House lawmakers keep driving to lower sales tax on groceries
by Eric Watson, State Rep.
Mar 24, 2013 | 596 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Eric Watson
Eric Watson
A bill which seeks to lower the sales tax on groceries from 5.25 percent to a flat 5 percent passed out of the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee last week with unanimous support from lawmakers. House Bill 193, which is part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative agenda for the year, will take effect beginning July 1, 2013.

This year’s legislation builds on the success of a law adopted by the General Assembly in 2012 that lowered the sales tax on food from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent. In total, the sales tax reduction this year will provide Tennessee taxpayers with over $25 million in tax relief.

The legislation will be voted on in the full House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday where it is expected to again pass easily.

Pension Reform Plan

moves forward In House

Legislation proposed earlier this month to reform the state’s pension plan, the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, passed out of the House State Government Committee last week with full support from lawmakers. The legislation represents a proactive approach by State Treasurer David H. Lillard and House leaders to ensure the security of pension benefits for current employees and retirees, as well as future employees that will be hired in years to come.

The proposed changes, which would only affect new employees hired on or after July 1, 2014, would change the current defined-benefits system to a hybrid plan that includes elements of defined-benefits and defined-contribution programs. A defined-benefit plan guarantees retirees a fixed pension benefit based on their years of service and earnings, while defined-contribution plans do not have guaranteed payment levels, but rather, specified contribution levels by the employer.

The pension changes, when passed by the Legislature, will not affect anyone currently a state employee, a teacher, a higher education employee or an employee of a local government participating in the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System.

Bill to better protect

student athletes awaits

governor’s signature

Legislation designed to protect student athletes who suffer concussions from risking further medical complications passed the full House floor last week with support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

House Bill 867, as passed by both the House and Senate, will ensure guidelines are in place to help coaches, youth athletic instructors and parents to recognize a concussion and its symptoms in order to keep injured players from risking their health by returning to competition too soon.

In addition, the legislation will help schools and organizations develop a policy of removing youth from sports activity who show signs of concussion until they receive a medical evaluation from a licensed doctor stating they are clear to return to play.

According to the most recent national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 248,418 athletes under the age of 18 suffered concussions in 2009 alone.

The legislation has support from the Tennessee Medical Association, the TSSAA and the National Football League, which has backed such laws in state legislatures across the country.

And just in case

you missed it ...

n Jobs: Tennessee has created nearly 80,000 new jobs since 2011, according to Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Haggerty. The commissioner told committee members his department had held approximately 6,000 meetings with companies looking to locate or expand jobs here and attended over 12,000 meetings with community leaders over the past two years. Thanks to increased legislative efforts by lawmakers to bring new and better paying jobs to the state, Tennessee was recently ranked first in the Southeast in new manufacturing jobs created in 2012.

n Anti-income tax resolution: Senate Joint Resolution 1 sailed through the Calendar and Rules Committee last week as lawmakers continue the push to ban a state income tax from ever being implemented in Tennessee. Voters across the state will have the opportunity to weigh in on this issue as the question of whether to prohibit an income tax will be placed on the 2014 statewide ballot. If approved, the state Constitution will be amended to explicitly prohibit lawmakers from ever levying a state income tax on the citizens of Tennessee. Senate Joint Resolution 1 will be presented to the full House of Representatives on Thursday.

n Emissions testing: Legislation which would exempt automobiles under 3 years old from undergoing Tennessee vehicle emissions testing passed the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee last week. The bill would apply to owners of vehicles in six Tennessee counties — Hamilton, Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson — where emissions testing is currently required.

n Home-schooled students: This week, the full House will hear legislation authorizing home school students to participate in interscholastic athletics at the public school in which they are zoned. House Bill 222 gives home-schooled students an opportunity to try out for local school sports teams if they meet the same health, academic and conduct standards required of other participants. The bill was fueled by the success of NFL quarterback Tim Tebow who was a home-schooled student. The legislation is not in conflict with TSSAA standards as the organization has opted to leave the decision about participation of home-schooled students to local boards of education.

As has been pointed out in past legislative columns written for the Cleveland Daily Banner, whether in this “Capitol Hill Review” or “Legislative Summaries” written by my House colleague Kevin Brooks who represents the 24th Legislative District, I remain open to your questions, concerns and suggestions.

Not long ago, State Rep. Brooks, R-Cleveland, appropriately pointed to the need for direct communication between your Bradley County legislative delegation and our constituents, regardless of city, county or government jurisdiction. I concur with Rep. Brooks’ assessment.

Speaking on behalf of our presiding senators — state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville who represents the 9th Senatorial District, and state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Ooltewah who represents the 10th Senatorial District — we encourage, and we invite, your input into our decisions. After all, you have elected us to represent your best interests in Nashville.

It is our mission to do that and it is our pledge to represent your desires as appropriately as is possible.

In state government, we must consider many, many issues. Some directly impact Southeast Tennessee and the counties within our districts. Some do not. But at the very least, all our decisions indirectly impact local residents because we are all Tennessee residents.

Thank you for your confidence in our decision-making and please feel free to express yourself by whatever means — telephone, email, written letter or just whatever form of communication that best suits your needs and interests.