Capitol Hill Update from State Representative David Byrd

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   General Assembly approves $42.6 billion budget

   The House and Senate of the 112th General Assembly on Thursday successfully approved a no-debt $42.6 billion budget that provides strategic investments in education, health care, public safety and economic development initiatives. As a result of careful spending decisions and governing by conservative principles, Republicans were able to return to many pre-pandemic priorities with the 2021-22 fiscal year budget. The spending plan makes key investments that strengthen Tennessee’s standing as the most fiscally responsible state in America. The 2021-22 fiscal year budget invests $100 million into the Rainy-Day fund, bringing our state’s savings account to $1.55 billion.  Republicans have ensured the state honors its commitment to state employees and teachers by setting aside $250 million through the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System. Tennessee remains on solid financial ground as one of the indebted states in the nation with a AAA bond-rated state rating.

   The budget provides $730 million in new spending for education, including the spending from the special session.  This includes more than $480 million on K-12 education and more than $240 million on higher education. The Basic Education Plan (BEP) will be fully funded at approximately $62 million. Tennessee educators will receive $120 million to provide a pay increase in addition to $43 million allocated for teacher salary increases during January’s special session. The budget includes $79 million to address the growing needs of Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology campuses. The new budget funds $250 million for a Mental Health Trust Fund to provide mental health assistance and support for K-12 students.

   Additionally, the budget cuts more than $50 million for a sales tax holiday on grocery sales and prepared foods from July 30-Aug. 5. It also puts a strong emphasis on job creation and rural development with a significant $100 million investment to expand high-speed broadband to underserved Tennessee communities.  These funds are in addition to federal coronavirus stimulus money provided for this purpose.  In other jobs investments, the budget provides $190 million for Fast Track Infrastructure Grants to add high-quality jobs throughout the state.  It also provides $7 million to help support Tennessee entrepreneurs and innovators with promising start-up companies.

   Health care is another essential priority for next year’s budget. It provides $37.9 million to fully fund medical inflation in the state’s TennCare program and adds $5 million to further widen the state’s Health Care Safety Net.  The Health Care Safety Net focuses on services that help uninsured patients get preventative and disease management care and avoid more costly hospitalizations. 

   Key budget highlights include:

•$100 million for cities and counties with funds available in July for any non-recurring needs;

•$931 million for capital improvements to keep the state’s infrastructure strong without incurring debt for such needs;

•$30 million for deferred maintenance for Tennessee’s state parks which had a record number of visitors in 2020;

•$9.5 million to improve salaries for probation and parole officers to offer competitive pay with other states and to keep Tennessee safe;

•$4.4 million for new agents in the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations (TBI) to meet increased investigative needs;

•$17 million for a new radio communication system, $2.3 million for body cameras and full funding of the salary plan and survey for state troopers;

•$18 million to improve Tennessee’s statewide disaster communications system;  

•$24 million to provide additional funding for rural projects as part of the Rural Economic Opportunity Fund; 

•$8 million to expand marketing and tourism initiatives;

•$145 million for air and rail transportation infrastructure;

•$5.3 million to fight human trafficking and support victims;

•$50 million for a sales tax holiday on grocery sales, restaurants and all prepared foods on July 30 – Aug. 5

•$400,000 for senior citizens centers to be distributed through the Tennessee Commission on Aging;

•$450,000 for Big Brothers and Big Sisters organizations

•$250,000 for child advocacy centers to be distributed through the Department of Children’s Services.

   The FY21-22 budget takes effect July 1, 2021.

   House protects legal firearm owners’ privacy

   The House Republicans this week approved legislation that protects the privacy of citizens related to firearm ownership. Similar to the protections guaranteed by the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), House Bill 1171, also known as the Firearm Information Privacy Protection Act (FIPPA), will protect Tennesseans who are exercising their right to own and purchase firearms. This legislation will create a Class A misdemeanor for any public personnel that intentionally discloses information about an owner of a firearm for the purpose of compiling a federal firearms registry or confiscation of firearms. The bill will create a cause of action for a gun owner to pursue civil action against an individual that releases information about gun ownership to facilitate any federal government effort to confiscate or register firearms. The Firearm Information Privacy Protection Act will act as a buffer between Tennessee and the federal government’s unconstitutional and invasive attempts to prohibit citizens from protecting one’s life, liberty and family. House Republicans stand committed to protecting the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding Tennesseans. House Bill 1171 is expected to be heard for consideration in the Senate chamber on May 4.

   As always, I am truly humbled and honored to be your voice on Capitol Hill. If there is ever any issue I can assist with, please reach out to my office by calling 615-741-2190 or emailing me at rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov.