Ownership Secrecy Clause Forces Delay in Senate Passing ECD Confidentiality Bill

One of the governor’s signature bills – a measure that would make information secret when a company seeks grant money from the state – hit a speed bump tonight in the Tennessee Senate.

Bo Watson, a Chattanooga Republican, presented the governor’s bill. He says making much of the state grant application confidential will allow decision-makers to have much more information.

“If you look at the language of the bill, you will see that it specifically mentions information that businesses hereto before have not released to the department, for concern that it might go public – business processes, organizational structure and ownership, financial statements , budget.”

But Democrat Roy Herron of Dresden says he doesn’t believe the Economic and Community Development Department has been in the dark about who owns the companies that get tax incentives or grants. He says the bill’s result will be to keep Tennessee taxpayers in the dark.

“There may be a compelling reason why we’re gonna give away, or the department’s going to give away, state tax dollars – and the people whose money is being given away, those who pay the taxes, can never find out who they gave the money to.”

The two sides skirmished through the evening until the governor’s floor leader, Mark Norris, called a truce and put the bill off until Thursday.

Senator Norris says he’ll need to talk to more Democrats before calling the measure up again. The House version of the ECD confidentiality bill comes up this morning in the Commerce Committee.

WEB EXTRA
The two senators sparred for long minutes but made the same points, repeatedly.

Herron proposed a situation in which a new governor had greedy relatives.

“And let’s suppose it’s eight years from now. And the new governor that comes in eight years from now has a brother, or a sister, or a child, and one of them owns an interest in the business. And the business comes along, and they want state tax dollars. As I understand this legislation, this would mean, that if there was an ownership interest by a family member of a governor, of a commissioner, or a legislator, any of us in this room, any of them on the first floor, any of them in the administration, that that could be kept confidential, forever.”

Not forever, argued Watson.

“This language does not speak to any release however it is consistent with whatever is currently in the law relative to marketing materials and capital plans.”

Those marketing plans are confidential until the “provider of the material” no longer requires its confidentiality, according to the summary of the bill provided by legislative staff.

The bill is SB 2207 Norris/ HB 2345 McCormick.

A staff summary of the bill is here.


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