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.
February 26, 2019
Truth in Advertising / Drug and Medical Devices — The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee passed healthcare consumer legislation this week regarding “bad drug” and medical device compensation advertisements. Senate Bill 352 prohibits advertisements which falsely lead viewers to believe a drug or device is no longer FDA approved through means such as using the phrases medical alert, recall, or public service announcement, or by displaying a government agency logo. The bill calls for the advertisements to be more transparent by revealing who is sponsoring it, as well as adding a disclosure directing patients to “not stop taking a prescribed medication without first consulting their doctor.” Research shows that these commercials lead patients who have been prescribed critically important medications to doubt or discontinue their treatment regimen without consulting a physician, putting patients’ health at risk.
In addition, the legislation makes it illegal for third parties to collect, sell, or transfer a person’s protected health information without their knowledge. A person or company found in violation of this statute under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act would face a misdemeanor charge punishable with up to one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine. The bill now goes to the Senate floor for final consideration.
Industrial Hemp / Federal Compliance – The Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee approved legislation that brings Tennessee’s laws regarding hemp into compliance with new federal regulations enacted by the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. Senate Bill 357 requires the state’s Commissioner of Agriculture to prepare and submit a hemp regulation plan to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in order for Tennessee to obtain primacy over hemp regulation, as authorized by the new federal law. The legislation also replaces the term “industrial hemp,” in state law with “hemp” but maintains the definition of the plant as containing as 0.3 percent THC or less.
Drones / Penalties – The Senate Judiciary Committee this week approved Senate Bill 306 which amends current law to increase the penalty for those who fly drones within 250 feet of critical infrastructure or communication towers from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class E felony. The bill’s sponsor said the change is needed because flying drones is becoming an increasingly popular recreational activity, and there is a need for a stronger deterrent to prevent the flying of drones over critical infrastructure.
Background Checks / Working with Vulnerable Adults— Legislation to authorize background checks for those working in direct contact with individuals with disabilities through the Division of Rehabilitation Services was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. Senate Bill 789 will allow the Department of Human Services (DHS) to request the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to perform background checks on employees, contractors, and subcontractors who have direct access to vulnerable adults through the Department’s Vocational Rehabilitation program and allow DHS to take action based on the results. This legislation aims to enhance accountability and the safety of citizens served by DHS. Similar to background checks required of child care providers, these background checks seek to look for violent crimes, sexual offenses, abuse and other crimes.
DUI multiple offenses— The Senate Judiciary Committee approved SB683, known as Dustin Ledford’s Law, which would increase penalties for all multiple offenses of driving under the influence (DUI) to Class E felonies with a minimum sentence of 11 months 29 days. Under current law, second DUI offences result in a sentence of no less than 45 consecutive days nor more than 11 months 29 days, third offenses result in a sentence of no less than 120 consecutive days nor more than 11 months 29 days, and fourth and fifth offenses result in sentences no less than 150 consecutive days nor more than the maximum punishment for Class E felonies.
Sex Offenses - The efforts to improve the state’s child sex offense laws follow recommendations made by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) which recently delivered a report on the effectiveness of the state’s statues of limitations on prosecution of sexual offenses. The report showed 32 states have eliminated the statute of limitations for certain felony child sexual abuse crimes, while 12 others have removed those involving felony offenses.
Senate Bill 1252, removes the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse felonies; increases the time for civil claims involving child sexual abuse from 7 to 15 years after the victim turns 18 years old; and creates a Class E felony for intentionally failing to report on a first offense and knowingly failing to report for a second offense. Some of the felony crimes involving minors covered by the bill include trafficking for a commercial sex act, crimes involving rape, crimes involving sexually battery, patronizing or promoting prostitution, continuous sexual abuse of a child, crimes involving sexual exploitation, sexual battery, incest, indecent exposure, and unlawful photographing.
Senate Bill 368 removes the statute of limitations for prosecution of the most serious Class A or Class B felony sexual offenses. It also corrects a drafting error in current law which set a lower statute of limitations for aggravated rape, rape of a child, rape, and aggravated rape of a child if notice of the offense is not given to law enforcement within three years. This error has resulted in the statute of limitations for those crimes not reported within the three years reverting to a shorter period of 15 years from the date of offense, which is used for other Class A felonies.
The third bill, Senate Bill 644 ensures that undercover human trafficking operations conducted by law enforcement officials to catch offenders who promote or patronize minors are prosecutable in Tennessee courts of law. The bill clarifies, for prosecution purposes, that it is not a defense that a law enforcement officer is posing as a minor when conducting undercover operations for human trafficking. It also clarifies that it is not a defense to the prosecution of these crimes that the solicited crime was not completed or that it was a law enforcement officer posing underage.
All three sex offender bills advanced to the Senate floor for final consideration.
State Attorney General— The full Senate approved a resolution that would allow voters to change the way Tennessee’s Attorney General is selected by amending the State Constitution. Senate Joint Resolution 1 calls for an open nomination process by the Tennessee Supreme Court in selecting the state’s highest legal officer. It would then be followed by a confirmation vote of the nominee by a majority of both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly.
Before proceeding to a vote by the people, constitutional resolutions must be approved by a simple majority of the 111th General Assembly during the 2019-2020 sessions and by a two-thirds majority of the 112th General Assembly which will convene in 2021-2022. Once on the ballot, constitutional amendments must receive a plurality of votes cast in the gubernatorial election.