TENNESSEE HIGHWAY SAFETY OFFICE JOINS NASCAR STAR ROSS CHASTAIN FOR TRAFFIC SAFETY EVENT

 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On Friday, June 28, the Tennessee Highway Safety Office (THSO) will join NASCAR driver and defending Nashville race winner Ross Chastain for a traffic safety event, reminding attendees to “Use Your Melon” and never drink and drive. This event is exclusive for students at Lincoln Tech’s NADC campus in Nashville. This event is not open to the public, but media is invited to attend and help spread awareness for traffic safety. According to Tennessee’s Integrated Traffic Analysis Network (TITAN), there were 6,159 traffic crashes statewide involving a drunk driver in 2023. Nearly 45 percent of drunk drivers were ages 20 – 34.

 

During the event, Ross Chastain will sign autographs, offer photos with his show car, and discuss the dangers of drunk driving. Accompanying Ross Chastain will be the 2024 Illiana Watermelon Queen Maya Snider from Terre Haute, IN, who will hand out free watermelon slices to participants. The THSO will showcase its seat belt convincer, a device allowing attendees to feel the impact of wearing a seat belt during a crash. Traffic safety partners will offer activities onsite to teach driver safety and provide educational materials for students. Participating agencies include Tennessee Highway Patrol, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Students Against Destructive Decisions, Tennessee Trucking Foundation, Tristar Skyline Medical Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, AAA – The Auto Club Group, Blake McMeans Foundation, and more.

 

WHAT: Traffic Safety Event with Ross Chastain

 

WHEN: Friday, June 28

10 a.m. – 12 p.m. CST

 

WHERE: Lincoln Tech’s NADC Campus

1524 Gallatin Ave., Nashville, TN 37206

 

The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security’s mission is to serve, secure, and protect the people of Tennessee.

 

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The Tennessee Highway Safety Office (THSO) is a division of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security advocating for traffic safety. The THSO works in tandem with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to implement statewide programs addressing occupant protection, impaired driving, speed enforcement, pedestrian and bicycle safety, and crash data collection and analysis. Programs administered by the THSO are 100 percent federally funded. The THSO’s mission is to effectively develop, implement, and evaluate these programs. To learn more, please visit www.tntrafficsafety.org.

State of the State Recap: Governor Lee Emphasizes Education Freedom, Maintaining Foundation of Past Accomplishments

Governor Bill Lee delivered his sixth State of the State address to a packed House Chamber on February 5th. As is customary, the Governor used the speech as a vehicle to set out his legislative priorities and spending proposals for the year, signaling what will be the front-burner issues for the 2024 session. Unlike recent years where the state’s revenues greatly exceeded budgeted projections, this year the state’s revenue is lagging substantially behind projections; thus, with the exception of an educational freedom bill to expand the use of educational vouchers across the state and a handful of other proposals, several new initiatives were either comparatively low cost, or utilized savings realized in prior years. 

The Governor reiterated that he has three years remaining in office and emphasized that there is much still to be done. He also stated his belief that Tennessee’s job is to “fortify that which has been built over the years, and to remember the work it took to get here.” Along those lines, the Governor said the state’s firm foundation is possible due to its legacy of fiscal responsibility. And while he described the state’s revenue growth as returning to normal, Governor Lee stated that the “new normal” is still 40% higher than three years ago.

The speech was also memorable for its distractions, as a number of protestors and hecklers in the gallery often made it difficult to deliver the speech in a normal rhythm. The hecklers seemed to argue with every point that the Governor made, but despite the distraction, no one was removed from the gallery. At one point the Governor indirectly addressed the protestors, stating that “civility is not a weakness.” That line drew a lengthy standing ovation from most of the General Assembly.

Governor Touts Tennessee’s Economic Production, Rural Recovery, and Justice Reforms

Governor Lee provided some noteworthy statistics that underscored Tennessee’s recent accomplishments. Among other things, he noted that Tennessee is one of six states in the Southeast that are contributing more to America’s GDP than the entire northeast, including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. He also argued that the emphasis on rural Tennessee is paying off, noting that Tennessee has gone from 15 distressed counties down to eight in just five years, and Haywood County now leads the state in capital investment – most of which is directly attributable to Blue Oval City, a massive new Ford plant that is being built in Stanton. Taken together, Tennessee’s poverty rate is now below the national rate. Lee also proudly noted that Tennessee now has the lowest recidivism rate in state history, crediting criminal justice reforms in the process.

