NASHVILLE — Tennessee lawmakers cut taxes, helped subsidize a new stadium for the Tennessee Titans, added a new level of scrutiny for school library content and imposed tougher restrictions on transgender athletes in a busy 2022 legislative session that wrapped up for the year Thursday.
Lawmakers have sent Republican Gov. Bill Lee plenty of bills to consider, though he has not vetoed anything as governor. He has already signed some this year. Others have become law without his signature.
Here are some key bills that the GOP-controlled General Assembly passed and spiked since January.
The $52.8 billion spending plan for 2022-23 includes a one-month sales tax holiday on groceries, a $750 million boost to K-12 schools and $100 million in violent crime reduction grants. It also features a $121 million break to waive the state portion of vehicle registration tag fees over the next year, $9.7 million to eliminate a professional privilege tax for doctors and $68 million for one-year broadband tax relief. Lawmakers balked at Lee’s proposal to add $200 million to relocate a handful of schools in flood plains, redirecting it to state reserves.
Lawmakers agreed to authorize $500 million bonds to help fund a new Tennessee Titans stadium, while allowing Nashville to raise its hotel-motel tax by 1%, which is expected to funnel $10 million more annually toward the stadium.
SCHOOL FUNDING FORMULA
Lee secured passage of his overhaul of the state formula for funding Tennessee’s multibillion-dollar K-12 education system. Tennessee would join nearly 40 other states that attach a set amount of money per student.
As a federal investigation hovers over the statehouse, lawmakers passed a campaign finance and ethics face-lift. Among the provisions, certain politically active nonprofits must disclose spending totaling at least $5,000 within 60 days of an election on communications that contain a state candidate’s name or likeness. Political committee leadership must provide identification. Candidates and officeholders must sign disclosures of financial interest under penalty of perjury. Campaign finance reporting requirements would increase in the 10 days before an election.
Lawmakers voted to add harsh penalties for doctors who violate strict regulations over dispensing abortion pills. An anti-abortion proposal nearly the same as a Texas law failed, as legislative leaders noted Tennessee already has strict laws.
TRUTH IN SENTENCING
A measure expected to lengthen criminal sentences and potentially increase incarceration costs is headed to Lee after his office and criminal justice advocates raised concerns. The “truth in sentencing” bill would require serving entire sentences for various felonies, which legislative leaders argue ensures justice for victims.
Lee approved new congressional and state legislative maps drawn by GOP lawmakers during their once-a-decade task of redrawing political seats. Left-leaning Nashville was carved into multiple congressional districts as Republicans seek to flip a longstanding Democratic seat.
CONGRESSIONAL RESIDENCY RULES
Amid redistricting, lawmakers passed residency requirements on most U.S. House and Senate candidates, seeking to nudge one or more Republican congressional hopefuls off the ballot. Lee let the bill become law without signing it after the candidate filing deadline, meaning the change won’t apply retroactively to qualified candidates. The Tennessee Republican Party has since removed a handful of candidates for not meeting other requirements.
More limits on COVID-19 safety measures passed this year. They include requiring employers to provide medical or religious exemptions if they require proof of a COVID-19 vaccine — already signed by Lee — and a ban preventing governments and businesses from having COVID-19 policies that treat people with immunity from getting sick differently from vaccinated people. Another bill allows pharmacists to prescribe ivermectin, though medical experts say the anti-parasitic is not an effective COVID-19 treatment.
Lee has already signed off on adding harsh penalties against public schools that allow transgender athletes to participate in girls sports. Lawmakers also voted to ban transgender athletes from participating in female college sports. However, lawmakers failed to pass a bill to let teachers and districts use the pronoun that a transgender student does not prefer by protecting teachers from employment punishment and schools from civil liability.
GOP criticisms of school libraries carried to the last day of session, when lawmakers moved to let the politically appointed state textbook commission remove books from public school libraries statewide. The panel would have veto power when people appeal decisions by local school boards in book removal challenges. Lee proposed, and has already signed, requirements that school libraries post their contents online and regularly review their policies to ensure materials are “age-appropriate” and “suitable.”
Lee signed lawmakers’ ban on instant runoff voting, ending the state’s legal disputes with the city of Memphis, where voters haven’t used the method since voting for it in 2008. Separately, lawmakers agreed to set a 2024 deadline to join the vast majority of states with voting systems that include a paper record of every ballot cast.
Lawmakers failed in efforts to ban or regulate delta-8 THC, a psychoactive chemical cousin of marijuana’s main intoxicating ingredient.
Lawmakers approved a bill that strictly limits the ability of local governments to stop oil and gas pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure projects in their jurisdictions.
Lawmakers approved legislation that threatens felony penalties against homeless people who camp overnight on local government property — including in parks — and misdemeanors for camping around highways any time.
Several notable gun measures failed this year, including funding for gun safety and a push to lower the minimum age for carrying a handgun from 21 to 18.
Gov. Lee proposed making a state holiday for Juneteenth, which celebrates the end of U.S. slavery, with funding for the state workforce day off. The majority-white Legislature quietly spiked the bill in a committee.
SHACKLING PREGNANT INMATES
Lawmakers agreed to a long-pushed Democratic proposal to strictly limit the shackling of pregnant inmates.
Lee has signed legislation allowing immigrants who came to the U.S. as young children to become licensed professionals. Those with federally authorized work permits could obtain professional and occupational licenses if they meet licensing requirements.
ANTI-LGBTQ MARRIAGE BILL
Tennessee attracted national attention when Republicans began pushing to create a new marriage contract designed to exclude same-sex couples. The bill was dropped amid constitutional concerns.
POLICE RESIDENCY REQUIREMENT
Lawmakers advanced legislation banning local officials from requiring police officers to live in the county they patrol. Lee has since signed it. Law enforcement officials have argued residency requirements hinder recruitment amid staffing shortages.
(This AP story is by Kimberlee Kruesi and Jonathan Mattise.)