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.
Small Business - Senate Commerce and Labor Committee members approved Senate Bill 474 allowing businesses to remain open during a pandemic or other health emergency if they follow guidelines issued by any government to keep their customers and employees safe. The bill, which now heads to the Senate floor for final consideration, is supported by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).
Firearms - The Senate approved legislation this week allowing Tennesseans to carry firearms without a permit. Senate Bill 765 will allow citizens in Tennessee who are at least 21 years old or are honorably discharged or active in the U.S. Armed Forces, National Guard or Reserves to carry a firearm without a permit in a place where they are lawfully present. Under the bill, those who carry without a permit must have no felony convictions, orders of protection in effect, pending charges or convictions for domestic violence or stalking, or have been adjudicated as a mental defective. In addition, individuals convicted of two DUI offenses within the last ten years or one in the last five years would not be eligible, as well as federal prohibitions which include illegal aliens and fugitives from justice.
The legislation also increases penalties for firearm-related crime to promote public safety including:
- Increasing the penalty for theft of a firearm to a Class E felony;
- Providing a sentencing enhancement for theft of a firearm in a car;
- Increasing the minimum sentence for theft of a firearm from 30 days to 180 days; and
- Increasing the sentences for unlawful possession of a firearm by violent felons and felony drug offenders, possession of a handgun by a felon, and unlawfully providing a handgun to a juvenile or allowing a juvenile to possess a handgun.
The bill must now be approved by the House of Representatives before it goes to Governor Bill Lee for his signature.
Certificate of Need/Healthcare - Legislation reforming Tennessee’s Certificate of Need (CON) program was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee this week. Senate Bill 1281 reduces CON regulation of certain facilities and services and creates greater regulatory flexibility. CON is a legal document required for a hospital or health care facility that wants to locate or expand its capacity. Senate Bill 1281 makes significant changes to the front-end process by reducing paperwork required to file an application; eliminating the requirement for applicants to demonstrate “economic feasibility” of projects; consolidating CON functions to enable HSDA to expedite the process from approximately 135 days to 60 days; and empowering HSDA to reduce application fees by more than half by shifting revenue away from application fees.
Criminal Law/Spencer Bristol Act - The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved legislation this week to strengthen penalties for criminals who evade arrest. The Spencer Bristol Act would significantly increase penalties for evading arrest when a law enforcement officer is injured or killed in a pursuit involving a fleeing suspect. Under the legislation, if evading arrest results in serious bodily injury of a law enforcement officer, the penalty is increased to a Class C felony, punishable by 3 to 15 years in prison. The sentence is increased to a Class A felony, punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison, if the offense results in the death of a law enforcement officer.
Constitutional Amendment - A resolution allowing voters to change Tennessee’s constitution to remove a 1796 provision ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978, was approved this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Article IX, Section 1 prohibits ministers of the Gospel or priests of any denomination, from serving in the Tennessee General Assembly. Many ministers have served in the General Assembly since the prohibition was overturned by the nation’s highest court. Senate Joint Resolution 55 seeks to put the State Constitution in line with current practice. The measure was approved by the previous General Assembly and must now receive a two-thirds vote by both the House and Senate before being placed on the ballot in 2022.
Evelyn Boswell’s Law — A bill to require parents to report a missing child within 24 hours advanced in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 327 would create Evelyn Boswell’s Law. Under the bill, parents in Tennessee who do not report children missing to law enforcement within 24 hours could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.
STRONG Act / Tennessee National Guard – Legislation which expands eligibility for tuition reimbursement for members of the Tennessee National Guard under Tennessee’s Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen (STRONG) Act was approved by the Senate Education Committee this week. The STRONG Act provides eligible service members in the Tennessee National Guard with tuition reimbursement for coursework completed as a full- time student in pursuit of their bachelor’s degree. Senate Bill 755 expands eligibility to service members for a master’s degree and certificate-producing programs. It provides tuition reimbursement for up to 120 hours for a bachelor’s degree, 40 hours for a master’s degree and 24 hours for a vocational or technical program. Finally, the bill extends the program for four more years until June 30, 2025.
Text-to-911 – The full Senate has approved Senate Bill 182 which would develop a statewide implementation plan for Text-to-911 service by January 1, 2023. Text-to-911 is the ability to send a text message to reach 911 emergency call takers from a mobile phone or device. As of May 2020, 11 of Tennessee’s 911 stations are already offering it, and 38 are in the process of launching the service.
Animal Cruelty – Aggravated animal cruelty includes intentionally killing or causing serious physical harm to a companion animal such as a dog or a cat. Under current law, to convict a person of aggravated animal cruelty a prosecutor must prove the act was done in a ‘depraved or sadistic manner.’ Senate Bill 166 removes the language ‘depraved or sadistic’ from the law. The bill now moves to the Senate Calendar Committee.
Elder Abuse –A bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week would add two pieces of information to consideration of potential conservatorships. The first is a search of the Department of Health’s registry of persons who have abused, neglected or misappropriated property of vulnerable persons. The second piece of information to consider is a report from the national sex offender registry on the proposed conservator. Senate Bill 167 will advance to the Calendar Committee next.
Sex Offenders –Senate Bill 281 prevents a juvenile convicted of conduct that would constitute rape, aggravated rape, rape of a child or aggravated rape of a child if committed by an adult from working or volunteering at a place that would cause the juvenile offender to be in close or frequent contact with children. This restriction would remain in effect until the juvenile turns 18 years of age.
Human Trafficking / CDL — The Senate Transportation Committee has approved legislation to permanently ban anyone convicted of human trafficking from obtaining or possessing a commercial driver’s license. The lifetime ban would apply to all persons who knowingly used a vehicle in the commission of a sexual or human trafficking crime. Senate Bill 115 is similar to the federal No Human Trafficking on Our Roads Act with the exception that it applies to offenders who use any vehicle in commission of the crime, rather than just commercial vehicles.
Community Remembrance Project — The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Senate Joint Resolution 113 this week calling for a Community Remembrance Project to memorialize African American victims who were lynched in Tennessee during the post-Reconstruction era. The resolution calls for the Tennessee Historical Commission to partner with interested community groups and local historical organizations to memorialize all documented victims by county of residence.