After a year of thumping the Bible, revealing details about vasectomies and rejecting Insure Tennessee, lawmakers hope to call it a year and wrap up their business this week.
When legislators come back this afternoon, 92 bills will be waiting for them on the House floor with more expected after a few last-minute committee meetings. That long calendar will likely take a few days to work through. The Senate is taking Monday off and will return Tuesday expecting no more than 40 bills next week.
Here’s are the highlights of what they have left to do, in alphabetical order:
- Abortion, 48-hour wait period: Requiring pregnant women to wait 48 hours before undergoing an abortion procedure and requiring physicians to explain the related risks needs the House’s sign-off before it can go to the governor. It is on the House’s long Monday calendar. The Senate passed Senate Bill 1222 last week on an easy 27-5 vote.
- Abortion, ambulatory surgical centers: Legislation that would likely result in the closure of four out of seven operating abortion centers in Tennessee is also awaiting a final House vote before it can move to the governor. The bill would require abortion facilities that perform more than 50 abortions a year to meet the requirements of an ambulatory surgical center. The Senate passed the bill without debate on a 28-4 vote last week. SB1280 is on the House calendar for Monday.
- ASD fee, empty seats: Will schools in the middle of a state-sponsored turnaround be able to enroll kids who live outside that school zone? That’s the question in one of two remaining bills regarding the Achievement School District, a state agency in charge or improving student performance at some of the state’s lowest-performing schools. The bill had a rough go of it in the House last week where lawmakers allowed the ASD to accept certain students outside the school zone and charge its schools an administrative fee of up to 3 percent. In one of the chamber’s closer votes, House Bill 473 passed 59-31. The Senate version is scheduled for a vote Tuesday.
- ASD takeovers. Schools flagged for low performance can escape state takeover if they improve test scores “above expectations,” according to a second ASD bill still floating through the legislature. The Senate voted 31-0 for SB758 last week. The House version is on Monday’s calendar.
- Common Core: After entering the hallways of Legislative Plaza promising to stick a pencil through the heart the politically unpopular education standards, lawmakers have slow-walked a compromise idea up to the Capitol. Instead of repealing Common Core, lawmakers want to add their own layer of scrutiny to the governor’s standards review by appointing a panel of people to examine the recommendations. The addition would take away the governor’s “unilateral control” over the outcome, lawmakers said. While the plan is generally agreed upon by the legislature and administration, some lawmakers are worried the bill doesn’t go far enough to fully erase Common Core. HB1035 is scheduled for a House floor vote on Monday and a Senate vote Tuesday.
- Hall tax: Lawmakers are still looking to whittle away at the state taxes on investments and dividends this year, though not as much as they’d like. Having done away with more far reaching bills this year, lawmakers have a smaller one that would raise exemptions for those paying the tax. SB32 is awaiting a Tuesday hearing in Finance Committees in both the House and Senate.
- Longevity Pay: The governor wants to change how state employees are rewarded for service, switching from a formula based on tenure to one measured by merit and job performance. Amid pushback from state employees, and lawmakers bombarded with emails and phone calls, the governor’s office has agreed to keep longevity pay for current executive branch state employees and shift to the full merit system for new recruits. HB647, passed the Senate 26-3 and is on the House calendar for Monday.
- Revenue Modernization Act: Legislators will have to decide whether to give final approval to a proposal from the governor’s office which modernizes the state’s tax code to ensure out-of-state businesses pay their share of taxes. It was an easy decision for the House which passed HB644 90-3 last week. The bill is on the Senate's Tuesday calendar.
- School vouchers: The long debate over whether the state should cover low-income students’ tuition at private and parochial schools is still unresolved. The measure, which has historically stalled in the House despite many successful years in the Senate, still needs approval from the lower chamber’s Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee (tentatively scheduled for Tuesday). If passed, it will then face the full Finance Committee before it reaching the House floor. Leadership, advocates and opponents alike predicted earlier this year vouchers would have a much easier time winning approval in the past, which makes this end-of-year slowdown concerning to fans of the bill. SB999 swept through the Senate 23-9 last month.
- Special Ed school vouchers: A bill that would allow students with special educational needs to use school vouchers is also waiting in the wings. The bill has yet to reach the House or Senate floor for a full vote. Like the original school voucher bill, HB138 needs to face a battery of House finance committees before it can reach the floor. The Senate version should be on the floor Tuesday.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers, including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, are working on bills that would increase the amount of money exempt from the so-called "Hall tax," reduce the number of senior citizens who have to pay the tax — or possibly even eliminate it over a period of several years.Lawmakers will have to find ways to pay for the revenue lost from the Hall tax, which will bring in an estimated $186 million this fiscal year. That could mean reductions to some areas of government or dedicating a portion of the state's rebounding sales tax revenues to cover the cost of a Hall tax cut. Reducing the Hall income tax would affect more than 127,000 taxpayers, a group that supporters say includes many retirees. Some lawmakers also argue that reducing or eliminating the tax would provide a long-term boost to the state economy by making Tennessee more attractive to retirees. "I do think that the Hall income tax, in particular, is something that sends the wrong message," Ramsey said. "We encourage people to save money, and then we turn around and tax them on that."
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