NASHVILLE - Senate Committees worked at “full steam” this week as State Senators examined the budgets of 10 agencies and departments of state government and approved a number of important bills. Passing a responsible state budget which meets the needs of Tennesseans and creating an optimal business climate to boost job growth top the list of legislative priorities this year.
The budget hearings are part of the process of reviewing how taxpayer dollars are spent to examine whether the money is being used efficiently and effectively to meet the state’s goals for each department or agency. Particular scrutiny is given to any proposed cuts or recommendations for improvements sent to the legislature by the Governor. The hearings will continue through March 13 until the budgets of all departments have been reviewed. Adoption of the budget is traditionally one of the last bills to be passed before adjournment.
In other news on state finances, Tennessee has refinanced $449,070,000 in General Obligation Refunding Bonds, generating $37 million in savings for the state. The goal of this refinancing was to achieve debt service savings over the life of the debt equal to 4 percent of the present value of the refunded bonds. The State surpassed this goal, achieving 7.46 percent present value savings totaling $34,031,900. The savings were realized proportionally over the life of the refinanced debt.
Tennessee Senators join as amicus parties in challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate in White House Health Care Plan
Seventy-seven Tennessee lawmakers, including Senate Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) announced this week that they are joining the State of Florida, 25 other states, and the National Federation of Independent Business in filing as amicus parties (friends of the court) challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The individual mandate, which is the centerpiece of the new law, is the requirement that almost all people in the United States buy health insurance or pay a penalty to the IRS for failing to do so.
“Our personal health care decisions should be managed by us and our health care providers, not politicians and bureaucrats in Washington,” said Chairman Beavers. “Never in our history has the U.S. government required its citizens as a condition of residency to purchase a particular product from a private company or government entity.”
The brief was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in preparation for the oral arguments scheduled to begin on March 27. Governor Haslam also announced his support of a separate brief filed by the Republican Governor Public Policy Committee (RGPPC) arguing against the constitutionality of the White House health care plan.
The case is especially important to Tennessee and several other states because these states have enacted Health Care Freedom Acts. The Tennessee Health Freedom Act, sponsored by Senator Beavers, passed in 2011. It provides that every person in the state is free to choose, or not choose, any mode of securing healthcare services and to purchase, or not purchase, health insurance, without penalty or threat of penalty. Tennessee asserts this right to protect the freedom of its citizens under the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution, a principle that was emphasized in the amicus curiae brief filed with the Court.
Anti-Crime package continues to advance through General Assembly
Governor Bill Haslam’s anti-crime bills continued to advance through the legislative process this week, including a measure increasing penalties for repeat domestic violence offenders. The "Repeat Domestic Violence Offender" bill would provide at least 45 days in jail and a fine ranging from $350 to 3,500 for those convicted of a second offense for domestic violence. In addition, the bill strengthens penalties for a third or any subsequent offense to 120 days in jail and a fine ranging from $1,100 - $5,000.
The legislation aims to curb the growing problem of domestic violence in Tennessee. Tennessee is ranked fifth in the nation for women murdered by men as a result of domestic violence. The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee where sponsors will continue to work with state and local officials to offset the cost of housing prisoners who receive the mandatory jail time. The Governor included $780,000 in his proposed budget to pay for the legislation.
Drug Abuse – Two bills aiming to curb drug abuse were approved by the full Senate this week dealing. The proposals are also part of the Governor’s public safety package. One bill deals with the purchase of amphetamines for the purpose of making meth. Senate Bill 2235 makes it a misdemeanor to “attempt to purchase” and “attempt to sell” amphetamines for a non-medical use or unlawful purpose, including the manufacture of meth, leaving a felony as the punishment for completing the act. The second measure adds numerous opiates, depressants, stimulants and narcotics to Schedule I through V of the Controlled Substances Schedule. Senate Bill 2230 also adds Tramadol and Carisoprodol to Schedule IV of the Controlled Substances Schedule. A controlled (scheduled) drug is one whose use and distribution is tightly controlled because of the potential for abuse.
Issues in Brief
Tennesse’s Day of Prayer – The first Thursday during the month of May will become “Tennessee's Day of Prayer” under Senate Bill 2516 sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) and approved by the State Senate this week
Tennessee Electronic Library (TEL) -- Similarly, Secretary of State Tre Hargett who presented his budget in the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee, told State Senators that the state’s Electronic Library is receiving over 33 million Internet searches a year. The electronic library is an online collection of more than 400,000 resources, with over 150,000,000 articles, videos, e-books, podcasts and other reference materials available to any Tennessean with Internet access. TEL is used by over 100 libraries across the state and saves Tennessee schools and libraries about $94 million a year to purchase the resources that are available to them free of charge.
Electronic Fraud Hotline -- The Senate State and Local Government Committee has approved legislation calling for an electronic hotline for citizens to email any reports of fraud or abuse in state government spending. The bill adds electronic notifications to the current telephone hotline authorized under the Advocacy for Honest and Appropriate Government Spending Act.
Severe weather preparedness -- The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) and National Weather Service (NWS) are promoting preparedness for families, individuals and businesses as the state observed Tennessee Severe Weather Awareness Week. TEMA has announced the release of a new mobile, smartphone application, Ready TN. The application helps citizens know the hazards in their community and the preparations they should take to be ready for any emergency. The application provides location-based information on severe weather, road conditions, open shelters and local government contacts. Preparedness tips for specific hazards and checklists for emergency kit items are also provided in the application’s content. The Ready TN smartphone application is currently available in the Android Market by searching for Ready TN. The application is under development for use on the Apple iPhone.