More Committees Announce Closure Dates.  

The Tennessee legislature continued its mid-session stride this week, with full committee calendars, budget presentations wrapping up, appropriation amendments being filed, and committees announcing closure dates.  All in all, the feasibility of a late-April adjournment appears all the more likely, now that committee closures are announced and the budget process is underway.

More House subcommittees announced their closure dates this week, with the Transportation, Health,  K-12 Education, Agriculture & Natural Resources, Departments & Agencies and Education Instruction Subcommittees all announcing that they will conclude their business on March 30.  Business & Utilities, Banking & Consumer Affairs, and Public Service Subcommittees will close on March 31st.  In the Senate, the Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee closed this week and the Health & Welfare and Transportation & Safety Committees will have their final meeting on March 31st.

Speakers File Joint Bill to Tackle Legislators Doing Business with State

 The House State Government Committee passed a bill this week that prohibits state officials and state employees from bidding on, selling, or offering to sell to the state “services” in addition to the prohibition on selling “goods.”  The legislation, introduced by House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R- Crossville) and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) represents a rare, joint leadership effort that cracks down on lawmakers doing business with the state, an issue that gained increased attention this year in the wake of an ongoing FBI case involving multiple lawmakers and campaign marketing businesses.  If passed, the bill would prevent lawmakers with political consulting companies from billing other members’ state postage and printing accounts for constituent update mailers. Current law prohibits elected officials in Tennessee from selling “goods” to the state and the legislation bolsters this prohibition to include selling “services.”  The Senate State & Local Government Committee will consider the measure next week, with the likelihood of passage high. 

Certificate of Need Legislation Begins Journey in Legislature 

Drawing attention from all corners of the health care industry, the Senate Health & Welfare Committee advanced legislation this week that makes significant changes to Tennessee’s Certificate of Need law, with the stated goal being to break down barriers to competition, improve access to care, promote consumerism and rural health, and to focus on patients.  Senate sponsor Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro) described the measure as “striking a balance between being disruptive, but not destructive.”  The bill represents a continuing effort to revamp the state’s CON process, a legislative undertaking that stalled in conference committee last year after passing both the House and Senate chambers in the waning hours of the 2020 legislative session.  Reeves introduced the exact bill that passed the Senate last year, describing the 51-page bill as “the best piece of legislation I’ve worked on” while serving in the General Assembly. 

The measure includes significant changes to the Certificate of Need process in Tennessee, including eliminating the economic feasibility requirement for projects, expediting CON approval from 135 to 60 days, limiting CON opposition to competitors within a 35-mile radius of a proposed project, eliminating frivolous appeals by competitors, and requiring CON competitors to disclose grounds for opposition before an application is heard by the Board of the Health Services and Development Agency. Additionally, the bill exempts economically distressed counties without a hospital from CON regulation and further provides that mental health hospitals are no longer be subject to CON regulation.  Moreover, non-pediatric MRI services, PET scan services, and outpatient diagnostic centers (ODCs) would no longer be subject to CON regulation in counties with a population in excess of 175,000 (Shelby, Davidson, Hamilton, Rutherford, Williamson, Sumner, Montgomery, and Knox), and existing facilities would be able to increase and redistribute their acute, psychiatric, and rehabilitation beds without CON regulation. The Tennessee Hospital Association expressed concerns on the population threshold of 175,000, specifically for ODCs. The legislation will be heard in the Senate Finance, Ways & Means Committee next week, but has yet to move in the House.

$700 Million in TANF Funds Has Spending Plan 

Lawmakers and Governor Bill Lee’s administration reached an agreement this week regarding plans to spend down the Temporary Assistance of Needy Family (TANF) fund that currently sits at just over $700 million. The compromise legislation combines ideas from Lee and several lawmakers that have worked on these plans for the past few years, including $182 million for the creation of the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Program to improve education, health and economic outcomes for families, $50 million for community grants offered to nonprofits organizations to aid their region and incentives for TANF recipients to enroll in trade school.  The legislation increases penalties for committing fraud with the funds, while also increasing the amounts of cash assistance to eligible families. The annual reserve will be capped at $191 million, or the amount the federal government contributes to the state each year. A TANF advisory board would also be created under the legislation to select recipients for the grants and to evaluate the success of the program. The measure is sponsored by Representative Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro) and Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson), which will be heard in the House Government Operations Committee and Senate Health & Welfare Committee next week.

Looking Ahead 

 With committees announcing closing dates, sponsors and supporters of legislation that has not yet begin to move will need to determine their final intentions over the coming days.   In addition, there are always the last minute amendments to caption bills to revel their true intent.  Along those lines, please make sure to look over your bill tracking report and inform us of any concerns of questions.  

