The House GOP Review is a weekly feature that gives Tennesseans an in-depth look at what our Republican state legislators have been working on this week, and a glimpse into what’s planned for the coming week at our state house
DUI package delayed by committee
The Criminal Practice and Procedure Subcommittee considered DUI bills this week, many of which were proposals rolled out by Republicans at the beginning of session as part of a comprehensive package to discourage drunk driving in Tennessee. Although they were pleased that some elements of the package received the committee’s approval, GOP leaders were disappointed as some of the proposals were delayed or effectively killed. Some of these elements may have hope with other sponsors, but the Republicans stressed that each portion of the comprehensive package is crucial to solving the problem and saving lives.
Among the proposals that were granted approval by the subcommittee were versions of the automatic license revocation and use of the ignition interlock devices.A Republican sponsored version of a bill that would increase the penalty for vehicular homicide as a result of the driver’s intoxication also cleared the subcommittee and will next be heard in the full Judiciary Committee. The GOP is hopeful that the package will not be passed piecemeal but instead will pass as a comprehensive effort—something they argue is vital to the safety of Tennessee’s roads.
Republican leaders announced in January that they would sponsor a comprehensive approach to combat drunk driving in the state of Tennessee. Among the proposals in the multi-faceted approach were automatic license revocation, a greater use of ignition interlock devices, a ban on open containers, and tougher penalties against repeat offenders and for those who refuse to take the BAC test.
Election bills move forward
Several election bills saw passage this week that will improve and ensure the quality and integrity of elections.
House Bill 3115 passed the House floor on Monday with a unanimous vote and would place safeguards around citizens’ sensitive voter information held by state and local governments. The sponsor touted the bill as a measure that would create safeguards and procedures for ensuring that confidential information regarding citizens is securely protected on all laptop computers and other removable storage devices. The bill has already passed the Senate, and will now face the Governor for a signature to become law.
The sponsor assured House members that the proposal’s costs were insignificant, and could even save money in the future. Passing the measure was particularly timely. Over the Christmas holiday in 2007, a laptop was stolen from the Davidson County Election Commission’s offices in Nashville. The missing laptop contained names, addresses, phone numbers and about 337,000 voters’ Social Security numbers. In the wake of the theft, questions were raised as to the strength of the security of the sensitive information.
Another election bill that saw passage this week was one that will prohibit a member of a county election commission or the state election commission from participating in the management or leadership of a political party or a candidate’s campaign. The Republican sponsor said the bill would ensure that the process was fair and would re-establish voter confidence in the election process. The bill, House Bill 1442, passed out of the State and Local Government Committee this week.
In the same vein, House Bill 1279 would require the state coordinator of elections to enter into agreements with other states for the purpose of comparing voter data to identify duplicate voter registrations. The bill passed out of a subcommittee this week, with the Republican sponsor informing the committee that when Kentucky compared their voter rolls with neighboring states, 8,000 duplicates were discovered.
Lastly, a bill that would require voting systems to produce paper versions of any ballot cast passed out of Elections subcommittee as well. House Bill 1282 would require the paper ballot in order to ensure the integrity of recounts, contests or random samplings to reduce voter fraud. The Republican sponsor stated that the measure would further guarantee voter confidence in the system if a voter knew their vote could not be manipulated. The bill will next face the State and Local Government Committee.
Republicans sponsor open government proposals
This week Republican leaders demonstrated the Taxpayer Transparency in Government Act, a measure that would make the state’s budget more open and accessible to the general public. Republican members gathered to discuss the possibility of Tennessee developing a website similar to one run by the federal government and other states including Kansas, Texas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. The Taxpayer Transparency in Government Act would establish a free, easy-to-use, searchable website that allows users to instantly explore state government revenue and expenditures.
The best sites allow taxpayers to search revenue and expenditures by agency, fund, program, object (such as grants or contracts), and vendor. Details on payees include the name, address, document, number, processing date, and the amount. The majority of these states were able to produce their sites at little or no extra cost to the state.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Republican leaders explored Kansas’s website to help demonstrate how effective the site can be for citizens. The bill’s sponsors believe that Tennessee taxpayers deserve to know where their tax dollars are going. The Taxpayer Transparency in Government Act is a major step toward fulfilling this belief.
In the same spirit, a bill that proposes to harness technology for the purpose of opening the government process to the public successfully passed out of committee this week. The bill would allow elected bodies to set up websites where they can instant message one another. The “conversations” would be available for the public and the media’s viewing. House Bill 2750 moves to the Finance, Ways and Means Committee next week.
- House Bill 4066 cleared a House subcommittee this week. The bill, a long-time Republican Caucus initiative, would increase the maximum number of employees allowed under the Tennessee Small Employer Group Health Coverage Reform Act. The act provides a mechanism to make accident and health insurance available to small employers. Currently, only small businesses with 25 employees or less are eligible for the program. House Bill 4066 would increase that number to 50.
- House Bill 3891 successfully cleared the State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday. The bill, which was filed before the devastating tornados that swept though Tennessee, would allow TEMA to establish and administer a grant program to assist in the partial reimbursement of installation costs for safe rooms and in-ground shelters.
- A proposal that would have protected the right of business owners to require English on the job failed this week in the Employee Affairs Subcommittee, despite having passed on the Senate floor unanimously. The English in the Workplace Act, similar to that of Senator Lamar Alexander’s on the federal level, would simply have clarified that it is not against the law for businesses to require that English be spoken on the job.
- House Bill 1993 passed out of the committee system this week and will now be heard on the House floor. The bill changes the term for medical malpractice lawsuits to “health care liability action.” A health care liability action would include any lawsuit alleging injury related to the provision or failure to provide health care services, which names as a defendant a health care provider, health care facility, or employee of a health care provider.
The Week Ahead…
- House Bill 3661 creates within the TBI a “Repeat DUI Offender” registry of persons who have two or more DUI convictions and whose license is currently suspended or revoked. (Judiciary)
- House Bill 0852 rewrites the offense of leaving the scene of an accident to increase penalties depending upon culpability of driver, degree of harm, and the location of the accident. (Judiciary)
- House Bill 3069 provides that no penalty may be imposed for non-payment of traffic citation, based solely upon a violation recorded by surveillance camera, unless the citation is sent by certified mail. (Transportation)
- House Bill 4029 creates a pilot program to make laptops available to juniors in high school. (Education)
- House Bill 3059 creates a Class B misdemeanor offense of consuming alcoholic beverages while driving a motor vehicle on a public highway and a Class C misdemeanor offense of possessing an open container of an alcoholic beverage within the passenger area of a motor vehicle on a public highway. (State & Local)
- House Bill 3774 removes the prohibition on authorizing cyber-based public charter schools. (Education)