The Tennessee General Assembly
House of Representatives
Three bills were passed out of the House Criminal Practice and Procedure Subcommittee of Judiciary this week, including one that will allow guns to be taken into wildlife management areas. Another one will seal the records of handgun carry permit holders that are currently public record. This bill stipulates that anyone disclosing information about permit holders would face a $2,500 fine for the violation. Tennesseans became outraged earlier this month when the Commercial Appeal, a Memphis-based newspaper, published the handgun carry permit database in an easily searchable format on their website. Many in the General Assembly criticized the paper, calling the action ‘irresponsible’ and ‘dangerous.’ Many citizens contend that in addition to printing a list that would make it easier for criminals to steal weapons, non-gun owners were also at risk because it would be easy for criminals to use the database to find homes that likely did not have a firearm.
Another bill, House Bill 962, would allow legal permit holders to take their weapons into restaurants that sell alcoholic beverages, as long as the permit holder does not consume alcohol. Firearms will still be forbidden in these establishments after 11 p.m., and each restaurant may restrict weapons in their establishment if they choose and clearly post the restriction.
A fourth bill would have allowed guns in state parks. After some discussion, the sponsor was asked to change the legislation to give local governments authority to decide whether or not to allow guns in the parks they operate, keeping the state parks portion of the bill intact. Others contend that one uniform statewide law is necessary for clarity. With such debate, the vote was postponed for one week.
Tennessee to receive $3.7 billion in federal money
Some of the leadership in the House and Senate were briefed during the weekly breakfast with the Governor. The Governor gave an in depth look into the stimulus package that Tennessee will be receiving from the federal government.
We learned that Tennessee stands to receive anywhere from $3.7 to $4.3 billion over roughly two years. Most of the money is already allocated by the federal government to specific purposes, with only $171 million left for “general purpose.”
TennCare will receive the largest sum of money, with $1.1 billion allocated specifically for the program. Other health-related programs that will receive money are foster care and adoption assistance services, immunization programs, elderly nutrition programs, and child care, which together total approximately $70 million.
Another area that stands to receive a substantial amount of the money is education. Tennessee’s K-12 education system will receive $224.5 million for school improvement projects and grants. Another $236 million will be targeted toward students with disabilities, in the areas of special education and early intervention. The final three subcategories—education technology, education for the homeless, and school lunch equipment—will receive roughly $13.6 million, bringing the total amount for education to $474.4 million.
Another $171 million will be aimed at a myriad of different programs, including justice assistance, crime victim assistance, workforce investment, employment services, unemployment insurance, and dislocated worker programs. The final numbers will be revealed by the Administration during the Governor’s budget address to the General Assembly.
I was glad to hear the Governor decide not to take a part of the stimulus money that would require Tennessee to include coverage for part time employees laid off. I personally urged the Governor to do his due diligence and reject any part of the stimulus money that would require a tax increase to cover any funding that will need coverage after the stimulus money is gone. We must not let this one time money from the Federal government commit us to a tax increase or to grow the size of State Government, causing a financial burden after the stimulus money is spent. I will be working to make sure this money, which is one time money be spent on one time expenses.
Bond legislation will move Volkswagen, Hemlock facilities forward
Several bills achieved passage in the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee this week that will aide in moving the Volkswagen and Hemlock projects in Chattanooga and Clarksville forward. Matt Kisber, from the Department of Economic and Community Development told the committee that both the companies and the state had set an ambitious timeline to move things forward, and the passage of bond legislation was paramount.
The bills will bond the projects that will provide infrastructure for the sites, something the state committed to do when luring the companies to Tennessee. Kisber assured the committee that the revenue stream from Volkswagen alone will cover the annual debt service, and exceed it once Hemlock is up and running.
Members of the committee stressed throughout the discussion that the two companies will provide jobs—not only those who will work directly for Volkswagen and Hemlock, but also through the use of vendors and other small businesses that will enter into contracts with the two giants.
