Below are excerpts from the newsletters of several local legislators reporting on the status of noteworthy legislation making its way though the legislature. The highlighting is mine.
Senate Education Committee approves Tennessee Tuition Stability ActThe Senate Education Committee, approved major legislation this week to control the exponential growth in tuition at Tennessee’s state colleges and universities. Tuition Stability Act limits tuition growth to increases in the consumer price index (CPI) and locks-in The Tennessee tuition for entering freshmen for four years. Despite being increased three times by the General Assembly since its enactment, Tennessee’s HOPE scholarship now covers only 50 percent of tuition and fees at most four-year universities in the state, except UT Knoxville where it covers only 32 percent. Over the past 20 years, in-state tuition and required fees have increased 456 percent at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville from $2,236 in 1996 to $12,436 in 2016. Under Senate Bill 2306, the Tennessee Board of Regents or the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees would be prohibited from increasing in-state undergraduate tuition or fees at a four-year institution above the increase in the CPI without a vote of the full board. If a proposed increase is less than the most recent annual percentage change in the CPI plus two percent, it would require a supermajority of the board voting in favor. An increase greater than two percent of CPI would require a unanimous vote. The bill aims to incentivize students through the tuition freeze program to finish college in a four-year time period. At the same time, it incentivizes higher education to become as efficient as possible.
Senate Transportation Committee hears testimony from Audi regarding new automated vehicles
Members of the Senate Transportation Committee heard testimony this week from Brad Stertz, Director of Audi’s Government Affairs, regarding the company’s efforts to put automated cars on the road. As the technology for autonomous vehicles continues to develop, states have found it may be necessary for state and municipal governments to address the potential impacts of these vehicles on the road. Three bills have been filed on the subject in the Tennessee General Assembly this year.
Audi also offered automated rides to legislators, allowing them to experience this new technology in a freeway setting. Stertz told members of the committee that it is important Audi work with the state legislatures across the country to develop a consistent regulatory framework for automated vehicles.
Automated vehicles are those in which at least some aspects of a safety-critical control function (e.g., steering, throttle, or braking) occur without direct driver input. Complete automation, where one can drive from his or her home to the office while reading a book in the backseat is about 20 years away, Stertz said, but right now the Audi Q7 has semi-autonomous driving. This is where one can take his or her hands off the wheel for a few seconds at a time. In a few years, according to Mr. Stertz, they are coming out with a system that will allow driving hands-free up to 35 miles per hour in highway traffic jam conditions.
The car has 24 sensors connected to a central computer which uses redundant systems for increased safety. Mr. Stertz said, “The main element of automated driving is safety. Ninety to 93 percent of accidents according to the federal government have some element of human error.”
The director assured that turning the automated feature off is not that much more difficult than turning off today’s cruise control, “We think that, ultimately at the time being, it is really the human driver who is in charge,” he said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, sixteen states introduced legislation related to autonomous vehicles in 2015, up from 12 states in 2014, nine states and D.C. in 2013, and six states in 2012.
Repealing the Hall TaxLegislation advanced through the Senate Finance Committee this week that would begin the process of repealing the Hall Income Tax in Tennessee. The Hall Income Tax levies six percent on earnings from stocks and bonds, with 3/8 of the revenue going to cities and counties. Since enactment of the tax in 1929, the use of investment savings has grown as a primary source of retirement income. Senate Bill 47 makes a single cut of one percent to the state’s portion of the Hall Income Tax when a two-year average of three percent growth occurs. When the last cut of the state portion reaches .75 percent, the legislation provides that a phase out of the local portion would begin unless communities decide in a referendum to continue collecting the local portion of the tax. In other news on the Hall Tax, it was announced that the Revenue Subcommittee will consider several more bills on this subject next week.
Preventing Local Governments from Prohibiting Employers from asking Applicants About their Criminal RecordLegislation was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week that prevents a local government from imposing a requirement on private companies regarding what an employer cannot ask an applicant for employment. The bill comes amid a movement to prohibit employers from doing business with local governments if they ask if an applicant for employment has a criminal record. Senate Bill 2103 says that local governments shall not prohibit a private employer from requesting any type of information during the hiring process as a condition of procuring a contract with the governmental entity or doing business within their jurisdiction. It does not prevent the local government from prohibiting the question for purposes of their own employment practices.
The Cancer Treatment Fairness ActThe “Cancer Treatment Fairness Act” was discussed in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week. Traditional treatments, usually given through an IV or injection, are covered under a patient’s medical benefits resulting in a small co-pay or no cost at all. Oral treatments are usually part of the health plan’s pharmacy benefit and can result in higher out-of-pocket costs for patients. Senate Bill 2091 directs health plans that currently cover cancer treatments to apply the same patient cost-sharing for therapies taken by mouth as those that are administered by IV or injection. Action on the bill was deferred for two weeks.