Specific Highlights and Proposals

Perhaps the biggest highlight of any State of the State is the Governor’s specific legislative and budget proposals. Those included the following:  

  1. Education Freedom: A plan to expand school choice by allowing more parents to determine what is best for their child’s education – thus allowing parents to decide where their children go to school and what they learn – by expanding the Educational Savings Account program that was instituted during Lee’s first term. While the specifics of the plan have yet to be unveiled, the concept has already proven controversial among many public-school advocates. Governor Lee reiterated that public schools are invaluable – noting the historic investments in public education to the tune of more than $1.8 billion during his term as Governor – and promised another significant investment in the school funding formula this year, as well as a plan to help public schools retain the best and brightest teachers in their districts. Over the shouts of protestors, Governor Lee stated that “our responsibility is to the student and to the family, not to the status quo.” That line drew a standing ovation from most in the chamber.
  2. Franchise Tax Overhaul: A necessary simplification to Tennessee’s franchise tax, which has been in place for 90 years. The administration recently became aware of a need to change the law – and a strong risk of engaging in litigation where the state would likely be unsuccessful – and opted to resolve the issue now to allow the state to move forward. The total price tag of the overhaul is expected to be approximately $1.2 billion in immediate one-time costs and an additional $410 million in recurring funds over the next few years. 
  3. Fiscal Responsibility/Rainy Day Fund: As an indication of his administration’s continued commitment to fiscal responsibility, Governor Lee announced a $20 million investment in Tennessee’s Rainy Day fund. While the investment reflects a significant reduction from investments made in recent years, the deposit will increase the state’s reserves to over $2 billion.
  4. Protecting Tennessee’s Music and Artists from AI Impersonation: Legislation to combat AI technology that allows users to impersonate musical artists and create fake works, appropriately entitled the “Elvis Act,” will be the first of its kind in the United States, and perhaps a blueprint for other states.
  5. Children and Social Media: A proposal to give parents tools to oversee their child’s social media activity and require social media companies to get parental consent for minors to create their own accounts in Tennessee.
  6. Rural Health: Building off recommendations from the Rural Health Task Force that was commissioned in 2021, a $208 million investment in rural healthcare over the next five years – the single largest investment in rural healthcare in state history – but to come at no added cost to Tennessee taxpayers due to savings realized from Tennessee’s TennCare waiver.
  7. Mental Health Support: Also from the shared savings from the TennCare waiver, investing more than $100 million over five years in behavioral health and substance abuse support.
  8. Statewide Permitting Reform: A proposal to institute statewide permitting reform to accelerate building times and streamline construction.
  9. Safety: Funding to hire 60 new state troopers, on top of the 200 new troopers that were previously funded.
  10. Conservation: The establishment of a Farmland Conservation Fund, to partner with Tennessee farmers who voluntarily place a conservation easement on their land, giving farm families the ability to protect their farmland for future generations.

Following the gubernatorial address, on Feb. 6 the House and Senate Finance Committee hearings featured Finance and Administration Commissioner Jim Bryson, who provided more granular detail on the Lee administration’s $52.6 billion budget, including specific spending proposals and the cost involved. A few of the budget highlights that did not make it into the Governor’s speech include a $207 million proposal that will create eight new state parks, improve water quality and grow Tennessee’s outdoors industry; a $24 million investment to address aviation infrastructure needs; and a $500 million investment in capital maintenance and infrastructure.

A 2024-25 fiscal year budget overview can be found here. 

U.S. Congressman Mark Green Will Not Seek Reelection

U.S. Representative Mark Green, from Ashland City, has recently announced his decision to not seek a fourth term. While Green’s decision marks a significant turning point in his career, there have been a few indicators suggesting retirement as a possibility, hence speculations about a potential gubernatorial run in 2026 by Green.

Prior to Green’s political career he was a doctor and a retired U.S. Army Major. He embarked on his political journey at the Tennessee General Assembly, where he served as a State Senator from 2012 to 2018. He then transitioned to the U.S. Congress in 2018 to represent Tennessee’s 7th Congressional District. Currently, Green holds the position of Chairman for the House Homeland Security Committee, a testament to his rapid ascension through the ranks during his three terms in Washington D.C.

Emphasizing his commitment to his constituents, Green has focused on passing legislation aimed at enhancing border security and ensuring accountability within the Department of Homeland Security under Secretary Mayorkas, both of which he has successfully accomplished during his term. Reflecting on these achievements, Green believes that now is an appropriate time to transition back to his local community. He stated, “I have come to realize that our fight is not here within Washington; rather, our fight is with Washington’s bureaucracy.”

