senate

Coming soon to a store (or keyboard) near you: Two sales tax holidays

The House meets at the state Capitol in Nashville on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

As part of a late-session compromise between the House and Senate, lawmakers agreed to double to the cap on the price of clothing, computers, and back-to-school items for the annual sales tax holiday. And then they decided to hold it on consecutive weekends. Gone in the legislative deal was a House proposal to also hold a sales tax holiday for automobiles, which would have been a far pricier proposition.

Here’s a release from the state Revenue Department about the sales tax holiday weekends starting July 31 and Aug. 7:

NASHVILLE — Mark your calendars. For 2020 only, the Tennessee General Assembly has approved two sales tax holiday weekends to help Tennesseans save money and support the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first tax-free holiday weekend focuses on clothing and other back-to-school items. It begins at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 31, and ends Sunday, August 2, at 11:59 p.m. During this time, consumers may purchase clothing, school supplies, and computers and other qualifying electronic devices without paying sales tax. Certain price restrictions apply. For school supplies and clothing, the threshold for qualifying items is $200 or less. For computers and other electronics, the price threshold is $3,000 or less. Download our list of tax-exempt items here.

Exempt items sold online are also eligible. Consumers must purchase items for personal use, not business or trade.

The second sales tax holiday weekend focuses on restaurant sales. It begins at 12:01 a.m. on August 7 and ends Sunday, August 9, at 11:59 p.m. During this time the retail sale of food and drink by restaurants and limited service restaurants, as defined in Tenn. Code Ann.  § 57-4-102, is exempt from sales tax.        

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense economic strain on Tennessee families. These sales tax holidays will allow them to keep more of their hard-earned money and support Tennessee businesses,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. 

“We want to remind everyone about these opportunities for tax relief,” Revenue Commissioner David Gerregano said.  “It’s a good opportunity to save money during these difficult times.”

For more information about the sales tax holiday weekends, visit www.tntaxholiday.com. You can also read our frequently asked questions, as well as this important notice.

The Department of Revenue is responsible for the administration of state tax laws and motor vehicle title and registration laws, as well as the collection of taxes and fees associated with those laws. The Department collects around 87 percent of total state revenue. During the 2019 fiscal year, it collected $15.3 billion in state taxes and fees and more than $3 billion in taxes and fees for local governments. To learn more about the Department, visit www.tn.gov/revenue.

 

Gallery: Back in session, though some distance more than others

The Senate convenes on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee General Assembly has officially returned into session after a 75-day hiatus during the coronavirus outbreak.

The House GOP held a caucus meeting on Monday afternoon in which a small minority of members wore masks. Some vigorously shook hands and joked that the weekend protests around the state indicate that social distancing is no longer important.

The Senate spaced desks in the chamber to provide maximum distance between the members. The House installed plexiglass shields between lawmakers’ seats.

Here are some photos of Monday’s proceedings:

House members are divided by plexiglas shields on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

 

House Speaker Cameron Sexton addresses the House Republican Caucus on  June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally presides over a floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The House holds a floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Curtis Halford, center, attends a floor session June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Reps. Matthew Hill and William Lamberth, standing right, confer during a floors sesion on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Jerry Sexton attends a House floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. David Hawk, left, confers with Rep. Kent Calfee on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Speaker Cameron Sexton presides over a floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

 

 

House scheduled to hear 391 bills this week, Senate none

Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett) presides of the House Higher Education Subcommittee on May 26, 2020. (Screengrab: Tennessee General Assembly)

The full slate of 20 state House committees meeting this week have 391 bills on their calendars, according to a count by The Tennessean. By contrast, the Senate has none.

The two chamber are at odds about how wide the scope of their return into session should be. The upper chamber wants to focus on COVID-19 related legislation, the budget, and “time-sensitive” measures. The House wants to throw the doors open to any remaining bills, including controversial measures such as making the Bible the state’s official book, banning most abortions, and getting rid of training and background check requirements to carry handguns in public.

The lower chamber is allowing limited access to lobbyists and the public, while the Senate will remain on lockdown for all but lawmakers, staff, and the media.

The Finance Committee is the panel meeting on the Senate side this week.

Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) speaks during a House subcommittee meeting in on May 26, 2020 (Screengrab: Tennessee General Assembly)

Senate throws down marker over which bills it wants to take up in resumed session

In the ongoing fight between the House and Senate over the scope of the return to session, the upper chamber has compiled a list of bills it plans to limit itself to when lawmakers return on June 1. The House is taking a more wide-open approach.

