TCSA Capitol Update: April 24 - 28, 2023
The General Assembly ended its 2023 regular session last Friday evening. However, within hours after the legislature adjourned sine die, Governor Lee put out a press release indicating that he intended to call them back for a special session related to gun violence at schools. That call has not been officially made, but we are hearing rumors that the session may take place in mid May. Until the call is officially made, we will not know exactly what topics the Governor wants the General Assembly to address. We do know that draft legislation was being circulated the last week of the regular session to enact an extreme risk protection order process. Agreement could not be reached on that proposal before the legislature adjourned its regular session, but we would expect that to be at least one of the topics considered in a special session.
There were several items that passed in the waning days of session that we were not able to report to you about last week. We want to provide you with a round up of some of those items here this week. There will be more details about legislation that passed at our conference next month and in future reports.
A bill (SB27/HB23) that started the session proposing to require all governing bodies to make available to the public any documents provided to the members of the governing body 48 hours in advance of the meeting was dramatically reduced. As it passed, the county legislative body simply has to make its meeting agenda available to the public 48 hours before the meeting. Posting it on the county’s website is deemed to satisfy this requirement, but the document could also be made available in the courthouse or other building open to the public. The bill includes clear language that the county commission may take up and consider matters not included on the agenda, so long as it acts in accordance with local rules and it isn’t intentionally omitting items from the agenda to avoid public disclosure. The bill has been signed by the Governor.
Property Affected by Disasters
In years past, legislation has been passed for specific instances when a tornado, flood or other natural disaster impacted a community to allow assessors of property to prorate property taxes for structures that are damaged or destroyed to discount the taxes based on the period of time before the structure is restored or replaced. This bill (SB397/HB33), would make these provisions available for any future, presidentially declared, natural disasters. However, before it applies in any instance, the county commission would have to vote by a two-thirds majority to make this relief available to owners of property affected by a specific disaster or occurrence. This bill passed both chambers and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
A proposal to make minor changes to the 3rd grade retention laws (SB300/HB437) passed the Senate and House and is headed to the Governor. The changes to the process do not apply to the current school year that is wrapping up, but will apply to the 2023-2024 academic year. Beginning next year, a student in the approaching category who would have otherwise been held back may be promoted if the student scores within the 50th percentile on a state-provided benchmark assessment. The assessment must be given in a test environment and the LEA must provide the student tutoring services during their 4th grade year. The bill also creates an appeal process that allows the LEA to file an appeal if the parents of the student consent. Also beginning next year, the bill requires schools to provide tutoring services for the entirety of the subsequent school year for any student retained in grades K-3. The bill allows the state Department of Education to procure up to three online tutoring providers for LEAs to use.
Last Friday, there was disagreement between the House and Senate on how far to expand the Education Savings Account (or private school voucher) program. (HB433/SB12), passed the Senate earlier in the session in a form that added Hamilton County into the program. When the bill passed the House, it also added Knox County. The Senate refused to go along with this addition and ultimately the House relented. As it passed, the bill will add only Hamilton County to Davidson and Shelby (the counties where the original legislation applied).
Prisoners on Work Release
Legislation (SB562/HB452) has passed and been sent to the Governor that requires prisoners on work release or otherwise allowed to leave a county workhouse or jail for employment or community service to wear an electronic monitoring device. The employer or other entity using the prisoner’s labor would pay the cost for the monitoring. The bill includes an exemption that it does not apply in circumstances where the prisoner is supervised by an armed officer and remains in the direct eyesight of the officer.
Residency Requirements for Jailers or Correctional Officers
(SB923/HB910) prohibits local governments from disciplining, firing or denying employment to a jailer or corrections officer based solely on where the individual resides. The bill passed both chambers and has been signed by the Governor.
Legislation to allow certain agricultural property to be de-annexed from a municipality passed this year after several years of battles at the legislature over the proposal. Under (SB851/HB938), land used primarily for agricultural purposes could be de-annexed if the land had previously been annexed by ordinance without the property owner requesting it. The land has to still be held by the same property owner or a direct descendant and the de-annexation must not result in the creation of a donut hole of unincorporated land that is completely surrounded by municipal territory.
Property Tax Relief for the Elderly
(SB871/HB366) makes a permissive change to the Property Tax Freeze Act. Under current law, in counties that have adopted the property tax freeze program, it is available to seniors who qualify under certain income limits. The current limit for a county is the greater of the county’s weighted average median household income for those over 65 or the income limit used for the state’s property tax relief program. This legislation gives county commissions the option to raise that limit to $60,000. It is permissive.
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!