The 210th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee reconvened on Tuesday, January 9, 2018, for the second year of the two-year session and the first year in their new legislative offices at the Cordell Hull Building. It is expected that the upcoming legislative session will be a short one as 2018 is an important election year. Over two dozen members of the General Assembly will be retiring or running for a different elected office in 2018 and will likely be eager to return to their districts. House Speaker Beth Harwell (R - Nashville), a gubernatorial candidate and tempo-keeper of the House, will also be pushing for a quick session so that she may return to the campaign and fundraising trail. Issues likely to be taken up in the 2018 legislative agenda include the opioid epidemic, medical marijuana, seven-day liquor and wine sales and, of course, the budget.
As more Tennesseans are becoming addicted to opioids, it will be a priority of the General Assembly and Governor Haslam to fight the problem. A task force on opioid and prescription drug abuse, created by Speaker Harwell, met this summer and compiled a list of recommendations for treatment, prevention and policy. It is expected that a number of these recommendations will be introduced in legislative form this session. Look for bills that limit emergency room prescriptions, call for the hiring of additional Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agents and establish a commission to combat drug abuse.
Rep. Jeremy Faison (R - Cosby) has been on a mission to legalize medical marijuana, and he may be closer than ever to reaching his goal. He will present a bill this session that would allow patients with certain debilitating illnesses to obtain prescriptions for certain marijuana products, including oils and extracts in capsules, pills, ointments, lotions and liquids. Smoking will not be an allowable product. While the bill would not allow for the recreational use of marijuana, opponents of the bill argue this is the next step before legalizing marijuana for recreational use. While the chances of passage this year may still be slim, it is certainly a topic that will be widely debated.
Seven-Day Sales of Liquor and Wine
The wine-in-grocery-stores law became effective in July 2016 and some liquor stores have seen a dramatic decrease in sales as a result. In hopes to offset some of this decline in sales, a bill was filed last year to permit wine and liquor sales on all seven days of the week. The 2017 bill was ultimately opposed by some vocal retail liquor store owners who want to maintain a state-mandated day off despite lagging sales. As a result of that opposition, the bill stalled without a clear path through the House State Government Subcommittee. Working in support of the measure is a coalition consisting of grocery stores, the Tennessee Retail Association and manufacturers of distilled spirits. The coalition will resume its efforts to clear a path forward in 2018. The coalition is bolstered by a growing grassroots effort to change the law after many Tennesseans were frustrated that they could only purchase beer on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, both of which fell on a Sunday in 2017.
As Gov. Haslam starts the last year of his eight-year administration, this will be his final budget to present before the General Assembly. With the passage of last year's IMPROVE Act, which cut food and business taxes, the governor and legislature may have to put in extra work to balance our budget. Tax collections continue to increase but not at the rate of increase before the IMPOVE Act became law. In short, there will be a tighter budget.
As always, the Bass, Berry & Sims' Government Advocacy Group stands ready to assist you in matters where business and government intersect.