Senator Joey Hensley, MD; Tennessee 28th District Capitol Hill Week in Review
June 16, 2022
The 112th General Assembly has adjourned for 2022, and it was a very successful year. We have taken measures for Tennessee to be a better place to live, work and to raise a family. I will go over the laws passed this session over the next few weeks.
Increasing transparency and accountability to campaign finance – To provide more sunshine to campaign operations, a new law will require state candidates to report all expenditures regardless of the amount and all contributions over $100. It allows for unitemized contributions up to $100; however, if unitemized contributions make up $2,000 or more per statement period, per candidate, then those contributions must be reported. Additionally, a PAC will be audited if unitemized contributions make up more than 30% of the candidate’s contributions.
Starting July 1, 2022, any PAC that registers must submit a valid government photo ID to the Registry for each officer, treasurer of the committee, and at least one person who directly controls expenditures.
It also requires reporting of expenditures if a 501 (c)(4)(5) or (6) organization spends at least $5,000 for communications naming or showing the likeness of a candidate within 60 days of an election. Expenditures made within ten days of an election must also be reported if the expenditure is over $5,000 for a statewide candidate; $3,000 for a Senate candidate; $1,000 for a House candidate.
Establishing residency requirements for Tennessee’s Congressional Delegation - To ensure those who are elected to Congress from Tennessee are connected to their constituencies, a new law establishes a three-year residency requirement to run in Democratic or Republican primaries for U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. The Tennessee State Constitution requires seven years of residency in the state to run for Governor, five years of residency to run for judge or district attorney, and three years of residency to run for the State Senate or House. But the state and federal constitutions are silent in regard to residency for the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives candidates. The law only applies to primary elections and does not prohibit anyone from running for Congress.
Enhancing integrity of elections - To enhance the integrity of elections a new law revises and expands the manner in which the Secretary of State and county election commissions must audit state and local elections. Under the law starting in 2024, the secretary of state must randomly select at least three counties to audit after the August election; and after each November election, the secretary of state must randomly select at least six counties to audit. It also includes a provision that requires hand recount audits of paper ballots in Williamson County, which uses ballot marking devices that allow voters to cast their vote on a machine that prints out a paper ballot. The Heritage Foundation has ranked Tennessee third in the nation on a recently released election integrity scorecard. With the help of this legislation and other efforts, the state is working on claiming the top spot.
To further enhance the integrity of elections in Tennessee, the General Assembly approved legislation which requires each voting machine used by a county election commission to have the capability of producing a voter-verified paper audit trail by 2024. It allows county election commissions to request an extension up to two years for compliance. The paper record must be either marked manually by the voter or with the assistance of a device that includes human-readable voter selections that the voter may check for accuracy before the vote is cast.
Prohibiting non-U.S. citizens from voting – To ensure that state and local elections do not allow ineligible voters to cast ballots, a new law prohibits non-U.S. citizens from participating in federal, state, or local elections in Tennessee. The law helps to make sure the proper people are registered to vote and prevents any local government entity from giving voting rights to non-US citizens, which has happened in other states. The bill also gives additional tools to the coordinator of elections to identify non-U.S. citizens on the voter rolls as well as Tennesseans who’ve moved to another state.
Banning ranked choice voting - To ensure clarity and simplicity in the state’s elections, a new law prohibits ranked choice or instant runoff voting in state and local elections. Ranked choice voting is a voting method in which voters rank candidates by preference. The candidate with a majority of first-preference votes wins. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, then the candidate with the lowest preference is eliminated and their votes are redistributed among the remaining candidates. Ranked choice voting has been proven to increase voter confusion and decrease voter turnout and confidence.
Protecting public safety and property – To encourage homeless individuals to relocate to safer areas and receive needed assistance, including mental and physical health care, a new law gives local governments a legal mechanism to prevent homeless populations from camping on public property. Similar to the Equal Access to Public Property Act of 2012, which prohibited camping on state public property, this new law prohibits camping on local public property. It provides local governments with the authority to remove homeless camps from local public land. Each local governing body could decide how or if they want to enforce the legislation.
Under the law, the penalty for camping on public property after an initial warning is a Class C misdemeanor offense punishable by either 20 to 40 hours of community service or a $50 fine. The bill lists camping on the shoulder, berm, or right-of-way of a state or interstate highway or under a bridge or overpass, or within an underpass of a state interstate or highway as punishable offenses.
The law aims to ensure public safety for communities and protect homeless individuals from unsafe sleeping situations such as under bridges and near roadways.
Prohibiting restrictions on religious institutions during emergencies – To protect freedom of religion and assembly, a new law prohibits state or local governments from imposing restrictions on the lawful operations of religious organizations during emergencies during a state of emergency or natural disaster.
Ensuring privacy of homeowners - To ensure the privacy of Tennesseans, including law enforcement, who may not want their home address easily accessible, a new law allows homeowners to file a written request to the property assessor to have their first and last name appear as “unlisted” in the ownership field of online databases.
Returning tax revenue to local governments – A new law could pave the way for more than $20 million in tax revenue returning to Tennessee counties. The state Department of Revenue has long charged a 1.125% fee to process local option sales tax. Lowering that fee to 0.5%, as has been proposed in the past, would free up an estimated $20.2 million each year that could be sent back to the counties.
The new law does not propose a new fee, but would require the Department of Revenue to produce a report on the cost of processing sales tax revenue. That report could then be the basis for future conversations in the General Assembly about a potential fee change. Such a move would allow Davidson County to reclaim $5.3 million, Hamilton County to get back $2.07 million, Rutherford County to receive $2.1 million, and Maury County to recover $563,000 each year.