Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has officially voiced opposition to 22 bills pending in the Legislature, including measures revising the state’s motorcycle helmet law, allowing school faculty and staff to carry guns and increasing the penalty for motorists not wearing a seat belt.
The governor this year is not issuing formal “flag letters” to legislators except when there are “philosophical” objections to the measure, according to gubernatorial spokesman David Smith.
In the past, Haslam also issued “fiscal flags” against bills that called for what the governor deemed inappropriate state spending. But this year, Smith said the administration policy is to caution against any legislation that has a “fiscal note,” prepared by legislative staff, projecting a need for spending that is not part of Haslam’s budget proposal for the coming year.
“Basically, any bill with a fiscal note with at least $1 of impact on the state budget would get a fiscal flag since it’s not accounted for in the budget proposal (under prior practice),” Smith wrote in an email. “So we stopped issuing a letter because between our office issuing a letter and a non-administration bill having a fiscal note we found those efforts duplicative.”
In response to a News Sentinel request, the governor’s office provided copies of all “philosophical flag” letters that have been sent to legislators this year as of Friday. The form letters, signed by Leslie Hafner, the governor’s chief legislative liaison, do not explain reasons for opposition, but state that an administration representative will seek a meeting with the lawmaker for discussion.
“The administration understands this is an important issue to you and is cognizant of your efforts. The administration, however, respectfully disagrees with this legislation in its current form,” says a standard line in most of the letters.
Here is a list of the bills questioned by Haslam:
n HB613 by Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, and Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, which increases the fine for not wearing a seat belt, now at $10 on first offense and $20 on second and subsequent offenses. The bill would raise the fine to $50 on first offense and $75 on second and subsequent offense, earmarking money collected toward efforts to prevent child abuse.
n HB894 by Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, and Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, entitled “the Motorcyclists Liberty Restoration Act,” which says adult motorcyclists need not wear a helmet and adds $2 to the cost of a motorcycling license with the money earmarked for TennCare.
n HB44 by Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, which provides that adult motorcyclists who obtain a $200,000 medical insurance policy, take a special safety course and pay $50 for a sticker to be attached to their vehicle can ride without a helmet. Funds from the sticker fee would go to an “impaired driver’s trust fund.”
n HB728 by Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, and Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, which would repeal the law allowing privately operated virtual schools in Tennessee. The bill recently failed in a House committee. Haslam has a separate bill to revise, rather than repeal, the virtual schools law.
n HB904 by Rep. Roger Kane and Sen. Stacey Campfield, both Knoxville Republicans. The bill requires health insurance companies to allow a covered patient to select any medical laboratory he or she wishes and to make payments to the laboratory on the same basis as other labs under what is known as an “any willing provider” situation.
n SB77 by Campfield and Rep. Joshua Evans, R-Greenbrier, which would allow staff and faculty of K-12 schools to carry guns on school grounds if they have a handgun carry permit and take a special course.
n HB1005 by Kane and Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, which is known as “the sinkhole bill.” It would put new restrictions on when an insurance company must cover damages purportedly caused by a sinkhole.
n HB745 by Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, which blocks the Department of Correction from firing an employee solely on the basis of a lie-detector test.
n SB8 by Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, and Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, known as the “Higher Education Equality Act,” is intended to eliminate affirmative action programs at colleges and universities. The bill recently failed on a tie vote in a Senate committee.
n HB550 by Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, and Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, which repeals a provision of current law allowing local governments to set more stringent conditions for burning permits than provided in general state law.
n HB744 by Rep. Barbara Cooper and Sen. Ophelia Ford, both Memphis Democrats, which requires, according to the legislative staff summary, that “the edges of stair steps in public buildings be marked with anti-slip paint for the benefit of the sight-impaired.”
n HB1003 by Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, and Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, which requires governments taking property through eminent domain proceedings to pay the owner fair market value based on the “highest and best use” of the property.
n SB1229 by Ford and Cooper, which would require popular election of judges to the Supreme Court and courts of appeal and divide the state into districts for their election.
n HB1072 by Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, and Campfield, which would create the new office of “solicitor general,” appointed by vote of the General Assembly, and assign the new officeholder many duties now performed by the state attorney general.
n -SB726 by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, which prohibits health insurance companies from imposing greater copayment and coinsurance requirements on services to covered persons from chiropractors, physical therapists or occupational therapists than on physicians.
n SB1092 by Sen. Jim Kyle and Rep. Antonio Parkinson, both Memphis Democrats, which calls for imposing a new $2 fee in all criminal court cases and using the proceeds to fund gun “buyback” programs.
n SB852 by Ketron and Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, entitled the “Energy Independence Act of 2013,” which sets up a system of state grants to cities, counties and businesses that buy motor vehicles powered by natural gas.
n SB276 by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Cooper, which says felons petitioning a court for restoration of voting rights can also seek “employment restoration,” meaning they would no longer be prohibited from obtaining a state-issued license for their profession.
n HB356 by Rep. Jim Coley, R-Memphis, and Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, which would impose a new $10 fee for filing a divorce case in court with the collected money earmarked for family violence shelters and the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence.
n HB1022 by Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, and Yager, which says local governments need not follow any new state law, with some exceptions, that costs the government more than $100,000 that is not covered by state government.
n HB1097 by Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, and Watson, which revises procedures for assigning a state-paid nursing home bed to people with intellectual disabilities now on a waiting list.
n HB476 by Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah, and Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, which says Tennessee insurance companies cannot participate in a health insurance exchange program operated under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Note: When posted, this originally listed a bill that was not flagged (SB728). That has been corrected and replaced with the bill that was flagged (SB726).