April 11, 2024 Legislative Update

Legislation gives highly-trained school staff option to carry a concealed firearm to protect schools.

The Senate passed legislation this week to give approved teachers with specialty training more tools to protect themselves and their students from an active shooter. Senate Bill 1325, sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), would allow authorized, full-time school faculty and staff to carry a concealed weapon on campus if certain strict requirements are met.

A faculty or staff member who qualifies to carry a concealed firearm at school must be approved by three different authorities: the principal, the director of schools, and the chief of the local law enforcement agency. If approved, that faculty or staff member must train alongside local law enforcement to complete at least 40 hours of POST-certified, hands-on training specific to school policing every year. In addition, the trained staff must pass a psychological evaluation, background check,  and possess a valid Tennessee handgun carry permit.

“Due to a shortage of law enforcement officers, we have over 500 schools in Tennessee without a school resource officer, despite available funding,” said Bailey. “This leaves schools vulnerable to deadly attacks, particularly in rural communities where it might take law enforcement 15 to 30 minutes to respond to an active shooter. In the Nashville Covenant School shooting, law enforcement’s rapid response saved lives. In many rural communities, that type of rapid response from law enforcement is simply not possible. This legislation seeks to close that gap by providing a pathway for qualified school staff to carry a firearm to defend their school if necessary.”

The legislation is permissive, meaning it is up to each school to determine if it wants to allow faculty or staff to carry a weapon.

Senate Bill 1325 now moves to Governor Lee for his signature before becoming law.

Republicans pass penalties for abortion trafficking

Senate Republicans this week reaffirmed their commitment to protecting the unborn and passed legislation to make abortion trafficking of a minor a Class A misdemeanor.

Senate Bill 1971, sponsored by Senator Paul Rose (R-Covington), seeks to protect parental rights and stop adults who attempt to circumvent the state’s current abortion law by helping to facilitate an abortion for a minor without parental consent.

“In this state we have taken a strong pro-life position on abortion, and this legislation upholds our pro-life, pro-family and pro-parent values,” said Rose. “The bill makes clear that unless a parent approves, another adult cannot take a minor across state lines to receive an abortion.”

Republicans in the General Assembly in 2019 laid the groundwork to ensure life is protected at conception in Tennessee should the U.S. Supreme Court ever reverse its decision to legalize abortion. The General Assembly that year passed the Human Life Protection Act, a conditional trigger law written to go into effect 30 days following the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade.

When the high court overturned its 1973 decision on June 24, 2022, the Human Life Protection Act became law and automatically prohibited all elective abortions in Tennessee.

Legislation provides additional protections for parental rights in medical decisions

Legislation to prioritize parental rights and further protect Tennessee children from prohibited medical procedures passed the Senate floor this week.

Senate Bill 2782, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) seeks to stop anyone from knowingly taking a minor across state lines without parental consent in order for the minor to receive a medical procedure prohibited in Tennessee. Under the legislation, any adult who recruits, harbors or transports a minor for a restricted medical procedure could be charged with a Class C felony and held civilly liable by the child’s parent or legal guardian under the proposed legislation.

The companion House bill is still moving through committee.

Tennessee Senate passes bill allowing death penalty for child rapists

The Senate advanced legislation to increase the penalty for child rapists in Tennessee. Senate Bill 1834, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), would expand the death penalty to defendants convicted of child rape.

“There is nothing more vicious or more heinous than the rape of a child,” said Senator Yager. “We are protecting children by allowing the death penalty for this horrible crime.”

The legislation will strengthen existing state law by increasing the penalty for rape or aggravated rape of a child to death, life in prison without the possibility of parole, or life in prison. Current law classifies the offense as a Class A felony punishable as either a Range III offense, which carries a sentence of 40-60 years in prison or a Range II offense of 25-40 years in prison.

The proposal builds on the General Assembly’s efforts in recent years to improve public safety, reduce recidivism rates, and hold criminals accountable through smart-on-crime justice reforms. The General Assembly in 2022 passed truth in sentencing laws that increased penalties for the most violent of crimes and now requires offenders to serve 85-100 percent of their sentences. 

Senate Bill 1834 passed the Senate floor this week and is still moving through committee in the House of Representatives.

Protecting Children from Social Media Act passes Senate

It is vital to ensure the safety and well-being of Tennessee youth in the digital age. With the exponential growth of social media platforms, the Protecting Children from Social Media Act, sponsored by Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), aims to safeguard children from harmful content found on social media platforms.

“The evidence is clear: social media has harmful effects on children, teens and young adults,” said Johnson. “Oftentimes young children create social media accounts without their parent's knowledge or consent. The unsupervised use of social media by children is not only inappropriate but can be potentially harmful to those children. This legislation puts parents back in the driver’s seat of their children’s social media usage. It lays out clear steps social media companies must take to verify the ages of users to protect Tennessee children and empower parents.”

The bill would require social media companies to verify the age of any individual creating an account on their platform. If the account holder is a minor, the company must obtain express consent from the parent or guardian for the account creation.

Additionally, the bill would require social media companies to provide parents and guardians with account restriction options for their children. These restrictions include privacy settings, daily time restrictions, and implemented breaks from the platform.

Senate Bill 2097 passed the Senate and House floor and now moves to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

Bill to protect children from accessing pornography online passes Senate

As part of ongoing efforts to protect children from inappropriate materials, the Senate passed  legislation this week that aims to shield kids from the harmful effects of pornography.

Senate Bill 1972, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), seeks to restrict children from accessing sexually explicit adult content by requiring online media companies and operators to verify that users attempting to access pornographic websites are at least 18 years old.

