Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus and House Republicans Weekly Wrap Up

Capitol Hill Week

Legislation preparing Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology headlines Capitol Hill Week

Contact: Darlene Schlicher (615) 741-6336 or email: darlene.schlicher@capitol.tn.us

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), April 12, 2018 – This week’s action on Capitol Hill was highlighted by passage of a number of important initiatives as lawmakers continue discussions on the state’s budget. This includes legislation which accelerates investment in mobile broadband infrastructure and prepares Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology.

Senate Bill 2504, sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), Senator Art Swann (R-Maryville) and Senator Reginald Tate (D-Memphis), creates a uniform, statewide and predictable application and deployment process for small cell wireless broadband providers no matter what community is being served. Once implemented, it would enhance existing networks and encourage wireless broadband providers to invest in the latest small cell technology.

“When installed, these small cells will increase capacity to handle a huge amount of data,” Senator Ketron said. “There could be anywhere from ten to one hundred times faster connectivity than what we currently have with 4G. Over six million Tennessee wireless consumers want this technology, local governments want this technology, and providers want to deliver it. This bill will help accomplish this for communities across the state.”

The legislation, called the Competitive Wireless Broadband Investment, Deployment, and Safety Act of 2018, creates a predictable “how to manual” for providers and local governments to work together to manage the right-of-ways and to get investment deployed as soon as possible. While the legislation calls for a statewide application process to reduce local hurdles, it affirms that local governments retain their nondiscriminatory authority to:

  • manage placement of utility poles and facilities in the right of way;
  • establish aesthetic plans that govern facilities in the right of way;
  • protect historic districts;
  • manage and protect areas with underground utilities;
  • require damage repair in the right of way;
  • manage and reject any deployment based on public safety concerns; and,
  • apply right of way permitting and fees.

“The world is operating at a much faster pace,” added Ketron. “This bill will change our world as we currently know it on many activities from telemedicine to texting, and from documentation to autonomous vehicles because of the connectivity speed through the bandwidth that 5G brings.Studies show that deployment of 5G alone will create more than 16,000 new jobs in Tennessee. It would also lead to more than $1 billion in investment and grow the state GDP by nearly $3 billion.

Presently 14 other states have passed legislation to make investment easier, with 19 considering similar legislation this year.

The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Legislation aims to curb opiate abuse among TennCare enrollees

Two bills addressing opiate abuse among Tennessee’s TennCare enrollees were approved by state senators this week. This includes Senate Bill 1227, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), which directs TennCare to promulgate permanent rules to promote safe and responsible coverage for enrollees of the program. The rules, at a minimum, must address prior authorization requirements to reduce the development of opioid dependency and addiction.

“This legislation is part of our overall effort to reduce dependency on opioids,” said Senator Massey. “Some of the TennCare rules could impact chronic opioid users. The more basic purpose is to curb opiate abuse among women of child-bearing age by making sure there is prior criteria supporting screening for substance abuse and counseling on the effects of opioids should they become pregnant.”

The bill was approved by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee and now heads to the Senate floor for a final vote.

The second bill, Senate Bill 2155, ensures providers are not penalized for the increase in health care costs associated with opioid-prescribing restrictions as it pertains to TennCare payment reform, more commonly referred to as “episodes of care.” Episode-based payment seeks to align provider incentives with successfully achieving desired outcomes during an episode of care, which is acute or specialist-driven health care delivered during a specified time period to treat a clinical condition. The legislation provides a pathway to address and appeal the episodes of care’s risk-sharing payment that may be assessed if a provider uses a more costly non-opioid modality like physical therapy or chiropractic services.

“If someone is using physical therapy to decrease the use of opioids, which can drive up the cost of episodes of care, it would not be penalized,” said Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), sponsor of the bill. “This legislation addresses the disincentives associated with other treatment modalities because of the episodes of care payment system.”

The legislation was approved by the full Senate and now heads to Governor Bill Haslam’s desk for his signature.

Tennessee Reconnect Scholarship Program draws 10,000 adult applicants

More than 10,000 adults have applied for Tennessee Reconnect, the state’s program for adult learners to earn an associate degree or technical certificate tuition-free, since applications opened mid-February. The groundbreaking program covers tuition and mandatory fees at a Tennessee community or technical college for eligible adults that do not yet have a college degree. It was implemented as a result of Senate Bill 1218, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) that was approved last year. It is also part of Governor Bill Haslam’s initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025.

