Gov. Lee unveils 2023 legislative vision in State of State address

Published 12:02 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2023

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Gov. Bill Lee last Monday addressed a joint session of the General Assembly in the House Chamber in which he outlined his legislative priorities for 2023 and presented a $55.6 billion budget proposal for the coming year. The governor’s fifth state of the state highlighted strategic investments in transportation, educational and economic opportunities, tax relief, supporting families and children, and protecting natural resources.
“Tennessee is leading the nation as a guiding light for opportunity, security and freedom,” said Lee. “I’m proud to propose a budget and strategic policies that ensure our state continues to be a shining example for educational opportunity, strong families, innovation and economic prosperity.”
The governor highlighted his strong commitment to modernize transportation and infrastructure across the Volunteer State. He proposed a $3.3 billion investment that aims to alleviate urban traffic congestion and improve rural roads. Among other initiatives, Lee announced a three-month-long tax break on groceries, along with teacher pay increases, major investments in technical colleges and workforce development.
In the coming weeks, members of the General Assembly will review Gov. Lee’s budget proposal and make their own budget recommendations.
Transportation Modernization Act
Legislation that modernizes Tennessee’s infrastructure and addresses critical transportation statewide needs advanced in the General Assembly this week.
Gov. Bill Lee in his State of the State address on Feb. 6 announced a $3.3 billion strategic investment to alleviate urban congestion and fund rural road projects across the Volunteer State.
Transportation chairs State Rep. Dan Howell, R-Ocoee, and State Sen. Becky Massey, R-Knoxville, will guide passage of the Transportation Modernization Act, House Bill 321 / Senate Bill 273, through their respective chambers this session. The plan does not raise fuel tax which currently sits at 26 cents per gallon for gasoline and 27 cents per gallon for diesel.
“We are making a generational investment with this plan that will create new opportunities for Tennesseans,” Howell said. “In partnership with Gov. Lee and TDOT, we will provide greater mobility for our citizens and our businesses, further strengthening our economy and continuing our tradition of good fiscal governance — all without raising taxes.”
The full House Transportation Committee is expected to consider the bill on Feb. 14. The companion bill is expected to begin moving through the Senate in the coming weeks.
Transportation Modernization ACT highlights
– $3B to the Transportation Modernization Fund to alleviate urban congestion and fund rural road projects
– $750M allocated to each of TN’s four TDOT regions
– $300M to expand the State Aid Program for local road projects
– Proposing new comprehensive legislation centering on Alternative Delivery Models, Public-Private Partnerships, Electric/Hybrid Vehicle Fees
TVA discusses winter storm response
Members of the House Business and Utilities Subcommittee were briefed last week about the issues the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) faced during Winter Storm Elliott in December.
Officials with the public power company testified that heavy rains coupled with sudden temperature decreases, high winds and flash freezing on Dec. 23 and Dec. 24 impacted equipment at TVA-owned and contracted facilities, knocking them offline. As a result, local power companies across the state were forced to implement rolling blackouts to help reduce system-wide power consumption.
“The issues that we saw were predominately in our coal and gas fleet,” TVA Vice President of Coal Operations Kris Edmondson told members of the subcommittee Tuesday. “Although we spent a lot of effort trying to make sure that we were as ready as possible, some of the systems that we had in place were just not enough to withstand those conditions that we faced.”
The majority of failures TVA experienced during the winter storm were due to outdoor critical instrumentation freezing. The most impacted units were located at the Cumberland Fossil Plant in Stewart County, which is the largest power-generating asset in the company’s coal fleet.
According to TVA, the company supplied more power to customers on Dec. 23 than at any other time in its nearly 90-year history. It also marked the first time TVA had to direct local power companies to perform targeted blackouts due to the extreme demand.
“In a matter of about nine hours we lost somewhere over 7,000 megawatts of internal capacity and ended up needing to escalate through our emergency procedures rather rapidly,” said Greg Henrich, vice president of transmission operations and power supply for TVA.
As TVA lost power generation capabilities, the company was able to import power from neighboring utilities to help meet increasing demand. However, Henrich said that those providers later retracted their sales to TVA as the winter storm moved further east and that electricity was needed to serve their own customers. TVA did not export any of its own power during the event.
