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Glen Casada

Glen Casada

There is finally talk of finishing our legislative business for the first half of the 105th General Assembly.May 28 is the date most think we will wrap up our business for the year. Three sub committees have shut down for the year with 3 more to finish business by the end of next week. I appreciate the many letters and phone calls expressing your opinions on various bills and votes.

Cable Choice
This legislation, granting AT & T a franchise to sell cable in Tennessee will start moving next week in Commerce sub committee.  Please continue to send me your thoughts on this legislation. I am a strong believer in competition and I think AT & T as a cable provider here in Tennessee will be good for the consumer.  I will be asking for a few concessions from AT&T, such as local access channels to be available, and given these concessions will support cable choice.
Cigarette Tax for Education
There was one committee, however, where there was more action that anyone bargained for.  The Governor’s proposal for a 40-cent increase in the taxes on cigarettes (HB2354  – Odom) was amended and given a favorable recommendation by an 11-7 vote in House Agriculture Committee Tuesday.  After 3 hours of confusing and raucous debate, votes and amendments, members of this committee admitted that they weren’t sure what the committee had managed to pass, but the bill moved on to the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee where it will be considered by the Budget Subcommittee on Wednesday. The committee actions had to be reviewed by our legal department to show that the committee had passed the bill reducing the Governor’s proposed cigarette tax increase from 40 cents to 20 cents per pack, and using it for food tax reductions instead of the Governor’s education reform.

The Democrats on this committee used strong arm tactics and disobeyed parliamentary procedures to get this bill out of committee. The Republicans fought hard and were able to achieve a tax swap instead of a tax increase on cigarettes.  The speaker of the House quickly announced that he will strip off the tax swap amendment to reduce the sales tax on food and reinstate the 40 cent tax for education.  In my opinion it funding education with a tax on cigarettes is unsound fiscal policy.  This factor along with our strong revenue growth allowed Leader Mumpower and I to call for a reduction in the food tax.

A Call for Tax Reduction
On Tuesday, Leader Mumpower and I called for tax relief for the citizens of Tennessee. In a press conference, we called for a comprehensive look at the many proposals on the table that would give Tennesseans relief from the sales tax on food. Jason and I contended that in a year of such unprecedented growth, the legislature should be talking about providing some type of relief to all Tennesseans by giving them a break on the sales tax on food.  We called for a stop to talk of tax increases, and asked that the legislature begin considering a plan that will give more than “pocket change” back to the people.

Currently, the state of Tennessee has a rainy day fund of $497 million, with a proposed $38 million to be added. The state will have almost $1 billion in new overall available revenue plus an additional estimated $100 million plus after the Funding Board meets on May 7th.  I cited the over-collections and the unprecedented revenue growth that Tennessee is experiencing as reasons to return some of the money in the form of sales tax relief on food.

Just the facts…
•        Budget proposed to date is $27,476,690,500.
•        Includes $439,300,000 in new, natural recurring revenue growth without a cigarette tax increase.
•        Includes $513,400,000 in new, natural non-recurring (one-time) revenue growth.
•        Total natural revenue growth = $952,700,000.  Plus estimated additional growth of $100,000,000 + to be announced by funding board May 7.  Total budget growth to exceed $1 billion.
•        The budget includes over $50 million in growth in TennCare.
•        Since FY 01-02, the budget has increased from $17.5 billion to $27.48 billion – an increase of 57%.
•        Since FY 95-96, state spending has doubled from $13.2 billion to $26.4 billion in FY 06-07, compared to a growth of only 50% in personal income during the same period – from $21,854 to $32,304.
•        Tennessee lottery fund stands at nearly 400 million dollars     
•        Tennessee has highest food tax in nation.

Immigration legislation: Memorandum of understanding
Republicans experienced a major victory this week with a piece of illegal immigration legislation that had previously been killed. House Bill 491 would require the Department of Safety to enter into a memorandum of understanding with federal authorities to train certain highway patrol officers to perform certain immigration law enforcement functions, and would authorize the Tennessee Highway Patrol to become certified to enforce federal immigration laws. Although the bill was previously killed in the Public Safety and Rural Roads Subcommittee of Transportation, the subcommittee entertained a motion to reconsider this week.

