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Update from the Hill

July 7, 2017
 

In the few weeks since the first session of the 110th General Assembly adjourned there has been a flurry of activity and announcements concerning members of the House and Senate and their long term plans.  Here’s a rundown of some of the known changes:

 

Rep. David Vaughan won the special election in District 95 to replace Rep. Mark Lovell who defeated former Rep. Curry Todd in August of 2016.  This special election was called after Rep. Lovell resigned amid rumors of improper behavior.  This district includes Collierville and part of Shelby County.

 

The Knoxville delegation will have at least two new faces as Rep. Harry Brooks (District 19) and Rep. Roger Kane (District 89) have both announced that they will not seek re-election.  Both gentlemen had hinted at their intention to not seek re-election during this past session, so their announcements were not a real surprise.  Rep. Brooks retirement will open up an important Chairmanship as he stewards the House Education Administration and Planning Committee.
Another possible change to the Knoxville delegation, Sen. Doug Overbey (District 2) is speculated to be strongly considered for appointment to the position of United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

 

In middle-Tennessee, Rep. Joe Pitts (District 67) has also announced that he will not seek re-election, after serving ten years in the Tennessee General Assembly.  Rep. Pitts is the only democrat to announce his retirement so far.

 

Based on the announcement by Sen. Mae Beavers (District 17) that she intends to run for Governor, Rep. Mark Pody (District 46) has announced that he will give up his house seat and run for Sen. Beavers Senate position.  Rep. Pody is in his fourth term and his district includes Cannon and parts of Wilson and DeKalb Counties.

 

Speculation during this past session had former Roane County Mayor and current Sen. Ken Yager (District 12) applying for one of the vacant positions on the Tennessee Valley Authority.  Sen. Yager has since announced that he will not seek the appointment, but Rep. John Ragan (District 33) of Oak Ridge has confirmed that he has indeed submitted his name for consideration to the TN Senate delegation.

 

Rep. Judd Matheny (District 47) has confirmed that he intends to run for the Congressional seat currently held by US Rep Diane Black.  It is widely believed that Black (a former State Senator) will run for Governor.  Rep. Matheny is the first to announce for the seat currently held by Congresswoman Black.

 

In West Tennessee, Rep. Jimmy Eldridge (District 73) has announced that he will run for Mayor of Jackson, TN in May of 2019.  Whether or not he runs for re-election to his House seat prior to that election is not clear, but you can expect others to be looking at the seat and positioning for a run.  Rep. Eldridge is also a Chairman and his position on the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee will be another vacancy to be filled.

 

Sen. Mark Norris (District 32) is currently being vetted for one of the two vacant federal district judgeships for the Western District of Tennessee. Sen. Norris has also been rumored as a possible Gubernatorial candidate, so change in that district is a good possibility.  Further, Sen. Norris is the current Senate Majority Leader and if he leaves the Senate, that position will be open.

 

The current Senate Republican Caucus Chair, Sen. Bill Ketron (District 13) has announced that he is seeking the position of Mayor of Rutherford County.  Sen. Ketron ran for Mayor previously prior to his election to the Senate in 2002.  His departure from the TN Senate opens up the position of caucus chair, the 3rd most powerful leadership position elected by his peers in the caucus.

 

With the announcement of Sen. Ketron, Rep. Dawn White (District 37) has announced her intention to run for the Ketron’s Senate Seat.  Rep. White is in her third term in the TN House and was the first to announce for the vacant senate seat.  Since then, current Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess has also announced his intention to run for the Senate.

 

Regardless of the action taken by the voters in August and November of 2018, the 111th General Assembly will definitely have new faces.


May 10, 2017

Budget Passes, Session Adjourns

The first session of the 110th General Assembly adjourned today following an ambitious week full of monumental considerations.

 

On Monday evening, the Senate convened to finalize the FY 17–18 budget. As you recall, the House finally passed its version of the budget on Friday after a slurry of controversy when unfriendly amendments were added. The Senate’s consideration of the bill was much less dramatic. While there were some discussions about the order in which to consider the package of bills, adoption went relatively smoothly. The primary grievance most senators expressed was the necessity to break the "Copeland Cap.” The cap is a constitutional amendment which requires the legislature to acknowledge that it is increasing the state’s budget at a greater rate than the consumer price index has increased in the previous year.

 

In the end, 28 of 33 senators voted in favor of the budget, sending it to Governor Bill Haslam for final approval.

 

Tuesday's activities were much like a sporting event that ends in a tie. Though many had doubts, some remained hopeful the legislature would adjourn before the day was complete. Both chambers ran well past 6 PM, and this year it was the Senate that insisted on another day. Just after noon on Wednesday, both the House and Senate exchanged legislation on message calendars and appointed conference committees to resolve differences. After that, resolutions were drawn in the respective chambers and they adjourned.


More Fuel Tax Legislation Passes
 

In what was one of the final pieces of legislation to be considered before adjournment, a tweak was made to Tennessee fuel tax laws. The legislation requires that taxes collected on gasoline at boat marina filling stations be dedicated to waterway infrastructure. Similar laws were already on the books directing funding for these purposes, however, SB230/HB910 specifically directs new increases for that purpose. According to testimony and Senate sponsor, Senator Paul Bailey (R– Sparta) the increase is needed to help improve access points, boat ramps, recreational facilities, and other TWRA managed water projects. One point of contention in the legislation was how local portions of the tax would be returned to counties. An amendment discerned that issue and returned local portions of the funds.


Short-Term Rental Bill Delayed to 2018
 

Legislation to halt all new regulations on short-term rental properties was thrust into the spotlight during the final week of session. The bill puts a two-year moratorium on any new regulatory actions on short-term rentals and companies that facilitate the rentals. As amended, Nashville would effectively be the only city with the proposed moratorium in place. This was one of the bill’s greatest areas of contention. House sponsor Rep. Cameron Sexton (R– Crossville) defended his legislation for nearly two hours on the House floor Monday night, while the Senate was passing the budget. The House passed the legislation with 53 of 99 voting in favor. The Senate had its own marathon hearing on the bill Tuesday, arguably delaying the end of session by a day. Many of the same arguments were made on the Senate floor, the only difference was they decided not to adopt the moratorium and deferred action to 2018.


Vertical Driver’s License Coming to Tennessee
 

On Tuesday the House passed legislation requiring driver’s licenses belonging to anyone under 21 to be printed vertically. House Bill 397 is designed to help curb Tennessee’s underage alcohol consumption problems by making identification of underage adults clearer. The Senate passed the companion bill nearly two months ago. This class of licenses will join others being printed vertically including some personal identification cards and a concealed carry permits.


Health Services Development Agency
 

The Government Operations Committee review of the HSDA recommended a 2 year extension over the summer of 2016. The Senate and the House Committee amended the bill to a 3-year extension and that is how it passed the Senate. In the last two weeks, some controversy erupted and the House ended up passing today a bill with a one-year extension, which the Senate then agreed to. More to come on this issue in 2018.

We have appreciated the opportunity to work on behalf of all of our clients during the 2017 legislative session. Bill reports will go out tomorrow from our office. As always, please call us with any questions or concerns.

Our photo of the week shows Lou and Estie all smiles as the legislature files out of the building. Estie is sporting her “cow pants” which have become a last day of session tradition!

 



May 5, 2017

Budget passage was a difficult process for the House

The House and Senate leadership and Finance Committees agreed on a $37 billion budget this week and sent it to the floor. All aspects of the Governor’s original budget remained in place after committee action, as well as all the recommendations made by Governor Haslam in his administration amendment to the budget presented last week.

In the $37 billion budget, education continues to be the centerpiece as lawmakers decided to increase both Basic Education Program (BEP) spending and teacher salaries. Local Education Authorities (LEAs) can expect to receive a 4% increase to pass along to educators for teacher raises. Also included are almost $900 million in capital projects across the state, $50 million of which is designated for a new state library and archives facility.

It has been widely reported that lawmakers were granted their fair share of budget requests the session. Some of the most notable include $1 million for various food banks across the state and $1.2 million to assist with the production of a film about the 1899 Sewanee University football team. At Governor Haslam’s request, a total of $190 million will be shifted to the Transportation Fund to offset past transfers and kickstart the IMPROVE Act.

When the House took up the budget on Thursday afternoon, the leadership was unsuccessful in fighting off some floor amendments which drastically changed the budget presented by the leadership and committees. Multiple amendments were adopted by close votes during the floor session which threw the budget so far out of balance that the House Finance Committee Chair, Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) declared that he could not vote for the budget any longer.


Caucus meetings, recesses, small gatherings and heated floor exchanges ensued and the House leadership ultimately called for adjournment until today (Friday) without taking a final vote on passage of the amended budget. This morning, the House re-convened and adopted an amendment which stripped all of yesterdays action and re-set the budget as it passed out of Committee. Then, they adopted a singular adjustment. The adjustment, which was negotiated with the Senate, appropriates $55 million to the 95 Tennessee counties for the improvement and rehabilitation of roads and bridges in the state-aid highway system.

With the unexpected adjournment of the House until today, the Senate decided to leave and not come back in session until Monday afternoon at 5 p.m. The Senate has pretty much completed all its work with the exception of the budget and those bills placed behind the budget due to their fiscal impact. The Senate Finance Committee is expected to meet on Tuesday, assuming passage of the budget by the Senate on Monday evening.

Post Twenty Week Abortion Ban Passes
 

Legislation is heading to Governor Haslam's desk which makes it illegal for a woman to receive an abortion after the twenty-week mark of pregnancy. It drew a firestorm of controversy in both the House and Senate. Sponsors contend the legislation follows U.S. Supreme Court guidance and has faced limited challenges in other states where the model legislation has been implemented.

                               Firearm Protection Bills Still Appearing on Calendars

One of the last bills in the 2017 Second Amendment legislative package was presented on the House floor on Wednesday. The legislation, which is sponsored by Representative William Lamberth was one of the more contentious pieces of legislation on a House floor calendar that had no shortage of controversial items. House Bill 508/Senate Bill 445 allows a private cause of action if an entity has infringed upon someone’s ability to protect themselves with a firearm.

 

Specifically targeted in the bill are local governments who may place stringent restrictions on public facilities, effectively circumventing state laws passed to deregulate firearms. The plaintiffs could collect treble attorneys fees from the cities if they prevailed. The topic was hotly debated on the House floor, mainly on party lines. After amendments were avoided and the question was asked for, the legislation passed.

                                   
 Candidates in Special Election Set

Republican Kevin Vaughan, a Shelby County school board member was nominated in last week’s primary to represent his party against Democrat Julie Byrd Ashworth in the June primary. The special election is being held to fill the vacated House District 95 seat. It was left open following the resignation of Representative Mark Lovell in February.


  Photo of the Week
 

Our photo this week was taken during one of the multiple pauses during the Senate session on Thursday. It shows a number of Senators in the Lt Gov's conference room watching the House during debate on the budget. Later, after the Senate had come back to the floor, during another recess, the House action was shown on the Senate voting board with audio being piped in at the Senators’ request.



April 27, 2017

Appropriations Amendments Shape Budget’s Final Touches

On Tuesday Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin presented Governor Bill Haslam’s appropriations amendment to both the Senate and House Finance Committees. The presentation was the subject of high anticipation because of the amount of special interests seeking additional state funding. Commissioner Martin and staff spent roughly 35 minutes presenting general information regarding the updated budget in each committee. Some highlights include:

 

·         Reconciliations between the original, proposed version of the IMPROVE Act and the amended version which passed.
·         $55 million non-recurring to be repaid to the state’s transportation fund in order to expedite and jumpstart projects.
·         $2 million recurring to the Department of Mental Health for prevention and treatment.
·         $8 million recurring to provide a Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities provider rate increase at 4.8%.
·         $4.1 million for Sevier County and Gatlinburg marketing efforts. This allotment is an effort to boost the region following last year’s disastrous wildfires. Also included is funding to reimburse tax on materials purchased to rebuild areas affected by wildfires. In total, wildfire affected areas are set to receive nearly $11 million as result of the proposed budget amendment.
·         $15 million non-recurring to be added to the Aeronautics Economic Development Fund which is in addition to $15 million that was included in the originally proposed budget.
·         $40 million non-recurring towards building a new state library and archives facility.


Voucher Legislation Delayed to 2018
 

The perennial effort to pass legislation allowing parents of children in underperforming schools to use vouchers at private schools will be postponed another year. The Senate has been poised to take action on legislation to implement an opportunity scholarship program which applies to Shelby County’s lowest performing schools. After passing the Senate Education Committee in early March, it has been held in the Senate Finance committee awaiting action from the House. House sponsor and Education Administration and Planning Committee Chairman Harry Brooks decided to postpone action on HB 126 until 2018.  The bill was scheduled to be considered in the House Finance Ways and Means Subcommittee on Wednesday.


“Celebrate Freedom Week” Implemented
 

Legislation passed on Monday which designates “Celebrate Freedom Week” in Tennessee. The occasion will be recognized on the week of September 17 every year. The purpose of the designation is “to educate students about the sacrifices made for freedom in the founding of this country and the values on which this country was founded.” The week in which September 17 falls, or another full school week as determined by an LEA, is designated as Celebrate Freedom Week in public schools. It will apply to Tennessee children who are in grades 3-12.  Children will be required to recite a paragraph from the Declaration of Independence and will be taught about America as a nation of immigrants, the Constitution, the American Revolution, and abolition movements.


Governor’s Race Expands
 

Williamson County businessman, Bill Lee entered the 2018 race for governor earlier this week. He is Chairman of the middle Tennessee based Lee Company, a successful home repair and service business.


The End is Nearing
 

Both the House and Senate are planning to pass the state budget legislation next week. The anticipated date of adjournment that was shared on the floor today was Monday, May 8 or Tuesday, May 9.  We shall see.

 

Today’s photo comes from Senator Thelma Harper as the Senate honored the Middle Tennessee State University Men’s Basketball team for their Conference USA Championship.  Go Blue Raiders!
 


April 20, 2017

IMPROVE ACT Passes Both Chambers

After over four hours of debate on the floor, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed Governor Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act on Wednesday. House Transportation Committee Chairman Barry Doss, the bill’s sponsor, dodged bullets seemingly all morning and into the afternoon regarding the Governor’s legislative initiative. House members passed the actual IMPROVE Act amendment by a vote of 61-35. Immediately following consideration of the amendment, a second amendment, “the Hawk plan,” was considered which would have removed the increase in gas and diesel taxes and instead use the sales tax from the sale of automobiles to pay for road improvements. After another lengthy debate, the amendment failed. There were roughly 70 amendments to be considered after these two but they were mainly withdrawn or tabled. When the final vote was taken, 61 representatives voted in favor and 37 voted no. Every democrat, except one, was supportive of the bill.

 

In the Senate, deliberations were much quicker later on Wednesday afternoon. With only six no votes, all Republican, the bill now returns to the House to consider some differences between the two versions. The Senate version includes a veteran’s property tax reduction while the House version stripped the provision while moving through finance committee.