Memphis Judge Tapped to Fill Upcoming Tennessee Supreme Court Vacancy

Earlier this month, Governor Bill Lee announced the appointment of Mary L. Wagner to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Tennessee Supreme Court. Wagner, a graduate of the University of Colorado and the University of Memphis School of Law, currently serves as a circuit court judge for Shelby County in the 30th Judicial District. She was appointed circuit judge in 2016 by then-Governor Bill Haslam and won election in 2018 and 2022. Prior to becoming a judge, Wagner was an associate attorney at Rice, Amundsen & Caperton, PLLC and taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Memphis School of Law.

Wagner was amongst two other Memphis judges that were selected as finalists for the upcoming Supreme Court vacancy—the other two were Court of Criminal Appeals Judges, Camille McMullen (52) and J. Ross Dyer (51). Wagner pointed out in an interview that while she may be relatively young at 39 years old, she has a wide variety of experiences and skills, maintaining that age was not a relevant variable of her ability to fulfill the position.

With the retirement of Justice Roger A. Page, if confirmed by the Tennessee Legislature, Wagner will fill Page’s seat after his retirement on August 31, 2024. 

Potential Candidates to fill 7th Congressional District Seat

Congressman Mark Green (R-TN7) made national headlines when he surprisingly announced that he would not seek re-election to his congressional seat this fall. Green, a physician from Ashland City and a prominent member of Congress, ignited a firestorm of speculation about who would succeed him in representing the district, which also includes parts of Nashville. Previous state Rep. Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin) is the only person who has confirmed their intentions to run for the seat thus far. However, Republican activist Mark Moore, from Cheatham County, expressed his interest in a bid via social media. When questioned about the possibility of running for Green’s vacant seat, one likely favorite – State Sen. Bill Powers (R-Clarksville) — responded through social media that he is “honored to serve as state senator and currently has no plans to run for Congress.”

Tennessee General Assembly Kicks off 2024 Session

The 113th Tennessee General Assembly kicked off the 2024 legislative session earlier this month in Nashville, beginning the final year of a two-year legislative session. With the drama of the final weeks of the 2023 session and the 2023 Special Session on the minds of many, the House’s rules of conduct – typically ignored by most legislative observers — are squarely in the spotlight as session begins. Then there is the state’s budget outlook, as Tennessee finds itself in the unfamiliar position of having budget revenues that are actually falling short of projections – a far cry from recent years. And since 2024 is an election year where half of the Senate and all of the House seats will be on the ballot in the August primaries and November general, the speculation of which incumbents will/won’t run for reelection is already taking place, as is the inevitable jockeying that always follows. With the prospect of many incumbents having a primary opponent to grapple with this summer, look for the legislature to complete its business in a workmanlike manner so members can return to their districts and begin the process of fundraising and campaigning.

House Rule Package Features a Handful of Changes

In the wake of the August Special Session, where new rules were enacted that banned members of the public from carrying signs into House committee meetings and galleries, the House Rules Committee meeting attracted an unusual level of attention. While there were only a handful of changes – including a lifting of the rule prohibiting the public from carrying signs -one of the most notable concerned punishments for lawmakers who disrupted another member. The new rule provides that if a lawmaker is found to be out of order, the initial penalization is that they cannot speak on that topic for the rest of the day. If they are ruled out of order for a second time, they will only be permitted 2 minutes to speak instead of the original 5 minutes. If the member is out of order for a third time, this will result in the member losing the privilege to speak on the floor for two legislative days.

Finance & Administration Commissioner Updates Legislators on Budget Outlook

After years of surplus revenues, the state is likely due for some belt-tightening amid a string of underperforming months. Revenues for the first four months of the fiscal year have all fallen under budgeted estimates. However, revenues remain higher than pre-pandemic levels, and the state is in a strong position. Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Jim Bryson recently spoke before the Senate Finance Committee and urged lawmakers to remain calm. “We are prepared to weather the speed bumps ahead,” he said. Lawmakers may rein in some one-time expenditures, but the state reserves remain significant. Governor Bill Lee will unveil his proposed budget during his State of the State Address, which is scheduled for next Monday, February 5.