Among those who have applied for the scholarship, more than two-thirds have previously enrolled in college and just more than half of all applicants have attended college in the past five years. The average age of applicants is 34 years old and nearly 90 percent of those who applied plan to work while enrolled through Reconnect.

The Tennessee Reconnect application will remain open year-round; adults hoping to enroll in community or technical college in fall 2018 are encouraged to apply by April 15 to ensure time to complete all enrollment steps. The application for Reconnect requires four simple steps:

  • Complete the application at TNReconnect.gov;
  • Apply to a local community college or eligible Tennessee Reconnect institution;
  • File the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at FAFSA.ed.gov; and
  • Enroll in a degree or certificate program at least part-time.
Tennessee is the first state in the nation to offer all citizens, both high school graduates and adults, the chance to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate tuition-free.

Senate approves legislation protecting landowners by allowing local governments to regulate the wind industry in Tennessee

The State Senate unanimously approved legislation this week protecting landowners by allowing local governments to regulate the wind energy industry in Tennessee. Senate Bill 1793, sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), comes after legislation was passed last year requiring a study be conducted regarding wind turbines and their impact on Tennessee communities and surrounding property owners.

“This legislation, which follows the recommendations of the joint legislative study committee, provides reasonable regulations of the wind industry,” said Senator Bailey. “It protects the property rights of non-participating landowners, while setting uniform minimum requirements for the construction, operation, or redevelopment of wind energy facilities in the state. The bill was developed with input from the wind energy industry, the Cumberland Mountain Preservation Coalition, and other key stakeholders.”

Local governments would have the authority to go beyond the minimum standards set by the bill. The requirement of an environmental impact and a wildlife impact assessment will allow an opportunity for public hearings and public involvement. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) would have the ability to review the wildlife impact assessment and approve, grant conditional approval or deny the permit.

Finally, the legislation calls for local governments to report annually on activity regarding legislation adopted, the number of approved permits, environmental impact assessments and data of any decommissioned facilities.

The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

General Assembly approves Primacy and Reclamation Act allowing Tennessee to reclaim control over state’s surface mining coal industry

Legislation allowing Tennessee to reclaim control of the state’s surface coal mining industry is on its way to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature after the Senate approved a minor House amendment. The Primacy and Reclamation Act, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), brings direct oversight to the state through a system of issuing permits and enforcing regulations by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

The Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement (OSM) within the U.S. Department of the Interior was given the authority to control surface mining in Tennessee 34 years ago.

‘Tennessee is the only actively producing coal state that does not regulate itself and instead is regulated by the Office of Surface Mining in the federal government,” said Senator Yager. “Being regulated by the federal government has put our state’s coal mining industry at a competitive disadvantage, which has a negative impact on job creation in some of the state’s most economically distressed counties. The Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee maintains stringent environmental control over coal mining, while providing an opportunity for the state to control its own destiny, stimulate investment and create jobs.”

The legislation makes clear that all funding for primacy will come from the federal government and the surface coal mining industry. Bill sponsors have worked with members of the Haslam and Trump administrations and Tennessee’s congressional delegation to identify potential sources of funding. Once the program is up and running, the legislation provides that ongoing costs will be split evenly between the federal government and fees assessed on the industry. If the federal funding does not come through, then the state will not be obligated to implement or run the primacy program.

In Brief…

James K. Polk / Tomb Relocation — Legislation which supports the relocation of President James K. Polk’s tomb from the State Capitol grounds to the President James K. Polk Home and Museum State Historic Site in Columbia, Tennessee received final approval in the Senate this week after adoption of a House amendment. Senate Joint Resolution 141, sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), aims to bring better recognition to the 11th President of the U.S. who was one of only three Tennesseans ever to hold the nation’s highest office. The action to move the tomb to the state-owned site in Columbia is supported by the James K. Polk Memorial Association. Both of Tennessee’s other presidents, President Andrew Johnson and President Andrew Jackson, are buried on land they owned. Polk had requested burial at his home, Polk Place, which no longer stands. The James K. Polk Home and Museum State Historic Site in Columbia was Polk’s only other residence, besides his residency at the White House. The resolution is part of a multi-step process, before relocation can occur with the next steps being approval by the Tennessee’s Historical Commission and Capitol Commission, before going to Chancery Court where Polk’s descendants would have an opportunity to weigh in on the matter. The resolution now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Seven-day sales of wine – Final approval was given this week to legislation that permits retail food stores to sell wine and retail package stores to sell alcoholic beverages seven days a week. Senate Bill 2518, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), puts retailers on par with restaurants, hotels, convention centers, tourist resorts and other businesses in Tennessee which are already allowed to sell wine and spirits any day of the week under state law. As amended, the measure allows Sunday sales to take place between the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. The bill prohibits sales on Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature. The bill will become effective for liquor sales upon the governor’s signature, and for grocery stores, it will take effect on January 1, 2019.