The Senate committee agendas don’t include bills already pending floor votes.

Here’s the list:

Senate Education

1. SB1974 by Gresham

Education – As introduced, clarifies that the powers and authority of the state building commission with respect to construction or demolition projects undertaken by foundations created for the benefit of the state universities originally governed by the board of regents still apply, after the restructuring of the board of regents, to foundations created for the benefit of state universities governed by local governing boards of trustees. – Amends TCA Title 4 and Title 49.

2. SB1247 by Gresham

Education, Dept. of – As introduced, requires the department to publish the list of art supplies that are certified nontoxic by the Arts and Creative Materials Institute on the department’s website. – Amends TCA Title 49.

3. SB2160 by Johnson, Gresham

Education – As introduced, establishes various requirements relating to literacy instruction provided to students in any of the grades kindergarten through two; establishes methods of evaluating the reading proficiency of students in any of the grades kindergarten through three; establishes requirements relating to literacy instruction provided to teaching candidates; establishes various studies and review processes relating to the state’s accountability model and the licensure process for teachers. – Amends TCA Title 49.

Senate Finance, Ways & Means

1. SB 2111 by Lundberg

Public Funds and Financing – As introduced, changes from January 31 to March 1, the date by which the commissioner of economic and community development must report to the general assembly on the administration of the program allocating the state’s bond authority among governmental units having authority to issue bonds. – Amends TCA Title 3; Title 4; Title 8; Title 9 and Title 12.

2. SB2312 by Gardenhire

Hospitals and Health Care Facilities – As introduced, makes various changes to the certificate of need process for healthcare facilities and services. – Amends TCA Title 68, Chapter 11, Part 16.

3. SB2097 by Gresham

Scholarships and Financial Aid – As introduced, enacts the “Financial Aid Simplification for Tennesseans (FAST) Act.” – Amends TCA Title 12, Chapter 3; Title 49, Chapter 1 and Title 49, Chapter 4.

4. SB2677 by Johnson

Taxes, Sales – As introduced, changes, from February 1 to February 15, the date by which the department of revenue must report findings and recommendations regarding sales taxes collected on electronic nicotine delivery devices to the speakers of the senate and the house of representatives and the chairs of the respective finance, ways and means committees. – Amends TCA Title 67.

5. SB1633 by Yager

Air Pollution – As introduced, requires the department of environment and conservation to develop a plan to implement the federal affordable clean energy rule and submit the plan to the EPA for approval by June 15, 2020. – Amends TCA Title 7; Title 65; Title 68 and Chapter 478 of the Public Acts of 2015.

6. Budget package

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Alexander to self-quarantine after staffer tests positive for COVID-19

Former Govs. Lamar Alexander, left, and Phil Bredesen await the start of the inauguration of Gov. Bill Lee in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

U.S. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) will remain in self-quarantine in Tennessee for the next two weeks after a staffer tested positive for COVID-19. The senator tested negative last week and didn’t have any symptoms.

““The senator will be working remotely and will chair the Senate health committee hearing on Tuesday morning by videoconference where the witnesses will be Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Robert Redfield, Dr. Brett Giroir, and Dr. Stephen Hahn,” Alexander’s chief of staff, David Cleary, said in a release.

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 10, 2020 — David Cleary, chief of staff for United States Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), today released the following statement:

“Today, Sunday, May 10, a member of Senator Lamar Alexander’s staff tested positive for COVID-19. The staff member is recovering at home and is doing well. 

“Senator Alexander has no symptoms and tested negative for COVID-19 on Thursday afternoon, May 7. After discussing this with the Senate’s attending physician, Senator Alexander, out of an abundance of caution, has decided not to return to Washington, D.C., and will self-quarantine in Tennessee for 14 days. Almost all of the senator’s Washington, D.C., staff are working from home, and there is no need for any other staff member to self-quarantine.

“The senator will be working remotely and will chair the Senate health committee hearing on Tuesday morning by videoconference where the witnesses will be Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Robert Redfield, Dr. Brett Giroir, and Dr. Stephen Hahn.”