Return of Gun Safety Proposals

Once again, gun safety proposals are expected to be a hot topic of debate this session, as Nashville is still coping with the tragedy that took place at the Covenant School in late March. Protesters converged on the Capitol in the weeks following the shooting, demanding stronger gun control laws. Protestors again came to the Capitol in droves during the August special session, which saw little action on gun safety. With many of the gun law proposals having been deferred to the current session, tensions are once again expected to be high. Governor Lee floated an extreme risk proposal in the closing weeks of the 2023 session, but it was met with tepid support. He has announced that he does not intend to resurrect that proposal for this session.

School Choice Expansion Will Once Again Be a High-Profile Issue

Look for education to once again be a front-burner issue this session, as Governor Lee has announced his intention to expand his Education Savings Accounts (“ESA”) program. While a formal piece of legislation has not yet been released, as proposed, the Education Freedom Scholarship Act would offer 20,000 students an estimated $7,075 to attend a private school or pay for other approved educational expenses. The current ESA program, which officially got up and running in the 2022-23 school year, accepts students from low income households that are zoned to attend schools in Metro-Nashville Public Schools, Memphis-Shelby County Schools, Hamilton County Schools and the state’s Achievement School District. Roughly 2,400 students are currently enrolled in the ESA program. Supporters of the Governor’s expansion proposal say that the ESA program provides students with more quality education options, while critics argue that funding education savings accounts takes money away from public schools, resulting in depleted resources and continued underfunding and neglect.

Tennessee Franchise Tax Could Be at Legal Risk

Earlier this month, Department of Revenue Commission David Gerregano presented to the House Finance Committee and detailed the Governor’s plan to overhaul the state’s franchise tax. The Lee administration is recommending the state make $1.2 billion in refunds to companies over a period of four years and then cut $400 million annually thereafter in the franchise tax. Legislation is being proposed that would authorize the Department of Revenue to issue refunds to companies that have paid franchise taxes based on their property value. Getting straight to the point, Gerregano testified that “the reason for bringing the franchise tax bill is precipitated in response to the significant legal risk from a potential litigation challenge…Our department and tax experts at the Attorney General’s Office have identified a significant legal risk in the way the franchise tax is currently structured, which could be extremely costly to Tennessee taxpayers. To allay those risks, we’ve advised the administration to consider changes to the franchise tax.”

The legal risk that has precipitated the change stems from a United States Supreme Court opinion concerning the state of Maryland, and the dormant Commerce Clause, which prevents states from passing legislation that places excessive burdens on interstate commerce. The Supreme Court opinion led several Tennessee businesses to make the same argument about Tennessee’s franchise tax, thus forcing Tennessee to address the issue. When asked about a legal basis for a change in the state’s franchise tax, Governor Bill Lee told reporters, “we know that there is a risk because what the law has been [is] deemed by the tax experts as needing a change. There’s no lawsuit at this point. Going forward….I can’t speak to whether or not there would be or if there is a legal risk.”

Commissioner Gerregano also outlined plans to provide refunds to companies that are deemed to have overpaid, upon application by the companies.  While the concept met resistance from at least one lawmaker that preferred taxpayers be given a tax credit looking forward, it appears that the state will proceed with the rebate plan.

The bill filing deadline in the House is January 31 and February 1 for the Senate. As of today, there have been over 500 bills filed for the legislative session. As a reminder, Governor Lee’s State of the State Address will be next Monday, February 5 at 6 p.m. CST.

As 2023 came to a close, we are looking forward to a very active 2024 legislative session. We had an unusual 2023 legislative session with much attention at times dealing with the fallout from protests at the Capitol, battles between the legislature and the City of Nashville on oversight of the airport and Sports Authority, attempts to downsize the Metro Council, expulsions of legislators, and the horrific Covenant School shooting which resulted in a special session at the legislature in August. 

TTA was very active in 2023 with Truck PAC making over $100,000 in contributions to legislators who have supported the industry. This wouldn’t have been possible without your support. On December 13, 2023, TTA hosted a joint fundraising dinner for Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Paul Bailey and Speaker Pro Tem Pat Marsh, with many of the members of the TTA Executive Committee attending. Much thanks always to Senator Bailey, Representative Pat Marsh and other members of the legislature who have businesses associated with the industry. Only with their involvement and the staff of TTA are we able to promote the interests of TTA in the legislature. 

Also, we are still very active in regard to addressing the illegal booting and towing issues in Memphis. On a short term basis, the license of A1 Towing has been suspended and, at our request, an investigation into the towing activity has been opened by the Tennessee Attorney General’s office. On a long term basis, we are working on legislation with key legislators to prohibit this type of activity in the future. TTA will also have other issues to address once the legislature returns to session in January 2024.  

