Tennessee General Assembly passes legislation to mitigate effects of COVID-19 in one of the toughest budget years in state history
Lawmakers pass historic legislation to protect the unborn
NASHVILLE (July 20, 2020) -- The second session of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned on June 19, 2020 to become a part of Tennessee history. The 2020 legislative session was overshadowed by one of the toughest budget years in Tennessee history due to the effects of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. The legislative session will also be known for passage of a comprehensive and historic law that protects the life of unborn children, including prohibiting abortions when a fetal heartbeat exists.
Other 2020 highlights include measures to ensure the closures due to the pandemic do not penalize Tennessee students; new laws cracking down on child sex offenders; legislation continuing the state’s multi-year effort to curb opiate abuse; and a resolution allowing voters to embed Tennessee’s right to work law into the State Constitution.
Following is a report on new laws approved during the 2020 legislative session:
The session began with the introduction of a spending plan by Governor Lee who laid out a bold vision for Tennessee. It focused on significant improvements in mental health, early childhood literacy, teacher pay raises, criminal justice reform, rural development, and continuing the state’s robust job growth which was unprecedented in state history. However, the governor and state lawmakers had to regroup in March, putting aside most of the proposed improvements due to the pandemic.
The first case of COVID-19 occurred on March 5, only two days after the state was ravaged by tornadoes. Passage of an emergency budget followed on March 19 to help tornado victims, aid in the fight against the virus, and ensure critical state services continued.
When lawmakers reconvened in June, the state’s revenue picture was grim and more difficult budget decisions had to be made. State finance officials estimated a budget gap of $500 million to close the current fiscal year, and an additional $1 billion shortfall for the 2020-2021 fiscal year which extends from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021.
Tennessee has a long history of fiscal responsibility with a AAA-rated bond status. It is among the five least indebted states in the nation per capita, ranks third for best-funded pension plans and is one of only five states without road debt. This conservative fiscal management has placed Tennessee in better shape than the vast majority of other states in the nation to withstand the economic downturn.
The new $39.45 billion budget continues the tradition which has made Tennessee among the best managed states in the nation - maintaining low taxes and preserving savings, while achieving efficiencies in operations and continuing essential services to Tennesseans. Education remains a key priority in the new budget. The legislation fully funds the Basic Education Program (BEP) for K-12 schools with a $50.3 million investment to cover growth and inflation. It fully funds the pension plan for state employees and teachers. It also services Tennessee’s debt to ensure the state is financially sound.
The budget seeks to avoid harsh cuts that could cause interruptions in critical state services. It closes the 2019-2020 fiscal year deficit utilizing agency savings, unbudgeted non-tax revenues, certain reserve funds and continuing the freeze on hiring. For the 2020-2021 fiscal year, budget officials are making a thoughtful review of business practices to identify efficiencies and creative cost-saving delivery of services. A strategic reduction in the employee workforce is also part of this effort. The budget provides $50 million for a voluntary employee buyout initiative based on years of service with extended health insurance benefits and college tuition assistance. A similar buyout implemented in 2008 netted savings of about $65 million. The legislation also calls for a reduction of $20 million in authorized and funded positions that were vacant across departments and agencies of state government in Fiscal Year (FY) 21.
Greater legislative accountability was written into the bill under a Senate amendment which ensures the General Assembly’s finance committees will be fully informed on the transfer of funds and reductions by the administration. The goal is to work transparently and collaboratively to bring the state through the effects of the pandemic in a strong position.
Although, the budget makes reductions in new capital projects and capital maintenance, it bonds certain priority projects to keep Tennessee moving forward. These include bonding for the STEM Building at the University of Memphis, an Advanced Manufacturing Building at Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Chattanooga, the School of Concrete and Construction Management at Middle Tennessee State University, and the West Tennessee Veterans Nursing Home. This strengthens Tennessee’s cash position which is especially important given recession uncertainties. Economic uncertainty is also a key factor for maintaining adequate savings in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which stands at $1.2 billion after a deposit of $325 million on June 30.
The measure upholds promises to Tennessee seniors by keeping the Hall Income tax phase-out on track for elimination next year. The majority of Tennesseans paying the Hall tax are retirees who depend on investment savings as their primary source of income. In 2016, the General Assembly passed tax relief legislation to cut the tax by a minimum of one percent each year until Tennessee is income tax free.
Tax relief will also be continued and enhanced through the state’s annual Sales Tax Holiday under the new budget. In place since 2005, Tennessee’s Sales Tax Holiday is slated to begin on the last Friday in July. It currently applies the sales tax exemption to clothing and school supplies for purchases of up to $100, while personal computers and tablets are capped at $1,500.
The new budget provides that beginning Friday, July 31, 2020 through Sunday, August 2, 2020, the sales tax holiday exemption limits will double to $200 for clothing and $3,000 for computers, tablets, smart phones, televisions, and certain other electronics. The measure also provides a sales tax holiday for the retail sale of food and drink by restaurants and limited service restaurants for the weekend of Friday, August 7, 2020 through Sunday, August 9, 2020. Restaurants were especially hard hit by the effects of the pandemic.
In addition, the budget provides $210.5 million in grants to Tennessee’s counties and cities. Grants were authorized in the March budget but could only be used for specified purposes like infrastructure and COVID-19-related expenditures through an application process. The new budget removed the application process and gave the local governments greater authority on how funds could be spent, including allowing them to be used to offset loss of local revenue. Local governments have sustained substantial revenue losses as a result of COVID-19.
In other key points, the budget also:
- Adds $174,000 to restore funding to the state’s development districts which are regional planning and economic organizations critical to the operations of cities and counties in Tennessee;
- Adds $25,000 to the Tennessee Historical Society to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage and Tennessee’s pivotal role in it;
- Reduces ECD Fast Track base funding by $15 million for a remaining $10 million;
- Eliminates raises for members of the 112th General Assembly, saving over $145,000;
- Instructs TBI to fund 8 new positions from available payroll equity resources;
- Reforms state higher education financial aid provisions that is expected to generate savings of more than $1 million beginning in FY 21-22;
- Reforms the drug free school zone law that is expected to create over $4 million in incarceration savings;
- Eliminates all but $250,000 in non-recurring funding for the ESA program while the issue works through the litigation process, with recurring funding remaining for FY 2022 and beyond; and
- Lowers the taxable sales threshold for out-of-state businesses affected by the Wayfair decision and all businesses affected by marketplace facilitator legislation, generating an additional $27 million in revenue.
Appropriations: Senate Bill 2931 by Johnson, Stevens / Public Chapter 760 / Effective Date: July 1, 2020 however, that any provision of this act which authorizes prior or immediate expenditures and any section or item which specifies an immediate effective date shall take effect upon becoming a law / Implementation: Senate Bill 2932 by Johnson, Stevens / Public Chapter 759 / Effective Date: Sections 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 shall take effect at 12:01 a.m. on October 1, 2020, the public welfare requiring it. All other sections of this act shall take effect upon becoming a law on June 30, 2020 / Bond: Senate Bill 2935 by Johnson, Stevens / Public Chapter 758 / Effective Date: Upon becoming law on June 30, 2020
Budget -- The 2020-2021 budget increased funding for health care, with highlights including:
- An additional $9.2 million in non-recurring funds for the adult health care safety net and $3 million in recurring funds;
- A combined $26.5 million to strengthen the safety network for both mental health and health care services;
- Approximately $19 million to support the health care network, $7.5 million to support the children’s behavioral and mental health services, and $3 million to expand the School Based Behavioral Liaisons across the state;
- Fully funds inflationary growth in TennCare; and
- An additional $1 million invested in the Rural Hospital Transformation program so rural health facilities can continue to evaluate their business models in efforts to ensure they effectively operate and address health needs that arise under these extraordinary circumstances.
In addition, the budget adopted by the General Assembly in March provided $150 million to establish a new fund to cover public health and safety issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes $10 million in Small and Rural Hospital Readiness Grants to support hospitals that are facing financial strain due to the ongoing response to COVID-19.
Legislation helps hospitals providing “sliding scale” charity care – A new law was enacted during the 2020 legislative session to create parity for hospitals providing charity care to patients on a sliding scale. The measure redefines charity care to align it with Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulations so hospitals with sliding scale policies are fully recognized when calculating supplemental payments. Sliding scale charity care discounts help limit financial exposure for lower income individuals who are uninsured or underinsured.
State law requires hospitals to have in place and publicly post a charity care policy and to report their uncompensated care to the Department of Health. These amounts are used to calculate supplemental payments from CMS to offset the cost of uncompensated care and for justifying incentive payments for hospitals with high volumes of charity care. The legislation is supported by the Tennessee Hospital Association.
New law helps rural health clinics recruit doctors -- The General Assembly enacted legislation allowing rural health clinics to employ a physician, a move that will help many Tennessee counties. Previously, state law prevented corporations from employing doctors due to a ban on the corporate practice of medicine with certain exceptions for hospitals, nursing homes, and federally qualified health centers. The measure was passed to aid efforts to recruit doctors to work in Tennessee’s rural health clinics and in economically distressed communities.
Legislation encourages lower health care costs through Association Health Plans – Legislation which aims to lower premiums and overall health care costs for small businesses through Association Health Plans (AHP) was approved this year. The new law aligns Tennessee’s AHP laws with new federal rules put into place by President Trump’s administration to help small businesses purchase affordable, high quality health insurance as a result of increased flexibility.
AHPs allow small businesses and entrepreneurs to band together with other businesses to purchase insurance with the bargaining power of a big company. The plans are similar to comprehensive large group or self-insured insurance policies offered by most large employers, covering the same types of treatments and procedures.
Since 2003, average family premiums for Tennessee small employers have increased over 75 percent, while at the same time deductibles have spiked. As a result, almost 30,000 fewer workers at small businesses have private insurance coverage due to the decreased affordability.
New law expands Health Care Empowerment Act to all medical professionals -- State lawmakers voted this year to expand Tennessee’s Health Care Empowerment Act to allow all licensed medical professionals, instead of only physicians, to use direct medical care agreements without regulation by the insurance laws of this state. It seeks in increase access to care and empower patients regarding their healthcare decisions.
The Health Care Empowerment Act is designed to give health care consumers who are struggling to pay the increasing costs of premiums or who have been priced out of the market, an affordable option to contract directly with their physician for health care services. The new law holds that a person seeking medical care outside of an insurance plan, TennCare or Medicare programs and chooses to pay out of pocket, does not forfeit their coverage plan.
Legislation allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to prescribe buprenorphine for medication assisted treatment – Legislation was approved this year to create greater access to medication assisted treatment (MAT) at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC), Community Mental Health Centers (CMHC) and Office Based Opioid Treatment (OBOT) facilities for patients with substance use disorder. The measure continues the legislature’s multi-year effort to curb opiate abuse in Tennessee.
MAT uses buprenorphine in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to provide a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. This treatment is important as Tennessee is experiencing an opioid crisis. These treatment facilities are a trusted place to receive care for uninsured and TennCare patients, but they are experiencing wait lists due to the limited amount of doctors in their organization available to prescribe these medications. During the quarantine caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many more addicts have struggled with their addiction, increasing the demand for treatment and highlighting the shortage of prescribing physicians.
The new legislation allows nurse practitioners (NPs) and physicians assistants (PAs) in FQHC, CMHC, and OBOT facilities to prescribe buprenorphine if certain conditions are met. Utilizing NPs and PAs to prescribe, allows these facilities to meet the needs of more uninsured and TennCare patients seeking treatment.
Safeguards are included in the new law to ensure medications are being prescribed properly. In FQHCs and CMHCs, the prescribing NPs and PAs must be supervised by a licensed physician who holds a waiver from the FDA to prescribe buprenorphine products. The physician is limited to supervising four NPs or PAs at a time. The NPs and PAs can prescribe to no more than 50 patients who must be treated through the employing FQHC or CMHC. Along with other safety measures, it limits buprenorphine dosage to protect against overprescribing. Any FQHC or CMHA would be required to obtain an OBOT license if the facility reaches a total of 150 patients being prescribed buprenorphine. In OBOT facilities, NPs and PAs can also prescribe buprenorphine under the legislation, but only under the direct supervision of a physician who is actively treating patients in the same OBOT facility. Additionally, supervising physicians can only oversee two NPs or PAs at a time in OBOT facilities, and prescribing is limited to 100 patients per prescriber.
All treatment facilities must be licensed with TennCare and accepting new patients in order for NPs and PAs to have prescribing abilities.
The legislation also prohibits cash or pre-paid gift cards as a form of payment for treatment; prohibits prescribers from being compensated on a ‘per patient’ basis; and requires TennCare members to be treated by a TennCare provider for buprenorphine treatment.
New law encourages alternative pain treatments to opioids — Legislation encouraging the use of more alternative pain treatments rather than opioids was approved during the 2020 session. The new law amends the state’s opioid reform legislation to include medical devices like pain pumps, spinal cord stimulators, occupational therapy and non-opioid medicinal drugs as non-opioid based alternative therapies for chronic pain. A 2019 law called for alternative pain treatment for chiropractic care, physical therapy, acupuncture, and other treatments to be encouraged for pain relief before opioids are dispensed. Both measures are part of an ongoing effort in Tennessee to provide alternative pathways to treat pain in order to curb opioid addiction, which has claimed the lives of thousands of Tennesseans.
Legislation aims to reduce effects of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in Tennessee – Legislation aiming to reduce the risks and effects of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in Tennessee has been approved. NAS is a condition in which a baby has withdrawal symptoms after being exposed to certain substances, such as medications or illicit drugs used by the mother during pregnancy.
The new law calls for the Department of Health, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse and TennCare to develop educational materials for providers and facilities where medication-assisted treatment, including treatment involving controlled substances, is prescribed or provided. The educational materials will provide information regarding access to and availability of family planning services and contraception, the risks and effects of NAS, and approaches to client-centered counseling.
New Tennessee Rare Disease Advisory Council will advise government entities on complexities of treating rare diseases — The Tennessee Rare Disease Advisory Council will be established under a new 2020 law. The council provides a skilled cohort of rare disease specialists from Tennessee’s leading clinical and academic institutions to advise government entities about the complexities of treating rare diseases and the most efficient and effective treatments. They will make treatment recommendations to advise TennCare and other public and private agencies providing services for persons diagnosed with chronic, complex, and rare diseases like hemophilia, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease and cystic fibrosis.
Tennessee observed Rare Disease Day on the last day of February. The main objective is to raise awareness among the general public and decision makers about rare diseases and their impact on patients' lives.
New law ensures 911 operators are trained for CPR – Legislation passed the General Assembly this year to ensure 911 operators across the state are prepared to provide CPR instructions to a caller in an emergency situation. Previously, not all counties allowed 911 operators to run callers through CPR instructions. The new law ensures all 911 operators in the state will provide telecommunicator cardiopulmonary resuscitation (T-CPR), as well as receive proper training to administer it. The legislation also includes liability protection for those providing this service.
Legislation expands access to dental care – A bill to help nonprofit dental clinics provide free care to more Tennesseans in need passed during the 2020 legislative session. It expands the maximum number of dental hygienists a dentist can oversee at a nonprofit provider of free mobile clinics from three to ten. This will allow organizations, like Mission of Mercy and Remote Area Medical Clinics which provide free dental services from volunteer dentists and hygienists, to take care of as many people as possible. Across the state these clinics have had to turn away volunteer dental hygienists because they do not have enough dentists to oversee them.
Legislation gives health boards more tools to protect patients – The General Assembly enacted legislation giving health-related boards more tools to take swift action to limit the authority of health care providers who have been disciplined in other states. The measure allows all health-related boards to restrict licensure of potentially dangerous practitioners to protect patients when there is a contested hearing. It also provides health boards with new options beyond only suspension, which can be helpful for rural communities with a limited number of physicians.
General Assembly votes to continue funds to support hospitals, nursing homes, ambulance services – State lawmakers approved three bills before the March recess critical to the operations of Tennessee’s hospitals, nursing homes and ambulance services by extending assessments used to draw down federal matching funds. This includes the Tennessee Hospital Assessment Act, which raises $600 million in state funds. The action allows Tennessee to receive $1.1 billion in federal matching funds, for a total of $1.7 billion for the state’s TennCare program.
The assessment, which has been in effect since 2010, provides hospitals a portion of their unreimbursed TennCare costs. In addition to the reduction in payments to hospitals and health professionals, a few examples of programs that would be affected without the assessment are: critical access hospital; the Graduate Medical Education program, x-rays, physician office procedures, various therapies, and the enrollment cap for the medically needy.
Similarly, legislation that provides funds essential for operating nursing homes in Tennessee was adopted. The measure raises funds allocated to the Nursing Home Assessment Trust Fund by $134.6 million, allowing Tennessee to draw down $259.8 million in needed federal matching funds.
The state’s ground ambulance providers will be aided by federal matching funds made available through Tennessee’s Ground Service Provider Assessment Act renewed this year. Many cash-strapped rural ambulance services have a difficult time staying in the black on current operating revenue due to the Medicaid reimbursement rate. This new law helps ambulance services transport patients by matching $22.5 million in federal funds with the $11.7 million assessed by the state.
All three assessments are placed in separate trust funds, ensuring they will only be used to support hospitals, nursing homes and ambulance services.
General Assembly approves increase in ambulance reimbursement rates – In addition, legislation passed this year increasing the percentage that public and private ambulance services are reimbursed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) for performing Medicaid transports. On average, ambulance services are reimbursed at 50 percent of the Medicare rate. The new law increases that percentage to 67.5 percent. The state will provide $7 million to cover the increased reimbursement from federal dollars. Ambulance providers will then draw down approximately $21 million, for a total of $28 million going to public and private providers across the state so that lifesaving care can be more adequately compensated.
Legislation to extend CoverKids Program passes General Assembly —An extension of CoverKids, Tennessee’s children’s health insurance program (CHIP) was approved this year, extending the program to June 30, 2025. CoverKids provides coverage to uninsured Tennessee children who are not eligible for the Tennessee’s Medicaid program. Similar to Medicaid, the program is financed and administered by both the federal and state government. It covers about 40,000 children and 6,000 pregnant women in Tennessee.
Legislation aims to strengthen the work of Tennessee’s Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia Advisory Council -- The General Assembly adopted legislation adding the executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, a representative of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and a representative of the Tennessee Nurses Association to the Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementia Advisory Council. The council, which was created as a result of legislation passed last year, is examining existing industries, services, and resources to address the needs of those diagnosed with the disease, their families, and approximately 439,000 caregivers. The experts added that the new law will give the council more in-depth experience to enhance their work.
Approximately 120,000 Tennesseans suffer with Alzheimer’s Disease. It is estimated that more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. That number is expected to double by 2050.
New law encourages raw milk safety – State lawmakers approved a new law in 2020 which encourages farmers who produce raw milk to complete a safe milk-handling course to help ensure health and safety for consumers. Commercial dairies produce pasteurized milk, while small farmers are allowed to produce raw milk for themselves and their herd co-owners. Cow share programs involve a contractual agreement between a farmer and livestock shareholders through which a person is able to obtain raw milk.
The new law provides that when a farmer producing raw milk completes a brief University of Tennessee Agriculture Extension course in safe milk production, they can participate in the cooperative agriculture extension fund. It also provides that to operate in a herd-share program, farmers must maintain the names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of all partial owners; as well as a transaction log. The contract must include a warning label regarding consumption of raw foods. If contamination occurs, the farm owner would be required to allow the Department of Health to access the farm within 24 hours to investigate and partial owners must be notified.
EDUCATION / CHILDREN
Budget -- The 2020-2021 budget continues Tennessee’s efforts to prioritize education and boost student achievement. The budget invests $50.3 million to fully fund growth and inflation in the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP). It also fully funds the growth in the Department of Children’s Services to take care of children who are in state custody.
Commission created to study impact of COVID-19, natural disasters on students —On the morning of March 3, 2020 devastating tornadoes wreaked havoc on Middle Tennessee. Schools were destroyed, homes leveled, and 24 lives were lost. Only two days later the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to the state as the first case was reported. These circumstances caused schools across the state to be closed for the remainder of the school year beginning in mid-March.
New legislation passed this year examines the short- and long-term systemic efforts that the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters of 2020 have had on the state’s educational systems. The Tennessee Commission of Education Recovery and Innovation is charged with making recommendations to the General Assembly, the State Board of Education, the Department of Education, and the state’s institutions of higher education on strategies to close educational gaps resulting from school closures. They will also recommend ways to modernize the state's educational structure from kindergarten to career in order to create more flexibility in the delivery of education to students. The commissions’ recommendations will be due not later than January 1, 2022.
Legislation ensures students, teachers, and schools are not penalized due to state of emergency – A new law passed this year ensures that students, teachers, principals and school districts are not adversely affected by closures or other school-related hardships due to COVID-19 and the March 3 tornadoes. The legislation waives certain K-12 education rules and requirements to help those impacted by Tennessee’s state of emergency. It required the State Board of Education to revise high school graduation requirements to ensure that no high school seniors affected by the school closures fail to receive a high school diploma for which the student was on track and otherwise eligible to receive.
Due to school closures, the new statute waived the requirement for TNReady and end of course assessments that were scheduled for the 2019-2020 school year, unless school districts administered them voluntarily. If such voluntary tests were administered, scores for students, teachers and school districts can only be used if it reflects positive growth or a higher grade.
In addition, the legislation waived the requirement for 180 days of classroom instruction and BEP-related requirements to ensure that school districts and employees continue to receive full state funding despite any lengthy school closures. It also waived the 11th grade post-secondary readiness assessment for the 2019-2020 school year.
Finally, the bill authorized the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation to create emergency rules to protect financial aid and credit opportunities, including dual enrollment courses, for high school students.
Deadlines for higher education financial aid programs waived due to COVID-19 delays –Legislation was approved to ensure students affected by Tennessee’s state of emergency are not denied access to higher education financial aid programs and scholarships due to specific calendar deadlines required under state law. The measure authorized the executive director for the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) to temporarily suspend, modify, or waive deadlines or other non-academic eligibility requirements in law rule or policy for any of Tennessee’s financial aid programs when an emergency declaration is issued by the governor.
Some of the state’s financial aid programs rely heavily on statutorily fixed dates in the calendar for students to meet certain deadlines. Previously, there was no latitude either in the statutes or in rule to provide the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation the ability to waive or suspend those fixed deadlines. The legislation provides for such latitude due to COVID-related school closures and the changing circumstances for high school attendance across the state. For example, graduating seniors in high school who are seeking to use the Tennessee Promise scholarship are required to attend certain meetings, submit proof of community service, and meet with their mentors by certain dates set by law. If a student does not do so, they cease to be eligible for the scholarship permanently.
This new law protects the tens of thousands of eligible high school graduates by giving necessary but temporary authority to state officials to make those deadline decisions as they arise due to COVID-19. It will be repealed on June 30, 2021.
Senate Bill 1973 by Gresham, Crowe, Stevens / Public Chapter 632 / Effective Date: March 25, 2020
Legislation encourages school districts to provide students with a wide variety of career-based experiences -- State lawmakers approved a new law this year encouraging Tennessee school districts to provide their students with a wide variety of career-based experiences to help them make informed decisions about future careers. The measure calls for more on-the-job training for students, as well as opportunities to build professional relationships and learn about workplace expectations. Examples are job shadowing, internships, and field trips to businesses. It also encourages school districts to work with local industry to help facilitate these opportunities.
