Drive by Shootings - Legislation strengthening penalties against those convicted of harming a minor during a drive-by shooting overcame its first hurdle with passage in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Senate Bill 10 is named the JaJuan Latham Act for a 12-year-old, Knoxville boy who was killed in a drive-by shooting while in the back of his father’s parked car. Specifically, 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.
State Attorney General — The full Senate heard two readings of a resolution that would allow voters to change the way Tennessee’s Attorney General is selected by amending the State Constitution. Senate Joint Resolution 1, sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), calls for an open nomination process by the Tennessee Supreme Court in selecting the state’s highest legal officer. It would then be followed by a confirmation vote of the nominee by a majority of both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly. A final vote in the Senate is scheduled for February 21.
Virtual Public School Act Extension — Senate Bill 20, extending the state’s Virtual Public School Act until 2023, was approved by the full Senate on Monday. The legislature passed the Virtual Public School Act in 2011. The act defines virtual schools as public schools that use technology to educate their students using the internet in an online or remote setting. Under this law, virtual schools must adhere to the same laws as traditional public schools on curriculum standards, class size, length of school year, regular student assessments, and teacher qualifications. Tennessee school districts can start and manage their own virtual schools or can contract with a nonprofit or for-profit entity for curriculum services.
Unmanned Drones — The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 349 this week amending the state’s current law prohibiting drones from taking photos of individuals or events at an open-air venue event to include the dropping of items or substances. The current law applies to the unmanned aircrafts at ticketed events when more than 100 people are gathered for protection of the public and event organizers. Violation is subject to a Class C misdemeanor under the legislation. The bill is sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville).
Adoption / Post-Adoption Contracts — Senate Judiciary Committee members adopted two bills sponsored by Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) this week concerning Tennessee’s adoption laws. Current Tennessee law does not permit adoptive parents to enter court-enforceable agreements with the biological parent regarding post-adoption contact which could include such provisions as visitation on special occasions. A majority of states now permit parties to enter into court-enforceable post-adoption contact agreements (“PACAs”). While retaining the ability of parties to an adoption to enter into non-enforceable arrangements, Senate Bill 207 permits those parties to elect to enter into a court-enforceable agreement. The second bill approved by the committee cleans up a comprehensive adoption law passed by the General Assembly last year by incorporating already existing abuse crimes in the definition of “severe child abuse” as a ground for termination of parental rights. Senate Bill 208 also deletes a termination ground against putative fathers and removes any criminal penalty for failing to provide information on a biological father who is not a putative or legal father. Finally, it clarifies that a man cannot be a putative father if DNA testing excludes one as the biological father. Both bills now go the floor of the Senate for final consideration.
Prison Workers — The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week to protect workers at Tennessee’s penal institutions from lewd and indecent actions by prisoners. Presently, the offense of indecent exposure in a penal institution applies to actions committed against guards. Senate Bill 80, would expand the offense to indecent actions committed against any staff member.
Smoking on Playgrounds — The full Senate unanimously passed permissive legislation this week which allows Knox County, the City of Knoxville, and Farragut to prohibit smoking on any playground in which they own or operate.
Military Families / In-State Tuition — Legislation aiding spouses and dependent children of active members of the U.S. Armed Forces was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Senate Bill 242requires the state’s public colleges and universities to classify a student who is the spouse or a dependent of a service member as an in-state student for tuition purposes. The legislation applies to students transferred out of Tennessee as a result of military orders to ensure they keep their in-state tuition status.
Military / Handgun Carry Permit — The full Senate approved legislation this week that allows a Handgun Carry Permit to remain valid beyond the expiration date if the person is an active member of the United States Armed Forces who is stationed outside of Tennessee. Senate Bill 95, requires the Department of Safety to add language to the back of a Tennessee Handgun Carry Permit card that clarifies that the permit remains valid beyond the expiration date if the permit holder can provide documentation of the holder’s active military status and duty station outside the state.
Readiness Training (IRT) Civil-Military Partnership Program –On Thursday, Senate Bill 53 was passed unanimously by the Senate to enable licensed military health professionals to open “One Day Clinics” in rural Tennessee counties within the Mississippi River Delta region. The Department of Defense created this innovative readiness training program in order to “produce mission ready forces.” This bill creates limited licensing exemptions for out of state military healthcare professionals to participate in this program while in Tennessee.