Sen. Norris: Key bills pass before close of 2016 session this week

Tenn. Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville)
Sen. Mark Norris

The Tennessee Senate passed the state budget as the 2016 session of the Tennessee General Assembly draws to a close.

The $34.9 billion debt-free budget proposes state government spending for the next fiscal year that begins July 1, 2016, and extends to June 30, 2017.

“Senate Bill 2653 is the Balanced Budget Act of 2016,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), sponsor of the legislation. “It focuses on the ‘four Es’ of Tennessee — employment, education, economic opportunity and enforcement of the law.”

Among two key provisions in the budget is one which calls for the phase out of Tennessee’s Hall Income Tax on interest and dividend income from investments. The current tax rate is six percent applied to all taxable interest and dividend income over $1,250 per person and $2,500 for married couples filing jointly. The legislation calls for cutting the tax by one percent this year, with the intent to eliminate it by 2021.

In addition, the budget provides for increased property tax relief for 100 percent service-related disabled veterans by repealing the income cap that was put in place last year and raises the property value limit for the elderly disabled.

On K-12 education, the budget provides an additional $261 million for Tennessee’s public schools. Significant K-12 increases include $104.6 million for teacher salaries, $29.5 million to fund 12 months of health insurance for teachers, $13.9 million for additional English Language Learning teachers and translators, and $3.6 million for training teachers and principals.

In higher education, the budget totals $1.7 billion, including $50 million recurring for the outcomes formula productivity increases at the University of Tennessee (UT) and Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) institutions. It provides additional funds of almost $9.2 million for operating increases at UT and TBR non-formula institutions.

The appropriations bill also provides a one-time influx of $297.8 million for capital improvements and maintenance at the state’s higher education institutions.

The budget also provides $10 million in non-recurring funds for the Labor Education and Alignment Program (LEAP) program, which was very successfully funded with an initial $10 million several years ago.

The LEAP program enables students in Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology and community colleges to participate in technical training developed with input from area employers.

The Senate’s amendment to the budget bolsters job creation by adding $4.25 million to the governor’s proposed $20 million for the Drive to 55 capacity fund. The Drive to 55 initiative aims to get 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025.

Other key budget improvements include:

  • $100 million for the state’s Rainy Day Fund;
  • $142 million for transportation to restore road funding;
  • $20 million to help keep communities safe and prisons secure, including about $18 million for the “Public Safety Act,” which will help reduce the recidivism rate in Tennessee and more efficiently sentence violent offenders;
  • $1.2 million for 12 new highway patrol officers;
  • $1 million for communications systems improvements in the Department of Safety;
  • $4.1 million for salary adjustments for commissioned officers in the Department of Safety;
  • Funds for four additional forensic technical service agents in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations to help analyze and process cellular data confiscated while investigating crimes such as sex trafficking;
  • Funding for support staff in training for elder abuse to the District Attorneys General Conference;
  • $1.1 million for rural communities by increasing producer grants and $10 million for the Rural Economic Opportunity Propelling Rural Economic Progress” (PREP) program fund;
  • $18.2 million to restore the TennCare provider rate reduction and $6 million to restore the TennCare Pharmacy rate cut by $6 million;
  • $193 million in TennCare reserves;
  • $3.2 million for federally qualified health care and community health services; and,
  • $500,000 for perinatal services statewide.

Other bills

Victim’s Rights/ Parole Hearings: A bill to permit the Board of Probation and Parole to defer a new parole hearing for up to 10 years after the Board denies an inmate’s parole if the inmate is using the parole hearings process to intimidate and harass the victim was approved by the Senate on Wednesday. Currently, the Board cannot defer further hearings beyond seven years.

F&E Taxes: Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) guided the passage of legislation concerning franchise and excise (F&E) taxes through the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee last week. Senate Bill 2558 improves the process for estimating F&E taxes by allowing a current year method, which gives businesses an alternative 80 percent calculation method.
This scheme will be used by some taxpayers, like retailers, that enter fourth quarters that often make or break their year, giving them greater flexibility and time to reconcile their estimates. The legislation also lowers the penalty for underpayment of F&E taxes.

Officer-Involved Shootings/Reports: Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) guided passage of legislation regarding officer-involved shootings through the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee this week. Senate Bill 2023 will allow for an investigatory report prepared by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) in response to an officer involved shooting to be released by the district attorney general. Currently, a district attorney must petition the court to release the report.

Business/Licensing and Regulations: Legislation to reassess some of the barriers of entry to the workforce was approved by the State Senate last Monday. Senate Bill 2469 would compel various licensing authorities to review their entry regulations in various occupations and report such to the Senate Government Operations Committee. The committee can recommend removing unnecessary restrictions and demands.

Elderly/Healthcare Structures: The State Senate passed legislation last week that will help relieve some of the burdens placed upon Tennessee’s elderly. Senate Bill 2375 will authorize zoning consideration of temporary family healthcare structures for mentally or physically impaired citizens on the property of their caregiver. The temporary housing must have access to water, sewer and electric utilities. The companion bill awaits consideration by the full House of Representatives.

Affordable Healthcare: The State Senate approved a minor amendment and sent to the governor legislation to provide Tennesseans with an affordable free-market option to contract directly with their physician for primary healthcare services. The “Health Care Empowerment Act” removes roadblocks in state law to the growing Direct Primary Care (DPC) healthcare model by ensuring that it is not considered an HMO or insurance company for purposes of regulation in Tennessee.

Fetal Remains Act: Legislation which addresses concerns raised last year regarding the selling of human fetal passed the Senate last week. The “Fetal Remains Act” seeks to stop the possibility of abortion clinics selling fetal remains by properly equipping the Tennessee Department of Health to be able to identify this practice.

Senate Bill 2568 requires increased reporting of the disposition of fetal remains, prohibits reimbursement of any costs associated with shipping an aborted fetus or fetal remains and establishes a mandatory interim assessment process for an ambulatory surgical treatment center performing more than 50 abortions annually.

At present, any abortion performed in Tennessee must be reported to the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) within 10 days of the procedure. This bill adds the requirement that, for a surgical abortion, physicians must also report the method of disposition of the fetal remains and, in the event the remains were transferred to a third party, the name and address of the third party and date of transfer. Facilities performing 50 or more surgical abortions per year must maintain a record of such reports and produce the reports to TDH during inspections under this legislation.

In addition to the current ban on the sale or purchase of fetal tissue, this bill clarifies that reimbursement for any costs associated with the preparation, preservation, transfer, shipping or handling of an aborted fetus or fetal tissue is also a Class E felony.

The legislation requires the mother’s authorization for disposition of the fetus that results from a surgical abortion to be included as part of the informed consent process prior to the procedure. The bill requires that any facility performing more than 50 surgical abortions per year must perform interim assessments of their compliance with the Board of Licensing Health Care Facilities on specified measures and report on sentinel events.

Contact Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville) via email to