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.
Budget - Finance and Administration Commissioner Butch Eley briefed members of the Senate Finance Committee this week regarding Governor Bill Lee’s proposed additions to the state budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year that will begin July 1. The supplemental appropriations amendment recognizes $580 million in available funds as a result of the General Assembly’s fiscal prudence. The new amendment includes record investments in broadband, economic development, safety and law enforcement, increasing reserves and education. A key provision of the budget amendment is a $250 million investment in a Mental Health Trust Fund to assist K-12 families who are facing significant mental health issues in the wake of COVID-19. This proposal creates strong mental health services for school-aged students through a systemwide, evidence-based approach.
Other highlights of the new budget amendment include:
$18.5 million to transport to students for summer learning;
$79 million to eliminate current TCAT waitlists statewide, currently at 11,400 students;
$17 million for a new radio communication system for state troopers;
$18 million to improve the statewide disaster communications system;
$5 million to provide grants to restore and preserve historic downtowns across the state;
$3 million to increase employment in Tennessee through the Small Business Innovation program;
$3 million to provide additional funding for rural projects as part of the Rural Economic Opportunity Fund in addition to $21 million in original budget proposal for this purpose;
$3 million recurring and an additional $10 million nonrecurring funds to provide additional direct funding to airports across Tennessee through the Transportation Equity Fund (total $50 million investment in air infrastructure);
$100 million for a two-week sales tax holiday on grocery sales, purchases at restaurants, and all prepared foods with more details, including the time period, forthcoming; and
$16 million to reduce Tennessee’s professional privilege tax by 25 percent.
Impact of federal coronavirus relief funds
COVID/Taxes - Tennessee businesses will be eligible to receive more pandemic assistance through a bill that will exempt relief funds from state taxes. Senate Bill 775 will ensure recipients of coronavirus relief grants administered by the Department of Revenue do not pay Franchise and Excise (F&E) taxes on the funds. Businesses that received funds from the following programs are eligible for the deduction: Tennessee Business Relief Program; Tennessee Supplemental Employer Recovery Grant Program; Coronavirus Agricultural and Forestry Business Fund; Hospital Staffing Assistance Program; Emergency Medical Services Ambulance Assistance Program; Tennessee Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants Program; and payments issued by Tennessee from the federal Child Care and Development Block Grant. The legislation now goes to Governor Lee for his signature before becoming law.
COVID – The Senate approved the Essential Workers Act. Senate Bill 1573 creates the Essential Workers Act which would prohibit a local government from issuing an executive order, resolution or ordinance establishing categories or classes of essential and non-essential businesses for the purpose of requiring them to cease operations unless the fire marshal of a court deems them to a public safety hazard. The bill awaits final action in the House of Representatives.
Veterans - Senate Bill 1027 calls for Tennessee to join the Licensed Professional Counselors Compact (LPCC) to help military families work in other states upon being transferred. Counselors in the compact would still have to abide by Tennessee law. The bill still awaits action in the House of Representatives.
Veterans/Disability - The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved Senate Bill 521 increasing the current state park camping fees discount available to veterans from 50% to 100% for Tennessee residents who have a 100% service-connected permanent disability as determined by the VA. The legislation would also apply to overnight lodging fees at state parks. Discounts would be applicable to a maximum of three overnight stays and only applies to reservations made within 30 days of the intended stay. This legislation now moves to the Senate floor for a final vote.
Eli’s Law/ Child Abuse - The Senate Judiciary Committee passed Senate Bill 867, which would allow the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to investigate the birth of a second child born to parents who have had a previous child removed from their custody. The bill creates a legal presumption of possible dependence or neglect of any child born to a parent who had a child removed from their custody. Acting in the best interest of the child, DCS would be required to notify the court that decided the first child’s case and any other entitled party of the subsequent child’s birth upon learning of it. The court would then immediately schedule a hearing regarding any conceivable effect that the birth may have on the case and consider further action to ensure the safety and well-being of the child. The bill now moves for final consideration on the Senate floor.