Resolution Urging Action on President Trump’s Proposed Border Wall — The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee approved a resolution this week urging the U.S. Congress to immediately take action to fund the construction of a secure border wall across the nation’s southern border as proposed by President Donald Trump. House Joint Resolution 741, sponsored by Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), states “the members of this General Assembly have consistently taken steps to address illegal immigration within the borders of our great state and now wish to urge the United States Congress to address illegal immigration by supporting President Trump’s border wall proposal.” Upon final approval, the resolution will be sent to President Trump, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Governor Haslam, and to both houses of Congress. The bill now goes to the floor of the Tennessee Senate for a final vote.

Knox County / Veterans Memorial Mile – Legislation designating a segment of State Route 62 in Knox County from the Solway Bridge to State Route 162 as the “Veterans Memorial Mile” was approved this week in the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee. Under Senate Bill 1882, the state would put up road markers along this mile acknowledging each branch of the United States Armed Forces. This would allow members of these branches of the armed forces to work with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to donate money, trees, shrubs, and flowers for beautification purposes.  “By allowing for the beautification projects we hope that it results in a source of pride for our military branches,” said Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), sponsor of the bill.

Charles Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center — The full Senate approved legislation this week to aid the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga. The Medal of Honor, which was created by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861, is our nation’s highest and rarest military decoration. It is bestowed by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against the enemy of the United States.” Approximately 3,500 individuals have received the Medal, many of which were posthumously awarded. The center teaches about the six character traits all Medal of Honor recipients share, which are courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity, and citizenship. Senate Bill 2346, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), exempts from property taxes all tangible personal property owned and used by a nonprofit organization that has a historic sole purpose for the provision of educational programs about recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The museum plans to open in February of 2020.

Appointments / UT Board of Trustees — Members of the Senate Education Committee heard testimony from Governor Bill Haslam’s nominees to the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees this week. The board was restructured under legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this month to improve governance of the system. The new law  calls for legislative confirmation of the appointees. The 10-member UT board will oversee the multiple campuses that comprise the UT system, including the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, University of Tennessee at Martin, and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Education Committee members confirmed John Compton, former President of PepsiCo and current partner with Clayton Dubilier & Rice; Kara Lawson, former Lady Vol and current basketball television analyst for ESPN and the Washington Wizards; Donnie Smith, former President and Chief Executive Officer of Tyson Foods; Kim White, President and Chief Executive Officer of River City Company; and Bill Rhodes, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of AutoZone. Those nominees now move to the full Senate for approval. The appointments are effective July 1, 2018.

Welfare Check / Endangered Children — Legislation received final Senate approval this week calling for law enforcement agencies to determine if an arrested person is the parent or legal custodian of any children who would be unattended or endangered due to their absence after the arrest. Senate Bill 1512, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), authorizes law enforcement agencies to develop policies and procedures for conducting welfare checks on any children identified by the arrested person that are determined to be endangered. Child welfare checks are currently conducted by local law enforcement agencies as part of their authorized duties. The bill seeks to ensure the safety of children by having law enforcement booking agencies inquire of arrested persons whether that person has children and the status of the children in the home to make sure they are not alone and vulnerable. Senator Massey said, “This bill seeks to ensure the safety of children by having law enforcement booking agencies inquire of arrested persons whether that person has children, and the status of the children in the home, to make sure they are not alone and vulnerable.”

Smoking / Vehicles with Children – The Senate Transportation Committee approved legislation this week which prohibits an individual from smoking cigarettes, pipes or cigars in an enclosed vehicle when a child age 14 and under is restrained within it. Senate Bill 1759, sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), would require the Tennessee Department of Transportation to use electronic overhead informational displays to provide messages to the public about the law upon enactment. Violators on first offense would be issued a warning citation, while a second offense would be punishable as a Class C misdemeanor carrying a $20.00 fine. Third and subsequent offenses would be punishable by a fine of $50.00.

