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.
January 31, 2020
College Scholarships - The Senate Education Committee approved legislation on Wednesday to increase the amount awarded for a Tennessee Middle College Scholarship from $1,000 to $1,250 for each semester of full-time attendance. Senate Bill 1579 helps offset costs for high school students looking to get a head start on their college degrees. Middle College is a public community college program that, in partnership with the local education agency (LEA), permits high school students to earn their diploma and an associate degree during their junior and senior years of high school. Although the program facilitates a transition to post-secondary education, due to the requirement that recipients have a high school degree, the students have not been eligible for the Tennessee Promise Scholarship. The scholarship helps pay for the cost of tuition and books for students in the program.
The Volunteer State- The Senate State and Local Government Committee has approved Senate Bill 1552 which officially designates Tennessee as the “Volunteer State” to honor the state’s heritage and inspire future generations to answer the call to service. While Tennessee has commonly been referred to by this nickname since as early as 1812, it is not recognized in state law. The Volunteer State moniker dates back to the War of 1812 because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee. It also refers to the state’s response to President Polk’s call for 2,600 volunteers at the beginning of the Mexican-American War, which resulted in 30,000 volunteering from Tennessee alone. The bill now goes to the Senate floor for final consideration. It is also pending final action in the House of Representatives.
Right to work- A Tennessee Right to Work Constitutional Amendment is one step closer to passage after receiving overwhelming approval in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week. Senate Joint Resolution 648 addresses the rights of Tennessee workers, regardless of whether they choose to join a union. The resolution now goes to the floor of the Senate where it will be read three times before a vote is taken. The resolution must pass the General Assembly by a simple majority this year and by a two-thirds majority during the 2021 or 2022 legislative session in order to appear on the ballot for a statewide referendum in November 2022. The amendment would become part of the state constitution if adopted by a majority of votes cast in the governor’s election.
Criminal Penalties/Evading Arrest- The Spencer Bristol Act, Senate Bill 1783, seeks to hold criminals accountable by increasing penalties for evading arrest when a law enforcement officer is injured or dies during a pursuit involving a fleeing suspect. Currently, penalties for evading arrest on foot are less stringent than those imposed for suspects fleeing in a vehicle. This legislation enhances the penalties for evading arrest, whether on foot or in a motor vehicle, to a Class C felony, punishable by three to fifteen years in prison, if the offense results in serious bodily injury of a law enforcement officer. 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. The legislation will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee where it will be scheduled for consideration in the coming weeks.
HOA/Homeowners - The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee approved legislation this week concerning the rights of homeowners. Senate Bill 1429 provides that when a Homeowner Association (HOA) amendment restricting long-term rentals passes in the future, current homeowners would have a “vested right” to operate under the rules in which they purchased or received the property regarding rentals. These rules would be in effect until the property is sold to a new owner who would then be subject to any amended HOA restrictions. The bill was discussed by lawmakers during the 2019 legislative session. It was deferred by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee last April to give all parties an opportunity to be heard. The bill defines long-term rental property as a single-family residential real property that is leased by the owner for a period of 180 or more consecutive days, a provision which would ban corporation rentals for 30 days at a time. Long-term rental companies would be required to notify HOAs if there is a change in contact information or property ownership. This provision was placed in the bill after complaints by HOAs that out-of-state companies were difficult to contact regarding rental property within their community. The legislation would only apply to HOA amendments passed after May 1, 2020, the effective date of the bill. It now heads to the Senate floor where it will be considered for a final vote.
TN Supreme Court ruling – On Tuesday, the Senate Finance, Ways and Means approved Senate Bill 453, clarifying that release eligibility for first degree murder defendants sentenced to life in prison prior to July 1, 1995, will be treated the same as those who commit the offense after that date. The action follows a Tennessee State Supreme Court ruling in the Brown case which shed light on an ambiguity in state law dealing with life sentences for those convicted of first-degree murder between November 1980 and July 1995. The legislation now goes to the Senate floor.