By Stewart Clifton and Jacquie Telfer
We are at the very beginning of the legislative session with no significant environmental bills filed yet. For this initial legislative update, we are mentioning some areas of probable activity on environmental and conservation issues, but also providing some general information.
Tuesday January 8 marked the start of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly! It was the beginning of a new era in Tennessee politics. There are 32 new faces and more to come in the future after two special state senate elections are decided later this year. Both in terms of raw numbers of newcomers and in terms of loss of key members (through retirement or new public services opportunities mostly) it is the biggest turnover since the 1860’s Reconstruction era!
A new governor (Bill Lee, A Republican from Williamson County), a new speaker of the House (Glen Casada, a Republican from Williamson County), a new majority leader in the Senate (Jack Johnson, a Republican from Williamson County), and a record-high number of freshman lawmakers are facts worth noting. These changes bring more unpredictability than normal!
In the House, the freshman class of lawmakers consists of 20 Republicans and 8 Democrats. At the start of the session, the Senate will have four new lawmakers — all women — although three of these previously served in the House.
Beyond the unknowns in the legislature, questions remain unanswered about the incoming Lee administration. Although Lee has hinted at some ideas that he plans to highlight — including criminal justice reform, vocational and technical schools and agriculture — there are obviously many issues he has yet to address. He has not yet commented a great deal about environmental issues, nor has he announced his Commissioner for the Department of Environment and Conservation.
Though the only constitutional requirement is to pass a budget, the 111th General Assembly members will obviously introduce hundreds of new bills. In 2017 and 2018, over 2700 bills were introduced in those years combined.
Here's a look at a few environmental issues the Tennessee legislature may take up in 2019.
- TennCan Container Deposit bill.
- Budget amendment for addressing lead in school water fountains
- Anti-SLAPP bill (provides protection against retaliatory tactics by large businesses/governments against citizen legal action. (SLAPP is short for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation)
- Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) bill.
- Possible bills related to solid waste (from the good guys)
- Individual licensing for water herbicides
- Urban farming
Readers may be interested in reviewing the list of new committee chairs and members. This information was just finalized and released yesterday January 10th. Committee decisions on bills are the central focus for advocacy activities, as many of you know.
Finally, please note that the General Assembly will not be meeting much in the next few weeks as they have adjourned for moving offices and attending the Governor’s inauguration. The first full week of work begin January 28th.