As lawmakers enter their second week of the session, they'll continue organizational work and receive presentations from various government agencies and outside organizations. At the same time, they will work to finalize any bills they want to introduce before the filing deadline, which comes at the end of the week. As is the case every week in the legislature, any action on the following bills can easily be delayed. But for now, here is a roundup of five things to watch this week:
The first legislative bill to help those affected by the wildfires that ravaged much of Gatlinburg last year will be discussed in the Senate. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, and Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, would allow local governments to prorate the tax assessments for homeowners and business owners who had their property damaged in the fire. While Gov. Bill Haslam's proposed budget calls for $10 million in reimbursements for local governments, the Overbey-Carr bill is one of several efforts lawmakers are expected to advance this year to help provide more relief.
The Senate State and Local Government Committee is set to take up the bill at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Property Tax Relief
Last year lawmakers introduced several bills related to a property tax relief program that has generated concern among veterans and the elderly in recent years. The efforts came after Haslam's administration expressed concern about the ability to sustain the program, which serves 140,000 people each year and provides assistance to low-income elderly and disabled Tennesseans, as well as 100 percent disabled veterans and their surviving spouses.
Lawmakers are scheduled to take up a bill related to the property tax relief program this week. The measure, sponsored by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, and Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, seeks to increase the amount of tax relief for 100 percent disabled veterans. The legislation is on the agenda of the House Local Government Subcommittee, which is set to meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
Every year lawmakers introduce bills related to the death penalty, and this year is no different. So far, there have been three bills regarding the death penalty, one of which would expedite the process for death sentence appeals by having them automatically go to the state Supreme Court.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, and Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, is scheduled to be taken up in the House and Senate on Tuesday, when the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee gathers at 1:30 p.m. and the Senate Judiciary Committee meets at 3:30 p.m.
Lawmakers have already sent a resolution to honor the country music legend who had a massive stroke in 2013 to the governor. Although Travis was initially unable to sing in the aftermath of his stroke, when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last year he performed "Amazing Grace."
Travis and his wife, Mary, are expected to raise awareness about strokes, which is the fifth-leading cause of death in Tennessee, when they testify in front of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Infrastructure Report Card
Much of the buzz during the session thus far has been about ways to fund the state's transportation needs. Although lawmakers have yet to take up any proposals, they will receive a report card on Tennessee's infrastructure by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which represents more than 150,000 people worldwide.
The state faces a $10 billion backlog in road projects, and Haslam has presented a proposal to raise the gas tax to help fund the work. A leading House Republican is pushing an alternative that would divert a portion of the state's existing sales tax to road projects.
The group's presentation will be in front of the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee at 1:30 p.m. Monday.