Budget Can Now Come into Focus
 

The stage has been cleared for House and Senate Finance Ways and Means Committees to begin doing the work of considering the state budget. The Senate Finance Ways and Means Appropriations Subcommittee heard sponsors’ presentations of their appropriations amendments on Tuesday. Of the 333 amendments filed, 113 of those are requesting funding on a recurring basis. The House Finance Subcommittee heard similar presentations from House members on Thursday afternoon. No votes were taken on these amendments at this time.

 

With action being taken on the IMPROVE Act, which included both increases and decreases of state revenue, the governor’s office is expected to offer its supplementary budget amendment early next week. Once revealed, serious budget considerations can take place and tilt the Tennessee General Assembly toward adjournment for the session.


Voter Fraud Legislation Passes Senate
 

Legislation which would implement monetary penalties on anyone fraudulently participating in the election process passed the Senate this week. Passing the House over a month ago, HB686/SB645 has been amended and penalties decreased to $1000 from the original $5000 requested by sponsors. Examples of violations include voting more than one time in an election or voting in more than one state. Additionally, it directs the Secretary of State’s office to implement a program to provide rewards to anyone giving information which leads to a conviction.


Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency May Recover Some Lost Revenue
 

The Senate passed SB454 on Thursday which reimburses TWRA for revenues lost as result of license fee waivers. In sessions past, the legislature has implemented several license exemptions for various groups of citizens. Some of those include veterans, landowners, and the disabled. The legislation has been introduced in order to help the agency recover lost revenue created by these exemptions. TWRA and its programs are funded exclusively from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses in Tennessee. Thus, any reduction is increasingly burdensome. The bill remains in the House Finance Ways and Means Committee and is expected to be heard next week.

 

This week’s photo was captured following the Senate’s passage of the IMPROVE Act as media surrounds Lt. Governor McNally and Leader Mark Norris.
 


April 13, 2017

Road Funding Legislation Moves to Final Consideration

Governor Bill Haslam's road funding legislation advanced to the floor in both the House and Senate this week. On Tuesday, the House Finance Ways and Means Committee spent two meetings discussing the priority measure. Finally, during the second meeting of the day the committee passed the legislation as presented by the sponsor. Representative David Hawk (R –Greenville) presented his amendment to the legislation which restructures funding and eliminates an increase in the fuel tax. Representative Hawk’s amendment is backed by Speaker Beth Harwell. It was not offered for a vote, however, a variation may be presented again next week on the House floor. In the Senate, Majority Leader Mark Norris (R – Collierville) presented and passed the Senate version of the legislation with much less dissent. The legislation moved forward with a 10-1 vote in the Senate Finance committee.

 

The IMPROVE Act is scheduled to be heard on the House floor on Wednesday at 9:00a.m. The outcome of this bill will impact the timing of the end of session. As previously mentioned, the Governor is unable to present his updated state budget without knowing the outcome of a bill impacting a significant amount of state revenue.


Our photo this week was taken from the packed House hearing room where the IMPROVE Act was under consideration.



Committees Completing Business

 

House and Senate committees continued closing this week and appeared to be full speed ahead toward full adjournment. The only delay: The administration has yet to present its final budget amendment. The Senate Finance Ways and Means Appropriations Subcommittee is set to hear presentations from members about their budget amendments next Tuesday. This is the first indication from either chamber that they are beginning to take serious steps towards considering the budget. Aside from the Senate Finance Ways and Means Committees and the Government Operations Committee, which does not close, only two Senate standing committees remain open. One of those is the famed Judiciary Committee, which has become known for its heavy workload and long hours. The other committee is the Transportation and Safety Committee, which will meet on Monday for the first time in two weeks. It is presumed the committee has been kept open in order to review potential revisions to Governor Haslam's road funding proposal. In the House, seven full committees and no subcommittees remain open.


Senate Keeping Recess Options Open
 

In a development that came about last Thursday, the Senate still maintains it could recess at the end of next week if the House has not made up ground. The disposition of the road funding bill could have a lot to do with the Senate’s decision. Specific language of the resolution stipulates the Senate will recess on April 20 and reconvene on May 1 – nearly 1 1/2 weeks. The Senate has announced it will meet next Wednesday in addition to its regularly scheduled time slot on Thursday.


No New Traffic Light Laws this Year
 

A pair of bills designed wage war on traffic cameras and surreptitious police surveillance will not move forward this session. One of those is designed to target private companies who contract with local governments in order to enforce certain violations. The other requires law enforcement vehicles be clearly marked if they are operating manned traffic cameras. The sponsor of the legislation decided to delay a vote on legislation until next year after failing to add an amendment.


In-State Tuition Bill Not Popular Enough
 

Legislation which grants in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants failed in the House Education Administration and Planning Committee on Tuesday. The bill has created a firestorm of controversy, which is compounded by ongoing national debates about immigration policy. The legislation failed by a 6-7 vote after a lengthy discussion and testimony from a child who would benefit from the proposal. The Senate version of the legislation passed in the Senate Education Committee weeks ago and has yet to be considered by the entire Senate. A similar piece of legislation remains on the House committee calendar and could be heard next week. The secondary bill gives university oversight boards the ability to choose who receives in-state tuition. Universities support the concept.


April 6, 2017

IMPROVE Act Amended- Again

The IMPROVE Act took on a brand-new name this week. In the House Finance Ways and Means Subcommittee on Wednesday, bill sponsor Rep. Barry Doss (R-Leoma) introduced another amendment to rework the bill. One piece of the amendment renames the legislation the ‘Tax Cut Act of 2017.’ Another part removes extremely controversial language tying the bill to veteran’s property tax relief. The cuts were included three weeks ago after the amendment was agreed upon by supporters and the Haslam administration. Since it was tacked on the bill, it has created a frenzy of controversy. Detractors argued the original amendment was a political check designed to force those opposed to make a difficult political decision. Doss’s bill passed the committee and now goes on to the full House Finance committee for consideration next week. Thickening the plot this week was the fact that Speaker Beth Harwell’s office announced she is working on plans to offer an alternative. Her office indicated the Speaker is working to develop a new plan that would not raise the gas tax. This news appeared to be quite a surprise to the Governor’s office, the Senate leadership and even some Republican House members.

In the Senate, it appears the Finance Ways and Means Committee plans to hear the bill next Wednesday, meaning the final vote in both chambers is a couple of weeks out. Reading ahead, and considering potential differences between the House and Senate versions, it is not looking good for the harmony of the General Assembly.


                                                            Committees closing

The process of shutting down sub-committees in the House and full committees in the Senate has begun. Next week is expected to be the final week for any House subcommittees that are still open. This week the Senate Education Committee and the Commerce Committee finished for the year. Senate Environment and Transportation finished last week.

                                             Budget Starting Down Winding Road

The state budget process continues to be held hostage by road funding proposals. The House Finance Committee has not indicated when budget amendments will be made public. In the Senate, Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson (R-Hixon) revealed today that he expects his committee to begin appropriations hearings on April 18. In the timeline he projected, the House would vote on the governor’s road funding proposal the following day which should prompt the Governor’s budget schedule to be sent early the following week of April 24 with the actual budget language being received on May 1st. Senator Watson’s projection included passing the state budget around May 4 and legislation placed behind the budget being acted on the week of May 8. Early analysis of the timeline is that the chambers seem very hopeful to reach agreement and proceed to the budget. Senator Norris announced that as a contingency he had introduced SJR 313 stipulating the Senate would enter into recess beginning April 20 until May 1 if the House was still deliberating on items that would stall the actions of the Senate.


School Bus Legislation Stays on Front Burner

Last year's school bus crash in Chattanooga prompted a flurry of legislation attempting to prevent future accidents. While some of the bills overlap with one another, multiple approaches continue to flow through various committees. Sponsored by members of the Chattanooga delegation, one bill stipulates that all new school bus purchases after 2018 be equipped with safety restraint devices. Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and Rep. JoAnne Favors (D-Chattanooga) are sponsoring the legislation, which seems to have drawn more questions than any of the school bus bills. The administration has also weighed in on the issue. As part of its legislative package, the Governor’s office had a bill introduced to restructure the process by which bus drivers are licensed. The process requires the state board of education to develop rules to pass through to local education agencies. Each agency must also adopt policies and appoint a specific coordinator to oversee bus safety. The bill now waits in both finance committees. Complementary to that is a measure requiring that school bus drivers be at least 25 years old and have possessed a license for at least five years.

                              Smith Harris and Carr Principals Receive Accolades

Smith Harris and Carr principals, Estie Harris and Meagan Frazier have been recognized with two very distinct honors. Last week, Meagan Frazier was acknowledged for her nomination to receive Nashville's prestigious ATHENA Young Professional Award. The esteemed ATHENA Awards Program honors business and professional women for their career success, service to community and encouragement of women. Accolades were also given to partner, Estie Harris by the Tennessee Physical Therapy Association (TPTA). The association recognized Estie with their President’s Award. TPTA is regarded as the states foremost advocate for the profession of physical therapy.




March 30, 2017


Budget Picture Takes Shape, as Timeline Remains Uncertain

In the last few years, the General Assembly has had Governor Haslam's budget queued up and near passage by this point in the legislative session. Of course, every legislature puts their stamp and shape on the administration’s budget which prolongs the process. This year is no different, however, one large, six cent barrier stands in the way. The administration's proposed road funding/food tax legislation has yet to make its way to either chamber for floor votes. In fact, on Tuesday the Senate Finance Ways and Means Committee delayed action on the bill another week. Thus, Governor Haslam likely will not propose any budget amendments until the highway funding bill and a handful of other proposals have cleared. Until the fate of the governors revenue legislation is more certain, we will likely not see a budget amendment from his office.


A lack of legislative progress on administration bills did not stop the Senate and the House from submitting their proposed budget amendments last week. All totaled, there were 333 budget amendments filed in the Senate– seven of those were at the request of a committee. This year, amendments will be heard by a Finance Subcommittee with a new chairman, Senator John Stevens who replaces Bo Watson, the new chairman of the full committee. In the House, the Subcommittee also has a new chairman in Representative Gerald McCormick, former Republican Majority Leader. With the House budget amendment deadline also last Thursday, only 208 total amendments were filed– a noticeable difference from the number submitted in the Senate.


Firearm Legislation Still at the Forefront of Discussions

After an unprecedented wave of new laws and regulations relating to the open carry of firearms, legislative proposals continue to pour onto committee calendars. Legislation has been filed to both rein-in and expand Tennessee's open carry laws. Last week, legislation allowing a police officer to carry a firearm into a major ticketed venue advanced. The bill’s sponsor, Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Tracy made his case for the legislation before the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to pass it last Tuesday. It is opposed by occupants of the state’s major venues.

Another piece of legislation grants temporary authority to carry a firearm to victims of domestic violence. It provides a defense for prosecution for the first seven days after the alleged victim has been issued an order of protection. Additionally, legislation is expected on the House floor Monday which clarifies that owners of gun stores and other firearm dealers may also sell their personal firearms just as any private citizen may.


Mule Day on Full Display at the Legislature

Every year, the City of Columbia, Tennessee plays host to Mule Day. The beloved event is a week-long festival where the event’s namesake is the center of attention. Festivities include a mule pull, beauty pageant, auctioneer contest, and the famed Mule Day Parade. City leaders and the Mule Day Pageant winner and her court were celebrated on the House Floor on Monday evening. Representative Sheila Butt (R-Columbia) and newly elected representative Michael Curcio (R-Dickson) hosted the group as they were given accolades congruent to the week’s activities.


House Homecoming

On Wednesday evening, House members currently serving and those who are retired assembled at the auditorium on the grounds of the Ellington Agricultural Center at the invite of Speaker Harwell. The purpose of the get together is so new and old members can fellowship with one another and other guests outside the General Assembly. It is also a fundraiser benefitting the TN State Museum Foundation. Smith Harris & Carr has been a proud sponsor of the event since its inception. It is attended by number of outside guests both from within and outside state government.

This week’s photo is courtesy Representative Dan Howell. Pictured are members of the Tennessee House Seersucker Caucus along with Speaker Beth Harwell.



March 23, 2017


Haslam Initiatives on a Roll

It has been a good week for Governor Bill Haslam and his administration's legislative team. The House Transportation Committee met twice this week, and both times they discussed Tennessee's highway funding options. In Monday's special called hearing, administration officials testified throughout much of the meeting. No action was taken. During Tuesday's regular meeting of the committee, and after a thorough debate, the committee passed an amended version of the governor’s legislation. The bill now matches the version passed by the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee last week. That version reduces the proposed tax increase at the pump among other items.

Governor Haslam’s broadband expansion legislation also received a favorable vote in the House Business and Utilities Committee. The bill deregulates electric cooperatives and enables them to provide internet services. It also directs $30 million over the next three years to incentivize private companies for expansion into underserved areas.

Legislation implementing the Tennessee Reconnect program also moved forward. The bill lays out framework for Tennessee adults to attend community college at no cost. House and Senate versions each rest in their respective finance committees.


Medical Marijuana….Not This Year

Efforts to legalize marijuana for medical purposes have been abandoned for the year. Earlier this week, Representative Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) announced he would not pursue passage of HB495 in order to allow discussions to continue through the off-session. The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Steve Dickerson R-Nashville, a physician. Sponsors offered the legislation after a much broader public debate took place last summer and fall about the merits of legalizing the drug for medical purposes.

                                                 Obstructing Highways and Roads

On Thursday, the Senate passed SB 902 (Bell R-Niota) which implements fines for anyone blocking public roadways while emergency vehicles are attempting to pass. The legislation is expected to be considered by the entire House next week after it passed in the Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday. The House sponsor is Representative Jimmy Matlock (R-Lenoir City).

                                                   Education Stays in the Forefront

High profile school choice legislation took a major step by advancing out of an important committee on Tuesday evening. The House Administration and Planning Subcommittee approved the legislation after a lengthy debate. It moves on to the full committee next week.

The Senate Education Committee passed SB 1014 by Senator Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), which grants in-state tuition to students who are undocumented but have graduated from a Tennessee high school. The bill also lays out several standards including “path-to-citizenship” which the student must meet. It came within a hair of being sent to the governor and 2015 when the House came up one vote short following passage in the Senate. The legislation has become controversial over the past couple of sessions. It was also the subject that drew a number of students who filled the Senate hearing room to show support.


Legislative Winds Are Blowing

Companion bills were heard in both the House and Senate this week to attempt to halt construction of wind turbines in the Upper Cumberland region of Tennessee. Plans are in place for the turbines to be constructed, however they face public opposition. Those opposed to construction of the turbines contend they will diminish aesthetics of the region, destroy wildlife habitat, and decrease tourism to name a few grievances. U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander is one of the most vocal opponents of the project. He is joined by Tennessee Senate sponsor Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) and House sponsor, Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville).

