TCSA 2024 Capitol Updates Archive

TCSA Capitol Update

Week of March 11 - March 15, 2024

We have reached the point in session when some committees are shutting down for the year. This means that bills assigned to those committees that have not been approved will not be heard this legislative session. The Cities and Counties Subcommittee in the House closed Wednesday afternoon, but there is still plenty of legislation affecting counties scattered across numerous other committees. Some of the major issues we have been watching did not move this week. The school voucher legislation was not on notice for a committee. Currently it is scheduled for the Government Operations Committee in the House next week. It has been referred to Senate Finance, but is not scheduled yet. The bill that could carry a property tax cap was in a subcommittee this week, but was deferred until next week in the House. It appears on the State and Local Committee calendar again next week in the Senate. The Comptroller’s bill on more frequent reappraisals has been deferred for the time being after encountering resistance on the House floor. 

 

Property Tax Cap

As we reported last week, an amendment was filed in the House for HB1968/SB2248 to enact a 5% cap on property tax increases. As proposed, in order for the county to increase property tax by more than 5% in a given year, a referendum must be held with 2/3rds of the voters approving the increase. Even if a county was successful in getting the voters to approve the rate increase, any increase in excess of 5% is automatically repealed after four years. We do not believe the bill has support in the Property and Planning Subcommittee in the House or in the State and Local Government Committee. To date, the Senate sponsor has not filed any amendatory language. We will continue to advocate against this proposal until it is finally off notice. 

Challenging County Commission Votes

SB2548/HB2685 creates a process for challenging votes made by county commissioners who have a financial conflict of interest in the matter they are voting on. As the bill passed the House, the chair of the commission was directed to ask members of the commission, then the public present at the meeting, whether anyone believed a commissioner voted with a conflict. In the Senate State and Local Government committee, Senators expressed concerns that members of the public in attendance would not know or understand financial conflict of interest provisions and could raise objections over virtually any vote. An amendment was introduced to limit those who could challenge a vote to fellow members of the commission. With that change, the bill moved forward. 

Fuel Purchasing

HB2547/SB2432 that gives local governments flexibility to buy bulk gas and diesel fuel using documented quotes instead of competitive bids passed on the Senate floor this week. The bill is making its way through the House, having been approved by the Finance Subcommittee on Wednesday and referred to the full Finance Committee.

 

Mayor’s Budget Maintenance of Effort

The bill SB2023/HB2019 to set a maintenance of effort standard for the county mayor’s budget is still waiting behind the budget in the House Finance Subcommittee. This procedural move is required for any bill that is believed to have a local fiscal cost. The bill passed on the Senate floor Monday night. 

Lower Local Option Sales Tax on Food

HB 2641/SB2520, which would give local governments the option to reduce or eliminate the local option sales tax on groceries, passed on the House floor this week. Some local governments that border other states where groceries are exempt from sales tax have expressed an interest in such a measure as a way to stop leakage of spending across state lines. The bill is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Finance Revenue Subcommittee. 

Inmate Work Details

Last session, a bill passed requiring inmates out on work release or on work details outside of jails to wear GPS monitor devices unless they were accompanied by an armed guard. When the law took effect in January, we began hearing from counties about the challenges this process was causing. A bill has started moving this year to provide some relief. HB 2444/SB2536 would allow an inmate to be on release without the monitoring device if the judge of the sentencing court and the sheriff approve this in writing. This will hopefully provide more flexibility for non-violent, low risk offenders to continue working on litter crews, participate in work release programs or perform other work outside the jail without as much cost or logistical complications as under the current law. The bill passed out of the Corrections Subcommittee in the House and is on notice in the Judiciary Committee in the Senate.

Purchasing Election Equipment

A bill that would allow election commissions to purchase equipment or incur debt on behalf of the county encountered questions in the Senate State and Local Government Committee. Numerous Senators who were former county officials raised concerns about an unelected body being able to make expenditures or create financial liability for the county without county commission approval. SB 2587/HB2096 was deferred for a week to see if some amendment could be worked out to alleviate the concerns raised.

Block Chain Operations

A bill entitled the Blockchain Basics Act, related to mining crypto currency, included some language that would have preempted certain forms of local regulation. SB 2370/HB2309 was scheduled to be heard in the Senate Commerce committee this week. The sponsor put the bill into the General Subcommittee, a move that indicates he does not intend to move forward with it. The bill has been deferred multiple times in the House after coming out of a subcommittee. 

Local Government and TDEC Permits

A bill passed the Senate this week (SB1948/HB2584) that would relieve local governments of some permitting costs when working with TDEC. As amended and passed in the Senate, TDEC would be prohibited from charging a local government a permit application fee for a general aquatic resource alteration permit for emergency infrastructure repair, or a general aquatic resource alteration permit for maintenance activities, necessary to replace or otherwise maintain a culvert. The bill was placed behind the budget in the House as it causes a reduction in state revenues not currently accounted for in the Governor’s proposed budget. 

State Budget Amendment

Speaking of the budget, the talk around the legislative offices is that the administration amendment to the proposed budget is expected in the last week of March. This amendment is an update to the budget introduced at the time of the state of the state address. It recognizes the cost of legislation passed this year and updates estimates based on additional months of tax collection. The filing of this amendment generally signals that the legislative session is moving toward adjournment, usually two to three weeks after the amendment is filed. Still yet to be determined is the outcome of numerous major pieces of legislation, including proposed cuts to the state’s Franchise and Excise tax and the competing voucher proposals, all of which could have dramatic effects on the state budget. There are rumors that the House and Senate are negotiating over their differences on vouchers. However, we have yet to see any compromise language publicly. 

Packed Calendars

Next week, several of the committees have lengthy calendars. For instance, the State and Local Government Committee is scheduled to hear over 100 bills. Numerous of these are so-called caption bills that appear harmless, but open large portions of code. We are waiting to see what type of amendments are filled to re-write these bills. Drastic changes can be made to turn an innocuous bill into a serious concern. 

Thanks for all your support and contacting your legislators to express your opinions and concerns on legislation. Your voices make a big difference and help your associations protect county government interests.