Tennessee Representative Curtis Johnson
Highlights focus on education, public safety, more efficient government
Nashville, TN – With the Second Regular Session of the 109th Tennessee General Assembly now in full swing, lawmakers are busy in Nashville meeting with constituents and colleagues, voting on legislation on the House floor, and working to shepherd their bills through the legislative committee process.
As House business continues at full-speed, Governor Haslam is also working on his legislative agenda, notifying lawmakers he will focus his efforts this year on making improvements to state education and public safety policies, while also working to make government more efficient and effective.
On Monday, February 1st, lawmakers head from Governor Haslam as part of his State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature.
During this televised speech, the Governor unveiled his full legislative agenda for the year, and legislators and the public will received details about his proposed state budget.
So far, the Governor has revealed these areas to focus his attention
- The Focus On College and University Success (FOCUS) Act is the next step in the Drive to 55 and seeks to ensure Tennessee’s public colleges and universities have the tools they need to increase the number of Tennesseans with a college or technical degree to 55 percent by 2025. The legislation provides more focused support for the state’s 13 community and 27 technical colleges, increases educational autonomy by creating local boards for Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University, and the University of Memphis, and strengthens the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
- The Public Safety Act of 2016 is the initial step in implementing recommendations by the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism. Of the 12,588 people entering state prison last year, 5,061 — or 40 percent — were probationers or parolees sent to prison because they violated supervision conditions. The bill retools community supervision to reduce the number of people returning to prison for probation and parole violations. This legislation also addresses the most serious offenses driving Tennessee’s violent crime rate by setting up mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of three or more charges of aggravated burglary and drug trafficking, and increases the penalty for three or more domestic violence convictions to a Class E felony. The legislation would also allow law enforcement to seek an order of protection on a domestic violence victim’s behalf.
- To address concerns raised regarding the selling of human fetal tissue brought to light in 2015 by some organizations, the Fetal Remains Act requires increased reporting of the disposition of fetal remains, prohibits reimbursement of any costs associated with shipping an aborted fetus or fetal remains, and establishes a mandatory assessment process for an ambulatory surgical treatment center performing more than 50 abortions annually.
- The Efficiency in Handgun Permitting Act improves the process for gun owners and lowers the fee associated with obtaining a handgun carry permit. It extends the current five-year handgun carry permit to eight years, lowers the initial handgun permit fee from $115 for five years to $100 for eight years, and expands the renewal cycle from six months to eight years after the expiration of a permit before a person must reapply as a “new” applicant. Under this proposal, background checks will continue to be conducted at the time of initial issuance and at the time of renewal. Additionally, an internal background check will be conducted in the fourth year of the eight-year permit.
A total of 42 bills have been filed on behalf of the administration, but the above pieces of legislation represent the governor’s priorities.
Comptroller Addresses House Finance, Ways And Means Committee
Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson appeared before the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee this week urging state lawmakers to look to the future when deciding how to spend state funds and excess state revenues. In his quarterly report to the Legislature, the comptroller echoed Treasurer David Lillard’s testimony last week, saying the state is in good, strong fiscal condition.
At the same time, the comptroller reminded the committee that spending decisions may have long-term consequences and adherence to sound budgetary practices reduces the likelihood of significant cuts to government services and tax increases to close budget deficits in future years.
The report was delivered just days before Governor Bill Haslam is scheduled to present his 2016-2017 budget to a joint convention of the General Assembly on Monday.
The state collected about $353 million over budget estimates for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, which ended in July. Similarly, the State Funding Board met in November and projected that revenues could grow by up to $348 million during the current 2015-2016 fiscal year.
“This year’s revenue projections are quite positive,” Wilson said. “Tennessee has the rare opportunity – both through the legislature and the executive branch – to make structural improvements and reforms. These reforms will benefit the people of Tennessee by providing stability, predictability and risk avoidance for decades to come, without a fiscal crisis. To do this, the state must continue to emphasize efficiency in its operations and avoid budgetary decisions that make commitments for future years without the recurring funds to pay for them.”
Wilson recommended putting about $75 million of the excess funds to increase Tennessee’s Rainy Day Fund, the reserves which serve as the state’s financial safety net in the event of a downturn in the economy. The fund for the current budget year is $568 million, still short of the state’s pre-recession year level of $750 million in 2008. He said adequate reserves are a key component of the state’s fiscal integrity and critical to keep Tennessee’s AAA bond rating.
He also suggested use of the available funds to increase government efficiency, reduce future costs and lower the risk of catastrophic loss through appropriation of information technology, cybersecurity, overdue capital maintenance and infrastructure. Wilson urged committee members to take care to ensure any new budgetary commitments are financially sustainable, saying the state’s fiscal history offers numerous examples of the serious problems that arise when recurring expenses are paid with nonrecurring funds.
General Assembly Adopts Judicial Confirmation Plan
The Senate and House of Representatives have adopted a conference committee report on Senate Bill 1 which puts into place a framework on how the state’s appellate judges should be confirmed or rejected under the new constitutional mandate adopted by voters in 2014.
Under the agreement, the Senate Judiciary Committee and its House counterpart will each hold a meeting to hear from the appointee. Following the hearing the committee will vote to recommend confirmation or rejection of the appointee to the full Senate. Next, the Senate and House of Representatives will meet in joint session to either confirm or reject the governor’s appointee.
If both chambers vote to confirm, the appointee is confirmed. If both chambers vote to reject, the appointee is rejected. Also, one chamber may reject the appointee by a two thirds vote.
On January 7th, Governor Bill Haslam appointed Judge Roger Page of Jackson to the Tennessee Supreme Court, replacing Justice Gary Wade, who retired in September. Upon being signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam, the process laid out in the bill will be used when lawmakers consider his nomination.