Medical Marijuana - The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Senate Bill 118 this week to create the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Commission. The commission would serve as a nonpartisan, medically-focused entity to study federal and state laws regarding medical cannabis. It would make recommendations to the General Assembly on ways to implement an effective, patient-centered medical cannabis program in Tennessee upon the rescheduling of marijuana from the Schedule I list of federally controlled substances. The current classification of marijuana by the federal government makes it illegal to use the drug, even for medicinal purposes. The bill now moves to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration of the cost.
Cybersecurity - Senate Bill 725 adopts the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) model law. NAIC adopted the Insurance Data Security Model Law after two years of receiving input from state regulators, consumer representatives and the insurance industry. The bill requires licensees of the insurance division to develop, implement, and maintain an information security program based on an individual risk assessment with a designated employee in charge of the information security program. It also requires these licensees to investigate a cybersecurity event or breach and notify the commissioner of it if they are a domiciled insurer or if more than 250 Tennesseans are impacted.
Courts – Senate Bill 868 proposes a statewide chancery court composed of three chancellors, one from each grand division, which would have exclusive original jurisdiction over cases that:
(1) Challenge the constitutionality of a statute, executive order, or regulation;
(2) Includes a claim for declaratory judgment or injunctive relief; and
(3) Is brought against the state or a state department, agency, or official.
The bill has been approved by Senate Judiciary and now moves to Finance, Ways & Means.
Medical Marijuana - Legislation was passed in Senate Judiciary Committee this week decriminalizing possession of medical marijuana. Senate Bill 667 provides that if a patient or someone with a legal relationship to the patient has a listed debilitating disease, they may possess medical marijuana legally obtained from another state. Some diseases listed in the bill include cancer, Chron’s Disease, epilepsy, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and Parkinson’s Diseases. The bill limits the supply to 30 days and the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol to 2,800 mg. This would not allow any marijuana to be grown or sold in Tennessee. The bill will now move to the Senate floor.
Counselors / Sexual Misconduct — Legislation designed to protect victims from an unscrupulous counselor or clergy member was approved on final consideration this week. The proposal affects those who abuse their power to have sexual contact with a patient or congregant while counseling or treating them for a mental, emotional or physical condition. Senate Bill 1531 adds a victim is incapable of defense if the sexual contact occurs during the course of a consultation, examination, treatment, therapy or other professional service that are provided by a physician, psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, social worker, nurse, chemical dependency counselor or a member of the clergy.
Greenbelt Law / Taxes – Legislation was approved by the Tennessee Senate concerning the state’s Greenbelt Law. Senate Bill 1532 deletes a prohibition for a refund when the taxpayer paid the incorrect amount in error. The legislation also gives taxpayers two extra weeks to meet the application deadline with the tax assessor’s office, extending it from March 1 to March 15.
Recidivism / Education — Senate Bill 489 passed the Senate State and Local Government Committee aiming to reduce recidivism among low-risk inmates in local jails by providing trade-related education. The legislation would allow state community colleges and Tennessee’s Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) to partner with local governments to provide educational and workforce development programs. The Tennessee Board of Regents will be able to contract with entities that oversee a county jail or workhouse to develop transitional centers for reintegration into society. The legislation permits counties to enter into interlocal agreements that relate to the joint development and operation of these facilities. It would also permit a transitional center to partner with a nonprofit organization that offers programming design related to recidivism reduction. The bill now moves to the Senate floor for a final vote.
Technical Education — Legislation was approved by the full Senate requiring the Department of Education to begin preparing students in middle school for a Career Technical Education (CTE) pathway that may align with their career aptitude. Senate Bill 1240 introduces students to career opportunities that allow them to explore a wide variety of high-skill, high-wage or in-demand career fields.
SAFE Act / Substance Abuse Recovery Homes — The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved legislation regarding care for Tennesseans battling substance abuse. Senate Bill 207 encourages sober-living homes to be nationally accredited. It requires the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (DMHSAS) to establish and maintain a list of approved recovery residence organizations on its website. Recovery homes that have not reached these standards must post signage on their property under the bill’s provisions and could risk losing licensure or face penalties.