State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver has released her latest report on legislative issues before the Tennessee General Assembly.
House Bill 421 passed on the House floor this week, a move that will aide in expediting the Volkswagen and Hemlock projects in Chattanooga and Clarksville. Last week, Commissioner Matt Kisber from the Department of Economic and Community Development told the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee that the companies and the state had set an ambitious timeline to move things forward, and the passage of bond legislation was paramount.
The bill will bond the projects that will provide infrastructure for the sites, something the state committed to do when luring the companies to Tennessee. Analysts say the revenue stream from Volkswagen alone will cover the annual debt service, and exceed it once Hemlock is up and running. The two companies together are expected to directly provide about 2,500 new jobs in addition to countless others in related sectors from vendors and contracts.
Supporters say the economic impact of the companies will benefit the entire state. However, critics have accused the Administration of using taxpayer dollars to lure large companies to Tennessee, with no parameters in place to ensure that taxpayers are protected.
I expressed my concern over this legislation because it called for the state to go into debt to pay for a $268 million project with taxpayer funds. The bill gives the Governor the go-ahead to bond several projects in Middle and East Tennessee, instead of paying cash that had already been allocated by the legislature last spring. I voted “present not voting,” saying I could not vote in favor of the state going into more debt.
I realize the taxpayers of my district are already suffering, trying to keep their own jobs and small businesses afloat. I believe the state should lower the taxes on small businesses by the same $268 million for a year in order to spur jobs in every small town in the state. It still remains to be seen, if whether or not our district will see any job creation from these projects.
Another concern of mine is the possibility that these companies may eventually close or leave the state, leaving taxpayers to pay off the debt. I feel like we are putting this on a credit card when we have the cash, and I don’t feel like that is responsible. Why take out a car loan if you can pay for it with cash? While I greatly support and applaud economic development, we must be smart about how we pay our bills.
We are receiving up to $4.3 billion through the federal stimulus package—and this is exactly the type of one-time expenditure that the stimulus cash can be used for, we cannot continue to spend beyond our means, and grow government at this accelerated rate.
Gun legislation continues to advance in House committees…
Several bills that members have advocated for several years to expand the rights of gun owners in Tennessee cleared the Judiciary Committee this week. House lawmakers were pleased to see the passage of the legislation, which had been killed in previous years by a House committee. Legislators have argued that the common-sense provisions are needed to expand and protect the Second Amendment rights of Tennessee’s legal gun owners.
House Bill 961 will allow licensed carry permit holders to carry firearms in a refuge, public hunting area, wildlife management area, or forest land. Under current law, it is unlawful for a person to possess a firearm in these areas frequented or inhabited by big game, except during open hunting seasons on these areas. The bill expands that right to allow legal firearms the entire year, without exemption. Having passed Judiciary Committee this week, the bill now moves onto the Budget Subcommittee.
A second bill, House Bill 716, aims to expand the right to carry a legal firearm on the grounds of any public park, playground, civic center or other property owned, used or operated by the municipal or state government. The legislation was another one that cleared the Judiciary Committee hurdle, and will now face Calendar and Rules.
Two of the bills that saw passage in the subcommittee last week were delayed for a vote in the full committee this week. House Bill 959 would seal the records of handgun carry permit holders that are currently public record. The bill stipulates that anyone disclosing information about permit holders would face a $2,500 fine for the violation. Tennesseans became outraged earlier this month when the Commercial Appeal, a Memphis-based newspaper, published the handgun carry permit database in an easily searchable format on their website. Citizens and lawmakers criticized the paper, calling the action ‘irresponsible’ and ‘dangerous.’ Some contended that in addition to printing a list that would make it easier for criminals to steal weapons, non-gun owners were also at risk because it would be easy for criminals to use the database to find homes that likely did not have a firearm.
Another bill, House Bill 962, would allow legal permit holders to take their weapons into restaurants that sell alcoholic beverages, as long as the permit holder does not consume alcohol. Firearms will still be forbidden in these establishments after 11 p.m., and each restaurant may restrict weapons in their establishment if they choose and clearly post the restriction. This legislation was also delayed in the full committee this week but will be before Judiciary Committee on March 11th.
House approves changes to civil service rules…
The legislature considered changes to the state’s civil service rules this week, giving the Administration more flexibility to manage the economic downturn. Originally in opposition the bill, the Tennessee State Employees Association (TSEA) worked with members of the General Assembly to iron out details and amendments that protected current state employees.
After passing the Senate handily, the House immediately took the bill up for consideration, where it overwhelmingly passed with a vote of 96 to 1. The new rule changes will give the Administration the flexibility to adjust the work week by eliminating days if needed, moving qualified employees between departments to open positions, and facilitating furloughs instead of layoffs. The legislation agreed upon stipulates that the new policies will only be in place for one year.
The Criminal Practice and Procedure Subcommittee of Judiciary passed a bill this week that aims to strengthen sexual offender laws in Tennessee. House Bill 620 redefines “indecent exposure” to include knowingly engaging in the person’s own residence certain conduct in the presence of a child for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification.
The Local Government Subcommittee stalled legislation that would ban open containers in vehicles this week. Currently, no driver may consume an alcoholic beverage or possess an open container of such while operating a motor vehicle, but passengers may consume alcohol. Had it passed, House Bill 387 would have freed up a portion of federal funds that could be used for roads. The bill died due to a tie vote.
The House honored Ron Campbell on Wednesday, via House Joint Resolution 15. Campbell has served for a number of years as the House Radio Broadcast Specialist, and has also been a leading voice on both country and gospel radio. Campbell is noted for his deep, legendary voice and has been a regular on numerous radio and television shows, as well as the world-famous WSM radio in Nashville, original home of the Grand Ole Opry.
Last year, the Department of Safety (TDOS) sent letters to all firearms instructors requiring them to furnish information such as the firearm owner, name of the student using the firearm, and the make, model, and serial number of the firearms used. TDOS acknowledged shortly after that it was a clerical error that sent the letters out. House Bill 46 seeks to prohibit TDOS from asking firearms instructors for certain information, and was approved by the Criminal Practice and Procedure Subcommittee. The bill will be heard in Judiciary next week.