Opioid Prescribing Practices — The full Senate approved legislation this week amending limits placed on opioid prescriptions under the TN Together legislation approved by the General Assembly last year. The purpose of the bill is to remove unintended barriers that could prevent patients receiving post-operative and palliative care medications from receiving legitimate, effective pain management treatment, while still keeping opioids out of the hands of abusers. Senate Bill 810 allows providers and patients to voluntarily request a partial fill, while encouraging providers to write prescriptions for the lowest effective amount. In addition, the proposal amends the current twenty-day prescription of opioids for major surgeries to a thirty-day prescription. The bill now awaits approval from the House of Representatives.
EMTs / Compensation to Survivors — Legislation extending compensation to emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics who are killed in the line of duty unanimously passed the full Senate floor this week. Under current law, the surviving spouse or child of a firefighter, volunteer rescue squad worker, or law enforcement officer who died in the line of duty receives a $250,000 annuity in $50,000 per year increments for 5 years and health insurance for two years. Senate Bill 29 adds EMTs and paramedics to this list requiring the state to reimburse local governments who provide the health insurance and annuity to their surviving families.
Rapid Response / Emergency Teams — The full Senate approved the “Facilitating Business Rapid Response to State Declared Disaster Act” this week which seeks to reduce hinderances to disaster response teams which are needed to immediately restore infrastructure in a time of crisis. Senate Bill 624 exempts disaster response teams from certain taxes when they enter the state temporarily to repair critical infrastructures, including water, gas, power, and communications. The legislation aligns Tennessee law with similar statutes in 29 other states. The Rapid Response Act also establishes that an employee or business is permitted to perform disaster-related work without Tennessee licensure, as long as they hold a relevant certificate in another state. The exemptions only apply if a natural disaster occurs or if the governor or president declares a state of emergency in Tennessee. The response teams are only permitted to remain in Tennessee for 120 days unless the president or governor extends the disaster declaration.
STEP UP Scholarship – The full Senate approved legislation on Thursday improving Tennessee’s STEP UP scholarship. The scholarship assists students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) in paying for post-secondary education. Senate Bill 516 prohibits an eligible post-secondary institution from approving or denying a student residential housing based solely on being a part of the STEP UP scholarship program. The legislation specifies that a school is not required to provide additional accommodations to a participating student beyond the basic Americans with Disabilities Act requirements afforded to all disabled students. Eligible colleges are also allowed to establish their own individual criteria in regards to the residential application process. The bill now awaits approval in the House of Representatives.
Death Penalty Process – The full Senate voted on Thursday to reform 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. Senate Bill 400 follows the Tennessee Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights Amendment adopted by voters in 1998 which gives crime victims the right to a speedy trial and a prompt and final conclusion of the case after conviction or sentence. The legislation now heads to Governor Bill Lee for his signature.
Jails / Non-violent Misdemeanor Crimes — The full Senate approved legislation this week authorizing police officers to give citations, in lieu of an arrest, for non-violent misdemeanor crimes. Nearly half of Tennessee’s jail population consists of misdemeanor offenders, and of the 15,000 pretrial inmates, over 5,000 are awaiting trials for misdemeanor charges. Senate Bill 587 allows police officers to issue citations to nonviolent misdemeanor offenders, rather than arrest them. The police officer, however, would still have the authority to arrest offenders if there is reasonable expectation that they are a flight risk or will continue to commit the crime.
FGM / Child Abuse – The Senate voted this week to approve legislation expanding the offense of female genital mutilation (FGM) by creating a civil cause of action for victims. Senate Bill 1166 also expands offenses related to child abuse to include FGM. The practice, which has serious health risks, is widely acknowledged as a human rights violation against women. The legislation is currently pending action in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee in the House of Representatives.
Professional Out-of-State Licensure / U.S. Armed Forces Members and Spouse —The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee approved legislation this week allowing a member of the U.S. Armed Forces or his/her spouse to practice their occupation for up to one year with an out-of-state medical license when stationed in Tennessee. Under Senate Bill 384, these armed forces members and their spouses are eligible to practice occupations regulated by the Department of Commerce and Insurance or the Department of Health, as long the license from their home state is current and they are in good standing with the state of their currently held license. The bill will now move to the floor to be approved by the full Senate.
Military Dependent Children/School enrollment- Senate Bill 1197 allows a dependent child of a service member who is relocated to Tennessee on a military order to enroll in the school district the child will reside in prior to moving into the district. In order to register, the parents must prove that the student is a dependent on a service member who is being relocated on military orders. The parents must also verify that upon relocation the student will become a resident within the designated school district. The bill allows for the board of education to adopt policies establishing a reasonable time period for such families to provide proof of residency within the school district.
Tennessee Public Charter School Commission — Legislation creating an independent state commission to approve public charter schools in Tennessee was unanimously approved by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Senate Bill 796 gives the new Tennessee Public Charter School Commission the authority to review appeals, a task currently held by the State Board of Education. It also establishes criteria to enhance school facilities. The original High-Quality Charter Schools Act in 2017 required the State Board of Education to adopt quality authorizing standards to be utilized by all authorizers in the state. It also created the Charter School Facility Fund through which grants are awarded. Lee’s proposed budget would double the fund from $6 million to $12 million for the next fiscal year. The measure now goes to the Senate Government Operations Committee for approval.