When the filing deadline for legislation passed the end of last week, each chamber of the Tennessee General Assembly had filed in excess of 1,400 bills this year. It was a week of hectic activity for staff, lobbyists and legislators alike. Now that the scope of legislation is established for the year, the work on reviewing and analyzing legislation is underway. Bills must have a companion bill in each chamber - House and Senate. Any bill that does not have a companion in the other chamber will have to wait for the second year of the General Assembly or try to get a companion approved through the late bill committee - a rare event.
From the initial review, over 20 bills were identified that relate to emergency management operations or first responders in some way. Included in this group is SB0763/HB0604 (Stevens, Halford) which establishes that local emergency management agency personnel have all rights, benefits, privileges, and protections available to first responders pursuant to state and local laws, including death benefits in the amount of $25,000 for personnel killed in the line of duty. This bill is the legislation requested by and supported by EMAT. Several other bills have been filed that propose to enhance the death benefit for the current first responders eligible for the benefit. As those bills begin to be heard by the committees we will keep you up to date.
One bill related to the Sevier County fires has already begun moving through committees. SB114/HB52 (Overbey, Carr) proposes tax relief for victims of FEMA-certified disasters occurring in 2016. The bill authorizes local governing bodies to prorate the 2016 tax assessment for a homeowner's or business owner's personal property if such property was damaged as a result of a FEMA-certified disaster between September 1, 2016 and December 31, 2016. Both subsections expire on December 31, 2017. An amendment added in the Senate State & Local Government Committee deletes the language "substantially damaged" wherever it appears and substitutes instead "fifty percent (50%) or more damaged" and makes other minor technical changes. The legislation was modeled on a similar bill that provided relief to flood victims from the Middle Tennessee floods of 2010. The bill passed out of the Senate State & Local Committee as amended and was sent to Senate Finance. In the House, the bill is scheduled for a hearing in the House Local Government Subcommittee on February 14. The bill requires approval by a 2/3 vote of the local legislative body.
In addition to bills clearly identified as relating to emergency management, we are following a large number of bills that appear to be placeholders (known as "Caption Bills") that open up key parts of the Tennessee Code while proposing minor changes to a statute. Part of the challenge of the legislative session comes from the fact that a member can put one of these bills on notice and file an amendment re-writing the bill to make more substantive changes the day prior to the committee meeting. These amendments do not become publicly available in some cases until after the committee has debated and taken action on them. We will monitor those captions for potential amendments that could impact emergency management in Tennessee.