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.
Legislators seek to remove Ellen Hobbs Lyle as Chancellor - HR0023 starts the process of removing Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle from the bench based on her ruling that expanded absentee voting during the pandemic.
Attorney General/ Constitutional Amendment - Senate Joint Resolution 1, calls for a transparent nomination process by the Tennessee Supreme Court in selecting the State Attorney General, followed by a confirmation vote of the nominee by a majority of both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly. Tennessee is the only state in which the State Supreme Court appoints the attorney general.
The resolution would require the votes of the Tennessee Supreme Court justices to be held in open court with recorded votes. The votes taken by the court on nominees are not currently disclosed to the public. Once the nomination is made, the legislature would have 60 days to go through the confirmation process. In the event that the candidate is rejected, then the court would have 60 days to make another nomination. The resolution was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, clearing the way for final consideration by the full Senate. The proposal must go through three readings on the floor of the Senate before a final vote is taken.
Right to Work/Constitutional Amendment - A resolution to add Tennessee’s Right to Work law to the State Constitution is also headed to the Senate floor after approval was given this week by members of the Commerce and Labor Committee. Senate Joint Resolution 2 protects the right of Tennesseans to join or refuse to join a labor union or employee organization, saying it should always be a “fundamental civil right.” Tennessee’s Right to Work statute has been state law since 1947. It provides workers cannot be hired or fired based on their membership in, affiliation with, resignation from, or refusal to join or affiliate with any labor union or employee organization.
Constitutional Amendment/Temporary incapacitation of the Governor - On Thursday, the full Senate heard the first reading of a resolution that allows voters to address any potential incapacitation of the Tennessee’s governor after it was approved earlier in the week by the Senate State and Local Government Committee. Senate Joint Resolution 10 would provide the framework for a transition in the case that the governor is unable to perform his or her duties due to a planned or unplanned absence.
The resolution provides that when a temporary incapacitation is planned, such as major surgery, a written declaration from the governor would be submitted that the powers and duties will be temporarily discharged by the speaker of the Senate. If the incapacitation is the result of a sudden incident where the governor is unable to submit a declaration, then the majority of administrative commissioners of the governor’s cabinet would submit a written declaration to temporarily name the speaker of the Senate as acting governor, with duties falling to the speaker of the House of Representatives if the Senate speaker’s office is vacant. The acting governor would be authorized to continue to perform the duties of the office until the governor transmits that he or she is able to resume their responsibilities.
Disabilities/ Employment - Legislation putting Tennessee on track to become a “State as a Model Employer” (SAME) for individuals living with disabilities was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee this week. The SAME program ensures that state agencies and departments design and implement practices and procedures that focus on recruitment, hiring, advancement and retention of qualified individuals with disabilities. Funds for the program have been included in Governor Bill Lee’s budget proposal and it will be administered by the Department of Human Resources. Senate Bill 100 now moves to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration.
COVID/Education - The full Senate approved legislation this week giving Tennessee’s governor the authority to issue an Executive Order requiring all schools to offer in-person learning. Senate Bill 103 follows an outcry by students and parents in Shelby County Schools to reopen schools after almost a year of being closed to in-person instruction. In addition, the bill grants school boards more independence regarding whether their schools should be open or closed to in-person learning during a public emergency, unless the governor has issued a statewide order. School boards can delegate the authority to the director of schools under an amendment added to the legislation. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Middle College Scholarships — Tennessee’s Middle College Scholarship program would be enhanced by legislation approved by members of the Senate Education Committee this week. Senate Bill 9 increases the amount awarded each semester to full-time students from $1,000 to $1,250. Middle College is a public community college program that, in partnership with the local education agency (LEA), permits high school juniors and seniors to earn both a high school diploma and an associate degree at the same time. The program offers students an opportunity to complete 60 hours (four semesters) of college credit, more courses than most students can typically take through dual studies alone.
Tennessee Promise Scholarships — Legislation creating a pilot program beginning in the 2021-2022 academic year for Tennessee Promise students with financial hardships advanced through the Senate Education Committee this week. The Tennessee Promise Program is a scholarship program through which a person may attend community college or technical college free of tuition and fees. Senate Bill 229 requires the Tennessee higher education commission (THEC) to establish a four-year pilot program that awards grants to Tennessee Promise scholarship students who are receiving services as part of the college coaching initiative delivered by partnering organizations and are experiencing financial hardships that may prevent degree completion.
Human Trafficking – The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure this week to help prevent minors who are victims of human trafficking from being prosecuted for prostitution. Senate Bill 214 would require law enforcement officers to alert DCS when they take a minor into custody on charges of prostitution so DCS can appropriately place the child in a safe home. Depending on the circumstance, DCS would either place the child in the custody of a parent or guardian, or in a care facility if determined by a judge.
Boating Under the Influence – The Senate Judiciary approved an increase in penalties for Boating Under the Influence (BUI). Current law allows for a six-month suspension of a boating license for drinking and boating. Senate Bill 246 would raise the penalties of a BUI to be consistent with a DUI (Driving Under the Influence).
Ambulance Services/Funding – Legislation continuing the Ambulance Service Provider Assessment Act, a law first passed in 2017, was approved this week in the Health and Welfare Committee. Senate Bill 345 allows the state to receive additional Medicaid funds to be redistributed to the local private and public ambulance services for transporting patients covered by the TennCare program. The $10.6 million investment is expected to bring in approximately $20.8 million in federal funds for ambulance services. The legislation is modeled after the successful Hospital Assessment Act.
Rape Victims / Custody Rights — The Senate Judiciary Committee passed legislation this week protecting both the victim and a child conceived in rape from a questionable outcome in a civil custody battle. Senate Bill 274 gives the power to mother and child to decide if or when the child is exposed to the offender. Present law removes parental rights from a rapist who is convicted of the crime. This legislation adds aggravated statutory rape and statutory rape by an authority figure to the list of offenses for which the offender will be prohibited from having custody rights. This ensures rights are removed for those who are convicted or plead guilty to a lesser offense.
Gender/ Sports – The Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 228, which would prevent middle and high school students who are biological males from participating in girls’ athletic events in Tennessee by ensuring students compete in athletic competitions that correspond with their sex at birth.