Those opposed to legislation to stop turbine construction contend the issue boils down to one of property rights and what landowners may or may not do on their own property. After each version of the legislation was presented, action was postponed one week to allow sponsors to clarify parts of the legislation. It will be heard again on Monday in the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and on Wednesday in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee.

The photo of the week comes from Representative Jason Zachary after the “Capitol Hilltoppers” defeated the state legislative interns 51-45 in the annual basketball game.



March 16, 2017

                                         President’s Visit Results in Abbreviated Week

Wednesday afternoon and evening, several state legislators were in attendance to watch President Donald Trump visit the home of President Andrew Jackson. The purpose of the stop was to pay respects to President Andrew Jackson by laying a wreath on his tomb at his home, the Hermitage. Following formal remarks to an exclusive audience, many state officials and President Trump made their way to downtown Nashville for his preplanned rally. The rally had only been officially announced for just over a week before the event was held. It took place at Nashville's Municipal Auditorium with many of President Trump’s supporters on hand with some protesters in attendance as well. Those in attendance were required to request tickets through President Trump’s campaign website at no cost. Bar-coded tickets were sent via email to attendees.

As a result of the activities and anticipated traffic complications, legislative committees were canceled on Wednesday afternoon. In the House, this meant six committees postponed consideration on all their calendars until next week. The Senate only skipped two meetings.

                                                Haslam Legislation on the Move

The heavily reported proposed fuel tax increase by the Haslam administration took a giant leap forward when it passed a critical Senate committee on Monday. The Senate Transportation and Safety Committee passed an altered version of the legislation after apparent deliberations and compromise over the weekend. Revisions to the legislation add phase-in provisions to the bill and slightly lower the gas tax increase to six cents rather than the earlier proposed seven.

Also on the move is the administration’s broadband expansion initiative which is being spearheaded by the Department of Economic and Community Development. Thus far the legislation has made it through committees virtually unscathed. It passed unanimously in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Tuesday.

                                                President James K. Polk Moving?

Speaking of presidential tombs, SJR 141 passed in the Senate State and Local Committee on Tuesday morning. The resolution expresses support for the relocation of President James K. Polk's tomb and remains. President Polk was the 11th President of the United States and second of three from the state of Tennessee. Today his tomb is located on the north east portion of the state capitol grounds. This is where he and Mrs. Polk's remains have rested since 1890 after being relocated under the direction of the General Assembly. The resolution instructs that the tomb and remains be relocated to Polk's home in Columbia which is also a state owned site. The resolution passed 8–1 and is expected to be heard on the Senate floor next week. The resolution is only the first step of completing the relocation. It must also be approved by the state historical commission.

                                 Senator Green to be Considered for Army Secretary

Senator Mark Green (R–Clarksville) announced in January that he would run for governor in 2018. Many consider Senator Green to be a front runner at this point. On Wednesday before President Trump's visit to Nashville, a lot of speculation spread that he was a leading candidate to be the president’s choice to be the next Secretary of the Army. The appointment does make sense given his background as an Army special operations soldier and a graduate of West Point. Prior to serving in the State Senate, Senator Green had never held an elected office. He was first elected in 2012.

                                                               Photo of the Week

This week’s photo is of Dr. Bob Ramsey, Chairman of the House State Government Committee. The photo was taken just after he gaveled out the committee on Wednesday. Happy Saint Patty’s Day!

 


March 9, 2017

                                                       Pace Quickens at Legislature

If the General Assembly wasn't moving at full speed already, this week moved it in that direction. On Tuesday and Wednesday, every committee room was seemingly packed. A number of controversial bills were on committee calendars this week which brought even more attention and intrigue to each individual hearing.

In what has been the center of attention this session, highway funding proposals in both chambers are still very much in play. The Senate Transportation and Safety Committee Chairman Paul Bailey appointed special subcommittee to review the options. On Tuesday the subcommittee met and passed project recommendations. In the House, the full Transportation Committee discussed the amended version of the legislation before deciding to delay a vote on the bill for one week.

                                                        Vouchers Bill Advances

The Senate Education Committee considered three bills which were part of its parental choice calendar on Wednesday. There are a number of versions of the legislation; however, the one tapped to advance was sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R- Germantown) which grants opportunity scholarships to some of the state’s lowest performing schools. The legislation passed unanimously.

                                              Broadband Initiatives Clear Hurdle

One of Governor Haslam's keystone pieces of legislation, the Broadband Accessibility Act, cleared its first hurdle on Tuesday. The House Business and Utilities Subcommittee passed the legislation which was crafted following recommendations by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) and another task force. The bill implements three new policies: 1. Provides grant opportunities for private providers to expand services into underserved areas. 2. Deregulates electric cooperatives from providing internet services to their members. 3. Offers grant opportunities to libraries for the purpose of promoting "digital literacy."

                                                     Boyd to Run for Governor

Former Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd announced early this week he was launching his 2018 campaign for governor. The announcement should not come as a surprise after heavy speculation that he would enter the race. He joins state Senator Mark Green and former Democratic Mayor of Nashville Karl Dean as candidates to have entered the race. Boyd qualifies to campaign and raise funds immediately since he does not currently hold a public office.

                                                 Senator Douglas Henry Passes

Tennessee lost a legend earlier this week with the passing of Senator Douglas Henry. Senator Henry was the long-time chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Ways and Means Committee. He was a conservative Democrat who brought fiscally conservative practices to the committee. Many attribute the financial stability Tennessee experiences today to decisions made under Senator Henry's leadership as chairman. On Thursday, Senate and House members paid their respects to Senator Henry as he laid in state on the second floor of the State Capitol. The lines were long to pay respect to a one of a kind Tennessee statesman. Members of the Finance Ways and Means Committee will be keeping one chair vacant during hearings this session in remembrance of Senator Henry and his desk in the Senate Chamber was draped in black in his memory as well.

 

March 2, 2017

                                   IMPROVE Act Advances After Significant Alterations

The roller coaster continues as House members wrestle with making the right decision relative to funding Tennessee's transportation system. Last week, the House Transportation Subcommittee abruptly adjourned after a surprise motion. Wednesday, the same committee was set to consider the Governor Bill Haslam’s gas tax legislation. Emotions were no more subdued.

An hour before the committee’s noon start time, the hearing room was filled. The majority of visitors were part of an organized event to urge committee members not to increase the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. The outcome of the meeting was that Governor Haslam's IMROVE Act would pass and move on to the full committee but not before some major overhauls. The first was removing the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel and replacing the fiscal void with one-quarter cents from sales tax revenues. Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) was required to break the tie vote and to add the amendment to the legislation. The other critical revision was the removal of an indexing provision in the legislation which would associate future increases with the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This meant future increases would be automatic and without total legislative approvals. Next week, the bill will move on to the full Transportation Committee where it is likely to face even more criticism.

The Senate has not begun considering specific legislation and is not expected to do so prior to a bill leaving the House Transportation Committee. On Monday, the Senate Transportation Committee did hear testimony from talk show host Ralph Bristol. Mr. Bristol hosts a conservative show on Nashville’s WTN and has a following of loyal conservative listeners. His remarks largely reflected those of the more conservative faction in this debate.


                                       Elder Abuse Legislative Package Highlighted

Before an intense week of legislative hearings could even begin, a sizable panel of senators and representatives gathered to publicly promote a trio of bills attempting to curb abuse of Tennessee’s most vulnerable adults. The group came together for a press conference in a house hearing room before session on Monday. The legislative package prioritizes protecting the elderly and/or those with intellectual disabilities and builds on protections put in place last session defining elder abuse and exploitation. In the Senate, all three bills are sponsored by Majority Leader Mark Norris (R–Collierville). Each of the three bills have a different representative sponsoring them in the House. One bill increases some penalties to felony level offenses, another puts in place stopgap measures to avoid exploitation of individuals owning stock and bond assets, the final puts new banking protocols in place to protect these citizens.


                              Special Election Set for Tennessee House District 95

On February 14, 2017, Rep. Mark Lovell (R-Eads) resigned from office leaving Tennessee House District 95 without a sitting state representative in the Tennessee General Assembly. Today, Governor Bill Haslam notified the Shelby County Election Commission of the dates for a special election to fill the vacant seat. The primary election for Tennessee House District 95 will take place on Thursday, April 27, 2017 and the general election will take place on June 15, 2017.


                                          Office of Diversity Discussions Return

In a predictable turn of events, conversations revolving around the University of Tennessee's dissolved Office of Diversity have been reignited. On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Education Committee heard budget hearings from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee. When providing testimony, University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro was asked to explain why universities need such departments. In an explanation consistent with those of the past, President DiPietro described the Office of Diversity as a department whose objective is to expose students to a range of cultural and other experiences while enrolled at the university. The exchanges, while never confrontational came to a head when Senator Joey Hensley (R–Hohenwald) proposed an amendment to the university's budget which would establish an Office of Intellectual Diversity. After some discussion, mostly favorable, the amendment was eventually adopted. Senator Hensley mentioned he was proposing the amendment to provide a place where free-speech was excepted and all opinions could be expressed.


                                             Mobile Stoke Unit Visits Nashville

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center showcased its mobile stroke unit outside the Legislative Plaza on Wednesday. The unit has a four-door cab and is massive 36 feet long. The vehicle, which resembles an oversized ambulance traveled to Nashville from Memphis where it is kept in service in association with the Health Science Center. The unit is the only of its kind to use a DC electricity CT scan system on board. Exhibitors of the unit use the phrase "time is brain,” meaning every second of medical attention a stroke victim can be given could positively affect their post-care intellectual functions. The unit also includes every piece of equipment which can be found in a comparable emergency operating room located in a hospital. They allowed us to jump onboard to snap a photo. Pictured is the interior of the unit looking forward.

 

 


February 23, 2017

Transportation Funding

Most of the anticipation on Wednesday at Tennessee's Legislative Plaza revolved around what would be negotiated in the House Transportation Subcommittee. The committee was set to discuss formal proposals and other options to solve Tennessee's transportation funding shortfalls. As one of the leading options was being presented by Assistant Majority Leader David Hawk, the committee abruptly adjourned. Adjournment came after committee member Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) offered a relatively benign amendment which was ruled out of order. He then moved to adjourn the committee. Chairman Terry Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) was one of three members who voted to resume the committee.

The plot thickens on an issue which is growing increasingly complex by the day.

 

Driver’s License Changes in the Works

The Senate Transportation and Safety Committee advanced legislation on Wednesday changing the way driver’s licenses in Tennessee are to be printed. It requires that all driver’s licenses printed in Tennessee for drivers under the age of 21 be printed in a vertical format. Sponsors and bill advocates argue it will give alcohol vendors the ability to better identify and faster identify under-aged customers. The legislation is sponsored by Sen. Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville). It has not been placed on the Transportation Subcommittee’s calendar in the House.
 

Lee Greenwood Honored by House and Senate

During the only House floor session of the week, Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) presented a resolution honoring music legend Lee Greenwood. Greenwood, who is known for many hits is most recognizable for his patriotic anthem God Bless the USA. He was a fan favorite on the House floor Thursday morning and received a standing ovation from members throughout the chamber. The proclamation honoring his achievements was passed unanimously.  He visited the Senate chamber as well.


TennCare Budget Presented

Dr. Wendy Long and the management team from the Bureau of TennCare had a busy week presenting the bureau’s spending plans to both the House Health Committee and the Senate Commerce & Insurance Committee.  In the House Health Committee, Dr. Long focused on the budget but also outlined a number of policy priorities and addressed questions about the uncertainty of Medicaid funding under the new administration.  Her presentation is attached. In the Senate, Dr. Long gave a broad overview of the current status of the program and then discussed specifics of the budget.  Questions from members covered everything from flexibility with the new repeal and replace ideas as well as the status of payment reform and continued concerns about opioid abuse deterrence.

Link to TennCare Budget Presentation, click here.

Education Commissioner Testifies

The Department of Education had their hands full this week testifying before both House Education Committees and before the Senate Education Committee. The purpose of the testimony was to provide a budget overlook to members of each body. Commissioner Candace McQueen and her department are responsible for advocating one of Governor Haslam's most noted spending increases – $100 million in teacher pay increases. She points out that of the Department of Education’s $6 billion budget, 96% of the state’s allocation is passed on to local education agencies.

Days on the Hill Fill Hallways

In a week that included University of Tennessee’s Day on the Hill festivities, halls at the Tennessee General Assembly were packed. Dignitaries including university system President Joe DiPietro joined FFA students, dental hygienists, school board members and a number of other individuals hosting and attending events. Add busy committee calendars and the result was occasional gridlock in hallways.  The best dressed on UT’s Day on the Hill goes to our Comptroller Justin Wilson key staff, Jason Mumpower and Linda Penny (photo credit to Facebook). 
February 17, 2017.

 

February 17, 2017

New Commissioner at ECD

Governor Bill Haslam announced Thursday the appointment of Bob Rolfe as the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. Commissioner Rolfe takes over for recently departed Commissioner Randy Boyd who has returned to the private sector. Prior to joining the administration, Commissioner Rolfe served as Chairman and CEO at Medical Reimbursements of America.

House of Representatives Member Resigns

On Tuesday, State Representative Mark Lovell (R-Eads) submitted his letter of resignation to Speaker Beth Harwell. A freshman member of the House, Lovell represented House District 95, which includes parts of Shelby County. In his resignation letter to Speaker Harwell, Lovell stated, "the time requirements to represent my constitutents are more demanding than anticipated" as the reason for his resignation.

As the timing for the special election to replace Lovell will extend past the expected legislative adjournment date, the Shelby County Commission will appoint an interim State Representative to serve until the special elections. 

 

Governor and Lt. Governor Speak to Tennessee's Business Community

On Wednesday in Nashville, Governor Bill Haslam and Lt. Governor Randy McNally addressed a packed house at a luncheon hosted by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce. The audience included members from the business community and members of the Tennessee General Assembly. Smith Harris & Carr is a proud member of the Tennessee Chamber and representatives from our office attended the luncheon.

Lt. Governor McNally gave the assembled crowd an update from the first few weeks of the legislative session and then introduced Governor Haslam. During his remarks, Governor Haslam stated the administration's case for addressing Tennessee's infrastructure funding needsby increasing the state's fuel tax on gasoline and diesel. Governor Haslam also outlined his plan to address Tennessee's Franchise and Excise tax, which includes going to a single sales factor for manufacturers. The Governor also made strong pitches for expanding broadband access to rural Tennesseans and expanding the state's free two-year community and technical college tuition program, known as Tennessee Promise, to adults in a program called Tennessee Reconnect.

 

Committee Calendars

Committee calendars in the Senate and the House for the next week reveal a dramatic increase in the workload. After waiting for bills to receive the mandatory first and second readings on the floors of the Senate and the House, many of those bills have now been calendared and are ready to be considered.

Heightened Security 

The presence of protesters at most of the House and Senate floor sessions, as well as the aggressive protesters, who disrupted a press conference this week, has resulted in consideration of enhanced security at the legislative plaza and Capitol complex. Lt. Governor Randy McNally announced this week that he was considering reinstating the requirement for photo ID name badges to be issued to every visitor to the legislative plaza. This was abandoned 2 years ago due to the long lines for entry into the legislative offices. Those planning trips to the legislative plaza should allow plenty of time to get through security. 
 

