Friday, April 24, 2015

109th General Assembly’s First Half Concludes with Major Conservative Accomplishments

TN GOP Press Release, NASHVILLE, Tenn.—With the final debate over, the 109th General Assembly has concluded its work for the first regular session. The closing comes with a number of legislative victories Republicans can be proud of. “We’ve just witnessed a session of success,” stated Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes. “Whether it is the conservative fiscal stewardship of our state, educational reforms that keep us on the path of achievement, or a number of bills to enhance the freedom Tennesseans expect—our state is moving ahead. Governor Haslam continues to show why he’s garnered the reputation of a dynamic reformer-in-chief and together, with Lieutenant Governor Ramsey and Speaker Harwell, the leadership of our state has never been stronger.”

  • The Republican-led General Assembly passed a fiscally responsible balanced budget that cut taxes, placed over $70 million into the Rainy Day fund, all while funding continued improvements for education and Tennessee’s business-friendly environment. 
  • Working with parents, teachers, and administrators, the GOP started the effort to put in place Tennessee-specific education standards. Tennessee Reconnect was created, a visionary program set forth by Gov. Haslam, to help adults enter higher education so they may gain new skills, advance in their careers, and complete a degree or credential. 
  • Additionally, while making targeted investments, Republican leaders were able to cut the Hall Income Tax for seniors 65 and older. 
Haynes concluded, “I am proud of the work our leaders and my colleagues put in on behalf of all Tennesseans. We’ve proven, once again, our state is a model for how to govern in a responsible, conservative fashion while answering the needs of our citizens.”

Senator Jack Johnson's Session Summary
From Senator Jack Johnson's Newsletter -The 2015 session of the 109th General Assembly has adjourned to become a part of Tennessee history with some of the most important bills of the year being approved during the final week of legislative action. This includes legislation repealing Common Core, a bill to implement an online verification program for uninsured motorists, a measure to give more senior citizens Hall Income Tax relief and an act dealing with Transportation Network Company (TNC) services.

Lawmakers Approve Transportation Network Company Services Act
Legislation which establishes requirements governing application-based Transportation Network Companies (TNC) was approved by the General Assembly on the closing day of the 2015 legislative session. Senate Bill 907 provides statewide rules for TNC ride-hauling services, like those offered by Uber and Lyft. The legislation establishes end-to-end insurance coverage for the transportation networks and their drivers with $1 million liability coverage while a pre-arranged ride is occurring. This is ten times what is required under the current taxi system. It also requires a zero tolerance policy for the use of drugs and alcohol and mandates comprehensive background checks on all drivers. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Senate Approves Legislation Implementing an Online Verification Program for Uninsured Motorists
A major bill establishing an online verification program to help ensure compliance with Tennessee’s Financial Responsibility Law was approved by the Senate on Tuesday. Senate Bill 648 aims to reduce the state’s uninsured motorist rate, which is currently at 23-24 percent. There are approximately 40,000 crashes a year that involve uninsured motorists. Tennessee law requires drivers to have a driver’s license, vehicle registration and insurance; however, there is no verification system to track the insurance requirement. The bill requires that a notice procedure be provided to any driver found to be uninsured, allowing them 15 days to provide proof of insurance or exemption. If there is no response, the owner will be sent a second notice stating that they have 30 days to provide proof of insurance. Failure to comply will result in a $25 coverage failure fee on the first notification and a $100 fee on the second. The bill also increases the fine for failure to provide proof of insurance from $100 to $300, and if a driver fails to provide proof of insurance to an officer, the officer may tow the vehicle as long as the officer’s agency has adopted a policy for such procedure. Forty-six other states have similar auto liability verification systems.

More Senior Citizens Can Qualify for Hall Income Tax Relief
The Senate has approved legislation which raises the Hall Income Tax exemption level for citizens over the age of 55 to allow more senior citizens to qualify tax relief. The Hall Income Tax levies six percent on earnings from stocks and bonds, with 3/8 of the revenue going to cities and counties. The use of investment savings has grown tremendously as a primary source of retirement income since the Hall Tax was enacted in 1929. This bill raises the exemption level so more seniors can qualify for tax relief as the General Assembly continues to make progress in providing Hall Tax relief to Tennessee citizens. The legislature voted to raise the level which allows more senior citizens to be exempt in 2011 and 2013, with current income exemption levels at $33,000 per individual and $59,000 per couple. Under Senate Bill 32, the annual Hall Income Tax standard income exemption for taxpayers 65 years of age or older would be $37,000 for single filers and $68,000 for joint filer taxpayers beginning in January 2016. Of the individuals who pay the tax, almost half are age 65 and older. The increase in the income exemption will make the state more competitive in attracting retirees. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Senate Approves and Sends to Governor Bill Haslam Legislation Repealing Common Core
The State Senate has passed legislation which sets up a process to replace the controversial Common Core education standards with a new set of standards crafted solely by Tennesseans. The bill embraces the work and the effort of Governor Bill Haslam’s review process, adding a new Recommendation Committee to provide another opportunity for stakeholders, educators and the general public to weigh in on the new Tennessee-specific standards. Under Senate Bill 1163, the Recommendation Committee would be comprised of ten members, with four appointed by the Governor, three appointed by the Speaker of the Senate, and three appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The Standards Recommendation Committee would take the best practices obtained through a panel which has already been set up by Governor Haslam and pass it through a filter that is more representative of the people of the state. The Governor set up a process in October for education professionals to vet the standards and allow for public comments. The legislation calls for the final draft of the Standards Review and Standards Recommendation panels to be placed back on the internet for 60 days so stakeholders, parents, teachers, and administrators will have another opportunity to view and address the body of work being produced before it is set up for adoption. The legislation requires the State Board of Education to cancel the “Memorandum of Understanding” that had previously been agreed upon concerning Common Core State Standards.

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  1. A major failure of the 109th General Assembly was that it did not consider the Cancer Patient Choice Act. This bill would allow cancer patients in the 19-64 age bracket to be covered by insurance for proton therapy. Proton therapy is the world's most advanced cancer treatment with the highest cure rates and fewest side effects. It has been around for decades and approved by FDA and covered by Medicare. It is the only FDA and Medicare cancer treatment not covered by insurance companies in Tennessee. The bill set the price of proton therapy to be exactly the same as conventional radiation, so it represented no cost increase to either the state or insurance companies. The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee refused to vote on the bill, which has the same effect as a NO vote. In short, this Committee voted against cancer patients. The Committee is chaired by Jack Johnson of Williamson County.

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