The legislature is in the middle of its busy 2023 session. The firm’s weekly general legislative update is included below. Of specific importance to the industry are updates on the following:
- SB210/HB180. This is legislation sponsored by TTA that will add up to an additional 2,000 lb. variance on tractor trailers that are operated by electric motors and have electric batteries. This is currently allowed on all federal highways but needs to be extended to state highways. This is the exact variance allowed for tractor trailers that are being operated by natural gas.
- SB1337/HB87. This is legislation sponsored by TTA working in conjunction with other groups to tighten up additional notice provisions for the towing of vehicles on private property to get in line with the requirements for public property tows. Revising the state towing statute is an ongoing process. The statutes were first enacted as far back as 1938 and in the near future, we suspect some type of overall modernization of these towing statutes will be seriously considered.
Please note that on April 5, 2023, TTA will host its popular annual legislative reception at Adams and Reese LLP, 1600 West End Avenue, Suite 1400, Nashville, Tennessee 37203. This is always a great event and provides an excellent opportunity to spend time with our state legislators and staff.
Tennessee Government Relations Weekly Report
The legislature has quickly shifted into full gear, with committee hearings consisting of both budget presentations and a healthy number of bills, including the amendments that are typical this time of year. The session will be running at a frantic pace the next several weeks.
Legislators Set Focus on Revisions to Third-Grade Retention Law
A flurry of bills aimed at modifying Tennessee’s third-grade retention law will soon be the topic of discussion for lawmakers as they decide the law’s future. Lawmakers may consider as many as nine bills targeting the state law, some of which would eliminate it altogether while others would give the main decision-making authority back to the local school system. The law, enacted in 2021 as part of Governor Lee’s comprehensive education reform, seeks to tackle literacy concerns while children are still very young. Provisions in the law grant state-funded summer and after-school programs to students who aren’t deemed proficient readers on state TCAP tests administered each spring. If a child is still not meeting state standards upon completion of the additional literacy programs, it may be decided that the child needs to retake their third-grade year. Right now, 64% of Tennessee third-graders are not reading at grade level. Even with some of the law’s safety nets in place that allow for additional literacy tutoring or retesting, parents and education advocates express a potential for major overcrowding concerns. Sen. Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), the bill’s original sponsor, maintained his support for the retention law stating that the retention policy is in the best interests of all Tennesseans, but he is open to implementing a universal screener test, which he believes is a better indicator of a child’s reading proficiency than the TCAP.
Bill to Cut Size of Nashville’s Metro Council Clears Senate Committee
A bill that would cut the size of Nashville’s Metro Council from 40 members to 20 advanced in the Senate this week. The bill would allow a metropolitan government to undergo a redistricting process to expand council districts prior to May 1; if that deadline is not met, then current members’ terms would be extended for one year. Proponents of the legislation have argued that the bill has statewide application, however, Senate sponsor Bo Watson (R-Hixson) told Senate State and Local Government Committee members that the bill only affects Davidson County. There are three metropolitan governments in the state, and Nashville is the only one with a council larger than 20 members. The bill – largely seen as retaliation against Nashville’s Metro Council for blocking an effort for Nashville to host the 2024 Republican National Convention – passed out of committee on a 6-3 vote. Last week, Nashville Mayor John Cooper submitted letters to both RNC and DNC officials indicating Nashville will submit bids to host a 2028 national political convention. The Metro Council would still have the final say, as the Council would ultimately have to approve the site agreement.
Measure Aimed at Limiting Primary Elections Defeated in House Committee
A bill aimed at closing primary elections in Tennessee failed to make it out of the House Local Government Committee after it was defeated on a voice vote. HB405 sponsored by freshman Rep. Bryan Richey (R-Maryville) sought to limit local primary elections by allowing only those individuals who declare a political party in advance the ability to vote in a primary election, rather than allowing voters to select the party ballot of their choice on election day. Tennessee currently has an open primary system and does not require registration by party.
Cannabis-Related Bills Begin Journey Through Committee Process
The usual batch of cannabis bills is starting to make its way through the legislative process. While one met its demise before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, two more are set to be considered next week. SB1072, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville), sought to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, potentially saving local governments up to $15 million a year on incarceration costs. It failed on a 2-7 vote. Two more bills will be up next week, this time with Republican sponsors. SB1104 would establish the “Tennessee Medical Cannabis Act,” allowing doctors to treat patients that have “qualifying medical conditions” with cannabis products containing a maximum 2,000 mg of THC. Another Republican-sponsored bill, SB378, would regulate the production and sale of hemp-derived cannabinoids – including delta-8 and delta-10 products – and would also make the sale of hemp-derived cannabinoids illegal for anyone under 21.
Legislative activity will continue to increase over the next few weeks as budget hearings begin to wrap up and committee calendars grow larger with more bills on notice for consideration. Along those lines, please review your bill tracking report, as bills are starting to move, and we are also adding bills where appropriate. As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to let us know. Have a great weekend!