Legislative Update – March 2020

Tennessee General Assembly Recessed Until June 1st

The General Assembly recessed early on March 19th after passing what is being called a preliminary state budget. Originally, the Lieutenant Governor and House Speaker, in an effort to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19, began limiting access to the Cordell Hull Building, except for legislators, staff, and members of the media. It was also announced that both the House and Senate would take the extraordinary step of suspending all non-essential legislation and work toward passing an emergency budget.

Both the Senate and the House moved to recess until June 1st. It is the intent of the legislature to return then to finish the rest of the bills that were not addressed. Under normal circumstances, the General Assembly would adjourn sine die for the year, ending the 111th General Assembly. However, under these extraordinary circumstances, the legislature will simply recess which will allow them to return later. 

All legislation that was moving through the legislative process is essentially frozen in place. If the legislature returns, all bills will be picked up where they were left. If the legislature does not return, since it will be a new General Assembly following the elections in November, the “hopper” will be wiped clean and all legislation will be need to be re-filed. 

Of particular interest, the licensing bills had been already met their fate for the year and had been taken off notice. We expect to see some variation of most of them in 2021.

The historic tax credit bill that AIA and numerous allies have been working on was on the cusp of meaningful discussion in the Finance and Commerce committees in the House and Senate, respectively. The work our members accomplished in their districts and at Day on the Hill had yielded an impressive and growing list of cosponsors.

AIA Tennessee’s Government Relations committee will reconvene once the legislature returns. Committee, staff and lobbyist will continue to monitor all priority bills and legislation impacting architects and the built environment for when the legislature is back in session. 

“Critical Bills”

It was a short list of what the legislature deemed to be critical to the continuation of state government and included:

  • Those that impact tax collections and federal match funds that directly impact the budget
  • Holding local school districts harmless from a myriad of otherwise mandated requirements surrounding testing, attendance and graduation requirements
  • Fixes to two previously-passed bills being challenged in court
The Budget

This new budget is very different than the budget that Governor Lee presented to the General Assembly earlier this year. Nearly one billion dollars of expenses were cut in response to the emergency situation of COVID-19. The bulk of the language making up the spending plan can be found in this amendment. Some highlights include the following:

  • $200 million in grants for local governments
  • $150 million in a public health fund in response to the COVID-19 pandemic 
  • $350 million into the state’s rainy day fund
  • $30 million into a TEMA fund in response to the Super Tuesday tornadoes 
  • $19 million added to state Healthcare Safety Net
  • 2% raise for teachers
  • 1% raise for state employees

Relative to buildings, the budget does include:

  • $2 million for pre-planning
  • $42 million for capital maintenance

All other major initiatives the Governor had previously rolled out in his State of the State are put on hold. This includes policy proposals aimed at early literacy, new capital outlay, mental health, abortion restrictions and gun permits, among others.