Bill Watch is a service of the Knoxville Bar Association Legislative Committee. During the legislative session, the KBA will provide an updated report, through the support of Stephanie D. Coleman of Owings, Wilson & Coleman. The report will indicate progress and recent actions taken on the bills of interest to KBA members.
You can also get information about the General Assembly, including the text of bills and floor and committee calendars, by accessing the legislative web site at www.capitol.tn.gov.
Decoupling / Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — Tennessee currently uses the definition of federal taxable income as the base for computing a business’s excise tax liability. Senate Bill 558 would decouple two parts of the new federally taxable foreign income from Tennessee’s definition for the purpose of excise tax. These two taxes include the global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI) which is entirely derived from affiliate activities in other countries and the repatriation transition tax which applies to certain foreign corporations that have a U.S. corporation as a shareholder. The bill exempts 95 percent of such income from Tennessee’s excise tax, while the remaining five percent would represent earnings reasonably estimated to be generated domestically.
Health Insurance Access / MEWAs — Legislation clarifying the means by which a Multiple Employer Welfare Arrangement (MEWA) is able to determine insurance rates passed the full Senate on Monday. Senate Bill 942 authorizes MEWAs to use case characteristics, claim experience, health status, or duration of coverage since issuance in determining the initial or adjusted premium rates for such employers pooling their liabilities.
Health Insurance / Tennessee Right to Shop Act – The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee approved legislation this week establishing the Tennessee Right to Shop Act. Senate Bill 510 allows health insurance providers to disclose the cost of healthcare procedures from different in-network providers to patients enrolled in the plan. This legislation allows a patient to choose the lowest cost option for a procedure. The bill will now move to the floor to be approved by the full Senate.
Criminal Justice Reform / Reducing Recidivism – Legislation revising a law passed last year to reduce recidivism through pilot reentry programs has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 782 revises the definition of recidivism so that outcomes can be measured more effectively for the local jail grant program. The legislation also gives more clarity to who is eligible for grants and ensures there is enough time for the program’s successful completion.
Criminal Justice Reform / Electronic Monitoring Indigency Fund — Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill providing a reinvestment in the state’s Electronic Monitoring Indigency Fund (EMIF). Tennessee courts may order a person convicted of Driving Under the Influence (DUI), for alcohol or drugs, to be monitored by an ignition interlock device or a transdermal monitoring device. If the court determines the person to be indigent, they order the person to pay a portion of the device’s cost of the device that they can afford. The remaining cost comes from the EMIF. While the fund currently covers ignition interlock and transdermal monitoring devices for alcohol or drug-related offenses, it does not provide for Global Positioning System (GPS) monitoring. GPS, more commonly known as an ankle bracelet, is a supervision option for the court to provide to those assessed to be of low enough risk to remain in their community, rather than in jail. Senate Bill 806 updates the EMIF to include GPS monitoring and provides the needed funding to local governments when matched.
Election Laws / Candidate Qualification — The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved legislation that gives a candidate who has been excluded from the ballot a right to respond to that decision. After the filing deadline, there is a seven day period to withdraw a candidate’s name. Under current law, a state executive committee can determine a candidate to be unqualified and remove his/her name from the ballot without providing any notice to the candidate or time to respond. Senate Bill 1354 requires that in the event a party’s state executive committee excludes a candidate’s name from the ballot, that candidate must be provided written notice within two days of the decision. It also authorizes the candidate to appeal the determination with the executive committee within two days of receiving the notice of exclusion and establishes that unless the executive committee withdraws their disqualification determination within seven days of the original withdrawal deadline, the coordinator of elections must exclude the name from the ballot. The bill was unanimously approved by the committee and is pending final action by the full Senate.
Convenience Voting Centers – Senate Bill 726, authorizing Rutherford County to continue operation of their “Convenience Voting Center” program, was approved in the Senate State and Local Government Committee. The pilot project allows citizens to vote at any of the county’s 28 polling locations on Election Day most convenient to their work, school, or travel. Convenient locations are generally only provided during the early voting period. Similarly, the committee approved Senate Bill 727, which expands the program to Monroe, Williamson and Wilson Counties upon approval by a supermajority of the county election commission.
Tennessee Sports Gaming Act – Legislation to legalize online sports betting, known as the Tennessee Sports Gaming Act, passed the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week. Senate Bill 16 creates the Lottery Corporation Gaming Advisory Council, which would oversee and promulgate rules and regulations in accordance with robust regulatory provisions laid out in the bill. The Advisory Council would consist of nine members; the Senate Speaker, House Speaker and Governor would each appoint three members. The bill will now move to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.
Death Penalty / Fentanyl — The Senate Judiciary Committee voted this week to revise Tennessee’s death penalty law as it affects offenders who knowingly sell or distribute the most dangerous drugs, including fentanyl, with the intent and premeditation to commit murder. Senate Bill 1368 adds an aggravating circumstance for the imposition of the death penalty or life without the possibility of parole if the defendant knowingly sold or distributed a substance containing fentanyl, carfentanil, or other Schedule II controlled substances. The bill now goes to the Senate floor for final consideration.
Elected Officials / Ineligibility for Holding Office – The Senate gave final approval this week to legislation prohibiting an elected official who is convicted of an infamous crime committed while in their official capacity from running for office again. Senate Bill 731 forever disqualifies the person from holding office, regardless of any plea agreement or diversion process.
Election Integrity –Senate Bill 971, would (1) require a person or organization conducting a supplemental voter registration drive of 100 people or more to be trained to properly complete applications and protect confidential information; (2) prohibit organizations from paying individuals based on the number of voter registration forms submitted; (3) require applications collected by designated people or organizations to be filed in a timely manner, within ten days of receiving the voter registration; and (4) permit the State Election Commission to assess a civil penalty to organizations paid to conduct voter registration that submit 100 or more deficient forms, excluding omission of Social Security numbers. This provision does not affect volunteer organizations which register voters such as the League of Women Voters, Boy Scouts, churches, college Student Government Associations and other similar organizations.
Sex Offenders — Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 1134 this week to make it a Class E felony to commit a new sexual offense while on the Sex Offender Registry. The bill now travels to the Senate floor for a final vote.
Budget – This week Senate committees successfully completed 59 hearings to review the individual budgets of all departments and agencies of state government. State senators have been reviewing the budget since it was presented to lawmakers in March. The budget will be the central focus of the General Assembly during the remaining weeks of the 2019 legislative session.