, , , ,

Co-op leaders have productive visits with D.C. lawmakers

NASHVILLE – More than 60 co-op leaders from across Tennessee traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and Wednesday, April 10 and 11, to meet with members of the Tennessee congressional delegation as a part of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s annual legislative conference.

“This trip is about building relationships,” said David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “When lawmakers evaluate legislation that impacts electric co-ops or rural Tennessee, we want them to think of us. It is important for them to know who we are and how policy will affect us and our consumers.”

In meetings with legislators, co-ops leaders encouraged lawmakers to support the Farm Bill and rural development programs, reject the administration’s proposal to sell TVA’s transmission assets and dedicate funding for rural broadband and other infrastructure projects. Lawmakers were also invited to visit their local co-ops to meet employees, attend annual meetings or tour co-op facilities.

Meetings were held with Senators Alexander and Corker and Representatives Black, Blackburn, DesJarlais, Duncan, Fleischmann, Roe and Kustoff.

“I’m a big supporter of rural areas, and I thank you for coming up to give a voice to the people you serve,” said Rep. Diane Black. “A lot of people never make it to visit legislators in Nashville, and certainly not to Washington, D.C. It’s important for their issues to be heard, and I appreciate what you do.”

In addition to visits with members of Congress, attendees also heard from industry and policy experts, including U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue. During a speech to co-op leaders, Secretary Purdue discussed the importance of rural broadband and highlighted the successes of Tennessee’s electric co-ops. “Rural broadband is not just a luxury — it’s essential,” said Purdue. “Tennessee recently changed state law, and now seven of their electric co-ops are pursuing broadband. I don’t believe that America would ever reach the productivity we have today across our nation without abundant flow of electricity everywhere. In the same way, we cannot make America great again without high-speed e-connectivity available to every American.”

 

, , ,

Co-ops share broadband successes at Summit

NASHVILLE – On Tuesday, March 20, the BroadbandUSA Program, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, hosted a Broadband Summit in Nashville. Gov. Bill Haslam along with other presenters discussed the importance of broadband and explored ways to increase deployment.

Gov. Haslam reiterated Tennessee’s commitment to expand broadband access: “All means all when it comes to access to education and job opportunities, and all means all when it comes to access to broadband.”

“Since the passage of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, electric cooperatives have moved swiftly to help answer the call for more broadband in rural Tennessee,” said Mike Knotts, TECA director of government affairs, who participated in a panel discussion during the Broadband Summit. “Seven of the state’s 22 electric co-ops have already made the decision to move forward with providing broadband service, and others are currently evaluating similar decisions.”

The Broadband Accessibility Act provided $10 million in grant funding in 2018 to spur broadband expansion in unserved areas. Earlier this year two co-ops received $2.7 million in broadband grants from the state. These grants have generated more than $90 million in broadband investment by electric co-ops in Tennessee. “The modest investments made through the Broadband Accessibility Grant Fund are already reaping huge rewards,” said Knotts. “That’s a tremendous multiplier, and we hope that future funding from the state will enable even greater levels of investment into this critical infrastructure.”

On Tuesday Gov. Haslam announced several budget amendments including an additional $5 million in nonrecurring broadband accessibility grants, in addition to the $10 million originally included in the FY 18-19 budget.

Gov. Haslam addresses attendees at a Broadband Summit hosted by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development on Tuesday, March 20. Photo via Gov. Bill Haslam on Flickr.

,

Weekly Legislative Update

More Committees Closing

This week was make-or-break when it came to bills getting passed through House and Senate Committees. The committee’s calendars were long and many bills heard this week had organized opposition for the first time. After several weeks of committee Chairmen deferring bills that demonstrated any controversy or debate, a large number of bills finally failed or were sent to summer study, where recommended compromise legislation for 2019 can be formed. Oftentimes, these summer study committees never actually meet.

With close to 1/3 of the Legislature retiring or seeking other elected offices, 2019 will bring many new faces to the General Assembly. This means new committee chairmen will be appointed, House and Senate leadership positions will change and new issues will be brought to the table by new leaders. Retiring legislators that have been passionate about certain issues will no longer be around, so many bills that fail this year may never return. At least in their current form.

New Senator Sworn In

Newly elected Senator Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro) was sworn into office on Thursday in the Senate Chambers. In attendance for the ceremony were Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Reeve’s wife and his three children.

Reeves won a special election on Tuesday to fill the vacant seat, formerly held by Jim Tracy. The unofficial results indicated that Reeves received 13,130 votes, while Gayle Jordan received 5,179.

Reeves is a pharmacist by trade, the former owner of Reeves-Sain Pharmacy, and the CEO of TwelveStone Health Partners.