Creation of a bank of possible TCAP questions is approved to help teachers prepare their students — Legislation giving teachers more tools to help them prepare their students for end-of-year assessments was approved during the 2020 session. The new law requires the Department of Education (DOE) to release a bank of possible Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) questions to local education agencies (LEAs) that are aligned to the current assessments. The measure requires the DOE commissioner to begin developing the question bank no later than July 1, 2020 so teachers will know what to expect on the TCAPs going forward.
New law ensures transparency in proposed textbooks and instructional materials – State lawmakers approved a measure this year making changes to the state’s Textbook Commission, including a provision to increase transparency in proposed textbooks and instructional materials. The new law requires publishers make all textbooks and instructional materials proposed for adoption available for inspection by Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and the public online at a central location on the state textbook depository website.
The legislation also ensures that the Textbook Commission is independent from the Department of Education in its duties and that all members are vested with the responsibility to appoint the advisory panel of experts who review the materials and make recommendations. In addition, it addresses requests made by LEAs for textbook waivers and sets criteria regarding their approval or denial.
Senate Bill 2342 by Gresham, Crowe, Pody, Stevens / Public Chapter 770 / Effective Date: Sections 1, 2, 3, and 5 take effect August 1, 2020. All other sections take effect upon becoming law on July 15, 2020
Legislation allows IEP students reasonable accommodations for state testing—The General Assembly approved legislation during the 2020 legislative session allowing reasonable accommodations for students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Effective March 20, the new law permits a student whose IEP provides testing accommodations to use the same accommodations when taking an assessment under the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) or an end-of-course examination, unless it undermines the relevant portion of the exam.
New law seeks to address shortage of teachers -- A new law has passed to help Local Education Agencies (LEAs) fund a “Grow Your Own” scholarship program. The program helps train high school students and non-teaching staff to become certified teachers in a three-year program at a higher education institution.
The Grow Your Own Program has been implemented in Clarksville Montgomery County Schools in partnership with Austin Peay State University and has proven to be an effective pipeline for LEAs to fill open teaching positions. Last year, there were 1,123 teacher vacancies reported in Tennessee, leaving over 20,000 students without a certified teacher.
The new statute authorizes the commissioner of education to grant a waiver to a requesting LEA exempting them from the average class size standards to assist the LEA in funding a Grow Your Own Program. By increasing the class size across the district by one or two students, districts can significantly reduce the number of teaching positions and use those savings to develop their own teachers.
Legislation calls for Commissioner of Education to develop transition plan for ASDs -- Legislation requiring the Commissioner of Education to develop a transition plan for the return of schools in the state’s Achievement School District (ASD) to their local school districts was passed in 2020. The new law calls for the Commissioner of Education to develop a plan to transition the schools back to local education agencies by 2024-2025 and to submit it to the House and Senate Education Committees by January 1, 2021. It follows an announcement by Commissioner Penny Schwinn earlier this year regarding the transitioning of ASD schools back to their local districts.
The ASD was established as a local education agency within the Tennessee Department of Education by the Tennessee First to the Top Act in 2010, with schools launching in 2012. The act gave the Department of Education authority to move schools in the bottom five percent in achievement in Tennessee into the ASD to help improve student progress. Since the district has been in place, some ASD schools have done well while others have not.
The legislation gives lawmakers the information needed to ensure that policy decisions made provide students in the ASD with the best opportunities to succeed as the transition plan is developed.
New law gives more flexibility to directors of schools regarding student discipline -- The General Assembly passed a bill this year giving directors of schools in Tennessee more flexibility regarding discipline of students and the utilization of alternative schools. Attendance in an alternative school or program is mandatory for students in grades 7-12 who are suspended or expelled for more than 10 days if there is space and staff available, unless the student commits a zero tolerance offense. The new law gives the director of schools or their designee authority to determine whether to assign a student who has been expelled due to a zero tolerance offense to an alternative school or program on a case-by-case basis.
Students assigned to alternative schools are subject to all rules pertaining to the program. The new law also gives directors of schools the authority to remove a student from an alternative school for violating the rules, or if the student is not benefitting from the program. This latter would only occur after all interventions available to help the student succeed in the alternative school have been exhausted unsuccessfully.
Truancy Intervention Plan law amended – Legislation was approved to streamline the process to admit a truant student back into school if the student’s parent or guardian is unwilling to cooperate with the school system. Previously, when a student has five or more unexcused absences the school system must place a student in a truancy intervention plan. The plan requires school districts to go through a three-tiered process in order to get a student back in school.
The new law passed by the General Assembly this year specifies that if a parent is unwilling to cooperate in a truancy intervention plan under tier one, which is classified as three unexcused absences, the school may refer the student to the juvenile court without having to complete the lengthy three tiered process to reinstate that student in their school.
New law promotes greater financial stability in budgeting for local boards of education – The General Assembly approved legislation designed to promote financial stability and accuracy for counties setting their budget revenue estimates for their Local Education Agencies (LEAs). In some cases in Tennessee, school boards have used different local revenue estimates than those provided by the county commission to set their budgets. At the recommendation of the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, the new law clarifies that the county legislative body has the duty to make revenue estimates to determine the level of revenue necessary for the county department of education to meet local match and maintenance of effort requirements.
The law further clarifies that the LEA shall prepare its budget according to the revenue estimates and determinations made by the county commission. These changes will help county governments and school boards work together regarding fair revenue estimates and budgets.
Legislation allows students to attend release time courses – Legislation was passed this year amending current law to require a public school, upon request of the parent or the legal guardian, to excuse a student to attend a release timed course for religious moral instruction for up to one hour per day per week. The principal of the public school would determine the classes from which the student may be excused in order to participate in the released timed course, and the student would not be allowed to miss any course that would be subject to an end-of-course examination or other any other state examination. No public funds will be expended to implement or maintain this instructional schedule or to provide necessary transportation.
New law helps ensure license revocation for teachers convicted of certain crimes -- The 111th General Assembly approved legislation clarifying that licensed teachers convicted of certain crimes against children will have their license revoked by the State Board of Education. The criminal offenses that apply, after the teacher has exhausted or waived due process rights, include communicating a threat concerning a school employee; arson; aggravated arson; burglary; child abuse; child neglect; child endangerment; aggravated child abuse; aggravated child neglect; aggravated child endangerment; providing handguns to juveniles; sexual offenses; and violent sexual offenses. In addition, it includes teachers or administrators whose name is placed on the state’s Vulnerable Persons Registry or the state’s Sex Offender Registry, or those identified by the Department of Children’s Services as having committed child abuse, severe child abuse, child sexual abuse, or child neglect.
Bill allowing State Board of Education subpoena power for educator licensure investigations passes — Legislation to allow the chairman of the Tennessee Board of Education to issue subpoenas for educator licensure investigations passed this year. It is part of the efforts to protect students from teacher sexual misconduct or similar prohibited acts. The State Board of Education is responsible for hearing teacher licensure matters involved in such cases. The legislation allows the subpoena to be issued for the appearance of persons or the production of items relevant to the investigation, including video footage.
The General Assembly passed a series of bills in 2018 addressing teacher sexual misconduct after a comprehensive report from Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson revealed deficiencies in hiring practices for school personnel that could allow predators to slip through the cracks. The legislation works to keep sexual predators out of the classroom.
New law to implement statewide child abuse reporting policies in schools approved --Legislation to implement statewide child abuse reporting policies in schools has passed the General Assembly. The new law seeks to bring school district reporting policies in compliance with state law.
Under current reporting practices, children are being made to recount their stories two to three times before being brought to a trained official to do the interview. The new standard of reporting will require teachers and school personnel to report suspected abuse or neglect first to the Department of Children’s Services and law enforcement before contacting their supervisor.
111th General Assembly passes major pro-life legislation banning abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected -- Major pro-life legislation, which includes a prohibition on abortions where a fetal heartbeat exists, was approved before the close of the 2020 legislative session. The comprehensive life-affirming bill, which was part of Governor Bill Lee’s legislative priorities, seeks to protect the life of the unborn.
The legislation includes a layered structure that prohibits abortion after the unborn child reaches certain gestational age milestones. The “ladder” provision bans abortion at 11 gestational age milestones ranging from 6 weeks to 24 weeks, with severability clauses for each step of the ladder. It is modeled after a Missouri law to protect against legal challenges. A medical emergency exception is provided, under the bill, if certain requirements are met. The bill’s multi-provision approach significantly enhances Tennessee’s pro-life laws, while testing the limits of current court precedents.
The new law calls for mothers to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion where the gestational age and the fetal heartbeat will be determined. The legislation also prohibits discriminatory abortion based on the unborn child’s race, sex, or Down syndrome diagnosis.
The legislation requires abortion facilities to display signage informing women that a chemical abortion may be reversed following the first dose of a two-pill protocol. It requires a physician to provide the same information during informed consent, 48 hours prior to the abortion procedure.
Finally, the legislation eliminates the requirement that the Department of Children’s Services provide court advocates and other information about judicial procedures to minors who are considering an abortion.
Senate Bill 2196 by Johnson, Gresham, Lundberg, Powers, Reeves, Stevens, White / Public Chapter 764 / Effective Date: Section 39-15-218 takes effect October 1, 2020. All other remaining provisions take effect upon becoming a law on July 13, 2020
New law adds a layer of protection for faith-based child placement agencies -- Preemptive legislation protecting private faith-based child placement agencies from being forced out of business because of the potential costs of civil lawsuits was approved during the 2020 session. The new law was introduced after faith-based agencies in Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia shut down due to the cost of defending lawsuits filed against them for their religious beliefs regarding family placement. The measure ensures that the wishes of mothers who choose adoption and want their child placed in a home where certain religious convictions will be honored.
The new Tennessee law provides “to the extent allowed by federal law, no private licensed child-placing agency shall be required to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in any placement of a child for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement would violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies."
Approximately 15 percent of child placement agencies in Tennessee are faith-based. Other child placement agencies are not affected by the legislation.
General Assembly votes to expand Tennessee’s Safe Haven Law -- Legislation expanding Tennessee’s Safe Haven Law was adopted this year. The measure allows mothers to safely and anonymously surrender their unharmed newborns to certain facilities throughout the state without fear of prosecution for abandonment. The legislation increases the maximum age of an infant that can be surrendered under the Safe Haven Law from 72 hours old to 14 days old.
Tennessee has over 750 facilities where mothers can surrender their children including hospitals, birthing centers, community health clinics, walk-in clinics, EMS facilities, and certain fire stations and police stations. Since the Safe Haven Law was adopted in 2001, over 100 newborns have been surrendered to approved locations in Tennessee. All fifty states have safe haven policies in place, and the time frames to surrender infants across the country range from three days to one year.
General Assembly approves legislation raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 – A new law was approved to raise the age from 18 to 21 to purchase, possess, transport, smoke or consume any tobacco, hemp or vapor products. Last December, President Trump signed into law a provision in the federal budget making it a violation to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21, including e-cigarettes and vaping cartridges. The new law puts state statutes in harmony with federal law and ensures that Tennessee will continue to receive $32 million in federal block grant funds.
The use of vaping products has grown dramatically over the past several years among youth. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration study shows that 20.8 percent of high schoolers are considered frequent users of e-cigarettes.
The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse partners with Department of Agriculture each year to ensure tobacco products are not sold to underage individuals. Federal block grant funds provide prevention treatment and recovery support services and activities for people at risk or who have substance abuse disorders.
The legislation requires any person under 21 years of age who directly or indirectly purchases or attempts to purchase smoking paraphernalia using fake identification be subject to the jurisdiction of the appropriate general sessions court.
