NASHVILLE - Gov. Bill Haslam announced Wednesday he has signed two bills from his 2012 legislative agenda that make structural changes to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and 21 boards, commissions and licensing programs.
More than 200 of these organizations exist within state government, and many have independent hiring and spending authority with limited oversight. Haslam announced a review of state boards and commissions during his 2011 State of the State address, and after a comprehensive evaluation, he proposed reforms to improve performance, accountability and efficiency.
“It is our job to make state government as accountable and responsive as possible to Tennessee taxpayers,” Haslam said. “These changes are a first step toward increasing the performance, accountability and effectiveness of state government to Tennesseans.”
House Bill 2385/SB 2247 changes the membership of the TRA from four full-time members to five part-time members, allowing the authority to attract well-qualified directors with applicable experience who may not have been able to serve full time. Also, the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House now jointly appoint a full-time executive director. The TRA bill was sponsored by state Reps. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) and Pat Marsh (R-Shelbyville) in the House and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Sen. Mike Faulk (R-Kingsport) in the Senate.
Among other changes, the bill eliminates 138 board appointments by combining boards, as well as reducing and reforming the membership of the Duck River Development Agency, Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission, Community Services Agency board and Commission on Aging and Disability.
The bill also combines seven boards into three: The Conservation Trust Fund Board will absorb the Conservation Commission, the Oil and Gas Board and Water Quality Control Board are combined to form the Board of Water Quality, Oil and Gas, and the Petroleum Underground Storage Tank Board, Solid Waste Advisory Committee, and Solid Waste Board are combined to form the Underground Storage Tanks and Solid Waste Disposal Control Board.
It also gives the governor hiring authority for the executive directors of the following five agencies: Commission on Aging and Disability, Commission on Children and Youth, Tennessee Higher Education Commission, Tennessee Arts Commission and the Council on Career and Technical Education.
The boards and commission bill was sponsored by state Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) in the House and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) in the Senate.
On April 11, the governor signed HB 2386/SB 2248, which transfers oversight of parolees from the Board of Probation and Parole to the Department of Correction. That proposal was also part of the governor’s public safety action plan.
Legislation that decreases by 50 percent the registration and renewal fees associated with the Worker’s Compensation Exemption Registry for construction contractors was signed into law Monday, a few weeks after the General Assembly approved the bill during the final days of the legislative session which ended May 1.
The reduction in fees was part of S.B. 2923, sponsored by Sens. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) and Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), which also clarifies that either party in a worker’s compensation dispute may bring suit in the county in which the employee resided at the time of the injury rather than where the employee resides at the time of filing suit... The bill, as amended, reduces the registration and renewal fee because of the fund balance in the registry after the first year of implementation.
Before, the law allowed worker’s compensation cases to be filed in the chancery or circuit court in the county where the employee resides or the county where the alleged injury occurred. This bill changes that to the county where the employee resided at the time of the alleged injury or the county where the alleged injury occurred.
“This new law simply changes the venue from where the employee resides at the time suit is brought to where the employee resided at the time of the injury. The purpose of the bill is to discourage forum shopping,” Overbey said. “At the same time, the legislation decreases by one-half for contractors to place themselves on the Worker’s Compensation Exemption Registry. Fees are currently double the amount needed for proper regulation.”
The fee reduction comes after the state’s financial experts predicted that $712,500 would be generated from licensed and non-licensed contractors every two years through registration with the Worker’s Compensation Exemption Registry.
The assumption was well below what actually occurred as renewal fees will still yield $1.3 million after the 50 percent reduction is implemented. The exemption allows a business owner to exempt him or herself from the requirement to carry workers’ compensation insurance on him or herself.
The registry is composed of individuals who are sole proprietors and own 100 percent of the assets of the business, or an officer of a corporation, or a member of a limited liability company with at least a 20 percent ownership interest, or a partner in a partnership with at least a 20 percent ownership interest.
Registration is only available to individual business owners engaged in the construction services industry.
In addition, an applicant may qualify for the exemption if the applicant and members of the same family of the applicant hold at least 95 percent ownership of the business. Each corporation, Limited Liability Company, Limited Liability Partnership, Limited Partnership, General Partnership and family owned business may have up to five individuals who can qualify to be exempt. A sole proprietor can only have 1 exemption.
“When a business is overcharged for regulation, those fees need to be returned to them,” Ketron added. “There is no need to overburden them with excess fees. At the same time, it provides adequate funding to ensure our law is working as envisioned to protect workers. I am pleased this legislation has been approved and signed into law.”