Save the Date – NRECA Legislative Conference

April 9-11, 2018
Hyatt Regency Washington
400 New Jersey Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20001


TECA Bill Tracker

High Value Bills | Complete Bill Tracker

Smart Meter Legislation

Two “smart meter” bills that have been repeatedly deferred in the House Business and Utilities Subcommittee over the last few weeks have finally been disposed of for the year.

The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden), would have removed universal use of advanced metering technology and would prohibit the recovery costs imposed by members who refuse the technology. A less restrictive amendment was prepared by Rep. Holt, but he decided to refer the bill to a summer study instead of taking a vote.

The second bill, sponsored by Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis), would have prohibited a utility from charging its customers who have a smart meter a reconnect fee if the service was disconnected due to nonpayment. His argument was that since many utilities are no longer sending out employees in trucks to reconnect customers’ service, the process is like “flipping a switch” and requires no labor or costs. Therefore, the customer should not be charged any fee. TECA and other industry partners tried to explain to the sponsor why such charges are necessary, but he was insistent in his argument. The bill failed 2-7.

SB  2114 / HB 2495
Round Up Bill

Rep. Joe Towns’ (D-Memphis) bill regarding round-up programs was taken off notice this week in the House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee after 4 weeks of deferring the bill.

As originally drafted, the bill would deem any person, governmental entity or other legal entity that rounds up a customer’s bill for goods and services without obtaining the customer’s express, written permission to opt-in to such a billing procedure to be unlawful and an unfair trade practice.

After speaking to interested parties that opposed the bill, Rep. Towns drafted an amendment which would continue to permit opt-out programs, but would put into place strict reporting requirements on the funds raised. This amendment also received scrutiny from the same interested parties and was never voted on.

Finally, on Wednesday, Rep. Towns presented another amendment which excluded most entities from the bill, including electric cooperatives. Still though, the bill had received such negative responses from all stakeholders, the subcommittee members decided not to take action. Rep. Clark Boyd (R-Lebanon) requested that the sponsor take the bill off notice and offered to help him co-sponsor legislation next year pertaining to this issue, but that will be friendlier to the parties involved. The sponsor agreed.

If such legislation is to be introduced again next year, TECA will be involved in discussions and provide input that represents electric co-op interests, and will continue working to protect co-op round-up programs across the state.

Broadband Grant Budget Amendment

After consolation with TECA staff, Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) have proposed an amendment to Governor Haslam’s budget to increase the Broadband Accessibility Grant Fund. The Governor’s budget requested $10 million, and the amendment seeks to appropriate an additional $10 million (for a total of $20 M) for next year’s grants.

Each year, there are hundreds of budget amendments seeking to add billions of dollars to the state’s spending plan. With the first year’s requests to the Broadband Fund exceeding $60 M and an expectation that year two will see an even higher number of requests, TECA is optimistic about the opportunity to increse the Fund’s budget. However, approval of the budget is typically the last major action taken before the legislature adjourns for the year. So it will be another month, or so, before the final decision is made.
For the remainder of the second session of the 110th General Assembly, View from the Hill will be published bi-weekly.

Easement bill passes Legislature

The State House and Senate have approved legislation that will ensure efficient use of cooperative infrastructure for the provision of telecommunications and broadband services. After passage of the Broadband Accessibility Act in 2017, electric cooperatives in Tennessee are now allowed to sell retail broadband services for the first time in their history. However, as many co-ops began to examine the possibilities a significant stumbling block to providing these services needed to be removed.

The fastest route to building broadband networks is for a cooperative to utilize its existing poles and routes of electric line for installation of new fiber-optic cables. However many of those routes cross private property, where the easement allowing access to the property was either prescriptive or limited to the provision of electric energy. This same issue has been the subject of significant litigation in Missouri, so TECA’s government relations team set out to change state law. Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Representative Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) filed legislation to ensure that any easement used by a cooperative for the provision of electric energy could also be used for the co-op’s secondary purposes.

Thankfully, the General Assembly listened and passed Senate Bill 1646. After consideration by seven committees as well as the full House and Senate, the bill was approved unanimously. The new law will become effective upon the signature of the Governor, which is expected to take place in the coming days. While other states have struggled with this issue, this legislation serves as a fantastic example of how electric cooperative’s unified voice can make a real difference at the Capitol.

, , ,

TVA utilities respond to administration’s budget proposal

CHATTANOOGA – Today the Trump administration released the Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America, a framework to address improvements to the nation’s transportation, energy, utility and healthcare needs. Among the items included in the plan was a proposal to sell the Tennessee Valley Authority’s transmission assets.