Ambulances — Legislation enabling Tennessee to continue to draw needed federal funds to help local ambulance services transport patients advanced through the Senate Finance Committee this week. Senate Bill 1823 continues the Ambulance Service Provider Assessment Act, a law passed last year that allows the state to receive additional Medicaid funds to be redistributed to the local private and public ambulance services for transporting patients covered by the program. It is expected to bring in approximately $19.7 million in federal funds for ambulance services through the state’s TennCare Program. The legislation is modeled after the successful Hospital Assessment Act which has prevented catastrophic TennCare cuts over the last seven years. The bill, which is sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Knoxville) is supported by the State Ambulance Service Association.

Court-Ordered Learning Centers / BEP Dollars – The full Senate approved legislation that allows Basic Education Program (BEP) funds to “follow the child” to a learning center when a youth has been ordered by a juvenile court to attend a non-public school. Currently, there are only two caveats for BEP dollars going to non-Local Education Agency (LEA) settings: children for whose education the state is directly responsible and those in residential mental health facilities. Senate Bill 1803, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), adds a third caveat for youth who are court ordered to attend a Tennessee Department of Education-approved non-public school in order to prevent children from entering state custody. There are presently four Teen Learning Centers in Tennessee funded with the Department of Children’s Service’s Custody Prevention Funds. All youth served in these centers come through their respective county juvenile court orders and have a variety of status and juvenile offenses that put them at serious risk of entering state custody. Approximately 90 percent of students discharged from the centers remain out of juvenile court.

Henry’s Law – Drug dealers or others who unlawfully distribute Schedule I or II drugs to minors will be facing more jail time when it results in a death under legislation unanimously on final Senate consideration this week. Senate Bill 1875, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), is named Henry’s Law for a Knoxville teenager, Henry Granju, who died due to a lethal opiate overdose. The killing of a minor in Tennessee when the drug is a proximate cause of death is second degree murder, which is a Class A felony. Under the state’s current sentencing guidelines, a standard Range I offender for a Class A felony can receive 15 to 25 years in jail, but the 30 percent requirement places the actual sentence at 4.5 to 7.5 years. The bill proposes to make that same Class A felony a Range II offense, carrying a 25 to 40 years sentence at a 35 percent requirement. This means offenders would serve a minimum of 8.8 to 14 years behind bars.  Schedule I drugs include heroin and other psychedelics, while Schedule II drugs include opiates, cocaine, methadone, methamphetamines and amphetamines. Approximately 70 to 80 juveniles die each year in the state of Tennessee due to opioid overdose.

Statute of Limitations / Sexual Offenses — Senate Bill 2538 was approved by the full Senate this week instructing the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) to conduct a study and report back next year on the effectiveness of the state’s statutes of limitations, including crimes involving sexual offenses against children. According to the National Center for Victims Rights, most states have a basic suspension of the statute of limitations for civil actions while a person is a minor. Many states have also adopted additional extensions, specifically for cases involving sexual abuse of children and a handful of states have removed the statute of limitation completely for child sex crimes. The bill is sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro).


House Republicans Pass ‘Tennessee Together’ Plan To Help Combat Opioid Epidemic

While the federal government has only just commenced conversation about the opioid epidemic, Tennessee leads the way in fighting the situation here at home. This week, House Republicans passed legislation to combat the state’s opioid problem head on: Tennessee Together.

Tennessee Together is a multi-faceted plan comprised of legislation, $30 million in funds through the proposed 2018-2019 budget, and other executive actions to battle opioids through the three major components of prevention, treatment, and law enforcement. The plan incorporates recommendations made by Speaker Beth Harwell’s Ad Hoc Task Force on Opioid Abuse.

In 2016, there were over 1,600 opioid related overdose deaths, one of the highest in the nation, and statistics show the numbers are only increasing. Each day in Tennessee, at least three people die from opioid-related overdoses — more than the daily number of traffic fatalities.

Legislative solutions included in Tennessee Together include limiting the supply and dosage of opioid prescriptions, with reasonable exception and an emphasis on new patients, as well as education for elementary and secondary schools through revisions to the state’s health education academic standards.

Additionally, the plan invests more than $25 million for treatment and recovery services for individuals with opioid use disorder. These services will include an increase in peer recovery specialists in targeted, high-need emergency departments to connect patients to treatment immediately.

Tennessee Together increases state funding to attack the illicit sale and trafficking of opioids through additional law enforcement agencies and training, and includes updates to the controlled substance schedules in order to better track, monitor, and penalize the use and unlawful distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs — including fentanyl. Finally, the plan provides every Tennessee state trooper with naloxone for the emergency treatment of opioid overdose prior to paramedic arrival.

