Bill Watch is a service of the Knoxville Bar Association Legislative Committee. During each week of the legislative session, the KBA will distribute 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 17, 2020
Criminal Penalties/Sexual Assault - Among important bills advancing through Senate Committees this week is a proposal to strengthen penalties for those convicted of drug-facilitated sexual assault. Senate Bill 2000, would add a qualifying category to Tennessee’s aggravated rape laws when a defendant gives a controlled substance or narcotic drug to the victim for the purpose of rendering them incapacitated or unconscious. Currently, the crime is punishable as a Class B felony with an average 6.48 years in prison. The legislation would stiffen penalties to a Class A felony, which carries an average sentence of 28.69 years behind bars.
Right to Work- The State Senate gave final approval to a resolution this week allowing voters to embed the state’s Right to Work (RTW) law into Tennessee’s Constitution. Senate Joint Resolution 648 concerns the right of Tennesseans to join or refuse to join a labor union or employee organization, saying it should always be a “fundamental civil right.” The resolution now goes to the House of Representatives for their approval. The resolution must pass the General Assembly by a simple majority this year and by a two-thirds majority during the 2021 or 2022 legislative session in order to appear on the ballot for a statewide referendum in November 2022. The amendment would become part of the state constitution if adopted by a majority of votes cast in the governor’s election.
Employment of people with disabilities —Senate Bill 1642, which was approved on final consideration by the Senate on Thursday, affects the Community Rehabilitation Agencies (CMRA) of Tennessee, a non-profit agency which advocates for increased opportunities for employment and advancement for Tennesseans with disabilities. The agencies work with disabled Tennesseans and private businesses to fulfill state and local government contracts by employing people with disabilities. The proposal brings CMRA in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition regarding disabilities and ensures that affected workers receive at least minimum wage and the same benefits as other employees. It also enhances and expands competitive and integrated employment opportunities for Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Finally, the legislation sets up a mechanism for local approval for local contracts and cleans up state statutes to be consistent with current practices of the program and its advisory committee. The bill now goes to the House of Representatives for approval.
Healthcare/ Pharmacies –Senate Joint Resolution 505, which was adopted by the Senate this week, asks the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy to study the overall health of pharmacies to determine if rules should be promulgated to ensure productive, efficient, and safe work environments which put patient safety first.
Education/ career-based experiences — State Senators approved legislation on Thursday encouraging Tennessee school districts to provide their students with a wide variety of career-based experiences to help them make informed decisions about future careers. The legislation calls for more on-the-job training for students, as well as opportunities to build professional relationships and learn about workplace expectations. Examples are job shadowing, internships, and field trips to businesses. Senate Bill 1260 also encourages school districts to work with local industry to help facilitate these opportunities.
Criminal Penalties/ Evading arrest — The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week to strengthen penalties for criminals who evade arrest. The Spencer Bristol Act would increase penalties for evading arrest when a law enforcement officer is injured or killed in a pursuit involving a fleeing suspect. Under the legislation, if evading arrest results in serious bodily injury of a law enforcement officer, the penalty is increased to a Class C felony, punishable by three to fifteen years in prison. The sentence is increased to a Class A felony, punishable by fifteen to sixty years in prison, if the offense results in the death of a law enforcement officer.
Healthcare/ rural health clinics— The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved legislation this week allowing rural health clinics to employ a physician. Current law prevents corporations from employing doctors due to a ban on the corporate practice of medicine with certain exceptions for hospitals, nursing homes, and federally qualified health centers. Senate Bill 1955 will expand the exception and enable rural health clinics in economically distressed communities to employ physicians.
Safe at Home Program – On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation to clarify the state’s Safe at Home Law. The law implemented a program housed in the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office to help victims of domestic abuse, stalking, human trafficking, or any sexual offense by protecting the confidentiality of their address. Senate Bill 1980 provides changes to make the program more efficient.