House Republicans make Covid relief tax deductible for business
Tennessee businesses will be eligible to receive more pandemic assistance through a bill that will exempt relief funds from state taxes.
Republican leaders on 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.
Covid 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 the return to take the deduction for eligible relief payments received in 2020. The companion bill awaits passage in the Senate Chamber.
Legislation prevents vaccine passports in Tennessee
Legislation 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 Covid-19 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.
House Republicans ensure wine is sold safely in Tennessee
House Republican leaders 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, House Bill 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.
Republicans expand telehealth options for behavioral services
House Republicans this 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 HIPPA-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.
Major criminal justice reform bills advance through House
Two major criminal justice reform bills advanced through House committees this week in Nashville. 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 percent 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 standardize parole revocation practices for technical violations. Approximately 40 percent of prisoners rearrested land back in prison because they violated their parole on technical violations and not for new crimes. House Bill 784 is scheduled for consideration in the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee on April 13.
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.
House Bill 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 percent of the felony population are returning to their communities without oversight.
The mandatory supervision does not create parole eligibility for those who are not eligible, including those convicted to life without parole or to the death penalty.
The legislation establishes a presumption of parole release at a person’s release eligibility date or upon a subsequent parole hearing, unless good cause is shown. Eligible inmates are those who are serving a nonviolent felony offense or a sentence for a Class E or Class D felony offense. The inmate must have no disciplinary record, be designated low risk for community supervision and must have completed or be enrolled in recommended programing to help ensure successful reentry into society. When the Tennessee Board of Parole declines parole, the time period for the next hearing would be set at six years, instead of 10 as provided under current law, unless an inmate is serving a sentence for multiple first-degree murder or facilitation of first-degree murder.
The bill also establishes a jail reimbursement program for local jails that house state offenders.
Other key provisions in the bill include:
• waiving 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
• granting limited employer liability to businesses who hire a parolee convicted of a non-violent criminal offense
House Bill 785 is scheduled for consideration in the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee on April 13.
General Assembly passes bill to curb catalytic converter thefts
The General Assembly this week unanimously passed legislation that aims to curb thefts of catalytic converters in Tennessee. In partnership with local and state law enforcement agencies, House Bill 1155 targets those who steal catalytic converters from cars. The bill requires any entity engaged in buying these unattached parts to notify law enforcement of these purchases. This will support the creation of a registry which will help suppress criminal activity in Tennessee. House Bill 1155 heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.
Firearm Information Privacy Protection Act advances
Legislation 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 the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), House Bill 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 in order to facilitate any federal government effort to confiscate or register firearms.
The Firearm Information Privacy Protection Act will act as 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.
House Bill 1171 is expected to be heard for consideration on the House chamber in the coming weeks.
Republicans advance the Unborn Child Dignity Act
Republicans this week advanced legislation that advocates for the dignity of the unborn through proper burial or cremation. House Bill 1181 requires the same protections, respect and dignity to a deceased surgically aborted child as granted to any other deceased human being. It would be the responsibility of the mother of the aborted child or the abortion facility to provide at their expense a burial or cremation. This legislation does not limit or restrict an abortion or access to an abortion. It only attempts to guarantee an acceptable level of respect for an aborted child. A violation of this law would be a Class A misdemeanor. House Bill 1181 is expected to be heard for consideration in the House Government Operations Committee on April 12.
Textbook Transparency Act requires educational materials to be published online
House Republicans are continuing to advance legislation that increases transparency in public school educational material.
House Bill 1513 creates the Textbook Transparency Act, which makes available online textbooks that are adopted by the state of Tennessee and used by public schools. Compared to the 90-day timeframe textbooks are currently required to be available to the public, this bill requires publishers to make these materials available so long as they are actively being used in the classroom.
The Textbook Transparency Act ensures that all textbooks that are in the hands of Tennessee students are accessible to the public to view.
House Bill 1513 will be heard in the House chamber on Wednesday, April 14.
House of Representatives honor Dolly Parton
The House of Representatives honored beloved Tennessean and cultural icon Dolly Parton with two pieces of legislation this week.
House Bill 938 adopts “Amazing Grace” as sung by Dolly Parton as an official state song. If passed by the Senate, Parton’s rendition of the hymn will join songs like “My Homeland, Tennessee,” “Rocky Top,” and “Tennessee Waltz” on the list of Tennessee’s official state songs.
House Joint Resolution 358 recognizes Dolly Parton for her devoted and compassionate service to her fellow Tennesseans and millions around the world through her cultural contributions and philanthropy. The resolution celebrates her dedication to promoting children’s literacy and education worldwide through the Imagination Library, a program that provides new, age-appropriate books monthly to preschool children from birth to their 5th birthday. The program has gifted more than 152 million books to young readers throughout the world.
Tennesseans urged to register as organ donors
The House of Representatives passed a resolution this week urging Tennesseans to register as organ and tissue donors.
House Joint Resolution 103 encourages all residents of Tennessee to step forward and register to become an organ and tissue donor so that the lives of others can be saved. 110,000 Americans are currently on the organ donation waiting list, while only 41 percent of Tennesseans are registered to become donors.