The first year of the 106th General Assembly wrapped up this past week as both the House and Senate adjourned for the summer. Closing the session was delayed largely due to the contentious negotiations surrounding the state’s budget. Under state law, the legislature and governor must pass a balanced budget that does not break the “Copeland Cap.” The Copeland Cap was a provision to the Constitution that says that state spending cannot increase at a higher rate than the increase in personal income. Such a provision was added to force government to live within its means, especially during hard economic times.
Ultimately, the final version of the budget did not meet these requirements and consisted of even more initial spending than last year, said State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet. Some of the funds were federal grants and stimulus money, yet the final version of the budget fell short of the fiscal responsibility desperately needed during an economic recession, she noted.
“We cannot continue to operate like the federal government in terms of our budgets,” Beavers said. “This Governor has driven this state from massive surplus to huge deficits while in office, and I don’t think that modeling our state’s spending after irresponsible federal spending is a good policy.”
Beavers said Senate Republicans were able to improve the budget, adding an additional $55 million of future cuts to be made at the discretion of the Governor if optimistic revenue projections are not made.
Nevertheless, Beavers noted she was the only Senator to vote against the budget, calling it way too “political” in nature and with far too much spending during hard economic times. She joined 11 House Representatives in voting against the bill, including Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, despite the fact that other Senators and Representatives chose to vote against breaking the Copeland Cap but not against the budget that actually broke the cap.
General Assembly passes legislation strengthening Crooks with Guns law
The final day of the legislative session also included approval of legislation cracking down on violent crime in Tennessee that builds on the “Crooks with Guns Law” passed during the last General Assembly. The bill, SB 672, adds attempted first degree murder to the Crooks with Guns Law. Sixty-seven percent of those convicted of violent crimes are re-arrested within three years of being released from prison. The recidivism rate increases to 80 percent when you move past that three-year marker.
The original “Crooks with Guns” legislation made it an additional offense to be armed with a firearm when committing a list of dangerous felonies like aggravated and especially aggravated kidnapping, burglary, stalking, carjacking, voluntary manslaughter and certain drug crimes.
The bill would add a minimum of three years to the sentence of a violator who possesses a firearm during the commission of attempted first-degree murder, to be served after the underlying offense. If a violator possesses a firearm during the commission of the attempted first-degree murder and has a prior felony conviction, then a mandatory minimum of five years would be added to the sentence. In addition, if a violator possesses a firearm during the commission or an attempt to commit a dangerous felony or attempting to escape, then a mandatory minimum of six years is added to the sentence to be served after the underlying offense. A prior felony conviction from this would add 10 years onto the sentence.
Bills in Brief
Small business investment – Legislation to establish “The Tennessee Small Business Investment Company Credit Act (TSBIA)” was approved during the final hours of the 2009 legislative session. The bill is an effort to provide benefits to small, medium-sized and start-up businesses that do not enjoy the same economic development incentives that have been provided to the larger companies that invest capital in Tennessee. The proposal, SB 1203, would channel $120 million to local businesses for expansion and working capital to increase jobs immediately. Insurance companies have large pools of untapped capital. The TSBIA is a mechanism to entice these companies to invest that capital in Tennessee small businesses.
Silver Alert System – Legislation creating a “Silver Alert System” that would work like the “Amber Alert System” to help locate missing individuals who have Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias was approved by the General Assembly and sent to the governor for his signature. The bill, SB 532, calls for local law enforcement agencies to coordinate with non-profit organizations such as “A Child is Missing” or the “Alzheimer’s Association” to aid in their efforts to put the program in place. The Silver Alert would be triggered if that missing person is believed to be in danger because of environmental or weather conditions or is thought to be unable to return to safety without assistance.