Bill to change Legislator per diem rates passes Committee


Bill would end routine payment for hotel stays for Legislators who live within 50 miles of the State Capitol Building

Legislation that would end routine per diem payments for lodging for state legislators who live within 50 miles of Tennessee’s StateCapitolBuilding was approved by the SenateState and Local Government Committee this week.  Senate Bill 107, sponsored by Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), only allows for hotel payment upon special circumstances like inclement weather as approved by the House and Senate Speakers, but receipts for the hotel stay must be provided.


“This is a big step forward in reforming the per diem system through which members receive reimbursement for expenses,” said Senator Haile.  “I should not be reimbursed for a hotel stay if I sleep in my own bed at night.  This legislation would end routine reimbursement for lodging for those who live within a 50-mile commuting distance to the StateCapitolBuilding.”


Currently, members of the General Assembly are paid $173 per day which is the federal per diem rate. The money is used to cover lodging, food, and other costs. The state law that provides for the reimbursement of legislator expenses is not a permissive statute, meaning payment of the expense account is not optional.  If a member chooses to reimburse the state for their expense account payment, they must write a check to the state; however, they still are required to pay taxes on the full amount to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  The IRS considers the per diem payment for those living within 50 miles of the State Capitol as income, meaning affected lawmakers must pay federal taxes on it in accordance with their guidelines.


The State and Local Government Committee also approved Senate Joint Resolution 127 calling for a study by the Tennessee Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) of the General Assembly’s  per diem structure which compensates legislators for their expenses.  The resolution, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), instructs TACIR to look at the number of counties that each member represents, the population of each member’s district, the number of square miles in the district, the number of local and county governments, and the distance to and from Nashville.   They will report back to the Chairmen of the State and Local Government Committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives.