legislation

Hagerty passes first bill in U.S. Senate

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty speaks at Nashville event on Dec. 3, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A little more than a year after being sworn into the U.S. Senate, Republican Bill Hagerty of Nashville has passed his first bill.

Here’s the release from Hagerty’s office:

WASHINGTON—United States Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN) has passed his first authored piece of legislation in the U.S. Senate. The bipartisan bill, which Hagerty introduced with Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Rob Portman (R-OH), would add key technologies impacting national security to the sectors that can utilize the FAST-41 improved federal permitting program, which will encourage development of these technologies in the United States.

“Working to advance constructive policy solutions that create jobs for the American people and bolster our national security is one of the reasons I ran for the Senate, and I am pleased with the passage of this legislation to advance those goals,” Senator Hagerty said. “Encouraging American leadership in key technologies, from semiconductors to advanced computing and cybersecurity, will not only create millions of American jobs, but help America win the strategic competition with Communist China that will define the century.”

The Hagerty legislation builds upon the successful FAST-41 permitting program, which promotes increased coordination between permitting agencies, resulting in a more efficient and streamlined process, without compromising health, safety, or environmental protection. By adding key technology areas impacting national security as eligible sectors, these projects can benefit from the same fast-track program. Improving permitting coordination and certainty reduces time constraints, allowing these products to move to market faster and making it more likely that companies will locate their facilities in the United States, rather than abroad, and therefore hiring American workers.

The existing FAST-41 permitting program was established in 2015 to increase investment in American infrastructure and jobs, and it was made permanent and improved upon in the recent bipartisan infrastructure legislation. National-security sectors will now also be able to take advantage of this improved process, which should dramatically reduce the time required to stand up new manufacturing capacity in strategically critical sectors, such as semiconductor fabrication.

Hagerty’s legislation passed the Senate by voice vote, 100-0.

The bill now goes to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Business groups to lawmakers: Don’t do it

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A group of business associations including local and state chambers of commerce are urging Tennessee lawmakers not to pass legislation that conflicts with federal guidelines.

“Conflicting mandates will subject employers to potentially crippling litigation costs through new causes of action at both the federal and state levels,” the groups say in the letter. “We respectfully urge you to OPPOSE any proposals that have the potential to damage our state’s accelerating economic recovery or economic development efforts.”

Here’s the full communique:

Members of the Tennessee General Assembly: 

On behalf of the trade associations, businesses, and nonprofit associations listed below representing a variety of industry sectors which include large, medium, and small employers across our great state, we write to you regarding our concerns with legislation to be considered during the Third Extraordinary Session convened on October 27, 2021. The call of the special session notes that some policies and procedures implemented by private and nonprofit businesses and organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic, starting with a State of Emergency issued in Tennessee on March 12, 2020, will be considered. 

First, we acknowledge that our employees–your constituents–are our most important asset. Many businesses are implementing policies regarding employee vaccination, testing and masks with a view to achieving compliance with either Federal Executive Orders or recently announced Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) emergency standards, which are expected to be released in the near future. Tennessee has a significant number of businesses designated as federal contractors and such businesses must work diligently to follow Executive Orders and/or applicable OSHA guidelines or risk substantial damage to their businesses. In addition, some businesses have made the decision that their workforce requires vaccination because of special risks to their employees or the customers that they serve. Overall, our businesses are working to comply with the federal requirements until such time that the requirements are withdrawn, overturned, or repealed.  

We must express our opposition to any proposed legislation that may conflict with these federal requirements and overly complicate or conflict with employer operations during the pandemic. We oppose any proposals that outright remove the ability of an employer to determine their own vaccination and mask policies. We believe that any legislation of this kind is unnecessary government intrusion into the operation of our businesses. Tennessee’s strong business climate is based on this fundamental principle, including the state’s employment-at-will law. We ask that you not place additional mandates on our employers, thus placing them in an impossible position between federal and state mandates. Conflicting mandates will subject employers to potentially crippling litigation costs through new causes of action at both the federal and state levels. We respectfully urge you to OPPOSE any proposals that have the potential to damage our state’s accelerating economic recovery or economic development efforts.  

