In a session influenced by the coronavirus, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a $39.5 billion budget and added to the state’s rainy day fund of financial reserves.
State Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, noted those accomplishments of the 111th General Assembly, 2020 General Session, which started in January, adjourned in March due to the virus before resuming later and adjourning in June.
Hensley also credited State Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, with his help and cooperation in passing legislation.
Even with all the distractions caused by the coronavirus and tornadoes in March, schools were not neglected, Hensley said,
“We fully funded the BEP (Basic Education Program),” he said of the funding formula used to allocate school funding state wide.
This is important for K-12 public school education, which is heavily funded by the state.
Besides the Basic Education Program (BEP) for K-12 schools, the pension plan for state employees and teachers also is funded. There is also enough money to service Tennessee’s debt to ensure the state is financially sound, Hensley said,
Also important was the addition to the rainy day fund.
“Tennessee actually is in better shape than a lot of other states,” he said.
Phasing out the Hall Income tax, which is considered a benefit for senior citizens, also is on schedule in the budget, he said,,
The Senate and House also agreed to add $15 million to extend the state’s $10 million sales tax holiday to two weekends to help stimulate sales for struggling businesses and give consumers relief, Hensley said,
The state has held annual sales tax holidays the past 15 years during the midnight Friday to midnight Sunday weekend slated for the last weekend in July. Current law applies the holiday sales tax exemption to clothing and school supplies for purchases of up to $100, while personal computers and tablets are capped at $1,500.
From July 31 through Aug. 2, the sales tax holiday exemption limits doubled to $200 for clothing and $3,000 for computers, tablets, and certain other electronics.
The sales tax holiday for the retail sale of food and drink by restaurants and limited service restaurants continues Aug. 7-9. Restaurant and clothing industries have been especially hard hit by the COVID-19 response.
Hensley is on the Senate Education, Joint Pensions and Insurance, Health and Welfare committees and Second Vice Chairman of the Finance, Ways and Means committees.
One bill on which Hensley and Doggett cooperated would regulate visits of a minor under age 12 who has been the victim of a sexual offense with the approval of a circuit judge who would determine if the minor would be harmed, according to information on the Tennessee General Assembly website.
Another bill that was passed would split the 21st Judicial District into a different one of Williamson County and put Hickman, Lewis and Perry counties into a new 32nd Judicial District.
“This is the first time in 30 years something has been done with the district,” Hensley said.
The action could affect indirectly the nearby 22nd Judicial District, which includes Giles, Maury, Lawrence and Wayne counties.
Other legislation co-sponsored by Hensley requires TennCare to reimburse an ambulance service provider that provides a covered service to a tenncare recipient at 67.5 percent, up from 50 percent, of the federal medicare program’s allowable charge for participating providers, according to information on Tennessee Legislative web site,
“Several bills were sponsored or co-sponsored but did not go anywhere because of all the attention given to dealing with the coronavirus,” Hensley said,