Legislation that would exclude newer cars and trucks from annual emissions testing sounds good to vehicle owners and to state lawmakers, who whisked it through a Senate committee and House subcommittee last week, reports Andy Sher. But state regulators and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry are nearly choking over the potential impact on existing and future businesses in six affected counties including Hamilton County, home to Volkswagen’s assembly plant.
In addition to Hamilton, Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties, and Memphis, require vehicles to pass annual emissions tests to get tags.
The county and city governments adopted the tests and other measures to comply with 2009 federal ozone standards aimed at improving air quality and health.
Receiving a “non-attainment” designation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency can impact existing businesses or scare off new companies that might have to install costly pollution control equipment.
“We are opposed to the bill,” Wayne Scharber, the Tennessee Chamber’s vice president for environment and taxation, said last week.
The bill to exempt vehicles in the three most recent model years raised a dust storm in the House Subcommittee on Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Senate Transportation Committee last week.
“I understand that Volkswagen is under very stringent restrictions to stay within a certain [level] that EPA has put on them,” said Rep. Curtis Halford, R-Dyer.
“If we stop doing this, is that going to put that particular facility in danger of being over the level that the EPA has given them … and consequently will that cause them large expenditures to get back underneath their limit there?”
Officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation outlined a chain of circumstances they said could affect Volkswagen and other companies in the six counties and Memphis.
Barry Stephens, director of the state’s Air Pollution Control Division, said the state runs a complex model on sources of ozone emissions. The EPA awards credits for certain actions to keep down the emissions.
“If you remove certain model years [of vehicles], then they reduce the amount of credits you get for the reduction,” Stephens said. “So if you remove three years, then we’ve got to find those tons [of emissions] somewhere else.”
That could come by requiring heavier vehicles now exempt from emissions testing, he said, or from requiring “stationary” source of emissions — power plants, heavy industry and petrochemical manufacturers — to cut back.
A bill that could exempt planning commission members in six East Tennessee counties from disclosing their financial interests has been introduced by Sen. Ken Yager and Rep. Kent Calfee.
Calfee, a freshman Republican lawmaker from Kingston, said HB15 was introduced at the request of Roane County Mayor Ron Woody.
The measure also would apply in Campbell, Fentress, Morgan, Pickett, Rhea and Scott Counties which are included along with Roane in Yager’s state Senate district. Yager said the other counties were added because of a “communications error.” The senator said he has written officials in the other counties and will amend the bill to delete those counties where an objection is raised.
Planning commission members were not required to file the disclosures until last year, when the Legislature enacted a bill adding them.
The disclosure statements in question require public officials to list their financial holdings and sources of income, but not the amount of income. Planning commission members were not on the list of those required to file the statements until the General Assembly added them in legislation approved last year with little debate and by almost unanimous margins.
The first disclosure reports since the new law took effect are due on Jan. 31, according to the Tennessee Ethics Commission.
Woody said in an interview that the new law is “kind of intrusive” and a deterrent to finding people to serve on the commissions, which typically pay very little or nothing for their services. They are in a different situation than elected officials such as himself, he said.
“It may have been adopted for good reasons and this is an unintended consequence. Or it may have been adopted for bad reasons… (with the intent of) killing our planning commissions. I don’t know. But I’m a firm believer in the need for planning commissions,” Woody said.
The bill approved last year was sponsored by Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, who was not available for comment. A spokeswoman, however, said it was the senator’s own idea. In a committee meeting last year, Tracy said the bill was “just common sense” and that those overseeing development should have to disclose potential conflicts of interest.
Woody said the Roane County Planning Commission has “ethical members,” including some who retired in the area after a business career “up north” and who may have substantial stock and real estate holdings.
By making their holdings public, he said, “you get to the point where people don’t want to serve.”
Yager said he basically agrees with Woody.
“In these rural counties, they (planning commissioners) are essentially volunteers – in Roane County, I think they get $50 a month – and it’s hard to attract people anyway,” Yager said.
News release from Secretary of State’s office:
More people are now eligible to claim exemptions from workers’ compensation as a result of a new law that took effect this month.
The law expands eligibility for people who can apply for and be listed on the Workers’ Compensation Exemption Registry, which is administered by the Secretary of State.
The expanded eligibility requirements are a result of the General Assembly’s passage of SB 1550, which was signed into law as Public Chapter 422 in June.
“I am pleased that the General Assembly has entrusted my office with the responsibility of administering the Workers’ Compensation Exemption Registry,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “I am sure there are a number of business owners who will take advantage of the expanded eligibility for exemptions that was created by the new law. We look forward to serving them.”
The changes to the law allow business owners in the construction services industry to opt out of the requirement to cover themselves with workers’ compensation insurance if they meet certain ownership requirements. The new law increases from 3 to 5 the number of business owners of a corporation, limited liability company or partnership that can qualify for the workers’ compensation exemption.
Each applicant must hold at least a 20 percent ownership in the business to qualify for an exemption. An applicant may also qualify for the exemption if the applicant is an owner in a family-owned business, regardless of the percentage of ownership. A sole proprietor may also apply for the exemption if he or she owns 100 percent of a business’ assets.
The filing fee for an initial workers’ compensation exemption registration is $200 for a person who does not have an active license issued by the State Board for Licensing Contractors and $100 for a person who already has an active license issued by the State Board for Licensing Contractors.
The new law also allows a person to qualify for a subsequent workers’ compensation exemption that is associated with another business as long as business ownership requirements are met. Business owners can qualify for an unlimited number of subsequent exemption registrations as long as they meet the qualifications for each registration for which they apply. The filing fee for each subsequent workers’ compensation exemption registration is $20.
Applications may be completed and submitted online at http://tnbear.tn.gov/wc or at the Tennessee Department of State Business Services Division’s customer service counter on the 6th floor of the William R. Snodgrass Tower, 312 Rosa L. Parks Avenue in downtown Nashville.
Applicants who qualify and who submit their applications online will receive instant confirmation of their exemptions. Applications submitted in person or by mail will be processed in 10 or fewer business days from the date the application is received in the Business Services Division’s office.
For questions about the application process, please call (615) 741-2286 or email WorkersComp.ExemptionRegistry@tn.gov.
A South Nashville megachurch’s fight against paying a $425,000 property tax bill could have major implications for churches throughout the state whose facilities include not only sanctuaries and classrooms, but also stores and athletic facilities, according to The Tennessean When Christ Church, which has 2,600 members and is on Old Hickory Boulevard, built the 110,000-square-foot Hardwick Activities Center in 2004, it had to reapply for its tax-exempt status. A government property assessor who toured the facility in 2007 determined that a bookstore, cafe, fitness center and gymnasium operated like businesses open to the general public and denied a tax exemption for those portions of the facility.
Arguing that the facilities are used in ministry and integral to the church’s mission, the church has been engaged in a legal battle ever since. In 2009, the church won a small victory when an administrative law judge decided the gymnasium should be taxed only at 50 percent. Friday, the church, armed with lawyers from the conservative Arizona-based Christian legal group The Alliance Defense Fund, took its case to Davidson County Chancery Court and argued that its constitutional rights are being violated.
…In response, Assistant Metropolitan Attorney Jeff Campbell noted that state law exempts “purely” religious activities from taxation and argued that a bookstore that charged retail prices and a fitness center that charged annual fees didn’t qualify. Campbell noted that the bookstore sold items such as a portrait of former President George W. Bush and Naomi’s Guide to Aging Gratefully, a best-seller authored by Naomi Judd, and that fitness center activities were not religious in nature.
…Chancellor Carol McCoy did not decide the case Friday and will issue a written order at a later date.