To go along with listings of legislation to be dealt with in the final week of the 2015 General Assembly session (previous post HERE), here’s a list of some bills dealt with last week that perhaps didn’t get a lot of attention.
Given final approval and sent to the governor:
Repealing sprinkler ordinances
HB787, which would repeal all local government ordinances requiring sprinklers in multi-residence townhomes. As amended, it allows a city council or county commission to reinstate local sprinkler ordinances by a two-thirds majority vote – though many fire department representatives, including one from Knoxville, still opposed the measure. The measure supported by the Tennessee Homebuilders Association was approved 23-5 in the Senate; 74-18 in the House — with no votes generally coming from Democrats. Sponsors were Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville.
Wildlife killing penalties
HB1185, which substantially increases penalties for illegally killing a deer, bear, wild turkey or elk. It has a detailed list of fines — labeled “restitution” in the bill — depending on the animal killed, but in general they can go into thousands of dollars compared to a $200 minimum fine in most cases under current law. Final approval came after resolving a House-Senate difference on the bear penalty. As it wound up, it’s $3,000 for any bear illegally killed plus $3,500 extra if the bear was a cub or a female bear with cubs. The House approved 89-9; the Senate 28-3.
Buzzard killing decriminalized
SB204, which decriminalizes the killing of black vultures insofar as Tennessee law goes, though it’s still a crime under federal law unless the buzzard slayer has a special federal permit. The Tennessee Cattlemen Association says black buzzards have been killing newborn calves, goats and sheep statewide and Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, showed a committee pictures of a reported $25,000 in damage caused to a home by the birds. The bill passed the House 95-1 with Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, as sponsor. The Senate vote was 31-2.
Powdered alcohol banned
HB374, which outlaws — as a misdemeanor — the sale of “powdered alcohol” in Tennessee. The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved distribution of a powdered alcohol product known as Palcohol, which can be mixed with water to create an alcoholic beverage that Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, a sponsor, says is not covered under current state laws or Alcoholic Beverage Commission regulations. The bill was approved 31-1 in the Senate and 92-0 in the House.
‘Right to Try Act’
SB811, entitled the “Tennessee Right to Try Act.” Pushed nationally by the Goldwater Institute and already approved in six other states, the measure authorizes doctors to write prescriptions for experimental drugs that have not received final approval from by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for patients with incurable illnesses. Both chambers approved the bill unanimously, though the Senate added an amendment — requiring two doctors, not just one — to certify that a patient’s illness is incurable under medications otherwise available. House approval of the amendment is virtually certain. Sponsors are Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, and Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald.
Federal spending sought, condemned
The annually approved “voluntary assessment fee” for Tennessee hospitals, designed to trigger more federal funding through TennCare to the state’s health care centers, won approval of both chambers with little debate. The fee is 4.52 percent of a hospital’s revenues, generating $450 million in revenue within the state that winds up producing $1.3 billion in payments to the hospitals that pay it because of the resulting federal match money. It was approved 33-0 in the Senate; 91-2 in the House.
A similar levy on nursing homes (HB151) — though based on the number of beds a home maintains rather than revenues — was also approved by a unanimous Senate vote and the House is expected to go along Monday with near-unanimous approval. The nursing home levy brings in $107 million in state funds and the federal government then adds almost $200 million with the combined total then paid to nursing homes, according to legislative staff estimates for the coming year.
SJR67, which would add Tennessee to the list of states seeking a federal constitutional convention to impose limits on federal spending, won 23-5 approval in the Senate on Thursday, though it still awaits action in the House. Debate included Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, suggesting that it was ironic to see Republicans roundly denouncing federal spending after approving unanimously bills that will add to federal spending.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, somewhat agreed in responding to Kyle’s comments.
“There is no shortage of hypocrisy in the General Assembly. I’ll acknowledge that,” Norris said, noting that about 43 percent of the state’s $33 billion budget is funded by the federal government.
Still, Norris joined sponsor Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, in arguing that a state-triggered constitutional convention would be a reasonable means of moving to curb “out-of-control” federal spending and reducing the federal deficit.