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2020 Legislative Session Wrap-Up, Part 1

Alyssa Hansen
23 Apr, 2020
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Late last night, the second half of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly recessed until at least June 1st, 2020 (if not later). To say that the proceedings around passing the budget were anything but business as usual would be an understatement. Governor Bill Lee's proposed budget was made public, put before lawmakers, discussed, and passed all within less than 24 hours. For a thorough, detailed recap of the week's (and especially Thursday's) proceedings, we recommend reading through this article from The Tennessean. Passing the budget is always a very detailed-oriented affair filled with weeks of debate, but the events of the past several days left many of us with whiplash. Unfortunately and disappointingly, the process was rushed and did not fully take into account the needs of all Tennesseans.    The Senate approved the budget on a 29-0 vote, while the House passed it on an 87-3 vote (Representatives Gloria Johnson, Vincent Dixie, and G.A. Hardaway voted "no.") Some of the highlights (both the good, the bad, and the ugly) of Governor Lee's scaled-down, $39.8 billion budget include...
  • While the governor has put $150 million towards public health issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, he is only making a small increase to the uninsured adult health care safety net. 
  • Money originally allocated for teacher pay raises has been cut in half.
  • Despite the cuts made after the governor's initial proposal in February, the approved budget still contains nearly $40 million to implement Tennessee's school voucher plan. 
  • An additional $30 million is being set aside for TEMA's ongoing response and clean-up related to the March 3rd tornado. 
  We'd like to thank several Democratic representatives for their hard-fought efforts to add budget amendments that would have been very helpful to working families throughout the state. These are just four highlights; there were others. 
  • Representative Bo Mitchell asked the House to remove funding for Governor Lee's school voucher program from the budget. 
  • Representative Bill Beck introduced an amendment aimed at helping the hospitality industry that is facing an extremely difficult future in light of COVID-19 closures. 
  • Representative Gloria Johnson advocated for universal vote-by-mail during a pandemic. 
  • Representative John Ray Clemmons introduced an amendment that would have expanded Medicaid in Tennessee (doing this would be a major help in dealing with COVID-19 in our state).  

What's Next?   Until June 1st rolls around or the legislature announces a different date for the body to reconvene, any bills that we have been watching and noting in our updates are essentially on hold until further notice. That includes things like SJR 648 (which would enshrine Tennessee's Right to Work law in the state constitution),  House Bill 2719/Senate Bill 2462, which would encourage employers to give their employees who are veterans an unpaid day off on Veterans Day, and dozens of others.  Please keep in mind that just because lawmakers have recessed, session is far from over. Until they officially adjourn sine die, every piece of legislation is still very much alive (just not moving).      Because 2020 is an election year, there is a chance that legislators could wrap things up very quickly once they return. All House members and half of the Senate members are up for re-election and can't raise money during this recess. That means that there's a slight possibility that bad bills like SJR 648 could disappear easier than we expected. However, we are not taking anything for granted and need to stay on our toes. During the next two months, we will continue to monitor any developments and keep you updated. Otherwise, our legislative updates will take a break either until June 1st or as new developments warrant.    Once the legislature does adjourn sine die (hopefully) later this year, we will send out Part 2 of our annual Legislative Session Wrap-Up, which will include our top good and bad bills, a recap of the end of session, and much more. We thank all of you for your patience and understanding as we navigate this uncharted territory, and we'll see you in June!