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Marijuana, gas tax and fake internet reviews: Here are some bills that will be discussed by lawmakers

Lawmakers will review that would get rid of the IMPROVE gas tax, make it illegal to post fake internet reviews and require training to prevent human trafficking.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee General Assembly is back in session in Nashville! Over the next few months, lawmakers will discuss bills about several controversial issues. Many bills are expected to lead to more intense discussion than others.

Many can also directly impact people in Tennessee. Some of the most important and interesting bills headed to the legislature are listed below.

HB 1634 — Representative Bruce Griffey (R - District 75)

This bill would require election commissions in counties across the state to include three nonbinding questions about marijuana on the November 2022 ballot. The legislature will not be required to act in response to the questions, and they mostly act as a statewide survey about people's attitudes towards marijuana.

The questions are listed below:

  1. Should the State of Tennessee legalize medical marijuana?
  2. Should the State of Tennessee decriminalize possession of less than one ounce (1 oz.) of marijuana?
  3. Should the State of Tennessee legalize and regulate commercial sales of recreational-use marijuana?

H.B. 1634 was previously criticized by Representative Gloria Johnson, who called it a way to stall action towards legalizing marijuana in the state.

HB 1650 — Representative Bruce Griffey (R - District 75) 

This bill would reduce the amount of tax that Tennessee collects at gas pumps, changing two existing laws. One would be brought down by 6 cents per gallon, to $0.20 per gallon of gas collected by the state. Another tax law would be reduced to $0.17 per gallon.

It would essentially bring the amount of tax collected from gasoline sales to levels before the IMPROVE Act was passed in 2017.

It would also require 2% of the money collected from the gas tax to be allocated to the state's highway fund and make several other changes to supplement the state highway fund and local government road programs.

HB 1662 — Representative Bruce Griffey (R - District 75)

This bill would ban the use of voting machines or ballot marking devices in elections across the state. Instead, it says county election commissions will need to use hand-marked paper ballots which would need to be counted using an optical ballot scanner.

That scanner also would not be able to use proprietary software, and the software will need to be open to public inspection before and after the election.

It would also apply to the 2022 elections. If county election commissions cannot get the necessary equipment before then, it says they would be allowed to ask for an extension to 2024 from the secretary of state.

The state would cover at least 50% of the cost of shifting to paper ballots, according to the bill. Paper ballots will also need to include security features like watermarks, digital holograms or other technology to make sure they are not duplicated.

It also amends the law to allow poll watchers to take video recordings of polling locations.

H.B. 1664 — Representative David Byrd (R - District 71)

This short bill would amend Tennessee law to explicitly make it illegal to post a fake review about a business online, with the intent to defraud the public.

Information about the kind of crime this would be considered and the severity of the punishments for it was not immediately available.

S.B. 1659 — Senator Todd Gardenhire (R - District 10)

This bill is otherwise known as the "Healthy Food Financing Act" and will establish a 5 cent tax on non-alcoholic, plastic drink containers to pay for a program improving the availability of fresh foods in underserved communities across the state.

The program would provide financing for retailers to open, renovate or expand grocery stores in specific communities.

It would establish a new fund using the taxes as well as private grants or loans, and any available federal funds, for grocery stores to use. It could be administered with the help of a nonprofit organization, according to the bill.

Administrators behind the fund would need to annually report on projects they funded. Applicants who want to use it to expand or open grocery stores ould need to show they can successfully implement the store and show they will be able to repay the money provided. 

They would also need to agree to provide at least 30% of retail space for perishable goods such as fruits, vegetables, meats and fish. They would also need to show how they planned to hire from within their communities.

If passed, the law would take effect on July 1, 2022.

S.B. 1670 — Senator Todd Gardenhire (R - District 10)

The law would expand the list of people required to undergo training on how they can prevent human trafficking to include educators across the state. All school personnel, instead of just teachers, would need to be trained every 3 years.

The law would go into effect on July 1, 2022, and it would apply to the 2022-2023 school year.

H.B. 1690— Representative Chris Hurt (R - District 82)

This bill restricts the ability to sell, purchase, or possess products containing intoxicating cannabinoids derived from hemp to persons who are 21 years of age or older.

It requires retailers and wholesalers of products containing hemp-derived cannabinoids to be licensed; levies privilege tax at the rate of 6.6% on wholesale sale of products containing hemp-derived cannabinoids.

H.B. 1714— Representative Todd Warner (R - District 92)

It enacts the Verify Our Tennessee Elections (VOTE) Act. The bill requires county election commissions to conduct a forensic audit, canvassing, and review of the chain of custody of ballots and equipment from the 2020 general election. The bill says it would be to determine the accuracy of the election results for the president of the United States and for each United States congressional election. 

It specifies that county election commissions would be able to "conduct the investigation in the manner most likely to yield accurate and reliable results, including the authority to examine witnesses and subpoena documents and records other than ballots."

Election commissions would need to report to the secretary of state by June 1, 2022. Then, the secretary would submit a report to the "ad hoc election integrity subcommittee nine days afterward.

That committee would be made up of six members from the joint government operations committee, with three members selected by the senate speakers and another three chosen by the house speaker.

The final report, after moving through several committees, would be given to the governor by July 1, 2022.

Many claims saying that machines were hacked or votes were improperly counted in the 2020 presidential election have been proven to be incorrect in many reports, including ones of dead people voting.

S.B. 1690— Senator Kerry Roberts (R - District 25)

This bill enacts the "DMV Modernization Act of 2022". It requires the department of safety to issue licenses to third-party service providers to perform certain driver services, such as the issuance of driver licenses. 

H.B. 1735— Representative Mark Hall (R - District 24)

This bill lowers the age requirement to obtain an enhanced or concealed handgun carry permit or lawfully carry a handgun in public from 21 to 18 years of age. It states that the statutory authorization to transport or store a firearm or firearm ammunition in a motor vehicle under certain circumstances does not apply to a person under 21 years of age in a parking area that is owned, operated, or while in use by any school unless the person is at least 18 years of age and meets certain military qualifications.  

H.B. 1738— Representative Mike Sparks (R - District 49)

The bill extends for an additional year, until June 30, 2023, the sales tax holiday for the retail sale of gun safes and gun safety devices. 

H.B. 1742— Representative Mike Sparks (R - District 49)

The bill authorizes local correctional officers and local law enforcement officers to enroll in one course at any state-supported college or university without having to pay tuition and fees.

H.B. 1761— Representative Brandon Ogles (R - District 61)

It establishes that assault against a sports official while the official is officiating a sporting event is a Class E felony or Class A misdemeanor, depending on the nature of the assault.

S.B. 1764— Senator Heidi Campbell (D - District 20)

 It requires the BEP formula to fund full-time school counselor positions at a ratio of one per 350 students or one full-time school counselor position for each LEA, whichever is greater.