Legislators at Public Affairs Roundtable

Discussing state issues at the March Public Affairs Roundtable were (from left) Reps. Jeremy Durham, Glen Casada and Charles Sargent.

Williamson County’s four state legislators discussed transportation, de-annexation, jobs and the gas tax during the March Public Affairs Roundtable hosted today by the Williamson County Chamber and moderated by Dave Crouch, chamber government affairs chair.

Sen. Jack Johnson, 23rd District, mentioned a law Davidson County passed recently that requires anybody hired to do business with the county must reside in the county. Because that decision affects businesses in the rest of the state, “we are working on an initiative to overturn that,” Johnson said.

Legislators are also looking at ways to regulate Internet businesses such as Uber and Airbnb, so “they play by the same rules,” while maintaining a pro-business state status.

Along that line, according to Johnson, a motion for a state mandated minimum wage “won’t get a second.”

The market should decide what the minimum wage should be.

“A minimum wage is a job killer,” Johnson said.

Piggy-backing on the rising concern about illegal immigration, legislators are discussing a bill to increase the penalty on businesses that knowingly employ illegal immigrants. The new penalty would have a business license pulled for 90 days for knowingly employing illegal immigrants.

Currently, if a business is caught knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and promises not to do it again, nothing happens, said 65th District Rep. Jeremy Durham.

“It’s important we evaluate the current law and make sure it has the teeth to enforce the law,” Durham said. “I’m willing to work with the business community. … I want to make sure this is fair to everybody.”

Crouch read a statement from the Williamson County Chamber declaring its opposition to the bill.

“The chamber declares this an anti-business bill and is not a bill the chamber supports,” Crouch said.

TDOT

Funds for the Department of Transportation are derived from the gas tax. More fuel-efficient vehicles, electric vehicles and a call for funds to be used for non-motorized transportation projects such as sidewalks and walking and bicycle trails are putting a strain on road funds, said Johnson.

Then there’s the $261 million of transportation funds “borrowed” by a former governor several years ago for the state general fund and the withholding of federal funding during the past five years all creating major setbacks for new projects like the Mack Hatcher extension. It also opened a serious discussion on raising the gas tax and finding more efficient ways of using of the money.

People who walk or ride bikes aren’t paying the gas tax, so bills are being introduced to limit use of the gas tax specifically for roads used by motorized vehicles, Johnson said.

“If people are paying the gas tax for roads, it should be for roads,” he said.

Within the next few months, TDOT will receive federal funds of between $700 million and $800 million. The funds, which were recently released by the federal government for road construction, are from matching funds and projects completed under budget. Some of that money does have strings attached regarding sidewalks and trails.

The House Way and Means Committee has almost completed budget hearings and will soon begin drawing up the final budget, said Rep. Charles Sargent, 61st District.

This year the legislature is making an effort to return half of the $261 million with the other half coming in next year’s budget, he added.

“Williamson County will get our fair share, I can assure you of that,” Sargent said.

Police Body Cameras

A debate in the legislature regarding body cameras for law enforcement mirrors the local debate. At issue – the invasion of privacy, which includes homes, children, and victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or rape victims. 

“There’s a fine line when to turn the camera off,” said 63rd District Rep. Glen Casada.

Franklin approved body cameras for the police department but they have not implemented them yet due to privacy issues, said Franklin Mayor Ken Moore.

“We want to protect our citizens and our police officers,” Moore said.

De-annexation and Inclusionary zoning

A few cities in the state have been annexing county land for the additional tax revenue but not providing city services. Now the state is stepping in. In the meantime, cities like Franklin, which have provided services, are concerned a precedent may be set at the state level.

“We make a considerable investment in sewers, water and roads,” Moore said. “How do we get reimbursed for our investment? Williamson County is the number one job creator in America. Cities are economic generators.” 

Moore concluded by reminding the lawmakers of the importance of governing at the local level rather than the state level.

The Public Affairs Roundtable is presented by the Vanderbilt University Office of Community, Neighborhood and Government Relations.

Contact Carole Robinson at crobinson@williamsonherald.com

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