Questions and concerns were raised that the bill might instigate racial profiling, but Republicans pointed out that the bill does not allow an officer to stop and detain someone due to race. They further argued that the bill only gives the officers jurisdiction if they stop someone on an unrelated violation of the law. The ‘ayes’ prevailed in a voice vote on the proposal. The companion bill has passed the Senate, in a 30-0 vote.

Common sense immigration killed in committee
Three bills that would have taken steps to ensure that elections were fair and further protected the integrity of the voting system were scuttled in the Elections Subcommittee of State and Local Government on Tuesday. House Bill 938 would have required voters to present photographic identification at the poll, replacing the current system of officials merely comparing signatures. Likewise, House Bills 408 and 409 would have required proof of citizenship to register to vote. Proponents of all three bills argued that the bills would guarantee that the integrity of voting was protected. Further, they pointed out that voting is considered to be one of the most precious rights, and citizens deserve to have their vote count—not cancelled out by a vote that is not legal. The bills were sent to a study committee, which effectively kills them for the year.

Solving the root problem of illegal immigration.
A bill which gained some ground this week would work to address the problem of illegal immigration in Tennessee.  Because jobs are the sole reason the illegal immigrants come to Tennessee, House Bill 1703 will be foundational to solving this issue and not be a burden on our Tennessee businesses.  If this bill comes into law, employers will be required to tap into the federal data base so as to check the validity of legal residence status of those who apply for jobs.  If the data presented matches with the name, the employer will be able to hire this individual; if it does not match, the employer will not be able to hire this individual unless proper documentation is presented. Tennessee would become the first state to require participation by all Tennessee employers.

‘Education First,’ lottery reserves plan among education bills that advance The K-12 Subcommittee of Education gave their stamp of approval to the Republican-led ‘Education First’ plan this week. The bill, House Bill 483, requires the General Assembly to pass the K-12 education budget prior to considering the general appropriations bill, which funds theremainder of government. The initiative would ensure that the education budget received the focus, consideration, and dollars it deserves.

Republicans contend that funding education as proposed by House Bill 483 is a more fiscally sound alternative to the Governor’s plan, which funds education last, through a quarter of a billion dollar tax increase. They also argued that funding education out of recurring natural revenue growth is truly making it a priority.

Two other education bills also passed out of the subcommittee this week. House Bill 1062, which would require the automatic revocation of a teacher’s license when convicted of certain felonies, has alreadypassed the full Senate. House Bill 1872 would establish “virtual schools,” allowing students a wider range of coursework and more opportunity to achieve their goals. All three bills now face the Education Committee.

Lottery Reserves
House Bill 9 passed out of Government Operations Committee this week, facing the significant hurdle of the K-12 Subcommittee next. House Bill 9 proposes that the excess proceeds from the lottery fund be used to fund capital improvements for K-12 schools through a grant program. Currently, the state is estimating that the balance of the Lottery Reserve Account will be $387 million by June 30th. The constitutional amendment that authorized the lottery allowed for excess proceeds to be used to fund capital outlay projects for K-12 facilities. This bill would take the lottery funds in excess of $250 million and distribute them statewide on a per-pupil basis, with a 50 percent local match required. This bill would be a great help to fast growing school systems such as Williamson County.

‘Castle Doctrine’ advances
The ‘Castle Doctrine,’ House Bill 668, was presented and successfully passed out of the increasingly critical Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Last year, similar legislation did not even make it to a vote in a subcommittee of Judiciary.

House Bill 668 would allow a person to use deadly force on someone who enters their residence or vehicle unlawfully. Such a person would be permitted to use this force if:

•        There is a reasonable belief that there is imminent danger of death of serious bodily injury.
•        The danger creating the belief of imminent death or serious bodily injury is real, or honestly believed to be real at the time.
•        The belief of danger is founded upon reasonable grounds.

Members said that with the number of violent crimes and carjackings increasing, it is very important that people have the ability to defend themselves and their families without the constant fear of prosecution. The bill must now face the powerful Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

I hope you find this newsletter informative.  I have only covered a fraction of legislation that is being debated, if you have specific questions about other issues please feel free to contact me at my legislative office at 741-4389 or on my cell at 943-7396.  I am stillavailable for one on one meetings most Friday afternoons.  Please call my office and speak to Carol Simpson, my assistant, to arrange a meeting.

One last note, if you live in south Williamson County, Senator Jack Johnson and myself along with the legislative delegation from Spring Hill will be hosting a town hall meeting on May 10th at Hermitage elementary.  I hope to see you there.

Glen Casada