New law allows local governments to prohibit smoking on playgrounds -- The General Assembly passed legislation this year allowing local governments to prohibit smoking on any playground in which they own or operate. The action must be taken by a two-thirds vote of the local governing body. Under the bill, "playground" means an indoor or outdoor facility that is intended for recreation of children, while smoking refers to the burning of a tobacco product, hemp product, or any other drug or substance.
Legislation aims to reduce ACEs – Legislation designed to educate divorcing parents of underage children about the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) passed this year. The new law requires parents to view a 30 minute video during their required parenting seminar addressing how traumatic experiences can affect their children. The goal is to help parents enhance their child’s emotional development by limiting or eliminating negative factors that can lead to a wide variety of harmful mental and physical health conditions.
Sixty one percent of adults in the U.S. have reported to have experienced at least one ACE during childhood, and ACEs have been linked to chronic health issues, mental illness, and substance misuse in adulthood.
Budget -- The 2020-2021 budget includes $38 million in capital maintenance across higher education institutions from the Higher Education Capital Maintenance Fund and $2 million non-recurring statewide security grants. It also includes $1 million for additional Veteran Reconnect grants. Other improvements include: $1 million for the Tennessee Board of Regent’s Mechatronics program; $1.2 million for the Middle Tennessee State University/Meharry Joint Education Program; $495,500 for East Tennessee State University’s (ETSU) Pediatric Surgeon and Specialists program; $600,000 for ETSU’s Pediatric and Children Services; and $500,000 for Tennessee Tech for a Cybersecurity Grant. In addition, a correctional education investment of $4.43 million was approved in recurring funds and $984,600 in non-recurring funds.
Legislation simplifies admission process to help adult learners seeking higher education degree – The legislature approved a new law to help adult learners with an associate’s degree obtain their four-year degree. The measure ensures that a person with an associate’s degree does not have to provide their high school transcript or GED certificate when applying to a higher education institution. Instead, the applicant can provide their associate degree certificate.
This legislation simplifies the application process for many adult degree seekers who might no longer have access to their high school transcript.
Tennessee Responsible Borrowing Initiative Act passes to help students avoid unnecessary debt -- Legislation requiring public higher education institutions to provide students with important financial information to help them better evaluate the impact of indebtedness passed this year. The new law provides that when a student is finalizing their acceptance of a financial aid package, the institution must provide them with the net cost in an interactive loan scenario calculator, along with pertinent information on responsible student borrowing.
Over the last six years student debt has increased 33 percent and now stands at about $1.5 trillion. The average student in the United States graduates with about $27,000 of debt, while approximately 45 percent of Tennessee students graduate with about $25,000 of debt.
The new law provides a tool that the state higher education institutions give students to tell them what it’s going to cost them to go to school; what sort of financial aid they might have; what their potential indebtedness might be; and educates them to what the payoff is going to look like over time.
Passage of the legislation follows the Tuition Transparency and Accountability Act approved in 2018 which provided more transparency and accountability regarding tuition and fee hikes at Tennessee’s colleges and universities. It provided that any tuition increase must be substantiated by stating the amount of increase, the reason for the increase, and any steps that may have been taken to control it.
FAST Act simplifies and modernizes financial aid programs, while maximizing stewardship of grants benefitting students -- Cost-saving legislation, simplifying and modernizing the HOPE Lottery Scholarship’s financial aid program, was approved in 2020. Called the Financial Aid Simplification for Tennessee (FAST) Act, it is the most comprehensive financial aid overhaul since the implementation of the HOPE Lottery Scholarship Program in 2003. It streamlines state law so that students and their families have a clearer understanding of their options, while maximizing stewardship of grant programs that benefit students. It also aims to keep students on a path to graduation as Tennessee strives to create a highly skilled, credentialed workforce to ensure economic prosperity and competitiveness.
Laws governing Tennessee’s financial aid program for students have been amended 84 times since its inception, causing much confusion regarding their interpretation. The programs also needed to be aligned with new federal policies.
Currently, HOPE lottery scholarship aid can be used for courses outside of a student’s major that do not progress them meaningfully forward in their program of study. The legislation provides that financial aid should only pay for programs within the student’s field of study to keep a focus on timely graduation and costs.
The bill also establishes one clear definition of HOPE scholarship termination at completion of five years or achievement of a degree. It ensures, however, that ROTC students are not penalized for enrolling in military science courses.
In addition, the legislation winds down loan programs that are not working, have low enrollment, or that are supplanted by new programs. Students currently enrolled in those programs will be “grandfathered in” and will not be affected.
The legislation allows THEC to realize up to $4 million in savings annually at a time when the higher education and the state’s financial aid programs have suffered significant losses due to COVID-19.
Senate Bill 2097 by Gresham, Bell, Pody / Public Chapter 794 / Effective Date: Sections 13, 19, 20, 22, 25, 27, 28, 30, 35, 36, 38, 42, and 50 shall take effect July 1, 2021. All remaining sections of this act shall take effect August 1, 2020
Legislation enhances Chairs of Excellence Endowment Fund -- The General Assembly approved legislation to modify and improve the Chairs of Excellence investment strategy. The Chairs of Excellence program was set up in 1985 to bring eminent scholars to the state’s public institutions and attract research initiatives and private funding to Tennessee. The program has resulted in an unprecedented level of donations to higher education from private and corporate sources. The Chairs of Excellence funds must be invested in accordance with the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS) investment policy and guidelines, which have changed over the years. The new law provides that the chairs of excellence assets may be invested in the same type of assets and investments as the TCRS to maximize them for the benefit of the program in accordance with the policies and guidelines established by the trustees.
New law addresses electronic meetings by state’s higher education governing boards – The General Assembly passed a new law to align the rules applied to electronic meetings for all state higher education governing boards. Under the changes, state university boards for the University of Tennessee (UT) system are authorized to meet electronically without a physical quorum and without filing a determination of necessity, provided that the advisory boards for UT have had a physical quorum present at the location of a meeting at least once in the last twelve months. Previously, UT advisory boards had to file a “determination of necessity” with the Secretary of State’s office in order to be granted authority to meet electronically.
This legislation brings the UT advisory boards in line with the board of trustees of the University of Tennessee and the Board of Regents of the state university and community college system. The law also adjusts the deadline for appointing full-time faculty and student members to advisory boards for the University of Tennessee institutions from April 15 to May 31.
Legislation focuses on campus safety — Legislation was enacted during the 2020 session creating a chief of police position to coordinate campus security and policy across 27 Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) and 13 community colleges to keep students safe. The new law was recommended by the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) after studying safety needs on their campuses.
CORRECTIONS / COURTS / CRIME
New laws strengthen penalties against child sex offenders – Legislation was passed this year strengthening Tennessee’s statutes against the “worst of the worst” child sex offenders. Previously, sex offenders could be charged with aggravated rape of a child if their victim was zero to three years old. Beginning July 1, the new law raised that age range to zero to eight years old.
Under legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2019, aggravated rape of a child is a Class A felony offense which is automatically punishable by life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Increasing the age range from zero to three to zero to eight, helps ensure more of these offenders are taken off the streets.
Legislation to end judicial diversion for continuous child sexual abusers passes – A new law was adopted this year which adds continuous sexual abuse of a child to the list of offenses which are not eligible for judicial diversion. Judicial diversion allows a charge to be diverted for an agreed upon amount of time once the defendant pleads guilty and agrees to conditions given by the judge.
Continuous sexual abuse of a child is a serious felony offense that occurs when a person engages in multiple acts of child sexual abuse. Under the Tennessee statute, this offense may occur in a few different situations. This includes engaging in three or more incidents of child sex abuse involving the same minor on separate occasions over a period of 90 days or more. The offense may also be charged for one incident of sexual abuse with at least three children on separate occasions over a period of 90 days or more. Some examples are cases that involve victims related to the defendant by blood or marriage, or a defendant who is considered an authority figure, such as a parent, teacher, priest, or child care provider.
The legislation ensures no judicial diversion can be considered by the courts for this serious crime.
New law bans judicial diversion for offenders convicted of promoting or patronizing prostitution of a minor or a person with an intellectual disability -- The General Assembly passed legislation this year ensuring that offenders who are guilty of patronizing prostitution from a minor or promoting the prostitution of a minor are not eligible for judicial diversion. The legislation adds the offense of promoting prostitution of a minor and patronizing prostitution from a person younger than 18 years of age or who has an intellectual disability to the list of sexual offenses that do not qualify.
Under current law, patronizing prostitution is a Class A misdemeanor. Patronizing prostitution from a person who is younger than 18 years of age or who has an intellectual disability, however, is punishable as a trafficking for a commercial sex act. While the offense is punishable as a Class A felony, it can still be charged as a Class A misdemeanor. This means the offender would still be eligible for judicial diversion. The legislation ensures that those who victimize Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens will not be eligible for judicial diversion.
Revised statute seeks to protect children from relative sex offenders -- The General Assembly voted this year to clarify a 2019 law prohibiting sexual offenders or violent sexual offenders from staying overnight at a residence in which a minor resides or is present. A lawsuit was filed after passage of the legislation pertaining to parents and children who fall under the statute’s provisions. The new law addresses the matter by authorizing a District Attorney (DA) to petition a circuit court when they believe an offender whose victim was age 12 or under poses risk of substantial harm to his or her child. The court would then make a finding by clear and convincing evidence regarding prohibition of overnight visits.
Revisions made by the new statute address the legal questions that have arisen, while still providing an avenue to address original concerns that children be protected when there is a substantial risk of harm.
Human Trafficking Advisory Council strengthened under legislation – State lawmakers approved legislation to add a member of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) to the Human Trafficking Advisory Council. Over the last two years, TABC agents have been instrumental in identifying and cooperating with local authorities to halt several cases of human trafficking in Tennessee.
The General Assembly has approved a series of bills over the past eight years addressing the problem after a 2011 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) report showed 73 of the state’s 95 counties have reported the crime within their borders. These legislative efforts earned Tennessee Shared Hope International’s highest ranking in the nation for fighting human trafficking.
Other Crime / Reforms
Holly Bobo Act raises the minimum age for endangered child alerts – Lawmakers voted this year to allow the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to expand its missing and endangered child and young adult alert program to individuals under the age of 21. The statute is called the “Holly Bobo Act” for a 20-year-old young woman who was kidnapped from her Darden, Tennessee home and murdered in 2011.
Previously, endangered child alerts were only issued for abduction of persons under the age of 18. In issuing an Endangered Child Alert, which is distinct from the America’s Missing Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alert, the TBI notifies local media in specific regions of the state about the missing person, along with any additional information which is available. They also share the information on social media.
The National Crime Information Center claims that 73 percent of missing persons are 20 years of age or under.
Senate Bill 2464 Gresham , White, Massey, Powers, Reeves, Rose, Southerland, Stevens, Akbari, Bailey, Bell, Bowling, Briggs, Crowe, Dickerson, Gardenhire, Gilmore, Haile, Hensley, Jackson, Johnson, Kyle, Lundberg, Niceley, Pody, Roberts, Robinson, Swann, Watson, Yager, Yarbro, McNally / Public Chapter 595 / Effective Date: March 20, 2020
Legislation bans convicted animal abusers from owning pets in certain cases — Final approval was given to legislation banning some convicted animal abusers from ever owning any pets again. The new law prohibits individuals convicted of some of the worst offenses against animals from owning companion animals for at least two years from the date of conviction and may impose a lifetime prohibition. Upon a subsequent offense, the court shall prohibit the individual from having custody of any companion animal for the person’s lifetime. The measure builds on a 2015 law that created the Tennessee Animal Abuse Registry, the first ever animal abuse registry in the nation.
