March 4, 2022
This week, TCSA stayed busy, with County Government Day in addition to our typical legislative tracking. Several bills continued to make progress, including county office residency requirements and awards for volunteer firefighters. Other bills that may impact counties have been deferred several weeks, such as the bill on recall elections which we oppose, and one about regulation on agricultural activities.
After several weeks of testimony from local officials, realtors, political leaders and others, it appeared a proposal for Maury County to gain authorization to levy impact fees on development was gaining traction. The bill (SB1840/HB1675) was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday morning with a new amendment that capped the amount of the fee and placed restrictions on how the funding could be used. Later that day in a House Subcommittee, the bill failed on a voice vote. It has been deferred to a special final calendar of that subcommittee where it is possible the vote could be reconsidered, but the proposal seems to be stalled for now. In recent years, several fast growing counties have approached the legislature with proposals to assist them in generating revenues to deal with the demand caused by residential growth, particularly school construction costs. While there are provisions in the Governor’s education funding proposal to set up infrastructure grants for fast-growing school systems (those experiencing more than 2% student enrollment growth for three years in a row), it is unknown how much funding would be available if that proposal passes.
Regulation of Slaughterhouses and Dairies
A bill that would declare slaughterhouses and dairies to be “normal agricultural activities” and therefore exempt from nuisance regulation by local governments has been deferred. The bill (SB2622/HB2740) by Sen. Niceley and Rep. Holsclaw would allow slaughterhouses that process 100 animal units or less per week to operate within areas zoned as agricultural. An animal unit is defined as 1 cow, 2 hogs or 4 sheep. While some small custom slaughterhouses may now be operating on farms where the farmer is processing his or her own animals for sale locally, most would be well under this threshold of operations. Since many parts of the state are zoned for both residential and agricultural purposes, concerns have been raised about the impact to nearby subdivisions if larger slaughterhouse operations were allowed to operate in these areas. Opponents of the legislation have argued that they are more akin to industrial operations in terms of the potential for smell, waste, and traffic from their operations. The bill was deferred for two weeks both in the State and Local Government Committee in the Senate and in the House Agriculture Subcommittee.
While the bill has already passed the House, the annual assessment bill (SB1872/HB1719) for ground ambulance services has apparently hit a snag in the Finance Committee in the Senate. County associations heard this week that TennCare has raised concerns and wants to limit the application of the assessment fee to a portion of ambulance runs. The revenue generated by this fee is used to draw down additional Medicaid dollars (administered through TennCare, in Tennessee). For every local dollar lost by limiting the application of this fee, ambulance services would lose an additional 2 dollars in federal reimbursement. As we learn more regarding this development, we will share that information.
Length of Service Awards
A bill brought at the request of State Treasurer David Lillard has begun moving this week. HB2384/SB2342 by Rep. Gant and Sen. Yager would authorize the treasurer to develop, implement and administer a program to award grants to eligible employers for the purpose of funding a length of service award program for bona fide volunteer firefighters. The treasurer could make awards of $200 for each volunteer of the employer, up to a maximum of $5,000, for the purpose of matching employer contributions to a length of service award program. The bill is permissive, but would generate additional state funds that could enrich a length of service award that a local government might want to implement to encourage employee retention. Counties have been reporting severe problems with attracting and retaining first responders during the pandemic. The bill was recommended by the Cities and Counties Subcommittee to the full Local Government Committee in the House. It is scheduled for discussion in the Senate State and Local Government Committee next week.
Residency Requirements for County Offices
A bill that would set a one year residency requirement for county offices is headed to the House floor for a vote. HB1970/SB1952, as amended in the House, would require candidates for county legislative body, constable, trustee, register, assessor, school board, clerks of court and highway superintendents to be a qualified voter of the district or county for which they are running for office for at least one year in order to qualify for such position. The bill is scheduled for a House floor vote on March 10th. It is scheduled for discussion in the Senate State and Local Government Committee on March 8th.
A separate proposal that has an amendment that would allow recall elections for almost all local and many state positions has been deferred again. SB1316/HB1277, under the proposed amendment, would allow voters to recall elected officials for something as simple as “voter dissatisfaction.” The bill was deferred two weeks in the Senate State and Local Government Committee. It is on the Public Service Subcommittee of the State Government Committee in the House for discussion on March 9th.