State Senator Mae Beavers’ Legislative Update


Senator Mae Beavers

Senator Mae Beavers

Senate Finance Committee approves legislation to maintain Tennessee’s dedicated road fund

NASHVILLE-Tennessee’s road needs were debated on Capitol Hill.  The Senate Finance Committee approved a bill that maintains Tennessee’s dedicated road fund by prohibiting the diversion of gas tax money through the state’s budget or appropriations bill.

The bill approved by the Finance Committee, SB 1309, would require authorization through separate legislation to divert gas tax revenues that are dedicated for road funds.  The measure would put Tennessee back in the position it was prior to 2004 and restore the appropriate checks and balances to ensure that any diversion of the funds are fully meted out through the normal legislative process.  Currently, the dedicated road fund can be diverted through a line in the appropriations bill, which is a much easier route to raid the funds.  

The Department of Transportation only spends the funds that are available through its dedicated revenues, gas taxes and highway user fees, and federal funding.  Called “dedicated funding” since users pay for the roads through gas taxes and fees, a portion of the gasoline tax also goes to cities and counties in Tennessee to fund local roads.  This dedicated revenue system was put into place when the gas tax was raised to fund the road program.  Over the last several years, however, $280 million in road funds have been funneled from the gas tax to meet other state government expenditures. 

Judiciary Committee grills Administration officials over tax increase

The Judiciary Committee questioned Administration Budget Director Bill Bradley over mandating that huge budget cuts to the District Attorneys Conference, the Public Defenders Conference, and the Department of Safety if the General Assembly be enacted if the General Assembly chooses not to adopt the controversial FONCE tax increase. 

Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers and Republican Caucus Chairman Diane Black questioned why the administration was allowing for such key public safety and justice positions to possibly be cut and whether it was unusual for the Governor to direct “general funds” and tax increases and tie them to certain departments.  “The administration is choosing to hold some of our most important state employees hostage – from highway troopers to public defenders and district attorneys – in order to pass a tax increase,” said Chairman Beavers.  “I think there is a better way to fund these vital positions. Trying to force the General Assembly to adopt a controversial tax increase to keep these positions is a political maneuver.”

The Judiciary Committee chose to pass the budget of the District Attorneys and the Public Defenders without recommendation on the condition that the Finance Committee try to find other ways to fund these potential cut positions if the General Assembly chooses not to enact the FONCE tax.

Video prompts legislators to push legislation to divert family planning funds from Planned Parenthood to public clinics

Several State Senators held a press conference this week to announce plans to pursue legislation ensuring that family planning funds go to public women’s health services providers before private applicants are considered.  The action comes after a video was released showing violation of state law by Planned Parenthood of Memphis, a private provider that receives public funds for family planning services.

The video shows a 14-year old girl being advised by a Planned Parenthood employee to lie to court authorities regarding the alleged father of her child who the youth said was 31.   The court can approve an abortion for a minor without consulting a parent.  The video tape shows the likelihood that the Planned Parenthood employee obviously understood that the age difference between the minor and the alleged father would constitute the crime of rape in Tennessee. 

Approximately $1.1 million in Title 10 funds are provided to Planned Parenthood for women’s health-related services like family planning, birth control, and exams.  Although current law bans the use of the money for abortion, the Title 10 funds supplement the organization’s operations.  The lawmakers believe other government-related health services like the public health departments, or government-associated medical clinics could provide these services.

The legislation says you must exhaust all other avenues in the public sector before moving to private providers.  This also makes sure that public money goes to enhance services in our public health departments and public hospitals.

The proposal, SB 470, will be heard in House and Senate Committees next week.

Bills in Brief

Protecting Crime Victims – The Senate Judiciary Committee approved strong crime bills this week aiming to protect victims of crime.  SB 1531 would increase the minimum age of the Class D felony offense of child abuse and child neglect or endangerment from six to eight years of age or younger.  This bill would enhance penalties against those who commit child abuse and child neglect in cases where the victim is eight years old or younger. This legislation protects children by making sure their abusers are kept behind bars for a longer period of time.

Animal fighting – The full Senate voted 27 to 0 to increase the penalty for being a spectator at an animal fight. Under current law, the penalty for being a spectator at a dog fight is a Class B misdemeanor, and for other animals, it is a Class C misdemeanor, which only carries a $50 fine.  This bill, SB 537, increases the penalty for spectators at all animal fights to a Class A misdemeanor.   Animal fighting has other crime implications like gambling, drugs, and organized crime.   Other states like North and South Carolina have driven animal fighting, like cock fighting, to Tennessee due to increased penalties imposed in their states.