Capitol Hill Week
By Kim Swindell Wood | May 9, 2019 10:56 am
Last Updated: May 9, 2019 at 11:04 am
The 2019 session of the 111th General Assembly has adjourned to become a part of Tennessee history with some of the most important bills of the year approved during the final week of legislative action. This includes passage of the state budget, legislation expanding TennCare coverage for in-home care for children with severe disabilities, and several bills providing tax relief.
The $38.6 billion balanced budget proposes state government spending for the next fiscal year that begins July 1, 2019, and extends to June 30, 2020. Senate Bill 1518 maintains Tennessee’s sound fiscal practices by not taking on any new debt, continuing to reduce unnecessary spending through state government efficiencies, and putting a record investment in the state’s emergency savings account, better known as the Rainy Day Fund. Such fiscally conservative practices have resulted in Tennessee being ranked among the best managed states in the nation.
The budget continues to support education, focuses on the needs of Tennessee’s rural and distressed counties and encourages job creation, while taking care of some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens. It also provides $27.4 million to fund the Katie Beckett program which aids some of the state’s sickest and most medically-complex children who need around-the-clock care. In addition, $22 million is included to reduce the professional privilege tax for 15 professions in Tennessee.
In other tax relief measures, I was very pleased to receive final approval on legislation to exempt water used for agricultural purposes from the sales tax. Senate Bill 1460 will help farm operations in our district and throughout Tennessee with much needed relief.
Another tax cut bill I sponsored, which was approved before we adjourned, helps spur the installation of broadband Internet services by exempting fiber-optic cable from the state’s sales tax. This legislation, Senate Bill 1458, will aid our efforts to get the structure in place to extend broadband to our rural communities which are underserved. In addition, the budget includes $20 million to fund the final year of the three-year initiative implemented by former Governor Bill Haslam to expand broadband to rural and underserved communities.
Overall, our rural communities fared very well with passage of the 2019-2020 budget. Highlights of the appropriations bill include
- THEC: Includes $25 million in non-recurring funds for GIVE Community grants to upgrade and expand K-12 Career and Technical Education programs in rural areas.
- K-12: Includes $2 million in non-recurring funds for additional APARC grants to enhance rural high school career and technical education programs
- Jobs: Includes over $15 million to promote innovation and entrepreneurship aimed at increasing new businesses from research and development activities throughout the state; for rural development grants and loans for small, minority and women-owned rural businesses
- Agribusiness: Includes $500,000 recurring and $500,000 non-recurring to provide funding for grants and services to agribusiness in Tennessee’s rural communities and distressed counties.
Moving to other action, final approval was given this week to Senate Bill 1442, the Barry Brady Act. This bill was a priority for me. It is named for our retired captain of the Sparta Fire Department who passed away from cancer on April 4, 2019, at the age of 50, with over 31 years in fire service. Barry was a dear friend of mine.
This bill allows firefighters to be eligible to receive workers compensation benefits for certain cancers.
Eligible firefighters must have been exposed during five or more consecutive years employed with a fire department and must have passed a pre-employment physical exam.
No firefighter with these cancers should have to fight for workers compensation benefits when they have served valiantly to protect our communities. I am very pleased that this legislation will become law and that it will honor the memory of such a deserving hero.
Finally, the General Assembly approved a bill I sponsored just before adjournment which calls for Tennessee’s Commissioner of Finance and Administration to request a block grant waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to better serve recipients of the state’s TennCare program. Senate Bill 1428 provides an opportunity to develop an effective and innovative plan that is specific to the healthcare needs of Tennesseans, while lowering costs and increasing access to patient-centered care.
Overall, I was very pleased with the legislation we were able to pass this year, especially with the healthcare, vocational education and rural initiatives which will improve the lives of many Tennesseans
I hope that you will continue to contact me over the summer and fall months with your thoughts and ideas on how we can improve Tennessee. I look forward to hearing from you.