March 4, 2022 Legislative Update

This week's headlines include compensation program for deputy jailers killed in line of duty, residency requirements for congressional candidates, and the use of drones in emergencies.

Senate approves compensation for families of deputy jailers killed in the line of duty

Tennessee currently offers a compensation program for families of first responders killed in the line of duty. Senate Bill 278, passed by the Senate this week, expands the definition of a law enforcement officer in the program to also include deputy jailers, retroactive to March 1, 2020. Under the program, families of first responders killed in the line of duty receive a $250,000 annuity paid over five years in $50,000 installments. “Deputy jailers risk their lives to serve Tennessee and their families deserve compensation in the unlikely event of a tragic loss of life,” said Sen. Paul Rose, (R-Covington), the bill’s sponsor. “That compensation will go a long way to helping those families adjust to their new normal.” The estimated fiscal impact of the bill is “not significant” because the Finance Administration Committee budgets for seven deaths of law enforcement officers in the line of duty each year, Rose said. He noted there were two deputy jailer deaths while on duty in 2020 and none between that year and 1996 in Tennessee.

Residency requirement for U.S. Senate, House of Representatives passes in Senate

The Senate this week voted to establish an immediate three-year residency requirement to run in Democratic or Republican primaries for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The Tennessee State Constitution requires seven years of residency in the state to run for Governor, five years of residency to run for judge or district attorney, and three years of residency to run for the State Senate or House. But the state and U.S. Constitution are silent in regard to residency for U.S. Senate or House of Representatives candidates, according to Sen. Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), who sponsored the bill. “The constitution is silent on this issue,” Niceley said. “When the constitution is silent, the states can do what they want to do.” Senate Bill 2616 does not prohibit anyone from running for U.S. Senate or House of Representatives; it only applies to primary elections for those offices. A proposed House amendment to the bill would make the residency requirement take effect after the upcoming general election.

Committee advances “strongest anti-BDS legislation in the country”

Legislation described as the “strongest anti-BDS legislation in the country” received unanimous approval by the State and Local Government Committee this week. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement promotes boycotts, divestments and economic sanctions against Israel. Senate Bill 1993 prohibits a public entity from entering into a contract with a company unless the contract includes a written certification that the company is not currently and will not for the duration of the contract be engaged in a boycott of Israel. The bill includes an exemption for contracts with a total value less than $250,000 and contractors with fewer than 10 employees. “This legislation is vital because there is an effort here in the United States and in the state of Tennessee to have our taxpayer dollars subsidize the movement to boycott Israel,” said Ari Morgenstern, senior director of policy and communications for Christians United for Israel, who testified before the committee Tuesday. “Before you is the strongest legislation of its kind in the United States.” The bill next goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Bill would allow TEMA to use drones for emergency response

The Judiciary Committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would allow the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) to use drones to aid in emergency response efforts. Current state law prohibits the agency from doing so. Senate Bill 2428 would permit TEMA to use drones to survey the scene of a catastrophe or other damage, coordinate a disaster response, conduct damage assessments of property and infrastructure following a disaster, and help with search and rescue efforts. “This is a very necessary bill,” said Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), a co-sponsor of the bill. “Drones are an efficient, low-cost quick-response tool. This will help Tennessee complete damage assessments faster and enable requests for federal assistance to be completed quicker.” The bill would allow images captured for damage assessment to be retained no more than one year unless the disaster has been declared a major disaster by the president of the United States, in which case the images may be retained for a designated period of time by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for data related to the assessment, according to Roberts.

Legislation seeks to repeal R&D amortization provision in Tax Cuts and Jobs Act

A bill proposing to repeal the research and development amortization provision in the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act advanced through the Finance, Ways and Means Committee this week. Since 1954, the revenue code has allowed businesses to deduct research and development expenses in the year in which they were incurred. But that changed in January of this year, when the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act took effect. That law requires companies to amortize research and development costs over five years instead of deducting them immediately each year. “Businesses investing in research activities will experience a higher liability on the short term and frankly it will significantly impair private investment into research and development,” Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston) said of the federal amortization provision. “It could have a chilling effect on the economies of communities where research and development is prominent.” Senate Bill 2397 would allow companies to continue the current practice of deducting research expenses as incurred.

Bill would lower tuition costs for out-of-state military

Passed by the Education Committee this week, Senate Bill 2486 would allow active-duty military and veterans living outside of Tennessee to be eligible for in-state tuition rates. The bill specifically authorizes the boards of state universities to choose to offer in-state tuition to veterans. Current law requires veterans to live in the state, though their formal residence may be out of the state, to receive in-state tuition. The bill would apply to active-duty military, U.S. Army Reserve, members of the National Guard and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets. “The bill would provide public universities the opportunity to decrease out-of-pocket tuition costs for military students and increase their own ability to recruit these students from across the country,” said Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), the sponsor of the bill. 

Committee paves way for impact fee in Maury County

The State and Local Government Committee this week passed legislation allowing Maury County, the fastest growing county in the state and fourth fastest growing county in the country, to impose an impact fee on new residential development in the county. Senate Bill 1840 stipulates revenue from the impact fee would have to be spent on construction or renovation of schools, public facilities or other related infrastructure. The fee could be up to $3 per square foot, and could be raised every four years. “The bill only applies to Maury County because they need help funding schools and infrastructure because of their rapid growth,” said Sen. Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), the sponsor of the bill. “The impact fee will help pay for costs expected to be incurred by the new development.” A county legislative body seeking to impose an impact fee must approve a resolution by a two-thirds vote of the body at two regular meetings held at least 90 days apart. Two other counties in the state have imposed an impact fee, including neighboring Williamson County, according to Hensley.

In Brief

Human trafficking — Passed by the Senate this week, Senate Bill 1378 changes the age of a victim of a Class A felony offense of trafficking for a commercial sex act from under 15 years of age to between the ages of 13 and 17. It also creates a Class A felony offense of aggravated trafficking for a commercial sex act, and requires those convicted to serve 100% of any sentence imposed.

Road safety — The Senate unanimously approved the Hannah Eimers Memorial Tennessee Roadside Safety Hardware Act (Senate Bill 1671), which requires robust safety testing of crash cushions and guardrail end terminals located on public highways and roads. The bill is named after 17-year-old Hannah Eimers, who was tragically killed in 2016 in a car crash involving a guardrail on Interstate 75 in McMinn County. That particular guardrail design saw insufficient safety testing and has since been removed in the state.

COVID-19 liability protection — The General Assembly in 2020 passed Gov. Lee’s Tennessee Recovery and Safe Harbor Act, which provides COVID-19 liability protection to businesses, schools, churches and other entities. Senate Bill 2448, passed by the Senate this week, extends the termination date of the act from July 1, 2022 to July 1, 2023.

Constables — All law enforcement has a mechanism to address criminal or unethical conduct among the ranks, except constables. Senate Bill 1782, approved by the Senate this week, establishes a mechanism to do just that. Under the bill, whenever a constable is arrested or indicted for a felony or specific misdemeanors, a court judge may put the constable on administrative leave or even remove them from office. The constable would be provided a right to a hearing, and the right to appeal by a court of appeals.

Opioid antagonistsSenate Bill 2572, passed by the Senate, enables a broader distribution of opioid antagonists such as naloxone, which are used to reverse drug overdoses. Roughly 40 states have passed similar bills, according to sponsor Sen. Rusty Crowe, (R-Johnson City).

Fentanyl-test strips — The Senate voted in favor of Senate Bill 2427, which would legalize fentanyl-test strips to prevent drug overdoses. Such devices, which are used to determine if a sample contains the opioid, are currently classified as “drug paraphernalia” in Tennessee. Proposed by Gov. Lee, the bill would be in effect for three years, at which point lawmakers would determine if it has been effective and will remain on the books or not.

Foster youth — A bill aimed at enhancing the support system for youth in foster care cleared the Senate this week. Senate Bill 2398 proposes the state reimburse eligible relatives of foster youth to support the cost of raising the child. It would also expand eligibility to ages 18-21 for foster youth who are transitioning from state custody to adulthood to access services.

Coal — The Senate on Thursday adopted a joint resolution requesting the Tennessee Valley Authority maintain operation of its coal-fired plants until a reliable backup to the power grid is developed.

Wakesurfing — The Senate this week approved regulations on wakesurfing outlined in Senate Bill 2107. The bill prohibits wakesurfing between sunset and sunrise, on a body of water that is less than 50 acres in size and within 200 feet of any shoreline, among other new rules. “This bill makes wakesuring safer, it doesn’t abolish it,” said Sen. Ken Yager (R-Kingston), the sponsor of the bill. “Large wakes can at times be very dangerous. They’re contributing to substantial soil erosion along many of our riverbanks and the shorelines of our lakes, they’re damaging many docks along the rivers and lakes of Tennessee, and in fact there are many instances of people in the water in front of their property who have been inju