Information is provided by 70th District State Representative Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, who represents Giles County and part of Lincoln County in the State Legislature.
The 113th General Assembly has reconvened for its second legislative session. Republicans will continue focusing on making strategic investments in education and public safety while also strengthening the economy and cutting taxes.
Among the top priorities for 2024 will be to approve a spending plan that addresses needs of Tennesseans.
After nearly a decade of unprecedented economic growth, lawmakers will have to be even more conservative with their spending in 2024 as experts expect a $300 million budget shortfall.
The State Funding Board estimated revenue growth for the 2023 fiscal year at 7.7 percent, however, actual growth was closer to 5.39 percent.
Despite lagging revenue collections and record-high inflation, the Volunteer State remains in a strong overall financial position with its economy continuing to outperform the national average.
Tennessee has a long tradition as a well-managed state with an incredibly low tax burden for residents.
The General Assembly in 2023 invested $250 million into the state’s Rainy-Day Fund, bringing it to more than $2 billion in total.
This increases Tennessee’s financial stability and will benefit the state in the event of an economic downturn.
Supporting students and educators will continue to be a priority for the Republican supermajority.
Lawmakers have increased funding for K-12 education by $1.3 billion since fiscal year 2022-23, prioritized individual needs of students with passage of the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement Act and approved the largest pay increase for teachers in state history.
Members of the General Assembly will explore a proposal from Gov. Bill Lee to expand school choice statewide through the Education Freedom Scholarship Act. This legislation would give families more control over how their tax dollars are used for their child’s education.
Improving public safety and protecting communities from crime will be another key area of focus.
The General Assembly will consider measures to provide law enforcement with additional tools to keep criminals off the streets along with proposals to ensure offenders receive the appropriate sentences for their crimes.
Last year, lawmakers approved $232 million to enhance school safety in Tennessee and will continue seeking more ways to keep classrooms safe.
Republicans will also look for ways to provide additional mental health support for residents as well as improve access to health care in rural communities along with other legislative initiatives needs statewide.
Tennessee continues to thrive under conservative leadership, and House Republicans seek to build on that momentum in 2024.
Bill aims to close loophole for defendants found incompetent to stand trial
As part of an aggressive push to improve public safety, a Republican bill would close a legal loophole for defendants found incompetent to stand trial.
House Bill 1640, sponsored by Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, would require criminal defendants deemed incompetent to stand trial to be committed to an appropriate treatment facility. Current state law does not provide this requirement.
“This closes a loophole that puts the public’s safety at serious risk by allowing dangerous individuals back into society to languish and re-offend without receiving the appropriate mental health services and supervision they desperately need,” Lamberth said.
Legislation was introduced following the murder of Jillian Ludwig, an 18-year-old Belmont University freshman who was fatally shot while walking in a Nashville park on Nov. 7.
Her killer, Shaquille Taylor, was a repeat violent offender prosecuted in April 2023 for a separate crime of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
The case against Taylor was dismissed after three court-appointed physicians testified he was incompetent to stand trial and was released from custody.
“This loss is an incomprehensible, senseless tragedy that exposes a critical failure in our judicial and mental health care systems,” Lamberth said.
“I expect this legislation to close the wide gap in current law so that law-abiding citizens are protected from anything like this ever happening again in our state.”
Legislation would additionally require individuals deemed incompetent to stand trial 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.
Republicans seek to protect children from accessing pornography online
Protecting children is a top priority of Republicans, and one piece of legislation up for consideration would shield kids from the harmful effects of pornography.
House Bill 1614, sponsored by House Finance, Ways and Means Chair Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, seeks to restrict children from explicit adult content by requiring online media companies and operators to require age verification for access.
“Exposing children to pornography is a form of child sexual abuse and exploitation that can severely damage a child’s intellectual development and emotional well-being. It can lead to difficulty in forming and maintaining positive relationships,” Hazlewood said.
“This legislation will apply the same safeguards and restrictions to the online world that we already have in place in the physical world. The standard should be the same.”
Known as the Protect Tennessee Minors Act, the bill would require companies to match a photograph of an active user to a photograph on a valid form of identification issued in the United States.
The legislation would create a Class C felony for website owners and operators convicted of violating the law. The Tennessee Department of Homeland Security would be responsible for enforcing compliance with the law.
A national survey by Common Sense Media cited 73 percent of teen respondents aged 13-17 had watched pornography online. Fifty-four percent reported first watching pornography online before age 13.
The Tennessee General Assembly in 2017 joined with several states in recognizing pornography as a public health crisis in a joint resolution. This bill represents the next logical step in addressing this crisis and preventing harm, Hazlewood said.
A slate of bills is aimed at boosting mental health, school safety and support for victims.
“We remain vigilant in our continued efforts to improve public safety in every community across Tennessee,” Lamberth said.
“In pursuit of our commitment, these proposals provide meaningful resources and effective tools to keep our most vulnerable and law-abiding citizens safe in critical times when it is needed most.”
Bills filed this week include:
Violation of bond conditions: House Bill 1641 would make it a Class A misdemeanor for an individual who is out on bond to violate the conditions of their release.
This change would allow law enforcement to arrest an individual who is suspected of violating the conditions of their release instead of having to wait for the district attorney’s office to file a motion and schedule a court hearing which could take weeks.
Bail: House Bill 1642 prioritizes the safety of communities when pretrial decisions and bail determinations are made for a defendant. Other factors, such as the likelihood of appearing for their court date, would still be considered.
Mental health evaluations for misdemeanors: House Bill 1643 requires a mental health evaluation and treatment for any defendant charged with a misdemeanor who is believed to be incompetent to stand trial or if there is a question about their mental capacity at the time of the offense.
School safety: House Bill 1644 requires all public and private Tennessee schools to modernize communications dealing with fire alarms.
The bill requires schools to develop a safety response plan when an unscheduled fire alarm is activated.
The goal is to help school personnel more quickly determine whether an emergency is a fire, inclement weather, or an active shooter situation.
Lifetime orders of protection: House Bill 1645 further strengthens existing legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2021 that allowed victims of violent crime to petition a court for a lifetime order of protection.
House Bill 1645 extends lifetime protection for victims of aggravated stalking. The law prohibits convicted offenders from communicating with their victims for life.
Legislation aims to ease cost of parenthood
A bill filed earlier this month would ease the cost of parenthood and allow families to keep more money in their pockets through a year-long tax holiday on certain baby products.
House Bill 1637, sponsored by State Rep. Greg Martin, R-Hixson, would make the retail sale of diapers, infant formula and baby wipes tax-free from July 1 to June 30, 2025.
“I know how expensive diapers and other products can be,” Martin said. “This legislation will ease the financial burden on parents and allow them devote more money to their children. We must do all we can to assist new parents, and keeping more of their hard-earned money is a good start.”
According to the U.S. Surgeon General, formula can cost a family more than $1,200 in the first year of life.
Diapers can cost an average of nearly $1,000 a year, and in 2023, 47 percent of families reported being unable to afford an adequate supply for the required number of changes, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.
“Supporting families however we can is essential to Tennessee’s success,” Martin added. “I’m committed to making our state the best place to raise a family and this tax holiday will help achieve that goal."