Saturday, January 13, 2024

Tennessee General Assembly Gavels in for 2024

 Rep. Susan Lynn
From Rep. Susan Lynn, Jan. 12,2023-  The 113th General Assembly reconvened in Nashville this week for the start of its second legislative session. Republicans this year will continue focusing on making strategic investments in education and public safety while also strengthening the economy and cutting taxes.

Among the top priorities for 2024 will be to approve a spending plan that addresses the needs of all Tennesseans. After nearly a decade of unprecedented economic growth, lawmakers will have to be even more conservative with their spending in 2024 as experts expect a $300 million shortfall in the budget. The State Funding Board estimated revenue growth for the 2023 fiscal year to be at 7.7 percent, however, actual growth was closer to 5.39 percent.

Despite lagging revenue collections and record-high inflation, the Volunteer State remains in a strong overall financial position with its economy continuing to outperform the national average. Tennessee has a long tradition of being a well-managed state with an incredibly low tax burden for residents. The General Assembly in 2023 invested an additional $250 million into the state’s Rainy-Day Fund, bringing it to more than $2 billion in total. This increases Tennessee’s financial stability and will benefit the state in the event of an economic downturn.

Supporting students and educators will also continue to be a priority for the Republican supermajority this session. Lawmakers have increased funding for K-12 education by $1.3 billion since fiscal year 2022-23, prioritized the individual needs of students with passage of the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act and approved the largest pay increase for teachers in state history. Members of the General Assembly this year will explore a proposal from Gov. Bill Lee that would expand school choice statewide through the Education Freedom Scholarship Act. This legislation would give families more control over how their tax dollars are used for their child’s education.

Improving public safety and protecting communities from crime will be another key area of focus this session. The General Assembly will consider measures to provide law enforcement with additional tools to keep criminals off the streets along with proposals to ensure offenders receive the appropriate sentences for their crimes. Last year, lawmakers approved $232 million to enhance school safety in Tennessee and will continue looking for additional ways to keep classrooms safe. 

Republicans will also look for ways to provide additional mental health support for residents as well as improve access to health care in rural communities along with other legislative initiatives that address various needs statewide.

Tennessee continues to thrive under conservative leadership, and House Republicans seek to build on that momentum in 2024. 

Bill Aims to close Loophole for Defendants Found Incompetent to Stand Trial

As part of an aggressive push to improve public safety in Tennessee, a Republican bill would close a legal loophole for defendants found incompetent to stand trial.

House Bill 1640, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, would require criminal defendants deemed incompetent to stand trial to be committed to an appropriate treatment facility. Current state law does not provide this requirement.

“This closes a loophole that puts the public’s safety at serious risk by allowing dangerous individuals back into society to languish and re-offend without receiving the appropriate mental health services and supervision they desperately need,” Lamberth said.

Jillian Ludwig
The legislation was introduced following the murder of Jillian Ludwig, an 18-year-old Belmont University freshman who was fatally shot while walking in a Nashville park on Nov. 7. Her killer, Shaquille Taylor, was a repeat violent offender prosecuted in April 2023 for a separate crime of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The case against Taylor was dismissed after three court-appointed physicians testified he was incompetent to stand trial and was released from custody. “This loss is an incomprehensible, senseless tragedy that exposes a critical failure in our judicial and mental health care systems,” Lamberth said. “I expect this legislation to close the wide gap in current law so that law-abiding citizens are protected from anything like this ever happening again in our state.”

The legislation would additionally require individuals deemed incompetent to stand trial to be entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which serves as a namecheck database of people prohibited from buying or owning firearms.

AI Protections for Music Industry

Republicans unveiled legislation to address the damaging impact artificial intelligence (AI) can have on the music industry in Tennessee.

Executive Director Jen Jacobsen 

Gov. Bill Lee announced the Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security (ELVIS) Act this week, which will add protections for songwriters, performers, and music industry professionals’ voice from the misuse of AI to Tennessee’s Protection of Personal Rights law. Overall, the music industry supports more than 61,617 jobs across the state, contributes $5.8 billion to Tennessee’s GDP and fills more than 4,500 music venues.

“From Beale Street to Broadway, to Bristol and beyond, Tennessee is known for our rich artistic heritage that tells the story of our great state,” Gov. Lee said. “As the technology landscape evolves with artificial intelligence, we’re proud to lead the nation in proposing legal protection for our best-in-class artists and songwriters.”

While Tennessee’s existing law protects name, image and likeness, it doesn’t specifically address new, personalized generative AI cloning models and services that enable human impersonation and allow users to make unauthorized fake works in the image and voice of others. Artists and musicians at all levels are facing exploitation and the theft of their integrity, identity, and humanity.

“Tennessee is home to a remarkably diverse music community that is important not only to the culture of our state, but its economy as well,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland. “As technology advances, we must ensure the intellectual property of these incredibly talented artists, such as their voice, is fully protected. I am incredibly proud to carry this legislation that will benefit the performers who make our music industry so successful.”

The ELVIS Act would be the first legislation of its kind in the nation to build upon existing state rule protecting against the unauthorized use of someone’s likeness by adding “voice” to the realm it protects.

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