NASHVILLE, TN – The 106th General Assembly came to a close on June 11, and there were many important pieces of legislation that were passed. The following topics were some of the highlights from this legislative session.
Representatives Overload Budget with Pork and Raid TN’s Savings Account
After passing a conservative budget out of the Senate Finance Committee, Senate leaders were constrained by members of the State House in what spending they could cut to balance the budget. After negotiations with House leaders, numerous pork projects were included in the budget, in addition to raiding Tennessee’s “Rainy Day” savings account by hundreds of millions of dollars.
“I applaud the Senate for attempting to pass a conservative budget during these hard economic times,” said Senator Beavers.
“However, due to certain House members’ wish lists when it came to pork projects that are not affordable during these times, in addition to spending hundreds of millions of dollars from our rainy day fund, I had to vote against this budget. It’s a shame that House members would prefer to spend, spend, spend and borrow, borrow, borrow rather than operate within our means. My family operates in a pay-as-you go fashion…and the state of Tennessee needs to do the same.”
Senator Beavers was one of three Senators to vote against the budget, while no Representatives voted against it.
“I just really think it’s irresponsible to leave the next Governor with a gigantic whole to fill,” said Senator Beavers. “We refused to make all the necessary cuts we should have, while raiding our savings account and adding pork projects – leaving the state in a position where almost $900 million of funds will run out next year.”
Senator Beavers and other Senators lead Tennessee in State Sovereignty Legislation/Fights to Pushback on Overreaching Federal Government
As Tennessee struggled this year to make ends meet, lawmakers also braced for dire effects on the state’s budget as a result of the new Congressional health plan signed by President Obama in March.
The plan is expected to cost the state at least $200 million annually, as well as take away the ability of Tennessee to control its own health care program. Tennesseans could be paying an additional $1.5 billion in health care services in the first five years of implementation of President Obama’s health care plan passed by Congress in March according to a study by the Kaiser Foundation.
Tennessee Health Freedom Act – Senator Beavers passed the Tennessee Health Freedom Act twice this year in the State Senate; however, it failed to receive the necessary 50 votes to pass in its final form in the House of Representatives. The bill stated that Tennesseans have the right to choose their own healthcare and healthcare coverage, and that our Attorney General would defend this state against unconstitutional federal mandates.
“I was incredibly discouraged that House Democrats voted to kill this bill,” said Senator Beavers. “The Senate did every maneuver we could to resurrect this bill - even passing the Tennessee Health Freedom Act once in February and then again last week.”
Many Democrats cited the reason for their vote being that Tennessee's Attorney General said it was likely unconstitutional, yet Senator Beavers argued that such a statement was merely his opinion. "The only way you could say that my bill is unconstitutional would be if you believe Obamacare is constitutional – and the State Senate said loud and clear that we do not think it is…it’s the Attorney General's job to defend the policies of this state, and there is no way that an unconstitutional federal law should trump a constitutional state law!"
Abortion / Federal healthcare bill – The General Assembly approved a new law to prohibit taxpayer-funded coverage for abortion services in Tennessee associated with the federal healthcare bill passed by Congress. The bill prohibits any health care plan established pursuant to federal health care reform legislation enacted by Congress from offering coverage for abortion services.
Women’s Health / Mammograms – A resolution sponsored by Senator Beavers, a cancer survivor, passed this year encouraging women to consult with their doctors and organizations such as the American Cancer Society when choosing to have annual mammograms. The resolution takes issue with the federal government’s new guidelines increasing the age for baseline mammograms to age 50, and changing the recommendation for annual screenings to having the exams every other year.
“I take issue with the federal government once again sticking their noses where they don’t belong,” said Senator Beavers. “Early cancer detection and screenings helped save my life, and I disapprove of Washington already attempting to ration healthcare services and by trying to advise patients about screening and early detection in ways that directly conflict with what most doctors recommend.”
