NASHVILLE – With the start of the new fiscal year, many laws impacting business will take effect. The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry recently compiled a list of the many new laws passed by the 112th General Assembly. The following is a brief description of each law.
- Ensuring fair and equitable awarding of certain attorney fees for wrongfully denied Worker’s Compensation claims:
Public Chapter 152 allows for limited attorneys’ fees and costs to be awarded when a claim is wrongfully denied or benefits are not provided. This law is an extension of Tennessee’s existing policy regarding wrongful denial of attorney fees to ensure businesses can continue to monitor the law. It will sunset on June 30, 2023.
- Protecting businesses from misclassified employees and Worker’s Compensation liability of employers:
Public Chapter 189 makes several changes to assist the Tennessee Bureau of Workers Compensation to better enforce employee misclassifications. It also clarifies that some employers should not be held liable if a subcontractor has been removed from the Workers Compensation Exemption Registry.
Establishing career readiness testing options:
As a significant step to enhance Tennessee’s workforce, Public Chapter 552 implements career readiness testing options for every graduating high school senior in the state. The legislation will provide students the opportunity to obtain a nationally recognized, portable work readiness credential that is acknowledged or recommended by at least 816 Tennessee employers as an asset that allows the employer to grow its individual talent pipeline.
- Tax deductibility of COVID-19 relief:
Public Chapter 608 implements Excise Tax deductions on Supplemental Employer Recovery Grant Program, Small Business Relief and other Tennessee COVID-19 relief programs.
- Tennessee business tax filing accommodations:
Public Chapter 559 allows an additional 30 days for businesses to file this return which will allow for more accurate filings. When the Tennessee extended return date of October 15 is identical to the federal extended return date, complications arise that can interfere with a business’s ability to timely file its Franchise and Excise Return. Much of Tennessee’s return is predicated on the federal filing and a number of additions and deletions must be completed on the state return before it can be properly filed.
- Reforming unemployment benefit levels:
Providing overall savings to TN businesses, Public Chapter 560 reforms Tennessee’s unemployment payout system by indexing benefits at certain levels. If the state’s unemployment rate is at or below 5.5% then the duration of the benefits will last 12 weeks. An additional week is added each time the unemployment rate increases by .5% up to 20 weeks maximum. Sponsors note the legislation encourages employees to return to work sooner, providing an overall lower total benefit, at a greater weekly monetary benefit. An estimated $33.5 million savings to employers is anticipated.
- Uniform treatment and regulation of building materials:
Public Chapter 332 ensures that approved building materials are treated equally and fairly in the market and that attainable housing concepts are recognized. This legislation notes that as long as a building material is approved by a nationally recognized building code or the Tennessee state fire marshal it cannot be outright banned by a government entity. However, it may be regulated through fair and transparent adoption processes by local governments.
Bringing consistency to discrimination and harassment claims:
Public Chapter 556 clarifies where certain of Tennessee harassment and discrimination claims should be filed. Previous law was unclear and would have provided employees with two potential paths- one through the Tennessee Public Protection Act, and the other through the Tennessee Human Rights Act. The new law clarifies when harassment and discrimination claims are to be brought solely under the Human Rights Act.
Other Environment & Energy Bills to Note
- Valuing Property Taken by Eminent Domain (SB1421/HB1090) – Requires juries to value land taken by eminent domain at 130% of fair market value and include the value of depreciation caused by taking of an easement as damages. The very substantial fiscal note for impacted state highway and federal funds likely influenced the sponsors’ decision not to move this bill forward.
- Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee (SB742/HB90) – Introduced by the administration to make changes to the 2018 law as required by the federal government in order for Tennessee to obtain primacy over surface coal mining. This bill was accompanied by a $871,000 reoccurring appropriation. Enacted as Public Chapter 548.
- Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy and Resilience (C-PACER) Act (SB795/HB667) – Authorizes local governments to establish a C-PACER program which provides low-cost, long-term financing for permanent improvements to decrease energy consumption or demand, support production of clean, renewable energy, decrease water consumption or demand or increase resilience by assessing a voluntary tax to the property. Businesses interested in taking advantage of the program will want to weigh the pros and cons to determine whether it is beneficial for their long-term goals.
- Incentives for Alternatives to Discharge to Surface Waters (SB790/HB1144) Provides more specific language to the existing law which requires the Board of Water Quality, Oil, and Gas to provide incentives for alternatives to discharges to surface waters. Enacted as Public Chapter 263.