General Assembly amends state’s drug-free school zone laws — The General Assembly approved legislation to ensure the state’s “drug-free school zones” law is best applied with its original intent - to protect children from being sold or exposed to drugs. The law is intended to more harshly punish those who sell or distribute drugs to students; however, at a 1,000 foot radius from a school, drug-free school zones often encompass apartment complexes, interstate shoulders, and residential neighborhoods.
This has led to drug users being subject to harsher punishments, even if the offense is committed in their home or vehicle without children present.
Currently, if a person is caught with possession with the intent to distribute a small amount of drugs to support his or her habit, even in a home with no school or children in sight, the offender can receive a longer sentence (15 years mandatory minimum) than second degree murder (15 years eligible for release at 13 years).
The new law seeks to remedy this disparity by reducing drug free zones from 1,000 feet to 500 feet from a school. It also gives judges more discretion to weigh the factors of a case and apply appropriate penalties. In addition, it establishes a rebuttable presumption that a defendant is not required to serve the minimum sentence established under the Drug Free School Zone Act as long as vulnerable persons, in this case children, were not exposed to the crime. This provision protects the original intent of the law which ensures those who expose children to drug crimes are punished fully. Another goal of the legislation is to apply the law more evenly across the state.
Not only does the legislation seek to more justly apply the law, but it also is projected to save the state $18.4 million by avoiding incarceration costs.
TRICOR moves to bring job training to those housed in county and city jails -- Under a new 2020 law, the Tennessee Rehabilitative Initiative in Correction (TRICOR) is now authorized to provide job training to individuals incarcerated in Tennessee’s county and city jails. TRICOR is an organization operating within the Tennessee Department of Correction that provides job training to inmates in an effort to make them workforce ready and reduce the state’s recidivism rate.
TRICOR may enter into contractual agreements with counties and cities to provide work training programs, including the Private Sector Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program for prisoners incarcerated in county and city jails. This will provide inmates housed in local and privately operated jails additional opportunities for job preparedness to get them on the right track upon their release from prison.
New law cracks down on those who flee arrest – A new law passed this year cracking down on those who flee an arrest. The measure requires an offender evading arrest to pay restitution if he or she recklessly damages government property.
Legislation calls for open records regarding acts of terrorism committed by juveniles – The General Assembly approved legislation that requires juvenile court petitions and orders to be open to public inspection if the delinquent act constitutes an act of terrorism or an attempt to commit terrorism if committed by an adult. It also prohibits expunction of a juvenile’s record relating to a delinquent act of terrorism or an attempt to commit terrorism by an adult.
An act of terrorism is defined as conduct that violates the law and is intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence the policy of a unit of government by intimidation or coercion; or affect the conduct of a unit of government by murder, assassination, torture, kidnapping, or mass destruction.
Legislation clarifies organized crime retail law – A new law went into effect July 1 clarifying Tennessee’s organized retail crime statute. The legislation provides that the illegal purchase of merchandise or stored value cards may be made by physical or electronic means under Tennessee statutes to further curtail the crime. The measure seeks to cut off the flow of funds used in the purchase of illegal drugs through retail theft.
The offense of organized retail crime includes an individual that acts in concert with one or more individuals to commit theft of any merchandise with a value greater than $1,000 aggregated over a 90 day period with the intent to fraudulently return the material to retail merchant.
Expert testimony taken in the General Assembly previously revealed that Tennessee was losing over $14 million in sales tax dollars and retailers were losing over $200 million each year related to return fraud. Nationwide, the loss was $12-15 billion, with almost all being related to the illicit drug trade.
General Assembly votes to clarify TN Supreme Court ruling – This year, a new law was approved clarifying release eligibility for first degree murder defendants sentenced to life in prison prior to July 1, 1995 will be treated the same as those who commit the offense after that date. The action follows a Tennessee State Supreme Court ruling in the Cyntoia Brown case which shed light on an ambiguity in state law dealing with life sentences for those convicted of first degree murder between November 1980 and July 1995. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals eventually directed the State Supreme Court to clarify the state’s life sentences as a result of this case.
Legislation imposes minimum fine in domestic assault cases – Legislation to impose a minimum fine of $100 in domestic assault cases passed during the 2020 legislative session. Currently, the law provides that in domestic assault cases a court may order a defendant to pay a maximum fine of $200 if the court determines the defendant possesses the ability to pay a fine. The new law maintains the maximum $200 fine and adds a floor of $100. The goal of this legislation is to ensure this fine is uniform across the state.
New law clarifies and strengthens Safe at Home Program – Legislation has been enacted clarifying the state’s Safe at Home law. The law implemented a program housed in the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office to help victims of domestic abuse, stalking, human trafficking, or any sexual offense by protecting the confidentiality of their address. The legislation provides changes to make the program more efficient. More information about the Safe at Home program can be found at sos.tn.gov/safeathome.
Courts and Judges
Legislation clarifies judges can determine appropriateness of domestic case decisions -- Legislation was approved this year clarifying that Tennessee judges can continue to determine the appropriateness of decisions in domestic cases without a formal on-the-record hearing. The new law addresses conflicting opinions in the Court of Appeals, one of which said Tennessee judges are not allowed to settle domestic cases unless there is a formal hearing with recorded sworn testimony. The opinion would mean that hundreds of divorce cases based on irreconcilable differences, which are currently settled by the parties through agreements, must go to court for a full hearing regardless. Not only would such action be costly to litigants, it would have a significant impact on court dockets across the state.
Domestic cases involving property distribution and parenting plans are often settled by agreement of the parties. This legislation sends it back to where it has been for over 100 years by continuing to allow judges to determine the appropriateness of an agreement through inquiries deemed necessary to ensure it is fair and equitable.
New law gives judges discretion in determining child custody plans in domestic violence cases — The General Assembly approved legislation that gives judges discretion in determining child custody plans when a parent has committed domestic abuse against the child, other parent, or other individual residing with the child. The new law requires a court to make its decision based on the best interest of the minor child when limiting a parent’s residential parenting time because the parent has engaged in willful abandonment or abuse of the parent, child or another person living with the child.
Current law has conflicting statues governing these instances. One statute allows a judge to use discretion in determining a child custody plan if there is proof they have committed an act of domestic violence, but another statute provides that a judge must limit a parent’s residential plan if there is proof they have committed an act of domestic violence. This legislation clarifies the law and mirrors other state statutes governing parental rights that prioritize the best interest of the child.
Legislation creates new judicial district for Tennessee – Tennessee will have a new judicial district under a new law passed before the General Assembly adjourned. The legislation adds District 32 to the state’s judicial districts, serving the citizens of Hickman, Lewis, and Perry Counties. Currently, the counties are comprised in the 21st district, along with Williamson County. The measure allows Williamson County to become its own standalone judicial district effective September 1, 2022.
Action on the measure follows recommendations made by the Advisory Task Force on Composition of Judicial Districts, which was created by lawmakers in 2018 to increase resources to the state’s judicial system. The 32nd Judicial District will allow for more specialized legal attention to better address the unique needs of citizens in these counties by reducing the backlog of court cases currently on the books because of exponential growth.
Legislation modernizes Tennessee Courts E-filing System – A new law which aims to modernize the state’s court filing system was approved in 2020. The measure allows any court in Tennessee to use an electronic filing (E-filing) system to provide greater efficiencies for litigations filed throughout the state. In 2016, the General Assembly passed a law allowing civil trial courts to use an E-filing system. Following the success of this practice in the civil trial courts, this legislation was proposed to expand the ability to all Tennessee courts.
New law allows law enforcement agencies to choose electronic citations for certain misdemeanor criminal offenses -- Legislation was passed by the 111th General Assembly allowing law enforcement agencies to issue electronic citations for certain misdemeanor criminal offenses in lieu of written citations or arrest. The new law ensures that a paper copy of the citation be given to the cited person and that the court of jurisdiction receives it within three days of the issuance. The current statute is outdated in reference to only written orders or citations. Electronic citations are a very efficient process used by many agencies statewide.
Legislation allows courts to hold session outside of county seat due to extraordinary circumstances -- In the event of a natural disaster or other extenuating circumstances, courts will be able to hold proceedings outside of their designated building until it is rebuilt under a new law passed this year. It allows a county that has suffered a natural disaster to hold trials outside the county seat in another suitable building and gives discretion to the local judges to decide the new location if that is required for the safety and the due process of a defendant. The legislation follows a devastating fire which destroyed Loudon County’s courthouse and applies to all Tennessee counties that might suffer such losses in the future.
General Assembly enacts legislation improving transportation options for Tennesseans with disabilities and the elderly -- Legislation designed to improve transportation options for Tennesseans with disabilities and the elderly was approved by the 111th General Assembly. The Tennessee Accessible Transportation and Mobility Act of 2020 creates an office within the Tennessee Department of Transportation to focus solely on expanding and improving accessible transportation across the state. It will be the first of its kind in the United States.
Research and experience confirms that the lack of accessible transportation is the most common barrier for people with disabilities for employment and to live fully included lives. This new law works to identify and remove these barriers so people with disabilities have opportunities to improve their quality of life through greater access to education, employment, health care, housing, and their community.
The measure requires the new Office for Accessible Transportation to do an assessment to identify transportation challenges in coordination with all appropriate state and local agencies. The office will consult with accessible transportation consumers and industry professionals. In addition, it will be tasked with constructing a five-year strategic plan and must report back to the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee regarding needs for mobility and accessible transportation annually. This assessment will help Tennessee make needed improvements so disabled and elderly citizens can be more engaged in the community and live more productive lives.
Billboard regulations legislation ensures Tennessee receives federal highway funds – The General Assembly voted to approve legislation to put Tennessee’s billboards regulations back into compliance with federal requirements after a Sixth Circuit Court decision put all state regulation on billboards on hold. Last September, the federal court struck down the state’s Billboard Regulation and Control Act for violating citizens’ First Amendment rights. The action put up to 10 percent of the state’s highway funds in jeopardy because of federal Highway Beautification Act requirements.
The new law seeks to satisfy the ruling, while creating effective billboard control and meeting federal requirements. Key provisions of the legislation include:
- Giving the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) the authority to regulate signs within 660 feet of the right-of-way;
- Removing criminal penalties for sign companies with illegal signs, implementing civil penalties instead;
- Adding a third party review by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for sign owners who contest TDOT’s determination that they have constructed an illegal sign;
- Providing non-conforming permits for billboards put up during the period of no regulation;
- Giving TDOT immediate relief to promulgate an emergency rule to bring the state’s billboard law back into compliance with the federal Highway Beautification Act.
- Adding the definition of “unzoned commercial or industrial area” to the state’s regulations;
- Reducing the maximum size of non-outdoor advertising signs for parkways and primary highways from 36 sq. ft. to 20 sq. ft.; and,
- Providing penalties for illegal signs of $5,000, while maintaining provisions regarding disgorgement of profits.
Tennessee to join Interstate Driver License Compact -- Tennessee is joining 42 other states in an interstate Driver License Compact under a new law which becomes effective July 1. The compact is used by states to exchange information regarding driver license revocations or suspensions due to major traffic violations by non-residents. The offenses are then forwarded to the home state where the person is licensed. The compact’s theme is “one driver, one license, one record.”
The measure requires the state to report convictions to an offender’s home state when it involves manslaughter, negligent homicide, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and failure to stop and render aid when a motor vehicle accident results in the death or serious injury of another. It also applies to offenders with felony convictions when a motor vehicle is used in the commission of a crime. The licensing authority in the compact’s party state may not issue a license to an applicant if the individual has been suspended or revoked in a compact party state and the period of termination has not expired. After one year, the applicant can reapply for a driver’s license, with the compact state’s licensing authority. The applicant’s eligibility for a license is determined through an investigation looking at whether or not it is safe to allow them to drive.
