Top picks from the 2019 legislative session
BY RON SHULTIS
While most Nashvillians have understandably been recovering from the recent crowds and craziness, few events get a sports fan pumped up like the NFL draft. The optimism of new talent and weeks of post draft analysis keeps fans in endless debate—like why didn’t my Packers draft a single wide receiver?! And yes, since my family owns shares, they are my Packers #AmericasRealTeam.
Sorry, I digress. Although there isn’t as much fanfare, another big deal in the city wrapped up this week—the end of the Tennessee legislative session.
With hundreds of moving parts, billions of dollars, competing interests, and endless drama, here’s my Mel Kiper impersonation of the 2019 legislative session draft. (For full dramatic effect play this while reading: https://youtu.be/y6-FMx_gu6g)
#1 Pick: ESAs
Sorry Kyler Murray, but with Beacon actively fighting for parental choice since 2011, the passage of the first parental choice program open to non-special needs students in the state’s history is clearly the #1 pick. While the bill is not perfect and more narrow than we’d prefer, Governor Lee’s top legislative priority gives thousands of children their first real opportunity to select the educational setting that best fits their needs and confirms school choice is here to stay in Tennessee. Think of this like a left tackle going #1 instead of a quarterback. It might not be as flashy, but it’s an anchoring presence and something to build off of in years to come.
First Round Pick: Hair Braiding License Repeal
After going undrafted last year (a.k.a. not passing), Beacon Impact, the Beacon Center’s advocacy partner, brought back freedom for hair braiders with a vengeance this year. An occupational license was required for braiders before this legislative session. This is the equivalent of needing the government’s permission to work, and often these burdensome requirements serve as a barrier to entry and make it harder for Tennesseans to find work and make a living. Previously, braiders were required to spend thousands of dollars in tuition for 300 hours of education, even though they do not cut hair, color hair, use chemicals or heat. When you can restart someone’s heart in an ambulance with only 60 hours of education, we shouldn’t require people to spend thousands of dollars on a skill many have possessed since childhood. Now, braiders, including Beacon hero Debra Nutall, will be free from those requirements.
Mid Round: Tax Reform
Beacon Impact was supportive of two tax reform efforts this year. First was the repeal of the “amusement” tax on memberships to small gyms. The government shouldn’t have taxes applicable to businesses depending on the square footage of the building, and now all gyms will be on a level playing field. Additionally, most professions were removed from the Professional Privilege Tax, a $400 annual tax on for the “privilege” of having a job in Tennessee. The Professional Privilege Tax is the last vestige of an income tax in the state, essentially serving as a pre-tax on income. There is already talk of next year removing the few professions so next year IT COULD GO ALL THE WAY!
Late Round: Corporate Welfare Reform
Your typical late rounder is more of a project and needs time to develop, and that’s certainly the case with corporate welfare reform. For the first time, Beacon Impact introduced and helped pass legislation—the FACTS Act—to bring more accountability to the state’s mega-deal grants, like those given to Electrolux and Amazon. Through negotiations. none of the items that brought increased transparency to the state’s tax credits were kept, leaving work to be done in years to come.
Undrafted: Pre-trial Reform
The Coalition for Sensible Justice, of which Beacon is a founding member, worked this year to help alleviate overcrowding in our local jails by bringing minor pre-trial reform. In America, you’re innocent until proven guilty, yet over 50,000 Tennesseans are sitting in jail awaiting trial for misdemeanors. Our proposed reform would have required magistrates to state why they were issuing bail or other conditions of release like GPS monitoring for a defendant instead of releasing them and expecting them to show up for court. This would have created an incentive to release those defendants who were not a threat a society and collect data as to why other defendants were not. The discussions, however, shifted, and the decision was made to wait and take a broader approach next year. The Lee administration has also expressed interest on making this issue part of their agenda net year, so this was placed on hold for now.