Government Affairs Spotlight: General Assembly Closes After Chaotic Session

Posted: May 8, 2023

TNBA Government Affairs Director Levoy Knowles

Growth of rural broadband remained the priority for the TNBA Government Affairs team this spring even as lawmakers brought a range of nonrelated legislation before the 113th General Assembly legislative session. The budget, as always, was a point of emphasis.

By the close of the session, Tennessee lawmakers approved a $56.2 billion state operating budget for the 2024 fiscal year. It includes more than $3 billion for state and local road projects and nearly $1 billion for Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology facilities. The budget also included about $536 million for state employee raises and 401(k) enhancements, as well as $223 million to improve security in public and private schools. More than $120 million was budgeted for higher education.

The last three weeks were relatively quiet for the broadband-focused team, as high-profile legislation grabbed attention, says Levoy Knowles, TNBA government affairs director. No telecom bills were passed that would adversely impact TNBA members.

“One bill we worked on really hard was a broadband bill from Speaker of the House, Cameron Sexton,” Knowles says. “It modified the rules for getting broadband grant awards, so several of our members had lots of input. We met with the speaker’s office three times because we wanted to make sure members could properly apply for and receive grants. We had some really good discussions and we’re happy with how the language came out when it passed.”

The legislature also approved a data privacy bill affecting organizations with 175,000 or more users or those that obtain at least 50% of their revenue from the sale of personal data. TNBA members do not typically meet those thresholds.

Additionally, a closely watched bill on social media platforms will be rolled into the second half of the 113th Tennessee General Assembly when lawmakers reconvene on Jan. 9, 2024.

“I’m grateful for the help of our members again this session,” Knowles says. “Thank you for your support so we can continue our mission to provide affordable, high-speed broadband across Tennessee.”