That’s a wrap on Tennessee’s 112th General Assembly. Lawmakers adjourned Thursday afternoon after passing a slew of new bills and a nearly $53 billion budget.
Besides a major boost to education funding, lawmakers tightened campaign finance rules and waded into the culture wars ahead of a contentious election cycle this fall.
Gov. Bill Lee and Republican leaders hailed the session as transformative for Tennessee students and taxpayers. But Democrats held their own, passing more than 100 bills and are taking credit for “watering down” or putting out more fiery legislation on school libraries and LGBTQ legislation.
Now. Gov. Lee has 10 days to sign the bills. Here’s some of what’s headed to his desk — or has already been signed.
- The governor’s proposed education funding formula passed on the last day of session. It’s a student-based funding formula that gives each pupil in the state a minimum of $6,860, before adding weights. These weights can include a fiscally constrained county, a rural area, low-income households and more. You can read all about it from our education reporter Juliana Kim.
- While schools may be getting a big funding boost, teachers and librarians were put under the microscope this session. One bill would allow a state-appointed board to ban books from school libraries across Tennessee. Another bill would allow parents to review and vet school curriculum materials and suggest changes, a response to conservative criticism of how race and history are taught in schools.
Homelessness and Housing
- A bill to increase penalties for people camping on public property has sparked outcry among advocates for the poor and unhoused. The new bill will make it a felony to camp on public property between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. and a misdemeanor to camp on an interstate exit or under a bridge.
- Despite a growing number of evictions and ballooning housing prices, another measure would require people to secure the equivalent of 12 months of rent to appeal an eviction notice.
- No, medical marijuana still isn’t legal in Tennessee. But a new bill will allow those with quadriplegia to possess and use cannabis oil.
- Side note: there was some last-minute wrangling on a bill to regulate Delta-8 THC products, but it didn’t pass this session. You can bet on it coming back next year, though.
- Last year, lawmakers barred transgender athletes from participating in K-12 sports. This year, they added teeth to that — threatening to cut funding from schools that don’t follow the rule. They also expanded that ban to collegiate athletes. Tennessee Equality says these laws harm already marginalized youths and could jeopardize the state’s federal funding.
- A flurry of anti-LGBTQ legislation did not pass. Notably: A version of Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill was floated but ultimately failed; a marriage bill excluding same-sex marriages was skewered online and eventually sent out to pasture, a.k.a. “summer study”; and a proposal to allow teachers to ignore a student’s preferred pronouns based on their biological sex is dead for now.
Healthcare and COVID-19
- Last year, the General Assembly held a special session to weigh in on pandemic restrictions and public health protocols, but COVID-19 barely registered this session. Well, except for one bill dealing with Ivermectin, the drug that has shown no benefit for treating COVID-19. Tennessee lawmakers are making it available over the counter.
- After last year’s trigger bill that could ban all abortions in Tennessee if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, lawmakers attempted to pass a Texas-style abortion law. It passed the House but died in the Senate. The only major new abortion restriction this session relates to abortifacients. The new law will require doctors to prescribe and deliver abortion pills in person. The measure is aimed at the growing use of telemedicine for those seeking abortions.
- It’s about to get a lot harder for cities to ban fossil fuel infrastructure. A bill headed to Gov. Lee will pre-empt local governments from interfering with things like oil pipelines. The bill was seen as a response to Memphis leaders blocking an oil pipeline that they feared could pollute their drinking water.
- A dispute over the future of the overstuffed Middle Point landfill in Murfreesboro made its way into law. That bill will require local officials to get approval to expand any existing landfill. Nearby mayors would also have a say.
Taxes & Economy
- The Tennessee legislature added $250 million to its Rainy Day fund. That puts the state’s emergency savings account at $1.8 billion, the highest in the nation.
- Worried about rising inflation, Gov. Lee asked and received $281 million worth of tax breaks. One comes in the form of a sales taxes holiday on groceries for the month of August.
- The state is giving the Tennessee Titans $500 million toward a new stadium. Meanwhile, state lawmakers gave Nashville the option to raise its hotel tax to make tourists kick in toward a shiny new dome. Either way, plans to renovate the old Nissan Stadium seem to be moot in favor of a new home for the NFL team.
Criminal Justice & Courts
- A ‘90s-era trend of politicians going tough-on-crime re-emerged this session. One bill dubbed “Truth in Sentencing” would require people in prison for certain violent crimes to serve 80-100% of their sentence, essentially taking away options for early release. Critics say it could explode the state’s prison population and cost the state millions.
- Gun legislation was relatively muzzled this year. There was a bill to clean up a 2019 law that adds a four-year background check for people going in to renew their handgun permit.
- Another bill prevents a gun registry from being made in the state of Tennessee. There were attempts to lower the age to carry a gun from 21 to 18, but that sputtered out.
Democracy, Voting & Ethics
- Following a series of embarrassing lawmaker scandals, including one resignation and one expulsion this session, Republican Senate Leader Randy McNally and Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton spearheaded a sweeping ethics package to tighten campaign finance rules and disclosure requirements for lawmakers and politically involved groups. The package does a lot, but one big change will require any nonprofit group to report any time they spend $5,000 or more on a campaign.
- One of the very first tasks lawmakers tackled was redrawing political boundaries for Congressional districts as well as legislative House and Senate seats. Republicans took advantage of their supermajority, carving out more Republican-friendly districts. That includes divvying up Nashville’s 5th Congressional District into three more Republican-leaning districts. A lawsuit backed by Tennessee Democrats against state House and Senate maps is in progress, but the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the new lines will stay in effect this November.
- A resolution calling for completion of the southern border wall between the United States and Mexico was signed by the governor during the last week of session
- A resolution honoring Justice Honors — a horse, not a judge — the 83rd grand champion of the Tennessee Waling Horse National Celebration
- A resolution honoring and congratulating Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies, who started in the 2022 NBA All-Star game. He’s only the second Grizzlies player to ever start in the event.
- And, how could we forget, our new state song, “I’ll Leave My Heart in Tennessee”! You can watch it below.
If you haven’t heard our new official state song, check it out below. ⬇️⬇️⬇️ pic.twitter.com/Xm1trkXNvV
— Speaker Cameron Sexton (@CSexton25) February 17, 2022