April 27, 2015

Mark Norris

“As the dust settles, Tennesseans will see that we focused on employment, education and economic development. This budget, and the legislation supporting it, represents a strong return on the taxpayers’ investment.”

-Mark Norris

Lawmakers Adjourn 2015 Legislative Session

The 2015 session of the 109th General Assembly has adjourned to become a part of Tennessee history with some of the most important bills of the year being approved during the final week of legislative action. This includes legislation repealing Common Core, a bill to implement an online verification program for uninsured motorists, a measure to give more senior citizens Hall Income Tax relief and an act dealing with Transportation Network Company (TNC) services.

Senate Approves Legislation Implementing an Online Verification Program for Uninsured Motorists

A major bill establishing an online verification program to help ensure compliance with Tennessee’s Financial Responsibility Law was approved by the Senate on Tuesday. Senate Bill 648, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), aims to reduce the state’s uninsured motorist rate, which is currently at 23-24 percent.

There are approximately 40,000 crashes a year that involve uninsured motorists.

Tennessee law requires drivers to have a driver’s license, vehicle registration and insurance; however, there is no verification system to track the insurance requirement. The bill requires that a notice procedure be provided to any driver found to be uninsured, allowing them 15 days to provide proof of insurance or exemption. If there is no response, the owner will be sent a second notice stating that they have 30 days to provide proof of insurance. Failure to comply will result in a $25 coverage failure fee on the first notification and a $100 fee on the second. The bill also increases the fine for failure to provide proof of insurance from $100 to $300, and if a driver fails to provide proof of insurance to an officer, the officer may tow the vehicle as long as the officer’s agency has adopted a policy for such procedure.

Forty-six other states have similar auto liability verification systems.

“I am very pleased this bill has passed in Tennessee. It will make our streets safer and will hopefully save lives as well,” Ketron said.

More Senior Citizens Can Qualify for Hall Income Tax Relief Under Legislation Approved by the General Assembly

The Senate has approved legislation, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), which raises the Hall Income Tax exemption level for citizens over the age of 55 to allow more senior citizens to qualify tax relief. The Hall Income Tax levies six percent on earnings from stocks and bonds, with 3/8 of the revenue going to cities and counties.

The legislature voted to raise the level which allows more senior citizens to be exempt in 2011 and 2013, with current income exemption levels at $33,000 per individual and $59,000 per couple. Under Senate Bill 32, the annual Hall Income Tax standard income exemption for taxpayers 65 years of age or older would be $37,000 for single filers and $68,000 for joint filer taxpayers beginning in January 2016.

Of the individuals who pay the tax, Overbey said almost half are age 65 and older.

The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

The adjournment resolution for the 2015 session of the One Hundred Ninth General Assembly

The adjournment resolution for the 2015 session of the One Hundred Ninth General Assembly

Lawmakers Approve Transportation Network Company Services Act

Legislation which establishes requirements governing application-based Transportation Network Companies (TNC) was approved by the General Assembly on the closing day of the 2015 legislative session. Senate Bill 907, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson), provides statewide rules for TNC ride-hauling services, like those offered by Uber and Lyft.

“Once this bill is enacted, TNCs will be able to continue safely and responsibly to grow jobs and improve accessibility to affordable and reliable transportation to millions of Tennesseans who are using this tool to change the face of commerce and change the face of the marketplace,” said Watson.

The legislation establishes end-to-end insurance coverage for the transportation networks and their drivers with $1 million liability coverage while a pre-arranged ride is occurring. This is ten times what is required under the current taxi system. It also requires a zero tolerance policy for the use of drugs and alcohol and mandates comprehensive background checks on all drivers.

“At the end of the day, the number one requirement that we have is the health and safety of our citizens,” Watson continued. “This legislation ensures transparency and safety requirements that protect both the riders and the drivers and requires the TNCs to fully comply in any law enforcement investigation.”

The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

General Assembly Passes the Individualized Education Act for Students with Special Needs

In last week action, the Senate and House of Representatives passed the Individualized Education Act giving new hope to special needs students across the Volunteer State, one in three of whom currently do not graduate from high school. Senate Bill 27, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), will provide pathways to customized education for students with special needs, giving parents the flexibility to direct their child’s funding to the schools, courses, programs and services that best fit the learning needs of their child through an Individualized Education Account (IEA).

Gresham said the bill is designed to help children with the most severe disabilities whose current school situation is not meeting their needs. In order to be eligible to participate in an IEA, a student must have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) which is a document which maps out how a school will meet the needs of students receiving special education services as required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). The bill would only apply to students with autism, deafness or other hearing impairments, intellectual disabilities, orthopedic impairments, traumatic brain injuries, and blindness or other visual impairments.

The Individualized Education Act provides for the Department of Education to deduct up to four percent from IEA funds to cover the costs of administering the program. Both the state and local school districts are projected to save money under the program. The Individualized Education Act also:

  • Requires the Department to ensure funds are used only for educational purposes;
  • Provides parents with a written explanation of the allowable uses of the money and their responsibilities;
  • Provides for random, quarterly and annual audits;
  • Sets up fraud reporting; and
  • Has the ability to suspend or terminate any school or provider that fails to comply.

The State Board of Education will consult with the Department of Education to promulgate rules for the application and approval process for non-public school and providers to participate in the program. The bill requires participating student to partake in annual testing with results to be reported. The legislation now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, Governor Bill Haslam, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris at the annual end of session press conference.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, Governor Bill Haslam, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris at the annual end of session press conference.

In Brief…

STEM Hubs — Legislation designed to amplify and accelerate regional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in Tennessee was approved by lawmakers during the closing week of the legislative session. Senate Bill 453, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), requires the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network to establish a STEM innovation hub that is dedicated to serving rural areas of Tennessee, including the northwest portion of the state. It also calls for making a curriculum available to all middle schools that educate students on the variety and benefits of STEM careers. “These programs prime the pump with the talent we need in Tennessee’s 21st Century workforce,” said Norris.

Electronic Driver’s Licenses — The full Senate approved and sent to the governor legislation which allows the Department of Safety and Homeland Security to develop an electronic driver’s license system. The system would allow citizens to use a mobile application, instead of a physical driver’s license, to present evidence of a valid Tennessee driver’s license. Under Senate Bill 651, sponsored by Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), citizens would not be required to use the electronic driver’s license; rather, they would have to have the choice of an electronic, physical or both forms. The states of Iowa, Delaware and Arizona are also moving forward with similar legislation.

HOPE Scholarships / Military Children – Legislation was approved this week that specifies that dependent children of members of the Armed Forces and the Tennessee National Guard whose home of record is Tennessee must qualify as in-state students for purposes of the HOPE Scholarship. Senate Bill 461 closes a loophole so that children who move due to their parent’s deployment or reassignment would not be penalized and charged out-of-state tuition in Tennessee’s colleges and universities. The bill is sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville).

Civics Education — Legislation which would promote civics education in Tennessee has passed the General Assembly. Senate Bill 10 would make components of the test administered by the United State Citizenship and Immigration Services to those seeking citizenship one of the tools used in assessing student progress under Tennessee’s civics education program. The legislation calls on local education agencies to utilize 25 to 50 of the 100 questions posed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the citizenship test. The test, which would be administered during high school, may be taken by the student multiple times until he or she scores the 70 percent minimum required for graduation. Students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) would be exempt from the requirement under certain circumstances as provided by the bill. Students will continue to receive the project-based civics assessments provided under a 2012 law. The bill is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).

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