In response to the administration’s proposal, the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association, the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and the Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association share the following response:

  • We strongly support the public power model and are fearful divestiture of transmission assets would have a negative effect.
  • We recognize the importance of TVA’s transmission assets to the ratepayers of the Tennessee Valley, and we believe they should not be sold to interests who may not place a priority on public power or the Valley’s interests.
  • It is important to note that Congress has not appropriated money to TVA since 1992, and customers have paid back the initial investment plus interest.
  • According to a 2013 study by the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, TVA has returned to the U.S. Treasury more than $3 billion on the government’s original investment of $1.4 billion. Source of these funds are the Valley’s ratepayers.
  • Our respective organizations will pursue all options to protect electric ratepayers and the TVA assets they have paid to build as well as the public power model, which is as relevant today as it was 80 years ago.
  • Divestiture of part or all of TVA assets has been proposed in the past. Each time, Congress has vehemently rejected such privatization.
  • Proceeds from the sale of TVA’s transmission assets would go to the U.S. Treasury and would not benefit Valley ratepayers.

A complete copy of the Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America is available on the TECA website.

, , , ,

Co-ops tell story of rural Tennessee during day on the hill

More than 200 electric co-op leaders from across the state were in Nashville on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 29 and 30, for the 2018 Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association Legislative Conference. During meetings with legislators on Capitol Hill, co-op members and employees stressed the important role that co-ops play in their communities and briefed lawmakers on issues that impact rural and suburban Tennessee.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally opened the meeting on Tuesday morning. “I’d like to welcome you here to Nashville,” he said. “I appreciate the job you do.”

Tennessee’s electric cooperatives maintain a visible presence in Nashville and Washington, D.C., to protect the interests of co-op and their consumer-owners. “We are here to give a voice to rural Tennesseans,” says David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “We must tell the electric cooperative story and educate lawmakers about the impact of proposed legislation.”

“Advocating for our members doesn’t stop at the edge of our service territory,” said Michael Watson, president of TECA’s board of trustees and CEO of Duck River Electric Membership Corporation. “It is critically important that our elected leaders in Nashville keep cooperatives in mind when crafting laws and regulations that impact us. We have a responsibility to our communities to tell their story.”

Co-ops addressed three specific issues during their visits this year:

  • Co-ops asked lawmakers to support Senate Bill 1646 and House Bill 1591 that will speed the deployment of broadband by allowing co-ops to utilize existing easements for nonelectric purposes such as telecommunication services.
  • Co-ops expressed support for Senate Bill 1752 and House Bill 1773 that will elevate the charges of assaulting a utility worker and makes them consistent with penalties already in place to protect other first responders.
  • While legislation has not yet been filed, a final issue discussed was an effort by the Department of Revenue to apply sales tax to fees paid by utility consumers. Co-ops asked the General Assembly to enact legislation to protect utility consumers from these additional taxes.

“Educated and informed legislators are necessary for us to provide low-cost, reliable power, and our legislators listen when we come to visit,” said Callis. More than 100 legislative visits were made during the conference, and many legislators from across the state attended a reception honoring members of the Tennessee General Assembly.

, , , , , ,

Co-ops awarded two ECD broadband grants

[NASHVILLE] – On Friday, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development announced that two electric cooperatives will receive grants to support the deployment of broadband in rural Tennessee. Gibson Electric Membership Corporation in Trenton will receive $1,353,148 million and Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation in Lafayette will receive $1,350,000.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement:

“We are pleased that the state recognizes the vital role co-ops can play in the expansion of broadband,” said Callis. “Modern healthcare, education and commerce depend on access to fast, reliable internet, and co-ops are uniquely positioned to bring this service to rural and suburban Tennessee. Today, we celebrate with Gibson EMC, Tri-County EMC and the communities they serve.”

In 2017, the Tennessee General Assembly, bolstered by strong support from Gov. Bill Haslam, passed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act. This landmark legislation removed restrictions that prevented electric cooperatives from providing retail internet access and established a grant fund to encourage broadband expansion.

Tennessee’s electric co-ops serve more than 2.5 million Tennesseans, many of whom do not currently have access to broadband.

 

, , ,

General Assembly Outlook

The 110th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee reconvened on Tuesday, January 9, 2018, for the second year of the two-year session and the first year in their new legislative offices at the Cordell Hull Building. It is expected that the upcoming legislative session will be a short one as 2018 is an election year, and members cannot raise funds for re-election while the legislature is in session.

Over two dozen members of the General Assembly will be retiring or running for a different elected office in 2018 and will likely be eager to return to their districts as quickly as possible. House Speaker Beth Harwell (R – Nashville), a gubernatorial candidate herself, will also be pushing for a quick session so that she may return to the campaign and fundraising trail.

Major issues likely to be taken up in the 2018 legislative agenda include the opioid epidemic, medical marijuana, seven-day liquor and wine sales and, of course, the budget.

