State Rep. Kelly Keisling: Capitol Hill Review
General Assembly confirms new Tennessee Supreme Court Justice
Members of the General Assembly confirmed the appointment of Sarah K. Campbell to the Tennessee Supreme Court in a joint session in the House Chamber on Thursday.
Sarah K. Campbell most recently served as Tennessee’s Associate Solicitor General and Special Assistant to the Attorney General. In that role, she represented the state before the Tennessee Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Courts of Appeals. She previously worked for Williams and Connolly LLP in Washington, D.C. While in D.C., she clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.
The vacancy on the Tennessee Supreme Court bench was created when Justice Cornelia Clark died in September. The General Assembly is required to confirm appointments for Supreme Court Justices per an amendment added to the state constitution in 2014. Justices are retained through a “yes” or “no” election every eight years.
Also on Thursday, the General Assembly confirmed the appointment of John W. Campbell to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals for the Western Section. Judge John W. Campbell has served as a criminal court judge for the 30th Judicial District for Shelby County since 2012 where he presided over more than 1,200 criminal cases each year. He fills a vacancy left by the retirement of the late Judge Alan E. Glenn on July 1, 2021.
Republican leaders introduce Truth in Sentencing Act of 2022
As part of ongoing efforts to improve public safety, Republican leaders this week introduced legislation that restructures Tennessee’s sentencing code. The Truth in Sentencing Act of 2022, House Bill 1025, aims to bring transparency to Tennessee’s criminal code so that sentences more accurately reflect actual time served. It will establish a clear period of incarceration that is communicated to all interested parties at the time of sentencing.
The state’s current sentencing guidelines were established under the Tennessee Criminal Sentencing Reform Act of 1989. Unless an offender receives life without parole, the time they’ll serve is based on a complex equation. On average, offenders currently only serve about a third of the time they’re sentenced to.
House Bill 1025 will preserve judicial discretion but will narrow sentencing ranges to reflect current state averages for most felony offenses. Tennessee’s most dangerous criminals – those convicted of murder, rape, sex trafficking and violent crimes against children - would continue to serve 100 percent of the maximum sentences without parole.
The proposal eliminates time off for good behavior and replaces it with an enhanced evidence-based system of rewards, programs and services during incarceration that will better prepare them to become contributing members of society upon release. This plan will preserve and enhance character-based, faith-based and job preparation work-release options inside and beyond prison walls. It will enable Tennessee’s prisons and communities to better rehabilitate and plan for an inmate’s release based on individual criminogenic risk factors that put them behind bars in the first place.
If it becomes law, House Bill 1025 would phase out parole. This will eliminate traumatic parole hearings victims currently endure every few years. Truth in sentencing will give the Tennessee Department of Corrections the discretion to evaluate an inmate’s risk factors to best determine how they will be supervised upon release after their full sentence has been served. House Bill 1025 advances now to the Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 16.
For more about House Bill 1025 visit here.
Bill would create task force, fund to address flooding statewide
Republicans have introduced legislation to help better address flooding issues in Tennessee.
House Bill 2516 would establish the Tennessee Flood Resilience and Community Preparedness Task Force, which would be responsible for developing policy reforms to protect lives and assets statewide by identifying current and future flood risks, prioritizing eligible flood mitigation projects and identifying funding opportunities. It would also create the Flood Resilience Reserve Fund to pay for the development, implementation and maintenance of a statewide flood risk reduction and resilience plan as well as for hazard mitigation and infrastructure improvements.
The legislation comes less than a year after catastrophic flooding killed 20 people and caused widespread property damage in Humphreys County last summer.
“My heart was broken over the 20 lives that were tragically lost last August,” said State Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, whose district includes Waverly and other areas affected by the flooding. “While positive steps are being taken by individual agencies and Governor Lee’s office, we need a collaborative, comprehensive statewide plan that ensures future resilience and mitigation efforts are effective and targeted to support our most at-risk communities. This bill initiates the planning process and will help us get our arms around the true risk we face as a state.”
A 2020 report from the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations found that flooding causes an average of $243 million in damages statewide each year.
There were 2,825 flood events across the state between 2000 and 2020 – an average of one every three days, according to data from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
More information about House Bill 2516 can be found here.
Republicans propose to expand free vehicle registration program for veterans
Republicans this session introduced two bills aimed at honoring U.S. military veterans for their sacrifice.
House Bill 2322 entitles disabled veterans to receive registration plates free of charge in Tennessee. The bill expands current law to include veterans who have a service-connected disability or a combined 100 percent total disability or impairment that hinders their capacity to work.
