113th General Assembly gavels in for 2023
Published 10:43 am Tuesday, January 17, 2023
BY REP. JOHN HOLSCLAW
The 113th Tennessee General Assembly kicked off the 2023 legislative session in Nashville this week as Republicans gear up to focus their efforts on continuing to improve public safety, education, the economy and infrastructure across the state.
State lawmakers were officially sworn in during the first legislative day on Tuesday, Jan. 10. The House GOP gained two overall seats in a historic election last year to secure a 75-24 supermajority in Tennessee.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and Speaker Pro Tempore Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, were also both reelected to their leadership positions by House members Tuesday. On Thursday, Speaker Sexton reappointed State Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, as deputy speaker.
“My wish for us is that at the end of the day, we can come together, and even during the toughest challenges, we will all work for the betterment of Tennessee and its citizens,” Speaker Sexton told lawmakers following the vote. “We will only be limited by what we are unwilling to do. This place, this chamber, our General Assembly, is much bigger than any of us. This is the people’s house… and today it is our turn to answer our call.”
Passing a spending plan that addresses the needs of every Tennessean during the upcoming year will once again be a top priority this session. Republicans will also look to address a variety of issues in the coming weeks including furthering efforts to ensure students across the state receive the world-class education they deserve. Other key issues will include addressing critical infrastructure needs and traffic congestion in both rural and urban areas of the state, as well as making the adoption process more efficient and less expensive for families.
The House Republican Caucus in November held its biennial organizational meeting to elect members to leadership positions. Members voted unanimously to reelect for a third term State Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, as majority leader, State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, as caucus chairman, and State Rep. Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, as majority whip. State Rep. Mark Cochran, R-Englewood, was elected to his first term as assistant majority leader.
Others elected to caucus leadership positions include State Rep. Paul Sherrell, R-Sparta, as floor leader; State Rep. Scotty Campbell, R-Mountain City, as caucus vice chair; State Rep. Michele Carringer, R-Knoxville as secretary; State Rep. Rebecca Alexander, R-Jonesborough, as treasurer. Freshman State Rep. Jody Barrett, R-Dickson, was also elected assistant floor leader.
On Thursday, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, announced House committee and subcommittee assignments for the 113th General Assembly. Among the committee and subcommittee chairs from Northeast Tennessee are: State Rep. Bud Hulsey, Kingsport, Criminal Justice Committee; Rep. Gary Hicks, Rogersville, Finance, Ways, and Means Subcommittee; Rep. David Hawk, Greeneville, Health Subcommittee; Rep. John Crawford, Bristol-Kingsport, Local Government Committee; and Rep. John Holsclaw, Departments and Agencies Subcommittee.
TREASURER AND COMPTROLLER
The opening week of the 113th General Assembly was also marked by re-elections of the Tennessee Treasurer and Comptroller, two of the state’s three constitutional officers. In a joint session of the legislature, Treasurer David Lillard and Comptroller Jason Mumpower were unanimously reelected to their positions. The comptroller audits the state agencies and county governments to ensure they run well, while the treasurer keeps track of the state’s coffers, investments and pension funds. The third constitutional office, the Secretary of State, is elected every four years.
GENDER NOTIFICATION LAW
House Republican leaders have introduced legislation that would provide the nation’s strongest protections against the removal of a child’s healthy body parts.
House Bill 1, also known as the Protecting Children from Gender Mutilation Act, would ban medical interference that alters a child’s hormonal balance and procedures that remove their organs to enable the minor to identify as a gender different from their biological sex. It creates a private right of action allowing a minor injured due to a violation of the law to sue for damages. The legislation also allows courts to impose an additional $25,000 penalty for each violation.
“Interfering or destroying the healthy, normal reproductive organs of a child for the purpose of altering their appearance is profoundly unethical and morally wrong,” said bill sponsor Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland. “Tennesseans across our state have demanded an immediate call to action. Through the passage of House Bill 1/Senate Bill 1, Tennessee will protect vulnerable children who cannot give informed consent for adult decisions they aren’t ready for.”
The Protecting Children from Gender Mutilation Act would:
• Create a private right of action allowing a minor or the parent of a minor injured as a result of the violation to sue for damages
• Allow a child to bring a civil cause of action against a parent if a parent consented to the violation on the minor’s behalf
• Allow courts to impose a $25,000 penalty per violation
• Require the state attorney general to establish a process for reporting a violation of the law
• Allow the state attorney general to bring an action against a health care provider for knowingly violating the law within 20 years of the violation
• The bill makes exceptions for children born with chromosomal anomalies or congenital defects
Republican leaders committed to banning gender-disfiguring procedures for minors after troubling videos surfaced on social media in September. Reports from the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh showed a local medical provider promoting so-called ‘gender-affirming care’ as a “huge money maker.” The reports raised nationwide awareness and serious ethical concerns about procedures performed on minors at pediatric transgender
NEW DASHBOARD APP
• The Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives has unveiled an innovative tool that will enhance public transparency in the legislative process within the Tennessee House of Representatives.
The user-friendly TGA House Dashboard application will also give every Tennessean the same access to the legislative process as their elected officials. This resource will allow Tennesseans to view all House committee and floor calendars, legislation, and amendments — both those proposed, as well as those approved by the body — on all House legislative initiatives in a timely and straightforward manner.
