TCSA Capitol Update: April 17 - 21, 2023
The General Assembly is pushing forward this week, trying to conclude the last of its business and adjourn for the year. Both chambers are holding a rare Friday session today and there has even been talk of a possibility of carrying over into Saturday. The week has seen more drama, more contentious debates and some interesting developments on a number of bills. Please note that the final outcome is uncertain on several proposals that are scheduled to be heard in either the House or Senate today. We will provide more detailed information about what passed and what didn’t once the session concludes.
We can report that the only legislation the General Assembly is required to pass has passed. The House passed the state budget and associated legislation Wednesday, with the Senate passing identical legislation on Thursday. The budget is headed to the Governor’s desk for his signature. While some items county associations supported like the change in the sales tax administrative fee were not funded this year, there are substantial new dollars for county government programs included in the budget. Highlights include:
- $300 million extra in state aid funding for county highway departments;
- $350 million in new K-12 funding in the first year of the new TISA funding formula; and
- $140 million recurring to fund an SRO in every public school along with millions of dollars in additional funding for school security upgrades.
The budget includes a number of tax cut provisions, like adjustments to business taxes and a three month sales tax holiday on groceries. In each case, the budget holds local governments harmless against any loss of revenue.
Extreme Risk Protection Orders
As protests over gun violence continued in Nashville this week, Governor Lee repeated his call for the General Assembly to consider legislation to create an extreme risk protection order procedure. Sometimes referred to as “red-flag laws,” these laws create procedures for weapons to be taken from individuals found to be a serious threat to themselves or others. Pro-second amendment organizations like the NRA and Tennessee Firearms Association became more vocal in their opposition as legislative leadership was divided on the issue. Some members appeared open to considering the legislation, but as the week progressed, there were no meetings scheduled for the Judiciary Committees (where such legislation would normally be heard). On the Senate floor yesterday, Sen. Jeff Yabro of Davidson County made a plea for the Senate to call a bill up to the floor from the committee so that the issue could at least be discussed. The motion was tabled with the vote mostly following party lines.
Proposals to make minor changes to the 3rd grade retention laws (SB300/HB437) passed the Senate on Tuesday and the House on Thursday this week. The bill does not make the sweeping changes some parents and school systems were calling for, but it does modify the current provisions in the law to create new pathways and options to allow a child to be promoted. However, those changes would take effect with the 2023-2024 academic year and would not apply to this year’s third graders.
As we start the day on Friday, there appears to be disagreement between the House and Senate on legislation (HB433/SB12), which proposes to expand the Education Savings Account (or private school voucher) program to additional counties. The bill passed the Senate earlier in the session in a form that added Hamilton County into the program. The House passed the bill this week with a different amendment to add both Hamilton and Knox Counties into the bill. When the bill went back to the Senate to consider that change, the Senate refused to concur in the change. The bill is scheduled to return to the House on the message calendar to see if that chamber will back off of its amendment. If it doesn’t, the bill could be headed to a conference committee.
Legislation to mandate step increases for the minimum step of the state salary schedule passed the House this week. All session, the raises included in the bill have been overshadowed by provisions in the legislation that prevent school systems from collecting dues for teacher organizations. The bill (HB329/SB281) previously passed the Senate with this ban included. It was included in the bill in the House as it moved through the education committees, but was stripped off in the finance committees. On a floor vote, an amendment was adopted by a very narrow margin to strip the dues provision out, then in a reversal, a few members changed their vote moments later to adopt a second amendment that put the provision back in. As it finally passed, the bill includes both the teacher raises and the prohibition on school systems collecting dues for professional organizations for teachers through the payroll deduction process. A question was raised on the House floor about whether local governments were going to have to raise taxes to fund these raises. House Majority Leader William Lamberth on the floor stated that the additional funds being provided through TISA would cover the cost of these required raises. The fiscal memo on the legislation showed a similar impact and county associations were assured the same thing in meetings with the administration. This is an issue county associations have been watching closely as counties have yet to see the final funding estimates for the first year under the new TISA formula.
The associations would like to thank the members for all your support throughout the session. Your communication with your legislators makes a difference. We look forward to seeing many of you next month in Gatlinburg!