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
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.