NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF/AP) — Tennessee lawmakers have adjourned for the year after spending their final moments slashing how long the unemployed can receive benefits, and banning certain concepts on race and racism from being taught in schools.
In an end-of-session press conference, lawmakers touted their work on rural community investments, criminal justice reform, education expansion.
“Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton and the members of the General Assembly have been key partners in reducing crime, supporting strong families and strengthening our economy, especially in rural Tennessee,” said Gov. Lee. “I commend the legislature for their work this session to pass measures that will benefit Tennesseans and continue our reputation for conservative fiscal management.”
“We were presented with many challenges this session and we met each and every one,” said Lt. Gov. McNally (R-Oak Ridge). “We invested in education and kept taxes and debt low. Most importantly, we ensured our state pension system remains fully funded for years to come. This protects our fiscal stability and our state credit rating. I am thankful to Gov. Lee, Speaker Sexton and every member of the General Assembly for their tremendous work on behalf of the people of Tennessee this session.”
Lawmakers signed off on a $42.6 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget includes a one-week sales tax holiday on restaurants, bars and groceries, an infusion of cash into capital maintenance and improvements, and a big paydown into the state’s retirement system.
During the press conference, Republican lawmakers stressed the work completed in criminal justice reform which, according to the governor's office, will accomplish the following:
- Improving outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals by increasing transparency in the parole process
- Enhancing practices that support success post-release
- Expanding treatment services and community-based supervision for offenders as alternatives to incarceration
"Something I am particularly proud of, governor, are your proposed initiatives that we were able to get passed relative to criminal justice reform. I really believe in my heart of hearts that this will have a last impact on the future of Tennessee," said Sen. Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin).
Another priority for the governor was an investment in rural communities in the expansion of high-speed broadband. A historic $100 million will be invested in the expansion to underserved communities.
Changes were also made to the TennCare system. Coverage will be extended for adopted kids, allowing them to remain eligible up to 18 years old. TennCare postpartum care was also expanded from 60 days to a full year.
However, more contentious issues dominated the legislative session including bills concerning transgender students, abortion and guns.
One bill would require businesses or government facilities open to the public to post a sign if they let transgender people use multi-person bathrooms, locker rooms or changing rooms associated with their gender identity. And student-athletes will be required to prove that their sex matches the student’s “original” birth certificate in order to participate in public school sports.
Another bill that drew criticism will require medical providers to cremate or bury fetal remains from surgical abortions.
And one of the bills passed on the last day of the session decriminalizes cannabis oil with up to 0.9% THC content for people suffering from specific medical conditions.
Another bill passed this session was the permitless carry bill, also known as the constitutional carry bill. It will go into effect on July 1.
The legislation allows military members ages 18 to 20, and adults 20 and older to carry open or concealed handguns without a permit. Currently, gun owners have to take a training course before carrying a handgun. It also increases punishments for certain gun crimes. The theft of a firearm will be increased from a misdemeanor to a felony and requires six months jail time for the offense.
Tennessee Democrats did not hold an end-of-session press conference Wednesday night.
Editor's Note: The Associated Press contributed to this article.