In closing, we thank you, as a leader of our exceptional state who has worked to ensure our economy and business climate have excelled above our peer states during this challenging time. We know that you recognize the difficult position that businesses are in and greatly appreciate your commitment to Tennessee’s continued economic growth.  

Sincerely,

American Academy of Pediatrics – Tennessee Chapter 

American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Tennessee Chamber

American Council of Engineering Companies of Tennessee (ACEC Tennessee)

Associated Builders and Contractors- Greater Tennessee Chapter

Blount Partnership

Center for Nonprofit Management

Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce

Community Health Systems

Discovery, Inc.

Greater Memphis Chamber 

HospitalityTN

Kingsport Chamber 

Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce

Momentum Nonprofit Partners

Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce 

Nashville Biosciences

NFIB

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Tennessee Business Roundtable

Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Tennessee Community Organizations

Tennessee Fuel and Convenience Store Association

Tennessee Grocers & Convenience Store Association

Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association

Tennessee Manufacturers Association 

Tennessee Retail Association

Tennessee Trucking Association

Vanderbilt University Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Big legislative fight remains over pharmacy benefits bill

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) presides over the chamber on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

As part of last week’s budget bill, House and Senate leaders set aside $3.8 million in recurring funding to pay for changes to state law regarding pharmacy benefits and pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs. But securing funding is only part of the challenge for sponsors. Now they have to get their colleagues to actually vote to pass the bill.

The Tennessee Business Roundtable is one of the interested parties hoping to persuade lawmakers not to enact the measure. Patrick Sheehy, the group’s president, in a letter urges senators to vote against the bill sponsored by Sen. Shane Reeves (R-Shelbyville) because it constitutes “unnecessary government regulations that could increase the already-rising costs of employer-provided health care plans.”

UPDATE: The House Finance Committee advanced the bill to a full floor vote after House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) attended committee meetings to speak forcefully on the bill’s behalf.

Here’s the full letter from the Tennessee Business Roundtable:

Dear Senators:

Over the last several weeks, you likely have heard and read much from pharmacy, pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) and insurer interests, and from bill sponsors, about SB1617, legislation which proposes numerous new regulations on PBMs operating in Tennessee. We write to provide a perspective from many of the Tennessee employers who play a pivotal role as the ultimate payors in our state’s health care system on this legislation, and to outline why our organization does not support this bill in its current form.

We share some of the concerns of the bill sponsors and proponents because in the American health care system, employers, directly or indirectly, pay 100% of the costs of health care — by paying for the health benefits they provide to employees, paying corporate taxes which fund government-provided care, and paying compensation to employees, who in turn use those earnings to pay part of their health care expenses, as well as taxes of their own. This matters a great deal because over 50% of Tennesseans — about 3.5 million people — receive their health coverage through employer-sponsored health benefit plans.

At the same time, the ultimate payors — employers — lack effective control over many of that system’s structures and cost drivers. As Tennessee business operators have undoubtedly told you, the costs of employer-sponsored coverage continue to rise at unmanageable and unsustainable rates, and a primary driver of these cost increases is spending on prescription drugs. Employers and their plan administrators in Tennessee continue to struggle to understand, administer, and effectively manage these unsustainable cost increases; despite these difficulties, thousands of our state’s employers continue to offer health benefits because they truly value their employees.

At its core, SB1617 is a government mandate which would impose major restrictions on the few critical tools Tennessee employers do have to manage their employer-sponsored health plan designs and costs.

Continue reading

Haile seeks open government assistance with effort to block ‘malicious’ records requests

Senate GOP leaders hold weekly press gaggle on Jan. 18, 2018. From left are Sens. Mark Norris, Randy McNally, Bo Watson and Ferrell Haile. (Photo credit: Schelzig, Tennessee Journal.

Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) is asking for help from the Tennessee Advisory Council on Open Government to craft legislation aimed at blocking abusive public records requests. Haile has introduced a bill aimed at accomplishing that goal, but his efforts have foundered amid concerns that a new law would also affect the ability of citizens, the media, and researchers to obtain public records.

