Tennessee General Assembly Kicks Off 2023 Session; Governor’s Inauguration Set for January 21; 2023 Annual PAC Registration Due

 

The 113th Tennessee General Assembly kicked off the 2023 legislative session this week in Nashville, beginning the first year of a two-year legislative session.

Legislature Elects Leadership and Constitutional Officers               

Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) was elected to his third term as speaker of the Senate, with all 27 Republicans voting unanimously in favor of the current Speaker, while the six Senate Democrats abstained from voting. House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) was elected to his second full term with 76 members voting in favor. The other 22 votes went to Democratic Caucus Chair John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville). The House and Senate unanimously reelected Comptroller Jason Mumpower and Treasurer David Lillard for new two-year terms. Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s four-year term isn’t up until 2024.

Changes to Committee Chairs 

In the House, Speaker Sexton named Bud Hulsey (R-Kingsport) to succeed retired Dickson state Rep. Michael Curcio as chair of the Civil Justice Committee. Rep. David Hawk (R-Greenville) was appointed chair of the Health Subcommittee, taking over the position previously held by former Rep. Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville) who was defeated in last year’s Republican primary. Rep. Chris Todd (R-Jackson) succeeds retired Rep. Curtis Halford (R-Dyer) as chair of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Sexton decided to do away with the Naming and Designating Committee, created in 2019 by former Representative and House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin). New to the committee structure this year is the Population Health Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Michele Carringer (R-Knoxville).

The Senate saw minimal changes with its committee structure, with the exception of Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) appointed as the new chair of the Judiciary Committee. Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) will continue as chair of the Education Committee. Lundberg was named interim chair last legislative session, following former Sen. Brian Kelsey’s (R-Germantown) decision to step down as chair.

Governor Lee 2023 Inauguration 

Gov. Bill Lee will take the oath of office for his second term next Saturday, January 21. The inauguration ceremony itselfwill take place at 11 a.m. on Legislative Plaza in Nashville, and a full weekend of activities are planned, including a music event on Lower Broadway, a prayer service, and a dinner and ball. The theme for this year’s inaugural celebration is “Tennessee: Leading the Nation.”

Reminder:  Deadline Approaching for PAC Registration Requirements

As we reported last summer, the ethics laws passed during the 2022 legislative session – which took effect July 1, 2022– made a number of changes to the reporting requirements for PACs.  The law requires all PACs to certify the name and address of its treasurer, officers, and responsible individuals (any person who directly controls expenditures) with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. The new law also requires each PAC to identify at least one officer, not including the treasurer, and identify at least one person who directly controls who expenditures. PACs that existed prior to the July 1, 2022 effective date must submit proper proof of identification for each treasurer, officer, and responsible individual to the Registry no later than January 31, 2023. If a PAC designates a new treasurer, officer, or responsible individual after submitting its annual registration, the PAC must notify the Registry of any new designated individual within 30 days. 

To read more about these changes to the annual PAC registration process, please see slide deck prepared by the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance.

Looking Ahead 

We are expecting the remainder of January to be relatively slow. Both chambers are taking a break for the first half of next week, but will return to Capitol Hill next Friday and Saturday for Gov. Lee’s inauguration events. The first full week of committee meetings in the Senate will begin on Tuesday, January 24. The House will begin committee meetings the following week on Monday, February 6. Bills are beginning to trickle in, and we are beginning to build our bill tracking reports, which should appear as early as next week. As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions.

General Assembly Could Wrap Up Next Week; Opioid Abatement Fund Legislation Progresses

The 112th General Assembly could complete their work for the year next week, a bit of a surprising development given the recent narrative that adjournment would take place sometime the first week in May, but consistent with the initial projections offered by leadership at the beginning of session. The House could see the budget on the floor as early as Tuesday or Wednesday, and will also enact a modified version of the “flow motion” next week, allowing legislation to flow from committee to floor much quicker than is currently witnessed. If the past is any indicator however, any number of unexpected snags can derail the orderly and efficient conclusion of session, not the least of which is bickering between the two chambers, a phenomenon that frequently appears in the final days.  With the House Insurance and Senate Commerce Committees having finished up their work for the year, very few non-finance committees are scheduled to take action next week.

Opioid Abatement Fund Legislation Progresses 

In anticipation of the state reaching settlements with four major opioid-related entities, two legislative committees approved legislation this week that will help create a structure for both receiving those funds and determining how they will be spent.  The legislation, which has the endorsement of Attorney General Herbert Slatery, would set up an opioid abatement fund, create an opioid abatement council to oversee those funds, and allow the state to enter into settlement agreements with Amerisource, McKesson, Cardinal, and Johnson & Johnson.  The fund would also be the repository of funds from the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy. The legislation proposes a 60/40 split between the state and counties, respectively, and is patterned after the structure that the state of Kansas has established.  As part of the 60/40 split, the subdivisions and state would each receive 15% of the settlement with no strings attached, but the remainder would have to be used for abatement issues.

