The House and Senate of the 112th General Assembly on Thursday successfully approved a no-debt, $42.6 billion budget that provides strategic investments in education, health care, public safety and economic development initiatives.

As a result of careful spending decisions and governing by conservative principles, Republicans were able to return to many pre-pandemic priorities with the 2021-22 fiscal year budget. The spending plan makes key investments that strengthen Tennessee’s standing as the most fiscally responsible state in America. The 2021-22 fiscal year budget invests $100 million into the Rainy Day fund, bringing our state’s savings account to $1.55 billion. Republicans have ensured the state honors its commitment to state employees and teachers by setting aside $250 million through the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System. Tennessee remains on solid financial ground as one of the indebted states in the nation with a AAA bond-rated state rating.

The budget provides $730 million in new spending for education, including the spending from the special session. This includes more than $480 million on K-12 education and more than $240 million on higher education.

The Basic Education Plan (BEP) will be fully funded at approximately $62 million. Tennessee educators will receive $120 million to provide a pay increase in addition to $43 million allocated for teacher salary increases during January’s special session. The budget includes $79 million to address the growing needs of Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology campuses. The new budget funds $250 million for a Mental Health Trust Fund to provide mental health assistance and support for K-12 students.

Additionally, the budget cuts more than $50 million for a sales tax holiday on grocery sales and prepared foods from July 30-Aug. 5.

Schools held harmless for BEP fundingThe General Assembly this week approved legislation that holds school districts in Tennessee harmless for their Basic Education Program (BEP) funds because of the effects on student attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic.

BEP funding is based on the average daily attendance of students. During the pandemic, school attendance has fluctuated greatly. HB 777 requires that a Local Education Agency’s (LEA) BEP funds for the 2021-22 school year may not be less than the LEA’s BEP calculation for the 2020-21 academic year. School districts may receive additional funds if their average daily attendance has increased.

This legislation extends hold harmless provisions adopted by the General Assembly in a special session on education in January.

Essential or nonessential?

Both chambers of the General Assembly passed legislation recognizing that every job in Tennessee is essential to the state’s economy. HB 37 protects Tennessee citizens and businesses from burdensome government restrictions.

HB 37 prohibits a local government body from classifying a category of workers as essential or nonessential.

Government should not be allowed to impose restrictions and inequities that threaten the livelihood of millions of Tennesseans. The bill recognizes all workers are essential and ensures government does not impede on any individual’s right to work or earn a living.

This legislation clarifies a local governmental entity may not create categories or classes of essential and nonessential businesses, trades, professions, or industries for the purpose of suspending lawful commerce, encumber trade, or denying citizens the right to work. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Letting student-athletes capitalize on name, image

Republicans this week passed legislation allowing college athletes to benefit financially from the use of their name, image and likeness. The bill passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support in both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly.

As amended, HB 1351 puts student-athletes first rather than the financial interests of schools by ensuring the right to earn compensation by a third party. This bill modernizes the college sports revenue model while protecting the integrity of higher education athletics programs.

The bill authorizes colleges and universities to prohibit student-athletes from accepting payment for activities reasonably considered in conflict with the institution’s values. Athletes may not profit or lend their name, image or likeness to promote gambling, tobacco, alcohol and adult entertainment.

The bill makes clear that scholarships awarded for athletics do not qualify as compensation for name, image, or likeness, nor does it provide an opportunity for “pay for play” by the institutions.

The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for approval. Once signed, HB 1351 will take effect on Jan. 1.

Ensuring election integrity

Both chambers of the General Assembly gave final approval this week to legislation that aims to uphold the integrity of elections in Tennessee by ensuring absentee ballots are not fraudulent.

HB 1276 requires all absentee ballots to include an easily discernible watermark approved by Tennessee’s Coordinator of Elections, except those officially authorized to be delivered electronically. The Tennessee Election Integrity Act, the legislation also requires absentee ballot counting boards of local county election commissions to reject any absentee ballot without the approved watermark to prevent election fraud. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Statewide Silver Alert program

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) will soon implement a statewide Silver Alert program in Tennessee after HB 119 unanimously passed in the General Assembly this week.

The Silver Alert program will benefit persons who are 60 of age or older, suffer from dementia, are 18 years of age or older with an intellectual, developmental, or physical disability when their whereabouts are unknown or they are believed to be in danger.

Currently in Tennessee, local police or sheriff departments are the gatekeepers for Silver Alert, left to make a judgment on when or if a Silver Alert is warranted. HB 119 moves this responsibility to the TBI, who will then be required to alert law enforcement agencies and designated media outlets across the state upon receiving notice of a missing citizen fitting the description above.

House protects legal firearm owners’ privacy

The House Republicans this week approved legislation that protects the privacy of citizens related to firearm ownership.

Similar to the protections guaranteed by the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), HB 1171, also known as 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 to facilitate any federal government effort to confiscate or register firearms.

The Firearm Information Privacy Protection Act will act as a buffer between Tennessee and the federal government’s unconstitutional and invasive attempts to prohibit citizens from protecting one’s life, liberty and family. House Republicans stand committed to protecting the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding Tennesseans.

HB 1171 is expected to be heard for consideration in the Senate chamber on May 4.

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