The following is a legislative update from State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver.
This past week was a busy one. It began with an important roundtable meeting between the Smith County Living Group, the Commissioner of Tourism and Development, Upper Cumberland Tourism, The Main Street Program, Department of Economic and Community Development, and Cumberland Region Tomorrow to discuss preserving and protecting our Courthouse and Square in Smith County. It was exciting to see us all come together and productively advance towards a solution. Towns perish without vision. However, the vision for Carthage is in full gear. The Courthouse Square is the heartbeat of any small town and we are working to revitalize and bring business back to Main Street again. It an honor as your State Representative to work for you by networking with local state government officials and working together towards making our district a better place to live and raise our families.
Tuesday was minister’s day on the Hill. What a wonderful blessing to have prayer in my office and in just the nick of time! I was also busy this week with vital legislation to our district. House Bill 3627 will be heard this week which will require the Tennessee Department of Transportation to bring a prioritized list of bridges to the General Assembly. In this economic crisis it is imperative we have transparency and accountability coupled with fiscal responsibility that will bring rural taxpayer dollars back to rural Tennessee. Our bridges and roads are vital to our economic development and security of jobs. HB3628 addresses Workers Compensation which would repeal legislation passed previously requiring sole proprietors to buy insurance. Now is not the time to add another expense to our small businesses who are struggling in this economy.
Earlier this week I paid a visit to a company in Red Boiling Springs called Raecoe. The company makes uniforms for our honorable men and women in service for our country. They employ approximately 100 people. Owner Joel Coe welcomed my visit as we toured his facility and discussed the different dynamics of his business.
This week, I along with some of my esteemed colleagues denounced a tax increase proposal floated by Governor Phil Bredesen as a way to balance the budget. The administration proposed an additional $85 million in tax increases by increasing the sales tax on single article sales.
Last week, Bredesen and his senior staff outlined a plan to remove the sales tax cap on single article sales. At present, the value of individual items over $3,200 are taxed at seven percent. The governor wants to increase this to 9.75 percent.
Many of us expressed our disappointment in the Governor for showing blatant disregard for the challenges small business owners and average Tennesseans face. Small businesses should be the driving force behind an economic recovery.
The $85 million tax increase would be in addition to $50 million the administration has called for by increasing taxes on cable television, cable television boxes, business telephone services, and free hotel breakfasts. In total, Bredesen has proposed over $130 million in new taxes this year alone.
The TennCare Oversight Committee heard an update on Monday regarding the Long-Term Care and Community Choices Act of 2008, a proposal that overhauled the state’s previously fragmented long-term care system. The plan aimed to increase options and choices for those who needed long-term care support, expand access, and better utilize existing funding.
The plan was designed to promote independence, choice, dignity, and quality of life for the elderly and/or people with physical disabilities who need long-term care support and services from the state’s TennCare program. The legislation included consumer-directed options that offered more choices regarding the kinds of long-term care services people need, where they are provided, and who will deliver them, with appropriate mechanisms to ensure accountability for taxpayer funds. In 2008, 98 percent of all long term care dollars went to nursing home care, the most expensive option. We anticipated saving money by moving funds to home and community-based care for those who were able to live at home with some assistance.
The committee heard from Pattie Killingsworth, Chief of Long-Term Care. Killingsworth reported that TennCare CHOICES, the long-term care system created by the legislation, was successfully implemented in Middle Tennessee in March of this year. The transition was seamless, and 8, 624 enrollees were transitioned to the new program. Even more Tennesseans are taking advantage of the home and community based services since March, including about 450 brand new enrollees. Killingsworth reported the department is currently working on implementing CHOICES in East and West Tennessee.
The State of Tennessee, in conjunction with the Tennessee Valley Authority, will begin offering rebates to Tennesseans who replace old appliances with Energy Star® qualified ones. Portions of the rebate funding were made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The total funding for the rebate program is just over $5.9 million, and rebates will be granted until the funds are depleted.
Rebates of $250 will be available for central air conditioners, $40 for room air conditioners, and $250 for heat pumps. Because there are certain specifications that the appliances must meet in order to be eligible in addition to being Energy Star®, consumers are encouraged to check the requirements before purchasing.
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development reports that the estimated energy savings for delivery and installation of qualified heating and cooling products statewide will be approximately 16 million kilowatt hours per year. A reduction in energy use of that size translates to a yearly savings of almost $1.4 million in energy costs for Tennesseans and reduces the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by 32 million pounds annually.
The Transportation Committee approved House Bill 2544 Tuesday afternoon after a long debate. The bill creates the offense of “super speeding” when a driver speeds at 75 miles per hour or more on any two-lane highway or 85 miles per hour or more on any public highway or interstate. The penalty for super speeding would be a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a $200 fine.
The bill will be heard next in the Budget Subcommittee. Instead of costing the state money, the legislation actually has the potential to bring in $3.7 million. Under the bill, the funds would be directed to the state’s Trauma Center System established in 2007.
In closing, remember the 40th district seat is your seat. I invite you to come to my office, the War Memorial Building room 105, anytime and spend the day shadowing your State Representative or just dropping in for a visit. As always I am happy to hear from the people in my district.