TCSA 2024 Capitol Updates Archive

TCSA Capitol Update

Week of March 18- March 22, 2024

After looming all session awaiting a presentation in committee, the bill which could have carried a proposal to cap local property taxes went away quietly in the Senate this week. An amendment was filed in the House for HB1968/SB2248 to enact a 5% cap on property tax increases, but similar language was never filed with the Senate State and Local Government Committee and the sponsor simply asked to have the bill moved to the General Subcommittee - a procedural move that means the bill is off notice and won’t be presented. The bill was previously rolled to the final calendar of the Property and Planning Subcommittee in the House. That meeting is next Wednesday, but with the Senate bill not moving, the issue should be done for the year. A number of legislators were sympathetic to requests from county officials for the state not to interfere with local taxing authority. Some of them have suffered attacks from outside interest groups, despite the fact that they never actually voted on the proposal. Please let your Senators and Representatives know that we appreciate them standing with local government and we support them. 

Vouchers

There were signs this week that there is still significant disagreement between the House and Senate over the universal school choice proposal. The bill was heard in the Government Operations Committee in the House on Monday. After a long and contentious debate, HB 1183/SB503 was recommended for passage and referred to the Finance Committee. It does not appear on that committee’s calendar next week. In the Senate, the bill passed out of the Education Committee back on March the 6th, but still hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing in Senate Finance. The two bills remain in very different forms. This week, the Senate also brought up the original caption bill (SB2787/HB2468) that the Lee administration filed to carry the Governor’s proposal and put the Senate amendment on that bill. The Education Committee then approved it as well so that there could be two different vehicles moving. There was some thought the Senate might start using that vehicle because it had a more limited caption and couldn’t carry all the provisions currently in the House version. After that action on Wednesday afternoon, Majority Leader Rep. William Lamberth withdrew the companion bill on the House floor the next morning, meaning it is not possible for that bill to pass both chambers. The House and Senate each appear to be dug in on their own version of the legislation and unwilling to compromise, at least for now. The talk around the legislative complex is that this issue will need to be resolved one way or the other, or the significant difference in costs of the proposals will complicate the budget process.

State Budget Amendment

Speaking of the budget, the administration amendment to the proposed budget is expected to be presented next week to the Finance Committees. This amendment is an update to the budget introduced by the Governor back at the time of the state of the state address. It recognizes the cost of legislation passed this year and updates estimates based on additional months of tax collection. The Governor did indicate that the administration found enough money to pay for an increase in the projected cost of the proposed cuts to the state’s Franchise and Excise tax. It remains to be seen whether there are enough additional funds to cover the added cost of the House’s version of the voucher bill. 

Franchise and Excise Tax Cut

SB 2103/HB1893 passed the Senate Thursday of this week on a straight party line vote. The bill makes recommended changes to an alternative minimum calculation of the Franchise and Excise tax which is expected to result in a $400 million reduction in state revenues on an on-going basis. The total cost of the bill ballooned to $1.56 billion when updated figures were used to estimate the cost of three years’ worth of refunds to companies who had been paying based on the higher minimum tax. Finance and Administration Commission Jim Bryson sent a letter to the legislature indicating that the increase of $300 million from the original proposal could be funded with additional interest earnings the state has experienced since the budget was introduced back in February. This allowed the bill to proceed to the floor, despite the fact that the full amount wasn’t funded in the original budget proposal. The bill is scheduled for discussion in the House Finance Subcommittee next week. At least some Republican members of that chamber have raised objections to aspects of the legislation.

 

Legislative Round-Up

Fuel Purchasing

HB2547/SB2432 that gives local governments flexibility to buy bulk gas and diesel fuel using documented quotes instead of competitive bids is headed to the House floor for a vote next week. The bill was approved by the Finance Committee on Wednesday and is scheduled for a floor vote next Thursday. The bill already passed the Senate on March 11th. This was a TCHOA initiative. 

County Commissioner Continuing Education

SB 2897/HB 2677 progressed in both the House and Senate this week. The bill increases the annual continuing education requirement for county commissioners from 7 to 8 hours, makes a provision for commissioners who complete the training to receive a $600 supplement paid for by the county in addition to the commissioner’s regular salary and provides that commissioners who do not comply with the training requirements are ineligible for election or appointment to the county commission until he or she completes the training. The bill does not apply to incumbents in office on the effective date of the act or to any commissioner after they complete 8 years of service on the county commission. The bill was recommended by Senate State and Local and sent to the Finance Committee. It was likewise approved by the House Local Committee and sent to the Finance Subcommittee.  

Inmate Work Details

Last session, a bill passed requiring inmates out on work release or on work details outside of jails to wear GPS monitor devices unless they were accompanied by an armed guard. When the law took effect in January, we began hearing from counties about the challenges this process was causing. A bill has started moving this year to provide some relief. HB 2444/SB2536 would allow an inmate to be on release without the monitoring device if the judge of the sentencing court and the sheriff approve this in writing. The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. It was scheduled for a hearing in the House State Government Committee, but the committee didn’t get to the bill before it ran out of time. 

Purchasing Election Equipment

A bill that would allow election commissions to purchase equipment or incur debt on behalf of the county encountered questions in the Senate State and Local Government Committee last week. This week the sponsor came back with an amendment to limit the bill to circumstances where the funds being expended by the election commission were entirely state or federal pass through funds. With that amendment on the bill, SB 2587/HB2096 came out of committee. It was likewise recommended by the Elections Subcommittee in the House.

Block Chain Operations

A bill entitled the Blockchain Basics Act, related to mining crypto-currency, included some language that would have preempted certain forms of local regulation. The Senate sponsor of SB 2370/HB2309 took the bill off notice last week. The house sponsor followed suit this week and also took the bill off notice. 

Bunnies and Chickens

Just in time for Easter, legislation cropped up in committees this week to prohibit local governments from enforcing any regulation that would prohibit gardening or the raising of six or fewer chickens or rabbits at single-family residences. Under the provisions of SB1761/HB1850, counties could still impose reasonable regulations on growing fruits and vegetables, including a requirement that any garden visible from the street or an adjoining lot be maintained in a good condition. The county could prohibit roosters in residential areas and proscribe minimum requirements for shelter for the chickens or rabbits, setbacks from adjoining properties, and sanitary conditions to prevent animal waste from creating offensive odors or the attraction of pests, so long as the regulations don’t have the effect of prohibiting the raising of the animals. The bill was recommended for passage by the House Property and Planning Subcommittee and sent to the full Local Government Committee. The bill was deferred in the State and Local Committee in the Senate to next week.

Committees Closing

A number of committees and subcommittees have already closed for the year. Next week, the Senate State and Local Committee will try to work off the remaining 57 items on its final calendar. Once the standing legislative committees wrap up their business, the deck will be cleared for the passage of the state budget. Adjournment is anticipated sometime in late April.