Have a great weekend.  

Senate Reopens to Public as Covid Outlook Continues to Improve
Exactly one year removed from the very week that the pandemic caused nearly everything in Tennessee to come to an immediate halt, the slow transition back to near-normalcy continued in Nashville this week.  The latest sign of progress was observed in the Cordell Hull Building, where Lt. Governor/Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) allowed the general public to once again access the Senate committee hearing rooms and the Senate office floor, both of which had previously been restricted to members only outside of narrow circumstances.  While mandatory masks, restricted seating and social distancing were still in place, the reopening of the Senate was yet another signal that Tennessee’s covid outlook is improving, with the end of the pandemic in near sight due to increased vaccine availability and the overall decline in the spread of COVID-19 throughout the state. 

Legislation to Remove Chancellor Lyle Fails

A House Resolution to initiate the process of removing Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle from the bench failed in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee this week, following lengthy testimony by three members of the legal community who expressed concerns about the impact the resolution would have on the concepts of separation of powers, and a fair and impartial judiciary.  Sponsor Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) initially attempted to defer the legislation to the last calendar, but following the testimony the question was called, and the “no” votes prevailed on a voice vote. 

The resolution to initiate removal proceedings resulted from a series of election law rulings siding against the state that Chancellor Lyle issued in the summer of 2020, which were partially overturned on appeal.  In opposing the resolution, legal interests – including the Tennessee Bar Association – argued that the system of checks and balances worked as it should, as the appellate court system overturned the opinion, and other corrective measures such as the Board of Judicial Conduct and the voice of the people at the ballot box were in place as well.    

Legislation Advances to Streamline Laboratory Personnel Regulations

Legislation to streamline the process to increase the amount of medical laboratory personnel advanced this week. House Bill 226, by Rep. Kevin Vaughan (R- Collierville) passed the Health Subcommittee.  The legislation is intended to align the state with federal regulations by amending the Tennessee Medical Laboratory Act for pharmacies and private laboratories. Vaughan stressed the lack of lab workers within the state, stating workers would only be required to have a bachelorette degree and then receive additional training once hired. Dr. Dave Smalley, President of the American Esoteric Laboratories in Memphis, spoke in support of the legislation, noting that 65% of medical laboratory training programs have closed, and arguing that the legislation will allow labs to be able to recruit more needed personnel. The bill will be heard in the House Health Committee next week.

Department of Health Reports Positive Outlook for Vaccine Rollout  

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee heard testimony from Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey on Wednesday, with Commissioner Piercey reporting an encouraging and optimistic outlook on the future of the vaccination rollout in Tennessee.  Piercey forecast that the state would be in a position to open each phase of the rollout in the next 60 days, highlighting the state’s focus on equity, instead of speed in the process.  Last week, the state moved into Phase “1C” as some counties – previously  vaccinating only teachers and people age 65 and older – ran out of eligible residents seeking the vaccine. Piercey indicated that the state would see a surge in vaccine distribution in the very near future with increased amounts of doses being sent to every state.

Looking Ahead 

Legislative leadership continues to eye a late-April adjournment, which means that committee activity will increase significantly in the next month.  Expect committee calendars to grow in the next week, as lawmaker scramble to put bills “on notice” before committee closures are announced.  Please pay close attention to your bill tracking report this month and let us know of any matter of importance.  As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions. Have a great weekend.  

Legislature Ramps Up To Speed As Leadership Targets April Adjournment

With leadership expressing a desire to adjourn the 2021 session before the end of April and committee chairs announcing targeted closing dates for various committees, the activity around the Cordell Hull building began to feel like the session is starting to hit its stride. House committee hearings operated at “max” capacity — albeit with very limited seating requirements – and hallway crowds began to increase in size as interested observers were forced to watch proceedings on the televisions outside of committee rooms. With committees such as Senate Government Operations and Judiciary having targeted closing dates in 6 weeks, it became quite obvious that the month of March will see a tremendous amount of legislative activity.   

House Resolution on Chancellor Draws Criticism from Legal Groups

 The controversy and fallout involving a series of 2020 election law rulings by Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle continued to intensify this week, with a number of legal groups – including the Tennessee Bar Association – expressing concern about a House resolution that authorizes the formation of a committee to consider Chancellor Lyle’s removal, utilizing a provision in the state Constitution.  Legal interests expressed concern that the possible removal over a legal decision posed a threat to the bedrock principle of separation of powers, and established a dangerous precedent of allowing the legislature to remove a judge over politically unpopular decisions.  The resolution — which was filed late last week – and the subsequent reaction have attracted a considerable amount of media attention over the last several days.