House Republicans are dedicated to working closely with the Governor to address Tennessee’s opioid problem. While the Tennessee Together plan is a huge step in the right direction, expect additional time and resources to be spent on the opioid front in the coming days.

Advocates Applaud Passage Of New Adoption Legislation

House lawmakers joined together this week for the unanimous passage of House Bill 1856. The bill streamlines the adoption process in Tennessee, adding updates to the law desperately needed to serve children and families across the state better, advocates say.

House Bill 1856 simplifies the surrender form — which was previously very complicated — and updates the language to reflect what the courts have ruled on the issue.

The bill also clarifies parental abandonment, makes the law consistent with U.S. Supreme Court cases on absentee fathers, and protects biological fathers attempting to assert parental rights. It eliminates the six month prior residency requirement for adoption petitioners, and expands the opportunity for active duty military personnel to use Tennessee as their legal state of residence to adopt children here.

The bill makes big changes to current law, but most importantly, it streamlines the process and makes it easier to understand. This is important for children in Tennessee, because it allows them to be in a more stable environment in a much timelier manner.

Having passed the House, the bill now awaits passage in the Senate. For more information on the legislation, click here.

Tennessee Stolen Valor Act Passes In General Assembly
Legislation increases penalties against those who impersonate military heroes

Wednesday morning, House members unanimously passed a measure to strengthen identity protections for our military veterans.

House Bill 2130, also known as the Tennessee Stolen Valor Act, is designed to safeguard the identities of Tennessee veterans who serve the state and nation by cracking down on instances of theft and fraud involving those who attempt to imitate them.

The measure creates a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, as well as a fine of up to $2,500, for anyone who impersonates a veteran or individuals who fraudulently represent their service with the intent of obtaining money, property, services, or any other tangible benefits.

The legislation comes after a recent case in Northeast Tennessee involving a con artist who lied about his military service to steal from veterans. The initiative is the latest in a series of Republican-led measures designed to honor Tennessee veterans and their service.

Over 10,000 Adults Have Applied For Tennessee Reconnect Scholarship
Application opened in February; Adults can continue to apply at www.TNReconnect.gov

This week, House Republicans joined with Governor Haslam to announce that over 10,000 adults have applied for Tennessee Reconnect, the state’s program for adult learners to earn an associate degree or technical certificate tuition-free.

The application for Tennessee Reconnect opened on February 15 of this year and 10,497 applications had been submitted as of April 10. Tennessee Reconnect is a groundbreaking program that covers tuition and mandatory fees at a Tennessee community or technical college for eligible adults that do not yet have a college degree.

Among those who have applied for the scholarship, more than two-thirds have previously enrolled in college and just more than half of all applicants have attended college in the past five years. The average age of applicants is 34 years old and nearly 90 percent of those who applied plan to work while enrolled through Reconnect.

The Tennessee Reconnect program was passed by the General Assembly in 2017. Adults hoping to enroll in community or technical college in fall 2018 are encouraged to apply by April 15 to ensure time to complete all enrollment steps. The application for Reconnect requires four simple steps:

  • Complete the application at TNReconnect.gov;
  • Apply to a local community college or eligible Tennessee Reconnect institution;
  • File the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at FAFSA.ed.gov; and
  • Enroll in a degree or certificate program at least part-time.

The Tennessee Reconnect program is part of the broader Drive to 55 initiative — the push to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025. Studies show that by 2025, at least half the jobs in Tennessee will require a college degree or certificate.

Tennessee is the first state in the nation to offer all citizens, both high school graduates and adults, the chance to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate tuition-free.

Initiative Promoting High Paying Jobs In Tennessee Passes

House Republicans passed a measure that promotes high paying jobs in Tennessee this week on the House floor.

House Bill 1917 continues the Go Build Tennessee Program through 2024 in order to raise awareness about an abundance of high paying jobs available in communities across the state. The measure strengthens existing partnerships so that students who are interested in the trade industry can utilize Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) campuses to learn the skills they need in order to pursue these high paying careers.

The Go Build Tennessee program was created with the passage of the Go Build Tennessee Act in 2015. It established a nonprofit corporation and board to run the program funded by $3 million collected by the state in surplus licensing fees.

Since Go Build Tennessee began, 74 percent of students in our state said they were more likely to pursue a career in the trades after hearing the program’s message.

Construction and trade jobs are some of the highest paying in Tennessee with an average salary well above median household incomes in most communities. The overall goal of this initiative is to address a shortage of qualified applicants for current vacancies.

House Bill 1917 now awaits Governor Haslam’s signature. For more information about this initiative, please click here.