Tennessee's World Record "Tucker" Buck Comes to the Legislative Plaza

The Tennessee General Assembly's Sportsmen's Caucus, a bi-partisan caucus of legislators devoted to preserving hunting and fishing in Tennessee, hosted a viewing of the "Tucker" buck at their meeting on Wednesday. For the non-hunters who read this update, the "Tucker" buck is the new non-typical world record deer harvested during Tennessee's 2016 deer season by Sumner County, TN resident Stephen Tucker. Our resident lobbyist/hunter Lou Alsobrooks got a sneak peek of the new world record holder prior to the start of the meeting. Mr. Tucker was kind enough to let Lou take the picture below. 
 

February 10, 2017

Bill Filing Deadline

The deadline to file legislation was yesterday afternoon at 4:30 pm. The bills are still being loaded into the computer, and it will be a few more days before we see them all. At this point, 1,413 House bills were filed and 1,425 Senate bills filed. Please keep an eye on your in-boxes during the next few days.  Next week’s bill report should include almost all of the bills that we have identified as of interest to you.

Governor’s IMPROVE Act

Governor Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, HB 534/SB1221 continues to get the most discussion in the halls of the legislature. Unlike other pieces of the Governor’s package, it is sponsored in the House by Rep. Glen Casada (R-Thompson’s Station). As reported, the legislation is expected to raise the gas tax by 7 cents, the diesel tax by 12 cents and the car tag registration by $5. It also calls for a 3 percent charge on rental cars and a $100 fee for electric cars. It also reduces the state sales tax on food by half a cent to 4.5 percent. A decrease in franchise and excise taxes for manufacturers, by allowing them to use a single sales factor, would amount to $113 million. Haslam’s proposal would also accelerate the cut to the Hall Income Tax for the next two years for a 3% decrease in total. The actual language of this proposal is not yet available.
Other pieces of the Administration’s package

The other items on Haslam's agenda are: HB 529, the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act to increase internet access in rural counties; HB 530, the Tennessee STRONG Act, to fund college scholarships for National Guard members; HB 531, the Tennessee Reconnect Act, a community college scholarship program for non-high school students; HB 532, which would ban open containers of alcohol in cars; and HB 533, which deals with maintenance of roads in parks and bridges.

Senate Health welcomes Randy Travis

Country Music icon Randy Travis and his wife were in Senate Health Committee on Wednesday to discuss stroke prevention and awareness. Ms. Travis told the story of how Randy’s stroke took him to the brink of death but he fought to stay alive. The committee expressed appreciation for their willingness to educate others about the risks of stroke.
 

Fiscal Review Committee

Officers were elected for the legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee this week. Congratulations to Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) who was elected Chair and Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) who was elected Vice Chair.
 

Days on the Hill

The halls are already brimming with those interested in public policy! The trend towards shorter sessions has led to more folks coming to “the hill” earlier than ever. It was U.S. Veterans’ Day, TN Disability Coalition Day, Meharry Medical Day, TN Public Television Day to name just a few.
 

February 1, 2017

The first full week of the 110th General Assembly is almost in the books 

Budget/State of the State

The Governor appeared before a Joint Session on Monday night and presented his State of the State / Budget address. The 2017/18 fiscal year budget totals $37 billion. Many of his priorities had been outlined already but he did announce two new education initiatives called Tennessee ReConnect and Tennessee STRONG.  

If approved, Tennessee ReConnect builds on Tennessee Promise and will allow any Tennessean the opportunity for a tuition free post-secondary degree or certificate at one of the state’s community colleges.  TN STRONG implements a 4-year pilot project which will allow a member of the TN National Guard to receive a last dollar tuition reimbursement at any public Tennessee university for a first bachelor’s degree.

A link to the speech and budget documents can be found here:


http://www.tn.gov/governor/topic/state-of-the-state

On Tuesday, Commissioner Larry Martin of the Dept. of Finance and Administration presented an overview of the budget as presented by Gov. Haslam.  As the expression goes, "the governor proposes and the legislature disposes"  so legislative budget hearings will begin next week and last until early March.
 

Committees

Many standing committees and sub-committees had organizational hearings this week with presentations. Few bills are populating the calendars so far but a steady stream are being introduced in advance of the Feb 9 introduction deadline.

 

Staffing

A few staff changes were announced this week in the Senate including the promotion of Catherine Haire to the Senate Budget office and Chase Johnson to Government Operations Research Analyst.  Both are veteran state employees and good friends.


Education appointments

Due to passage of legislation in the 2016 session, 6 state universities, formerly governed by the TN Board of Regents, have new governing boards which must be approved by the Tennessee legislature.  The nominee’s confirmation hearings began this week with East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, and the University of Memphis. 
 

Our intern, Hayden Cherry, enjoyed time today with the TSU Tiger!


 

As always please let us know of any concerns as you receive legislation or see news articles.
 

January 30, 2017

Governor Haslam presented his 7th State of the State/Budget address tonight before a Joint Convention of the House and Senate. He received a warm welcome from the members of the General Assembly.  There were a couple of hundred protesters outside in the hallway and in the galleries chanting "we are watching."

He also took the time to wish the new Lt Governor, Randy McNally a happy birthday!
Many of his budget priorities, including gas tax increases and other tax reductions and a broadband proposal had already been outlined in the last 10 days, but tonight he also highlighted TN Reconnect, a program to provide free community college for all Tennessee adults.

He also announced TN Strong, to  provide free tuition at our public colleges and universities for members of the Tennessee National Guard. His education agenda was well received.

The complete text of his address is available at this link:

http://tn.gov/assets/entities/governor/attachments/2016_State_of_the_State.pdf

The budget documents in their entirety are available at this link:

http://www.tennessee.gov/finance/article/fa-budget-publication-2017-2018

The Governor’s office has made a variety of documents available:

http://tn.gov/governor/topic/state-of-the-state

More details will be forthcoming, and we will be attending a briefing tomorrow by Commissioner Larry Martin, Department of Finance & Administration.

January 30, 2017

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam will give his second to last State of the State/Budget Address to the 110th General Assembly tonight at 6:00pm CST.  It is expected he will praise the state’s successful economic growth, note the state budget surplus and push his gas tax proposal which includes certain tax cuts.  His speech will hit the highlights of his budget proposal to the legislature.

To view or hear Haslam’s speech live, tune into your local public television or radio station at 6:00pm CST. 

It will also be available via live streaming from the General Assembly’s website at http://wapp.capitol.tn.gov/apps/livevideo/ or by clicking through to view video from the House Chamber.

January 10, 2017

At 12:00 noon today Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell gaveled the 110th General Assembly into session.

The first order of business for the floor session today, the newly elected members of the Tennessee Senate and all 99 members of the Tennessee House were officially sworn into office with family and friends by their sides. 

By 12:20p.m. both the House and the Senate had voted for their 110th leaders. Speaker Beth Harwell was elected by all 99  members of the Tennessee House.  The Chief Clerk, Assistant Chief Clerk, Chief Engrossing Clerk and Head Sargent-at-Arms were then appointed by Speaker Harwell.  Tammy Letzler of Rutherford County became the first female Chief Clerk in the House’s history today.

The Senate elected a new Lieutenant Governor.  As expected, Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), the longest serving member of the General Assembly, was elected by his peers as the 87th Lieutenant Governor of the Tennessee State Senate.  It was an emotional day for former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey as he did not seek re-election. 

The remainder of the week will be taken up with the election of the Secretary of State, Treasurer and Comptroller on Wednesday.  Also on Wednesday, there will be the annual legislative ethics training.  Later that same day, the legislators and lobbyists and staff will participate in what has become an annual community service event by packing food boxes.

On Thursday, House and Senate committee assignments are expected to be announced.

After this week’s events, the legislature is expected to take a 2-week recess and re-convene on Monday, January 30 to hear Governor Haslam’s State of the State address.

Legislation is being filed and you will begin to see more activities in the coming weeks.

As always, please let us know if we can be of service in any way.

 

September 14, 2016

The 109th General Assembly reconvened this week in its second extraordinary session.  Governor Bill Haslam called the special session to address an issue that stemmed from the passage of a bill that sought to increase the penalties for driving under the influence.  The legislation became effective on July 1 and the federal government informed the state that it ran afoul of federal zero-tolerance standards for underage drinkers.  The federal government said the state would loss 8% of its federal road funding money on October 1 if the law was not repealed. 

The bill to fix the problem passed overwhelmingly on Wednesday in the House and Senate but not without a lot of consternation from legislators complaining that the federal government was “blackmailing” the state.  No one involved with the special session seemed pleased to be in session in Nashville during September.

The topic of more conversation than the main reason for the special session was the ouster of Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin).  On Monday Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) gave notice that she would be making a motion to expel Rep. Durham during the floor session on Tuesday.  There was some question as to whether he would attend the special session especially after he released a long letter to the House membership stating his concerns with how the sexual harassment investigation was handled.  However he did appear on Tuesday morning where he addressed the House once the motion to expel him was made.  A few legislators questioned Rep. Durham about the situations noted in the Attorney General’s report about him and during such discussion he left the chamber.  Shortly thereafter the House voted to expel him due to disorderly conduct as evidenced by the AG’s report by a vote of 70-2.  Only two other times has the House expelled members in the state’s history.

The November general election is on the minds of many legislators as they return to their districts today.  We do not anticipate many changes in November but the voter turnout will be key in all races since the Presidential election will be at the top of the ticket.

The 3-Star Health Taskforce, the committee appointed by House Speaker Beth Harwell to study Insure TN alternatives, is planning to provide another draft of its modified TennCare expansion pilot project to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the next several days.  They met this week to hear from mental health experts regarding individual placement and support programs as well as presentations about the use of telehealth in serving the behavioral health population.   

Aside from the special session, it is obvious that the summer is over and it is time to prepare in earnest for session in January.  If you have interest in filing legislation or any potential issues, please contact us soon.  We want to make sure all of our clients are prepared for the 110th General Assembly which begins on January 10, 2017.


                                                                 August 5, 2016

2016 Primary Election Update

After yesterday’s primary election in Tennessee, there was only one upset among all of the State House and Senate races.  Rep. Curry Todd (R-Collierville) was defeated by Mark Lovell in the House District 95 Republican primary by 56% to 19% of the vote.  Rep. Todd was first elected to the House in 1998 and had once served as Chairman of the House State and Local Committee.

Other notable races include John Crawford who won the House District 1 Republican primary to replace Rep. John Lunberg (R-Bristol) who was successful in his Senate District 1 Republican primary yesterday to fill Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey’s seat.  Sam Whitson defeated Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) in the Republican primary for House District 65.  Rep. Durham had suspended his re-election campaign after the release of the Attorney General’s report against him. 

In the open seat of House District 94, Republican Ron Gant was successful and he will face Democrat Daniel Harris who was the winner of his primary race.  House District 69 is also open due to the retirement of Rep. David Shepard (D-Dickson).  Democrat Dustin Evans won his primary and will challenge Republican Michael Curcio who bested 2 other opponents to win the Republican primary.  Rep. Rick Womick’s (R-Rockvale) district 34 will be a contest in November between Republican Tim Rudd and Democrat Laura Bohling.  Rick Tillis, the brother of U.S. Sen. Thomas Tillis of North Carolina, won the Republican primary to fill the District 92 seat vacated by Republican Rep. Billy Spivey of Lewisburg by 40 votes.  He will face Democrat Tamra King in November. 

Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Collierville) ran for U.S. Congress in the 8th District but was defeated by former U.S. Attorney David Kustoff, but Senator Kelsey will retain his Senate seat since it was not up for election.

Voter turnout appeared to be low yesterday and will play into the November elections as well.  

Stay tuned!

May 6, 2016

In the two weeks since the 109th General Assembly adjourned, we’ve been busy fielding phone calls inviting us to campaign events, putting fundraisers on our calendars, and attending a veritable cornucopia of licensure board meetings. And they say the life of a lobbyist isn’t fun! Now that we’re back in our office across the street, we’ve included for our photo of the week, an ode to the building we love most in Nashville, one we’ve spent a lot of time in over the past four months.

3-Star Healthy Project

The “3-Star Healthy Project” task force, created by Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) to develop experimental pilot programs to make health care more efficient and to increase access to care for the uninsured, met for the first time last week. The leader of the task force, Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) says that the task force will be developing its own proposal, as opposed to adopting Insure Tennessee. Task force members are looking for ways to roll out a pilot program to assist uninsured Tennesseans without going immediately to full Medicaid expansion.  At its Nashville meeting, the task force discussed various provisions of expansion including charging people premiums for coverage and offering incentives to see a doctor. They also discussed the legislature’s desire to suspend expansion if it costs more than expected. They have scheduled their next meeting in Memphis on Monday, May 9th.  They are expected to meet in East Tennessee on Thursday, May 19th.  The task force promised to deliver a report in June along with an expected meeting with federal officials.  It is unlikely lawmakers would vote on any proposal until they return in January 2017.

Bills Becoming Law

Governor Haslam signed into law the controversial bill giving state-licensed professional counselors and marital and family therapists the legal authority to deny service to clients on the basis of the counselor’s “sincerely held principles”. The legislation is opposed by the American Counseling Association (ACA), who says that it violates the group’s code of ethics that mental health professionals cannot refuse treatment based on “personally held values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.” The ACA is scheduled to hold their national annual convention in Nashville, but is now reconsidering.

Governor Haslam let the “guns on campus” bill become law without his signature, stating that he disagrees with the bill but acknowledging the Legislature’s efforts to tailor the bill to specific situations. The new law, which takes effect immediately, allows faculty and staff of public universities to take guns on campus, if they have a valid permit and notify the university. It will keep gun bans in place for stadiums or gymnasiums while school-sponsored events are in progress; meetings where disciplinary or tenure issues are being discussed; hospitals or offices where medical or mental health services are provided; and any location prohibited by another law, such as at day care centers or elementary schools located on campus.

Fundraising Season

The legislative session has ended, campaigns are kicking off, and fundraising season is here. The calls are starting to come in. A proliferation of fundraisers has begun, including 10-12 that are already scheduled for May.
 

Licensure Boards and Meetings of Interest

There have been many licensure board and meetings of interest in the last week. Some include:  Health Care Facilities Licensure Board, TN Emergency Communications Board, State Capitol Commission, TN Commission on Children and Youth, and more. All meetings are listed on our homepage under “Upcoming Legislative Events, available here.

Political News

Governor Haslam confirmed the “mystery” $30 million included in this year’s budget will go toward General Motors, who announced that it is spending $790 million to build a new high-efficiency engine at its plant in Tennessee, creating nearly 800 jobs.

The number of registered political action committees (PACs) in Tennessee decreased in 2015. The state Registry of Election Finance reports $3.85 million in PAC donations were made during the year, virtually the same as in 2013, the last non-election year. Top account balances include Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey at $650,000; House Speaker Beth Harwell at $1.6 million; and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris at $509,405. The full report is available here.

Former state Rep. Kent Coleman died at his home last week. He was 61. Rep. Coleman served the 40th district in the General Assembly from 2002 to 2010. Rep. Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna), now holds that seat. During his eight years in the House, Kent served as a member of the Finance, Ways and Means Committee, Calendar and Rules Committee, and his largest contribution, serving as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He was truly one of the good ones and will be missed.

Photo of the Week:

Our photo of the week is of the Capitol on the last day of Session. Sine Die!
 

 

April 25, 2016

Sine Die

The 109th General Assembly has adjourned Sine Die. There were a few pieces of legislation that delayed adjournment this week: defunding the UT Office of Diversity; reduction of the Hall tax; and restoring a program that provides property tax subsidies for disabled veterans.

Last week, we mentioned the importance of legislative staff. What we didn’t mention is how much levity they bring to the long days of Session. John Kerr, budget analyst and general funnyman, ended Session by sending out a parody song of “Hello” by Adele.

In “Goodbye”, he writes:

Hello to life outside.
It’s been months since I’ve seen the sky.
So put up the gavel and lock away in its box.
The next time I’ll see you is in Government Ops… that’s today?

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey led the Senate to a steady finish.  As we have noted, he is not running for re-election but he continues to serve as Lt. Governor until a new one is elected in January 2017 at a session he will preside over.

The House honored Rep. David Shepard (D-Dickson) as he retires from the Legislature after 16 years of service. Rep. Shepard received a standing ovation, surrounded by a special caucus, as you’ll see in our photo of the week.

UT Office of Diversity

One of the issues that held up the Legislature this week is the future of the funding for certain programs in the UT Office of Diversity. The Senate and House passed different measures and they must concur before the bill can go to the Governor. The Senate version would move money from the UT Diversity Office to minority engineering scholarships for a year. The House version proposes to split the money between scholarships for minority students and decals for police cruisers that say "In God We Trust."

On Friday, a compromise was reached and adopted by a House-Senate Conference Committee and approved by both chambers. The bill will take money designated for certain salaries in the Office of Diversity and use it to fund minority engineering scholarships in 2016-17.

Hall Tax

A bill to reduce the current Hall tax by 1%, effectively giving those paying the Hall tax a 17% decrease, passed and is headed to the Governor. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville) and Rep Charles Sargent (R-Franklin), reduces the Hall tax to 5% for the 2017 tax year with the intention of totally eliminating the tax by 2022.

Bible Bill Veto

Plans to override the Governor’s veto of the “the Bible as the state book bill” failed this week. After a heated two-hour debate on the House floor, the veto override failed by 7 votes. The override needed 50 “Yes” votes, but only received 43, thus ending the issue for the year. As the original legislation passed the House first, the House was the first to act on the veto override.  Failure to override the House veto means the Senate had no opportunity to act. The veto stands.

Of Interest:

Good news, online voter registration is coming to Tennessee on July 1, 2017! The new system will allow anyone with a Tennessee driver’s license or photo ID to register to vote online. Thanks to Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston), Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), and Secretary of State Tre Hargett for all their hard work. More information is available here.

Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) and Rep Patsy Hazelwood (R-Signal Mountain) pushed through their behind-the-counter contraception bill and is headed to the Governor’s desk. This legislation will allow women 18 or older to obtain contraceptives directly from pharmacists, in addition to physicians.

The much talked about and much debated “bathroom bill” was pulled for the year. The House sponsor, Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Lebanon) plans to reintroduce the proposal next year after working out its legal challenges. The bill would require transgender students to use the bathroom of their birth sex.   When the House sponsor pulled the bill, Rep. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) left his Senate version in general subcommittee of the Senate Finance Ways & Means Committee.

Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) passed legislation to allow public university employees to carry concealed guns on public campuses. The measure passed with a 69-24 vote, and now heads to the Governor.

Photo of the Week:

 



April 14, 2016

The General Assembly could adjourn as early as next Tuesday, April 19. We’re keeping an eye on things as unfinished business will move quickly at this point.

Another thing moving quickly? Candy reserves at Legislative Plaza. Relationship building is great, but the key to being a successful lobbyist is the ability to subsist on nothing but vending machine food and drink. Luckily, the House celebrated 75 years of M&Ms this week and the good people at Mars sent cases of M&Ms and Twix to the Legislature. Dinner is served!

Also celebrated this week, the anniversary of Jack Daniels. The Senate honored the 150th anniversary of Jack Daniels on the Floor Monday night. Candy and whiskey aside, the true harbinger of the end of Session is seersucker, as evidenced in one of our two photos of the week. In our second photo, we recognize a well loved state employee who is retiring after 42 years of service.

Budget

Both House and Senate Finance Committees passed the $34.8 billion 2016-17 state budget this week. The Senate took up the budget on the Floor Thursday morning and passed it by a 32-1 vote, with Sen. Lee Harris (D-Memphis) voting no. Before the vote, Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) said, “When folks back home ask you what’s the most important thing you do, it’s balance and pass the budget every year.”

The House took up the budget Thursday afternoon. After an hour of debate, the budget passed on an 87-7 vote. The budget includes $261 million for K-12 education with $105 million of that designated for teacher raises, $100 million for the rainy day fund, $130 million for road construction, and $1.7 billion for higher education.  A legislative addition to the budget includes a 1% reduction in the Hall Income Tax.

End of Session

The General Assembly is on track for Session to end next week, slightly later than original predictions of April 15. On Monday of this week, House Majority Leader McCormick said he’s very confident the Legislature will still be in Session one week from today ( next Monday). On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Norris outlined the plan to pass the budget this week, and adjourn sometime next week.


3-Star Healthy Project

This week, Speaker Harwell, joined by Governor Haslam, announced the creation of a health coverage expansion task force. The “3-Star Healthy Project” task force, made up of four republican state legislators, will be asked to develop experimental pilot programs to make health care more efficient and to increase access to care for the uninsured. The task force will provide proposals for approval and consideration from federal health officials, and plans to meet with federal authorities in June.

Retiring Lt. Gov. Ramsey Honored

On Monday night, the Senate passed a resolution honoring Lt. Gov. Ramsey for his service to the state. With his family beside him, the Lt. Gov. listened as the resolution was read aloud, including this part:  “WHEREAS, Ron Ramsey has lived the dream; Ron Ramsey continues to live the dream; and Ron Ramsey will always live the dream.” You can read the full resolution here.


Candidate Lists

As mentioned last week, we have a complete list of state and federal candidates who filed petitions to run on the November ballot. You can find the list of qualifying candidates here. There is a large number of legislative incumbents facing opposition:  82 of 96 House incumbents, and 9 of 10 Senate incumbents. There are 6 Senators and 17 House incumbents with no opposition, including Sens. Massey (R-Knoxville), Yager (R-Kingston), Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), Haile (R-Gallatin), Stevens (R-Huntingdon), and Norris (R-Collierville). There are 22 candidates for U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher’s open Congressional seat.


Photo of the Week:

Rep. Dan Howell and Rep. John Forgety doing the people’s work and looking sharp doing it!

The importance of legislative staff cannot be emphasized enough. Mary Watts currently works for Rep. Cameron Sexton, Chair of House Health Committee. Mary has worked for various legislators in her 42 years and we wish her well in her retirement!




April 7, 2016

The Legislature wrapped up the thirteenth week of session today. We expect perhaps two more weeks. On Monday, the House passed the Flow Motion, which eliminates notice requirements and signals the end of session.

As we enter the final weeks of session, lawmakers spend more and more of their time in their respective Senate and House Chambers. In a moment of brevity in the Senate Chamber today, Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) said, “If we start prosecuting ‘stupid’ we won’t have enough law enforcement officers to go around.” Meanwhile, in the House Chamber, members remembered and honored WWII with a presentation that included a WWII glider pilot and some folks in excellent WWII era costumes, as seen in our photo of the week.

New TennCare Director

Governor Bill Haslam announced this week that Dr. Wendy Long has been named Director of TennCare and Deputy Commissioner of Health Care Finance and Administration (HCFA). Dr. Long will replace Darin Gordon, who is leaving at the end of June after serving in the role for ten years. Long has served as Chief Medical Officer for TennCare from 2004-12, and as Deputy Director and Chief of Staff of HCFA since 2013, overseeing contracts with TennCare’s network of managed care companies.

Appropriations Process

Last week the Governor’s amendment to the appropriations bill was presented to both the Senate and House Finance Committees. This week the committees started hearings on the 235 budget amendments filed by Legislators.

End of Session

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) announced today that lawmakers will be working (negotiating between House, Senate and Governor) on the budget over the weekend with the hopes of passage on the Floor Wednesday or Thursday of next week, and adjournment expected April 19, 2016.

Insure TN Rally

Insure TN proponents rallied inside Legislative Plaza on Tuesday. Participants placed shoes at the entrance of Speaker Harwell’s office asking her to ‘walk in the shoes of the uninsured’. The shoes blocked the entrance to the Speaker’s office for over two hours before State Troopers removed them.

TN State Museum

Officials broke ground this week on the new Tennessee State Museum. The museum will move from its current location in the basement of TPAC to a much larger space located across from Bicentennial Mall. Those present at the ground-breaking include:  Governor Bill Haslam, Speaker Ron Ramsey, Speaker Beth Harwell, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, and historian and author Jon Meacham, who said that amid the political turmoil of our day we must be humble enough to learn lessons from our history. He said, "We must not flinch from the more troubling chapters of our past. For one mark of a civilized society — one mark of a mature human being — is how well we can learn from our mistakes."

Ward Crutchfield

Former Senate Majority Leader Ward Crutchfield passed away on Sunday in a Chattanooga hospital. He was 87. Senator Crutchfield served in the General Assembly for 31 years before he was convicted of bribery in 2005. He was a passionate advocate for the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, securing funding for a UTC library and university building. He was also known for knowing very little about the bills he presented to committee, saying, “Anybody can pass a bill up here, but it takes real skill to pass a bill you haven’t read.”

Of Interest:

Tennessee got a mention in The New York Times today (available here), which included a focus on the “Bible bill.” The bill passed the Senate this week and is headed to the Governor. Also of note, the Attorney General ruled that all fantasy sports are gambling if money changes hands.

The filing deadline for primary and independent candidates who intend to run on the November ballot must be filed by today. We will have a complete list of who’s retiring, or not running for office in next week’s newsletter.

Photo of the Week:

Here we have Deputy Speaker Steve McDaniel (R-Parkers Crossroads) and some folks in excellent WWII era costumes at the Capitol on Wednesday morning.
 

 

March 31, 2016

As adjournment draws near in the Legislature, especially in an election year, there are a number of announcements about who’s leaving office; who’s running for office; and what cabinet positions will become open. This week was no exception. As Governor Haslam announced the departure of one key cabinet member, he introduced us to Jai Templeton, his new Commissioner of Agriculture.

In our photo of the week, you’ll see Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), a captain in the Navy Reserve, who has been called up for duty at the Pentagon and therefore will miss the remainder of session.  He had already announced plans to run for the Senate in the district being vacated by Lt. Gov Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville), so Wednesday was his last day in the House. It’s a busy time of year!

Darin Gordon

Governor Bill Haslam announced this week that after two decades in state government, TennCare Director and Deputy Commissioner of Health Care Finance and Administration Darin Gordon will be leaving his post to join the private sector. Gordon has served in the role since 2006, making him not only the longest serving TennCare director in state history, but in the country. Gordon’s last day will be June 30. The Governor’s office has made no mention of a potential successor. This opens up a key cabinet position in a role that oversees a $10.5 billion budget, the biggest of any state department.

Appropriations Process Begins

Commissioner Larry Martin of Finance and Administration presented the Governor’s amendment to the appropriations bill to both the Senate and House Finance Committees on Tuesday. Adjustments to the FY17 budget include $30M in non-recurring funds for Economic Community Development for an unnamed new industry. It also restores the 1% TennCare provider rate reduction, $8M for the television series Nashville, and $7.5M for local jails.  You can link to the administration amendment overview and presentation here.

End of Session

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) announced that Flo Mo, a speed-up move signaling the end of session, could be brought on Monday, with the goal of adjourning the week of April 18. The earliest Flow Motion in recent history was on April 2, 2014, adjournment on April 17, 2014.
 

Guns on Campus

A second guns on campus bill passed out of Senate Judiciary Committee this week and is headed to the Senate floor. The bill, SB 2376, is sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and permits full-time employees of state public colleges or universities to carry a handgun while on property owned, operated, or used by the employing college or university if the employee has a valid Tennessee handgun carry permit. The companion bill is scheduled for House Education Administration and Planning Committee on April 5.

Wine in Grocery Stores

This week the House approved the Wine in Grocery Stores fix to allow Tennessee grocery stores to stock early before the July 1 effective date. The version that passed has the one-license limit on liquor store ownership intact. It is now headed to the Governor’s desk.

 

Bible Bill

A bill to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee is headed for a full Senate vote. This week, Senate Judiciary Committee approved the “Bible bill” and sent it to Calendar Committee, where it will be scheduled for a vote on the Senate Floor as early as next week.

 

Photo of the Week:

Here we have Estie Harris, Rep. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) and Meagan Frazier.
 



March 24, 2016

You know you are in for a fun week, when there are cows, goats and sheep outside of Legislative Plaza. Nothing livens the place up more than, well, livestock. Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) presided over the Ag Day on the Hill festivities, including the infamous House vs. Senate shucking contest, which was won again this year by Speaker Harwell and her bi-partisan House team.

 

The Senate held a moment of silence on Wednesday for the victims of the Brussels attacks. Flags will be flown at half-staff until Saturday. There was a special presentation in the House to honor the life and legacy of U.S. Senator Fred Thompson. His sons and grandson accepted the resolution, which you’ll see in our photo of the week.


A ‘Transitional’ Senate Speaker
 

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) announced on Monday that he has a plan in which Sen. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) would become a ‘transitional’ Senate speaker. Under Sen. Norris's scenario, the Senate Republican Caucus would agree soon for a Sen. McNally "transitional" speakership. The traditional timetable would be to settle the issue in the Caucus after the November elections, but Sen. Norris said an agreement soon could avoid a divisive distraction in this year's legislative elections. Sen. McNally announced his intention to seek the office of Speaker of the Senate/Lt Governor on the floor of the Senate today.  McNally represents Anderson and Loudon counties and part of Knox County. First elected in 1978, Sen. McNally is the longest-serving current member of the Legislature.


House Rep Brings AR-15 to Subcommittee
 

In presenting his bill to expand background checks on gun purchases, Rep. Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) brought an AR-15 style rifle that he purchased online and picked up in a restaurant parking lot without having to submit to a background check. The bill was heard in House Civil Justice Subcommittee and failed on a voice vote. The bill, and the presentation, made national news. You can read about here and here. The companion bill was referred to Senate Judiciary Committee but has had no action.


Guns on Campus
 

The Senate voted 29-4 to let private schools and universities allow guns on their campuses. The bill, SB 1559, is sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville). The companion bill passed on the House Floor today by a 79-12 vote and is headed to the Governor’s desk.

Helmet Bill Fails
 

The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee voted 6-5 against a bill to allow insured motorcyclists who are at least 21 years old to ride without a helmet. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), testified that ending the helmet law would be a boon to tourism. Opponents argued that police would have no way of knowing which riders held proper medical coverage, and that state hospitals would be left to cover the cost of treating the brain injuries of uninsured motorcyclists. The companion bill has been taken off-notice in the House.


Committees and Subcommittees hold final calendars
 

Multiple House and Senate Committees completed “final” calendars this week and adjourned “subject to the call of the chair.”  This means that no regular meetings will be scheduled, but the chair can call a meeting with notice given to the full House or Senate.


Appropriations Process Beginning
 

The Finance Committees of both the House and Senate will hear presentations next week on the Haslam administration’s recommended amendment to the appropriations bill.  Additionally, the Finance committees will begin hearing from individual members on budget amendments filed my legislators.


Photo of the Week:
 

Today the late U.S. Senator, Fred Thompson was honored on the House Floor. Pictured are:  Rep. Barry Doss (R-Leoma), Tony Thompson (son), Dalton Thompson (grandson), Speaker Beth Harwell, Dan Thompson (son), and Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga). We are pleased to have Dalton Thompson as our legislative intern this year.



March 17, 2016

This was a busy week that included long calendars and late nights, but good news! You shouldn’t have to wait an hour and a half to get into Legislative Plaza anymore, and session should end in a few weeks. We realize one of these things is only exciting to us, but we do hope that the shorter lines at Legislative Plaza make your Hill visits easier and less stressful. Our photo of the week comes from the third big announcement this week, which we’ll jump right into now.


Ramsey Not Seeking Re-Election
 

Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey announced this week his plan to retire at the end of the year, after 24 years in the Legislature and a decade as the Senate’s leader. The Lt. Gov. delivered his stunning announcement from the well of the Senate at the conclusion of Wednesday’s session, citing his priority to spend more time with his growing family. Ramsey said, “When I ran for office four years ago, I had a 1-year-old grandson. I now have four grandsons. My first granddaughter will be born today.” As he fought back tears, he went on to say, “life is flying by” and that he can’t obligate himself to another four years in office. A link to his full statement is available here, and a video of the 3-minute announcement is available here. Lt Gov Ramsey has been a remarkable leader of the Tennessee Senate and his shoes will be very hard to fill.


End of Session
 

If the pace of this week is any indication, we are nearing the final weeks of Session. The House Health Committee had so many bills that it had to schedule an additional meeting to work through its 44-bill agenda. And it didn’t finish up so will be meeting again next week!  Speaker Ramsey would like to send lawmakers home by April 15, which would be the earliest adjournment in recent history, but he says April 22 may be more realistic.


Appropriations Bill
 

The House and Senate deadline for filing legislative amendments to the appropriations bill is today by close of business. The Governor’s budget amendment to the Appropriations bill is scheduled to be presented on Tuesday, March 29. If there is a particular budget item you are interested in, please let us know. We can provide details on any budget items of interest.


State Revenues
 

Larry Martin, Commissioner of the Department of Finance and Administration, announced this week that state revenues exceeded estimates by $20 million in the month of February. Commissioner Martin cited low tax growth in February sales tax and negative growth in franchise and excise taxes.


Insure Tennessee
 

The House Banking and Insurance Subcommittee took up two pieces of Insure Tennessee legislation this week. The first, sponsored by Rep. Larry Miller (D-Memphis), proposes to empower the Governor to enact Insure Tennessee through any means necessary. The second, sponsored by Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley), would put a non-binding referendum on the November ballot asking whether voters support expansion with a "yes" or "no". Both bills failed to make it out of committee. Rep. Fitzhugh’s bill was sent to summer study by a motion introduced by Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin), who said, “It’s important to have as much information as possible even before we put it to voters. We need to know who the President is."


“Old Fashioned” Health Care
 

The Senate voted 32-0 on Monday to approve SB 2443, a bill to encourage physicians to revert to "old fashioned" health care. Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), sponsor of the legislation, called the Health Care Empowerment Act, said, “It’s something done completely independent of insurance. It’s done completely independent of TennCare. It truly is a free-market solution to providing people with affordable health care.” The companion bill will be heard in House Health Committee on March 23, 2016.


Contraception Bill
 

The companion bill to Senator Steve Dickerson’s (R-Nashville) contraception bill, which has passed the Senate, was heard in House Health Subcommittee this week. The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain), passed out of House Health Subcommittee and will be heard in full House Health Committee on March 23.


Old Hickory Dam
 

A bill we mentioned last week, the Dam Safety Act, would prohibit the operation of a rock quarry adjacent to the Old Hickory Dam. While it failed last week, two bills offering alternative ideas to block the quarry were heard in House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee this week. Both of these bills also failed to make it out of committee.


LP Security
 

If you’ve been to Legislative Plaza lately, then you’ve likely experienced the bottleneck at the entrance. Amidst reports of visitors waiting upwards of an hour and a half to enter, Speakers Ramsey and Harwell have written a joint letter to Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons ordering an end to the photo ID checks and scans at the entrance to the Legislative Plaza. Only standard government-issue metal detectors, staffed by state troopers, will remain.


Photo of the Week
 

Our photo this week comes from Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon), one of many to capture a photo of the Lt. Gov. announcing his retirement on the Floor of the Senate this week.  The hash tag #itmatterswhogoverns was a popular one on Wednesday morning.

 

March 10, 2016

This week started with the flags flying at half staff in memory of Nancy Reagan on Monday, and followed with International Women’s Day on Tuesday. You might ask, “What were the men doing?” Well, the men were delivering 250 pounds of bologna as part of the Warren County Day on the Hill. Less delicious, but equally important, the Tennessee YMCA State Alliance, Tennessee CASA Network, and the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth hosted their Days on the Hill. See our photo of the week for a look at this year’s Child Advocacy Days.


End of Session
 

The General Assembly is in the ninth week of the legislative session, and the end is near. There are several final calendars scheduled for next week. Lawmakers were told this week to put their bills on notice if they want them heard. This means the next few weeks will be filled with long committee meetings to work through long agendas. In the Senate Republican caucus meeting, members were told, “It’s crunch time, folks. Everybody stay in a good mood.”


Budget Amendments
 

The House Finance Committee is now accepting budget appropriation amendments, says Finance Chair Charles Sargent. They are to be filed by 2:00 pm on March 17, 2016. As mentioned last week, budget appropriation amendments are due in the Senate by 4:00 pm, also on March 17, 2016.


Old Hickory Dam
 

This week, the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee defeated a bill to prohibit the operation of a rock quarry adjacent to the Old Hickory Dam. In a rare appearance at the Legislature, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper showed up to testify in support of the bill, saying, “This is not just accidents happen. Or an act of God. Or we could get a big rain. This is more like Russian roulette where we needlessly put a bullet in the chamber and spun it around hoping we wouldn’t get hurt. This is a tragic and foolish risk.” After an hour of testimony, the Dam Safety Act was defeated by a voice vote.


Firearms Signage
 

A bill to set signage requirements for business owners who want to ban customers from carrying firearms inside their establishments passed unanimously in the Senate this week. The bill would require signs to have the language “No Firearms Allowed” written at least 8 inches wide and an inch high, along with an image of a gun with a slash drawn through it. The House approved the bill last year, but will have to approve a minor change by the Senate before it could head to Governor Haslam’s desk.


Constitutional Carry
 

The controversial ‘constitutional carry’ bill failed to get the votes needed to pass out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. The bill would have let anyone over the age of 21 carry a weapon so long as they aren’t prohibited by law from possessing a weapon. The gun could either be concealed or carried in the open. The companion bill was removed from the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, effectively halting any action this year.


Suicide Prevention Bill
 

A student club created in Kingston Springs to promote suicide awareness and prevention, led efforts to pass a bill to expand suicide prevention efforts in all school districts. According to the Department of Health, there were 49 suicide deaths in Tennessee for ages 10-19 in 2014. Supporters say that more education about suicide prevention could help save lives. The expanded bill will require the Department of Education to develop materials for training school personnel about suicide prevention and establish a model policy in suicide prevention. Additionally, the bill will require school districts to create policy addressing suicide prevention. The bill passed the House and Senate and is now headed to Governor Haslam's desk.


Contraception Bill
 

Legislation to allow women easier access to birth control passed the Senate this week. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville), will allow women 18 or older to obtain contraceptives directly from pharmacists, in addition to physicians. After hearing opposition from Sens. Mark Green (R-Clarksville); Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet); and Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) — debate was closed and the chamber approved the legislation with a 24-4 vote. Five senators did not vote on the bill. The companion bill is will be taken up in House Health Subcommittee next week.


Photo of the Week
 

Meagan Frazier with Juvenile Court Judge Michael Meise and CASA's Jessica Hopper at the Capitol for Child Advocacy Days.




March 3, 2016

Session

Do you know what is fun when you’re rushing through the halls of Legislative Plaza trying to get to a committee meeting? Bumping into someone wearing a life-sized Dr. Seuss costume. This week, in addition to advocacy groups for mental illness and intellectual disabilities on the Hill, Nashville Public Television showed up with a cardboard cutout of Lady Mary from Downton Abbey and someone dressed as Dr. Seuss. Legislators and lobbyists lined up to have their picture taken with both, as you’ll see below in our photo of the week.

Budget Amendments

The Senate Finance Committee has announced that appropriations amendments are to be filed by close of business (4:00 pm) on March 17, 2016.
 

Wine in Grocery Stores:

After the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Curry Todd (R-Collierville) tabled the bill in the House last week, the Senate this week passed their, which will allow grocery stores to stock before the July 1 effective date. The Senate bill also includes a controversial provision to re-institute a two-store maximum on liquor store ownership. Stay tuned as action to bring the issue back up in the House is expected.
                                       

8th Congressional District:

This week Mark Luttrell, Shelby County Mayor, declared his candidacy for Congress in the 8th Congressional District, a spot being vacated by U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher. Mayor Luttrell joins a crowded field, including eight Republican candidates and two Democrats. Both Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and George Flinn, a radiologist in Memphis, have pulled qualifying papers to run for Rep. Fincher’s congressional seat.

Hall Tax

Conversations about the future of the Hall Income Tax continue, with the Senate expected to discuss various scenarios in Committee very soon.  The Senate Finance Ways and Means Revenue Subcommittee met on Tuesday and gave positive recommendations to two pieces of Hall Income Tax legislation:  SB 1491 and SB 1492, both sponsored by Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville).  The companion bills will be taken up in the House Finance Ways and Means Subcommittee in the coming weeks.

Heritage Protection Act

The Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2016, a bill to make it harder to remove Civil War memorials, passed the Senate this week. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), outlines a process for someone wanting to remove or rename a controversial memorial or monument by requiring a two thirds affirmative vote by the Tennessee Historical Commission. The bill has already passed in the House and is headed to Governor Haslam’s desk.


UT Diversity

University of Tennessee and Tennessee Board of Regents officials made the case for diversity and inclusion efforts during a House Joint Education Committee meeting this week. The hearing was for informational purposes only. It was not tied to legislation. The hearing was requested by the Knox County Delegation after controversial posts were made online at the Knoxville campus. Following this hearing, the Senate Education Committee voted to strip all state funding from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville's diversity office and transfer those funds to agricultural extension and rural outreach.
 

Ban the Box

The Senate passed a bill to prohibit a state employer from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history on an initial application form for employment under certain circumstances. The bill, dubbed “Ban the Box”, is sponsored by Sen. Sara Kyle (D-Memphis) and passed by a 25-7 vote. The bill is still pending in the House.


Photo of the Week
 

We have no idea if Lou and Dalton have ever seen an episode of Downton Abbey, but we appreciate them being good sports.




February 25, 2016

Session

As Session heats up in the General Assembly, it’s not only the halls that get crowded, it’s the committee rooms as well. This was a week where you had to get to committee rooms early to save yourself a seat. Many advocacy groups were in Legislative Plaza this week, including HIV Awareness, State Troopers, City of Oak Ridge, Future Farmers of America, Pfizer, Boy Scouts, and more. When it gets this busy, we’ve discovered a way to make it easier to find each other, as you’ll see in our photo of the week.


Budget Hearings
 

Budget hearings for state agencies continued this week. The Department of Health presented their budget to both Senate and House Health Committees. The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services presented their budget to Senate Health Committee. The Department of Children’s Services presented a policy update to Senate Judiciary Committee. The Department of Correction and TRICOR presented their budgets to House Finance Committee. The Department of Revenue presented their budget to Senate Finance Committee. If there is a particular budget you are interested in, please let us know. We can provide details on any budget hearings of interest.


Hall Tax
 

As the news of generous state revenue conditions continues, the Legislature is growing more interested in reforming the current tax system.  Senate Finance’s Revenue subcommittee met on Tuesday to take up a variety of bills, including many dealing with the Hall Income tax.  Although already scheduled on the floor, Sen. Mark Green’s (R-Clarksville) bill, SB 1461, which lays the groundwork for repeal of the Hall tax, was a part of the discussion. The subcommittee recommended three bills to full Finance Committee with dramatic impact on Hall tax revenue to both state and some local governments. Later in the week, Sen. Green sent his bill back to Finance Committee to refine the language of the bill.  Stay tuned….but you can expect to see movement on legislation that revises the current structure of the Hall Income Tax.


Wine in Grocery Stores
 

Last week we mentioned there was movement on Wine in Grocery Stores, which will go into effect on July 1. Rep. Curry Todd (R-Collierville) tabled this bill after it was amended to remove the provision that would re-institute a two-store maximum on liquor store ownership. The goal of the bill was to allow for grocery stores to enjoy early stocking. The tabling of the bill doesn’t affect the July 1 effective date for having wine in most grocery stores, though without this early stocking option, it may take weeks for stores to get supplies from wholesalers.


Helmet Laws
 

A bill proposing to make motorcycle helmets optional for drivers and passengers over the age of 21 was up for a vote in House Finance Committee. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jay Reedy (R-Erin) took the bill off-notice, asking the committee to defer taking action. The bill was deferred in Senate Finance Committee in 2015.


State Gun
 

Guns remain a widely discussed topic at the Legislature. This week brought us a bill to allow college faculty and staff to carry handguns on campus and another to allow permitted teachers, administrators, volunteers, school board members and bus drivers to carry guns on school grounds. While action on both of these bills was stalled in the House, the Senate passed a resolution to make the Barrett Model M82/M107 the official rifle of the state of Tennessee.


Women-Owned Businesses #1
 

Fortune magazine announced a study this week by WalletHub, a personal finance website, listing Nashville as the No. 1 city for women-owned businesses. Tennessee made the Top 10 Cities list three times with Nashville at No. 1, Chattanooga at No. 2, and Memphis at No. 4.


