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Written by Curtis Johnson
Nashville, TN – The first session of the 110th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned on May 10th, 2017, after passing major legislation that will benefit Tennesseans for generations to come. This is Part 10 of a 12 Part report.
This includes a measure making Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college; a new law rebuilding a safe and reliable transportation network, while reallocating revenues to maximize taxpayers’ return on that investment; and a bill which provides a responsible path to improve access to broadband through investment, deregulation, and education.
Action in the General Assembly also included passage of a balanced budget which takes on no new debt, as well as legislation protecting the elderly, enhancing the state’s robust job growth, cracking down on crime, and boosting efforts as the fastest improving state in the nation in K-12 student achievement. Following is a report on key legislation passed this year.
Consumers / Consumer Safety
Consumer Protection / Automobiles
Among bills aiding Tennessee consumers passed by the General Assembly this year is one that protects consumers from purchasing a used automobile that has been recalled and is unsafe to drive.
Also called the “Motor Vehicle Recall and Disclosure Law,” the legislation prescribes that any vehicle deemed unsafe by the Highway Safety Administration to drive is too dangerous to be sold until properly repaired by the dealer. It also provides that after 30 days of waiting for a repair part, the manufacturer must pay a one percent monthly payment to the dealer based on the average trade in value of the vehicle being withheld from sale.
Consumers / Spoofing
State lawmakers gave final approval to legislation that creates a consumer protection violation for someone who employs caller identification (ID) spoofing technology with the intent to defraud or cause harm to another person, or to wrongfully obtain anything of value. Spoofing technology allows a person, when making a call or sending a text message, to change the number so that it appears on the recipient’s caller ID that it is different from the one that is being used.
It is often used as part of an attempt to trick someone into giving away valuable personal information so it can be used in fraudulent activity or sold illegally. This new statute creates a Class A misdemeanor for spoofing, as well as allowing for spoofing victims and the state’s Attorney General to pursue civil actions against offenders.
Consumers / Home Construction Contractors
Legislation passed during the 2017 legislative session expanding a 2010 law protecting homeowners from unscrupulous home improvement contractors. The 2010 law created a consumer protection remedy for homeowners who contract for home improvement services when the service provider has the intent to defraud. The new law passed this year adds new home construction contractors to that consumer protection statute.
Consumers / Tennessee Uniform Unclaimed Property Act
A new statute was enacted during the first half of the 110th General Assembly that modernizes current unclaimed property laws, addressing new types of property and changes in technology. The act will reduce the general abandonment period for property from five to three years, allowing the state to begin searching for rightful owners sooner than before. It also increases efficiency by allowing the State Treasurer to directly return unclaimed property belonging to governmental entities without a claim having to be filed.
House Bill 420 / / Status: PC 457 / Effective Date: For the purpose of rulemaking, this act shall take effect upon becoming a law on May 25th, 2017. For all other purposes, this act shall take effect on July 1st, 2017.
Another consumer bill passed this year removes the social security number contained on the permanent identification device attached to a decedent’s body prior to placing them in a casket or entombment to deter identity theft.
Safety / Amusement Park Rides
Legislation to provide greater safety for amusement park rides in Tennessee has been signed into law. The measure comes after two accidents occurred in Tennessee last year, including one in Memphis when eight people were taken to the hospital after a carnival ride malfunctioned and was prematurely shut down at the Delta Fair.
The other accident occurred at the Greene County Fair where three girls fell 35 to 40 feet when a basket overturned on a Ferris wheel resulting in serious injuries.
The legislation addresses safety issues on the front end with increased inspections and oversight of the devices, while strengthening standards for device operators and requiring a prominent display of proof of inspection. To accomplish the inspections, the bill allows the Department of Labor and Workforce Development to continue either their current practice of using qualified, third party device inspectors, or they can employ their own inspectors.
The new statute also requires that an operator of an amusement device must be competent, 16 years of age, operating only one device at a time, and that they must be present while the ride is engaged. In addition, it authorizes persons injured in accidents to bring a cause of action against the owners and operators of these amusement devices.
Several bills were passed during the 2017 legislative session to provide aid to victims of the Sevier County wildfires that burned more than 17,000 acres and damaged or destroyed some 2,460 structures. The fires stared at a one-and-one-half acre site on the Chimney Tops trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park before spreading due to a perfect storm of dangerous circumstances, including drought-like conditions, unusually strong winds, and low humidity.
