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.
Criminal Law - The Senate Judiciary Committee passed criminal justice reform legislation this week. This includes legislation recommended by the Tennessee Criminal Justice Reinvestment Task Force to streamline and leverage alternatives to incarceration, namely Recovery Courts and felony probation. Senate Bill 767 expands Tennessee’s Recovery Court System, which includes Veterans Courts, Mental Health Courts and Drug Courts for those charged with misdemeanor assaults. The legislation gives judges the discretion to provide treatment for individuals who need it when the facts of their case indicate that a Recovery Court is the best correction option available.
The bill also puts a limit on the amount of time an individual can be sentenced to probation, with the ability for this time to be extended each year for specific case-by-case situations. The legislation brings the cap for probation down from 10 years to a maximum of eight years, except for defendants who receive multiple convictions. It also gives judges the discretion for crediting time served while on probation.
Criminal Law - The Reentry Success Act of 2021 was approved this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 768 establishes mandatory supervision, so all individuals exiting state custody will have a minimum of one-year supervised reentry integration. The legislation establishes a presumption of parole release at a person’s release eligibility date or upon a subsequent parole hearing, unless good cause is shown. Eligible inmates are those who are serving a nonviolent felony offense or a sentence for a Class E or Class D felony offense. The inmate must have no disciplinary record, be designated low risk for community supervision and must have completed or be enrolled in recommended programing to help ensure successful reentry into society. When the Board of Parole declines parole, the time period for the next hearing would be set at six years, instead of 10 as provided under current law, unless an inmate is serving a sentence for multiple first-degree murder or facilitation of first-degree murder. The legislation now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration of the cost.
Tennessee National Guard Service Members - The Tennessee Senate approved legislation providing reemployment protections to Tennessee National Guard service members who are called to state active duty. Senate Bill 754 provides state active duty benefits more closely aligned to those provided while in federal status.
STRONG Act / Tennessee National Guard – Legislation which expands eligibility for tuition reimbursement for members of the Tennessee National Guard under Tennessee’s Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen (STRONG) Act was also approved this week by the full Senate. The STRONG Act provides eligible service members in the Tennessee National Guard with tuition reimbursement for coursework completed as a full- time student in pursuit of their bachelor’s degree. Senate Bill 755 expands eligibility to service members for a master’s degree and certificate-producing programs. It provides tuition reimbursement for up to 120 hours for a bachelor’s degree, 40 hours for a master’s degree and 24 hours for a vocational or technical program. The legislation also provides reimbursement for up to 30 additional hours for any service member enrolled in ROTC or other officer-producing programs while pursuing a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree.
Retirement Credits / County Government Employees — The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved legislation this week authorizing counties participating in the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS) to establish retirement credit for employees who were called to active duty service in the U.S. Armed Forces and were reemployed within six months after returning or being honorably discharged. Senate Bill 1128 allows service members to remain in the state retirement program while serving as long as the participating county legislative body has approved such retirement credits for military services members.
COVID-19 - The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee approved Senate Bill 858, which prohibits a state or local governmental official, entity, department, or agency from mandating a private business to require “vaccine passports” as a condition for entering their premises or utilizing their services. The legislation also removes authority from county boards of health to enforce and adopt rules and regulations regarding COVID-19, preserving their role as an advisory body to the elected county mayor. Only Hamilton, Shelby, Knox, Madison, Sullivan and Davidson Counties have independent county health boards which have the power to make final decisions on health-related restrictions during an epidemic.
In addition, the legislation defines quarantine in Tennessee law as the limitation of a person’s freedom of movement, isolation, or preventing or restricting access to premises upon which the person, cause or source of a disease may be found for a period of time as may be necessary to confirm or establish a diagnosis, determine the cause or source of a disease or prevent the spread of a disease. The legislation now moves to the Senate floor for final consideration.
Elections - The Senate State and Local Government Committee passed Senate Bill 1534, which prohibits the State Election Commission, the Secretary of State or Coordinator of Elections from accepting any donation from a private person, political party, corporation or other organization unless both the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the Senate approve of the donations. Additionally, it makes the same prohibition for any county election commissioner or election administrator, unless approved by the Secretary of State or designee. The bill continues to allow out-of-state donations to be made to these entities’ Political Action Committees (PACs).
Voting / Senior Citizens - Senate Bill 1273 establishes that an independent living facility on the same property as a licensed nursing home, assisted care facility or home for the aged is considered a nursing home for the purpose of required absentee voting procedures completed by county election commissions.
Healthcare /Abortion- Senate Bill 828 addresses how to dispose of human fetal remains. The proposal requires that either the mother of an aborted child or the abortion facility must provide, at their expense, a burial or cremation for the fetal remains. If passed, a violation of this law would be a Class A misdemeanor.
Drunk Driving / Ignition Interlock Devices - Senate Bill 882 states that if a court does not require an ignition interlock device, then the judge must put his or her reasoning in writing.
Text Messages / Anti-Phishing Act - Legislation clarifying that text messages sent and received on smart phones or devices are subject to the state’s Anti-Phishing Act was approved by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week. Senate Bill 1211 mandates that the same offenses apply when a person uses text messages as phone calls to defraud Tennesseans.
Volunteer Firefighters / Payment for Training - Members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee approved Senate Bill 778, which would provide an annual $600 payment upon completion of at least 30 hours of training. Currently, the cost of any training or equipment is often at their own expense.
Student Athletes / Safe Stars Act - Senate Bill 1259, called the Safe Stars Act, was developed to create standards and metrics for student athlete safety. The standards have been voluntarily adopted by many school districts across the state.
Education - The Senate gave final approval to legislation that allows parents to opt their children out of any curriculum that teaches on the subject of sexual orientation or gender identity. Senate Bill 1129 states that a parent or guardian must be notified no less than 30 days prior to instruction being given on sexual orientation or gender identity. The notification should include the instructional materials intended to be taught to the students. The parent then has the opportunity to examine these materials and discus these with the LEA or school. Should the parent wish to excuse his or her student from this curriculum, they would submit this request in writing to the school.
Interlocutory Appeal Rights - Senate Bill 915, as amended, would:
(a) give the State an automatic right to interlocutory appeal of any order granting any kind of relief based on a claim that a state statute is unconstitutional;
(b) give the State an automatic stay pending appeal of any such order if the State brings the interlocutory appeal; and
(c) bars any local govt from challenging in court the constitutionality of any state statute.