Illegal Towing and Booting in Memphis

 

Over the past several weeks, TTA has been engaged with local and state officials addressing a predatory towing issue in Memphis. A1 Towing and Hauling in Memphis has been accused of illegally towing and booting tractor trailers in violation of multiple state and local laws as related to fees, aggressive activity, notice, impersonating law enforcement and other inappropriate activity. Numerous complaints have been filed by trucking companies from all across the country. Several TTA members have been victims. In addition, Several A1 employees have been arrested although some charges have been dropped. To make matters worse the local courts have been slow to address the issue.

We have been working with Mayor Strickland’s office in Memphis and have had several calls with the Memphis legal director and staff members for the Memphis Transportation Commission.

Memphis has taken action to revoke the company’s permit that should occur in the near future. A 1 has had its permits revoked in other areas of the state and country. The Tennessee Towing Association has been supportive of our efforts and are outraged by A 1’s activity. Complaints have been filed with the Tennessee Attorney General, and an investigation has been initiated. A meeting will be held soon with the Attorney General’s office. In addition, it is expected that major carriers in Tennessee will be filing a lawsuit against A 1.

Senator Paul Bailey and Representative Pat Marsh are supportive of our efforts. Unfortunately, nothing from a legislative standpoint can be done in the near future until the legislature returns in January. At issue is a “ booting law” which was enacted earlier this year that was intended to add consumer protections to prevent this very type of activity. We are confident that A 1 is violating the new law, Public Chapter 220. We will be pursuing legislation in 2024 to make it clear that A 1 is subject to the consumer protections provided under the law, that local laws are not preempted, and storage fees are limited.

If your company has been affected by this activity in Memphis, please let TTA know.

We received word on November 29th that the City of Memphis has suspended the permit of A 1 for 30 days.

Tennessee Government Relations Special Update – August 31, 2023

 

Tennessee Legislature Wraps Up Special Session: Friction Between House and Senate, Intense Floor Sessions, and Controversial House Rules

The Tennessee General Assembly concluded its special session on public safety this week, adjourning sine die eight days after the legislature first convened on Monday, August 21. The special session had been in the works since April, when the legislature opted to wrap up the 2023 regular session in an expedited fashion, declining to deliberate some of the safety measures that Governor Bill Lee was advocating in the wake of the tragic shooting at Nashville’s Covenant School in March. As was the case in April, large crowds of demonstrators filled the Capitol and legislative office building, calling for stronger gun laws and other public safety measures. And also like April, many of the ensuing headlines dealt more with ancillary issues than legislation – such as friction between House Democrats and House GOP leadership, and treatment of spectators and demonstrators in the House galleries and committee rooms – but this session was also marked by a very public disagreement between House and Senate leadership as to the number and scope of bills that the legislature should deliberate.  

Differing Approaches Between House and Senate Result in Friction Between Chambers

Most of the major headlines this week concerned the public friction between the House and Senate, with the two chambers having very different views on the amount of legislation that should be considered and passed during the special session. Despite having full legislative calendars, the Senate considered just a handful of bills, often adjourning committee hearings and floor sessions after just minutes. The House took a different approach, holding lengthy committee hearings and floor sessions where they deliberated dozens of bills on multiple topics. With such varying approaches, it became obvious last week that the two chambers were approaching an impasse and it was unclear whether a compromise was in the works. The standoff then came into full view last Thursday when, rather than coming to an agreement as to what additional bills would be considered and passed, the two legislative bodies dug in on their respective positions and adjourned for the weekend.  

Unfortunately, the time away from Nashville did little to thaw relations between the two chambers. Senate GOP leadership made it clear on Monday that they were not going to budge on their position that they had passed the key initiatives that were at the core of the special session, and that while several of the additional bills being pushed in the House had merit, a more deliberate process needed to be followed.  With rumors circulating that the stalemate could cause session to extend for several more weeks, the end came quickly as both chambers adjourned sine die around midday on Tuesday.  For the Senate’s part, Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) told Nashville’s WTVF-5, “our position is we’ve completed our business.  There are some other bills that have been filed, some of them very good pieces of legislation.  But we just don’t believe we’ve got the time in a truncated special session to give them thorough consideration.  So let’s wait until January and take those up.” 

