Bill Watch is a service of the Knoxville Bar Association Legislative Committee. During each week of the legislative session, the KBA will distribute an updated report, through the support of Stephanie D. Coleman of Owings, Wilson & Coleman. The report will indicate progress and recent actions taken on the bills of interest to KBA members.
You can also get information about the General Assembly, including the text of bills and floor and committee calendars, by accessing the legislative web site at www.capitol.tn.gov.
Sentencing - Senate Bill 717 advanced in the Tennessee Senate this week. It requires certain violent or sexual offenders to serve 100 percent of the sentence imposed by a judge or jury. It affects offenses such as rape, sexual battery, continuous sexual abuse of a child, sexual battery by an authority figure, incest, promoting prostitution, aggravated child abuse, domestic assault, aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor, and trafficking for a commercial sex act.
The legislation does not remove judicial discretion, however, parole or probation would not be options for those found guilty of crimes that fall into these categories. The person will still be permitted to earn eligible credits which increase their privileges, reduce their security classification, and any others which do not reduce the sentence imposed on them by the court. The legislation was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and now moves to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration of the cost.
Rape - In Senate Judiciary Committee action, members approved the Jim Coley Protection for Rape Survivors Act, a bill that aims to decrease sexual assault evidence kit backlogs. Senate Bill 1035 changes the handling procedure of these kits. Law enforcement agencies would be required to retrieve sexual assault evidence kits from medical providers within seven days of notification, then turn them over to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) within 45 days. Currently, they have 60 days to turn them over. Law enforcement will also be required to store a kit for ten years until the statute of limitation expires.
In addition, the legislation requires the TBI to develop and implement an electronic system that tracks the location and status of each kit released to law enforcement on or after July 1, 2022. Victims would be able to access the system through a tracking number and must be notified 60 days before destruction or disposal of the evidence. The legislation now moves to the Senate floor for final consideration.
Emergency responders/Mental Health - The “James ‘Dustin’ Samples Act” was approved in the Senate, which allows professional firefighters to file for worker’s compensation if they have been diagnosed with work-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Senate Bill 1023 states that when a firefighter seeks treatment for PTSD, there is a presumption that it is a work-related injury.
Confidential Information - In other action, the full Senate gave final approval to legislation protecting federal law enforcement officers and their families by providing confidentiality regarding certain personal information. This law already exists for state law enforcement officers. Senate Bill 475, adds federal law enforcement agents who are conducting an operation within Tennessee to the list of records which are considered confidential and not open for public inspection.
Highway Patrol/Retirement - Legislation benefitting Tennessee Highway Patrol officers who retire between 25 years and 30 years of service was also approved by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week. Currently, state employees must serve a full 30 years to receive 80 percent of the scheduled premiums which cover their health insurance costs. Senate Bill 1607 lowers the threshold to 25 years of service to provide full benefits to these officers.
First Responders - In addition, state senators gave final approval to Senate Bill 995 this week. Under current law, there is a legal presumption that any full-time firefighter, paramedic, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or Advanced EMT who is infected with either HIV or the hepatitis C was inflicted with the disease on the job. These public employees are specifically defined because they provide emergency medical aid to the public in the regular course of their employment without the protections available in a typical healthcare setting. In response to the COVID-19 epidemic, this bill would broaden the legal presumption to include infectious diseases for which the World Health Organization or federal Center of Disease Control has declared a pandemic and the governor has issued a state of emergency. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Lee for his signature.
Criminal Law/ Theft – Nationwide, police are reporting a surge in thefts of catalytic converters on automobiles. This week the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee approved Senate Bill 1612. The legislation requires any person who buys or sells unattached catalytic converters to notify the chief of police or sheriff of each city and county in which the activity occurred. It also requires any person who buys unattached catalytic converters to be registered as a scrap metal dealer in a fixed location business. Under the bill, any person selling or possessing a detached catalytic converter without proper documentation is presumed to be in possession of contraband, punishable as a Class A misdemeanor. The guilty party would be responsible for replacement costs of the stolen converter. The bill now moves to the full Senate for a final vote.
Primacy / Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act - The Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee approved legislation this week, to pursue state oversight of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), frequently referred to as Primacy. The General Assembly voted in 2018 to adopt the legislation to obtain primacy and move Tennessee towards establishing a state, rather than federal, surface coal mining program. Tennessee is currently the only state in the nation which mines coal that relies on the federal government for regulation of the industry.
To receive Primacy, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) must determine that the state’s program is at least as stringent as federal law and has the financial capability to administer and operate the program. Senate Bill 742 responds to OSMRE feedback by restructuring the program under the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation instead of a separate regulatory board; specifying program requirements in state law instead of the rulemaking process; incorporating the federal framework for appeals and enforcement; and setting fees through rulemaking to allow more flexible and expedient response to changing market conditions. The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration.
Prescription Drugs / Cannabidiol - The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week which exempts products containing cannabidiol, which are approved as prescription medications by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), from the definition of “marijuana.” Senate Bill 706 helps provide treatment for spasticity in adult patients diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis if the drug has gone through the FDA approval process, is listed as a scheduled drug, and has been prescribed by a health care provider.
Railroad Safety / First Responders - The full Senate passed Senate Bill 662. Under its passage, the Department of Transportation would be required to provide an annual report that identifies areas critically impacted by blocked highway-rail grade crossings. The reports, supplemented by data offered on the Federal Railroad Administration’s website, would be presented to the Transportation Committee of the House of Representatives and the Transportation and Safety Committee of the Senate. Additionally, the department must directly send the report to the top five most affected municipalities within the state.