Senate Committees worked diligently this week, wrapping up budget hearings for various agencies and departments of state government and moving a number of important bills to the Senate floor for final action. The budget will be a key area of focus for the General Assembly during the final weeks of legislative action, as Governor Bill Haslam is expected to deliver his supplemental appropriation amendment next Tuesday. Many committees have also set their final calendars as legislative action will continue to shift from committees to the floor of the Senate during the remainder of the 2018 session.
Senator Reeves takes oath of office in Tennessee Senate
State Senator Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro) took the oath of office on Thursday, beginning his tenure representing Tennessee’s 14th Senatorial District. The oath was administered in the Senate Chamber by Judge Don Ash as state senators met in a Thursday morning floor session.
Reeves won a decisive victory in a special election held on Tuesday to complete the remainder of the term of former State Senator Jim Tracy, who resigned last year after being appointed to a federal position by President Donald Trump.
“I’m incredibly honored and humbled to serve the people of the 14th district and excited about this new opportunity,” said Senator Reeves. “I will work very hard to honor the oath that I have taken today as I fulfill the duties of serving as their voice in Nashville. I look forward to working with Governor Haslam and my colleagues to improve opportunities for Tennesseans.”
The 14th Senatorial District includes Bedford, Lincoln, Marshall, and Moore Counties and part of Rutherford County.
Legislation approved by Senate Health and Welfare Commitee focuses on prevention in efforts to curb state’s opioid crisis
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved legislation this week which seeks to prevent opioid addiction, and ultimately, misuse and abuse by limiting the supply and dosage of opioid prescriptions with emphasis on new patients. Senate Bill 2257
, sponsored by Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), is meant to address higher dosages of opioids which have been associated with increased risk of overdose and death, while including exceptions for individuals undergoing extreme pain for illnesses like cancer or sickle cell anemia, or patients with severe burns.
The legislation is part of the TN Together
plan which employs a three-legged stool of enforcement, treatment and prevention to stop the flow of these drugs in the state, help those who are addicted, and prevent citizens from becoming drug-dependent. While this bill addresses the prevention component, Senate Bill 2258
which focuses on law enforcement and treatment, is pending final action on the Senate floor.
“The purpose behind the prevention legislation is to place more speed bumps on the road that leads to addiction between healthcare practitioners and patients to prevent Tennesseans from misusing or abusing prescription pain medicine,” said Senator Haile, a pharmacist who served on Governor Bill Haslam’s Opioid Abuse Task Force. “At least three people are dying each day in Tennessee from an opioid-related drug overdose. We must slow or stop the pipeline, especially on opioid naïve patients to prevent addiction.”
Last year, 7.6 million opioid prescriptions were written in Tennessee, which is more than the number of people living in the state. An estimated one million prescriptions were left over, ending up in family medicine cabinets where they are often abused according to studies. The data shows 27 percent of those who are at the highest risk of overdose get opioids from their physician, while 26 percent receive them for free from their family or friends. Another 23 percent buy them from family or friends, with 15 percent purchasing them from a drug dealer. Up to 80 percent of teenagers that abuse drugs begin by taking them from the family medicine cabinet.
The legislation allows individuals to receive up to a 3-day supply of opioids at a total dosage of no more than 180 morphine milligram equivalents (MME) each day. If a healthcare practitioner decides the patient needs more, they can issue up to a 10-day supply with a total dosage that does not exceed 500 MME as long as the healthcare practitioner follows certain guidelines, conducts a thorough evaluation, examines other plans of treatment and obtains informed consent from the patient.
In cases where a patient undergoes a procedure that is more than minimally invasive, like major surgery, the patient may receive up to a 20-day supply with a total dosage that does not exceed 850 MME as long as these provisions are followed. Patients can receive up to a 30-day supply with a dosage that does not exceed 1,200 MME in rare cases where medical necessity and sound judgment deem it necessary as long as certain stipulations are met.
As of 2016, 318,000 individuals in Tennessee were either using opioids in a risky way or diagnosed as having opioid use disorder.
