Bill Watch is a service of the Knoxville Bar Association Legislative Committee. During the legislative session, the KBA will provide 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.
TennCare - Legislation calling for Tennessee’s Commissioner of Finance and Administration to request a block grant waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to serve recipients of the state’s TennCare program was approved by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week. Senate Bill 1428 requires the commissioner to submit the block grant waiver request to CMS within 180 days of the bill’s enactment. Coverage for the existing TennCare population would be maintained under the proposal. The bill specifies that funds must be indexed for costs such as population and inflation growth. Funding must remain at the level set, without any decrease in the federal share based on deflation or a reduction in population. Administrative costs would be excluded, permitting the state to continue to draw federal matching funds for operating the program. Regarding pharmacy benefits, the amendment includes fluctuation of prescription drug costs, diabetic testing supplies, and over-the-counter medications. It now goes to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee for consideration, and must also receive approval from the Finance, Ways and Means Committee before moving to the full Senate for a final vote.
Farmers / Tennessee Wine and Grape Board– The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved legislation to create the Tennessee Wine and Grape Board to strengthen Tennessee’s efforts to restore preeminence in the wine and grape industry. Senate Bill 302 also creates the Wine and Grape Fund which is dedicated to promoting grape and wine production in Tennessee. Governor Bill Lee has allocated $300,000 to this fund in his supplemental budget amendment.
Daylight Saving Time Year Round– Legislation that seeks to implement daylight saving time year round in the state of Tennessee overcame its first hurdle in the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week. Senate Bill 1100 would only go into effect if and when the federal government removes the prohibition on states to regulate this matter. Year-round daylight savings time would mean that during the winter months, there would be one more hour of daylight in the afternoon, and the sun would rise one hour later in the morning. Florida and Washington have passed similar bills, and at least two dozen other states, including neighboring state North Carolina, are considering similar measures. The bill will now move to the floor of the Senate for final consideration.
Reducing Recidivism / Education Opportunities — Senate Bill 1061, which passed the full Senate, requires the Department of Corrections, in partnership with Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Board of Regents, to develop and submit to the General Assembly an annual report that details higher education opportunities available to inmates. The legislation also requires the department to develop a plan to equip ten percent of eligible inmates with a degree, diploma, or certificate by 2025 through increasing availability and participation in higher education among Tennessee’s prison population.
A separate bill to lower recidivism rates and total prison population through education and employment opportunities advanced through the Senate State and Local Committee this week. Senate Bill 904 incentivizes inmates to complete a reentry education program by establishing an educational sentence reduction credit of 60 days. If a prison inmate successfully earns a high school equivalency credential, high school diploma, vocational education diploma, or other post-secondary or industry-recognized certification they can then qualify for the reduction program.
Consumers / Automobiles— The Senate approved consumer legislation this week which authorizes the Department of Revenue to work alongside automakers who issue a major recall to conduct consumer outreach. Currently the department is prohibited from disclosing personal information in regards to motor vehicle records to anyone for any reason. Senate Bill 1492 allows the Department of Revenue’s Commissioner to disclose information regarding a vehicle owner affected by a major recall to the issuing automaker. This will allow for such automakers to more easily contact affected consumers who may be at risk.
Tennessee Public Charter School Commission – On Thursday, the full Senate gave approval to Senate Bill 796, which creates the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission to serve as an independent state appellate public charter school authorizer. The legislation moves the current appellate authority to authorize, oversee, and maintain accountability of charter schools from the State Board of Education to the newly created Public Charter School Commission. Under the legislation, charter operators must first submit an application to local school boards. If denied, then the charter operator will be able to appeal that decision to the Commission, which may approve the appeal and oversee the school, or the school may return to local jurisdiction if an agreement can be reached.
Constitutional Prohibition / Ministers Serving in the Legislature — 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 by the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week. 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. Senate Joint Resolution 178 seeks to put the State Constitution in line with current practice ensuring that the spiritual church leaders may serve Tennessee in the State Legislature.
Child Sex Offenders / Photographing — Legislation strengthening Tennessee’s child sex offender laws as it pertains to unlawfully photographing a minor was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 684 clarifies current child exploitation statutes by including language regarding the defendant’s purpose for sexual arousal or gratification. The legislation also increases penalties from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class C Felony for knowingly photographing a minor in a state of nudity. It further strengthens penalties to a Class E felony if the photograph is disseminated to any other person, or if the victims if under the age of 13. However, if both occur, the defendant will face a Class D felony offense, which means even more jail time. A person convicted under this statute will also be required to register as a sex offender. The legislation now travels to the Senate floor to receive final approval.
Health Care Consumers / Clarity in Billing Practices — The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee passed the Healthcare Billing Clarity Act. Senate Bill 613 restricts hospital billing statements from including any language that refers to specialty healthcare services rendered at the hospital which could confuse the patient into thinking the bill came from their physician instead. The legislation now heads to the full Senate to receive their final vote.
Bingo / K-12 Schools — Legislation allowing voters to amend Tennessee’s constitution to legalize Bingo games which benefit public and private schools passed final consideration on Thursday. Senate Joint Resolution 97 would provide an additional voluntary source of funds for Tennessee’s K-12 schools by allowing electronic and manual bingo to be played for their benefit. Legislation must be passed by the General Assembly authorizing the game if voters approve the constitutional amendment.
Community Oversight Boards — The full Senate approved a conference committee report on Senate Bill 1407. This bill amends the current unlimited subpoena power of an oversight board by requiring them to go to the local legislative body or city council and request a subpoena. The legislation, as amended by the report, also provides guidelines regarding the subpoena requests. The subpoenas would not be issued in the form of a blanket authorization, rather it must specify each document to be produced or witness to testify.