Sevier County Wildfires
Legislation which helps the City of Gatlinburg and Sevier County rebound from the devastating November wildfires received final approval. The new law allows local governments to go on private property at the request of the property owner to clean up debris after a national disaster upon the local governing body adopting a plan for providing assistance.
The action will help Gatlinburg receive reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to clean up debris on private residential property that is not low income, elderly, or disabled owned. Passage of this bill will allow the city of Gatlinburg to clean up all private residences in a declared FEMA disaster area. This measure assists in the clean-up effort and helps the city to get reimbursement from FEMA.”
Wildfires / Disasters / Property Tax Relief
Legislation was passed which gives victims of the wildfires and tornadoes which ravaged Tennessee this fall a measure of property tax relief. It allows a local governing body, by a two-thirds vote, to provide tax relief on real and personal property damaged by the wildfire.
The legislation calls for prorating the 2016 tax assessment for a homeowner’s real property or business owner’s personal property, if the property was damaged by 50 percent or more in a disaster certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) between September 1st and December 30th, 2016. If the tax computed for the 2016 tax year has been paid prior to the proration, the victim would receive a refund under the bill. The legislation is retroactive to January 1st, 2016.
Sevier County Wildfires
A new law has been signed which utilizes the cities’ “premier resort” status under Tennessee law to allow Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge to retain an additional amount of the state sales tax revenue by removing the cap for four fiscal years beginning July 1st, 2017, and ending June 30th, 2021. It also raises the amount of sales tax relief provided to those who are rebuilding their home from $2,500 to $3,500 and extends it to secondary residences.
Recognizing Victims / Appreciation for Assistance
In addition, the General Assembly approved a resolution that recognizes the victims of the Sevier County wildfires and expressing appreciation to those who provided assistance.
House Joint Resolution 23 / Signed by Gov. on January 20th, 2017.
Property / Agriculture / Environment / Recreational
In addition to providing funds to help expand broadband to unserved or remote areas, Tennessee lawmakers passed several laws this year to help rural communities.
The 2017-2018 state budget provides $10 million in grants that will greatly benefit rural communities. In addition, it contains $21.7 million for rural development and $52.4 million for state parks, which are mostly located in rural communities.
Farm Property / Inequitable Taxation
The General Assembly voted this year to ensure that agricultural property is not reclassified as commercial for the purpose of property tax assessment. Article 2, Section 28 of the Tennessee Constitution requires farm property to be assessed at 25 percent of its value.
The legislation comes after reports of agricultural properties being reclassified as commercial real property, which is assessed at 40 percent of its value. This measure ensures that both the letter and spirit of Tennessee law and the State Constitution are followed to protect farmers from inequitable taxation.
A new law was passed this year that broadens the definition of industrial hemp. The new definition includes the whole plant extract, whether in the manufacturing process or reconstituted, and requires that industrial hemp license and permit fees are calculated in the same manner as other fees for programs administered by the Department of Agriculture. It also expands the seed and propagule sourcing beyond certified varieties to feral varieties, as long as plants remain below THC levels (<0.3 percent) qualifying as industrial hemp.
The measure also allows for the sale of non-certified industrial hemp seed in Tennessee and provides the Department of Agriculture with authority to register and track, as well as establish fees to administer the industrial hemp pilot program.
Tennessee-based Agricultural Products
In action on agriculture, legislation was approved to help encourage the growing and selling of Tennessee-based agricultural products. The legislation exempts small food manufacturers, or domestic kitchens, from licensing and inspection if they meet certain criteria. It includes kitchens which have no full-time regular employees and who sell direct retail products which are properly labeled and are non-hazardous.
The “eat locally produced food” movement has encouraged many individuals to produce food items that were not economically feasible previously. The businesses affected are typically very small start-up companies that would be encouraged to grow without unnecessary fees.
The size of these businesses and the type of food most often produced poses little health risk compared to the cost of inspecting and licensing them. This new law will allow for growth of small business start-ups in Tennessee’s rural communities across the state.