Tennessee receives high marks for its low tax, pro-growth status
Tennessee received high marks from two sources this week for its low tax, pro-growth status. The financial website, Wallet-Hub, released a new study on Tuesday
showing Tennessee has the lowest tax burden in the nation. The study estimates a median income household in Tennessee paid only $3,667 in state and local taxes in Tennessee last year, which is over a third less than the average nationwide, and less than any other state in the country.
Under conservative leadership, Tennessee has cut taxes by $572 million annually, with policies in place to reduce them even more in years to come. This includes reducing the sales tax on food by nearly 30 percent, phasing out of the Hall tax, cutting business taxes on manufacturing, and eliminating the gift tax and inheritance tax.
“These results reflect the reallocation of revenue we’ve used to maximize the taxpayers’ return on investment -- so they can keep more of their hard earned money,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), who led passage of the tax cuts.
The other high mark received by Tennessee this week was from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics which reported that the state had the second biggest decline in the nation in unemployment rates. Tennessee’s unemployment rate is down 1.2 percentage points, from 4.5 percent to 3.3 percent from January 2017 to January 2018.
The state is experiencing the lowest unemployment rates in Tennessee history, while the job growth rate is greater than 17 percent. Over the past several years, Tennessee has passed tort reform and overhauled workers’ compensation to offer businesses more predictability, and was addressed broadband accessibility to help spur economic development in rural areas.
“This is all part of our state’s pathway to prosperity program,” added Norris. “I look forward to seeing continued progress as Tennessee’s economy grows.”
Tennessee ranks 7th in the nation for the number of net new manufacturing jobs created since 2012. The state has also seen strong rural job growth with a 31.7 percent increase in new job commitments in 2017 over that of five years ago.
Major legislation to accelerate investment in 5G technology deployment in Tennessee approved by Senate Commerce and Labor Committee
Major legislation passed the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week that would accelerate investment in mobile broadband infrastructure and prepare the State of Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology. Senate Bill 2504
, sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), creates a uniform, statewide and predictable application and deployment process for small cell wireless broadband providers no matter what community is being served. Once implemented, it would enhance existing networks and encourage wireless broadband providers to invest in the latest small cell technology.
“We are all racing to build 5G networks that will transform our world,” said Sen. Ketron. “This is an important bill to the six million business and residential wireless broadband consumers in Tennessee who expect robust connection to their wireless Internet devices to manage travel, communications, shopping, banking, health care, education and a host of other needs. When installed, these small cells will increase the capacity to handle the huge amounts of data that we’re all driving to wireless networks, and do so with speeds 10 to 100 times faster than the current 4G networks.”
The bill creates a predictable “how to manual” for providers and local governments to work together to manage the right-of-ways and to get investment deployed as soon as possible. While the legislation calls for a statewide application process to reduce local hurdles, it affirms that local governments retain their nondiscriminatory authority to:
· manage placement of utility poles and facilities in the right of way;
· establish aesthetic plans that govern facilities in the right of way;
· protect historic districts;
· manage and protect areas with underground utilities;
· require damage repair in the right of way;
· manage and reject any deployment based on public safety concerns; and,
· apply right of way permitting and fees.
The bill also encourages the use of government infrastructure, like light posts, so as to avoid the need for new poles.
Studies show that deployment of 5G alone will create more than 16,000 new jobs in Tennessee. It would also lead to more than $1 billion in investment and grow the state GDP by nearly $3 billion.
Presently 14 other states have passed legislation to make investment easier, with 19 considering similar legislation this year.
The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for consideration.
Senate Judiciary Committee approves JaJuan Latham Act strengthening penalties against those convicted of harming a minor during a drive-by shooting
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 this week. Senate Bill 1505
, sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs
(R-Knoxville), 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.
JaJuan had just attended an anti-violence basketball game organized by former University of Tennessee basketball player Bobby Maze. The annual event was honoring the memory of JaJuan’s cousin, Zaevion Dobson, who was also killed in a drive-by shooting just months earlier, while shielding several girls from gunfire.
“This legislation was written to address the real problem of drive-by shootings, which we have seen on the rise in Tennessee,” said Senator Briggs. “It aims to serve as a deterrent while protecting the lives of our youngest and most innocent citizens.”
