The following is a legislative update from State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver.
Greetings! I was extremely blessed to have my father with me at the capitol this week. He spent the day attending committee meetings and house session with me, seeing exactly how law is made. It was truly an honor to have him with me.
Many bills are steadily being heard as session keeps rolling along. On Monday evening, the House unanimously passed legislation that prohibits the Board of Medical Examiners from issuing a license to practice medicine in Tennessee to anyone convicted of and registered as a violent sexual offender. The bill passed the Senate unanimously in late March.
In addition to prohibiting violent sexual offenders from practicing any kind of medicine, the bill also requires the board to hold a hearing regarding any application to practice medicine from a non-violent sexual offender. During the hearing the medical board has to consider the extent to which the applicant poses a risk to patients before determining whether or not to grant a medical license.
Bill to ensure fiscal accuracy passes House
This week legislators passed a measure requiring the audit of fiscal notes after the end of each legislative session in an effort to help ensure their accuracy. Fiscal notes are official estimates given to the cost associated with each proposed piece of legislation. The audits will compare the estimated cost of the legislation as stated by the official fiscal note to the actual cost of implementing the law change by its affected agency or department. Having already passed the Senate, the bill is now on its way to the Governor.
Fiscal notes are written by the Legislative Fiscal Review Committee, and are often the subject of debate and can impact the outcome of legislation due to the estimated cost. Any piece of legislation with a fiscal note that indicates even $1 of cost must go through the Budget Subcommittee and Finance Committees, an added step to the legislative process. The Fiscal Review Committee bases fiscal notes on cost estimates given to them by the affected governmental agency or department.
House leaders ask Bredesen to reconsider state employee bonuses
House leaders sent a letter to Governor Bredesen this week asking him to reconsider the state employee bonus plan in the current proposed budget. The leaders said members are concerned about handing out bonuses to all state employees, while laying off others. In addition, they stated they felt it was inappropriate that many state employees at the top of the pay scale stand to receive $4,000 to $5,000 bonuses as lawmakers struggle to find ways to balance the budget.
The Governor proposed an across the board three percent bonus for all state employees including those top executive cabinet members who make $130,000 to $180,000. The estimated cost to the state for the bonuses is $164 million. In a year where lawmakers are watching every penny, House leaders question whether or not bonuses are appropriate.
The letter went on to say, “We recognize that state employees play a critical role in the day to day operation of this state, however, we question whether $164 million in three percent employee bonuses are appropriate in a year when so many cuts and reductions in state departments and programs are necessary.”
The letter was sent to the Governor’s office Thursday afternoon, as lawmakers wait for the Governor’s supplemental budget amendment which is scheduled to be released on April 15th.
Committee discusses eminent domain proposal
Legislation that would strengthen the state’s eminent domain laws was discussed at length in the House Judiciary Committee this week. House Bill 3338 would entitle property owners to recoup certain costs incurred in contesting eminent domain action from the condemning authority. The bill was amended to allow for non-binding arbitration to reduce time and cost for small businesses.
The sponsor of the bill argued that abusive practices are not currently discouraged. If the bill is successful, it would give property owners a better opportunity to defend themselves. The meeting was adjourned before a vote was taken on the legislation, which is scheduled again for next Wednesday.
Race to the Top allocations to school systems announced
The Tennessee Department of Education released tentative totals this week as to how much money each school system in the state can expect as a result of winning the “Race to the Top” program. State officials said the numbers are tentative, as they will be traveling to Washington soon to finalize the details regarding the specific dollar amount the state will receive.
The state is set to receive approximately $500 million. About $250 million of that will be divided between school systems across the state. Each individual school system must decide what the money will be used for, although the program does have certain restrictions. Funds cannot be used for facilities, capital projects, buses, or raises. To find out how much the school system in your community will tentatively receive, contact your state representative’s office.
Tennessee ‘middle of the pack’ in census returns
The United States Census Bureau reported this week that Tennessee’s participation rate is estimated at roughly 64 percent, putting the state in the middle of the pack in regards to return rates. Because federal funding for money returning to Tennessee is based upon the population as counted by the census, it is important that all Tennesseans respond.
Some areas with low return rates will see additional census forms mailed to their homes after research showed re-sending forms could increase the response rate by 7 to 10 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau said if people filled out and returned a form but receive another, they should destroy the duplicate.
In closing, it is an honor to serve and represent you the 40th District. If you would like to visit my office to discuss upcoming legislation, any particular concerns, or just to see what it is that the Representatives do up here please give my office a call.