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.
March 1, 2019
Middle College Program Scholarships – The Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 1379 this week increasing Tennessee’s Middle College Scholarship from $600 to $1,000 per semester. The Middle College program is a public community college program that, in partnership with the local education agency (LEA), permits high school students to earn both a high school diploma and an associate degree during their junior and senior years. Due to the requirement that recipients have a high school degree, students pursuing dual enrollment credits are not eligible for the Tennessee Promise Scholarship. This scholarship helps offset the cost of tuition and books during the two-year program.
Election Laws– Three proposals that aim to strengthen the state’s election process advanced in the Senate this week. The first bill, Senate Bill 1258, intends to close loopholes in the state’s election laws by prohibiting a candidate who has been defeated in a primary election from qualifying as a write-in candidate for the general election. The second bill, Senate Bill 1354, requires that in the event a party’s state executive committee removes a candidate’s name from the ballot, that person must receive notice in a reasonable amount of time for them to respond. Both proposals were approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee and are pending final action by the full Senate. The third bill, Senate Bill 1264, prohibits a person convicted of voter fraud in another state from assisting a person with either early voting or casting an absentee ballot in Tennessee. That proposal was unanimously adopted by the full Senate and awaits action in the Finance, Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives.
Election Laws / Vacancies — The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved legislation this week calling for a change in the process to fill a vacancy in the State Senate if it occurs within 45 days or less before a November general election. Current law requires a write-in election under such a scenario. Senate Bill 1355 establishes that if such a vacancy occurs, the county executive committee for the respective party of the vacant seat may nominate a candidate for the November ballot within 48 hours of notice. Independents can also run by filing a petition by noon of the same day that the candidates are being certified. The proposal allows the county election commission to publish the sample ballot on its website or on the Secretary of State’s website due to brevity of time. If early voting occurred prior to the vacancy, persons who have already voted would be allowed to cast a ballot in this election.
Emergency Response / Automated External Defibrillator - Senate Bill 314 provides that any entity responsible for the AED shall not be civilly liable for any personal injury that results from an act or omission related to the use or maintenance of the AED that does not amount to misconduct or gross negligence. The goal of the legislation is to encourage more facilities to use an AED in emergencies, rather than discourage facilities from using the device for fear of liability if the device does not work properly.
Smoking / Vaping – Two bills that address regulation of smoking tobacco and vapor products were approved by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week. Senate Bill 26 prohibits the use of vapor products in certain areas where children are often present. Areas prohibited include child care centers, group care homes, healthcare facilities, and others. The legislation also expands the definition of vapor products to include visible or non-visible vapors and the substances used to fill a vapor cartridge. The second bill, Senate Bill 932, would give local governments decision-making authority regarding the use of smoking tobacco on property owned or leased by a municipality or county, airport authorities, and hospitals within their jurisdiction.
Farms / Raw Butter — Legislation allowing Tennessee dairy farmers to produce and sell raw butter was approved by the Commerce and Labor Committee this week. Senate Bill 517 expands what dairy farmers can do with their perishable milk, allowing them to produce unpasteurized raw butter or cheese. The legislation now moves to the full Senate floor for a final vote.
County Road Relief Act – Legislation which continues indefinitely a 2015 law that gives counties more opportunities to tap into State Aid Road Grant Program funds was approved by the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee this week. Senate Bill 1364 lifts a 2019 sunset date of the 2015 law which has makes it easier for counties to access state funds to upgrade, repair, and improve local roads. Before, in order to receive funding through the State Highway Aid System, local governments had to provide a 25 percent local match. The 2015 law allows local governments to use state highway aid for a project, as long as the county contributes at least 2 percent of the approved project cost or provide in-kind work as approved by the Department of Transportation.
Enhanced Penalties / Theft of a Gun — Legislation enhancing penalties for theft of a firearm advanced in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 681 increases the penalty of theft of property that includes a firearm valued at less than $2,500 to a Class D felony. Current law penalizes theft of a firearm valued at less than $1,000 as a Class A misdemeanor. It is estimated that approximately three-fourth of guns stolen are valued at less than $1,000. Under this proposal, stealing any firearm would be punishable as a felony offense.
Criminal Law/Child Abuse - Legislation aiming to protect child abuse victims advanced in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 1403 expedites the response time on referrals made to DCS from licensed health care and education professionals. Currently, when a referral is made to the child abuse hotline, it is given a response time based on the allegation’s severity. Referrals are given either priority one, which is responded to within 24 hours; priority two, which gets a response within two business days; or priority three, which warrants a response within three business days. The legislation would ensure that all referrals made by health and education professionals are given priority one so that there is a face-to-face contact with the child no later than 24 hours after allegations are made. The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee before it moves to the floor for a final vote.
Death Penalty - The Senate Judiciary Committee voted this week in favor of Senate Bill 400, which changes the state’s death penalty appeals process by expediting cases straight to the Tennessee Supreme Court, eliminating an intermediate step to the Court of Criminal Appeals. Tennessee is in the minority of states which do not have a direct appeals process in capital crime cases. The legislation now moves to the Senate floor for a final vote. The bill also received approval in the House Judiciary Committee this week and awaits further action by the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee before moving to the floor for final consideration there.