March 9, 2017
Broadband Bill Moves Forward; Tennessee Chamber Applauds Compromise Plan in Key House Committee


Bill would help expand broadband in Tennessee's rural communities with development-oriented fair market approach


Over the summer, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam indicated his administration would focus on a legislative solution to increase broadband access in Tennessee's unserved and underserved areas.  Since then, both private telecommunication companies and electric utility entities have anxiously awaited the unveiling of this proposal.  In this year's 2017 legislative agenda, the Tennessee Chamber underscored the importance of such a compromise plan by identifying it as a key initiative for our state's continued economic growth.

This week, policymakers reached a major milestone with the approval of legislation brought by Governor Haslam to improve broadband access.  The compromise bill promises to allow Tennessee's rural electric cooperatives to offer video services to customers as well as broadband data access under an amended version of Gov. Bill Haslam's Broadband Accessibility Act (HB0529 / SB1215) Sponsored by Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) and Sen. Mark Norris (R- Collierville)

In response to concerns raised by proponents of broadband expansion, the Governor added video offerings to the legislation as it moved through the House Business and Utilities Subcommittee.  Tennessee currently ranks 29th in the U.S. for broadband access, with 34 percent of rural Tennessee residents lacking access at recognized minimum standards. 

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, along with Haslam's proposed budget, will provide $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses. In addition, the plan will permit Tennessee's private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service and make grant funding available to the state's local libraries to help residents improve their digital literacy skills and maximize the benefits of broadband.

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act is part of Haslam's NextTennessee legislative plan aimed at building and sustaining economic growth and the state's competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans.

Is Transportation Funding and Single Sales Factor in Jeopardy? Confusion Reigns in Transportation and Business Tax Budget Proposals
This week, House and Senate committees issued conflicting messages on how and whether they will consider needed transportation funding and business tax reductions proposed by Governor Haslam ( HB534/SB1221 ). 

In the House: The House Transportation committee debated then stalled the bill, where it may be heard again next week.  Rumors are swirling of major changes on the House side.  The hottest rumor is a proposal to alternatively fund road and bridge projects through earmarked sales taxes receipts rather than raising fuel taxes or adding user fees to alternate fuel vehicles.  The rumored alternative plan would put more of the tax burden on Tennesseans to maintain our roads, giving a free ride to tourists and visitors passing over our nine interstate highways. To make the alternative plans work Single Sales Factor, Hall Income Tax Cuts and Sales Tax cuts must be removed from the bill.   

In the Senate: The Senate is taking a different approach.  Rather than taking on the entire package all at once, they are using their authorized committees to debate and approve individual aspects of the legislation. This week, they appointed a new transportation subcommittee that heard debate on the 962 transportation projects and reported those to the Senate transportation committee with a positive recommendation. 

Further complicating matters, a number of business groups this week met to discuss revisions in the IMPROVE act that adds an additional menu of local option tax surcharges into the legislation.  The drafting language for these local option referenda is significant tax policy initiative and is being reviewed closely by a number of business groups. The bills are still scheduled to resurface before the committee on next week's calendar, and we expect the debate to continue.

We urge you to reach out to your area legislators to support Transportation and Fuel Tax Improvements as well as the Single Sales Factor Economic development and manufacturing plan.
Workforce and Education Update: Tennessee Reconnect Act Amended, Advances Unanimously in House and Senate Education Committees
Gov. Haslam's landmark legislation that would extend tuition-free access to community colleges for most Tennessee adults currently without a postsecondary degree or credential was approved unanimously this week in the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Administration and Planning Committee.  The legislation, known as Tennessee Reconnect, calls for the creation of a grant-based last-dollar scholarship for any eligible Tennessee adult resident who currently does not have a postsecondary degree to return to a community college in pursuit of a two-year degree or certification free of tuition charges.  Participating students must maintain a 2.0 grade point average and have continuous part-time or full-time enrollment.  Originally covering tuition at two-year community colleges only, the bill was amended this week in the House to also include eligible four-year public and private higher education institutions as well, expanding prospective Reconnect students' options of postsecondary school selections.  The amended legislation now heads to the Government Operations Committee in the House and the Finance Committee in the Senate for further consideration.  If approved, this historic legislation would make Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer comprehensive scholarships and tuition-free access to a two-year postsecondary education for every eligible adult resident of the state.  Currently, Tennessee needs 871,000 postsecondary degrees or certificates to reach the 55 percent attainment goals set forth in the Drive to 55 initiative, but there is no mathematical way to reach that number by serving high school students alone. Accordingly, this expansion of the Reconnect program promises to engage the estimated 900,000 adults in Tennessee that have some college but no degree, helping provide a bridge for them to continue and complete their postsecondary aspirations.

Tennessee General Assembly: Weekly Calendars
Senate's weekly calendar click  HERE .
House of Representative's weekly committee calendar click  HERE
House of Representative's weekly subcommittee calendar click  HERE
Tennessee Chamber:
Legislation important to Business:

SB0262 / HB0180 - Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) / Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet)
Bill prohibiting local governments from requiring private employers to adopt predictive scheduling mandates. This legislation, prohibits a local government from adopting or enforcing any ordinance, regulation, resolution, policy, or any other legal requirement on private employers that regulates or imposes a requirement pertaining to employee scheduling.   Tennessee Chamber supports   this legislation as a number of cities across the country have enacted ordinances that require employers to publish employee work schedules 2 weeks in advance.  If the employer has to change a work scheduled due to sickness or injury occurred they are fined and ordered to pay employees for the initial schedule.  This legislation has proven to be a considerable problem for a number of industries that require staff for shift work, hospitality or emergency services. 
HB0666 / SB0297 - Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesboro) / Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville)
This bill proposes a number of significant changes to Tennessee workers' compensation system that are concerning to the Tennessee Chamber and a number of our member companies.  The proposed bill modifies a number of important WC areas including utilization review, physician panels, expanded benefit determination rights of employees and expands benefits for employees who do not return to work for the same employer.
Tennessee Chamber Opposes  this legislation that makes a number of significant changes that reverse the 2013 reforms initiated by Governor Bill Haslam and approved by the legislature. If passed as written the legislation would result in higher premiums for employers.
HB0939 / SB0261 - Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) / Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin)
As introduced, the bill requires all workers' compensation cases to proceed through the workers' compensation appeals board prior to seeking a discretionary appeal to the Tennessee supreme court and terminates the "guaranteed" Supreme Court consideration of all workers' compensation cases.  Tennessee has a long standing statutory provision requiring that all workers' compensation cases have a guaranteed right to be heard by the Tennessee Supreme Court.  The proposed legislation would remove that guarantee and is opposed in its current form by the Tennessee Chamber.
The Tennessee Chamber Opposes  this bill since business and employees deserve the right to take contested cases to the Supreme Court.  Currently the Tennessee chamber and our member companies have been largely satisfied with the verdicts of our administration system, but in the future this could change especially if the threat of appealing to Tennessee's highest court is diminished.  Objectionable case decisions could tie the hands of the business community and increase the need to constantly go the legislature to make changes to our workers' compensation system.  Last year only eight workers' compensation cases made it to the Supreme Court, which begs the question why change something that is working?
HB0301 / SB1189 - Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville) / Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville)
Proposed legislation would authorize a retaliatory tax on a number of insurance companies operating in Tennessee. The Tennessee Chamber fears this legislation will raise cost on business especially in the areas of workers' compensation premiums.  The legislation is brought by the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance and seeks to overturn a recent Supreme Court case that the Tennessee Chamber weighed in on in an amicus brief opposing the tax.
The Tennessee Chamber Opposes  this legislation.
HB0165 / SB209 - Rep. Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville) / Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville)
Legislation authorizes private employers to give hiring preference to honorably discharged veterans, spouses of a veteran with a service-connected disability, unremarried widows or widowers of a veteran who died of a service-connected disability, and unremarried widows or widowers of a member of the military who died in the line of duty.
Tennessee Chamber Supports this legislation provides an option for employers; it provides protections for employers who decided they want to offer a hiring preference to honorably discharged veterans, their spouses or their survivors. 
Manufacturing Drives Uptick in Heavy-Duty Truck Orders
Trucking companies may be expanding fleets as freight rates start pulling out of slump
According to the Wall Street Journal , Many trucking companies trimmed fleets last year, but in recent months the freight market has picked back up.  Orders for new heavy-duty trucks rose in February for the fourth month in a row, a sign trucking companies may be expanding their fleets as freight rates begin to pull out of their slump.  Fleet owners in February ordered 22,900 Class 8 trucks, the big rigs used in long-haul trucking, up 5% compared with January and a 28% increase from a year earlier according to a preliminary report released by transportation research firm FTR. Many trucking companies trimmed fleets last year as truck capacity outweighed demand from shippers, driving down freight prices. In recent months, the freight market has picked back up as manufacturing strengthened and businesses completed inventory adjustments, "so there is more freight to haul," said Don Ake, FTR's vice president of commercial vehicles.

Tennessee Chamber Urges Support for Class Action Lawsuit Reform
For too long, U.S. businesses have been burdened with frivolous and unnecessary lawsuits and legal costs.  To address trial lawyer-driven class action abuses, the Tennessee Chamber has joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers in support of H.R. 985, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act (FICALA).  In a letter sent yesterday to all members of the House of Representatives, a broad business coalition -- including the Tennessee Chamber -- wrote that FICALA is "balanced legislation to help ensure that those who are truly harmed can use class actions and mass tort multi-district litigation proceedings," while also "addressing many of the egregious problems that plague these types of litigation."  The letter notes that, "too often, class action plaintiffs receive pennies on the dollar, while the class action lawyers walk away with millions of dollars in contingency fees."  The House is expected to vote soon on H.R. 985.  To e-mail your member of Congress and urge support for H.R. 985, click here .