Here is the full release from Haile:

NASHVILLE – Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) said today he has asked the Tennessee Advisory Council on Open Government to review legislation he is sponsoring to discourage malicious abuse of Tennessee’s public records requests process. Haile sponsored legislation during the 2020 session of the Tennessee General Assembly to curtail the practice and plans to reintroduce it when the legislature convenes in January.

He is asking for the Council’s input to protect the integrity of Tennessee’s open record law, while preventing repeated abuse when requests serve no purpose other than to harass local governments and their employees.

“We need open government and this legislation is not intended in any way to interfere with our public records request process or to discourage such requests,” said Senator Haile. “This legislation is about the few people who abuse our public record laws to bully and harass government agencies by repeatedly making requests that any reasonable person would deem has no purpose except for harassment. The legislation will have no effect on other citizens. Also, media outlets, academic researchers, investigators, or those independently engaged in gathering information for publication or broadcast are exempt from provisions of the bill.”

The legislation allows a records custodian to seek an injunction against an individual who makes six or more requests that constitutes harassment within a one-year period after providing the requestor with notice after the fifth such request. Harassment is defined as conduct that is not made for any legitimate purpose and is made maliciously or seriously abuses, intimidates, threatens, or harasses. The public records custodian must petition the court in such cases in the appropriate jurisdiction for an order enjoining the person from making further requests. A court can find that an individual’s record request constitutes harassment and enjoin a person from requesting records for up to a year.

A records custodian who petitions a court for an injunction must also provide a written report to the Office of Open Records Counsel that includes a copy of the petition and any injunction or orders issued by the court. It will also become part of the Counsel’s annual report to further track these cases and ensure the integrity of the state’s open records law remains in tact. The measure will sunset in 2024 when it will be reevaluated for that purpose.

“Honest inquires are what our open records law is meant to protect,” added Haile. “The proposal is not meant to discourage citizens from requesting information, nor is it intended for a county attorney or city attorney to use this against folks who are irritated with someone or upset with some aspect of their government. This is a positive appeal that will help those who seek to have open government and it will help prevent abuse of those who utilize our public records process as a tool to harass those who work for us.”

Lee now to pursue family leave policy through legislation

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s effort to offer 12 weeks of paid leave to state workers to care for a new child or an ill family member will now be pursued through legislation rather than by executive order. The governor’s office said the change will allow employees from all three branches of government to benefit from the change.

“After consultation with legislative leaders, we feel the best course of action is to implement paid family leave via legislation rather than executive order,” Lee said in a statement. “We will propose legislation that is retroactive to March 1, 2020, so that no state employee is negatively impacted by this change in course.”

Legislators seek law change over recruiting flap at University of Memphis

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Rep. Antoni Parkinson (D-Memphis) want to change state law to address a college basketball recruiting crisis brewing at the University of Memphis.

Here’s the full release:

Nashville, Tenn. – Senator Brian Kelsey’s (R-Germantown) bipartisan bill to allow college athletes to profit from their likeness will also prohibit public universities from discriminating against players based on coach donations to universities.

“We want to encourage our former players to donate to our public universities to help keep college tuition affordable,” Sen. Kelsey said. “Discouraging these donations is not worth appeasing an organization that does nothing but take down banners from our rafters. The NCAA is an archaic organization whose time has come and gone. It is up to the athletic conferences to create a new paradigm, as they did with the college football championship.”

In May, the Senate unanimously approved Sen. Kelsey’s resolution calling for the state’s public universities to oppose the NCAA prohibition on compensation for college athletes and instructing Tennessee’s nine public universities to work with their respective athletic conferences in opposition to the rules and to implement a system which is fair to college athletes. 

Continue reading

That’s a wrap! Lawmakers go home for the year

Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) speaks to reporters in the House chamber in Nashville on April 17, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Tennessee General Assembly has concluded its business for the year. Here’s a roundup of some of the last-minute festivities:

Bill to ‘trigger’ abortion ban revived in House

A bill to “trigger” a ban on abortions in Tennessee in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its Roe v. Wade decision has been revived in the House.

