Here's some of the Tennessee legislation passed this year directly involving Chattanooga

Here's some of the Tennessee legislation passed this year directly involving Chattanooga

May 17th, 2017 by Andy Sher in Politics State

Gov. Bill Haslam, left, is applauded as he gives his annual State of the State address to a joint convention of the Tennessee General Assembly, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Photo by Mark Humphrey

NASHVILLE - Tennessee lawmakers wrapped up their General Assembly last week. Here's a look at some of the year's legislation that directly involves the Chattanooga area:

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* Whitewater rafting: America's most popular whitewater rafting river should continue to gain visitors and economic growth under an agreement between TVA, the state of Tennessee, rafters and other federal agencies addressing long-standing issues at the Ocoee River in Polk County.

It came with an $11.8 million state grant Haslam included in the 2017-2018 budget that officials hope will resolve for as long as 20 years reimbursements to TVA for power revenues the authority loses by allowing the Ocoee River to run free for rafters during the spring, summer and early fall.

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* School bus safety: For Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, 2017 became a session-long crusade to pass a mandatory bus seat belt bill intended to address the Nov. 21 fatal crash of a Woodmore Elementary School bus that killed six children and injured two dozen or more.

The bill sought to require that all new buses ordered or purchased as of July 1, 2019, come equipped with safety-restraint systems. It ultimately stalled in the House Finance Committee over costs and objections mostly from rural school bus operators.

Favors, who got the bill through four previous subcommittees and committees, said that since 2017 was the first session of the two-year 110th General Assembly, her bill remains in prime position to move forward next year if she can persuade enough opponents to back the idea.

"That will give us time," said Favors, who intends to travel with Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, the bill's Senate sponsor, and possibly other lawmakers this summer to Indiana-based IMMI's SafeGuard plant, which produces lap-shoulder belts for school buses.

She noted some Tennessee school districts already deploy safety restraint systems on their buses and she hopes discussions can "give us an opportunity to allay some of the apprehension that especially people from rural areas had."

Another measure pushed by Haslam to address school bus safety concerns generated by the Chattanooga crash had a far easier path and cleared the General Assembly. It was developed after looking at some problems associated with Hamilton County schools' oversight.

As a result, the Departments of Education and Safety are coming up with bus driver training requirements as well as reporting of incidents.

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* Chattanooga Convention and Visitors Bureau: Questioning expenditures by the local tourism agency, Gardenhire pushed a bill to require the state comptroller to audit expenditures made by the Convention and Visitors Bureau which stem from the $7.1 million of hotel-motel tax money.

Favors, who originally sponsored the bill in the lower chamber, later gave it over to Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah. Local officials resisted disclosing how they spend the money, arguing it would reveal local strategies to attract conventions and tourists.

In the end, the bill passed. During an earlier Senate Finance Committee meeting on Haslam's $37.1 billion, Gardenhire fired another shot across the Convention and Visitors Bureau bow, noting that Haslam's annual spending plan including $200,000 grants each for the Chattanooga Zoo and the Tennessee Aquarium.

Why should the state spend the money when the Convention and Visitors Bureau could afford to replace it for causes that boost tourism, Gardenhire asked, suggesting that may become an issue next year.

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Sewer authority: The Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Authority got an emergency fix to a 2016 law that could have shut off the flow of state-issued clean-water revolving loans to the public sewer agency.

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Carter found themselves having to repeal their 2016 law which sought to force a reorganization of Hamilton County's sewer authority.

The problem was it wound up threatening $13 million in state revolving loans for the sewer authority. The kicker was a provision to dissolve the agency by July 1, 2021 — provided there was a successor entity or entities in place to assume some $10 million in existing debt from state clean water loans. State officials balked at further loans.

Watson wryly noted on the Senate floor that he thought he and Carter had come up with a pretty good idea but "it turns out it wasn't as good an idea as I thought it was." He couldn't resisting jabbing at Congress, noting that unlike Washington, Tennessee lawmakers don't mind acknowledging and correcting their mistakes.

* East Ridge inspections: Under a bill passed by Rep. Marc Gravitt, R-East Ridge, the East Ridge City Council will be able to adopt ordinances to inspect residential dwelling units that are either deteriorated or in the process of deteriorating for compliance with applicable local housing, building, plumbing, electrical, fire, health or related codes.