The legislation contemplates an abatement council that would have 15 members, with four each appointed by the Governor, Senate, and House, two selected by the counties and one from the cities. The council would oversee the funds and ensure the funds were going to opioid related abatement programs such as treatment, education, drug courts, and numerous data-evidence based programs. The use of the funds must be on the pre-approved list or approved by the council. Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) will be monitored carefully and guidelines will be established by the council to see the effect it has on patients, to ensure that patients are not simply swapping one drug addiction with another. Attorney General Slatery appeared in committee this week to answer questions and show support.

Creation of New Chancery Court Legislation Advances 

While a number of legislators have offered proposals this session to change the courts and judges that deliberate cases where the state is a party – including cases that deal with election law and redistricting issues as well as those concerning the constitutionality of a state statute or legislative action — one bill emerged this week with the support of Lt. Governor Randy McNally.  That will create a statewide chancery court that would obtain jurisdiction on constitutional challenges and other types of cases involving the state, instead of every decision at the trial court level being decided by Davidson County (Nashville) judges, as has traditionally been the practice. Under the bill, the governor would appoint three chancellors, one from each grand division, and those judges would subsequently stand for election. In presenting the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate sponsor Mike Bell (R- Riceville) – who also chairs the committee — asked rhetorically,  “why should judges who are elected by the most liberal constituency in the state… why should they be the ones deciding cases that affect the state in general?”

The legislation states that the statewide chancery court would have original jurisdiction in a number of situations related to the state, including constitutional challenges, state statues, executive orders, administrative rules or regulations, as well as situations where the state is a party and the plaintiff is seeking declaratory orders or injunctive relief.

This bill, and others like it, mirrors the frustration felt by some in state government over recent rulings from Davidson County judges on state-related issues, including some high-profile election law rulings last summer. Those rulings particularly attracted the ire of Republican legislators, as evidenced by a GOP-led House resolution to have one Davidson County judge removed from office. While that resolution died in subcommittee, it did not stem the tide of attempts to change how lower court cases involving the state are handled.  With Nashville growing more Democratic, and having a position akin to an island of blue surrounded by a sea of Republican red in most other counties of the state, the judges in Davidson County have been increasingly under the microscope at the General Assembly. 

The bill moves on to Senate Finance, Ways and Means and House Finance, Ways and & Means Subcommittee next week.

 Solicitor General Legislation Halted for the Year 

Legislation that would move the solicitor general position under the General Assembly and have that position defend the constitutionality of state laws was postponed until 2022. The position currently is housed under the Attorney General’s office, which raised concerns the move could violate separation of powers. Tennessee is the only state that has their Supreme Court appoint their Attorney General, an issue for the Senate sponsor, Paul Bailey (R- Sparta), who argued that he wants someone to represent the legislative branch and possibly work on their behalf when the legislature is at odds with the governor.

The Attorney General’s office said the legislation could lead to inefficiency for the state’s legal interests. After a conversation with the Attorney General’s office, Bailey agreed to delay the bill until next year to discuss solutions on the issue, and expressed a hope that a separate position can be carved out to serve as the legislature’s legal counsel.

Tennessee Unemployment Structure to be Cut with Legislation 

After a change of Senate sponsors, the Senate Commerce committee approved legislation to reduce from 26 to 12 the maximum number of weeks a Tennessean can collect unemployment. Senator Art Swann (R- Maryville), the original sponsor, stated that he no longer wanted to sponsor the legislation once the amendment was crafted to drop the number of weeks to 12, a figure that Swann criticized as being too low. Jon Lundberg (R- Bristol) took over the legislation for the Senate while Rep. Kevin Vaughan (R- Collierville) is pushing it forward in the House.

The legislation intends to replenish the state’s unemployment trust fund balance, which has been below the federally recommended level for the past few years. It would increase the weekly unemployment payments up to $50. The shift to 12 weeks would not begin until July 2023, but would make Tennessee have the shortest length of time for an unemployed person to receive benefits.

The legislation comes from House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R- Crossville), and it appears that the measure now enjoys widespread support among legislative leadership.  It will be heard in Senate Finance, Ways and Means next week and is currently stationed in a “behind the budget” holding pattern in the House, meaning it must obtain budgetary funding in order to move forward.   

Looking Ahead 

            As the 112th General Assembly heads toward what could be the final week of the 2021 session, one can expect a busy few days. Budget negotiations will continue through the weekend, and the budget could potentially be on the chamber floors as early as Tuesday if things go smoothly.  Then there are the scores of remaining bills that need handling unrelated to the budget. All bets are off once the budget is passed however, as once it has completed its only constitutionally required duty, the legislature is known to adjourn with numerous bills still in the pipeline.   

           Stay tuned, and do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or concerns. Have a great weekend.