“Katie Beckett Waiver Bill”/TennCare -- A bill expanding TennCare coverage for in-home care to children with severe disabilities, regardless of their parents’ income, received approval by the Senate during the last week of legislative action. In order to implement the TennCare changes, Senate Bill 476 directs the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration to submit a waiver request to the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to establish a Katie Beckett Program in Tennessee. Most of the children that would be affected by the program require around-the-clock care due to medically-intensive and complex disabilities. The Katie Beckett Program created the opportunity for states to apply for a waiver, allowing them to use federal and state dollars to pay for a child’s in-home care. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Lee for his signature.
Privilege Tax- The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 398, which repeals the $400 professional privilege tax levied on licensed individuals annually in 15 professions in Tennessee including accountants, architects, sports agents, audiologists, chiropractors, dentists, engineers, landscape architects, optometrists, pharmacists, podiatrists, psychologists, real estate brokers, speech pathologists, and veterinarians. Tennessee is one of only six states that imposes a professional privilege tax.
Firearms/Concealed Carry Permit - Senate Bill 705 creates a new, additional concealed handgun carry permit in Tennessee that would make it more affordable and accessible for Tennesseans to carry. The current carry permit would not be changed; rather it will be called an enhanced permit. Unlike the current or enhanced permit, the new concealed carry permit would not allow a person to open carry or carry on higher education campuses. The new concealed permit allows a hunter education safety course or other firearms training courses approved by the Tennessee Department of Safety, which can be a free online video or class, to fulfill the training requirements needed to apply for the new permit. The new concealed carry permit application is $65, compared to $100 for the enhanced permit. In order to receive the new concealed permit, applicants must be at least 21 years of age, pass a background check from the TBI and provide proof they have completed a Department of Safety approved gun safety training course within one year of the date of application.
Ammunition/Privilege Tax- The General Assembly also took action this week to repeal the privilege tax on ammunition sales by approving Senate Bill 423.
JaJuan Latham Act / Strengthening Penalties for Drive-by Shootings — Senate bill 10, strengthening penalties against those convicted of harming a minor during a drive-by shooting, received final approval by the General Assembly this week. The bill establishes enhanced penalties when discharging a firearm from a vehicle results in harming a minor. Offenses include intentional/knowing aggravated assault, reckless aggravated assault, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, and criminally negligent homicide.
Truth in Sentencing — The Senate approved “truth in sentencing” legislation this week which ensures that Class A, B, or C felons, which are violent offenders, are required to serve the minimum sentence for their crimes before being eligible for reduction credits for good behavior. Senate Bill 215 allows both crime victims and perpetrators to have an accurate timeframe for minimum sentencing. It also presumes that Class E or D nonviolent felons will be released on parole when they reach their “red date” or release eligibility date, unless good cause is shown for why the inmate should not be released.
Statute of Limitations — Senate Bill 593 was approved by the Senate and extends the statute of limitations for prosecution of second degree murder from 15 years after the offense to any time after the offense is committed. The legislation comes from the recommendation of the 110th General Assembly’s Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) study and will bring Tennessee in line with criminal law regarding the statute of limitations from across the country.
Education Savings Accounts — Legislation establishing a pilot Education Savings Account (ESA) program to serve low-income students zoned to public schools in Metro Nashville, Shelby County and the state’s Achievement School District (ASD) is on its way to Governor Bill Lee for his signature after the General Assembly approved a Conference Committee report which worked out House and Senate differences in the bill. Eligible students must have a household income at or below twice the federal guidance to be eligible for free and reduced lunch. The savings account can be used at category one, two, and three non-public schools which are on the list approved by the Department of Education.
TNReady Tests — Final approval was given to legislation this week changing the way the TNReady test will be administered in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 academic school years. Senate Bill 187 requires that the TNReady test be administered in paper format for the 2019-2020 school year. As for the 2020-2021 academic year, the Local Education Agencies (LEAs) will be required to participate in an online verification test conducted by the Department of Education. The Commissioner of the Department of Education will then use the verification test results to determine which format to administer the TNReady test for that school year.
Alternative Growth Portfolio Model / Kindergarten – The full Senate approved legislation which provides local education agencies (LEAs) with the option to use comparable alternative student growth measures for pre-K and kindergarten growth portfolio models. When the pre-K and kindergarten portfolio models were implemented last year, the program experienced a lack of appropriate training for teachers, computer system issues, and difficulties with the way the portfolio’s standards were clustered together. Senate Bill 442 helps ensure that the work done by teachers in non-graded subjects is evaluated fairly and is not burdensome to teachers. It also states that employment termination and compensation decisions for the 2018/2019 school year shall not be based on data generated by the portfolio model. Finally, the legislation creates a 10-member portfolio review committee.
School Bus / Video Cameras – State senators voted to approve legislation this week authorizing a Local Education Agency (LEA) to place cameras on the outside of school buses to document drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus. Senate Bill 205 allows LEAs to use cameras on the exterior of school buses, in coordination with local law enforcement, for the purpose of deterring drivers who fail to stop for a school bus loading or unloading students. With this bill, any driver determined to be in violation of the law will first receive a $50 fee, while subsequent violations can be prosecuted as a Class A misdemeanor. The legislation now awaits the governor’s signature.
Pharmacies / Patients — Senate Bill 650, establishes certain rights for pharmacies regarding fair contracts with Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs). Other provisions of the bill include protections for pharmacists regarding audits and recoupments of prescription claims, increased transparency and disclosure of all fees charged to pharmacies by PBMs at the time of claims processing, and 30 days advance notification to the pharmacy of any network changes.
Daylight Saving Time — The Senate voted this week to keep Tennessee on daylight saving time once the federal government has approved it. Senate Bill 1100 puts Tennessee on record in favor of federal legislation currently pending in Congress which calls for daylight saving time year-round.
Expanding Broadband — The General Assembly passed legislation exempting the installation of fiber optic cable from sales and use tax to lessen the financial burden of expanding broadband to Tennessee’s rural counties. Senate Bill 1458 exempts fiber optic cable after it has been attached to a utility pole, building, or other structure or installed underground from state and local sales and use tax. The bill also deletes the current credit against franchise and excise tax liability equal to six percent of the purchase price of qualified broadband Internet access equipment.
Hand-held Phones / Driving — Senate Bill 173, prohibiting a person from physically holding a cellphone while operating a motor vehicle that is in motion, was approved this week. A person may still talk on the phone while driving but must do so using hands-free devices such as an earpiece, headphone device, wrist device, or connectivity to a vehicle. Violation of the offense would result in a fine of up to $50 for the first and second offense. The violation will result in a $100 fine for a person’s third offense or if an accident occurs.
Judicial Conduct- Senate Bill 452 significantly revises and reconstitutes a 16 member Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct. Both the House and Senate concurred in the conference committee report which ultimately dictated the bill’s final language.