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From the Hill: Ignition interlock moves forward

By State Rep. Matthew Hill
The Ignition interlock proposal championed by the Tennessee General Assembly
for a number of years cleared a major hurdle last week as the Budget
Subcommittee, commonly known as the ‘black hole’ committee of the
legislature, overwhelmingly approved the measure.

The bill requires anyone convicted of a DUI with a blood alcohol content
(BAC) level of .15 or higher to use the ignition interlock device (IID).
Ignition interlock devices have been implemented around the country, and
tests the driver’s BAC level. If it is above the set limit, the car will not
start.

The legislation has hit roadblocks in past years, and was sent to a summer
study committee in 2009 by the Criminal Practice and Procedure Subcommittee.
Having now passed the Budget Subcommittee, the legislation will be heard in
the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

The Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee discussed the workers’
compensation insurance issue at length last week, hammering out a proposal
that advanced to the House Government Operations Committee. Under the
legislation, anyone engaged in the construction industry must carry workers’
compensation insurance on any employee, as well as any subcontractor not
otherwise covered by a policy. Sole proprietors, partners, officers of
corporations and members of limited liability companies will be required to
carry workers’ compensation insurance on themselves.

However, sole proprietors, partners, officers of corporations and members of
limited liability companies engaged as contractors may exempt themselves
from workers’ compensation coverage if they own at least 30 percent of the
business and serve in a supervisory role while attending the worksite
without engaging in any of the sub-classifications for the building
construction categories listed in rules set by the Tennessee board for
licensing contractors.

The General Assembly approved legislation during the Extraordinary Session
in January that suspended a newly implemented law to require sole
proprietors and partners engaged in the construction industry to carry
workers’ compensation coverage on themselves due to unintended effects of
the act. In the meantime, the legislature has discussed alternative ways to
address gaps in coverage for workers in the construction industry without
harming small business owners, while providing added protections for third
partners and responsible contractors.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development gave the House
Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee a snapshot of where the state’s
unemployment compensation fund currently stands. A representative from the
department said the fund currently has a balance of approximately $8
million, but is in the process of receiving first quarter taxes from
employers and should have about $221.4 million by the second quarter of this
year. The state had taken in 58,569 claims by the end of January, a decrease
of about 36 percent from January of 2009.

Tennessee has a $120 million line of credit with the U.S. Department of
Labor, and to date has only tapped $20 million of those funds. On March 3rd,
the governor requested a loan from the U.S. Secretary of Labor due to the
Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s promise that the
$20 million will be paid back in the next couple of weeks.

Despite continued reports of a weak economy, Tennessee’s unemployment
numbers improved slightly in the month of March, according to recent
reports. Eighty-five of the state’s ninety-five counties saw their
unemployment rate decrease. Overall, unemployment in the state dropped to
10.6 percent, compared to 10.7 in February.

According to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development,
6,600 job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality; 5,200 in mining and
construction; 4,800 in trade, transportation and utilities; and 4,700 in
administrative, support, and waste services.

The Tennessee Department of Health issued a warning last week about a
potential scam that is making the rounds in Tennessee. Reports have been
turned in to the department that someone claiming to be a Health Department
Vital Records employee is calling households seeking citizens to confirm
important personal information such as birth certificate information.
The Commissioner of Health said the Office of Vital Records does not send
employees to homes and issued the following tips to help protect against
scammers. Be wary of anyone who shows up at your home or calls you claiming
to be with the government and asking for identifying information. Although
U.S. Census workers may visit your home or call within the next few months
to obtain information for the 2010 Census, employees from other federal
agencies usually will not. Medicare staffers will not visit your home or
call unless you request it.

Don’t give out personal information — including your date of birth, bank
account number, Social Security number or your Medicare number — to
strangers. If you believe you have been the target of a bogus attempt to
get personal information, call your local police department. If you feel you
are in immediate danger, call 911.

House Bill 2665 was approved by the House Budget Subcommittee on Wednesday
and will next be heard in the Finance, Ways and Means Committee. The bill
creates a veterans’ honor medal program to recognize and honor all Tennessee
veterans.

The House Finance, Ways and Means Committee discussed at length a bill that
would require former legislators convicted of a felony related to their
office to forfeit health insurance benefits covered by the taxpayers. House
Bill 2349 will be discussed again this week, at which point a vote will
likely occur.

The Nashville Business Journal reported that Tennessee is ranked as
the 13thbest state for businesswith regards to taxes in the country by
the Small Business and
Entrepreneurship Council (SBEC). Contributing to Tennessee’s climb up the
list is its lack of a state income tax and a capital gains tax. The SBEC
also added that low property taxes, cheap diesel taxes and low gasoline
taxes were contributing factors.