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Grocery sales tax slightly cut by lawmakers in state House

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On Thursday, the Tennessee House of Representatives voted to decrease the sales tax on grocery food and raised the exemption threshold for the inheritance tax – but not without some contentious exchanges among members.

First on the agenda was House Bill 3760, which raised the exemption threshold of the inheritance tax from $1 million to $1.25 million in 2013. The bill also raises the exemption level in 2014 to $2 million and in 2015 to $5 million, until finally eliminating the tax in 2016.

Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) is a prime co-sponsor of its companion bill, Senate Bill 3762, which is on Tuesday’s agenda of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

Before the bill passed by a vote of 88-8, followed by a round of applause, it was not without discussion about whether a deeper cut in the sales tax on food should have been applied before cutting the inheritance tax.

Next, was HB 3761, which passed unanimously to decrease the sales tax on grocery foods by .25 percent from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent effective July 1. The bill will save .25 cents on a $100 grocery bill.

Ketron is also a sponsor of its companion bill SB 3763, which is likewise on the calendar for the Tuesday meeting of the Senate Finance, Ways & Means Committee.

Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) rose before the vote and said he wanted it “on the record” that it was the “minority party that would not let this bill out of sub-committee not the new majority party.”

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Old Hickory rose in support of the “bipartisan” idea, but turned to Hill and said, “But they’re also – the majority party is going to shut down the (Tennessee Regulatory Authority). And this member is going to vote with them from now on. So tell the governor up there, I’m with him on this TRA bill from now on,” before dropping the microphone and pointing his finger at Hill.

Dr. Kenneth Hill is chairman of the TRA and is Hill’s father.

Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) tried to smooth things over by saying “This is has been filed for by members of both parties through the years. I hope we can continue to do this and eliminate it like the inheritance tax.”

Other action

Ketron’s SB 3345 – known as the Putting Tennessee First Act – regarding charter schools passed the Senate by a vote of 18-13-1, while it’s companion bill in the House (HB 3540) was rolled until Monday. The bills drew a great deal of discussion in both chambers.

Ketron said the bill requires the disclosure of all sources of funding and provides “more information to parents considering charter schools.”

However, the aspect of the bill that drew so much attention was the cap on the percentage of workers recruited from overseas, except for foreign language teachers.

Ketron said the cap is permissive, but only after the charter school has exhausted its efforts to recruit Tennessee teachers.

In both chambers, questions arose about the severability clause, as well as the message the bill sends to foreign companies looking to invest in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management Act is headed to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk after passing the House on Wednesday and the Senate Thursday.

One of Haslam’s key initiatives, the act restructures the state’s civil service laws, relaxing the rules on hiring, firing, disciplining and rewarding employees. The act puts more emphasis on job performance and less on seniority – although negotiations kept seniority as a factor if layoffs are required.

All of Rutherford County’s legislators voted in favor of the TEAM Act.

On Tuesday, Haslam let go into a law without signing it, the legislation that protects teachers from discipline if they allow students to exercise “critical thinking” by critiquing “scientific weaknesses” in such theories as evolution and global warming.

The bill, called the “monkey bill” by critics, garnered criticism from the scientific community throughout the country.

The Kelsey Smith Act passed the House unanimously Monday night. Senate Bill 2413, which passed the Senate on March 22, requires cell phone providers to give law enforcement officers information about the location of cell phone in “emergency situations.”

Once signed by Haslam, the legislation will make Tennessee the sixth state to adopt a Kelsey Smith Act, which is named after an 18-year-old Kansas woman who was kidnapped and murdered in 2007.
Read more from:
Bill Ketron, Democrats, Economy, Education, Finance, General Assembly, GOP, Murfreesboro, Politics, Taxes
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