislation on Thursday that protects patients in need of an organ transplant from being discriminated against based on their COVID-19 vaccination status. House Bill 702, as amended, prevents health care providers from labeling a patient as being ineligible for organ donation or denying them medical services related to transplantation based only on their vaccination status.


“The doctor can take it into account, and it can be one of the factors that can be considered, but it cannot be the sole factor,” said bill sponsor House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland.


The legislation, which was approved by the Senate last week, will now go to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. More information about House Bill 702 can be found here.


House bill makes it easier to report road hazards, settle claims


The House unanimously passed legislation that will make it easier for citizens to report road hazards and settle claims with the state when vehicles are damaged on state-maintained highways. House Bill 2706 requires the state treasurer to work with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to develop and implement a centralized information system for the reporting of dangerous road conditions.


It expands the authority of the state treasurer to settle citizens’ claims when personal property is damaged by road hazards such as potholes. The state’s current procedure for filing such claims is a difficult process, said House Transportation Committee Chairman Dan Howell. The state received 1,800 claims for pothole and road hazard damage in 2021 and of those, only 12 were settled. The companion version awaits passage in the Senate chamber. For more about House Bill 2706 visit here.


Military-affiliated students now eligible for in-state tuition


Legislation granting in-state tuition to military-affiliated students regardless of where they live now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature. House Bill 2710 was approved unanimously by both chambers of the General Assembly. It authorizes the governing board for each public institution of higher education to classify a veteran or military-affiliated individual as a Tennessee resident for tuition purposes if the veteran or military-affiliated individual is enrolled in the institution and resides outside of this state. For information, visit here.


Drop-in child care/ Mother’s Day Out


The House Health Committee this week advanced legislation increasing from seven to nine hours per day a child may remain in a child-care drop-in center. House Bill 2559 was amended to increase the maximum authorized operation times/days for drop-in centers from 14 hours per week and for not more than seven hours per day for any individual child to a maximum of 18 hours per week and for not more than nine hours per day during regular working hours. For information about House Bill 2559 visit here.


Smokeless tobacco


House Bill 2058 add smokeless tobacco products to the type of products that are restricted to persons 21 years and under. An amendment to the bill adds that nicotine replacement therapy products as defined and approved by the federal food and drug administration are not smokeless nicotine products. Information about House Bill 2058 can be found here.


Local Government Tax Revenue


The Department of Revenue has a 1.125 percent service fee when collecting and redistributing the sales tax of local governments. The service fee of 1.125 percent was introduced in 1963. House Bill 192 tasks the Department of Revenue to conduct an annual study to find the current cost to process the tax revenue. The study will help legislators consider lowering the fee in the future, which would redirect a substantial amount of tax revenue back to the counties. For information about House Bill 192 visit here.


TCAP/TVAAS tests


The House chamber on Thursday passed House Bill 2138 which adds authorization to allow the use of results from TCAP tests administered in the 2020-21 school year in the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System (TVAAS). Additionally, it includes the set the annual measurable objectives for schools and LEAs for the 2021-22 school year. It provides that both TVAAS and those annual measurable objectives may be used to assign letter grades to schools. For information visit here.


--


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 Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.


Representative Keisling serves as Chairman of the State Government Committee and Vice Chairman of the Joint Fiscal Review Committee. He also serves as a member of the Calendar and Rules Committee, Transportation Committee, Corrections Subcommittee, Departments and Agencies Subcommittee, and Public Service Subcommittee.