State Rep. Kelly Keisling: Capitol Hill Review
State budget becomes central focus in final weeks of 112th General Assembly
On the Hill this week, Finance and Administration Commissioner Butch Eley briefed members of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee about Gov. Bill Lee’s updated budget plan for the 2022-23 fiscal year that begins July 1. Notable investments in the supplemental appropriations amendment include $78 million for Tennessee’s airports, $20 million for riverfront dock development in Memphis and $17 million in grants for raceway development for NASCAR. These proposed investments would have a total economic impact of $40 billion for the state, according to Eley. Lee’s budget amendment also includes $15 million for voter-verified paper audit trail voting machines and $10 million for a National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
Key tax cuts include $80 million for a 30-day grocery tax holiday which accounts for $49 million in lost grocery tax revenue and $31 million the state would send to local governments to cover their portion of the taxes not be collected. The governor included a permanent reduction for the seven remaining professions still required to pay the annual tax. The tax would be reduced from $400 to $300 annually for attorneys, securities agents, brokers, investment advisors, lobbyist, osteopathic physicians and doctors. The Tennessee Department of Revenue reports that approximately 201,400 professionals would be impacted by the tax cuts. The General Assembly in 2019 eliminated the professional privilege tax on 15 of 22 professions, including accountants, architects, engineer, landscape architects, real estate brokers, and veterinarians.
The budget amendment brings the total annual proposal to $52.8 billion for the 2022-23 fiscal year. The House Finance, Ways and Means Committee will carefully study the details of the governor’s proposed budget along with the new additions in the coming weeks. Passing a fiscally conservative, balanced budget that addresses the needs of all Tennesseans is the General Assembly’s most important obligation before adjourning the 2022 legislative session.
General Assembly prohibits subminimum wages for workers with disabilities
The Tennessee General Assembly unanimously approved a bill that requires employers to pay workers that have a disability no less than minimum wage.
House Bill 2078 prohibits employers in the state from applying for a federal certificate from the U.S. Department of Labor to pay subminimum wages to workers whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by a physical or mental disability. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.
“In Tennessee, there are only two employers that have requested or have an active license and they are both… in support of this bill according to the Department of Labor,” bill sponsor State Rep. Rush Bricken, R-Tullahoma, told members of the House Banking and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee on March 16. “It’s time for Tennessee to do the right thing here.” The legislation will now go to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. Information about House Bill 2078 can be found here.
House votes to keep obscene materials out of public schools
The Tennessee House of Representatives approved legislation this week to prevent obscene materials from being available to Tennessee students in K-12 public school libraries.
House Bill 1944 removes an exemption in existing state law that allows for certain individuals to knowingly distributing obscene material to a minor in a public school without the risk of criminal charges. The legislation also requires every board of education and public charter school in the state to adopt a policy that allows a student’s parent or legal guardian to report any potentially obscene material in a school’s library to their local director of schools for review.
“(This bill) is made to protect our librarians and prevent the arbitrary removal of a book from the school library,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka. “This decision needs to be left at the local level with those school board members who are elected by the people of that community to espouse their community standards and what a reasonable person would deem obscene or pornographic.”
As part of the review process, the material in question would be removed from the school’s library for at least 30 days in order to give the local board of education or public charter school’s governing body time to determine whether the material was obscene, harmful to minors or appropriate for students. If the material is found to be acceptable, it would be returned to the school’s library. If not, it would be permanently removed from the libraries of all public schools in the district. The Senate version of the legislation is currently making its way through committees. Information about House Bill 1944 can be found here.
Legislation protecting women’s college athletics advances
A bill protecting the competitive balance of female intercollegiate sports is advancing through House committees. House Bill 2316 prohibits male students from participating in certain intercollegiate or intramural athletic teams or sports that are designated for females. The bill ensures public colleges and universities are not creating opportunities for undue injury to students who participate in intercollegiate activities and sports. The bill ensures biological males are not able to displace biological females in competitive events which could deny female athletes’ victories, opportunities or scholarships. The bill does not apply to sports deemed co-ed.
“The anatomical differences of the greater male muscular strength are undeniable,” State Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge. “Consequently, it is an absurdity to expect sporting competitions involving speed, strength and endurance with males competing against females to be fair. It is (wrong) to take opportunities for scholarships away from young women.”