State’s “slow poke” law is extended under legislation – Legislation was approved this year extending the state’s “slow poke” law to divided highways with two or more lanes in each direction. Current law requires cars to stay out of the left lane of interstate highways with at least three lanes, except in the case of passing other vehicles or while the road is under construction or repair, with violators facing a $50 fine. Many traffic safety experts believe that driving too slow in the passing lane is at least as dangerous as diving too fast, resulting in a number of highway accidents.
Law strengthens penalties for traffic ticket quotas -- Legislation strengthening penalties for public officials to set traffic ticket quotas became law this year. The new statute makes it a Class B misdemeanor for a public official to set a traffic ticket quota for their municipality, subject to a $500 fine. The measure adds to a 2010 law that made traffic ticket quotas illegal.
New law allows counties without regional planning commission to open or close roads— A new law was passed this year allowing 25 Tennessee counties without a Regional Planning Council to create a committee that can open, change or close certain roads in that county. The measure allows the local county commission, by a two-thirds vote, to set up a five-member committee of the commissioners to only hear opening, changing and closing of roads.
Legislation names roads and bridges for Tennessee heroes – Several Tennessee heroes were honored this year through legislation passed annually to name roads, highways and bridges for distinguished citizens. This includes designating a segment of Interstate 440 in Davidson County as the “Debra K. Johnson Memorial Parkway” to honor the memory of this well-respected and distinguished correctional administrator for the Tennessee Department of Correction. Johnson was killed in the line of duty on August 7, 2019 by an inmate at West Tennessee State Penitentiary.
The majority of the roads this year were named after Tennessee heroes in the U.S. Armed Forces to honor their service to state and country.
Similarly, an annual bill is passed that provides the opportunity for new special license plates to be authorized or to implement changes to existing ones. This year’s law included authorization of a new specialty earmarked license plate recognizing the centennial of women’s suffrage.
New law expands emergency service tags to more professions — A new law passed this year, which allows additional emergency service personnel to be issued special emergency license plates. The legislation expands the definition of emergency service squad to include emergency medical technicians, paramedic, emergency medical technician paramedics, and other emergency medical responders. It also includes physicians and nurses who accompany or attend a patient in an ambulance. Emergency responders seeking emergency tags are required to submit proof of their profession to their county clerk’s office.
BUSINESS / TAX EQUITY / WORKERS
Resolution gives voters an opportunity to embed the state’s Right to Work law into Tennessee Constitution -- A resolution allowing voters to embed the state’s Right to Work (RTW) law into Tennessee’s Constitution was approved during the 111th General Assembly. The measure protects the right of Tennesseans to join or refuse to join a labor union or employee organization, saying it should always be a “fundamental civil right.”
Currently, there is legislation at the federal level seeking to undermine all state RTW laws, among other anti-business provisions. This includes the PRO Act bill which was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives that would eliminate RTW laws enacted in 27 states. Nine states have already acted to adopt RTW constitutional amendments.
In addition, there are moves to repeal RTW laws at the state level. There is an effort in Virginia to abolish their law which has been on the books since 1947, the same year Tennessee enacted its law giving workers a choice.
The resolution must pass the General Assembly by a simple majority this year and by a two-thirds majority during the 2021 or 2022 legislative session in order to appear on the ballot for a statewide referendum in November 2022. The amendment will become part of the state constitution if adopted by a majority of votes cast in the governor’s election.
Senate Joint Resolution 648 by Kelsey, McNally, Johnson, Yager, Bailey, Watson, Bell, White, Powers, Rose, Roberts, Jackson, Stevens, Swann, Crowe, Haile, Bowling, Reeves, Gresham, Hensley, Briggs, Lundberg, Massey, Southerland / Signed by Speakers 6/30
Legislation levels the playing field for construction service providers – The 111th General Assembly approved legislation in 2020 to level the playing field with in-state and out-of-state construction service providers. Previously, an out-of-state contractor was not required to keep and maintain workers compensation insurance for employees who work on a temporary basis in Tennessee. However, this practice has been abused and given out-of-state employers an unfair advantage over those located in Tennessee. The new law requires all construction service employers to provide workers compensation insurance to employees in the same manner as in-state employers.
Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act passes – To ensure pregnant workers have reasonable accommodations in the workplace, the legislature approved the Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act during the 2020 legislative session. The new law sets a presumption that any reasonable accommodations provided for employees with medical conditions be extended to employees who are pregnant. It also establishes clear guidelines for employers and employees on how to navigate pregnancy in the workplace.
The legislation guarantees that if a pregnant woman talks with her doctor and needs a temporary reasonable accommodation to remain healthy and working, she will receive that accommodation unless it would be a hardship on the business. Examples of accommodations include a stool to sit on, extra restroom breaks, temporary limits on lifting, or even the availability of water. Increased access to water, reduced exposure to chemicals, decreased standing requirements and other reasonable accommodations will lessen a mother’s risk of going into an early labor, according to expert testimony heard in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee earlier this year.
Persons violated under provisions of the act can seek recourse by bringing a civil action in the appropriate court. Alternatively, the issue could also be resolved by the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act before going to court.
Senate Bill 2520 by Massey, Akbari, Dickerson, Gilmore, Crowe, Briggs, Yarbro / Public Chapter 745 / Effective Date: Section 1 of this act shall take effect October 1, 2020, but for all other purposes, it takes effect upon becoming law, with Sections 2 and 3 repealed on January 1, 2021
Legislation clarifies Workers Compensation law – The legislature approved a bill this year to clarify issues at the suggestion of the Court of Workers Compensation Claims and the Workers Compensation Appeals Board. The legislation puts a minimum 180-day period into place from “maximum medical improvement” to qualify for increased benefits if an injured worker is unable to return to work. It also reduces the minimum impairment rating from 10 percent to 9 percent for increased benefit eligibility in extraordinary cases, which provides up to 275 weeks of benefits. The measure requires that a final hearing must be held by the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims within 180 days of the date of a request for benefits from the Uninsured Employers Fund.
Legislation aims to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities -- Legislation that aims to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities was passed this year. The new law affects the Community Rehabilitation Agencies (CMRA) of Tennessee, a non-profit agency which advocates for increased opportunities for employment and advancement for Tennesseans with disabilities.
The agencies work with disabled Tennesseans and private businesses to fulfill state and local government contracts by employing people with disabilities. The legislation brings CMRA in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition regarding disabilities and ensures that affected workers receive at least minimum wage and the same benefits as other employees. It also enhances and expands competitive and integrated employment opportunities for Tennesseans with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Finally, the legislation sets up a mechanism for local approval for local contracts and cleans up state statutes to be consistent with current practices of the program and its advisory committee.
Business and Tax Equity
Legislation ensures marketplace facilitators collect sales tax on behalf of third party sellers – Legislation was approved requiring marketplace facilitators to remit Tennessee sales tax on behalf of third party sellers. The new statute requires the facilitators to collect taxes based on the address where the sale is shipped or where the taxable service is performed.
Marketplace facilitators are defined as persons that facilitate the sale of tangible personal property or taxable services for third party sellers through physical or electronic platforms, regardless of whether they receive a fee for their services, and collect the payment from purchasers and transmit it to the sellers. Some of these businesses are already collecting the tax.
The new law applies to those with sales exceeding $100,000 to consumers in Tennessee during the previous 12-month period under the budget implementation act. This threshold standard matches the benchmark which was upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark South Dakota v. Wayfair case regarding collection of online sales taxes.
Marketplace facilitator laws are currently in place in 40 of the 45 states that collect sales taxes.
Senate Bill 2182 by Johnson / Public Chapter 646 / Effective Date: October 1, 2020 / Senate Bill 2932(Budget Implementation Act) by Johnson, Stevens / Public Chapter 759/ Effective Date: July 1, 2020, provided, however, that any provision of this act which authorizes prior or immediate expenditures and any section or item which specifies an immediate effective date shall take effect upon becoming a law
New law incentivizes development of brownfield sites in Tennessee -- Legislation incentivizing the development of brownfield sites in Tennessee was approved during the 2020 session of the General Assembly. The new law lowers eligibility requirements for brownfield sites that qualify for a franchise and excise tax credit. This action will help rural communities attract new industry and promote the expansion of existing companies.
Brownfield sites are redeveloped land that may be tainted by hazardous materials, pollutants or contaminates. Currently, there are 2,012 brownfield sites across the state. Many properties in Tennessee, which were previously used as gas stations, drycleaners, factories or properties that could have contamination from unknown sources, qualify as brownfields. Cleaning up and reinvesting in these properties increases local tax bases, enables job growth and improves and protects the environment.
Previously, state law provided a 50 percent franchise and excise tax credit on the purchase of brownfield sites for a qualified development project, but the high eligibility requirements to receive the tax credit almost entirely prevented this incentive from being utilized. The legislation allows projects in Tier 3 and Tier 4, which are the state’s at-risk rural counties, to more frequently utilize the tax credit. This would be done by lowering the required capital investment from $25 million to $5 million; raising the amount of the tax credit from 50 percent to 75 percent; removing the acreage requirement; and allowing the community to begin remediation and pass the credit along to a company later.
The larger “Tier 1 and Tier 2” counties can also benefit from eligibility adjustments by removing the acreage requirement and allowing the community to begin remediation. They can also pass the credit along to a company later. The law becomes effective July 1.
Legislation updates and clarifies Tennessee’s Prompt Pay Act governing construction industry -- Legislation updating and clarifying Tennessee’s Prompt Pay Act governing payments between contractors, subcontractors and lenders was approved during the 2020 session of the Tennessee General Assembly. It helps ensure fair procedures are in place for contractors and subcontractors to recover payment for work completed under a contract, including adequate timing, notice, and penalty provisions.
The legislation is the result of numerous negotiations between representatives in the construction and banking industries over the past two years.
The new law clarifies that all contractors may recover construction proceeds through an equitable action; sets interest rates for late payment in line with those applicable to the State of Tennessee purchases; and introduces a “stop work” notice procedure to allow contractors and subcontractors to stop work when they are not paid per the contract agreement. It also provides a “Demand for Reasonable Assurances” to ensure the owner has obtained sufficient funding to pay for all labor and materials on a project.
Finally, the legislation clarifies the construction statute of repose applies to litigation and arbitration and affirms that limitations of liability do not violate public policy.
Bill modernizing banking and financial institution regulations becomes law -- Legislation modernizing regulations for financial and banking institutions became law this year. The new statute decreases from permanently to seven years the length of time that a bank must maintain some records; requires documentation of funds deposited to an account held by spouses if the funds are held in tenancy in entirety; removes the sunset provision of the elderly and vulnerable adult financial exploitation prevention act; and removes residency requirement for bank directors. Other changes include removing certain requirement for out-of-state banks to establish or acquire branches in Tennessee, removing certain residency requirements for state directors. and requiring stockholder meetings regarding mergers of state banks must be publicized in the newspaper.
Legislation helps Tennessee businesses realize cost savings when raising capital – The 111th General Assembly voted this year to align Tennessee’s securities law with federal law, a move that will help businesses in the state realize cost savings when raising capital. The new law expands the exemption from registration requirements through the Securities Division of the Department of Commerce and Insurance (DCI) for the sale of any security in this state to include recently amended federal rules for intrastate offerings.
Banking and trust laws improved under legislation passed this year – Legislation improving the state’s banking and trust laws were approved this year. Under previous law, the commissioner of the Department of Financial Institutions kept written agreements entered into with banks confidential, but federal agreements were disclosed to the public. This new law authorizes the public disclosure at the commissioner’s discretion of any written agreement jointly issued to a bank by the commissioner and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), or the Federal Reserve.
