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.
Budget - The budget, which will fund state government for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, prioritizes education, health care, and job development, including a record investment in broadband. The budget also makes a deposit in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which serves as the Tennessee’s savings account to withstand economic downturns, bringing the fund to a level of $1.55 billion. The new budget funds many of last year’s budget priorities, which were put on hold as Tennessee’s attention shifted toward addressing the health and economic effects of the pandemic, including $250 million for a Mental Health Trust Fund to provide mental health supports to K-12 students.
Tennessee’s 2021-2022 budget funds $143 million in improvements made by the General Assembly during the Special Session on Education to tackle student learning loss. It also includes funds to raise literacy rates, provide pay increases for teachers and fully fund the state’s Basic Education Plan (BEP). Key expenditures in higher education include $36 million to fund the Outcomes-Based Funding Formula to help stabilize budgets in Tennessee’s colleges and universities and keep tuition increases at a minimum. It provides $79 million to eliminate current Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCAT) waitlists, currently at 11,400 students.
The budget also puts an emphasis on rural development with a $100 million investment to expand high speed broadband to unserved Tennessee communities. In jobs investments, the budget provides $190 million for Fast Track Infrastructure Grants.
The budget provides $37.9 million to fund medical inflation in the state’s TennCare program and adds $5 million to further widen the state’s Health Care Safety Net, bringing it to over $30 million. A Senate amendment also added $1.5 million to the state’s Graduate Medical Education (GME) Program for a total of $5.5 million in recurring funds to get more residents into rural hospitals. In addition, the budget provides $38.9 million for a pay increase for Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), who provide care to citizens who suffer from a variety of disabilities. The budget supports pay increases for DSPs from a minimum of $10.50 to $12.50 per hour.
$100 million for cities and counties with funds available in July for any non-recurring needs;
$931 million for capital improvements;
$30 million for deferred maintenance for Tennessee’s state parks;
$17 million for a new radio communication system, $2.3 million for body cameras and funding of the salary plan and survey for state troopers;
$18 million to improve Tennessee’s statewide disaster communications system;
$24 million to provide additional funding for rural projects as part of the Rural Economic Opportunity Fund;
$145 million for air and rail transportation infrastructure;
$50 million for a sales tax holiday on grocery sales, purchases at restaurants and all prepared foods on July 30 – August 5;
Senate Bill 912, which is also called the appropriations bill, now goes to Governor Bill Lee for his signature. The budget is effective on July 1.
Caitlyn Kaufman Act / Highway Cameras – Legislation to help law enforcement investigate crimes and locate missing persons passed the Senate this week. Senate Bill 354 would allow the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to place license plate readers on interstates and state road rights-of-way. This is the same technology currently used in police cars. Under the bill, the cameras can only be used for criminal investigations and cannot be used to enforce or monitor state or local traffic violations.
Prenatal Life and Liberty Act — Legislation which provides no legal claim in Tennessee should assert that abortion is preferable to life has been approved on final Senate consideration. Senate Bill 1370 prohibits civil causes of action for either wrongful birth or wrongful life.
Human Trafficking / Evidence / Social Media Platforms — The full Senate passed legislation this week that would authorize a law enforcement officer, district attorney or designee, or the attorney general or designee to require the disclosure of wire and electronic communications for evidentiary purposes. Senate Bill 1592 targets human trafficking offenses organized through social media platforms. Companies or providers that refuse to comply with the legislation can be punished for contempt of the court. The legislation now goes to Governor Bill Lee for his signature.
Voter Participation / Voting Centers — Legislation was approved this week expanding the Convenient Vote Center Program in Tennessee. The program allows citizens to vote on election day at any of a participating county’s polling locations most convenient to their work, school or travel. The Convenient Voter Centers started four years ago with a pilot program in Rutherford County. The program expanded to Monroe, Williamson and Wilson Counties during the last elections. Senate Bill 800 makes these centers permanent and authorizes Weakley, Sullivan and Sumner Counties to participate in the pilot program for federal, state and local elections held in 2022. Before a county can opt into the program, it must be approved by a supermajority of the county’s election commission and must be funded by the local governing body. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Lee’s desk for his signature.
Tennessee Election Integrity Act — Senate Bill 1315 requires all absentee ballots to include an easily discernible watermark approved by Tennessee’s Coordinator of Elections, except those officially authorized to be delivered electronically. Called the Tennessee Election Integrity Act, the legislation also requires absentee ballot counting boards of local county election commissions to reject any absentee ballot without the approved watermark.
