A handful of Tennessee Republicans are wrapping up their study of small businesses for the year, but they’re unsure how the fruits of their labor will turn into legislation in 2012.
At the direction of House GOP leaders, a task force of 10 representatives has spent the last four months meeting with business owners across the state to figure out what would make the Volunteer State’s business environment more attractive.
The House Republican Small Business and Economic Development Task Force, which met Monday for its final time this year, is recommending the caucus consider:
- Enacting new tort reforms.
- Modifying workers’ compensation to make it more competitive with neighboring states.
- Focusing educational institutions on preparing students for in-demand jobs.
- Reducing or eliminating business regulations.
The problem, according to Chairman Jimmy Matlock, is the suggestions are short on details.
“We’re, at this point, still in general terms,” said Matlock, R-Lenoir. “What we tried to do was listen to what business folks were asking from government. … We’re not really out there to throw a lot of legislation at this.
“I don’t think you’re going to see 50 new bills coming out. I think you’re going to see a few serious bills coming out of this.”
The task force was formed in July by House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick, who asked the lawmakers to identify regulations that impede job growth, study the best practices from other states and develop strategies to make the state’s business environment more attractive.
The task force will hand over its recommendations to McCormick in the next two weeks, said Matlock, although the panel may refine its recommendations as lawmakers head back to Nashville for the spring legislative session.
State leaders have made it their mission to probe Tennessee businesses about what they want out of state government after the dust settled from this year’s Legislative session.
Gov. Bill Haslam held a series of business roundtable discussions across the state this summer and is expected to build the recommendations into his legislative priorities next year. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is tackling much of the same issues in his “TN Red Tape” tours to talk to business owners about ways the government can lighten up on regulations.
And Democrats from both chambers have toured the state asking businesses what they want out of government as they draft their own ideas for job-creating bills to pitch next year.
Changes to how the state handles its unemployment system didn’t make the cut on the House GOP task force’s list of recommendations, Matlock said.
Some members, including Matlock, had echoed concerns they heard this fall from business owners that some claimants were running out their unemployment benefits instead of taking jobs. But the panel ultimately decided to stay away from recommending unemployment reforms.
Ramsey has been the most vocal about wanting changes to how the state polices people collecting unemployment benefits long-term and suggested the state build in requirements on jobless workers to prove they’re looking for work.
Haslam has said he’s heard similar rumors about people collecting unemployment benefits turning down jobs, and a U.S. Department of Labor report indicates Tennessee has overpaid those benefits to the tune of $311 million over three years.