Specifically, the bill punishes certain aggravated assault offenses by raising the offense one classification higher if the crime was committed by discharging a firearm from within a motor vehicle and the victim was a minor at the time of the offense. Offenses include intentional/knowing aggravated assault, reckless aggravated assault, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, and criminally negligent homicide.
“This tragedy has been extremely difficult for JaJuan’s family,” said Senator Briggs. “We must turn back this tide of violence against our youth.”
The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration before it moves to the floor for a final vote.
Legislation requiring acute care hospitals to report involuntary commitments closes gap in Tennessee’s gun law verification process
The Senate Health and Welfare Committee passed legislation on Wednesday
requiring acute care hospitals to report involuntary commitments in their psychiatric units to law enforcement so that they can be a part of the record used in the verification process for the purchase of firearms. Senate Bill 2362
, sponsored by Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), closes the gap in current law, which already requires mental health hospitals to report these commitments.
“The mental health of people who are purchasing firearms is of critical importance,” said Senator Crowe. “One of the disqualifying conditions is whether or not an individual has ever been involuntarily committed. These commitments are generally in mental health hospitals or in the psychiatric departments of an acute care hospital. However, while Tennessee’s mental health hospitals are required to report commitments to law enforcement, the acute care hospitals are not required to report. This legislation ensures all health care facilities make this report.”
Most involuntary commitments in Tennessee do not occur in the state’s Title 33 mental health hospitals. They occur in the psychiatric unit of acute care hospitals licensed under Title 68. The legislation would establish the same reporting requirements and verification process for all hospitals licensed by the Department of Health.
“We know that this reporting is not always taking place,” Crowe continued. “This proposal will require the Department of Health to review each of these commitments and make sure it has been reported to law enforcement.”
“We must ensure our existing gun laws are properly enforced,” added Senator Crowe. “The verification process established by this legislation will close a major gap in how we protect our schools and all Tennesseans.”
Issues in Brief
Victims’ Rights / Electronic Notification
-- The full Senate approved legislation this week giving crime victims a choice to receive notifications electronically. Tennessee’s Victims’ Bill of Rights declares that victims and witnesses have the right to be notified by the Department of Correction of an offender’s parole hearing date and when that offender will be eligible for parole. Senate Bill 2235
, sponsored by Senator Art Swann (R-Maryville), permits victims or their victim representative to be notified by electronic means, provided they have registered with the state’s electronic notification service. It also allows for cancellation of this notification service electronically.
-- Legislation enabling Tennessee to continue to draw needed federal funds to help local ambulance services transport patients advanced through the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week. Senate Bill 1823
continues the Ambulance Service Provider Assessment Act, a law passed last year that allows the state to receive additional Medicaid funds to be redistributed to the local private and public ambulance services for transporting patients covered by the program. It is expected to bring in approximately $19.7 million in federal funds for ambulance services through the state’s TennCare Program. The legislation is modeled after the successful Hospital Assessment Act which has prevented catastrophic TennCare cuts over the last seven years. The bill, which is sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), is supported by the State Ambulance Service Association.
Illegal Aliens / Driver License
-- The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee voted this week to require any applicant presenting a driver’s license from a state that issues them to illegal aliens, to establish proof of United States citizenship or legal residency when applying for one in Tennessee. Senate Bill 272
, sponsored by Senator Pody (R-Lebanon), affects applicants from twelve states which issue a driver’s license to illegal aliens, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. Senator Pody said, “This is something we’re currently doing. When someone comes in with a driver license from another state looking to get a Tennessee driver license, the Department of Safety is already making sure they are a legal resident of the United States. This legislation just makes it law in Tennessee so that this practice remains in place moving forward.”
Tri-Star License Plates
evening’s legislative session included approval of Senate Bill 1786
to redesign motor vehicle registration plates to feature the Tri-Star symbol of the Tennessee flag. The redesigned license plates would be issued at registration or renewal beginning in January 2020 after the existing inventory of plates are exhausted. The three stars on the flag represent the three different land forms in Tennessee with the mountains in the east, highlands in the middle and lowlands in the west. On the flag these regions are bound together in an unbroken circle. The proposal is sponsored by Senator Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol).
