February 8 2017

Governor Proposes Ambitious Budget and Transportation Funding Package

In his State of the State Address, Governor Haslam introduced plans and priorities for a record state surplus, including tax cuts and a proposal to enhance and stabilize transportation funding for future years. His budget includes improvements of more than $350 million that will benefit county government in a number of areas, including jails, education, transportation, rural development and broadband expansion.

Transportation: Some $78 million a year is being allocated to county highway departments and $39 million to municipalities in the governor's IMPROVE Act plan, a portion of his budget proposal that addresses the state's long-time transportation infrastructure funding backlog. Another $391 million would fund the cost of 526 local bridge replacement/repair projects over the next several years. This is being described by TDOT as a new bridge program that would target structurally deficient structures in need of immediate attention.

The new funding is based on efforts to pass a 12-cent increase in the diesel fuel tax and a 7-cent increase in the gasoline tax and raise $278 million for highway/road/bridge projects. While increases are planned, the IMPROVE Act also proposes cuts to the sales tax on groceries another half percent ($55 million) to 4.5 percent; takes the state's franchise and excise tax on manufacturing businesses to a “single weighted sales factor” ($113 million); and cuts the Hall income tax 1.5 percent this year with a commitment to cut it another 1.5 percent next year (3 percent over two years - $102 million). The Administration's intent is to make the plan "revenue neutral" as new revenues are comparably offset by revenue reductions.

With his proposal the governor is reaffirming the state's long-time pay-as-you-go policy and keeps its roads debt free. Tennessee last addressed how it funds its roads and bridges in 1989 when it raised its fixed gas tax rate to 21.4 cents per gallon. Because of inflation, increases in construction costs and the cost of land and better vehicle gas mileage, the state Comptroller estimates that the 21.4 cents per gallon levied in 1989 is now worth approximately 11 cents.

Legislators are already offering their own transportation funding plans, including one proposal offered last week to shift a portion of the state sales tax into the transportation fund. That plan would not raise any new revenues but would instead just redirect existing funds towards highways and bridges. While it would still propose to generate dollars for local government, it would put pressure on funding for other programs like k-12 education and Tenncare as well as various general fund departments and agencies. Additional legislative alternatives can be expected unless the governor's proposal gains traction in the House very soon.

Jails and mental health: A proposed $2/day raise in the reimbursement rate paid to local jails housing state inmates should generate as much as $5.4 million a year for counties. The current $37/day per diem would go to $39/day under the move. Additionally, the budget includes a $15 million allocation for grants to assist in the creation of pre-arrest diversion services under the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. These programs could identify individuals with mental health and substance abuse problems that could be diverted from the criminal justice system into appropriate treatment programs and keep them out of the jail.

Broadband legislation
The governor is also proposing in his budget a plan to increase broadband access to Tennessee’s unserved citizens. His Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act will provide $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses. In addition, the plan will permit Tennessee’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service and make grant funding available to the state’s local libraries to help residents improve their digital literacy skills and maximize the benefits of broadband. 

Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access, with 34 percent of rural Tennessee residents lacking access at recognized minimum standards.

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act is part of Haslam’s NextTennessee legislative plan aimed at building and sustaining economic growth and the state’s competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans.


Changes in Legislative Leadership, Committee Assignments

With the convening of the 110th General Assembly in January came a wave of change for both the Senate and House. The Senate elected veteran lawmaker Randy McNally as its speaker and the state’s new lieutenant governor on its first day back. Lt. Gov. McNally had spent the past several years as chair of the body’s Finance, Ways & Means Committee. He is currently Tennessee’s longest serving state legislator, having first served in the House beginning in 1979 before moving to the Senate in 1987. In the House, Rep. Beth Harwell was reelected speaker, a position she has held since 2011, currently serving her fourth term as head of that body. She has been in the House since 1989.

Both Lt. Gov. McNally and Speaker Harwell have made some important moves that will impact local governments this session, including the appointments of new chair of transportation committees. Sen. Paul Bailey of White County and Rep. Barry Doss of Lawrence County will head those committees, which are expected to take up debate on transportation funding proposals from the governor and other legislators. Senator Bailey has also moved into a slot on the Senate State & Local Government Committee. While the chairs of the State and Local Committees in the House remained the same, there have been changes in the membership of key committees in the House as well.

