Tax breaks, trans athletes, more: Tennessee laws kicking in
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As Tennesseans prepare to enjoy fireworks and cookouts over the long weekend, a long slate of new state laws affecting transgender athletes, which books can be in school libraries, homeless camps, and harsh criminal sentences will go into effect Friday.
In Tennessee, July 1 is the start of a new fiscal year and the mark of when many newly passed bills begin to be implemented.
The state’s GOP-controlled General Assembly and Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed off on hundreds of bills earlier this year during the annual legislative session. Lee also let several take effect without signing them. Here’s a look at some of the notable laws they approved.
The $52.8 billion spending plan for 2022-23 includes a one-month sales tax holiday on groceries planned for August, a $750 million boost to K-12 schools and $100 million in violent crime reduction grants. It also has a $121 million break to waive the state portion of vehicle registration tag fees over the next year, which comes down to $23.75 per vehicle. Other breaks will eliminate $9.7 million worth of a professional privilege tax for doctors and will provide $68 million for one-year broadband tax relief.
Tennessee will become the first U.S. state to make it a felony to camp on local public property such as parks — a move critics say is designed to target homeless encampments. The law requires that violators receive at least 24 hours’ notice before an arrest, but the felony charge is punishable by up to six years in prison and the loss of voting rights. It will also be a misdemeanor for camping around highways any time — not just overnight — also, requiring a warning first. Lee let the bill become law without signing it, saying he thinks there’s a better way of addressing the issue.
The new law comes after Tennessee made it a felony in 2020 to camp on most state-owned property, as long as the place is not designated for people to camp there.
TRUTH IN SENTENCING
Despite concerns from the governor’s office and criminal justice advocates, lawmakers passed a bill that will lengthen criminal sentences and potentially increase incarceration costs. Known as the so-called “truth in sentencing” bill, the measure will require serving entire sentences for various felonies, which legislative leaders argue ensures justice for victims. Those include attempted first-degree murder, vehicular homicide resulting from the driver’s intoxication, carjacking and especially aggravated robbery.
Separately, 12 other offenses would require inmates to serve at least 85% of their sentences. Those range from reckless homicide, aggravated arson, voluntary manslaughter to possessing or aggravated kidnapping.
As a sign of his unease with the bill, Lee allowed it to go into law without his signature — sparking harsh rebukes from GOP legislative leaders who argue the new law will hold those who break the law more “accountable.”
School libraries were a common target among Republican lawmakers this year in Tennessee and nationwide, with many accusing librarians of providing inappropriate materials to students and demanding more transparency in how books were selected and removed from schools.
After introducing a flurry of bills, the Tennessee Legislature ultimately moved to let the state’s politically appointed textbook commission remove books from public school libraries statewide. The panel will have veto power when people appeal decisions by local school boards in book removal challenges. Meanwhile, under a separate law, school libraries will be required to post their contents online and regularly review their policies to ensure materials are “age-appropriate” and “suitable.”
Last year, Lee signed off on banning transgender athletes from participating in girls sports. Even though none of the supporters could point to an incident where this has become an issue in Tennessee, lawmakers returned this year to add harsh penalties against schools that violate that ban. Furthermore, Tennessee will now ban transgender athletes from participating in female college sports.
A new law strictly limits the ability of local governments to stop oil and gas pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure projects in their jurisdictions.