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

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