Because of their importance to counties, listed here are members of Senate State & Local Government and the House Local Government and State Government committees.


Senate State & Local

Sen. Ken Yager, chair                   615/741-1449                 sen.ken.yager@capitol.tn.gov

Sen. Richard Briggs, 1st vice         615/741-1766                 sen.richard.briggs@capitol.tn.gov

Sen. Ed Jackson, 2nd vice            615/741-1810                 sen.ed.jackson@capitol.tn.gov

Sen. Paul Bailey                            615/741-3978                 sen.paul.bailey@capitol.tn.gov

Sen. Todd Gardenhire                  615/741-6682                 sen.todd.gardenhire@capitol.tn.gov

Sen. Jack Johnson                         615/741-2495                 sen.jack.johnson@capitol.tn.gov

Sen. Bill Ketron                             615/741-6853                 sen.bill.ketron@capitol.tn.gov

Sen. Mark Norris                          615/741-1967                 sen.mark.norris@capitol.tn.gov

Sen. Jeff Yarbro                             615/741-3291                 sen.jeff.yarbro@capitol.tn.gov


House Local Government

Rep. Tim Wirgau, chair*              615/741-6804                 rep.tim.wirgau@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Dan Howell, vice*                615/741-7799                 rep.dan.howell@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. David Alexander                   615/741-8695                 rep.david.alexander@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Dale Carr*                             615/741-5981                 rep.dale.carr@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Barbara Cooper                    615/741-4295                 rep.barbara.cooper@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. John Crawford                      615/741-7623                 rep.john.crawford@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Jimmy Eldridge*                   615/741-7475                 rep.jimmy.eldridge@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Marc Gravitt                         615/741-1934                 rep.marc.gravitt@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Larry Miller*                         615/741-4453                 rep.larry.miller@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Antonio Parkinson*             615/741-4575                 rep.antonio.parkingson@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Cameron Sexton                  615/741-2343                 rep.cameron.sexton@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Jerry Sexton                          615/741-2534                 rep.jerry.sexton@capitol.tn.gov

*denotes members of Local Subcommittee


House State Government

Rep. Bob Ramsey, chair*                   615/714-3560              rep.bob.ramsey@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Bud Hulsey, vice*                      615/714-2886              rep.bud.hulsey@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Martin Daniel                             615/714-2287              rep.martin.daniel@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Darren Jernigan*                        615/714-6959              rep.darren.jernigan@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. William Lamberth                      615/714-1980              rep.william.lamberth@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Mary Littleton*                          615/714-7477              rep.mary.littleton@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Jason Powell                               615/714-6861              rep.jason.powell@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Tim Rudd                                   615/714-2804              rep.tim.rudd@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Bill Sanderson*                          615/714-0718              rep.bill.sanderson@capitol.tn.gov

Rep. Johnny Shaw                              615/714-4538              rep.johnny.shaw@capitol.tn.gov

*denotes members of State Subcommittee



Bill filing deadline

State lawmakers have until 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, to submit their legislative proposals for this session. While the number of bills filed at press time was approximately 500, the number has traditionally been closer to 2,000 for a session. Expect a rush during the rest of the week to get those bills filed. There are a few bills highlighted in this update that relate to emergency management. We will update you on more legislation as we continue analyzing all filed legislation.


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Bills of interest to EMAT



TAXES PROPERTY: Tax relief for victims of FEMA-certified disasters occurring in 2016.


Sen. Overbey, Doug , Rep. Carr, Dale


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 ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 67, Chapter 5 and Title 67, Chapter 6, relative to tax relief for victims of certain natural disasters.



TRANSPORTATION GENERAL: Debris removal from private roads or bridges after a natural emergency.



Sen. Green, Mark , Rep. Reedy, Jay


Authorizes chief administrative officer to handle removal of obstruction or debris caused by a natural emergency from private roads or bridges to ensure first responders and emergency services road access in the county. Specifies natural emergency to include, but is not limited to, storms, floods and tornadoes.


AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 54, Chapter 7, relative to emergency services.



TRANSPORTATION VEHICLES: Restrictions for lights displayed on vehicles.



Sen. Overbey, Doug , Rep. Swann, Art


Prohibits colored, steady-burning lights at the front of a vehicle other than white or amber. Also prohibits colored, flashing lights at the front of a vehicle. Exempts law enforcement, emergency, emergency equipment company, security vehicles, school buses, mail carriers, and other vehicles authorized to display steady-burning or flashing lights in certain colors.


AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 55, Chapter 8 and Title 55, Chapter 9, Part 4, relative to lights displayed on vehicles.



CRIMINAL LAW: Elevation of offense for knowingly assaulting a law enforcement officer.



Sen. Gardenhire, Todd , Rep. McCormick, Gerald


Elevates the offense for knowingly assaulting a law enforcement officer from Class A misdemeanor offense of assault to Class E felony offense of aggravated assault.


AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 39, Chapter 13, Part 1, relative to assaults.



PUBLIC EMPLOYEES: Tennessee Public Safety Behavioral Health Act.



Sen. Green, Mark ,


Requires public safety employers to offer not less than 10 visits with a licensed professional counselor for the purpose of treating PTSD at no cost to a public safety employee. Requires public safety employers to establish, in conjunction with a licensed professional counselor, support programs in an effort to mitigate behavioral health issues within the public safety employee community. Orders employers to promote the use of licensed professional counselors and other behavioral health professionals. Requires employers to maintain, and regularly provide public safety employees with a list of licensed professional counselors. Prevents employers to engage in the retaliatory treatment of public safety employees seeking or utilizing licensed professional counselors or behavioral health programs. Orders licensed professional counselors providing services to public safety employees to participate in training that familiarizes the counselors with the unique problems associated with each public safety profession.


AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 4; Title 5; Title 6; Title 7; Title 8; Title 50; Title 58; Title 63 and Title 68, relative to the "Tennessee Public Safety Behavioral Health Act."



TRANSPORTATION VEHICLES: Fees for registration plates issued to certain emergency personnel.



Sen. Beavers, Mae , Rep. Sherrell, Paul


Exempts active and/or volunteer firefighters and rescue squad members from having to pay the regular registration renewal fee for license plates issued to said members.


AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 55, Chapter 4, relative to fees for registration plates issued to certain emergency personnel.



INSURANCE GENERAL: Full replacement contents coverage for losses from catastrophic wildfires.



Sen. Overbey, Doug , Rep. Swann, Art


Requires an insured that has paid premiums for full replacement contents coverage for losses from catastrophic wildfires to be paid the full amount of the coverage purchased without the necessity of purchasing replacement items prior to being compensated.


AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 56, relative to insurance.



PUBLIC EMPLOYEES: Death benefits for law enforcement officer, firefighter killed in the line of duty.



Sen. Overbey, Doug , Rep. Carr, Dale


Increases the amount paid to the estate of a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or a volunteer rescue squad worker killed in the line of duty from $25,000 to $50,000. Adds additional death benefit if the death occurred in the line of duty as the result of a criminal act or negligence of another person.


AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 7, Chapter 51, Part 2, relative to death benefits.



ENVIRONMENT & NATURE: Creates the Natural Disaster Relief Program.



Rep. Byrd, David


Creates the Natural Disaster Relief Program to be administered by TEMA. Allows a county to request a grant from the program to help offset the cost of a natural disaster occurring in that county. Requires TEMA to evaluate grant applications and administer funds. Limits the amount of funding to no more than $250,000. Specifies that a county may only receive funding once per calendar year.


AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 58, Chapter 2, Part 1, relative to natural disasters.



PUBLIC EMPLOYEES: Local emergency management agency personnel - benefits.



Rep. Halford, Curtis


AN ACT to amend Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 39, Chapter 13, Part 1 and Title 58, relative to local emergency management agency personnel. This is the same legislation as the bill supported by EMAT last year to make emergency manager eligible for a death benefit.