NET lawmakers preview 2020 legislative session

Hank Hayes • Feb 1, 2020 at 12:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Northeast Tennessee lawmakers in the state legislature — all Republicans — talked about what’s right with state government under their watch during Friday’s 17th Regional Legislative Breakfast.

“No. 1 is fiscal responsibility,” Sen.Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, said. “Lowest taxes as a percentage of personal income. We don’t borrow money to build roads. We balance our budget with no new debt.”

Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, noted just about everyone in the Northeast Tennessee Caucus has a business background. “They understand what it is to be a small business and make payroll,” he told more than 230 attendees at the breakfast hosted by the three Tri-Cities chambers and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

As for what will happen in the 2020 legislative session, Rep. John Crawford, R-Kingsport, led off by saying the House will examine a so-called “constitutional carry” bill that would expand gun rights.

“We’re also looking at taking a break on sales tax on food this summer for a couple months so we can get some data on how it’s going to affect us and how much it will put in your pocket,” Crawford said.

Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, played the comedian.

“We’re counting on that you can’t remember what we said last year,” Hulsey joked. “It makes me feel like Zsa Zsa Gabor’s ninth husband on their honeymoon. I know what I’m supposed to do, but how do you make it interesting?”

Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, who chairs the House Commerce Committee, said he has surveyed 1,000 small businesses about what the legislature should do.

“The No. 1 thing that came back was the cost of compliance. We’re deeply trying to figure out how to reduce that,” Hill said.

Rep. Gary Hicks, R-Rogersville, chairs the powerful House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee, also known as the “Black Hole” Subcommittee.

“Once the governor makes his State of the State speech, we will see the initiatives,” Hicks said.

Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, said the state isn’t doing enough about mental health and substance abuse.

“We are woefully behind as a state and country in dealing with substance abuse and mental health,” Hawk insisted. “Workforce development is an issue.”

Two Tri-Cities mayors in the audience, Johnson City’s Jenny Brock and Kingsport’s Pat Shull, said their main concern involves municipalities keeping local control.

“There are a lot of things in the legislature that have a big impact on us. The lane for revenue is tightening a lot,” Brock explained. “The legislature is looking at a cap on a municipality’s ability to raise property taxes.”

Said Shull, “We’re not suggesting we’re going to raise taxes. It’s the principle of having local control, move government down to the lowest level.”

Lawmakers also paid tribute to retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee.