TCSA Capitol Update: February 20 - 24, 2023
A number of major initiatives that are important to county governments will be heard in key committees next week. The Governor’s Transportation Modernization Act will be heard by the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday morning at 8:00 and on Wednesday in Senate Transportation at 10:30. (HB321/SB273) provides a crucial one-time infusion of an additional $300 million into the state-aid highway program that provides grants to all county highway departments. The bill also includes counties in the distribution of the enhanced fees proposed on electric vehicles to ensure they pay a fair share of the cost of maintaining roads and streets. Currently, owners of EVs pay an extra $100 registration fee, but 100% of those funds go to TDOT. This bill applies the same distribution formula to these highway funds as is used for motor vehicle fuel taxes. It also increases the fee to achieve parity with what combustion vehicles pay.
Governor Lee’s brownfields initiative (HB319/SB271) and proposal to make permanent the state funding for summer camps to address learning loss (HB68/SB249) are both scheduled to be heard in Senate Finance on Tuesday morning. These proposals both invest significant state resources into addressing these problems.
Impact Fees and Development Taxes
An amendment is being developed for a caption bill to give all counties the option to implement impact fees and development taxes on growth and new development. (HB1206/SB820) would repeal current limitations that allow only counties that demonstrate a 20% growth in population between two federal censuses to be able to levy adequate facilities taxes. Unless a county had a private act passed before 2006, other counties cannot currently levy impact taxes and only those that meet the growth standard can levy development taxes. This bill, as proposed, would move the decision about whether to use such fees and taxes to the local level for all counties and municipalities in Tennessee. This would give local governments an important new tool to help reduce the impact of costs imposed by new development on local property tax rates. By requiring the new development to pay more to help offset the cost of services it will require, it helps keep property taxes lower for both existing residents and newcomers to a county. The bill is first on the calendar in the Property and Planning Subcommittee on Wednesday, March 1st. It is on the calendar for the State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday at 10:30. Counties who want access to these tools should contact their legislators and ask them to support the proposal.
The House Education Administration Committee held an extensive hearing this week on the state’s third grade retention policies. This issue generated a great deal of concern for many school boards over the last year. The committee heard from numerous stakeholder groups as the General Assembly examines the issue and considers any changes that need to be made to state policies. This single issue generated approximately 20 different pieces of legislation in this session. If you are interested in watching the hearing, you can find a link to the meeting HERE. Scroll down to the listing for the February 22nd hearing of the Education Administration Committee and click on the video tab.
Also on the education front, a bill (HB344) that would require school nurses to be paid salaries commensurate with other licensed professionals failed in a House subcommittee this week. Several legislators expressed concerns about mandating pay increases on school systems, especially more rural districts, which may not have the funds available to cover these increased costs.
While one House Joint Resolution (HJR13) that could affect county elections in the future is moving, a second (HJR45) is finding less support. HJR 13 proposes to amend the constitution to move the county election cycle from a May primary and August general to align it with the state August primary and November general election. This would obviously also require moving the start of officials’ terms back from September 1 to December 1st. If the resolution passes this General Assembly, it would have to pass the next session of the legislature by a 2/3rd vote, then be placed on the ballot before taking effect. HJR45 would impose 16-year term limits on all state and local officials. That resolution has been deferred. A similar bill (HB118) that would have required local referenda to decide whether to impose similar term limits on local elections failed in the House Elections Subcommittee this week.
A bill is moving through the Judiciary Committees to add additional opioid settlements into the state’s opioid trust fund and the current framework for how settlement funds are shared between the state and county governments. There is a second wave of 5 new national settlements that will send additional funds to Tennessee. (SB637/HB1367) will be heard in the Senate Judiciary on February 28th and the House Civil Justice Committee the following day.