Weaver Headshot

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver

Tennessee businesses will hopefully be eligible to receive more pandemic assistance through a bill that will exempt relief funds from state taxes.

Republican leaders last Monday night successfully guided unanimous passage of House Bill 776, which exempts COVID-19 relief payments received between March 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2021 from the state’s excise taxes.

This legislation provides an excise tax deduction for Tennessee business and entities that have received or will receive such relief payments in 2020 and 2021.

Businesses that received funds from the following programs are eligible for the deduction: Tennessee Business Relief Program; Tennessee Supplemental Employer Recovery Grant Program; Coronavirus Agricultural and Forestry Business Fund; Hospital Staffing Assistance Program; Emergency Medical Services Ambulance Assistance Program; Tennessee Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants Program; and payments issued by Tennessee from the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant.

Relief payments must be deducted from the tax year in which they were awarded. Once House Bill 776 becomes law, taxpayers who have already filed a franchise and excise tax return for the 2020 tax year will be able to amend their return to take the deduction for eligible relief payments received in 2020. The companion bill awaits passage in the Senate Chamber.

Vaccine passports in TennesseeLegislation that aims to ensure COVID-19 vaccines remain voluntary advanced through House committees this week.

House Bill 575 will ensure that medical information reflecting the status of a person’s vaccination cannot be required by any state entities in Tennessee. The legislation prohibits a state or local governmental official, entity, department or agency from mandating a private business to require “vaccine passports” or proof of a vaccine as a condition for entering their premises or utilizing their services.

House Bill 575 also removes authority from county boards of health to enforce and adopt rules and regulations regarding COVID-19, preserving their role as an advisory body to the elected county mayor. The bill defines quarantine in Tennessee law as the limitation of a person’s freedom of movement, isolation, or preventing or restricting access to premises upon which the person, cause or source of a disease may be found for a period of time as may be necessary to confirm or establish a diagnosis, determine the cause or source of a disease or prevent the spread of a disease.

Ensuring wine is sold safely

House leaders also passed legislation ensuring alcohol is sold safely in a way that supports Tennessee businesses.

House Bill 742 keeps out-of-state vendors from violating Tennessee’s existing state laws by not paying appropriate state taxes. As amended, HB 742 creates a license for wine fulfillment houses with a $300 application fee, $300 annual renewal fee and a $50 annual fee for each additional location.

Fulfillment house licensees now may only provide services related to the shipment of wine into or within Tennessee and only for wineries or direct shippers licensed in the state. They must use a common carrier for shipping and obtain the signature of a person 21-years or older upon delivery. Fulfillment house licensees must verify, maintain and submit data to the Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC) on a quarterly basis. Fulfillment houses will be subject to punishment by fine, suspension, or revocation of licensure if they fail to verify, maintain and submit these records. The companion bill awaits passage in the Senate chamber.

Telehealth availabilityHouse Republicans last week passed legislation that will expand telehealth options for behavioral health services.

Present Tennessee telehealth statute does not recognize audio-only telehealth services as eligible for reimbursement under certain circumstances. House Bill

620 amends the current statute on provider-based telemedicine and allows for the use of HIPAA-compliant audio-only technology for behavioral health services if other means are unavailable.

The ability to provide therapy services over the telephone was proven to be beneficial throughout the coronavirus pandemic for patients and providers alike. This legislation ensures that this option will continue to be available for those seeking behavioral health help and treatment.

Criminal justice reformTwo major criminal justice reform bills advanced through House committees last week. Both are proposals from Gov. Bill Lee’s legislative package and are part of his efforts to reform criminal justice in Tennessee. The bills reflect changes recommended by the Tennessee Criminal Justice Reinvestment Task Force.

The task force’s key findings showed more than half of Tennessee’s prisoners released from custody are back in jail within three years. Tennessee’s high incarceration rates are fueled by non-violent drug and property offenses, which have increased the state’s custody population growth by more than 50% since 2009. House Bill 784 provides by alternatives to incarceration expanding Tennessee’s successful Recovery Court System, which includes Veterans Courts,

Mental Health Courts and Drug Courts for those charged with misdemeanor assaults.

The Alternatives to Incarceration bill establishes criteria for revoking community supervision status, updates the permitted amount of time that an individual can be sentenced to probation and limits the ability to revoke supervision for non-criminal violations of conditions, also known as technical violations. This bill also proposes a redesign of the Community Corrections program.

These courts have an excellent track record for individuals who require specialized and highly accountable treatment.

House Bill 784 gives judges the discretion to provide treatment for individuals who need it when the facts of their case indicate that a recovery court is the best correction option available.

The bill also puts a limit on the amount of time an individual can be sentenced to probation, with the ability for this time to be extended each year for specific case-by-case situations. The legislation brings the cap for probation down from 10 years to a maximum of eight years, except for defendants who receive multiple convictions.

The proposal will also standardize parole revocation practices for technical violations. Approximately 40% of prisoners rearrested land back in prison because they violated their parole on technical violations and not for new crimes.

The Reentry Success Act of 2021 is a multi-pronged approach to help improve public safety and promote positive outcomes for those leaving incarceration. House Bill 785 establishes mandatory supervision, so all individuals exiting state custody will have a minimum of one-year supervised reentry integration.

HB 785 seeks better returns on public safety investments by focusing on community supervision, parole processes, and ensuring oversight for those leaving jail and prison. The bill aims to help facilitate better outcomes once someone returns to their community after incarceration. Currently, 37% of the felony population returns to its communities without oversight.

Other key provisions in the billWaiving the restricted driver license fee, which research has shown is a barrier to successful reentry

Removing the parole board’s ability to deny parole to a person who has not attempted to improve their education or vocational skills due to long wait lists for these programs

Requiring the Tennessee Department of Correction to pay an accreditation stipend to eligible counties to encourage implementation of evidenced-based reentry programs

Authorizing and encouraging community colleges and Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) to partner with local governments to provide education workforce development programs for people held in local correction facilities; and

Granting limited employer liability to businesses who hire a parolee convicted of a non-violent criminal offense.

Keeping our right to bear armsLegislation that seeks to protect the anonymity of citizens related to firearm ownership is moving through the House committee system.

Similar to the protections guaranteed by HIPPA, the Firearm Information Privacy Protection Act (FIPPA), will protect Tennesseans who are exercising their right to own and purchase firearms.

This legislation will create a Class A misdemeanor for any public personnel that intentionally discloses information about an owner of a firearm, for the purpose of compiling a federal firearms registry or confiscation of firearms. The bill will create a cause of action for a gun owner to pursue civil action against an individual that releases information about gun ownership in order to facilitate any federal government effort to confiscate or register firearms.

House Bill 1171 is expected to be heard for consideration on the House chamber in the coming weeks.

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