Day 1 of the ‘coronasession’ in pictures

Lawmakers attend a House floor session in Nashville on March 16, 2020. Watching from the gallery are, from left, Reps. Johnny Garrett (R-Goodlettsville), Bob Freeman (D-Nashville), and Bill Beck (D-Nashville). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here are some images from the first day of what has been dubbed the “coronasession.”

Gov. Bill Lee and aides arrive for a press conference on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Reporters practice social distancing during Gov. Bill Lee’s press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Michael Curcio (R-Dickson) watches a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic from the House gallery in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) attends a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

From right, Reps. Kirk Haston (R-Lobelville), Mary Littleton (R-Dickson), Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport), and Ryan Williams (R-Cookeville) attend a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

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Dispatches from the Senate GOP retreat: Emptying jails, appealing to millenials

Senate State and Local Government Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), left) and Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), attend a hearing on open records exemptions in Nashville on Jan. 30, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessean‘s Joel Ebert trekked out to Crossville to catch up with a gathering of the state Senate Republican Caucus. Members got an update from their campaign consultant, Facebook, state Attorney General Herbert Slatery, and Gov. Bill Lee.

Lee said Republicans need to change “the way we’ve been doing things forever” as it relates to criminal justice in the state. He said he was hopeful for an overhaul.

“Because of y’alls leadership, I think we’re going to get criminal justice reform,” he said, adding: “We can empty our jails in the same way that some other states have done. I know we can do that.”

Political consultant Bonnie Brezina said of the 15 GOP incumbents on the ballot, the toughest race will likely be the re-election campaign of Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville).

I think we need to spend as much as we can to make sure Dickerson stays put,” she said.

Attracting new voters is a major challenge, she said.

“Millennials these days, I mean it’s tough,” she said.  “Changing their mind is just a tough thing to do right now.”

According to the Pew Research Center, the millennial generation refers to anyone born between 1981 and 1996, or those between the ages of 23 and 38 in 2019.

Read Ebert’s full account here.

Voucher bill passes Senate on 20-13 vote

The Senate has voted 20-13 to pass Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher bill.

There are still major differences with the House, which passed its version by a bare minimum 50 votes earlier this week.

The Senate vote came after the chamber rushed to swear in new Republican member Bill Powers (R-Clarksville). Powers voted for the bill despite declaring during the campaign that he opposed vouchers.

It takes 17 votes for bills to pass the chamber.

‘Heartbeat bill’ sent to summer study

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), center, attends an economic development announcement in Nashville. At left is Gov. Bill Lee and on the right is House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal).

The Senate Judiciary Committee has decided to punt on a bill seeking to ban abortions in Tennessee once a fetal heartbeat is detected. The House passed the measure in a floor vote, but the Senate decided not to proceed over concerns about a successful legal challenge.

Here’s what Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) had to say after the committee action on Wednesday:

I fully support the deliberative approach the Judiciary Committee is taking on the Heartbeat Bill. As someone who believes life begins at conception, I support the bill philosophically. But constitutionally, as Tennessee Right to Life points out, the bill is flawed in its current form. Amendment One put the abortion industry on the ropes in Tennessee. We have done all we can to defund Planned Parenthood. We have put in place reasonable restrictions to help prevent abortion. Passing a constitutionally suspect bill now would give the courts an opportunity to erase the progress we have made. And a losing court fight would likely result in awarding taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood. Protection of the unborn is too important to risk taking a step backward. I appreciate the sponsor bringing this legislation. It deserves the best possible chance for success. But that chance can only be achieved by careful study.

Here’s what is in the Senate version of the voucher bill

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a Philips event in Nashville on April 2, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Senate version of Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher proposal would double the number of students who could participate in the Education Savings Account program to 30,000.

The measure scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday would also dial back the testing requirements for students going to private school.

Instead of requiring the same TCAP test for math and English (but not science or social studies) that is administered to public school students, private schools could give their students a “nationally norm-referenced test” approved by the state Education Department. Examples of those standardized tests include the ACT and PARCC. That’s a provision likely to further outrage public school teachers who have long complained about the state-specific testing regimen.

Just as in the House bill, the program would be capped at 5,000 students in the first year, followed by increments of 2,500 in the next four years. But while the lower chamber’s bill envisions limiting the pilot program at 15,000, the Senate bill would continue to allow the program to grow by 2,500 students each ensuing year until it reaches an enrollment of 30,000.

Homeschooling appears to make a comeback in the Senate bill after being excised from the House version.

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