The Senate approach drew the ire of many of those who converged on the Capitol advocating for stronger gun laws and public safety measures, many of whom made those views very clear from the gallery of the Senate chamber when the Senate adjourned this week.  The stalemate also left many House members questioning the actual impact of the special session.  House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) said he was “very disappointed that we didn’t get more done in this special session. In the House, we had a lot of bills that got left on the table that I hope will still be taken back up in January to help families in Tennessee be safer.”

In response, Senate Republican leaders noted the importance of being deliberate with such important issues as well as following Governor Lee’s lead and sticking to the issues that were part of the Governor’s package of bills.  When asked in an interview with WTVF what he would tell the what he would tell the mothers of schoolchildren that filled the galleries and hallways the last two weeks, Leader Johnson said, “I say we hear you, we hear you. And as I said, there are some really good bills that are among those that have been filed in the House, but what I would say to those families is: we want to get it done right, not get it done fast.”

House Rules Draw Controversy, Litigation

Controversy in the House started right out of the gate, as lawmakers on the first day of the special session spent almost two hours in heated debate over new House rules adopted for the session. A rule to prevent members of the public from holding signs while in the House gallery and committee rooms garnered massive public attention, drawing strong criticism from House Democrats and media outlets as well as subsequently leading to a lawsuit by the ACLU of Tennessee. The ACLU brought its action on behalf of three attendees that were removed from a House committee room for holding up signs, arguing that the rule operated as a violation on the public’s First Amendment rights.  In response, Davidson County Chancellor Anne Martin promptly issued a temporary restraining order blocking the House rule, thus allowing signs for the time being, and scheduled an emergency hearing for Monday where she heard competing arguments from the ACLU in opposition to the House rule and the Tennessee Attorney General’s office, which supported the measure. The ACLU argued that the rule operated as an unreasonable suppression of the public’s right of free speech, while also noting the dynamic that under the new rules, the public could bring a gun into a legislative hearing, but not a picture of a gun. The Attorney General argued that the Court had overstepped its authority in temporarily blocking the rule, noting that other states have similar rules barring signs in state capitol buildings, as does the U.S. Supreme Court, and that signs can be a disruption. After considering the arguments, Chancellor Martin ordered that the House rule was to remain blocked, expressing the opinion that the Plaintiffs had demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the rule violated the First Amendment. The temporary restraining order put in place blocking the rule was converted to a temporary injunction which will remain until further order of the Court.

Tensions Remain High In House Floor Sessions

The tensions between House members that were often witnessed during the 2023 regular session once again reappeared in the special session. Starting with the controversy over the rules, tempers ran high between members of the two parties, and floor sessions often contained heated debates and arguments, both over the bills as well as members’ conduct.  On Monday, Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) was twice ruled out of order by Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), leading to a 70-20 vote to silence Jones for the rest of the day under the new House rules. Democrats walked out of the chamber en masse as a result. Then on Tuesday there was a confrontation between Speaker Sexton and Rep. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis) just moments after Sexton gaveled the session to a close. Pearson had attempted to confront Sexton near the dais with a handmade sign as Sexton tried to exit the chamber, and some jostling and shouting ensued between the two. Pearson was quoted as shouting, “we came here and did absolutely nothing to protect kids.”  Meanwhile, House Republican leadership criticized the Democratic caucus for the breaches in decorum. House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) characterized the events as “a couple of bad apples trying to spoil the bunch,” while Speaker Sexton said, “it’s unfortunate that it keeps getting there, but it is what it is. I mean, y’all can judge for yourself.”

Pearson and Jones drew national attention in April when the two were expelled from the House on a party line vote for a demonstration on the House floor, but both were quickly reinstated to their House seats by local governmental bodies.   

Lawmakers Pass Four Bills Aimed at Public Safety

The House and the Senate ultimately passed only four bills during the special session – three bills aimed at promoting public safety and one appropriations bill. HB7012/SB7085 authorizes the Department of Safety to provide free firearm locks to Tennessee residents upon request, and requires all state-approved handgun safety courses to contain instruction on safe storage of firearms. The bill also permanently exempts the sales and use taxes on firearm safes and firearm safety devices beginning November 1, 2023. HB7013/SB7086 requires court clerks to update records in the state’s background check database within 72 hours and requires case dispositions and expungements be reported to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) electronically. This bill codifies the Governor’s executive order made earlier this year that reduced the timeframe from 30 days to 72 hours. HB7041/SB7088 directs the TBI to submit an annual report on child and human trafficking crimes and trends in Tennessee. The TBI is currently required to track this data, but the new law requires the agency to assemble this information all in one place. The fourth and final bill, HB7070/SB7089, appropriates more than $110 million in public safety funding including $30 million in school safety grants to public and private higher education institutions, $10 million additional funding for school safety grants, $50 million to mental health agencies,  as well as $15.1 million for mental health professionals, the behavioral health scholarship program and mental health safety net.

