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2017 Legislative Session: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

BY LINDSAY BOYD

May 11, 2017 11:51AM

Now that the 2017 legislative session has come to a close, we can reflect upon the efforts Beacon advanced this year and how they will impact Tennesseans moving forward.

Follow along below to find out what happened this session on our key issue areas of occupational licensing, homesharing, educational choice, and criminal justice reform.

 Good: Licensing

Over the past several months, Beacon has filed two lawsuits challenging occupational licensing schemes. We first sued the state cosmetology board for the law requiring a license to wash hair. Then we discovered that two horse massage therapists had their business shut down by the state veterinarian board, which had passed a rule declaring animal massage as the practice of veterinary medicine.

Despite not proposing to repeal any licensing laws during this legislative session, our lawsuits caused plenty of stir at the Capitol. As a result of our shampoo lawsuit, Gov. Haslam proposed a repeal of the shampoo licensing scheme, and it passed overwhelmingly. And after hearing about our horse massage case, the legislature temporarily repealed the veterinarian board’s animal massage rule. We will now work with the board and our clients to craft a sensible alternative to full-blown veterinary licensing for animal massage therapists.

Good: Criminal Justice Reform

In fall 2016, Beacon announced a partnership with the ACLU, Goodwill, Nashville Chamber, and Tennessee County Services Association to launch the Coalition for Sensible Justice. This coalition is committed to pursuing meaningful criminal justice reforms that promote greater public safety, save taxpayers money, and allow those leaving prison to become productive members of society.

The coalition filed four pieces of legislation this session: drivers’ license revocation reform, juvenile expungement and notification of eligibility, and the creation of a task force to study issues faced by our local jails. While the bill to establish the summer task force ultimately stalled due to lack of space resulting from the legislature’s move to a new building, the three remaining reforms passed both chambers and should be signed into law by Gov. Haslam in the coming weeks.

Because of these successful efforts, Tennesseans exiting the criminal justice system will no longer have their drivers’ licenses automatically revoked if they are unable to repay their court fees within one year of their release. Instead, they can retain a hardship license for the purposes of commuting to work, church, and transporting their children to or from school. Additionally, juveniles with minor status offenses such as truancy or delinquency will have the opportunity to expunge their record at 17 rather than 18 years of age, improving their chances of getting their lives back on the right track.

Bad: Educational Choice

Beacon began the session with the aim of shifting conversations on educational choice towards a fresh approach with education savings accounts (ESAs). These accounts would operate like health savings accounts by placing the money we already spend on each child in a secure account monitored by the Department of Education and managed by parents. In doing so, parents are encouraged and empowered to be involved in their child’s education at the ground level, while the account dollars can be applied to a variety of approved expenses at any participating public or private school, online, homeschool, or any combination thereof, as well as other services such as tutoring and educational therapy.

While the concept of ESAs resonated favorably in the halls of Legislative Plaza, lawmakers opted to take another stab at passing an opportunity scholarship program in the form of a five-year pilot offered to eligible students in Memphis. This effort eventually stalled in the House Finance Subcommittee. While we are disappointed that the legislature once again failed to provide Tennessee families with the educational opportunities many so desperately need, we are nevertheless encouraged to hear from a growing number of lawmakers that there is mounting interest in bold educational choice initiatives like ESAs moving forward.

Ugly: Homesharing

This year, we supported a bill that would have prevented cities from banning Tennesseans from participating in the homesharing economy using services like Airbnb, while still allowing them to impose reasonable regulations. Unfortunately, dozens of taxpayer-funded lobbyists successfully whittled the bill down, consistently ensuring legislators that their cities would not move to ban the practice. But Nashville did just that.

A few weeks ago, the Nashville Metro Planning Commission voted to phase out permits for those who don’t live in their home. Homeowners who have obtained their permits, paid their taxes, and complied with the law will now have the rug ripped out from under them. The state House recognized that this is patently unfair and contrary to what they had been promised, so it stepped up and passed a new version of the original bill that would overturn Nashville’s actions. Sadly, the bill failed to advance in the Senate. Read our statement about the bill and what should happen going forward here.

Our successful reforms this year will make Tennessee freer and more prosperous. As for the few setbacks, we are committed to making those a continued priority. To stay informed about these issues and more, sign up for our email alerts.