Another bill, House Bill 2045, entitles disabled veterans and Purple Heart recipients to have fees waived for title and memorial registration plates for two vehicles. State law currently only waives fees for one vehicle per qualified veteran.
“Our veterans have fought for our freedoms in deserts, jungles and beaches around the world so the rest of us can live in peace here at home,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern. “This is a small token of gratitude we can give to those who risked their lives and became disabled as a result of their service to our nation.”
Both proposals require qualifying veterans to show documentation from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs confirming their eligibility. For more about House Bill 2322 visit here. For more about House Bill 2045, visit here.
Proposal strengthens unlawful photography law
A proposal to expand the definition and punishment of unlawful photography in Tennessee will soon begin making its way through House committees.
House Bill 2459 clarifies that unlawful photography includes taking photos or recordings of unclothed intimate areas of a person’s body for the purpose of offending, intimidating, embarrassing or harassing them or for personal sexual arousal or gratification.
“The deliberate invasion of privacy can be humiliating for victims,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Iris Rudder, R-Winchester. “Strengthening this law will serve as a deterrent, but will also allow our justice system to fully punish those who intentionally stalk or harass others in this way.”
The bill clarifies that when an offender uses images for sexual gratification they will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor, a penalty that carries a possible sentence of 11 months, 29 days in jail and $2,500 fine. The proposal adds a Class B misdemeanor offense when an image is used for offending, intimidating, embarrassing or harassing a person. That crime carries a penalty of six months and a $500 fine.
Rudder introduced the bill after a teenager in Franklin County was secretly recorded by another student while undressed in a bathroom stall at school. The student shared the video on social media, but could not be criminally charged under current statute.
For more about House Bill 2459, visit here.
Legislation aims to boost Emergency Medical Service recruitment
Members of the General Assembly celebrated Emergency Medical Services Day at Capitol Hill in Nashville on Tuesday, Feb. 8.
Emergency medical personnel from around the state came to meet with legislators to discuss issues of importance related to their work. Many reported that ambulance services have seen a consistent workforce shortage before the pandemic, and that shortage has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Republican leaders this week introduced legislation that aims to boost recruitment of emergency medical occupations.
House Bill 1981 creates two new classifications within the emergency medical service system of licensure, certification and authorization. The first, EMS-A is designed to increase recruitment. It is a gateway position that allows new recruits to work for an ambulance service while working towards a license. They must meet all other requirements.
The second is an EMR, or emergency medical responder. This category is designed for a person who is licensed at a level below an EMT. An EMR can perform basic life support skills such as CPR, oxygen administration, limited medication administration, splinting/immobilization, and patient assessment.
These non-licensed and entry level operators will have no medical contact with patients above their scope, they will be accompanied by licensed personnel with appropriate medical training and they will be required to enter further training within 12 months.
Upon employment as in EMS-A or EMR, or licensure as in EMR, the employee has 12 months to enter into a higher level of training. To read more about House Bill 1981, visit here.
Agriculture and forestry had $78 billion economic impact in Tennessee in 2021
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee received an update this week on the state of the agriculture industry and soybean production in Tennessee.
Agriculture and forestry had an economic impact of $78 billion in Tennessee last year, according to Dr. Charlie Hatcher, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. The industry also accounts for 342,658 jobs statewide.
“Agriculture, including forestry, is the largest industry in the state by far,” Hatcher said. “It really got way above the hospitality industry because of the pandemic. It provides the food and fiber, and in some cases fuel, to Tennesseans every day.”
There are 69,500 farms in Tennessee, he added. The top commodities are soybeans, corn and cattle/calves.
Last year, there were 1.52 million acres of soybeans planted or harvested statewide, according to Parks Wells, executive director of the Tennessee Soybean Promotion Council. A total of 76 million bushels were produced.
“This year, we’re going to push toward $1 billion in production value,” Wells told members of the committee Wednesday.
In addition to being used in foods for both humans and animals, soybeans and the oil they produce are used in a variety of other products such as cleaners, motor oil, building materials, plastics, paints, asphalt and tires. Soybeans are also used in the production of clean fuels such as biodiesel and renewable diesel.
“This is going to replace a lot of diesel that burns dirtier,” Wells said. “It’s going to take away some of that carbon and it’s going to be really good for the country to go this way.”
As a whole, the agriculture industry faces “some real challenges” in the future as a result of supply chain issues and inflation, Hatcher added.
Lawmakers briefed on rising electric vehicle use in Tennessee
The House Appropriations Subcommittee received an update this week regarding the increased use of electric vehicles in Tennessee and the impact that could have on state gas tax collections.
