The Tennessee Municipal League is a voluntary, cooperative organization established by the cities and towns of the state for mutual assistance and improvement. The primary function is to lobby the Tennessee General Assembly on behalf of city governments. Two extensions of the league include the TML Risk Management Pool and the Tennessee Municipal Bond Fund.
TML Deputy Director Chad Jenkins and Government Relations Director Denise Paige talked about anticipated legislation in the 108th General Assembly that begins at noon Jan. 8, 2013.
Jenkins said he expects workers’ compensation insurance to be moved from the courtroom to become an administrative function. Also, Gov. Bill Haslam has until Dec. 14 to decide if the state will establish an insurance exchange.
“A lot of folks who were not thrilled with Obamacare still aren’t and are strongly against this idea,” Jenkins said. “If the governor chooses to do that, there will certainly be a fight over that issue.
“The governor has also indicated he plans to introduce legislation to create a voucher program. The vouchers are to be used by low-income students in public schools to attend private schools.”
He said there is no indication of the value of a voucher or how it would be funded, which will be the discussion points.
Greenbelts will be an issue in the upcoming session, according to Paige. Greenbelts allow certain land to be taxed based on its current use rather than its assessed value. There are loopholes in the law that would allow certain landowners to receive tax breaks that do not apply to their land.
“Local governments are losing revenue and there are inequities in the assessment of property taxes,” she said.
Immigration reform modeled after Arizona passed in Alabama and was proposed in Tennessee. However, the push for reform was halted while the laws were litigated.
“One provision of the bill in Tennessee is related to traffic stops. It requires an officer to verify citizenship of all the occupants in that vehicle,” Jenkins said. “The concern is that if the responsibility for those traffic stops comes, then surely they are going to follow with dollars to pay for those responsibilities.”
He said if the law is implemented, there will be litigation.
Concerning Amazon and collecting state sales tax on purchases, the deal between the governor and the Internet retailer requires it to begin collecting sales tax in 2014.
“If that occurs as has been announced, there will have to be legislation to actually do that,” Jenkins said.
Another piece of legislation that drew a lot of attention was the so-called “guns in lots bill.” Under current law, a city or business has the ability to regulate firearms on its property. The proposed legislation would have eliminated that ability.
“We opposed it because it violated local autonomy,” Jenkins said. “I’m going to be honest, the fact that it didn’t pass last year had nothing to do with our argument of local autonomy. The only reason it didn’t pass is the General Assembly couldn’t reconcile its support for this new prohibition and its support for private property rights.”
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has said there will be another bill in 2013, but Jenkins is unsure how the disagreements will be reconciled.
There are two reports dealing with blight and eminent domain, according to Paige. The reports indicate that Tennessee blight laws are adequate. However, the reports suggest adopting changes to The Neighborhood Preservation Act, Residential Inspection Law, Vacant Properties and Acquisition Act and Local Enterprise Zones.
“They also said providing assistance for renovation and demolition will help with the problem of dealing with rundown buildings,” she said. “The eminent domain report is a draft report and they made three recommendations. They are going to be adopting these three recommendations and issue a final report in February.”
The three recommendations are that local governments should be allowed to mediate eminent domain instead of being forced into arbitration. Also, if the government does not use the land for its stated purpose, then right of first refusal should extend to the heirs of the landowner. The third recommendation is that governments should continue to improve redevelopment plans.
Another tax-related issue involves hotel tax on rooms sold over the Internet. Hoteliers agree to sell rooms to a Web-based travel site at a discounted price. The travel site marks up the price and resells the room at a price that is still cheaper than the regular price. Currently, tax is collected on the discounted price paid to the reseller, not the amount paid by the customer.
“Legislation will be brought that will change the law to reflect the times and what really goes on, and says the tax will be on how much it is sold to the customer for,” Jenkins said.
Paige said Ramsey favors eliminating the Hall Income Tax on dividends from stocks or interest on bonds. Haslam supports the effort to eliminate the tax, but is concerned about the loss of revenue.