Tennessee Second Amendment Sanctuary Act — The full Senate voted this week to enact Senate Bill 1335, which says that state and local officials must not enforce laws, treaties, executive orders, rules or regulations of the U.S. government that violate the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Tennessee Second Amendment Sanctuary Act also provides that any official who violates the statute is subject to ouster, unless they are otherwise excepted by the State Constitution.
Justified Force Defense/ Civil Actions — Senate Bill 1148 would allow a defendant to request a stay of civil proceedings until a criminal investigation or proceeding has concluded, if the claim concerns the use of justified force. Additionally, if the civil action is based upon the same facts as the criminal proceeding, the defendant may move for an expedited immunity hearing whose verdict must be delivered within 40 days of the motion. The civil action must then be dismissed if the defendant is found to have immunity under current statute. Earlier in the session, the companion bill passed the House of Representatives, so it will now move forward to the governor for signature.
Intellectually Disabled / Capital Punishment — Senate Bill 1349 passed both the House of Representatives and Senate redefining “intellectually disabled” for the purpose of capital punishment. Current law provides that an individual is intellectually disabled if he or she has an intellectual quotient (IQ) of 70 or less. In conformity with court decisions, this legislation replaces this requirement with a need to show significant limitations in practical, social and conceptual cognizance. Moreover, it creates a procedure for a defendant sentenced to death to file a motion to litigate the issue of intellectual disability. The defendant’s review period would then be extended, and an evidentiary hearing would be held to determine his or her intellectual abilities. However, individuals whose intellectual disability status has been previously resolved by the court would not be able to file a motion under this legislation.
Restaurants / Alcohol – The Senate voted this week to allow restaurants to sell alcohol with carryout or pickup orders under certain conditions if they are properly licensed for on-premise consumption. Senate Bill 681 continues a COVID-19 Executive Order which allowed restaurants to sell “to go” alcohol for off-premise consumption during the pandemic. The conditions listed in the legislation include that the alcohol must be accompanied by an order for food, must be no more than 16 fluid ounces, and be packaged in a container or bottle with a secure lid or cap to prevent drinking without removal. Restaurant employees must still see a valid identification to confirm that purchasers are at least 21 years old and must post a sign which states “a driver shall not consume alcoholic beverages or beer while operating a motor vehicle in this state.”
Homeschool Students / HOPE Scholarship — The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee approved legislation this week that would make it easier for homeschooled students to receive the HOPE scholarship. Under current law, home school students cannot qualify for lottery scholarships through their GPA score, unlike their public and accredited private school counterparts. Instead, they must solely rely on their ACT scores for eligibility. Senate Bill 458 would solve this discrepancy by extending aid to home school students who both complete six credit hours of dual-enrollment and maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in those courses. Additionally, it would remove the requirement that a student must have been enrolled in a home school for one year immediately preceding the completion of their high-school level education. The bill is now set to move to the floor for a final vote from the full Senate.
Criminal Charges — Senate Bill 675 allows individuals with nonviolent or low-level assault offenses on their criminal record to have their record expunged in very limiting circumstances.
Education / Violence – Legislation seeking to address mass violence on school property was approved on final consideration by state senators on Tuesday. Senate Bill 627 creates a Class A misdemeanor offense for communicating a threat to commit an act of mass violence on school property or at a school-related activity. If a person with knowledge of this threat fails to report it to law enforcement, they could face Class B misdemeanor charges under the bill. A sentencing court may require a person sentenced for either offense to pay restitution for the destruction of normal activities. In addition, the court could order a child held for threatening mass violence on a school to undergo a mental health evaluation.
Child Neglect and Endangerment — Senate Bill 1591 aims to protect children from exposure to dangerous drugs. Under current law, child neglect and endangerment are defined as Class A misdemeanors. The legislation would expand this definition to include the exposure of a child to methamphetamine or any other dangerous drug that is not Schedule VI, which is marijuana, THC or its synthetic equivalents. Additionally, it provides that the offense will be a Class D felony if the exposed child is eight years old or under.
Interlocutory Appeal — Under Senate Bill 915, in an action brought against this state, a department or agency of the state, or an official of the state in their official capacity that challenges the constitutionality of a state statute, the state now has an interlocutory appeal as of right.