Despite the small number of bills passed, Governor Bill Lee maintains that the special session was a success, stating, “Significant funding was focused on issues that matter to public safety. We improved the background check system, attacked human trafficking, made more access for safe storage [and] funded mental health resources across the state. We made progress.”

Looking Ahead

The second half of the 113th General Assembly will reconvene on Tuesday, January 9, 2024. As always, please let us know if you have any questions or if we can be helpful with anything during the off-season. Have a great Labor Day weekend.

The legislature is expected to return for a special session in Nashville on August 28, 2023 to address gun safety and security issues that arose out of the Covenant School shooting tragedy that occurred in March 2023. Governor Lee has been a proponent of enacting legislation that will address issues that are specifically related to how to limit individuals who are facing mental health issues from possessing certain firearms. Many members of the legislature, including those from rural areas, are taking a less active position on addressing gun-related issues. There have been many groups that have become very active, especially in Middle Tennessee, including parents of the Covenant School. These groups are advocating for the legislature to address issues regarding individuals with mental health issues possessing firearms, tightening up laws related to individuals who have been involved in domestic violence episodes from possessing firearms, as well as addressing the major issue related to individuals failing to keep their firearms properly secured when left in vehicles. The Nashville police department and other groups have estimated that over 70% of the violent crimes committed with guns in Nashville involve guns that have been stolen from vehicles. 

As a result of the upcoming special session, there has been very little fundraising activity this summer. TTA through its Truck PAC has been active in a few events and will continue to remain active throughout the year. The Tennessee Journal noted that TTA was active in assisting Senator Ferrell Haile recently, as well as Tim Hill, who is a former state Representative from East Tennessee. Tim Hill was reappointed to serve out the remaining term of Representative Scotty Campbell and recently won a special election. Tim was the former Chairman of the House Commerce Committee and decided not to run for re-election when he ran for Congress a few years ago. 

There is a recent article that was published and written by Adam Friedman for the Tennessee Lookout related to political spending in Tennessee since 2009. A link to the information is: https://tennesseelookout.com/2023/07/24/cash-for-clout-tennessees-million-dollar-club/. The information is related to different trade associations, firms, companies, etc., who have not only spent PAC contributions but also on employing lobbyists since 2009. For what it is worth, TTA comes in at No. 98 out of the top 100, which is about where I expected TTA to be. Please remember, over the past 6 or 7 years TTA has increased its Truck PAC fundraising and contributions significantly, so the above article is somewhat skewed in regards to TTA. Note that many of the other companies employ several lobbyists at times, where TTA over the past 30 plus years has employed one lobbyist. This information is interesting and I just wanted to provide this to you so you can see that it is a big business at the legislature when it comes to hiring lobbyists and making PAC contributions. Since TTA has spent an estimated $1.5 million since 2009, it is important more than ever to support TTA and its legislative activities, especially by contributing to Truck PAC.

I hope you have a wonderful summer and we look forward to seeing you at the convention in San Destin, Florida.  

Laws Taking Effect July 1, 2023

On July 1, a slate of new laws will go into effect in Tennessee. Legislation with specific importance to the industry include two bills highlighted below.

Public Chapter 39 (SB210/HB180). This legislation, sponsored by TTA, will add an additional 2,000 lb. variance on tractor trailers that are operated by electric motors and powered by electric batteries.  This is currently allowed on all federal highways but needs to be extended to state highways.  This is the exact variance currently allowed for tractor trailers that are operated by natural gas.

Public Chapter 229 (SB1337/HB87). This legislation was sponsored by TTA, working in conjunction with other groups, in an effort to tighten up additional notice provisions for the towing of vehicles on private property to line up with the requirements for public property tows. 

Revising the state towing statute is an ongoing process. The statutes are extremely antiquated and were first enacted as far back as 1938. In the near future, we suspect some type of overall modernization of these towing statutes will be seriously considered. Please note, one section of the legislation takes effect July 1, 2023. All other remaining sections went into effect upon becoming law, April 25, 2023.