Smith Harris & Carr is proud to be a woman-owned business.

Photo of the Week

 

Anne Carr and Meagan Frazier think alike on a lot of things, but especially in regards to the best outfit for navigating a busy Tuesday on the Hill. It’s the Smith Harris & Carr version of Freaky Friday, but we call it Crazy Tuesday.






February 18, 2016

Session
 

In the sixth week of Session, the General Assembly tackled important issues, like refugees, guns, and the Tennessee Supreme Court, and some interesting issues, like skunks as pets. This week, the Senate passed a bill allowing Tennesseans to keep a pet skunk. Hooray? We also saw lots of Days on the Hill:  TSEA, Vanderbilt, Lupus, Primary Care Clinics, Alzheimers Association, Veterans, Veterinarians, Memphis, and University of Tennessee. Our photo of the week may involve some legislators tossing a football around while wearing orange jerseys...



Budget Hearings
 

 

Budget hearings for state agencies continued this week. The Bureau of TennCare presented their budget to the Senate Commerce Committee. The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities presented their budget to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and the House Health Committee If there is a particular budget you are interested in, please let us know. We can provide details on any budget hearings of interest.



Legislation
 

 

The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee passed a resolution, SJR 467, urging the Tennessee Attorney General to file a suit against the U.S. State Department over the United States Refugee Act of 1980. Supporters of the legislation argue that helping displaced families amounts to an “unfunded mandate.” The resolution passed by a 9-1 vote with Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) voting no and Sen. Thelma Harper (D-Nashville) passing. Opponents of the legislation filled the committee room holding signs that read, “Welcome Refugees“.

There was movement this week on Wine in Grocery Stores, which will go into effect on July 1. The original legislation didn’t include a provision allowing Tennessee grocery stores to stock early, so a bill was filed to allow for early stocking. Rep. Curry Todd (R-Collierville) is carrying the bill.



Of Interest
 

 

This week, the House Ad Hoc Committee on Judicial Confirmation, along with the Senate Judiciary Committee, met and voted unanimously to approve Roger Page to fill the vacancy on the Tennessee Supreme Court. There will be a joint convention on February 22 to confirm Page as the next Tennessee Supreme Court Justice. Although Page was appointed by Governor Haslam, the change in the TN Constitution requires that his appointment is subject to approval by the House and Senate.

A joint meeting of the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Government Operations Committee met to discuss the TNReady test. TNReady is Tennessee’s new TCAP test for English language arts and math in grades 3-11, and it replaces the old TCAP tests for those subjects starting in the 2015-16 school year. Unfortunately, the TNReady system crashed on its first day of testing. This week, Governor Haslam announced a proposal to let teachers decide if they want TNReady scores in their evaluations. A link to the hearing can be found here.

There was a flurry of activity this week around whether or not guns would be allowed in Legislative Plaza. After a disagreement on how the current ban would be lifted and when, Speaker Harwell and Speaker Ramsey announced that Legislative Plaza will remain a gun-free zone for now.



Photo of the Week
 

 

During UT Day on the Hill, quarterback Josh Dobbs showed up to coach a Senate versus House throwing competition. In our photo of the week, you see Senator Lee Harris (D-Memphis) using an underhanded throw technique while Sen John Stevens (R-Huntingdon) waited his turn.  Two points for the Senate!

 

February 11, 2016

Session

It’s the fifth week of session for the General Assembly. This week brought us bills on vouchers, conservators, motorcycle helmets, and so many more fun issues, plus two snow days! There were some touching moments in the Capitol this week, one of which we captured in our photo of the week.


Budget Hearings
 

Budget hearings for state agencies began in earnest this week. If there is a particular budget you are interested in, please let us know. We can provide details on any budget hearings of interest.


TennCare
 

The Bureau of TennCare presented their budget hearing this week before the House Insurance and Banking Committee. A link to the hearing can be found here.

House
 

On Monday night, the House took up Rep. Bill Dunn’s (R-Knoxville) voucher bill. After the realization that 22 amendments had been filed, including one by Rep. Dunn to change the bill to apply to only the state’s four largest counties, Shelby, Davidson, Knox and Hamilton, the vote was delayed. On Thursday morning in the House, the voucher bill suffered a major setback. In a brief, but emotional speech on the House floor, Rep. Dunn acknowledged that he did not have the votes to pass the bill, and he chose to lay the bill on the desk, leaving it open for consideration later in the session.


Senate
 

Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) has filed a bill, SB 2091, that would help cancer patients with access to life sustaining medications. This bill would create parity between intravenous and oral cancer treatment options. Forty states and the District of Columbia already have laws equalizing the out of pocket cost of oral and traditional cancer treatments. The bill is scheduled to go before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Tuesday, February 23.

 

The Senate passed a bill by Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) to extend in-state tuition to the children of the five servicemen killed in Chattanooga last summer. Members stood as the names were read and remained standing in honor of the slain servicemen as they voted.

A bill which lays the groundwork for repeal of the Hall tax, presented by Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville), passed out of the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee this week.  It has not yet been considered in the House.


Firearms Legislation
 

This week in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Delores Gresham (R-Somerville) presented her bill, SB 1736, which would give a legal cause of action to permit holders who are injured or killed in a gun free zone. Sen. Gresham deferred action on her legislation as she has amendatory language being prepared.

During consideration of the bill, the committee heard testimony from Dr. John Lott, a nationally recognized economist and gun crime researcher. In addition to his academic work, Dr. Lott is a regular commentator on Fox News. The primary purpose of Dr. Lott's visit was to speak in support of the rights of permit holders and in opposition to gun free zones.


Of Interest:
 

According to campaign finance disclosures filed last week, House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) continues to hold the highest cash balance in a leadership political action committee (PAC) operated by a Tennessee politician, $670,276. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) reported a cash-on-hand balance of $444,150. Both Harwell and Ramsey are up for re-election this year.

Early voting for the Presidential primary begins this week. You can download the GoVoteTN app or find local election commission information here.


Photo of the Week:
 

Our photo this week comes from our own Estie Harris, who, along with everyone present, was moved by Sen. Bill Ketron’s presentation on the Senate Floor honoring the doctors and nurses from the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute of HCA. Sen. Ketron honored the staff of the 3rd floor stem cell wing by calling them his “earthly angels” and credited them with saving his life.




 



February 4, 2016


State of the State

The General Assembly began the fourth week of session with Governor Haslam’s State of the State address. The Governor presented a balanced $34.8 billion proposed budget before a joint session. The budget proposes the biggest increase in education in state history, with 261 million new dollars for public education, including $104.6 million for teacher salaries.

FY2016-17 Budget

The proposed budget includes $24 million in state funds for the Employment and Community First (ECF) CHOICES program to allow the state to serve more people currently on the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ waiting list. It also proposes $1.27 million to increase the number of drug recovery courts from 41 to 50 and for two additional veterans’ courts.

Other notable budget investments are:  $130 million from the General Fund to repay the Highway Fund; $12.8 million for facilities and homeland security upgrades for the Military Department; and $10 million for the Department of Economic and Community Development’s Rural Development Initiative.

The complete text of the Governor’s speech and archived video is available here. You can find the Governor’s FY2016-17 budget here.

Commissioner Larry Martin, Department of Finance and Administration, presented the Governor’s proposed budget to the Finance, Ways and Means Committee in both the House and Senate. The House and Senate will initiate departmental budget hearings beginning next week and each agency of state government will get a legislative review in the coming weeks.

House

The House Republican Caucus met this week and elected Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) as Majority Whip, following Rep. Jeremy Durham’s (R-Franklin) recent vacation of the position. Rep. Hill defeated Rep. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) in a 38-33 vote. Rep. Hill and Rep. Travis were the only two declared candidates seeking the position. The Majority Whip is in charge of counting votes within the Caucus, as well as leading campaign efforts for GOP incumbents in the House.

Rep. Bill Dunn’s (R-Knoxville) private-school voucher bill passed out of Calendar and Rules Committee and will be up for a floor vote Monday, February 8. This will be the first time the voucher issue is taken up on the House Floor, which may make for a late night!

Congress

U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher (8th Congressional District) announced he is not seeking re-election. State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and George Flinn, a radiologist in Memphis, have pulled qualifying papers to run for Rep. Fincher’s congressional seat. Early in the week, Rep. Steve McManus (R-Cordova) announced plans to run, but later reconsidered and will instead run for a final two-year term in the Legislature. On the Democratic side, Roy Herron, former state senator and Tennessee Democratic Party chairman, who lost to Rep. Fincher in 2010, said that he’s thinking about running.

Of Interest

Lobbyists and tigers and bills - oh my! At this year’s Tennessee State University Day on the Hill, students showcased their research and innovative initiatives with a robotic tiger that moved and roared, startling many unsuspecting passersby, including one Anne Carr.

 




January 28, 2016

The Legislature may only be in their third week of session, but many advocacy groups gathered downtown this week for their Days on the Hill. Special guests regularly visit the Capitol and one such guest is captured below in our photo of the week.

State of the State


Governor Haslam's State of the State address is scheduled for Monday, February 1, 2016 at 6:00pm CST. Many Middle Tennessee news stations will broadcast the address. If you live outside the area, you can watch online here.

This week, Governor Haslam announced his 2016 legislative agenda at a Nashville Chamber of Commerce event. The Governor's legislative priorities include continuing his focus on education, public safety and efficient and effective state government. A total of 42 bills have been filed on behalf of the administration.


Changes in the House

Rep. Rick Womick (R-Murfreesboro) announced plans to retire this year to spend more time with his wife and children. Rep. Womick is facing a challenge in the upcoming primary, and says that six years is enough, and that it's time to step aside and let somebody else serve.

Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) resigned his Majority Whip position and then removed himself from the House Republican Caucus. Though Speaker Harwell and other leaders are exploring their options to address Rep. Durham and his position in the Tennessee House of Representatives, Durham says he will not resign and is planning to run for re-election. He is currently on a two-week excused leave.

Committee News


The House Finance Committee took up Rep. Bill Dunn's (R-Knoxville) school voucher bill this week after the bill passed out of subcommittee last week. The bill passed 11-10 and goes onto House Calendar and Rules Committee where it will be scheduled for a Floor vote next week.

The House Health Committee discussed modernization of certificate of need reform this week. We are monitoring this legislation closely.

Hospital group, Tennessee Hospital Association (THA) is planning to push an Insure Tennessee vote once this year's presidential election is over. THA is founding a nonprofit called Tennesseans for a Responsible Future, aimed at rallying support for Insure Tennessee to pass once President Obama leaves office.

Judicial Selection

After passing in the Senate, the House took up the conference committee report on judicial selection today. The bill passed the House and is expected to be signed by Governor Haslam this afternoon.

Of Interest 

 

Tanya Tucker
 
"Delta Dawn, what's that flower you got on" was the most hummed song of the week after Tanya Tucker made an appearance in the Tennessee Senate

January 21, 2016

Session

Schools may have been closed this week, but the General Assembly was in Session!

Lawmakers joined with Cabinet members and members of the Tennessee Supreme Court to pack 50,000 pounds of food boxes for Tennessee's five food banks. Look closely at this week's photo, you may see someone familiar packing meals alongside Senator Mark Norris!

Thursday was the bill filing deadline. Thus far, nearly 500 new bills have been filed since the April 2015 adjournment. Bills filed in 2015 are still active since the Legislature is in the second part of the two-year session. It will be interesting to find out what the final count is and how much work the committees have ahead as legislators look towards an early adjournment.

Senate

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee met this week and heard from Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville) on his TennCare Opt Out proposal, SJR 88. This resolution asks Governor Bill Haslam to send a letter to CMS, requesting a waiver that would allow TennCare to create a pilot TennCare Opt Out program. In the event TennCare were granted a waiver to implement the pilot program, Senator Green envisions a small group of the TennCare population receiving a portion of their TennCare benefit in the form of an HSA debit card with the remaining benefit balance being held by TennCare for catastrophic care. SJR 88 passed out of Senate Commerce and Labor and is headed to Finance, Ways and Means.

The Senate Finance Committee has a new subcommittee: Finance Investigations and Oversight. This new subcommittee meets immediately following Senate Finance, Ways and Means, and consists of Senators: Steve Dickerson, Bo Watson, John Stevens, Ferrell Haile and Thelma Harper. Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) serves as chair. They met this week and heard presentations from Fiscal Review, TennCare, THEC, DIDD, F&A, and TDOT.

Joint Conference Committee

After nearly a week of negotiations, the Conference Committee on Judicial Confirmation has adopted a conference committee report. Under the recommended plan, the House and Senate will meet in a joint session and 22 of the 33 votes in the Senate would be needed to reject a candidate the House supports, and in the House, 66 votes would be needed to reject the Senate-approved candidate. The report will go before the House and Senate next week.

House

Rep. Glen Casada (R- Thompson Station) has filed legislation that would prohibit local governments from enacting affordable housing mandates over rental properties and for-sale homes. It would not, however, prevent local governments from creating or implementing incentive-based programs to increase construction of lower-cost residential and rental homes.

In the House Budget Subcommittee, Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) presented his school voucher bill, which has been debated for years and passed the Senate last year. Under this bill, the state would allow for 5,000 vouchers. Any leftover vouchers would be made available to other low-income students in counties with similarly low-performing schools. The bill passed by voice vote and is scheduled for House Finance, Ways and Means on Tuesday, January 26.

Of Interest

This week's photo comes from our very own Estie Harris who took time this week to help members of the General Assembly pack boxes for Tennessee food banks. Here she is with Senator Norris.

 

Cold weather and bill filing deadline created the need for reserve lobbyists this week! Meagan's daughter was called into service to help Momma get signatures on a bill.
Meagan's daughter
 


January 14, 2016

Session Begins

And we're off! This week begins the second session of the 109th Tennessee General Assembly. This will likely be a short session due in part to a proposed change in the Senate to meet on Mondays, allowing lawmakers two full days in their districts. The House will stick to the same schedule as last year. Many members brought their families with them on Tuesday. We've included one such "Honorable" family member in our photo of the week. See below!

It may be the first week of Session, but the legislature is already talking about adjournment! This is an election year and many lawmakers are eager to get home and kickoff their campaigns. You may remember, the General Assembly adjourned last year on April 22, but there is talk this year of adjourning even earlier. The Senate has announced plans to adjourn the week of either April 11, or April 18. The House has not announced an adjournment date. Also announced this week, Governor Bill Haslam will deliver his State of the State address on February 1.

One thing that lawmakers hope will result in early adjournment is a bill filing deadline of January 21, which is less than a week away. On the Senate Floor Tuesday, Senator Norris proposed this new date. What does this mean? Well, it means the committees get to work immediately, instead of waiting weeks for lawmakers to file their bills and put them on notice.

