On Friday, April 21, 2023, the Tennessee General Assembly adjourned its 2023 session, thus concluding one of the more tumultuous sessions in modern history. Legislative highlights included passage of a $3.3 billion infrastructure package that will include the addition of “choice lanes” on Tennessee interstates, and passage of a $56.2 billion budget that includes a three month sales tax holiday for groceries, as well significant raises for teachers. History will remember the session as being marred by the tragic shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, resulting in the deaths of three school children and three adults. The tragedy has gripped Nashville ever since, with ripple effects that placed Tennessee at the front of national headlines and could impact Tennessee politics for years to come.
The session had been relatively workmanlike leading up into the March 27 shooting, as Governor Bill Lee was close to passing his infrastructure package, non-finance committees were winding down in advance of the administration’s budget amendment being released in early April, and leadership was targeting a May 1 adjournment. The Covenant tragedy immediately stoked calls for greater gun control with thousands of protesters descending upon the Capitol on March 30, calling for greater school safety and gun control measures. The Lee administration and legislative leadership immediately swung into action with an enhanced school safety bill, which passed both chambers overwhelmingly. However, for much of the remainder of session, the protestors packed the House galleries and Capitol common areas on a daily basis demanding that more action be taken to address gun violence.
As emotions intensified, eventually Reps. Justin Jones (D-Nashville), Justin Pearson (D-Memphis), and Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) were initially stripped of their committee assignments and allegedly had their access to the legislative building and parking facility cut off over the weekend after March 30, 2023. On Monday, House Republicans filed articles of expulsion, seeking to remove the three from the General Assembly.
The House held expulsion hearings on Thursday, April 6. At the conclusion of a House session that lasted roughly 3 hours, they eventually expelled Reps. Jones and Pearson but not Rep. Johnson. Reps. Jones and Pearson were reinstated by their local government bodies to fill the remainder of their own terms and both will run in special elections in the near future, which they are expected to win handily.
During the last couple of days of the legislature, it was revealed by Channel 5 News that on March 30, 2023, Rep. Scotty Campbell (R-Mountain City) was found guilty by the House Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Subcommittee of violating the House’s workplace discrimination and harassment policy. According to the news reports, it was alleged that Campbell sexually harassed two college students that were serving as legislative interns. Rep. Campbell initially denied the accounts; however, by the time the House returned for the afternoon floor session on the same day, a report was released on Rep. Campbell had resigned and his desk was cleaned out. Rep. Campbell had been serving as Vice Chair of the House Republican Caucus.
TTA had several significant pieces of legislation that was pursued this legislative session. Fortunately, we began pushing our legislation very early in the session and did not get caught up in the activity of the last 30 days of the legislative session. In addition to the Governor’s $3.3 billion infrastructure plan, TTA was also successful in the following:
1. EV Bill (SB210/HB180). Passage of the EV Bill allows a 2,000 lb. variance for EV powered tractor-trailers.
2. Towing Revisions (SB1337/HB87). This provided another revision of the towing statute which tightened up the notice and lien provisions in Tennessee. A major part of the legislation was to amend the towing statutes to make sure that the notice provisions regarding the towing of vehicles, as well as the towing and selling of vehicles, are the same for private tows as public tows. Also, other revisions were made to accommodate faster forms of notification.
3. HAZMAT-CDL (SB79/HB142). This bill basically allows for a HAZMAT designation to be included on a CDL license.
4. A successful TTA Day on the Hill and legislative reception on April 5, 2023 at the offices of Adams and Reese.
While 2023 is not an election year in Tennessee, the events that occurred the last few weeks could lead to a busy off season for the legislature. The Governor announced two hours after the legislature adjourned that he will be calling the legislature back in a special session to address gun violence issues in Tennessee. Of course, the official end of the season also signals a kick off of the legislative fund raising season. 2023 is the first year of a two-year General Assembly and any bill that remains this year could technically remain for the 2024 legislative session. Along those lines, you are encouraged to look at the final comprehensive bill tracking report for the year and note the current progress of bills of interest.
On behalf of the Tennessee Government Relations Team at Adams and Reese, it has been a privilege to represent you in Tennessee this legislative session. We look forward to working with you in the off season to further advance your interests and prepare for the 2024 legislative session.