Transit reform inches forward in Ga. General Assembly

Speaker David Ralston is backing a Republican transit reform package that would reshape transportation services throughout metropolitan Atlanta, signaling the much-anticipated measure should at least get a vote in the House.

The 77-page bill, introduced by Transportation Committee Chairman Kevin Tanner, would recast the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority as the Atlanta-region Transit Link, or ATL, and empower it to govern transit planning in 13 metro counties: Cherokee, Clayton, Coweta, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Paulding and Rockdale.

The bill would provide financing for new transit projects through the creation of a handful of new taxes, including fees on goods sold at the airports in Atlanta and Savannah and one on taxi and ride-hailing fares.

A companion reform bill is under consideration by the Senate

Elsewhere under the Dome …

Religious conservatives in the Senate have introduced a measure to allow adoption agencies to turn away married same-sex couples, the latest religious liberty effort in the General Assembly. A mirror provision was attached to an adoption reform package last year, killing the bill in the eleventh hour. (An adoption reform bill was passed this year by both chambers after both the governor and speaker demanded a so-called clean bill.)

The House Public Safety Committee green lighted a bill to bring some state oversight to the controversial practice of vehicle booting. The measure now advances to the Rules Committee.

The House voted by near unanimous measure to approve a constitutional amendment to prevent the misappropriation of environmental fees for other purposes in the state budget. Each year, a large portion of revenues collected for the purpose of disposing tires or cleaning hazardous waste sites are leveraged for other expenses.

The Senate OK’d a supplemental spending bill for fiscal year 2018 last week, and the chamber’s slight adjustment to an earlier-passed version goes back to the House for a second time for final passage.

The House Education Committee advanced a proposal to increase funding for State Commission Charter Schools. The current state funding formula is based on the average spending of the five lowest-spending school districts, and the new bill would increase state spending to the average spending of all school districts.

Haslam delivers final State of the State

The following comes by way of Dentons 50 partner Adam Nickas of Capitol Resources.

On Monday, before a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam delivered his eighth and final State of the State address. While much of his speech reflected on his past seven years in office, Haslam also indicated his primary areas of focus for his final year in office, including curbing opioid abuse, restructuring the state’s juvenile justice system, and ensuring a higher percentage of post-secondary degree attainment.

Among the accomplishments the Governor touted:

  • Lowest unemployment rate in the state’s history;
  • Nearly 400,000 net new private sector jobs;
  • Fastest-improving state in the nation in Math, Science, and English;
  • $572 million in tax cuts, including a 30% percent cut on the grocery tax;
  • Tripling the state’s Rainy Day Fund, totaling $850 with passage of this year’s budget.

Looking toward his final year in office, Haslam hopes to build upon his post-secondary education initiatives of “Tennessee Promise” and “Tennessee Reconnect”- programs that allow every Tennessean access to community and technical colleges tuition-free. With his new initiative of “Complete to Compete,” Haslam hopes to increase attainment of degrees or certificates for individuals to more easily enter the workforce. This will be accomplished by reforming financial aid and the lottery scholarship to ensure on-time completion.

As a result of months of collaboration with both the legislative and judicial branches, Haslam also indicated his intent to implement recommendations to bring needed reforms to the state’s juvenile justice system. This includes how to better deter out-of-home placements of youth when possible, keeping them close to their community, and addressing disparities among counties in dealing with juvenile crime.

As opioid abuse continues to plague the state, the Governor announced the “TN Together” plan last week with a request of $30 million for prevention, treatment and greater resources for law enforcement. The proposal includes a 5-day cap on initial opioid prescriptions, incentivizing inmates to complete intensive treatment programs, and updating the schedule of controlled substances.

Other items among Haslam’s $37.5 billion budget request:

  • More than $200 million in new state funding for K-12 education;
  • Nearly $100 million for higher education initiatives;
  • $128 million for job growth investments, including programs that target rural communities.

The Republican and Democratic primaries for Governor is in August. Among the hopefuls are former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean (D), Congressman Diane Black (R), House Speaker Beth Harwell (R), Former Commissioner of Economic Development Randy Boyd, Businessman Bill Lee (R), House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D), and State Senator Mae Beavers (R).