Chancellor Lyle’s decision temporarily allowed individuals concerned with contracting the COVID-19 virus the ability to cast an absentee ballot; however, the Tennessee Supreme Court largely overturned the ruling, declaring only those with “special health vulnerabilities” could utilize the process in the November 2020 election. Chancellor Lyle’s opinion sparked controversy, and despite the passage of time and the subsequent ruling by the Tennessee Supreme Court, eventually led to the filing of the House resolution. The resolution is sponsored by Representative Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) with 67 House Republicans showing their support by signing on as co-sponsors.

The resolution claims that Lyle, among other things, attempted to expand the voting absentee by mail criteria without authority, changed election forms to include access to absentee voting by mail that had not been approved by the legislature, usurped the authority of election authorities by replacing the language on state election forms with her own language, and threatened election officials with criminal contempt and incarceration if they did not change the election form to conform with her orders. It further states that the Chancellor abused her authority by pursuing a personal and partisan agenda and calls for the initiation of removal proceedings done in compliance with the constitutional mandates of due process.  Supporters of the resolution argue that the constitutional provision that allows judges to be removed by the legislature may be seldom used, but it is nonetheless part of the Constitution. Supporters also argue that the resolution merely calls for a review, where due process will be followed, and not an automatic ouster. 

The resolution is set to be heard in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee next week. While there has been discussion that the sentiments are not as strong in the Senate, a companion bill was filed in that chamber late this week.  If the resolution passes, Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) will form a committee to contemplate the removal of Chancellor Lyle. 

Permit-less Carry Legislation Advances in Both Chambers

The House and the Senate both advanced legislation this week that allows lawfully eligible Tennesseans to carry a handgun without a permit or a license, more commonly referenced as “constitutional carry.” The issue was first posed last session, but was put on hold because of more pressing issues from the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation is brought by the Governor’s office for the lawmakers’ consideration. Those eligible must be 21 and older to carry a handgun without a permit, or a military member between 18 and 20. Penalties would increase for theft of a firearm from a misdemeanor to a felony. The fiscal note on the legislation indicates a $2.6 million decrease in state revenue. Sponsors Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Representative William Lamberth (R-Portland) stressed that Americans have the right to own a firearm without needing a permit under the U.S. Constitution.  The measure faces opposition from the Tennessee Sheriffs Association and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), who expressed concerns involving officer safety and called the permits a “safety net” to know if a person can legally carry a weapon.

Religious Exemption for Immunizations Legislation Dies

          A measure to allow religious exemptions from vaccinations failed this week in the House Health Subcommittee. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jay Reedy (R-Erin), aimed to apply to all vaccines, not just the COVID-19 vaccine. Several of the committee members that voiced opposition have professional healthcare backgrounds, including Rep. Sabi ‘Doc’ Kumar (R- Springfield) and Rep. Robin Smith (R- Hixson).  Both expressed strong beliefs in religious liberty, but noted serious concerns for public health. The bill only received three “aye” votes while getting 7 “nay” votes.

Wine Shipping Restriction Legislation Passes First Committee  

The Department and Agencies Subcommittee advanced legislation this week to ban direct shippers from using fulfillment houses when directly shipping wine to Tennesseans. The legislation, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) prohibits fulfillment houses from being used in the state, drawing consternation from in-state and out-of-state wineries, who utilize the services of fulfilment houses to ship wine, by common carrier, directly to customers homes. Supporters of the measure highlighted that fulfilment houses operate without licensure in Tennessee, opening the door to unlicensed shipment without a proper mechanism to hold the fulfillment houses or unlicensed wineries accountable.  Opponents, including the Tennessee Farm Winery Association, characterized the measure as a significant threat to their businesses, who rely on the direct to consumer marketplace to generate much needed revenue during difficult economic times.  The committee passed the measure on a voice vote, with lawmakers pressing various stakeholders to come to a consensus on how to properly protect the wineries, while simultaneously regulating this activity and reducing unlawful direct shipments. The legislation moves to the State Government Committee and will be taken up in the Senate State and Local Government Committee as part of the “alcohol calendar” in late March. 

Looking Ahead 

 With a substantial amount of legislative activity needing to take place over the next few weeks, please take a look at your bill tracking report and let us know if you have comments or concerns about any legislation that is beginning to move through committees. Most items that are not related to the budget or finance could have their fate determined in the next six weeks or so.  As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions. Have a great weekend.  


