Budget becomes central focus in final weeks of General Assembly

Published 12:53 pm Tuesday, April 2, 2024

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Members of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee this week were briefed by Finance and Administration Commissioner Jim Bryson on Gov. Bill Lee’s amended budget proposal for the 2024-25 fiscal year.

“We’ve been really managing our expenses to stay significantly under our revenues,” Bryson told members of the committee. “That is just good conservative management.

“Our challenge is to take care of problems this year and deal with things now and try to set ourselves up to have a… more normal (budget next year),” he added, highlighting the state’s stabilizing tax revenue collections following several years of dramatic growth.

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The budget amendment includes funding for several key pieces of legislation that aim to increase public safety in Tennessee.

House Bill 1640, also known as Jillian’s Law, would require criminal defendants deemed incompetent to stand trial to be committed to an appropriate treatment facility. The legislation, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, additionally requires those individuals to be entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which serves as a namecheck database of people prohibited from buying or owning firearms.

Another bill, House Bill 1643, directs $3.3 million for mental health evaluations and treatment for a defendant charged with a misdemeanor when there is a question about their mental capacity at the time of the offense.

“Mental health issues are the root cause of many crimes,” Lamberth said. “These measures provide a proven, practical approach to crime prevention by ensuring people who are a danger to society receive appropriate evaluation and treatment.”

The budget amendment also includes $85,000 to fund legislation filed by State Rep. Kirk Haston, R-Lobelville, that will indefinitely extend the requirement for school districts and public charter schools to provide every high school senior with the opportunity to take nationally recognized career readiness assessments.

Other investments include $10 million for the Nuclear Energy Fund to support the state’s nuclear development and manufacturing ecosystem; $6.5 million for a new dental training clinic in Kingsport; $6.4 million for the deployment of the Tennessee Army National Guard to support ongoing border security efforts; and $5 million for volunteer firefighter equipment grants.

The state’s Rainy Day Fund would also receive an additional $130 million investment, bringing its total to $2.2 billion. An approximately $400 million franchise tax cut to support Tennessee’s economy was previously included in the proposed budget.

Additionally, there would be $33 million for the General Assembly to use at its discretion to fund various other pieces of legislation and appropriations.

“This has been a tough year in a lot of ways…,” Bryson told lawmakers Tuesday. “We’ve kind of come to a screeching halt (with revenue collections), but because of the wise planning during the good years, we are in great shape this year to do all the things that we need to do in order to have ourselves in a good place for next year.”

The House Finance, Ways and Means Committee in the coming weeks will thoroughly study the details of Gov. Lee’s proposed $52.78 billion budget along with the new additions.

The Republican supermajority is committed to passing a fiscally conservative, balanced budget that includes strategic investments in key areas that meet the needs of all Tennesseans.


The House chamber paused on Thursday to remember the victims of the Covenant School shooting one year after the horrific tragedy that claimed six innocent lives. House Joint Resolution 1142 honors the memories of the three students and three adults who were killed – Evelyn Marie Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, William Kinney, Dr. Katherine Koonce, Cynthia Broyles Peak and Michael “Mike” Hill. The Metro Nashville Police Department, the Nashville Fire Department, and the Nashville Department of Emergency Communications 911 staff were also commended.

The Covenant tragedy turned a heavy spotlight on school safety in the Volunteer State. Since 2018, Republicans have invested more than $780 million to make Tennessee public schools safer.

Republicans in 2024 continue to build on the investments. Most notably, these measures build on investments made through the School Safety Act of 2023, which enacted a multi-tiered plan and provided a school resource officer for every public school.  The General Assembly also approved $30 million for safety grants for higher education institutions during the special session on safety in August 2023.


The Tennessee House of Representatives this week approved legislation that restores parental authority online by requiring social media companies to verify the ages of account holders.

The Protecting Children from Social Media Act requires parental consent before a minor creates an account on a social media platform. It also gives parents a high level of access to supervise their child’s online interactions as well as the ability to revoke consent if necessary. The legislation was filed by State Rep. Jake McCalmon, R-Franklin, in partnership with Gov. Bill Lee’s administration.

“(This bill) does not apply to commerce platforms such as Amazon, Ebay or online auctions,” McCalmon said Monday. “It is simply putting the choice in the hands of parents (to decide) whether or not they want their kids on social media.”

Social media use has a “profound risk of harm” on young people, according to an advisory warning from the U.S. Surgeon General last year. Similar legislation requiring age verification on social media sites has already been approved in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Utah.

The companion version of House Bill 1891 is still advancing through the Senate.

(John Holsclaw represents the Sixth District, which includes part of Carter County in the Tennessee House of Representatives.)