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.
March 9, 2020
Abortion - Legislation including a prohibition on abortions where a fetal heartbeat exists, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Senate Bill 2196 also includes a layered structure that prohibits abortion after the unborn child reaches certain gestational age milestones. The “ladder” provision bans abortion at 11 gestational age milestones ranging from 6 weeks to 24 weeks, with severability clauses for each step of the ladder. A medical emergency exception is provided, under the bill, if certain requirements are met.
The bill calls for mothers to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion where the gestational age and the fetal heartbeat will be determined. The proposal also prohibits discriminatory abortion based on the unborn child’s race, sex, or Down syndrome diagnosis. In addition, the legislation eliminates the requirement that the Department of Children’s Services provide court advocates and other information about judicial procedures to minors who are considering an abortion. The bill, which was approved 7 to 2, now heads to the Senate floor for final approval.
Tobacco Products/Minimum Age - Legislation which raises the minimum age required under state law to purchase tobacco products was approved this week by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Senate Bill 2202 raises the age from 18 to 21 to purchase, possess, transport, or consume any tobacco product, smoking hemp or vapor products. In December, President Trump signed into law a provision in the federal budget making it a violation to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21, including e-cigarettes and vaping cartridges. This proposal puts state statutes in harmony with federal law and ensures that Tennessee will continue to receive $32 million in federal block grant funds.
Firearms/Carry Permits - The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week allowing citizens to carry firearms without a permit. Senate Bill 2671 allows carry without a permit except in restricted areas. The legislation applies to Tennesseans who are at least 21 years old and who meet the eligibility requirements to receive a handgun permit under current law. The legislation also includes tougher penalties for firearm-related crime including:
- Increasing the penalty for theft of a firearm to a felony;
- Providing a sentencing enhancement for theft of a firearm in a car;
- Increasing the minimum sentence for theft of a firearm from 30 days to 180 days; and
- Increasing the sentences for unlawful possession of a firearm by violent felons and felony drug offenders, possession of a handgun by a felon, and unlawfully providing a handgun to a juvenile or allowing a juvenile to possess a handgun.
The proposal now moves to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for approval.
Criminal/Sex Abuse – The full Senate voted this week to add continuous sexual abuse of a child to the list of offenses which are not eligible for judicial diversion. Judicial diversion allows a charge or charges to be diverted for an agreed upon amount of time once the defendant pleads guilty and agrees to conditions given by the judge. Senate Bill 2332 ensures no judicial diversion can be considered by the courts for this crime.
Tennessee Rare Disease Advisory Council— Senate Bill 2124 was introduced to the Senate Government Operations Committee on Wednesday. The legislation establishes a Tennessee Rare Disease Advisory Council to make treatment recommendations to advise TennCare and other public and private agencies providing services for persons diagnosed with chronic, complex, and rare diseases like hemophilia, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease and cystic fibrosis.
Criminal /Juvenile Records – On Thursday, the full Senate approved legislation to open records of acts of terrorism committed by juvenile offenders to the public for inspection. Senate Bill 2747 adds an act that constitutes terrorism or attempt to commit terrorism by an adult to the list of juvenile court petitions and orders currently open for public inspection. The legislation also prohibits expunction of a juvenile’s record relating to a delinquent act of terrorism or an attempt to commit terrorism. An act of terrorism is defined as conduct that violates the law and is intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence the policy of a unit of government by intimidation or coercion; or affect the conduct of a unit of government by murder, assassination, torture, kidnapping, or mass destruction. The bill is pending action in the House of Representatives.
Healthcare/Licensing Boards – The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee approved a bill this week providing health related boards with more tools to limit the authority of health care providers who have been disciplined in other states. Senate Bill 2169 would allow all health-related boards to restrict licensure of practitioners while a practitioner’s license is pending a contested hearing. The bill now moves to the Calendar Committee before being considered by the full Senate.
Workers’ Compensation/Contractors – The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee unanimously approved legislation concerning out-of-state construction service providers. Under current law, an out-of-state contractor is not required to keep and maintain workers compensation insurance for employees who work on a temporary basis in Tennessee. Senate Bill 2189 requires all construction service employers to provide workers compensation insurance to employees in the same manner as in-state employers.
Health Insurance/ CoverKids—An extension of CoverKids, Tennessee’s children’s health insurance program (CHIP), passed the Senate. Senate Bill 2183 will extend the CoverKids program from June 30, 2020, to June 30, 2025. The program provides coverage to uninsured Tennessee children who are not eligible for the Tennessee Medicaid program. Similar to Medicaid, it is financed and administered by both the federal and state government. The legislation passed unanimously and now heads to Governor Lee for his signature.
Family Law/Child Custody —The Senate unanimously approved legislation that gives judges discretion in determining child custody plans when a parent has committed domestic abuse against the child, the other parent, or another individual residing with the child. Senate Bill 2733 requires a court to make its decision based on the best interest of the minor child when limiting a parent’s residential parenting time because the parent has engaged in willful abandonment or abuse of the child, parent, or another person living with the child. Current law has conflicting statues governing these instances. One statute allows a judge to use discretion in determining a child custody plan if there is proof they have committed an act of domestic violence, but another statute provides that a judge must limit a parent’s residential plan if there is proof they have committed an act of domestic violence. This legislation clarifies the law and mirrors other code governing parental rights, which prioritizes the best interest of the child.