State legislative session opens amid uncertainty; closes with certain TBA success

By Amy Heaslet, Executive Vice President/General Counsel, Tennessee Bankers Association

When the 112th General Assembly began on January 12, uncertainty was the best way to describe the session’s outlook. But by the time the legislature adjourned on May 5, the challenges we faced in January were resolved and TBA concluded another successful session for the Tennessee banking industry.

We were fortunate during legislative session this year to have access to the Capitol and legislative offices; otherwise, our lobbying efforts and legislative successes would have been strained. After months of Zoom-only meetings in 2020, meeting with legislators in-person was a reminder of the importance face-to-face meetings are and how critical it is to be present with lawmakers on a daily basis.

At the start of session, all lobbyists were required to check-in through security when entering the legislative office building and were only permitted on the floor where an appointment was made at least 24 hours in advance. This proved cumbersome given the free access to legislators typically given to lobbyists and the fast pace with which issues arise and the need for immediate discussion of those issues.

Soon after the start of session, however, the House of Representatives relaxed their rules and lobbyists were granted access to all floors that included House members’ offices. This was a turning point as we were able to visit in-person with House members, just like in past sessions. Lobbyists were also granted access, per social distancing guidelines, to sit in the House committee rooms, which is critical for observing issues during the legislative process.

The Senate, on the other hand, was slower to respond in easing lobbyists’ access to their members’ offices and committee hearings. But by the final month or so session, after a significant decrease in the number COVID-19 cases, greater access was given and our ability to visit all legislative members’ and be present for committee hearings had virtually returned to pre-pandemic ways.

Despite the challenges with access to legislators early in session and no shortage of controversial or anti-banking issues, we were still able to achieve several successes on behalf of the banking industry. We passed legislation to extend banks’ holding period for nonreal property from 12 months to 18 months, updated the state’s trust laws, and modestly increased the state’s homestead exemption to $35,000 for individuals.

Towards the end of session, we also became aware of potential issues banks may have in appropriately collateralizing the influx of local government deposits from the American Rescue Plan. We acted quickly to find a bill that we could use—because the bill filing deadline had already passed—to extend from two business days to 10 calendar days the amount of time banks have to pledge collateral.

We also successfully opposed legislation from other groups covering an array of issues, ranging from prohibiting interchange on sales tax to adding additional steps to the foreclosure process to imposing criminal penalties on bankers for failure to report suspect elder financial exploitation.

With the dust now settled from the first session of the 112th General Assembly and the pandemic coming to end, this summer brings a great opportunity for our team and our bankers to re-engage with lawmakers. We are focused on hitting the road to visit with bankers and legislators in their districts and delivering BankPac contributions. We’ve already made several of those visits and were able to discuss not only priority banking issues but also news from their districts and issues that may be on the horizon.

When you see your legislators this summer, whether during a scheduled visit with TBA staff or on your own, please be sure to mention a few pending issues that we are working on over the summer and expect to come up in 2022. Those issues include expanding the types of collateral banks can pledge against public deposits, opposing any changes to the current interchange system; and the importance of maintaining a pro-business operating environment for banks and our customers.

Attending in-district meetings with bankers and legislators further cements my belief that the relationships you have with your lawmakers is one of the strongest constituent relationships. The strength of those relationships is a leading factor in the legislative successes TBA achieves in Nashville. Please continue connecting with your members, and feel free to invite TBA staff to be there as well. We look forward to seeing you soon!

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