TCSA Capitol Update: April 10 - 14, 2023

There was a bit of a lull in the action this week at the General Assembly as the few remaining non-finance committees wrapped up the last bills on their calendars and adjourned subject to the call of the chair. The Governor’s budget amendment was introduced last week, but neither chamber focused on it this week. It is anticipated that leadership will meet over the weekend to hash out legislative priorities in an attempt to craft the final budget. Hallway conversations indicate they are targeting next Thursday for passing the budget on the floor of the House and Senate. It still remains to be seen whether the General Assembly will remain in town for a few days after that to finish up for the year or if they will return for at least one more full week of deliberations on items that are behind the budget. Some legislators are expressing a desire to end the session and get home as soon as possible. Currently, other than the House Government Operations Committee, the only committees scheduled to meet next week are the finance committees. Both chambers have multiple floor sessions scheduled.

School Security

Thursday morning, the Senate passed the administration’s major school security initiative. It had previously passed in the House. This is not new legislation proposed in response to the Covenant School shooting in Nashville, but instead is something introduced early in the year that had been the result of significant work in the lead up to the legislative session. (SB274/HB322) revamps a state-level safety team and moves it from the Department of Education to the Department of Safety. It adds representatives of local law enforcement to the team and transfers responsibility for oversight of the team from the director of the TN School Safety Center (in the Dept. of Ed.) to Dept. of Safety Commissioner Jeff Long, who is the former Williamson County Sheriff. The bill makes changes regarding who receives both comprehensive school safety plans for a district and building-level school safety plans. The bill makes further changes to a number of programs, including 1) annual required drills; 2) school entrance security; 3) annual reports; 4) standards for security in new school construction; and 5) threat assessment teams. 

These legislative changes accompany a number of funding initiatives proposed in the Governor’s budget. The initial budget already included $20 million for school facility upgrades and nearly $30 million for additional homeland security agents to assist with monitoring and investigating potential threats of violence. The updated budget introduced last week added:

  • $7 million non-recurring for grants for private schools for facilities improvements;
  • $140 million recurring to fund an SRO in every public school (see more about this proposal here); and
  •  $8 million in additional funding to expand the K-12 behavioral health liaison program

Extreme Risk Protection Orders

Governor Lee also this week announced a new executive order (E.O. 100) to enhance background checks for the purchase of firearms and he publicly called for the General Assembly to consider legislation to enact 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. His call met with a mixed response, with some members of legislative leadership of both parties expressing an openness to take up the matter while others warned against making hasty changes in an emotional time. The TN Firearms Association pushed back on Lee’s request, claiming it would be unconstitutional. Meanwhile, neither the House or Senate Judiciary Committee, where such a proposal would likely be initially debated, is scheduled to meet next week. No legislative proposal to enact these changes is drafted at this time.

Sales Tax Administration Fee

The bill (SB385/HB419) to reduce the state’s administrative fee on local option sales tax is sitting in the Finance Committees but is not currently funded. With the significant additional funds added to the budget late in session for school security, it is now doubtful the proposal will be funded this year. The bill will carry over to next year, when county associations will again push for this change. 

Education Proposals

In the final meeting of the House Education Administration committee, one of the last bills heard was (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 to Shelby and Davidson (the only two counties where the program is currently in place). In the House Committee, a different amendment was proposed to add both Hamilton and Knox into the bill. Another amendment that would have expanded the program statewide was taken off notice after the bill sponsor, Rep. Mark White of Shelby County, stated that the Senate sponsor was only agreeable with adding Knox and Hamilton. Significant questions had been raised about the bill last week, including several requests for the Department of Education to explain how the program affects local funding for schools. This week, there was discussion about how school choice initiatives affect local funding, before the committee ultimately approved the bill. Despite financial concerns raised during the committee meeting, the fiscal note on the legislation claims it has no significant impact on state or local funding, so the bill does not have to go through the Finance Committees and will be headed to the floor for a vote Monday night. 

Legislation to mandate step increases for the minimum step of the state salary schedule moved forward in the House Finance Committee this week with language that would have prevented school systems from collecting dues for teacher organizations removed from the bill. (HB329/SB281) previously passed the Senate with this ban included. The measure is headed to the House floor Monday night. The fiscal analysis on the measure indicates that increased TISA funds are sufficient to pay these costs for all systems for two years, with a small number of systems expected to have to provide a little more than $100,000 in additional local funds for FY 25-26 and $1.6 million in funding for FY 26-27. If the measure passes the House floor in its current form, the two chambers will have to resolve their differences.  

Meeting Agendas

A bill that originally required local governing bodies to provide the public with copies in advance of a meeting of all materials provided to legislative bodies has been limited to only require governing bodies to make their agenda for meetings available 48 hours in advance of the meeting. The agendas can be made available online or in a publicly accessible place. The bill still allows for new business to be raised in a meeting, so long as that practice isn’t used to circumvent the spirit of the law. (HB23/SB27) passed the House floor on Monday after previously passing in the Senate.