A subcommittee had earlier voted down the bill sponsored by Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) amid an inter-chamber squabble over which anti-abortion legislation to pursue. The House preferred a bill to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, while the Senate wanted to go with the triggering legislation supported by Tennessee Right to Life.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday advanced the triggering legislation while sending the heartbeat bill to a summer study committee. The House Health Committee on Wednesday voted to overturn the subcommittee vote on the trigger bill and pull it directly to the full committee. The motion was made by Rep. Ron Gant (R-Rossville), the assistant House majority leader.

The House committee vote was 12-4, one more than the minimum necessary to recall a bill to full committee.

Here are the revised income limits for Lee’s school voucher plan

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at an economic development announcement in Nashville on March 20, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Lawmakers last week advanced a revised version of Gov. Bill Lee’s proposal to create education savings accounts, or ESAs, in five Tennessee counties. Previously, the income limit would have been set at double the upper threshold to receive reduced-priced school lunches, which is 185% of federal poverty guidelines. The revised bill sets that amount at double the free lunch limit, which is 130% of poverty.

The ESAs would be available to parents of children currently enrolled in public schools in Shelby, Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, and Madison counties earning up to 2.6 times the poverty level (down from the 3.7 times of the original bill).

Here’s what that comes out to:

Household Original proposal Revised proposal
2 60,902 42,796
3 76,886 54,028
4 92,870 65,260
5 108,854 76,492
6 124,838 87,724
7 140,822 98,956
8 156,806 110,188

Bill to close Tennessee primaries advancing in House

Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden), left, is the sponsor of a bill seeking to close primary elections in Tennessee.

A bill seeking to require party registration in order to vote in Tennessee primaries is advancing the House. The bill sponsored by Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) advanced on a voice vote in the Elections & Campaign Finance Subcommittee on Wednesday morning.

When Democrats sought to close primaries after soaring to new heights in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal of the mid-1970s, Republicans cried foul and the measure was defeated. This time, the roles are reversed, though the fate of this year’s measure remains uncertain.

Then-Gov. Ray Blanton and the Democratic State Executive Committee sought to cement their gains by imposing party registration rules for voting in primaries in the 1970s. Closing primaries, the argument went, would give the liberal wing of the party more sway by excluding Republicans and independents from influencing the nomination process.

Those efforts were thwarted by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats from rural West Tennessee led by House Speaker Ned McWherter of Dresden and Senate Speaker John Wilder of Mason.

House Minority Leader Tom Jensen (R-Knoxville), who died last year year, said at the time Tennesseans had “made it clear they don’t want to be shackled with party registration laws.”

But times have changed. The Republican State Executive Committee in December recommended lawmakers enact party registration requirements in Tennessee.

Former Republican Gov. Bill Haslam called closing primaries “a silly proposal, ” arguing that if the change had been made earlier, it would have been much harder for Republicans to get to the position of power they’re in today. Gov. Bill Lee, who won the Republican nomination amid record turnout in last year’s  gubernatorial primary, was similarly dubious about the proposal, telling reporters that “the current system we have is working.”

Republicans today hold an even stronger position in state politics than Democrats did after Watergate. The GOP controls 73 of 99 seats in the state House and 28 of 33 in the state Senate, seven of nine seats in the U.S. House, and both U.S. Senate seats.

Under current state law, anyone can vote in a party primary if they are “a bona fide member of and affiliated with the political party.” The law also permits primary voting if “the voter declares allegiance to the political party in whose primary the voter seeks to vote and states that the voter intends to affiliate with that party.” The law has been interpreted to mean that seeking a party ballot is a declaration of allegiance.

In practice, many Tennesseans choose to vote in whichever primary is more compelling, meaning their allegiance and affiliation may last for as little as a single election.

Supporters of closed primaries argue that under the current system, crossover voters could help a weaker candidate win the nomination, who would then have a harder time prevailing in the general election. Another refrain is that open primaries give moderate candidates a better chance of winning primaries.

Nine states have closed primary systems, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Another seven have what the organization calls “partially closed” systems in which parties can choose whether to allow independent or voters registered with other parties to participate in primaries on a case-by-case basis.

NCSL counts Tennessee among six states with “partially open” primaries, where affiliation can be changed from election to election. Another 24 states are either fully open or allow independent voters to participate in the primary of their preference.