Legislative Update, February 4, 2017

Tennessee General Assembly information, click HERE. For information on State Senators, including phone numbers and email addresses, click HERE; for House members, click HERE. For information on legislation, click HERE.
Don't forget that you can now watch the Senate committee meetings and floor sessions online by going HERE; House committee meetings and floor sessions online HERE.
Phone calls can go to the legislative Switchboard at 615-741-3011 or to the Toll Free number 1-800-449-8366+1 last four digits of office phone number (available online).

“I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.” Ronald Reagan

Please be in prayer for the wife of Rep. Harry Brooks.  He mentioned on the house floor this week that she had been very ill.  Also, just as among other Tennesseans, there is upper respiratory problems and some pneumonia at the Plaza.  It being as closed in as it is, during session, it becomes like a big 'petri dish' of germs of various kinds.

Our first official day at Legislative plaza was filled with excitement. As Ms. Bobbie says, the beast had gotten up and started working. Before we started  Ms. Bobbie briefed me on who we would meet including Senator Mark Green. After she told me amazing things about the Senator, I was eager to meet him. Senator Green was so down to earth, and I really enjoyed my time with him.

This last Wednesday at the Legislature was a surprisingly slow day. It was TSU day on the hill so the halls were filled with members and students of TSU. As we walked around the halls to visit various people, several told me I am very lucky to be interning for Mrs. Bobbie and that I am being taught by a master which were all very true statements. We ran into former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey before the Senate Education committee where they were having a confirmation hearing of the people on the state university board of East Tennessee State University. I am looking forward to the busy days at the Legislature ahead.


Haslam proposes expanded free tuition plan, $37B budget in ‘State of the State’ speech
(Note: Full text of the governor’s speech is HERE.)
News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – In his seventh State of the State address to the General Assembly, Gov. Bill Haslam introduced his proposal to make Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all Tennessee adults without a degree access to community college tuition-free – and at no cost to taxpayers.
If the Tennessee Reconnect Act is approved, Tennessee would become the first state in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school students and adults – the chance to earn a post-secondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees.
“Just as we did with Tennessee Promise, we’re making a clear statement to families: wherever you might fall on life’s path, education beyond high school is critical to the Tennessee we can be,” Haslam said. “At the end of the day, there is no higher potential for providing more opportunity for our citizens than increasing access to high quality education. And the point is, we’re doing it while maintaining discipline and responsibility to the taxpayer – keeping taxes and debt low and saving for when the economy ultimately slows.”
Launched in 2013, the Drive to 55 is the governor’s effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025. Currently, Tennessee needs 871,000 post-secondary degrees or certificates to reach 55 percent, but mathematically there’s no way to reach that goal by only serving high school students. There are 900,000 adults in Tennessee that have some college but no degree


Observations: Regardless of how this is presented, I do not see any way that it can be a quid pro quo and I don't see any way that, for legislators who might 'vote to raise the gas tax', that they will not draw opponents in 2018. Remember, some years ago, one of the issues that caused the defeat of many incumbents was support for the income tax legislation. Another HUGE flaw in the proposal is the plan to align it to the Consumer Price Index, meaning that the tax will increase as the CPI goes up without an additional action of the legislature. I also cannot believe that the companies that have to pay 12cents more per gallon of diesel will just 'eat' that increase but will pass it on to buyers of their goods and services.So stay tuned.

Tennessee House GOP pursues anything-but-gas-tax-increase plans for road funding
January 24th, 2017 by Andy Sher
NASHVILLE — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to raise Tennessee's gas tax for the first time in more than 27 years is causing a political traffic jam among GOP lawmakers who are competing to offer anything-but-an-increase alternatives.
The state ranks fifth nationwide in terms of years spent with no fuel-levy boost.
Majority House Republicans said there will definitely be several counters to Haslam's proposed Improve Act, which seeks to boost highway funding in a state that has $6 billion in previously approved projects awaiting action and another $4.5 billion in projects on the drawing board, some of which face up to a half-century wait for funding.
Haslam is calling for lawmakers to increase the state's 21.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax by 7 cents to 28.4 cents, while boosting the 18.4-cents-per-gallon diesel tax by 12 cents to 30.4 cents.
Haslam said the fuel tax hikes will generate $227.8 million. Along with several other fee or tax increases, including a $5 increase in vehicle registration fees, the administration projects it would have $278 million more to begin attacking the state's estimated $10.5 billion backlog of road and highway projects that the governor maintains are necessary to keep Tennessee moving forward.
At the same time, to placate fellow Republicans' concerns about surpluses in other taxes that support Tennessee's general fund that pays for most functions outside the highway fund, Haslam has proposed $270 million in cuts.
House Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin, said "there's a whole host of things being proposed" by his fellow Republicans "to capture $300 million so Tennessee can build more roads."
He predicted that, regardless of how it all shakes out, "we're going to see something come out of the House."
The list includes diverting a portion of the state's 7 percent sales tax — about a quarter percentage point — to transportation funding to replace Haslam's proposal.


The Hawk option: No gas tax hike, just send sales tax money to roads
Two top House Republican leaders on Wednesday countered Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed gas tax increases with an alternative plan that calls for diverting money from the state’s existing 7 percent sales tax base to fund needed road improvements, reports the Times-Free Press.

“A quarter percent of one percent of those funds [we] would simply allocate to transportation funding needs,” said Assistant Majority Leader David Hawk, R-Greeneville, who unveiled the plan at a news conference with Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin.
Haslam’s plan seeks to raise the existing 21.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax by 7 cents and the 18.4 cents diesel tax by 12 cents. He says the hikes are necessary to tackle the state’s estimated $10.5 billion backlog of nearly 1,000 transportation projects.
Fuel tax increases, the first since 1989, would raise an estimated $227.8 million for state needs and another $117.1 million for cities and counties under statutory sharing provisions.
Other aspects of Haslam’s plan include raising vehicle registration fees and imposing a $100 annual fee on electric vehicles. That raises an additional $51 million for a total of $278.5 million for state projects.