Highway Safety Funds / Resolution – The General Assembly voted to ask Congress to repeal the current highway transportation funding formula and permit each state to retain all federal fuel taxes it collects from motorists within its borders. It also asks Washington to allow the states to have responsibility for their own transportation programs. Tennessee is among two dozen “donor states” that pay far more fuel taxes into the federal Highway Trust Fund than they receive in return.
Major DUI Legislation Passes this Year
Alcohol / DUI / Interlock – Senator Beavers was the primary sponsor of a major piece of DUI legislation that passed this year that is designed to increase the use of ignition interlock devices and to curb the number of alcohol-related car crashes in Tennessee. The new law requires the use of the devices if the offender has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .15 percent or higher; is accompanied by a person under 18 years of age; is involved in a traffic accident for which alcohol was the cause, or violates the present implied consent laws under certain extreme circumstances. It also provides those convicted of drunk driving under .15 with the option to install an interlock device instead of being geographically restricted by the court.
Interlock devices are small pieces of equipment attached to the steering wheel of a car with a tube that the driver must breathe into in order to allow the ignition to start. The current alcohol ignition interlock technology makes it easier for courts to require drunk drivers to utilize the device. Studies show the devices have been very successful in curbing drunk driving.
ICE / Prisoners – The State Senate approved legislation calling for Tennessee jails to send information to the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office (ICE) regarding prisoners who do not have documentation that they are in the U.S. legally. The bill, co-sponsored by Senator Beavers, requires the jail keeper to fax, email or send a copy of the booking information. As amended, the legislation calls for statewide standards to be developed by the Police Officers Standard Training Commission to determine citizenship status and how to submit the information regarding illegal immigrants to homeland security.
English in the workplace – The State Legislature has voted to clarify that Tennessee employers have a right to institute an English-in-the-workplace policy. The measure clarifies that employers can require that English be spoken on the job as long as it is a "legitimate business necessity" and ensures "safe and efficient operations.”
Illegal immigrants / Arizona law – Finally, the Senate joined the House of Representatives in passing and sending to the governor a resolution commending Arizona for their bold move on immigration policies. Arizona recently passed a law that allows law enforcement officials to require citizenship documentation on any citizen that is detained or arrested. Lawmakers have defended the law’s importance from both an immigration and economic standpoint. Arizona spends over $2.7 billion every year on illegal immigrants. Individual states and municipalities across the country have implemented many illegal immigration laws in the last few years following inaction by the federal government.
Lawmakers Continue in Efforts to Uphold Second Amendment Rights
State lawmakers continued in their efforts this year to uphold the Second Amendment rights of Tennesseans. These efforts include overriding the governor’s veto on legislation to allow law-abiding handgun permit holders to “carry” into restaurants as long as they do not consume alcoholic beverages and the owners of the premises have not posted notification that firearms are banned. The legislation clarifies language in the law passed last year, particularly as it applies to the posting of notices, and adds penalties for those who consume alcohol while carrying their gun in violation of the statute. All states surrounding Tennessee, except North Carolina, allow legal gun-carry permit holders to carry into restaurants. It also follows 13 years of experience with Tennessee’s handgun carry law that shows an outstanding record of safety among permit holders.
Second Amendment Rights / Transporting Shotguns – In other action regarding the right of citizens to bear arms, the General Assembly has approved a bill that allows individuals without a handgun carry permit to transport an unloaded rifle or shotgun in a privately-owned motor vehicle. The legislation applies as long as the rifle or shotgun does not have ammunition in the chamber or cylinder, and no clip or magazine containing ammunition is inserted in the rifle or shotgun or is in close proximity to the weapon.
Right to Hunt and Fish – Tennessee voters will have the opportunity to decide if the state’s Constitution should be amended to recognize that citizens have the right to hunt and fish under a resolution passed this year. Tennessee, like most other states, predicates wildlife conservation efforts on a user pay system supported by sportsmen. Protection of the sportsmen’s right to hunt and fish makes sure wildlife preservation efforts in Tennessee continue indefinitely. In addition, sportsmen pump millions of dollars into Tennessee’s economy.