Agriculture is one of the top industries in Tennessee, contributing more than $70 billion a year to the state’s economy and employing more than 340,000 citizens. The state has more than 66,000 farms representing 10.8 million acres.
Community Gardening Act / Honey Bees
In addition, the General Assembly passed a new law that adds beekeeping to practices included in the Tennessee Community Gardening Act in a proactive measure that allows for the urban gardening of honey bees.
Since 1987, there is no longer a feral population of honey bees in Tennessee; therefore, pollination relies solely on the managed colonies. Due to this decline, the state is currently at around seven percent of the number of honey bees and 37 percent of the number of colonies needed to optimally pollinate. In order to ensure the survival of colonies, beekeepers must monitor their colonies for pesticides, treat diseases, and use local, acclimated stock when an issue arises to breed for resistant bees.
Private Property / No Trespassing
State lawmakers voted this year to authorize property owners to replace no trespassing signs on their land with purple paint markings on trees. Under the new statute, a sign must be posted in a visible region on the property explaining the use of purple paint. The use of purple paint to signify no trespassing regions is used in many other states. It is also a favorable method considering the inexpensive cost and minimal damage to trees and other posts where signs would be placed.
Property Rights / Eminent Domain
Among property rights legislation passed this year is a bill that prohibits local government from condemning private land to be used for an industrial park and citing the justification for condemnation as being for public use unless certain circumstances are met.
Legislation was approved this year regarding wind turbines and their impact on Tennessee communities and surrounding property owners. It creates a moratorium on wind turbines until July 1st, 2018, and forms a joint legislative study committee to evaluate and make recommendations to the General Assembly relative to their placement in the future. The six-member joint legislative study committee will report their findings by January 1st, 2018.
Key legislation which builds a new infrastructure to help promote the recreational use of Tennessee’s world famous Ocoee River has passed the 110th General Assembly. The measure supports a new direction in Ocoee River management, marked by updated interagency agreements and a commercial-use permitting program administered by Tennessee State Parks.
The Ocoee River, which is recognized by outdoor enthusiasts as one of the best whitewater rafting locations in the world, was the kayaking venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics based in Atlanta, Georgia. The whitewater industry generates about $44 million in economic activity to the Southeast Tennessee area according to a study conducted by the University of Tennessee five years ago.
In 1983, Congress passed a law enabling a contract between the state of Tennessee and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to provide reliable recreational releases from the Ocoee #2 Power Project for 116 days per year. That contract is set to expire in March 2019, with the last recreational release occurring in October 2018.
This legislation gives the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) full regulatory authority over the Ocoee River Management Zone to encourage economic growth and to support recreational water releases. Presently, the Ocoee River Management Zone is owned by TVA and the U.S. Forest Service, with management provided by the TDEC through agreements with the agencies.
This legislation creates the Ocoee River Recreation and Economic Development Fund (ORREDF). The fund will support management of the area by the Tennessee State Parks, with commercial outfitters paying a portion of the revenues generated to cover the state’s expenses such as site maintenance, emergency response, law enforcement and traffic management.
ORREDF will condense three existing fees owed by Polk County, TDEC, and the TVA into one management fee that will be paid into the trust fund created by the legislation, simplifying the business environment for rafting businesses.
The bill also establishes an 11-member ORREDF board made up of interested parties in Southeast Tennessee, as well as state government, to allocate money from the fund to reimburse TDEC for management, build new infrastructure and to promote the region.
Game and Fish Laws
The General Assembly passed a new statute this year that authorizes the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission to set by rule or proclamation the size, type, placement, and inspection requirement on traps used for taking animals instead of rules being set by statute.
TopicsAmusement Park, Congress, Curtis Johnson, Eminent Domain, FEMA, Gatlinburg TN, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Honey Bees, ID Spoofing, Identity Theft, Industrial Hemp, Motor Vehicle Recall and Disclosure Law, Nashville TN, National Highway Safety Administration, Ocoee River, Pigeon Forge TN, Polk County, property tax relief, Sevier County, TDEC, Tennessee, Tennessee Community Gardening Act, Tennessee Constitution, Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission, Tennessee General Assembly, Tennessee State Parks, Tennessee State Representative, Tennessee Uniform Unclaimed Property Act, Tennessee Valley Authority, TVA, U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Forest Service, University of Tennessee, Wildfires
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