Report: Trial Lawyers Launching Legal Attacks on Business Websites
(Omaha World-Herald) -- reports that "lawsuits are proliferating against business websites" for claims that the sites don't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The story notes that a Nebraska business "was sued by a nonprofit advocacy group that alleges the company's website isn't compatible with screen-reading software that converts text to audio."  The suit asks for a court order requiring the company to "comply with the ADA and payment of attorney fees."  The story quotes Joe Lynette, a lawyer for the Jackson Lewis law firm who defends companies against ADA claims, as saying the U.S. Department of Justice under President Obama issued a notice on regulations governing website access "as it applies to people covered by the disability law."
Body of Sen. Douglas Henry Laid in State at the Capitol; First Time since 1927
Sen. Douglas Henry, the longest-serving legislator in state history who earned a widely respected reputation as a southern gentleman and shrewd fiscal conservative, died at the age of 90 in his Nashville home on Sunday.  In a tribute to the late senator, The Tennessean writes , "A product of Belle Meade, Henry was first elected to a House seat in 1954 before being elected to the Senate in 1970 to represent Nashville's District 21.  The longtime chairman of the Senate's Finance, Ways and Means Committee, Henry served in the Senate for 44 years, developing a reputation as a guru in state finances. He left the state legislature in 2014, but remained a presence at the state Capitol and continued to draw the respect of current lawmakers."  The Tennessee Chamber and our members honor Senator Henry for his service to Tennessee.  A number of the Chamber staff has both worked for and with Senator Henry over the years and have always noted his dedication to service, integrity, fiscal responsibility and professional treatment of all who worked with him. 

Governor's Rural Task Force Launches Website
If you're looking for a one-stop-source for community grant information, technical assistance, loan programs or other resources, the Governor's Rural Task Force has a new website right up your alley. The task force's new site ( check it out here ) just launched and features a wealth of information for rural community leaders, including a searchable database to find the right resources. The new website is one recommendation made last fall in the task force's strategic plan, which outlines a comprehensive strategy to build prosperous communities in rural Tennessee through various economic development, health and education initiatives.

Trump Executive Orders on Energy, Environment Expected Shortly.
The Hill recently reported that this week, the White House could "release long-awaited climate change executive orders undoing much of the Obama administration's work on the issue." President Trump, according to several reports, "is set to sign an order calling for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of Obama's climate change agenda." In addition, the order could "lift an Interior Department moratorium on federal coal lease sales, something Obama's team instituted during a review of the coal-leasing program."

Draft Budget Reveals EPA Facing 25 Percent Cut

"The Trump administration would slash programs aimed at slowing climate change and improving water safety and air quality, while eliminating thousands of jobs, according to a draft of the Environmental Protection Agency budget proposal obtained by" the AP (3/3, Flesher, Daly, Lucey), which said "the tentative plan from the Office of Management and Budget" indicates "the agency's funding would be reduced by roughly 25 percent and about 3,000 jobs would be cut, about 19 percent of the agency's staff." The AP said the proposed cuts "include reducing the climate protection budget by nearly 70 percent to $29 million, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by 97 percent to $10 million and environmental justice programs by 79 percent to $1.5 million."

Mexican Economy Minister: Mexico "Willing To Modernize" NAFTA

Reuters  reported Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said Friday that Mexico is prepared and "willing to modernize" the North American Free Trade Agreement; however, the AP  reported Guajardo "also said his country does not want to see the imposition of tariffs, which President Donald Trump has said should be placed on goods produced in Mexico." In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club, he described tariffs as "a move to the past" and said their addition "makes no sense."

Miscellaneous News: The Dignity Deficit: Reclaiming Americans Sense of Purpose
Today, there is no one who takes big data and distills it into digestible ideas than Arthur Brooks the President of the American Enterprise Institute.  In a recent interview ( Marketplace 3/7 ), Mr. Brooks discussed survey results that nearly a third of Americans have doubts in their ability to earn success. His solution is simple, we should value people and cultivate in them the dignity of work to reinvigorate the American spirit. He challenges us to ask this question "What am I personally doing to share the secrets of my success with those outside my social class?"
Excerpt from Arthur Brooks' article in Foreign Affairs magazine this month: "Many elites and officials have reacted to Trump's victory with a combination of shock, alarm, and depression. But they should see it as an opportunity for learning and reform, and they should respond with a positive policy agenda that is radically pro-work and serious about developing human capital. And they should learn to treat people at the periphery of society-from Inez to Detroit to the Rio Grande Valley-with enough respect to share with them the cultural and moral norms that can bring happiness and success in life. Doing so would be politically prudent. But much more important, it would help fulfill the moral obligation that leadership brings: to maximize the inherent dignity that all Americans are born with, remembering that we all possess a deep need to be needed."

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