Last summer, Volkswagen announced that they had chosen Chattanooga for their new site. Although Alabama and Michigan were being considered, Volkswagen said the decision was made due to the merits of the location and Chattanooga’s strong manufacturing tradition. Estimates indicate that the opening of the plant will mean approximately 2,000 jobs and countless others in related sectors.
Hemlock Semiconductor Corporation announced in December that the company would be opening a facility to produce polycrystalline silicon (polysilicon) production, a key raw material used to manufacture solar cells and semiconductor devices. The $1.2 billion investment was a major coup for the state and for Clarksville, and is estimated to provide more than 500 jobs immediately after opening.
This bonding bill will be on the House floor Monday night. I would like to see stimulus money used for these bonds instead of going into debt to fund them. These bonds will require a yearly payment of 23 million dollars every ear for the next 20 years. I personally avoid debt and think it is prudent to use cash and not indebtedness to fund projects such as this. New businesses coming to Tennessee is good, but we must hold to a “pay as you go” so as to avoid a financial mess that most states are in and where our Federal government is now heading.
Republicans committed to protecting workers in their right to secret ballot
A bill that would protect workers in their right to secret ballot was filed this week, a preventative measure against legislation that seeks to force union members to make their vote public. The “Secret Ballot Protection Act of 2009,” sponsored by a Republican both in the Senate and the House, will preserve the right to vote by secret ballot when it comes to deciding whether or not to elect exclusive bargaining representatives.
The sponsors of Senate Bill 1674 / House Bill 1916 held a press conference this week in conjunction with Chamber of Commerce members and the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) to discuss the legislation with reporters. The Republican sponsors stressed that the bill was a counter measure to the Democrats’ dangerous “card check” legislation, which would subject employees to intimidation by making any vote public. They added that the “right to secret ballot is sacred whether it is in the voting booth or the workplace.”
Constitutional amendment defeated along party lines in subcommittee A Democratic-led constitutional amendment that would have extended the term of Tennessee House members to four years and members of the Tennessee Senate to six years was defeated by Republicans in a subcommittee this week. Republicans expressed their belief that extending the term of members of the General Assembly would only serve to weaken the voters and strengthen “career politicians.” House Joint Resolution 17 was defeated by a vote of 3-3.
Travel restrictions for members of General Assembly passes subcommittee The State Government Subcommittee approved legislation this week that limits members of the General Assembly to one state-sponsored legislative trip out of state each year and one out of country legislative trip every four years. The Republican sponsor of House Bill 824 said the bill is a preventative measure that aims to cut down on abuse and save the state money.
Legislative parking garage: too hot or cold? On a lighter note, the State Government Subcommittee also considered legislation that would keep the Legislative Plaza parking garage heated only to the amount necessary to keep the HVAC systems functioning properly and cooled only to the extent necessary for the health of garage users. The Legislative Plaza parking garage has been the subject of jokes and criticism before for being “climate controlled.” The sponsor agreed to request the speakers of each chamber adjust the temperature accordingly before pursuing the legislation (House Bill 813).
Tennessee General Assembly website receives makeover, features improved bill tracking
In order for you to keep up with what the General Assembly and I am working on, I am enclosing information on our new web site. The Tennessee General Assembly overhauled their website design this year, and the new website includes many new features in addition to its fresh look. Visitors can now easily find out who their representatives and senators are, see more detailed maps of their districts, and track legislation—even flagging certain bills in which they take an interest.
One of the most useful features on the newly designed website is the new bill tracking mechanism that allows users to make a list of legislation they would like to follow through the committee and floor session process. The site allows for the creation of up to three lists of ten bills each that a user can “flag.” Users can then log in at any time and see the progression of the legislation they chose to follow, even allowing for modification of the lists at any point. The updates will also include a listing of how each member present in the subcommittee, committee, and floor session voted on a particular bill.
In addition to simply getting a fresh new look, the website also has a different web address: capitol.tn.gov (formerly legislature.state.tn.us). The e-mail addresses for legislators and staff have also been updated to match the new address. House Republicans are very pleased to see the user-friendly changes, having advocated for a more simply formatted website for several years.
If I can be of service, please contact me or my personal assistant, Carol Simpson, at 741-4389. I hope you find the newsletter useful.