In February, the 50th Governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee (R-Franklin), delivered his third State of the State address in the War Memorial Auditorium, with the members of the 112th General Assembly, Lee’s cabinet, state officials, and other dignitaries in attendance. Typically, the annual speech is given in the House Chambers, but due to the pandemic, the venue changed to allow for proper social distancing.  Those in attendance sat in chairs on the floor, six-feet apart making for a unique setting in an otherwise unprecedented year.  The Governor’s remarks focused on Lee’s $41.8 billion dollar budget and the administration’s legislative priorities, while also bolstering Tennessee’s unique response to the COVID-19 pandemic and plans for economic recovery.

In the following weeks of February, lawmakers returned to Nashville after taking a full week off due to the snow and ice that blanketed West and Middle Tennessee.  Given the brief pause in legislative work, the General Assembly picked up steam the last week of February with committee activity and budget hearings continuing. As expected, lawmakers waited until the last minute to file a flurry of bills before the House bill filing deadline last Wednesday, with the Senate deadline occurring the week before.

This year, House and Senate lawmakers introduced approximately 1,622 bills, a twenty percent increase from last year’s totals, where numbers were significantly down due to the 2020 election cycle. The House recently announced guest admittance protocols that include access to House office areas, House hearing rooms on the first floor and the House gallery in the Capitol. If a person of the public has an appointment on one of the House floors, then guests will be given a badge and elevator access. The Senate will continue to only allow persons with an appointment to access their floors and committees.

With the bill filing deadlines in the rear-view mirror, legislators will now turn their attention to putting their bills “on notice” in committee, which means that longer days and longer committee calendars are on the horizon in March. Both chambers will continue to hear budget presentations from the various departments and agencies of the state to ensure their requests align with Governor Lee’s proposed budget for the year. Expect subcommittee activity in the House to increase dramatically the first two weeks of March, as general bills begin to move through the legislative process.  As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions.  It is pleasure to represent you at the Tennessee General Assembly.

Building Back Better: Investing in Transportation Infrastructure and the Future

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on Wednesday, February 24 to discuss the importance of investing in transportation, while addressing climate change, improving equity, and fostering economic growth and innovation.

While the economy is starting to show signs of recovery, close to 15 million people in the U.S. remain unemployed. Last week a catastrophic ice storm blew through the South, the most recent extreme weather event to hit the country, leaving millions without power and safe drinking water for days. This past year we have seen hurricane-force winds in Iowa and raging wildfires in California and Colorado.  Additionally, every 100 minutes, Louisiana loses a football field of land to rising sea levels. Scientists predict that if climate change is left unchecked, disasters like these are going to get worse in the years to come.

However, with smart investments in transportation infrastructure, these challenges can be diminished. Improving the conditions of America’s roads, highways, and bridges will create millions of jobs, lift up communities, build a more stable economy, and improve the air quality for a healthier, more prosperous future. Today, less than half of the federal-aid highways and bridges are in good condition, with majority of the infrastructure outdated. There is a clear need for modernized transportation infrastructure that is safer and more sustainable.

In October, President Trump signed the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2021 and Other Extensions Act to avoid a government shutdown. This bill included a one-year extension of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or “FAST Act”, the current surface transportation authorization law which is set to expire on September 30, 2021. The FAST Act provides much needed funding to state and local governments experiencing shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ranking Member Capito (R-W.Va.) met with President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Secretary Buttigieg last week to discuss the importance of prioritizing the next surface transportation bill. She stated, “This bill could facilitate a recovery from the pandemic that has devastated our communities and wreaked havoc on our economy. Transportation is the platform that can drive economic growth.” A stable federal surface transportation program is becoming more crucial as states continue to deal with the loss of revenue from the pandemic.

Here are several key policy priorities that could be in the next reauthorization bill:

  • Expansion of electric and hydrogen-fuel vehicles line produced by top auto manufacturers
  • Increase of accessibility and ease of walking, biking, or taking public transit as means of transportation, rather than only relying on cars
  • Strengthen infrastructure to withstand the effects of extreme weather and climate change
  • Accountability to ensure that federal funds are invested in well-designed projects that expand equity and lift the national as a whole
  • Creation of a framework that recognizes different transportation needs across the country, while balancing important national goals
  • Efficiently deliver projects that improve roads and bridges with an average of seven years to complete

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works has a strong track record of developing bills in a bipartisan manner, and this bill with not be an exception. Lawmakers are hopeful to have a bill mark up and report no later than Memorial Day.

As always, we will continue to monitor this and update you accordingly. If you would like more information please email

B. Jeffrey Brooks
Adams and Reese LLP
20 F Street NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20001