In addition, the legislation makes a change to private trust companies. It allows a trust to hire an outside individual or entity to act as trustee to manage family private trust companies. Previously, it could only be a family member, causing hardship if there is not a qualified person to manage the trust.
Senate Bill 2165 by Johnson / Public Chapter 581 / Effective Date: Upon becoming law on March 19, 2020
New law making money transmitting safer is enacted – State lawmakers have approved legislation to make money transmitting safer in the digital age by changing and updating provisions in Tennessee’s Money Transmitter Act of 1994. The measure redefines a key shareholder of a money transmitting entity to include persons owning 10 percent or more of the applicants stock, rather than the 25 percent previously. It also authorizes the commissioner to require money transmitters to submit quarterly reports to the multi-state automated licensing system. In addition, the legislation authorizes the commissioner to require a criminal records check and finger print sample from executive officers, key shareholders or the director of the applicant as well as any other individual associated with the applicant as reasonably necessary.
Legislation addresses regulation of emerging peer-to-peer car sharing -- Legislation was approved before the close of the 2020 session of the Tennessee General Assembly which sets up a regulatory process for the emerging peer-to-peer car sharing industry. The measure aims to encourage the advancement of such new technologies, while putting guardrails around it to ensure consumers are protected and tax equity is applied.
Car sharing allows private car owners to rent out their vehicle via an online and mobile interface. Online platforms accommodate such transactions similar to the way Airbnb facilitates peer-to-peer home rentals and Uber and Lyft operate ridesharing services through an application. The highest profile company facilitating car sharing is Turo.
The legislation sets minimum insurance requirements and specifies which party’s policy is responsible for the coverage during the duration of the ride sharing period. It also requires peer-to-peer car sharing companies to have an agreement with an airport before executing transactions there like those required of other vendors. In addition, it clarifies car sharing companies operating above the $100,000 threshold are subject to the state’s new marketplace facilitator law and are collecting and remitting sales taxes.
Senate Bill 2207 by Johnson / Public Chapter 796 / Effective Date: Section 4 of this act takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on October 1, 2020, the public welfare requiring it. Sections 3, 5, and 6 of this act take effect on January 1, 2021. All remaining sections of this act take effect upon becoming a law on July 15, 2020
Pilot program allows personal delivery devices on walkways — A bill allowing delivery robots to operate at low speeds on sidewalks and crosswalks in a pilot program in Tennessee has been approved by the Tennessee General Assembly. The robots won’t be able to exceed 10 miles per hour and must be equipped with a braking system to come to a controlled stop. The robots have sensors that stop them when approaching a person, animal, or item. They would only operate in pedestrian areas and must be clearly marked, including contact information. The new law does not preempt local governments’ ability to regulate the personnel delivery devices if necessary for public safety.
Taxpayers / Consumers
Legislation updates and clarifies property tax appeals process – State lawmakers approved legislation to make government work better for taxpayers by updating and clarifying the property tax appeals process. The new law standardizes appeals to the State Board of Equalization. It expands to all counties the option to appeal commercial and industrial property valuations directly to the State Board with the consent of the local assessor. It also defines key terms related to tax payments on properties that are being appealed to reduce confusion and unnecessary expenses that could occur for both the taxpayer and the county. Finally, the new statute clarifies that once an initial order has been filed by a judge, an appeal can no longer be withdrawn.
Consumer insurance protections become law—Legislation was adopted prohibiting a person from creating false certificates of property or insurance documents which contain untrue or misleading information. The new law prohibits third parties from using certificates to alter insurance term policies. It addresses problems which have arisen of third-parties attempting to request and use certificates to expand or alter the terms of the underlying policy.
A certificate of insurance is an informational document that shows a good faith snapshot of a party’s coverage at a certain time. It is not the insurance policy and cannot alter or amend the underlying policy it represents. Clarifying that definition of insurance certificates and insurance policies will help curb third-party vendors from misleading consumers.
Bill to allow beer for grocery store curbside pickup passes -- Legislation was approved this year to allow grocery store customers the option to add beer to their online cart for curbside pickup in the store parking lot. Curbside pickup for wine is already legal in Tennessee. The beer must be brought to the customer’s car in the store’s parking lot, the store employee must be 18 years of age and confirm that the purchaser is 21 years or older, and the beer sold must be pulled from the inventory in the store. The legislation, which ensures consistency among local jurisdictions statewide, has no impact on the state’s delivery law regarding beer sales. Online grocery orders have increased tenfold since the onset of COVID-19 epidemic.
New law ensures consumer energy choices are not limited by local governments – Tennessee lawmakers approved legislation to ensure consumers’ energy choices are not limited by local governments. The new law prohibits local governments from connecting or reconnecting a utility service based on the type or source of energy to be delivered to an individual customer.
In recent years, there has been a movement to limit the types of energy people use to heat their homes and offices, particularly aimed at natural gas. These limitations have occurred in states across the country despite the fact natural gas has played a role in reducing greenhouse gasses and emissions in the U.S.
Legislation calls for labeling meat and poultry products produced in the state as “Tennessee Raised” – Legislation was approved during the 2020 legislative session which calls for labeling meat produced in the state as ‘Tennessee raised.’ The federal government repealed the Country of Origin Labeling Act (COOL Act) and replaced it with labeling meat as a ‘product of the USA. This means meat sold in Tennessee may come from any country in the world but as long as it is repackaged in the United States it would be allowed to have that label. The new law aims to help give consumers transparency regarding production of local meat and poultry products. Buying local also helps Tennessee farmers.
Legislation adds protections for agritoursim – State lawmakers approved legislation to add protections for owners of agritourism businesses. Agritourism is a commercial enterprise at a working farm, ranch, or agricultural plant conducted for the enjoyment of visitors that generates supplemental income for the owner. It is a big part of Tennessee’s tourism industry and can include activities such as pumpkin patches, corn mazes, petting zoos, and weddings. The new law ensures that an owner of an agritourism business is not liable for damage of a participant’s property caused by inherent risks of agritourism activities. Farms and agritourism operate under unique circumstances and require immunity from liability to protect agritourism professionals.
Tennessee Equine Health Advisory Commission created under new law — The Tennessee General Assembly voted this year to create an advisory council to study best practices for equine health. The council will look at a trend in emerging equine diseases. Tennessee is sixth in the nation with equine population, and has a $1.4 billion direct and indirect impact to the state. The equine industry employs over 20,000 people according to the University of Tennessee Agriculture research. Members of the commission will not be compensated by state funds.
Arson definition expanded to farm equipment by lawmakers—The definition of arson has been expanded to include damage to farm equipment under a new law passed this year. It expands the offense of arson to include a person who knowingly damages farm equipment by means of a fire or explosion. Previously, damage to farming equipment was not covered.
New law aims to strengthen integrity of Tennessee’s voting process -- The General Assembly has approved a new law strengthening the integrity of Tennessee’s voting process, as well as making the system more flexible in times of emergency. It establishes that counties using an electronic ballot marking system or ballot-on-demand technology do not have to fasten paper ballots and ballot stubs together in books so that each ballot may be detached and removed separately.
Previously, state law required ballots used in ballot marking devices or systems have preprinted numbered stubs. The new statute eliminates that requirement, with changes ensuring that voters’ choices remain confidential.
The legislation also prohibits immediate family members of a candidate on the ballot or employees who work directly under the supervision of a candidate from serving as election officials.
To further ensure flexibility in times of emergency, the legislation allows for the movement of polling places due to an emergency.
Legislation stiffens penalties for cyber-attacks on the voting process – Legislation passed this year which aims to prevent cyber-hacking of the election process and the intentional spreading of misinformation that can disenfranchise voters by creating confusion. The new law adds and strengthens penalties for those who intentionally try to disrupt the election process.
The legislation makes it a Class E felony to provide or publish false or misleading information about who can vote, how to vote, or when and where to vote, when the person has intent to deceive by disseminating information which they know to be incorrect. The statute also expands the existing prohibition on tampering with a voting machine to include more aspects of the process from voter registration to election results. In addition, it makes it a Class D felony to attack, tamper, or interfere with the voting machines, electronic poll books, vote counting software, voter registration databases, ballot boxes, county or state election websites, and the election results reporting system.
The legislation was reviewed by the District Attorneys General Conference and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Cybercrime Division.
Legislation addresses voter registration and cybersecurity -- The General Assembly passed legislation ensuring voter registration drives operate successfully in Tennessee, while addressing recent court actions. The measure repeals all of the provisions of the law passed last year that were put on hold by the federal court.
Under the new law, training is no longer required before a voter drive is conducted; the distinction between paid and unpaid drives is removed; there are no criminal penalties in the bill; and it removes the potential misdemeanors. All provisions related to incomplete forms and any associated civil penalties have also been removed.
In their place, the new statute contains protections to ensure voters are timely registered and not disenfranchised by the untimely submission of forms through voter registration drives. The Division of Elections will now be providing voluntary training to voter registration drive organizers.
In addition, the deadline to turn in forms is extended from 10 to days to 15 days or the voter registration deadline, whichever comes first. The purpose of this requirement is so voters will not be disenfranchised because of the tardiness of the person who has taken on the responsibility of timely submitting the form. Numerous states have an even tighter period, including California which only allows three days.
The bill protects personal information by making organizers ask for permission if they intend to sell a person’s data for commercial purposes. People attempting to register to vote should be able to do so without fear their data is being collected for commercial telemarketers.
Civil penalties of up to $50 per violation would only apply when an organizer turns in forms more than 15 days or after the registration deadline, misuses a voter’s personal information, or
sets quotas for people collecting forms or pays per form collected. This provision discourages individuals from turning in fake forms in order to meet a required number.
The new law also combats misinformation by requiring someone who publishes wrong information about such things as voter registration or when and where to vote to notify election officials of their mistake once they realize the error. Knowing the misinformation is out there will help election officials get the right facts out in an effort to not disenfranchise voters. This allows help for any well-meaning effort to hopefully remedy any issues from this misinformation.
Legislation helps THDA low interest loan program serve first-time homebuyers and veterans – Legislation to increase the Tennessee Housing Development Authority’s (THDA) Great Choice Mortgage Program’s debt limit was approved this year. The program, which uses tax-exempt bonds to make low-interest mortgages to first-time homebuyers and veterans, was created to make homeownership more available and affordable for Tennesseans.
The Tennessee General Assembly has increased the debt limit for the Great Choice Mortgage Program 12 times since 1973, recognizing the value of the program. In 2019, the Great Choice Mortgage Program issued 4,500 mortgages to new homebuyer and veterans. The program is expected to reach its $2.9 billion debt limit in early 2020. The legislation raises the maximum aggregate principal amount for which the agency may issue bonds to $4 billion.
New law promotes affordable mixed-income rental housing – Legislation was approved authorizing housing authorities to take necessary actions to develop projects that promote affordable mixed-income rental housing by seeking financial assistance from private sources or state and federal programs. The new law clarifies that the alternative financing structures are legal in the context of affordable mixed income housing developments. This action provides financial partnerships with confidence that their investments in housing developments as part of a redevelopment project are protected.
The legislation clarifies and modernizes state law to reflect many new changes in the housing market. One such change is that the financing of affordable housing has become increasingly reliant upon joint ventures and public-private partnerships. It also recognizes the diversity of affordable housing and the many ways in which it is financed. These changes will help housing authorities and development corporations feel more secure in their investments, especially when recruiting outside investors. Overall, the legislation helps housing authorities in Tennessee stretch available state and federal dollars by doing private partnerships and ensuring that such joint ventures are explicitly authorized under Tennessee law.