There were 87,000 registered hybrid vehicles statewide as of June 30, according to David Gerregano, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue. The number of all electric vehicles had reached 12,000 as of Dec. 31 – a nearly 32 percent increase within six months.
“While plug-in hybrids were prevalent early on, we see that technology not growing much in the future,” said Shauna Basques of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC). “Most sales in the (electric vehicle) space are all electric and will like happen more in the future.”
Several members of the subcommittee questioned how the rise in electric vehicle use could impact revenue collections and the state budget in future years.
The state has a $0.26 per gallon tax on gasoline and a $0.27 per gallon tax on motor fuel/diesel. The revenue collected is split in varying amounts between cities and counties as well as the state’s general and highway funds.
Tennessee collected $835.7 million in gasoline taxes during the most recent budget year – an increase of 0.26 percent from the previous year, according to information from the state’s department of finance. Motor fuel/diesel tax collections fell slightly during the same time to a total of $307.25 million – a decrease of 0.7 percent.
While revenue growth is projected to increase during the next two years, Gerregano told subcommittee members that the department believes that collections will “flatten out” as electric vehicles become more popular.
Additional highlights from the meeting:
The current number of electric vehicles in Tennessee represents 0.2 percent of all vehicles statewide.
Electric vehicles on average can achieve in excess of 100 miles per gallon equivalent.
TDOT estimates there will be approximately 200,000 all electric vehicles in Tennessee by 2028.
The annual vehicle registration fee for non-electric and hybrid vehicles is $26.50 while the fee for electric vehicles is $126.50. The additional $100 is to account for the reduction in gas tax collections.
Of the gasoline tax collections, 60.5 percent goes to the highway fund, 25.4 percent goes to counties, 12.7 percent goes to cities and 1.4 percent goes to the state’s general fund.
Of the motor fuel/diesel tax collections, 73.1 percent goes to the highway fund, 17.4 percent goes to counties, 8.7 percent goes to cities and 0.8 percent goes to the state’s general fund.
The state department of revenue estimates a 5 percent increase in gasoline tax collections during the current fiscal year and a 1 percent increase the following year.
State motor fuel/diesel tax collections are expected to increase 2.4 percent during the current fiscal year followed by a 1.8 percent increase the following year.
TDEC and TVA signed an agreement last year to collaborate and fund a publicly accessibly light duty EV fast charging network along interstates and select U.S. and state highways. The Fast Charge Tennessee Network will add approximately 50 new charging locations statewide. The estimated cost of the project is $20 million and will be split between TDEC, TVA and other potential program partners.
TDEC also announced a partnership last year with electric vehicle automaker and automotive technology company Rivian to install Rivian Waypoint Level 2 charging stations at all 56 state parks in Tennessee. While EV charging will initially be free, any potential future cost to drivers may be dependent on systemwide utilization of the network to recover electricity costs.
“I’ll Leave My Heart in Tennessee” added as new state song
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives unanimously approved House Bill 1731 on Thursday to add “I’ll Leave My Heart in Tennessee” to the list of officially recognized state songs. The song was written by Karen Staley and performed by the group Dailey & Vincent. The legislation now heads to the Senate for approval. To read more about House Bill 1731 visit here.
Other state songs by year of adoption:
“My Homeland, Tennessee” – Written by Nell Grayson Taylor, music by Roy Lamont Smith. Adopted in 1925.
“When It's Iris Time in Tennessee” – Written by Willa Waid Newman. Adopted in 1935.
“My Tennessee” – Written by Frances Hannah Tranum. Adopted in 1955 as the official public school song.
“Tennessee Waltz” – Written by Redd Stewart, composed by Pee Wee King. Adopted in 1965.
“Rocky Top” – By Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. Adopted in 1982.
“Tennessee” – By Vivian Rorie. Adopted in 1992.
“The Pride of Tennessee” – By Fred Congdon, Thomas Vaughn and Carol Elliot. Adopted in 1996.
“Smoky Mountain Rain” – Written by Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan. Adopted in 2010.
“Tennessee” – Written by John R. Bean of Knoxville. Adopted in 2011.
“Amazing Grace” – Written by John Newton. Adopted in 2021.
“A Tennessee Bicentennial Rap: 1796-1996” – By Joan Hill Hanks of Signal Mountain. The General Assembly adopted the song in 1996 as the Official Bicentennial Rap song though the song is not an official state song.
Date for Ag Day on the Hill Announced
The 2022 Tennessee Ag Day on the Hill will be held Tuesday, March 22 at the Beth Harwell Plaza.