Committee Activity

In the House, there have been committee assignment changes, particularly in regard to the three new members sworn in this week. Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) has been assigned to Business and Utilities; Transportation; and Transportation Subcommittee. Rep. Gary Hicks (R-Rogersville) has been assigned to Finance, Ways and Means; Health; and Health Subcommittee. Rep. Jamie Jenkins (R-Somerville) has been assigned to Civil Justice; Agriculture and Natural Resources; and Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee. Also, Rep. Joe Armstrong was added to the Health sub-committee and no longer serves on Transportation Subcommittee.

The House Health Committee this week was presented with an update from the TennCare Bureau. The question was asked, how much does Tennessee lose this year in federal dollars by not passing Insure Tennessee? The answer: about $1.4 billion.

In the Senate, the Health and Welfare Committee heard from Dr. Randy Wykoff of East Tennessee State University regarding the health status of Tennesseans. Dr. Wykoff spoke about the number of serious issues related to Tennesseans' poor health status.

The Joint Transportation Committee had three presentations: State of Safety presented by AAA - The Auto Club Group; Tim Wright, the Tennessee Regional President; and Don Lindsey, the Tennessee Public Affairs Director.

Of Interest

Our photo of the week comes from Rep. Jeremy Faison, who posted this picture of his son, Tucker, or, I'm sorry, the Honorable Tucker Faison! October 5, 2015

 

Honorable Tucker Faison
 

Smith Harris & Carr recognized as one of Tennessee's Top Lobbying Firms for 2015 by Southern Political Report Magazine

News release from Southern Political Report Magazine:

http://www.southernpoliticalreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/SPR_Summer-15.pdf

January 13, 2015

The week began with a flurry of last minute fundraisers, and will end with the Inauguration of Governor Bill Haslam on Saturday, the 17th.

During the floor session today, the newly elected members of the Tennessee Senate, and all 99 members of the Tennessee House were officially sworn into office with family and friends looking on. It's a ceremonial day, with little other business except the election (re-election) of Lt Gov Ramsey and Speaker Harwell and Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson to their leadership posts.

The remainder of the week prior to the inauguration is taken up with the election of the Treasurer and Comptroller on Wednesday. On Thursday, there will be the annual legislative ethics training and on Friday, the legislature is participating in a community service project. We anticipate Committee appointments to be announced on Thursday.

After this week's events, the legislature is expected to take a 2 week recess and re-convene on Monday, February 2nd to begin a special session on Insure Tennessee.

Legislation is being filed and you will begin to see more activities in the coming weeks.
As always, please let us know if we can be of service in any way.
 


GENERAL ELECTION RESULTS

As we approach the start of the 109th General Assembly, which will begin on January 13, 2015, Smith Harris & Carr would like to update our clients on the 2014 General Election results.

Tennessee Governor


The executive branch of Tennessee government will remain in Republican hands as incumbent Governor Bill Haslam easily defeated Democrat Charlie Brown. Governor Haslam won all 95 of Tennessee's counties and amassed over 70% of the popular vote.

We expect Governor Haslam to continue his focus on health and education issues during the next four years. Governor Haslam is also expected to build on his strong track record of economic development. A final, but important, challenge for Governor Haslam will be dealing with the state's budget, a task made more difficult due to recent state revenue shortfalls.

Tennessee House of Representatives


The Tennessee House of Representatives will comfortably remain in Republican hands for the 109th General Assembly. For the 109th General Assembly, the makeup of the House of Representatives will be 73-26 with Republicans holding a supermajority.

Republicans picked up three seats in the House of Representatives during the General election. Incumbent Democrats Gloria Johnson and John Tidwell were both defeated in the General election, and Independent Kent Williams retired from office and has been replaced with Republican John B. Holsclaw (R-Johnson City).

Democrats picked up one seat with the victory of Kevin Dunlap (D-Rock Island). He replaces Rep. Paul Bailey who ran for and won the Senate seat vacated by Sen. Charlotte Burks. This is the House seat formerly held by Rep. Charlie Curtiss (D-Sparta).

In total, there will be 16 new faces in the House of Representatives at the start of the legislative session in January.

House leadership elections are expected to take place on December 10, 2014, and while we do not expect wholesale changes in the leadership, every office from the Speaker on down is competitive.

Tennessee Senate

The Tennessee Senate is still safely in Republican hands after the 2014 General Election. For the 109th General Assembly, the makeup of the Senate will be 28-5 with Republicans holding a supermajority.

Republicans picked up two seats in the Senate previously held by Democrats Lowe Finney and Charlotte Burks who both retired from office.

We expect no major leadership changes in the Senate for the 109th General Assembly. The Senate is expected to hold leadership elections around the same time as the House of Representatives in early December.

Constitutional Amendments


In addition to electing government officials, Tennesseans had four constitutional amendments to consider in 2014. All four constitutional amendments passed easily. Amendment 1 focused on increased abortion restrictions. Amendment 2 authorized a revised appointment and retention election process for Appellate judges. The Governor will appoint the judge and then the judge will have to be confirmed by the General Assembly before he or she can take office. Amendment 3 banned a state income tax. Finally, Amendment 4 authorized charitable, non-profit veteran's organizations to hold lottery fundraising events.

Wine in Grocery Stores


Resoundingly popular, the ballot initiatives on wine in the grocery store passed in every venue. Consumers expect to begin seeing wine on grocery store shelves in 2016.

 

PRIMARY ELECTION RESULTS

Tennessee's statewide primary and local general elections were held yesterday and produced high voter turnout and some real surprises down ballot.

In the Governor's race, Gov Bill Haslam easily glided into his party's nomination and will face little known democrat, Charlie Brown in November.

In the United States Senate, incumbent Senator Lamar Alexander beat back a tea party endorsed opponent, Joe Carr, to win his primary. He faces Democrat Gordon Ball in the November general election.

In the United States House, there were two hotly contested primaries.

In South East TN, incumbent Chuck Fleishmann beat back challenger Weston Wamp.

In the 4th district in Middle Tennessee, State Senator Jim Tracy declared victory last night, but the final results show a difference of just over 30 votes with incumbent Scott DesJarlais the victor. The media continues to call this one a "nail biter." Either candidate can request a re-count.

In the unusual campaign to oust several of the current TN Supreme Court Justices, the Justices prevailed and easily won their "retain" versus "reject" election. Lt. Gov Ramsey, who was leading the reject campaign, issued a statement congratulating the Justices on their election. He called the effort a good way to educate Tennesseans on the Supreme Court. In November, the constitutional amendment changing the way appellate judges are selected will be on the ballot for a final vote.

All other incumbents won their primaries to continue their service in Congress.

The Tennessee Senate will have at least six (and more likely 7) new faces in January.

Democrat Jeff Yarbro won a decisive victory in the primary to replace retiring Sen. Doug Henry.

Incumbent Sen. Jim Summerville was defeated by former Senator Kerry Roberts who was re-districted out of office 2 years ago. This was a 3-way primary and Sen. Summerville came in third.

Senator Ophelia Ford, of the long serving Ford family of Memphis, was defeated in her primary by attorney Lee Harris.

A closely watched East Tennessee election replaces controversial Sen Stacy Campfield with newcomer Dr. Richard Briggs. Briggs will be the 4th physician in the Tennessee Senate.

In the Jackson area, Republican businessman Ed Jackson won the Republican primary to replace retiring Sen Lowe Finney. Jackson will face Randy Lamb in the general but is expected to win.

Lastly, retiring Senator Charlotte Burks seat will come down to a race between Rep. Paul Bailey (R) and Betty Vaudt (D).

Sen. Jim Kyle, who was not up for re-election in his Senate seat, ran for Judge in District 30 in Shelby County. He was victorious and is expected to resign his Senate seat to become Judge.

In other contested Senate primary battles, incumbents Thelma Harper and Mae Beavers won their party's nomination.

In the Tennessee House, there were several primary surprises.

Incumbent Rep. Tony Shipley was soundly defeated in his re-election by newcomer Bud Hulsey

In the race to replace retiring Rep. Kent Williams of Carter County, his sister Judy Veeneman was not successful, instead the Republican nominee expected to win in November is John Holsclaw.

Incumbent Steve Hall of Knoxville also lost his re-election bid to Martin Daniel who faces no opposition in the November election and will be coming to Nashville in January.

Former newscaster, Dan Howell appears to have bested his primary opponent in the race to replace former Rep. Eric Watson.

Chattanooga businesswoman, Patsy Hazelwood is the victor in the race to replace retiring Rep. Richard Floyd. Ms. Hazelwood was the choice of the House leadership.

Marc Gravitt, who had no primary or general election opposition, will replace Rep. Vince Dean in January.

Long serving Representative "Coach" Roach was defeated in his primary by newcomer Jerry Sexton. This was a contested race with several education groups giving heavily to the newcomer.

The November general election between Robert Dunham (R) vs Kevin Dunlap (D) will determine the race to replace former Rep. Charles Curtiss. This seat has been temporarily held by Paul Bailey, who won the Republican primary mentioned above to replace Sen. Charlotte Burks.

In a three way primary in Murfreesboro, Dr. Bryan Terry will be the Republican nominee in the race to replace Rep. Joe Carr. Adam Coggin, the son of Gerald Coggin, was heavily favored among the House leadership.

The race to replace retiring Democratic leader Mike Turner goes to Bill Beck. He faced a hotly contested primary field, and won a decisive victory. He faces Republican opposition in November, but is expected to win.

The western part of Davidson County will have a new state representative. Rep. Gary Odom, who has served in the Tennessee House since 1986, was defeated by civil attorney John Ray Clemmons in an upset last night.

Rep. Joshua Evans, who gave up his house seat for his unsuccessful run at the Senate will be replaced by a physician, "Doc" Kumar. The Doc faces democratic opposition in November, but is expected to win.

In West Tennessee, Rep. Vance Dennis of Savannah lost his primary battle to David "Coach" Byrd. The race was always considered close, but Dennis' loss was a surprise, none the less.

Replacing retiring Rep. Barrett Rich will be Leigh Rosser Wilburn, who was endorsed by Rep. Rich in her primary.

There were many other exciting House races where incumbents were narrowly victorious.

Please let us know if you would like additional information on any of these races.

END OF SESSION

Although many predicted that session would end on Wednesday, it appears that Thursday will be the last day. There is also a distinct likelihood that the legislature will schedule a veto override session so sine die adjournment would be in about 3 weeks.

The budget has passed as the Governor proposed, but many other bills have met their demise these last few days.

The bill which would have allowed the open carry of guns without a permit failed in House Finance Subcommittee on a vote of 1-10.

The Governor's voucher legislation also fell victim of the end of session opposition coming from the TN Education Association and local education advocates.

Several other education and alcohol issues are in flux right now and will continue to be sorted out these last few days.

The House and Senate have passed differing versions of a bill to restrict the purchase of pseudoephedrine. The biggest difference relates to the amount an individual can purchase over the counter. This one will be resolved by conference committee.

Also complicating the adjournment is a strong push by Americans for Prosperity to pass legislation establishing the abolishment of the Hall Income Tax as the first priority for any state funds collected over and above estimated revenue growth. This prioritization is of great concern to the Haslam administration but the influence of the AFP and Grover Norquist is visible.

As the 108th General Assembly winds down we appreciate the confidence you have placed in us this Session and hope that you will contact us with any questions.

 

February 3, 2014

Good evening!

The joint convention called for the purpose of hearing Governor Haslam present the 2014 State of the State just adjourned.

The speech was upbeat and well received. Despite the tough budgetary situation facing Tennessee, the Governor presented a budget that gave everyone something to like.
Additional Information is available at the following links:
The text of his address can be found here:
Text of Speech

The press release summarizing his address can be found here:
Press Release

Information on the 2014/15 budget can be found here:
http://www.tn.gov/finance/bud/bud1415/15Publications.shtml

More information will be available tomorrow when Finance & Administration Commissioner Martin presents to the House and Senate Finance committees.

Please don't hesitate to reach out to any of us to let us know of specific questions, comments or concerns you may have.

 

January 14, 2014

The 108th General Assembly was called back to order today at 12:00 noon as the Constitution dictates.

Although largely ceremonial, there was some activity in both the House and Senate.

House:

In the House, the first order of business was a tribute to former Speaker Pro Tempore Lois DeBerry (D-Memphis). Many in the House of Representatives wore purple clothing or purple ribbons as a tribute to Rep. DeBerry.

The House also had two new members to swear in. Rep. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) was sworn in after receiving the most votes in the special election to replace former Rep. Lois DeBerry. Rep. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) was sworn in after receiving the appointment from the White County Commission to replace former Rep. Charles Curtiss (D-Sparta). Rep. Akbari was appointed to the Education and Criminal Justice Committees. Rep. Bailey was appointed to the Transportation and Business and Utilities Committees.

Neither of the bills on the House calendar were taken up with the first being laid on the desk and the second being re-referred to the Calendar & Rules Committee.

For the next few days, there will be many brief sessions in an effort to move new bill introductions through first and second readings in order to get them assigned to a committee and scheduled for hearing.

Senate:

In the Senate, after the ceremonial organization, the Senate took up their calendar. There were two items on the calendar, and both were debated, amended and passed. The first was on teaching American government and the second on the subject of consumer protection. The Lt. Governor noted that he could not remember a time that the Senate took up and passed legislation on the first day of session.

Later, the Senate also recognized a moment of silence in honor of former Rep. Lois DeBerry.

Issues expected:

The Budget will definitely be one of the most challenging that the legislature has faced in a few years. Revenue collections continue to lag behind expectations, and cuts are imminent. The Governor is expected to introduce his budget late this month.

The Governor introduced his initial package of 30 + departmental administration bills yesterday in order for them to go through first reading today. Like all bills, we will review them and forward any that may be of interest. If you have any specific questions, please let us know! The Governor's office is expected to introduce a few additional bills before filing deadline.

Education issues are also expected to be front and center during this session. From vouchers to charter schools to curriculum to textbooks, many battles seem to be brewing in the education world.

The House Democratic Caucus has erected a sign outside the leaders' office indicating how many days it has been since TN did not expand Medicaid (today was day 14) and how much federal funding was not drawn down. Additionally, Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, Democratic leader, made an announcement during the floor session. We expect this announcing to continue during floor sessions as the democratic caucus draws attention to an issue near and dear to them.

Fundraising

Noon today also marks the fundraising ban for legislative candidates and sitting Governors. In the last few days there has been a flurry of fundraising activity as legislators and Gov Haslam attempt to bring in campaign cash prior to the ban going into effect.

Filing Deadline

As this is the 2nd of a two year General Assembly, this is an election year. All 99 members of the House of Representatives are up for re-election as well as 17 members of the Senate. Gov Haslam is also up for re-election.

The deadline for candidates to file to run for the legislature is Thursday, April 3rd at 12:00 noon. That is a day and time recognized by all elected officials as they determine who their opposition may be in their upcoming election! So stay tuned!

Adjournment

It wouldn't be a first day of session without talking about adjournment! Although the Senate is pushing for April 1st, the best guesses are on adjournment on or about tax filing day, April 15th! It will be a quick one for certain!

 

 

 For Updates from 2013 CLICK HERE


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