Ramsey signs up to advise coalition pushing gas tax hike
Recently retired Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is joining the newly created Advisory Council of the Transportation Coalition of Tennessee, reports the Nashville Post — presumably to help the promotion of Gov. Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, which includes a gas tax hike.

Rumors have been swirling that Ramsey would be working as a “consultant” on occasion during session, possibly in advance of setting up shop as a registered lobbyist next year, after the one-year cooling off period has ended. And now he’s advising a group pushing for an increase in the state’s transportation funding — some with very vested interests in seeing more new roads built.


Well, as you can clearly see, it appears that Tennessee has become the epicenter of the push for an Article V Constitution Convention.
If you have been a subscriber or follower of Eagle Forum for any length of time you KNOW that we have opposed the effort for many years. In 2010, we were even able to REPEAL all the 'calls' for a Convention that had been passed by the TN legislature in the 1970s. My how things have changed in six years. (Actually the first supportive Convention bill was passed in 2014.) 

I truly understand the hearts of those TN legislators who are horrified when they look at what has happened at the Federal level under both Democratic and Republican majorities.  I am horrified too! I know that they see this as the perhaps the last chance to 'do something' to impact the overreach and control that the Federal government has exerted. I get that and I understand! I also understand that supporters are convinced that these 'controlling' bills will assure that nothing untoward will happen. However, despite all the 'assurances' we are getting, since we have never had a national amending convention, we still don't know for sure. It is also important to know that there are folks at the national level and in other states whose desires do not seem to be so honorable.

I still have a question for legislators that I can never seem to get an answer to:  Over 40% of Tennessee's budget comes from the federal government.  If we are REALLY serious about balancing the budget, which of the programs are you willing to refuse?

We remain opposed to a Convention and we maintain that we DO NOT had a deficient Constitution, but a DERELICT Congress.

The other thing I learned this week is that there is now a disagreement among Conventions supporters about how to move ahead.  We will have to see how that works out, or not.

SB 0031 by *Kelsey,(HB 0093) by *Powers
Constitutional Conventions - As introduced, removes limitation on the number of delegates that may be appointed to a constitutional convention. - Amends TCA Title 3, Chapter 18.
STATUS SB31 is scheduled in Senate State and Local Committee on Tuesday.

SJR 0009 by *Kelsey , Bell, Ketron, Stevens
Constitutional Conventions - Calls for a convention of the states to plan for an Article V convention to propose a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution; creates a balanced budget amendment convention committee
STATUS: Passed Senate Judiciary 8-1 and is scheduled on the Senate Floor Monday evening.

HJR 0024 by *Powers
Constitutional Conventions - Calls for a convention of the states to plan for an Article V convention to propose a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution; creates a balanced budget amendment convention committee.
STATUS:  Scheduled in House State Government Subcommittee on Wednesday.

SJR 0048 by *Bell
Constitutional Conventions - Appoints commissioners to the planning convention for a prospective Article V convention.

HJR 0038 by *Powers
Constitutional Conventions - Appoints commissioners to the planning convention for a prospective Article V convention

Looks like Marijuana is going to be an important topic this session.
In addition to the bill mentioned below, bills have been filed to decriminalize possession of marijuana and we are awaiting the appearance of the bill dealing with medical marijuana. Marijuana supporters are consistent in saying that they see the legalization of medical marijuana as a stepping stone to decriminalization and then legalization. We better think carefully about what we do here in the state.

GOP lawmaker files bill to repeal new Nashville, Memphis marijuana laws
, USA Today Network - Tennessee
Following through on a threat, Tennessee Republican lawmakers have introduced state legislation to nullify partial marijuana decriminalization laws passed in Nashville and Memphis last year.
House Criminal Justice Committee Chairman William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, on Monday filed a bill that would repeal any local law that is inconsistent with penalties outlined in the state’s statute for drug control and narcotic drugs. It would also prevent local governments from creating their own sanctions for drug possession moving forward.
The measure is aimed at ordinances that city councils in Nashville and Memphis passed in the fall that gave police new authority to hand out lighter civil citations for possession of small amount of marijuana instead of charging people with state misdemeanors. Supporters pushed the bills as a way to allow first-time offenders to avoid criminal records.
Lamberth, who had promised state action if the local ordinances were adopted, said his bill simply codifies a November legal opinion from Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, who argued the local ordinances are unenforceable. In his opinion, Slatery said the local laws conflicted with a state law addressing drug control and another on the powers of district attorneys.



Norris seeks meeting with Trump administration on refugees, lawsuit
State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris says he is putting on hold plans for filing a lawsuit against refugee resettlement in Tennessee while seeking a meeting with officials of President Trump’s administration, reports The Tennessean.
Norris, R-Collierville, said Thursday he has talked with U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Memphis attorney John Ryder about the refugee situation. Trump arranging a meeting with the Trump administration to discuss state lawmakers’ concerns over the federal refugee program. Trump recently issued a controversial executive order on refugees.
Ryder, who has served as general counsel for the Republican National Committee since 2013, has an established relationship with Reince Priebus, who is Trump’s chief of staff.
“(Blackburn) agrees that this is an opportunity and encouraged me to pursue it so she may be helping us to settle it as well,” Norris said.
…Trump’s order, which caused widespread confusion and generated protests immediately after it was announced on Jan. 27, called for a travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days while also suspending all refugee admissions for 120 days.