“Tennesseans want transparency in our processes, and they deserve to know more about the legislation that we are proposing and attempting to pass in the House,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville. “This new Dashboard application will give Tennesseans the same access as their representative in real-time and make the legislative process the most transparent in Tennessee that it has ever been.”
To use the application, citizens simply need to visit: TGA Dashboard (tn.gov)
GOVERNOR’S TRANSPORTATION PLAN
Gov. Bill Lee has presented his administration’s strategic infrastructure plan to accommodate Tennessee’s record growth, address traffic congestion and meet transportation needs across rural and urban communities.
The Transportation Modernization Act of 2023, expected to be introduced in the coming weeks, will ensure the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) has the resources needed to solve the state’s current and future mobility challenges.
Proposed solutions include:
• Seeking the use of public-private partnerships to allow private investment in new urban roadway infrastructure, which will allow the state to reserve funds for more rural infrastructure priorities.
• The plan for public-private partnerships will include exploring Choice Lanes, which are additional, optional lanes funded in partnership with the private sector on urban Tennessee interstates to decrease congestion and increase economic impact across the state.
• Expanding the alternative delivery model to save taxpayer dollars and deliver road projects more quickly.
TDOT estimates $26 billion is needed to address both urban and rural congestion in Tennessee. Of that total, only $3.6 billion is already contemplated as part of the 2017 IMPROVE Act projects list. Of TDOT’s $1.2 billion for annual construction and maintenance, only $500 million per year is available for the construction of projects that would move the needle on congestion.
The addition of choice lanes in Texas resulted in a 60 percent to 70 percent reduction in traffic congestion along with a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in speed, according to TDOT. In Georgia, there was an increase of between 30 miles per hour and 50 miles per hour in existing general-purpose lanes along with a 10 percent increase in on-time bus performance.
SMALL GOV’T EFFICIENCY AT
Republicans have filed legislation that aims to ensure more effective local representation and the utmost efficiency for taxpayers in Tennessee.
House Bill 48, also known as the Small Government Efficiency Act, would reign in excessive government growth by lowering the maximum size of metropolitan and municipal legislative bodies in Tennessee to no more than 20 voting members.
“When government grows beyond a certain size, it hinders economic growth, taxes are inevitably raised and the standard of living for the average citizen is diminished,” said bill sponsor Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland. “Government functions best closer to the people. This legislation will strengthen local democracy and competency by improving the ability of local elected leaders to effectively represent their communities.”
Local government bodies exceeding 20 voting members would be required to dissolve and re-appropriate current districts using the latest federal U.S. Census data to ensure equal representation based on population.
CLASSROOM SUPPLIES BILL
Republicans have filed legislation that would give public school teachers more money to purchase supplies for their classrooms.
House Bill 7, introduced by State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, would increase the amount each local education agency and public charter school must pay K-12 teachers for the purchase of the supplies from $200 to $500 beginning with the 2023-24 school year.
The money must be used for instructional supplies and must be given to each teacher by Oct. 31 of each school year, according to the legislation. The funds cannot be used for basic building needs such as HVAC equipment, carpet, furniture or items or equipment for the teachers’ lounge.
Any funds not spent by the end of the school year must be pooled at the school level and used to purchase equipment that would benefit all teachers. However, the pooled funds cannot be used for basic building needs.
HOPE SCHOLARSHIP ELIGIBILITY
Republicans have introduced legislation that would allow students who earn their bachelor’s degree early to continue receiving the Tennessee HOPE scholarship while they pursue an advanced degree.
House Bill 27 would allow a student to continue receiving the scholarship if they continue to meet all eligibility and academic requirements, earned their first bachelor’s degree early while receiving the scholarship, and are admitted and enrolled in coursework in pursuit of a master’s degree, doctorate or other advanced degrees at an eligible postsecondary institution within three months of graduating.
The legislation would allow an eligible student to continue to receive the scholarship in the amount they received for the last semester before receiving their bachelor’s degree and for each semester they would have been eligible to receive the scholarship if they had not completed their program of study early.
A student would not be allowed to receive a HOPE scholarship if five years had passed from the date of their initial enrollment at a postsecondary institution unless an exception or other provision of law applied.
Last year, the General Assembly approved an $85 million increase in funding for the HOPE scholarship. With the increase, the scholarship award was raised from $3,500 to $4,500 per year for freshmen and sophomores at four-year institutions and from $4,500 to $5,700 for juniors and seniors. It also increased from $3,000 to $3,200 per year for students at two-year schools.
RETIREMENT SAVINGS BILL
Republicans have filed legislation that would provide a more convenient option for many private sector employees to open a retirement savings account in Tennessee.
House Bill 13, also known as the Tennessee Retirement Savings Plan Act, would require businesses with more than five employees to allow them the opportunity to contribute to a state-managed retirement plan through payroll deductions unless a qualifying retirement plan is already offered. Employee participation in the program would be voluntary and employer contributions to plans would not be required.
“Tennesseans can always choose to go to a local bank or financial planner to begin preparing for their retirement,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro. “But for those individuals who have not done so already, this legislation would hopefully encourage them to start saving money now by making it more convenient to do so.”
The retirement savings program would be developed, maintained and overseen by a seven-member board that would include the state treasurer or their designee as well as other members appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the house.
(Rep. John Holsclaw represents the Fourth House District which includes Carter County in the Tennessee House)