New law seeks to support veterans in crisis -- Legislation seeking to support and protect Tennessee veterans was given final approval by the General Assembly. It requires the Department of Veterans Services (DVS) to provide training in suicide prevention to their employees who directly interact with veterans. The training is available free of charge to DVS through suicide prevention networks, with the goal of getting these veterans the help they need to save lives.
Resolution declares June 12 as Women Veterans Day — A resolution paying recognition to women veterans was approved during the 2020 legislative session. It declares June 12, 2020 as Women Veterans Day. By memorializing the day, the resolution seeks to honor the sacrifices made by approximately 45,000 women veterans in Tennessee. “We owe an inexpressible debt to our female veterans, and today we ask that their spirit never be forgotten,” the resolution states.
House Joint Resolution 831 by Powers / Signed by Governor June 7, 2020
Legislation ensures World War II Veterans can have their military service indicated on their driver’s license -- Legislation was approved by the General Assembly to ensure that World War II veterans can have their military service indicated on their driver’s license or photo identification card. Currently to receive the acknowledgement, veterans must provide a certified copy of their Department of Defense form 214 (DD 214) showing dates of service and that the applicant received an honorable discharge. This certification process, however, did not take into consideration World War II veterans whose service pre-dated implementation of the DD 214 paperwork.
Effective July 1, the new law corrected this error by allowing honorably discharged veterans whose service pre-dates the form to utilize an AGO Form 53-55 or NAVPERS 553 as documentation, continuing the state’s long-held tradition of acknowledging and honoring our World War II veterans.
State and Local Governments / State Employees / Public Records / Government Efficiency
New law addresses harassment of state employees – A new law passed by the General Assembly authorizes the Tennessee Attorney General to seek an injunction on behalf of a state employee against a person who commits harassment against them. Under this circumstance harassment would be defined as two or more instances of contact, serving no legitimate purpose and directed at a state employee in connection with that person’s status as a state employee. The contact must be considered alarming, threatening, intimidating, abusive or emotionally distressing and does or reasonably could interfere with the performance of an employee’s duty. This change ensures that state employees are granted the same protections as county, municipal or metropolitan government employees. This law also clarifies that activities such as political speech are still protected.
New law authorizes TDOC to contribute funds for funeral services if correctional employee is killed in the line of duty -- The legislature voted this year to authorize the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Correction (DOC) to contribute state funds of up to $2,000 toward the burial and funeral expenses of any correctional employee killed in the line of duty. Last year, Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) Administrator Debra Johnson was murdered in the line of duty by an inmate while on duty at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary.
Legislation lowers minimum years of service for retirement for correctional officers, emergency services personnel -- Legislators voted this year to approve legislation that reduces the minimum number of creditable service years required for a correctional officer or emergency medical services personnel to retire from 30 to 25. If the employee chooses to retire at 25 years it would be with some reduced benefits.
Legislation calls for transparency in public records – A new law was passed during the 2020 legislative session which puts in place new provisions and penalties for governmental entities that purposefully destroy documents to avoid a public records request. It requires that written and electronic documents that could be subject to a public records request be kept at minimum 12 months.
The transparency legislation provides that prior to authorizing the destruction of public records, a governmental entity must contact the public record request coordinator to ensure the records subject to destruction are not pending public record requests. Those found in violation of these provisions can be charged with a fine of up to $500. The measure also authorizes certain persons to seek injunctive relief through a court of competent jurisdiction.
Contingency plan for state agencies keeps Tennessee on track with fiscal conservatism -- The General Assembly took action to add TennCare to the list of 23 state agencies required to prepare contingency plans in the event there is a reduction in funds from the federal government. This requirement was put into place in 2019 so that agencies can be prepared to give a report on the impact a reduction in federal funds would have to those state agencies.
The agencies must develop plans for a five percent, 25 percent and 100 percent reduction in federal receipts. This law helps keep the state on track to govern with fiscal conservatism and prepare any economic downturns.
Obsolete laws repealed under legislation to improve TCA efficiently—State lawmakers took action this year to approve legislation to clean up Tennessee’s code (TCA) by repealing obsolete laws in an ongoing effort to ensure greater efficiently. The measure repeals the 1988 County Bounty Act, which was intended to incentivize counties to pursue aggressive drug trafficking enforcement but was never funded or implemented. Removing obsolete or non-functioning laws cleans up the statutes and ensures greater efficiency.
Legislature continues several key departments and agencies of state government after Government Operations Committees conduct sunset reviews -- Government efficiency was on the 2020 legislative agenda as the General Assembly’s Government Operations Committees reviewed numerous departments and agencies of state government as part of the sunset review process. Sunset refers to the automatic termination of a government department, agency or program at the end of a specified time period unless it is reauthorized by the legislature. Upon review, the committee holds the government entity accountable to its mission and the expenditure of taxpayer dollars, and can put into place certain requirements for continuance to meet those goals. The committee provides oversight to 260 agencies of government which come under sunset review on a rotating basis to keep government effective, efficient and right sized.
Some key departments reviewed and continued this year were the Department of Corrections, Department of Finance and Administration, Department of General Services, Department of Intellectual Disabilities, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Department of Transportation and Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
In addition, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) was continued as it provided vital services important to recover from the tornadoes that hit the state in March and April and the COVID-19 pandemic. These continuations are in addition to several state key compacts, commissions and advisory councils.
Resolution ratifies recommendation to shore up Emergency 911 fund -- The General Assembly ratified rules proposed by the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board to increase the 911 surcharge collected by dealers of communication service in order to shore up the fund. The Board proposed the rules last August to meet increasing demand. The resolution states that in Tennessee, “all citizens and visitors and businesses rely on and benefit from the life-saving power of and essential public service that is 911.”
Senate Joint Resolution 836 by Bowling, Bailey, Yager, Massey, Briggs, Johnson, Pody
Legislation aids in fight against food insecurity -- A new law passed this year which aims to encourage the donation of food and grocery products to nonprofit organizations for distribution to needy individuals. It aligns Tennessee’s donor liability protection standard with the federal standard of gross negligence.
The measure explicitly allows liability protection for the donation of past-date foods and extends liability protection to individuals and organizations that donate directly to individuals for personal use, as long as the food is apparently wholesome and fit for human consumption at the time of distribution. This action, in turn, reduces unnecessary waste in Tennessee landfills. Under the legislation, donated food must also meet the standards of the Tennessee Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The new statute helps in efforts to address food insecurity in Tennessee, which is especially helpful during times of economic uncertainty. According to a study from Feeding America, one in seven Tennesseans, and one in five children, is considered food insecure. Over 40 percent of all food produced in the United States goes to waste, of which 98 percent goes to landfills.
General Assembly acts to officially recognize Volunteer State nickname -- The General Assembly acted this year to embed into state law the nickname Tennessee has enjoyed since 1812 as the “Volunteer State.” It honors the state’s heritage and inspires future generations to answer the call to service. The Volunteer State moniker dates back to the War of 1812 because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee. It also refers to the state’s response to President Polk’s call for 2,600 volunteers at the beginning of the Mexican-American War which resulted in 30,000 volunteering from Tennessee alone.
Senate Bill 1552 / Massey, Jackson, Akbari, Bell, Bowling, Briggs, Crowe, Dickerson, Gardenhire, Gilmore, Gresham, Haile, Hensley, Johnson, Kelsey, Kyle, Lundberg, Pody, Powers, Reeves, Roberts, Rose, Stevens, Swann, Watson, White, Yager, Yarbro, Mr. Speaker McNally / Public Chapter 516 / Effective Date: Upon becoming law on February 21, 2020
Women’s Suffrage Day recognized under new law -- August 18th of each year will be recognized as Women’s Suffrage Day under legislation which was approved by state lawmakers this year. The Tennessee General Assembly played a critical role in granting women the right to vote. On August 18, 1920 Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment. Rep. Harry T. Burn changed his vote breaking a tie in the House of Representatives making history for the state and the entire country. This year’s celebration marks the centennial of the amendment.
Senate Bill 2635 by White, Kyle, Gilmore, Akbari, Robinson, Bowling, Gresham, Massey, Bell, Yager, Bailey, Briggs, Crowe, Gardenhire, Haile, Hensley, Jackson, Johnson, Kelsey, Lundberg, Niceley, Pody, Powers, Reeves, Roberts, Rose, Southerland, Stevens, Watson, Yarbro, McNally / Public Chapter 709 / Effective Date: Upon becoming law on June 22, 2020
Resolution allows voters to repeal unconstitutional prohibition on ministers serving in the legislature -- A resolution allowing voters to change Tennessee’s constitution to remove a 1796 provision ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1978 was approved. Article IX, Section 1 prohibits ministers of the Gospel, or priests of any denomination, from serving in the Tennessee General Assembly. Many ministers have served in the General Assembly since the prohibition was overturned. The resolution seeks to put the State Constitution in line with current practice ensuring that the spiritual church leaders may serve Tennessee in the State Legislature.
Senate Joint Resolution 178 by Pody, Kelsey, White, Rose / Signed by Speakers 6/30
New law extends where elected officials can carry handguns with a valid permit while in the discharge of officials duties – A measure to extend where local elected officials with valid handgun carry permits are allowed to carry a firearm in the discharge of their official duties was passed by the General Assembly. The new law allows any elected official of a county or municipality, not just a commissioner, to carry a firearm inside a building in which judicial proceedings are in progress, but not in the room where judicial proceedings are taking place. It also applies to county attorneys.
Resolution calls for federal action to secure citizenship for adult adoptees -- Members of the General Assembly approved a resolution asking Congress and President Trump to enact federal legislation securing the citizenship of internationally adopted adults. This action would prevent the possibility of deportation for adult adoptees due to non-completion of the naturalization process by their adoptive parents while they were children.
The federal Child Citizenship Act of 2000 aimed to protect children adopted internationally by U.S. citizens by granting them citizenship. However, when the act became law, it did not apply to internationally born adoptees over the age of eighteen. As a result, an alarming number of adoptees who were born before February 27, 1982 and raised in the U. S. do not have U.S. citizenship if their parents did not complete necessary processes to provide their adopted children with citizenship. There are an estimated 18,000 Korean American adoptees alone who do not have American citizenship, despite having been legally adopted. The resolution calls for parity so that all children adopted by U.S. citizen parents will have the same rights as children of U.S. citizens.
Senate Joint Resolution 832 by Haile / Signed by Governor 6/12
New law allows assistants of disabled persons to offer aid for fishing and hunting without a license—Legislation was approved this year specifying that a sportsman’s license is not required in order to assist a person with a disability who is fishing or hunting under an exemption provided by state law. The new law was introduced after a person received a citation for not obtaining a fishing license to help a disabled person fish. The purpose of the legislation is to establish a designation that will enable the TWRA employee to be able to clearly distinguish between those present as helpers and those who are fishing without a license.
Memphis Zoo / Alcohol Sales – Legislation to allow alcohol and beer to be sold on the premises of the Memphis Zoo during regular operating hours passed the General Assembly. Previously, alcohol sales at the Memphis Zoo were limited to only the sale of beer at fundraisers or special events upon receiving a permit. This change brings the Memphis Zoo in line with other Zoos across the state allowing alcohol sales.
New museum building named “Bill Haslam Center” -- The 111th General Assembly approved legislation renaming the new building which houses the Tennessee State Museum as the Bill Haslam Center. The museum was previously located in the lower level of the War Memorial Building until it was moved into the new James K. Polk Center in 1981. It remained there for more than 35 years until 2015 when Gov. Haslam proposed a new home for the museum on the northwest corner of the Bicentennial Mall in Nashville. The General Assembly approved funds in 2015 to build the new 137,000 square foot facility with additional funding raised through private contributions. Highlights of the museum include six exhibitions, a children’s gallery, interactive tables and screens, and documentary films. A second-floor veranda overlooks Bicentennial Mall with views of the state Capitol and downtown Nashville.