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Governor Signs Measure Paring Down Per Diem

Tennessee lawmakers living within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol can expect to see their daily lodging allowances drop in a couple years.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed House Bill 80 into law Friday. It won’t impact sitting legislators — only those elected in 2014 forward. The provisions of the bill cover 25 Middle Tennessee House districts and nine Senate districts.

The final House vote was 77-16, with 20 members whose districts will be affected voting in favor of the legislation. Of the 15 Democrats who voted against the change, only four of them will be affected. The other six Democrats whose districts are impacted voted yes, while all of the 12 Republicans voted yes. Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, did not vote at all. (See Votes by Legislators Affected by Per Diem box below.)

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Gilmore was paid $13,215.85. Of the House districts that will be impacted, that was the highest in travel and per diem expenses in 2012.(See chart below for how much affected representatives received in cumulative travel and per diem expenses in 2012.)

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Of all the Senate districts to be affected, Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, had the highest travel and per diem expenses at almost $15,000. Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville, who has served for 42 years in the Senate, received $8,953.62, but the veteran Democrat returns all of his expense payments back to the state, according to Legislative Administration’s website. (See chart below for how much affected senators received in cumulative travel and per diem expenses in 2012.)

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According to the new law’s fiscal note, HB80 would save the state $253,616, based on figures from in 2012, when 33 legislators lived within 50 miles of the Capitol. The savings will come primarily from the ineligibility of lawmakers whose primary residence is within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol to automatically receive $107 a day for a hotel room. Instead, they will receive receive mileage reimbursement at 46 cents a mile.

In addition, legislators who live within Davidson County will be able to calculate their round-trip mileage to the Capitol and receive reimbursement for it, something they are currently unable to do.

Unlike current statute, which allows the 34 lawmakers affected to receive mileage for only one round-trip per week, the new statute would apply to each legislative day in Nashville or any day, except Friday, that the lawmaker participates in any other activity in Nashville, but would be limited to one round trip per day.

All legislators will continue to receive $66 per day for meals and incidentals.

There are two methods for logging their legislative time in order to receive their allowed expenses.  One is by attending committee meetings or legislative sessions in the House or Senate, which records this attendance automatically. The other method is filling out paperwork with the details of what they did that day. These documents must receive approval from the House or Senate speaker.

Lawmakers who live within the 50-mile radius will still be allowed to stay overnight and be paid the $107 for lodging – provided they receive prior approval from the speaker of their respective chamber.

For more on the history of this issue, which dates back more than five years, go to TNReport.com and search the archives using the phrase “per diem.”

To find out your legislators’ per diems, as well as mileage payments and travel spending, go to the Legislative Administration website. While some legislators may not claim the allowance for every day they work, it will give you a rough idea. The online data goes back to 2009.

If you’re not sure who your representative or senator is, type in your address at this “Find My Legislator” database, and you’ll find out.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com, on Twitter @DwnHomePolitics or at 615-442-8667.