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.

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.
  1. 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.
  1. HAZMAT-CDL (SB79/HB142).  This bill basically allows for a HAZMAT designation to be included on a CDL license. 
  1. 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.

Tennessee Work Zone Awareness

Tennessee Trucking Association

 We All Play a Role in Work Zone Safety. Join with the Trucking Industry to Keep our Roads Safe.

Spring weather means another season is also in full swing: construction season. Tennessee drivers will see more orange signs on our roadways this time of year as highway workers help repair, maintain, and upgrade our critical infrastructure. As we share the roadways this spring – drivers and workers – the trucking industry is helping to remind motorists that we all play a role in work zone safety.

Motor vehicle crashes in work zones are the leading cause of work-related deaths in America. According to the most recent data available from workzonesafety.org, there were 857 deaths, which included 117 workers, as a result of 774 fatal work zone crashes in 2020.

National Work Zone Awareness Week, April 17-21, is an annual campaign to raise awareness of and encourage safe driving while motorists travel though roadway construction sites.

Construction zones and the resulting delays in traffic and added time onto travel can be frustrating for drivers, but routine road work is critical for our communities; it ensures our infrastructure is safe for individuals and families who are traveling our local roadways, and for America’s truck drivers who are delivering the goods our communities rely on.

For those drivers who come across a work zone these warmer months, orange road signs are a sign to slow down. By slowing down, minimizing distractions, and keeping a safe following distance, senseless motor vehicle deaths in work zones can be prevented.

For America’s 3.49 million professional truck drivers, safety always comes first. Truck drivers recognize the responsibility they have while sharing the road with the individuals and families driving alongside them, as well as to their own families back at home, and know they are part of the solution to safer roads.

For America’s 3.49 millioni professional truck drivers, safety always comes first.

As the trucking industry delivers all the essential goods our nation’s families and businesses rely on, safety is what ensures that our nation’s goods are delivered on-time so that our communities are well supplied. That is why the trucking industry makes significant investments in safety. At least $10 billion is invested each year into safety programs and training for trucks. Trucking companies also empower truck drivers with the skills and training they need to operate their vehicle safely.

 

While sharing the road during these warmer months, we must all remember we all play a role in keeping our roads safe – whether you are behind the wheel of a car or a truck. Driving safely, especially through work zones, is a responsibility we all share to our fellow Americans on the road. Join with the Tennessee trucking industry and help keep our roadways safer for all drivers this spring.

The Tennessee legislature is entering its final few days of this session and several major committees have either shut down or on their final calendars.  Over the past few days, the following actions have taken place:

 

1.       $3 Billion Infrastructure Plan. On March 30, 2023 the Senate and House passed the $3 Billion Infrastructure Plan.  Highlights of the plan include fees on electric vehicles to offset the foregone fuel tax revenue, as well as the establishment of public-private partnerships to construct “choice lanes.” Choice lanes allow drivers to proceed in certain lanes on the interstate for a fee, such as is commonly seen in states such as Georgia and Florida. While some critics call the lanes “toll roads,” which is something Tennessee has never pursued, proponents argue that it simply gives motorists a choice of traveling a less congested express lane for a fee, while the remaining lanes remain free as they always have.

 

2.       Three-Year License Plate.  The House passed HB675 with a unanimous floor vote.  This will allow rental car companies who currently have two-year license plates to obtain three-year license plates.  This has been done as a result of vehicles remaining in fleets for a longer period of time because of the pandemic and supply chain issues. 

 

3.       Towing Statutes.  On March 30, 2023 the House and Senate passed HB87/SB1337 which is this year’s revisions to the towing statutes in Tennessee.  The towing statutes in Tennessee are antiquated as they were first enacted in 1938.  This legislation was drafted with input from rental car companies, insurance companies and the Towing Association.  Among other things, this legislation will streamline notification by allowing towing companies to send notifications by overnight mail such as UPS and FedEx.  It clarifies that rental companies include motor vehicle rental companies and requires that notifications under public tows are applicable to private tows, which requires use of the TIES system to identify and notify owners of vehicles.  There are other changes that are enacted in an attempt to modernize the statute, as well.

 

Please remember the TTA Day on the Hill is April 5, 2023 and we hope to see you there.  Also, TTA will host its popular reception with bourbon and cigars at 4:30 pm that same day at Adams and Reese, 1600 West End Avenue, Suite 1400, Nashville Tennessee and we hope you will find time to attend that, as well.