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From the Hill: State bill could invite public to submit ways to streamline budget

By State Rep. Matthew Hill
The second session of the 106th General Assembly is picking up steam, as bills from agriculture to zoo regulations are keeping lawmakers and committees busy.
All thirteen House committees have begun meeting on a regular basis, as well as the twenty-four subcommittees. Monday evening and Thursday morning sessions have met as usual, but Wednesday afternoon sessions are being cancelled for budget hearings. Budget hearings are expected to continue for the next few weeks as we are given a better picture of the state’s financial situation. Below is a snapshot of some legislation making its way through the committee system.
A bill that aims to improve the efficiency of state departments was passed in a House subcommittee last week. House Bill 3007 encourages departments to seek input from both employees and the public in order to create more efficient operations.
Other states have successfully implemented similar programs, and say that employees and the public have submitted innovative approaches and methodologies. Lawmakers hope the measure, if utilized by departments, will result in cost-savings for state government.
A bill that will help further protect the voting process from fraud and abuse was passed out of the House Election Subcommittee this week. House Bill 270 will require that voter registration forms carry a disclaimer that clarifies giving false information to register to vote carries a criminal penalty, and also requires that the applicant affirm that they are lawfully in the United States. The bill will now move to the House State and Local Government Committee.
Another measure presented in the House Elections Subcommittee will make it easier for troops overseas to vote absentee if passed into law. House Bill 2799 would allow election commissions to e-mail ballots that troops could then print and return by mail. Currently, election administrators mail the ballots overseas and do not utilize electronic means. The bill passed unanimously.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the Pew Research Center for People and Press report that one-third of states do not allow enough time for overseas voters, listing Tennessee as one of 16 states that sent ballots after the date necessary for voters to meet deadlines. Last year, at least seven states enacted legislation to authorize some form of electronic transmission. The committee will vote on the bill next week.
House Bill 2768 which requires ignition interlock devices to be installed in the vehicles of DUI offenders, moved out of a subcommittee this week.
Filed last year, the original bill required anyone convicted of a DUI with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .08 or higher be ordered to use the ignition interlock device (IID). Ignition interlock devices, which are designed to test the driver’s BAC level, have been implemented around the country. If the driver’s BAC level is above the set limit, the car will not start. The bill has been amended to raise the BAC level to .15, but the sponsor will still support the bill at the .08 level. The measure is expected to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee this week.
Numerous bills were filed this year to either ban or lessen the impact of traffic cameras in Tennessee. Cities and counties in Tennessee have increasingly turned to the automated systems for surveillance of intersections and roadways.
The Tennessee General Assembly has studied the use of traffic cameras over the summer and fall. Legislators have echoed criticisms from constituents that in addition to a violation of rights, the motivation behind the cameras is money, not safety.
House Bill 2516 will be heard in the House Transportation Committee this week, and bans the cameras altogether. Several weeks ago, a Transportation subcommittee passed legislation that directs the state comptroller to study the systems and places a two-year moratorium on new cameras.
House Joint Resolution 746 urges 911 call centers to accept text messages.
An Iowa 911 call center was the first to implement the idea, and reported that the program has been most beneficial to the deaf and hard of hearing, but has also been of help to kidnap victims who can’t risk drawing their captor’s attention by calling.
Legislators have, for several years, filed and supported legislation that would require any member of the Tennessee General Assembly convicted of a felony to forfeit their state health insurance benefits.
House Bill 2349 was approved by the State Government Subcommittee this week, and has been placed on the agenda in the House State and Local Government Committee. The bill would require any member of the legislature to forfeit state health insurance benefits provided the conviction was in relation to their elected office, and would not apply retroactively or to family members who might be covered.
Tennessee Valley Authority officials testified before the House Conservation and Environment Committee last week, saying that the ash spill clean-up is continuing as expected, and TVA will continue to test the water downstream indefinitely. A retaining wall collapsed in December of 2008 and dumped fly ash from TVA’s Kingston’s plant into the Emory River. TVA reported that 70 percent of the clean-up is completed and set an ambitious timeline for the entire project to be completed by May of 2010.
Here is some of the legislation scheduled to be heard in committee this week. House Bill 0262 requires that all written examinations for driver license or intermediate driver license be in English. House Bill 0791 expands the offense of identity theft to include when someone knowingly obtains, possesses, buys, or uses the personal identifying information of another, including any dead or fictitious person, to obtain or attempt to obtain employment.
House Bill 2744 creates a misdemeanor offense of possessing an open container of alcohol within the passenger area of a vehicle on a public highway. House Bill 3737 requires the Department of Education’s Office of Early Learning to disseminate its annual report regarding the voluntary pre-K program to the public via its web site. House Bill 2685 authorizes employers to require English be spoken in the workplace if necessary to conduct the employer’s business. House Bill 3173 clarifies that abortions performed during viability of the fetus must be performed in a hospital.