July Legislative Update

Jul 01, 2019

In Tennessee, 2019 has brought a new governor, state department commis­sioners, legislative committee chair­man, caucus leaders, several new faces in legislative leadership positions, and over 30 new lawmakers. Each had a hand in bringing the first session of the 111th General Assembly to a close in early May. The legislature fulfilled its constitution­al obligation to pass a budget amid other controversies at the capitol.

Speaking of budget, Tennessee General Fund revenues at this point in the budget year are ahead of projections by nearly $500 million. Most of the increased revenues have been generated by sales tax. Tennes­see was recently named by U.S. News and World Report as the No. 1 state on its list of fiscal stability rankings. The report used state credit ratings and public pension lia­bilities to measure financial health.

Agriculture and the farmers of Tennes­see should consider the session successful despite undertones of legislative skepti­cism, which, at worst, only remotely affect the state’s agricultural policies.

A few of agriculture’s legislative highlights from the 2019 session include:

Agricultural water: Legislation passed to add agricultural water to items, which are tax exempt for farmers of the state.
Seasonal CDL for agribusiness: The new law authorizes farm-related ser­vice industry employees to attain a restrict­ed Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) for the purpose of completing seasonal agri­cultural work.
Agricultural trailers sales tax exempt: Adds other trailers to livestock trailers, which are currently sales tax-ex­empt under Tennessee state law.
Resolutions: Resolutions were unani­mously passed to designate a Tennessee Ag­riculture Farmer Suicide Prevention Day in Tennessee and to recognize Shooting Hunger for eclipsing the 1 million mark in providing meals for hungry Tennesseans. Co-op is an integral part of both of these efforts.
The always anticipated Agriculture Day on the Hill was one for the record books in 2019. The event was led by freshman representative Chris Todd (R-Jackson), Tennessee farmers, and agribusiness. The event brings a diverse cross-section of agriculture leadership to the state capitol, where they are joined by lawmakers. Gov. Bill Lee made a statement in his first year by competing in the annual crosscut-log cutting contest and winning the event over the House and Senate.
Of general interest in the 2019 session, the legislature passed last-minute edu­cation voucher legislation. The voucher component of the new law will only apply to Davidson and Shelby counties; however, grant incentive dollars for rural school dis­tricts are also included in the language of the law. School voucher programs are de­signed to award private school scholarships to children who are in under-performing public schools. The legislature also extend­ed a $22 million professional privilege tax cut to 15 professions, including veterinari­ans. Other budget highlights include:
• Increasing the state’s Rainy Day Fund by $240 million
• Designating $25 million for the Gover­nor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) initiative to expand K-12 CTE programs, primarily in rural areas
• Allocation of an additional $30 million for school resource officers
• Addition of $27 million to provide life-saving medical services through Ten­nCare to Tennessee children with signifi­cant disabilities
• $222 million for economic develop­ment projects
Thanks for staying engaged this session. Until next time, stay active in your Co-op and let your lawmakers know what matters to you.

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