On two occasions during a 24-hour period, TVA directed local power companies to reduce power consumption across the network through the implementation of rolling blackouts. The specific areas that were affected by the outages were determined by each individual local power company.
TVA officials testified Tuesday that the company is in the process of conducting a comprehensive after-action review of what happened during Winter Storm Elliott. The review will also include what actions can be taken to help prevent potential failures in the future. More than 250 issues have already been addressed.
“We feel very confident that we have hardened the areas that we failed,” Edmondson said. “It’s hard to guarantee 100 percent because when you are dealing with a storm you just don’t know what all you’re going to face, but we feel like we have certainly taken action on every item that caused us issues before.”
TVA assets in Tennessee include: 19 hydroelectric dams, 13 non-power dams, 4 coal-fired plants, 2 nuclear plants, 7 natural gas-fueled facilities, 1 pumped-storage hydroelectric plant.
Police hiring standards
Legislation that would strengthen the certification process for police officers in Tennessee advanced out of the House State Government Subcommittee on Tuesday.
House Bill 313 would require the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission to first evaluate the qualifications of a person certified as a law enforcement officer in another state by reviewing their training, practical experience in law enforcement and education before issuing a certificate of compliance. The legislation would also prohibit the commission from certifying anyone who has been decertified in another state due to criminal or other misconduct.
“This is not reducing the standards for officers because it will consider the officer’s experience and education in addition to just the officer’s basic training,” said bill co-sponsor State Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore.
The POST Commission is responsible for developing and enforcing standards and training for all local police officers. State law currently allows the commission to certify a person who has received training in another state if it is determined that such training is at least equivalent to that required by the commission for approved police education and training programs in Tennessee. The officer must have satisfactorily complied with all other requirements under present law. House Bill 313 is scheduled to be head in the State Government Committee on Feb. 15.
Catalytic converter thefts
Republicans have filed legislation that would increase the punishment for catalytic converter thefts in Tennessee.
House Bill 484 would make the theft or possession of a stolen catalytic converter a Class E Felony punishable by up to six years in prison. The current penalty is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by only a fine.
“Communities across Tennessee have increasingly been targeted by catalytic converter thieves in recent years,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon. “By increasing the punishment for this costly crime, would-be criminals should think twice before attempting to steal these devices in our state.”
Catalytic converters are used to reduce toxic gases and pollutants that are created by a vehicle’s internal combustion engine. They also contain valuable precious metals which have made them increasingly a target for criminals in recent years.
More than 52,000 catalytic converter theft claims were filed in the U.S. during 2021 – a 1,215 percent increase when compared to 2019, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Tennessee implemented additional consumer protections in 2021 to help deter the rising theft and resale of catalytic converters statewide. Violations of the law can result in a Class A misdemeanor. The seller of a detached or stolen catalytic converter is also liable to the victim for the repair and replacement of the device.
Pregnancy centers honored
The Tennessee House of Representatives on Thursday honored pregnancy centers across the state for the life-changing services they provide.
House Joint Resolution 133, sponsored by State Rep. Debra Moody, R-Covington, recognized the centers for their efforts to improve the lives of women, men and children in Tennessee by providing free access to various medical and material services.
“They accept whoever comes in their door and they speak candidly with them,” Moody said Thursday. “Whatever their decision is, these centers don’t turn them away when they come back seeking other help. They are doing great work. This [resolution] is honoring the work that they do to help women be informed and then to make their own choice.”
Pregnancy centers provide thousands of pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, sexual risk screenings, parenting classes, mentoring sessions, baby showers and sexual risk avoidance courses annually in Tennessee. They have also assisted parents in choosing life for their children in addition to offering post-abortive care, counseling and resources to those in need.
(Rep. Holsclaw represents Carter County in the Tennessee Legislature)

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