Clergy / Intimidation
-- Legislation which aims to prevent harassment and intimidation of the clergy in Tennessee advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. In 2015, the General Assembly passed a law prohibiting any government entity, other than a court, from seeking a subpoena for obtaining a clergy member’s sermon, including notes made in preparation of a sermon. That bill followed action by a Houston, Texas mayor in October 2014 to subpoena all of the sermons and sermon notes on homosexuality and gender issues from pastors within that city’s jurisdiction in an effort to silence opposition against a referendum that she was pushing. Senate Bill 2679
, sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), simply adds audio or video to that statute as a preventative measure in such cases.
Primacy and Reclamation Act
-- The full Senate voted this week to authorize the state, under appropriate federal legislation, to reclaim the prerogative to control the surface coal mining industry through the issuance of permits. Currently, the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement (OSM) within the U.S. Department of the Interior regulates surface coal mining and reclamation activities in the state. Tennessee is the only coal mining state in the nation that does not exercise control over its own coal mining. Senate Bill 686
, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), addresses this inequity which has put the industry of the state at a competitive disadvantage. The Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee maintains stringent environmental control over coal mining, while providing an opportunity for the state to control its own destiny, stimulate investment and create jobs.
Military / STRONG Act -- Tennessee Adjutant General Max Haston told members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week that the state’s Department of Military continues to get more applications under the STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act passed by the General Assembly in 2017. The STRONG Act established a pilot program to provide eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard tuition funding toward a first time bachelor degree through a tuition reimbursement program. The purpose of the program is to provide educational opportunities for those who protect and serve our state and country, while supporting the Drive to 55 goal of equipping 55 percent of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate by 2025.
Driver Convenience / Vehicle Registration
-- Legislation that authorizes drivers in Tennessee to display evidence of motor vehicle registration in electronic format was approved this week by the full Senate. The Tennessee Department of Revenue (DOR) requires registration of all vehicles using Tennessee roads and highways through the Vehicle Services Division. Senate Bill 727
, sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), allows for the convenience of providing that information on the driver’s phone or another electronic device if pulled over by law enforcement. Tennessee law already allows drivers to use electronic devices to show proof of insurance
-- Legislation directing TennCare officials to seek a Medicaid waiver to exclude facilities in Tennessee that perform elective abortions from receiving taxpayer money was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. Senate Bill 2148
, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), calls for the current TennCare II waiver to be amended to exclude facilities which perform elective abortions. The funds for other women’s health services, such as breast exams, cancer screenings and birth control, would not be affected by the proposal. The money would be redirected from elective abortion clinics to other health care providers so women will continue to receive care. All of Tennessee’s 95 counties have identified community health centers and other providers, aside from those who perform elective abortions, that meet criteria to receive taxpayer funding for women’s health services.
Sex Offenders / Playgrounds
-- Legislation protecting children from sex offenders was approved on final consideration this week. Under current law, a registered sex offender cannot live within 1,000 feet of a playground. Concerns remain, however, that the law could be interpreted to only apply to public playgrounds. Many neighborhoods have Home Owner Association (HOA) or not-for-profit playgrounds which are not publicly owned. Senate Bill 1920
, sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), includes non-profit and HOA playgrounds for the purposes of sexual offender restrictions to ensure protection of children in these neighborhoods.
Deceptive Practices / Entertainment Tickets
– Consumer protection legislation received final approval this week that addresses the growing problem of websites that use deceptive names and trademarks, posing as places of entertainment and entertainers, in order to confuse consumers into buying tickets at a considerably higher price than it could be purchased through the legitimate source. Senate Bill 1640, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), classifies this behavior as a Class B misdemeanor and a deceptive business practice under the criminal code. That action would give the Tennessee Attorney General the authority to prosecute violators. This bill is part of a continuing effort on behalf of the General Assembly to protect consumers in the entertainment industry. In past years, the General Assembly approved a bill addressing the issue of automated bots purchasing tickets en masse in order to turn around and sell them at a higher price.