Bill Watch is a service of the Knoxville Bar Association Legislative Committee. During each week of the legislative session, the KBA will distribute an updated report, through the support of Stephanie D. Coleman of Owings, Wilson & Coleman. The report will indicate progress and recent actions taken on the bills of interest to KBA members.
You can also get information about the General Assembly, including the text of bills and floor and committee calendars, by accessing the legislative web site at www.capitol.tn.gov.
February 15, 2021
Budget - Governor Bill Lee presented his proposal to fund state government with improvements prioritizing education, health care, and job development, particularly Tennessee’s rural communities. The 2021-22 budget proposes investing an additional $341.6 million for education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The new funds include $120 million to raise the instructional salary component for teachers and other positions; $110 million to improve literacy rates in lower grades; $24 million in facility grants for high performing charter schools; and $70.5 million to fully fund the Basic Education Program (BEP). In addition, the state budget proposes $283 million in capital investments for higher education improvement projects and $153 million in maintenance projects. One item of this year’s budget proposal is $200 million to expand high speed broadband access. The budget also proposes to invest $21 million in rural communities and distressed counties to directly support rural infrastructure, industrial site development, small business development and revitalizing small town main streets.
$181.5 million in health and social services improvements in the budget include funds to extend postpartum coverage to all women receiving TennCare benefits from 60 days to 12 months. It also includes $37.9 million to cover medical inflation in the TennCare program; $11 million for the Employment and Community First (ECF) Choices Program to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities become employed and live independently; and $9.7 million to raise the hourly pay for direct support professionals of those who work with Tennessee citizens through the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD). In response to the ongoing battle against COVID-19, the new state spending plan proposes $150 million to provide testing, vaccine supports, hospital and school assistance, and personal protection equipment (PPE).
Approximately $16.5 million is proposed to assist local jails with evidenced-based programs to help inmates prepare to obtain employment upon release. For tourism and state parks, the budget included $1.2 million for state park modernization improvements and $8 million in tourism initiatives to improve marketing to reattract visitors to Tennessee.
Constitutional Amendment/Right to Work - A resolution to add Tennessee’s Right to Work law to the state constitution was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Joint Resolution 2 aims to fulfill the second required passage of this measure by the legislature before it is sent to voters on the ballot for the final step of the constitutional amendment process. In June 2020, Senate Joint Resolution 648 passed the General Assembly, which was the first step in the constitutional amendment process. SJR 2 will be required to pass by a two-thirds majority in the 2021 or 2022 legislative session in order to appear on the ballot for a statewide referendum in November 2022. The amendment would become part of the state constitution if adopted by a majority vote in the 2022 governor’s election. Tennessee’s Right to Work statute has been state law since 1947. It provides workers cannot be hired or fired based on their membership in, affiliation with, resignation from, or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization.
Constitutional Amendment/Incapacity of Governor - The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a resolution this week that allows voters to address temporary incapacity of the state’s governor. Senate Joint Resolution 10 proposes amending Article 3, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution to provide the framework for a stable transition if the governor is unable to perform his or her duties due to a planned or unplanned absence. The duties of the acting governor, in the line of succession, would first go to the Speaker of the Senate, then to the Speaker of the House. During this time, the speaker will not be required to resign as speaker or a state legislator but will not preside or vote as a member of the General Assembly. The acting governor will be authorized to continue to perform the duties of the office until the governor transmits written notice of ability to resume the responsibilities of governor.
Criminal Law/Drag Racing – The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week to discourage drag racing. Senate Bill 14 would stiffen the penalty for drag racing from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor to deter drivers from engaging in this behavior. The bill will now move forward for consideration by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.