Cranking Up 

State lawmakers dust off the Nashville rule machine with new bills.

So far, fans of sports betting, transparent government, and vape-free zoos have reasons to cheer as the Tennessee General Assembly cranked back up week before last, but fans of raw milk may have a reason to jeer.

State lawmakers converged on Nashville and gaveled in the 111th General Assembly on Tuesday, January 9th. Lawmakers have filed bills to make it easier to bet on sports but harder to vape in public places and to legally get raw milk. Other bills expected this session might include cutting exemptions to the state's Open Records Act and, perhaps, a medical marijuana bill named for President Donald Trump.

Raw milk — Tennesseans can now legally consume raw milk "from a hoofed mammal" if they own a part of a cow through a herdshare agreement. But a new bill filed by Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), a physician and retired Army colonel, would strike that allowance.

click to enlarge Lawmakers seek to tackle sports betting, vaping, ad raw milk.
  • Lawmakers seek to tackle sports betting, vaping, ad raw milk.

Sports betting — Shelby County Commissioners approved a resolution last year to ask state lawmakers this year to allow sports betting here. The move comes after a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court last year allowed states to set their own rules on sports betting. Commissioners here want sports betting isolated to Beale Street.

The bill is sponsored by Senator Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) and would allow betting only after a local option election. Betting revenue would be taxed 10 percent. Funds generated for the tax would be given to the state (40 percent), state technical schools and community colleges (30 percent), and local governments (30 percent).

Fitness taxes — If you pay dues to a smaller gym, spa, golf club, or country club, you're paying sales taxes on it. But a new bill would do away with that.

An 1980s-era "amusement tax" was placed on such facilities smaller than 15,000 square feet. Removing it would cost state coffers about $21.8 million on annual dues and fees of more than $312.4 million paid by Tennesseans every year.

TRUMP Act — in 2017, Representative Bryan Terry (R-Murfreesboro) and Senator Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) made an unsuccessful run to legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee. But they told The Chattanooga Times Free Press in June that they were working on a new bill, encouraged by off-hand comments made by Trump in support of allowing states to decide marijuana policy. That new bill, they said, would be called the Tennessee Responsible Use of Medicinal Plants — or TRUMP — Act.

Other Republican lawmakers are at work on a bill to establish a commission to regulate the marijuana industry.

Open government — The House has already made it easier to track bills through the legislative process this year. Amendments added to bills through the committee process will now be added immediately online in a move the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government said will "add a great deal more public transparency."

Vaping — A new bill would prohibit vaping in child-care facilities, rooms in community centers where children are present, group care homes, health-care facilities (except nursing homes), museums, public and private Kindergartens, elementary and secondary schools and their grounds, youth development centers, residential treatment facilities for children, and zoos.

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