House Bill 2316 also creates a private cause of action for violations that deprive a student of an athletic opportunity or causes direct or indirect harm to students attending a public school or public charter school. The General Assembly passed legislation in 2021 to ensure that middle and high school students compete in athletic competitions that correspond with their sex at birth. House Bill 2316 establishes certain prohibitions for government entities, accrediting organization, and athletic associations.
Another bill also sponsored by Ragan requires funds to be withheld from a local school district for failure to restrict student athletics participation by sex. House Bill 1895 passed Thursday in the House chamber. For information about House Bill 1895, visit here. For information about House Bill 2316 here.
Legislation creates Institute of American Civics at University of Tennessee
Legislation creating the Institute for American Civics at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville advanced to the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee this week. House Bill 2157 aims to create greater understanding of the principles and philosophies that contributed to the founding of Tennessee and the United States.
“Our nation is exceptional and unlike any other because we were founded on the idea that all men are created equal,” Assistant Majority Leader Ron Gant, R-Piperton, said this week. “This institute will foster deeper understanding of our nation’s hard-fought, founding principles like our freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. We hope to advance those ideas by bringing people together and promoting pride in what it means to be an American.”
Gov. Bill Lee announced his plan for the institute as part of his budget proposal during his State of the State address on Jan. 31. Informed patriotism should stretch beyond the K-12 classroom and into higher education, the governor told members of the General Assembly. It will be located within the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.
“This will be a flagship for the nation - a beacon celebrating intellectual diversity at our universities and teaching how a responsible, civic-minded people strengthens our country and our communities,” Lee said.
Foreign powers have sought to influence students at American universities in recent decades. Confucius Institutes, which have ties to Communist regimes and backed by the Chinese government, were established at the University of Tennessee, Middle Tennessee State University and University of Memphis. All have since been phased out. The Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation in 2021 banning Confucius Institutes. More about House Bill 2157 can be found here.
House addresses nursing workforce needs in Tennessee
Legislation passed this week addressing nursing workforce needs in Tennessee. House Bill 2148 establishes the Tennessee Center for Nursing Advancement within East Tennessee State University. The center would be required to develop a statewide strategic plan for nursing personnel based on an analysis of workforce needs. It must also establish and maintain a database on nursing workforce needs such as recruitment, retention and utilization of nursing workforce resources.
An annual report on the plan would be required to be submitted each year beginning in 2023, according to the bill. A companion version of the legislation was also approved by the Senate chamber earlier this week. The bill now heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. Information about House Bill 2148 can be found here.
New law gives victims of abuse greater protections
The House chamber this week approved legislation that enhances protections for victims of abuse in Tennessee.
House Bill 2553 requires a sheriff, deputy sheriff or constable to check to see if an individual has an outstanding criminal warrant prior to serving them with an order of protection. If the individual does have a warrant, they must either be served the warrant or the agency holding the warrant must be notified of their location.
The legislation was prompted by the murder of Marie Varsos and her mother Deborah Sisco in April 2021. According to police, the two were killed at Sisco’s home in Wilson County by Marie’s estranged husband, who was later found dead from what authorities believe was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The couple were going through a divorce and Marie had obtained an order of protection shortly before the murders.
“These two women did everything that was required of them and depended on the system to protect them,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville. “We regret the loss of these two fine women and vow to better protect vulnerable citizens going forward with this piece of legislation.”
The Senate chamber approved a companion version of the legislation earlier this week. It will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. Information about House Bill 2553 can be found here.
The General Assembly protects landowners leasing property for solar farms
The House chamber this week unanimously passed legislation to protect landowners leasing property for solar farms. As the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) works toward its goal of producing 10,000 megawatts of solar by 2035 — a goal that will require roughly 80,000 acres of land — landowners across West Tennessee and beyond are being approached by prospective leasers.
“As we’ve seen rapid growth in the solar industry in recent years, this legislation comes from concerned landowners who are being approached by prospective leasers,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Chris Hurt, R-Halls. “We want to make sure there are protections and financial assurances for Tennessee landowners if and when these solar farms are decommissioned.”
House Bill 2056 requires grantees to remove the solar power facility when their lease ends and restore the land to as close as reasonably possible the condition it was in before the agreement. The plan for doing so must be outlined in a detailed report.
The bill also requires specific forms of financial assurance be included in the solar power facility agreement. It does not prohibit a local government from regulating solar power facilities pursuant to its zoning authority.
Hurt said the bill reflects a consensus between the Tennessee Farm Bureau and the Solar Energy Industries Association. The Senate companion version of the bill passed on March 7. The bill now heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature. More about House Bill 2056 can be found here.
Tennessee Abortion-Inducing Drug Risk Protocol Act advances
The House Health Committee this week advanced legislation that creates criminal and civil penalties for anyone who provides abortion-inducing drugs through telemedicine and subsequently supplies those drugs via courier, delivery or mail service. Abortions via mail have become increasingly common since the Federal Drug Administration approved telehealth and mail distribution of abortion-inducing drugs in 2020.
Current law in Tennessee already bans mail-order abortions. House Bill 2416 strengthens current law and patient safety measures by putting further restrictions on the use of telemedicine and courier delivery. The bill intends to keep patients from developing serious, life-threatening complications during an unsupervised chemical abortion at home.
House Bill 2416 creates a Class E felony for anyone who intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly violates this act. Failure to comply with this act provides a basis for a civil action against a healthcare provider. House Bill 2416 now heads to the Government Operations Committee for consideration. More about House Bill 2416 can be found here.
Unemployment rates drop in all 95 counties
Unemployment rates dropped in counties across Tennessee in February, according to new data released by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD) on March 31. Each of the state’s 95 counties saw lower unemployment during the second month of 2022. Ninety-one counties recorded a rate of less than 5 percent for February, while four counties had unemployment higher than 5 percent.
Moore County had Tennessee’s lowest unemployment rate in February at 1.8 percent. Williamson County had the state’s second-lowest rate for the month at 2 percent.
Cocke County had the highest jobless rate at 6.3 percent. Lake County had the next highest rate at 5.8 percent. Tennessee’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for February was 3.4 percent, a 0.1 of a percentage point drop from January’s rate of 3.5 percent.
The United States unemployment rate also dropped slightly in February. The nationwide seasonally adjusted rate fell by 0.2 of a percentage point to 3.8 percent. One year ago, the national jobless rate was 6.2 percent.
Analysis of the February county unemployment numbers for each county, including labor force estimates for areas across the state, can be found here. The entire Labor Force Estimates report for January 2022 can be found here.
U.S. House/Senate Residency Requirements
The Tennessee House of Representatives approved legislation on Monday that would add an immediate residency requirement for congressional candidates in the state once it is signed into law. House Bill 2764 requires a candidate for U.S. Senate to have lived in Tennessee for at least three years prior to the date of election in order to qualify as a candidate for the race. Candidates for U.S. House would have to live in the district they are seeking to represent for at least three years in order to qualify. The legislation will now go to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. It would take effect immediately. Information about House Bill 2764 can be found here.
Bill prohibits restriction on churches during emergencies
A bill that would prohibit restrictions on religious organizations during emergencies now heads to the governor’s desk for his approval. The House of Representatives passed House Bill 1137 last session and the bill got final approval in the Senate chamber last week. The legislation codifies the First Amendment by prohibiting the state, political subdivisions or a public official from limiting the lawful operations of a church or religious organization during a state of emergency or natural disaster. Information about House Bill 1137 can be found here.
Protecting online business reviews
Legislation to protect Tennessee businesses from false reviews online was approved by the House chamber on Monday. House Bill 1664 makes it a violation of the Consumer Protection Act of 1977 to post a factually false review about a business on the internet. Violation of the act is generally a Class B misdemeanor. A civil court could also award damages and attorney’s fees to a victim. A companion version of the legislation is making its way through committees in the Senate. Information about House Bill 1664 can be found here.
The House chamber approved legislation Monday to ensure that high school students in Tennessee are taught the benefits of America’s founding principles. House Bill 2742 requires students in grades 9-12 to be taught about the virtues of capitalism and the constitutional republic form of government as compared to other political and economic systems such as communism and socialism. A companion version of the legislation is making its way through committees in the Senate. Information about House Bill 2742 can be found 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 email@example.com. 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.