Opioid Epidemic

A task force on opioid and prescription drug abuse, created by Speaker Harwell, met this summer and compiled a list of recommendations for treatment, prevention and policy. It is expected that a number of these recommendations will be introduced in legislative form this session. Look for bills that limit emergency room prescriptions, call for the hiring of additional Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agents and establish a commission to combat drug abuse.

Medical Marijuana

Rep. Jeremy Faison (R – Cosby) has been on a mission to legalize medical marijuana, and he may be closer than ever to reaching his goal. He will present a bill this session that would allow patients with certain debilitating illnesses to obtain prescriptions for certain marijuana products, including oils and extracts in capsules, pills, ointments, lotions and liquids. Smoking will not be an allowable product. While the bill would not allow for the recreational use of marijuana, opponents of the bill argue this is the next step before legalizing marijuana for recreational use. While the chances of passage this year may still be slim, the tide seems to be shifting in supporters’ way.

Seven-Day Sales of Liquor and Wine

The wine-in-grocery-stores law became effective in July 2016 and some liquor stores have seen a dramatic decrease in sales as a result. In hopes to offset some of this decline in sales, a bill was filed last year to permit wine and liquor sales on all seven days of the week. The 2017 bill was ultimately opposed by some vocal retail liquor store owners who want to maintain a state-mandated day off despite lagging sales. Working in support of the measure is a coalition consisting of grocery stores, the Tennessee Retail Association and manufacturers of distilled spirits. The coalition will resume its efforts to clear a path forward in 2018.

The Budget

As Gov. Haslam starts the last year of his eight-year administration, this will be his final budget to present before the General Assembly. With the passage of last year’s IMPROVE Act, which cut food and business taxes, the governor and legislature may have to put in extra work to balance our budget. Tax collections continue to increase but not at the rate of increase before the IMPOVE Act became law. In short, there will be a tighter budget.

Co-ops

Of specific interest to electric cooperatives, a coalition of utility associations will work to ensure that sales tax is not newly applied to fees charged by water, sewer, gas, and electric providers. This is the result of potential rule making by the Department of Revenue which would apply the state sales tax to fees charged to electric cooperative commercial and industrial customers. The rule has not yet been finalized, but conversations with the Department have shown that proactive legislation is the best bet to ensure that increased taxation for utility customers does not occur.

Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Representative Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) will be introducing legislation to ensure that electric cooperatives have full rights to utilize cooperative easements for any purpose that State authorizes cooperatives to perform. This legislation will ensure that any written or prescriptive easement held by the co-op could be legally used for the provision of electric and telecommunications services.

Other issues will surely rise throughout the course of the session, and the TECA Government Affairs team will keep members informed each step along the way.

Flickr image by Rain0975

, , , ,

Tennessee electric co-ops respond to Trump speech

During a speech today at the Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Nashville, President Donald Trump emphasized the need for expanded connectivity across rural America.

David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, made the following statement.

“We are pleased that the Trump administration is making rural issues a priority – especially the expansion of connectivity,” said Callis. “Few things have the potential to reshape rural Tennessee quite like broadband. Modern education, healthcare and commerce all depend on affordable and reliable access. Tennessee’s rural communities have tremendous potential. When they succeed, we all succeed.”

Tennessee’s electric co-ops serve more than 2.5 million Tennesseans, many of whom do not have access to broadband.

In 2017, Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly recognized that electric co-ops are uniquely positioned to help close the state’s digital divide. The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act removed restrictions that prevented electric cooperatives from providing retail internet access. Just nine months later, some areas of the state are already seeing the benefits. Two co-ops have active broadband pilot projects, and several others will begin connecting consumers later this year.

, , ,

App brings Nashville lawmakers 
one click closer

The decisions made in Nashville can have a direct impact on your family or business. That makes it important to stay informed and, at times, reach out to your elected officials. Tennesseans interested in government and politics now have a powerful tool for connecting with state lawmakers.

Fully redesigned for 2018, the 110th Tennessee General Assembly app features a continually updated, searchable database of contact, staff and committee information as well as photos, leadership roles and social media profiles for members of the Tennessee House and Senate.  The app also contains information on the governor and his cabinet and the Tennessee congressional delegation.

The app was developed through a partnership between the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and Bass, Berry & Sims PLC. TECA has published an annual directory of the General Assembly for more than 50 years. “Each year, we collect lots of information on Tennessee legislators, and we want that to be available to as many people as possible,” says David Callis, executive vice president and general manager of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association. “The app brings Tennesseans one click closer to their lawmakers, and we think that benefits us all.”

The 99 cent app is available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices and can be found by searching for “Tennessee General Assembly” in the Apple App Store or Google PLAY Marketplace or by clicking here.