On Friday, April 22, after several hours of debates and disagreements between the House and the Senate over controversial amendments to bills, the second session of the 109th General Assembly adjourned for the year.
The final days of session often equate to the last days of school for students, and legislators begin to lose some of the normal decorum. One Representative sang a portion “Purple Rain” in honor of the passing of Prince, while another displayed a mixed martial arts belt, saying he brought it to the House chambers because he was “ready to rumble.” Finally, as legislators filed out of the Capitol after their last floor session of 2016, staff members clapped and cheered.
Nevertheless, the legislature had a productive year filled with the passage of legislation that will impact all Tennesseans. Among these include a plan to end the Hall income tax by 2022, approval of a property tax break for disabled veterans, creation of online voter registration and an increase in K-12 school funding of $223 million.
Other hotly debated topics included an attempt by the House to override Governor Haslam’s veto of the legislation making the Bible Tennessee’s official state book (failed), directing the attorney general to sue the federal government over its refugee resettlement program (passed), and defunding the University of Tennessee’s Diversity Office and using the money to pay for minority scholarships (passed).
TECA staff worked diligently this year to ensure that electric co-op interests were protected, and this session was a productive and successful one. Below is an update of the top priorities for TECA this year.
- Ad Valorem Tax/Unclaimed Property: TECA supported an effort to delete an ad valorem tax exemption and update the unclaimed property process for electric co-ops passed unanimously in both the House (95-0) and Senate (33-0) Chambers. TECA staff is pleased with the smooth passage of this legislation and grateful to the sponsors, Representative Art Swann (R-Maryville) and Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), for carrying it on our behalf.
- Drones Near Infrastructure Facilities: TECA supported a bill that creates a prohibition against using a drone to photograph or video critical infrastructure facilities, such as electric generation and transmission facilities, as well as distribution substations. The bill has passed the full Senate and House, and has been signed by the Governor.
- Property Assessed Clean Energy Act (PACE): Allowed local governments to lend money to property owners to install distributed generation and energy efficiency improvements, with repayment of the loan being made through a special assessment against the property tax. The legislation was opposed by TECA and other organizations because it ignored the process and requirements of TVA for distributed generation and interconnection, and did not satisfactorily address safety concerns. The legislation was placed in a summer study, and TECA staff will monitor the progress of any study and keep you informed of the outcome.
- Broadband: Three separate broadband bills were withdrawn this year due to lack of support by the House Business & Utilities Subcommittee. The Broadband Expansion Act, which would have provided electric co-ops retail authority and was supported by TECA, was the first proposal that would have recognized electric co-ops as potential broadband providers. Other failed bills included two that would have authorized municipal electric systems to expand broadband service outside of their service territory. Even though support from the committee was lacking for all three proposals TECA anticipates a compromise proposal to be introduced next year.
Throughout the summer, TECA staff will continue to monitor the progress of the studies being conducted by the Department of Economic and Community Development and the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, and we remain hopeful that the outcome of the studies will bring Tennessee one step closer to solving the problem of rural broadband access.