Known as the Protect Tennessee Minors Act, the bill would require companies to match a photograph of an active user to a photograph on a valid form of identification issued in the United States.

The legislation creates a Class C felony for website owners and operators who violate the proposed law. The Tennessee Department of Homeland Security would be responsible for enforcing compliance with the law, which goes into effect January 1, 2025.

A national survey by Common Sense Media cited 73 percent of teen respondents aged 13-17 had watched pornography online. Fifty-four percent reported first watching pornography online before age 13.

The bill passed the Senate floor on Tuesday and now awaits passage in the House.

Tennessee Disability and Aging Act signed into law

On Thursday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed the Tennessee Disability and Aging Act, legislation that merges Tennessee’s Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) and Commission on Aging and Disability (TCAD), creating a new Department of Disability and Aging (DDA). The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), received unanimous, bipartisan legislative support and was backed by numerous stakeholders.

“The consolidation of these government agencies will enhance coordination and advocacy for all Tennesseans to live and age with as much independence and dignity as possible,” said Leader Johnson. “I appreciate Governor Lee for his commitment to ensuring our government operates efficiently while also providing better services to our citizens.”

Adults 65 years and older are the fastest-growing demographic in Tennessee. With a rapidly increasing aging population, the state must ensure it has the infrastructure in place to serve the needs of older adults.

“The merging of the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities with the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability is an advantageous step in ensuring all Tennesseans can live and age with independence,” said Massey.  “I was pleased to sponsor this legislation so both individuals with disabilities and our seniors can be represented by a Commissioner and Department that totally focuses on issues and services important to them. I am confident the newly formed Department of Disability and Aging will offer exceptional service and provide a voice for these valued citizens.”

TCAD is Tennessee’s federally designated “state unit on aging,” currently overseeing Older Americans Act programs and providing leadership relative to aging issues throughout state government. Tennessee is one of two states that did not previously house its “state unit on aging” within a cabinet-level agency.

Additionally, there are many similarities in the supports and services DIDD and TCAD provide to enhance the quality of life and independence of the populations they serve. Unifying these two agencies will provide for better coordination on areas of shared priorities.

Legislation penalizes false reports of active shooter

The Senate passed legislation this week to increase protections against the intentional false reporting of emergencies in Tennessee, often referred to as “swatting.”

Senate Bill 2222, sponsored by Senator Adam Lowe (R-Calhoun), would make it a Class C felony to knowingly make a false report of an active shooter and hostage situation in order to draw a large law enforcement response to a specific location.

It is already illegal under state law to intentionally make a false report regarding a past, present or future bombing or fire.

The legislation now moves to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

Opposing US participation in WHO Pandemic Accord

In May 2024, the World Health Organization (WHO) Pandemic Prevention Preparedness and Response Accord (PPPRA) will become binding upon the United States. Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) passed Senate Joint Resolution 1135 on the Senate floor this week which urges the Biden Administration to withdraw the United States from the PPPRA. There is concern that United States involvement in the accord would relinquish national and state power to an international organization with no accountability to the American people.

“The United States and Tennessee should not be beholden to a binding agreement set forth by an international organization,” said Senator Pody.

The resolution strongly opposes the United States cooperation in this accord. The resolution passed the Senate this week and awaits House concurrence.

In brief…

Election integrity - Senator Brent Taylor (R-Memphis) is sponsoring Senate Bill 2586 which will protect the integrity of elections in Tennessee. The bill will prohibit a convicted felon from handling or collecting voter applications in a voter registration drive. It also ensures that a person involved in the voter registration drive cannot alter an application without the applicant’s consent. This change in law will bring more integrity to election registration and survive court scrutiny.

Punishing illegal distribution of obscene material – Senator Paul Rose (R-Covington) passed legislation on the Senate floor to ensure anyone who produces and distributes illegal obscene material can be held civilly liable for injuries and damages to an injured party. Individuals and entities who produce, sell, send, or distribute obscene material are already in violation of state and federal law. Senate Bill 2041 will further discourage the production and distribution of pornography and obscenity in Tennessee. The bill now sits on the Governor’s desk and awaits his signature.

Month of prayer and fasting - The Senate chamber passed House Joint Resolution 803, sponsored by Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon), which designates July as a time of prayer and fasting in Tennessee. Those who are physically able and spiritually inclined to do so are encouraged to participate. The 30 days of prayer and fasting coincides with the start of the state’s 2024-25 fiscal year. HJR 803 now moves to the Governor’s desk and awaits his signature.

Threats of violence - The Senate floor passed legislation this week strengthening the punishment for threatening to commit mass violence on school property or at a school-related activity in Tennessee.

Senate Bill 2263, sponsored by Senator Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) would increase the crime from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony. The legislation includes an exception for individuals with an intellectual disability. The bill now awaits the Governor’s signature. If approved, the new law would take effect July 1.

Mitigating threats of violence on school property - Senator John Stevens (R-Huntington) is sponsoring Senate Bill 1501 which will give law enforcement another tool to stop students from threatening violence on school property. The proposed language will clarify the definition of school property and add “student” to existing “communicating a threat” language which currently only applies to school employees. The bill passed the Senate floor on Tuesday and now sits on the Governor's desk and awaits his signature.

Increasing protections from bullying and cyberbullying - Legislation passed on the Senate floor this week to further protect students in Tennessee from bullying and cyberbullying. Senate Bill 1887, sponsored by Senator Adam Lowe (R-Calhoun), would classify the crimes as forms of harassment and require an officer who has knowledge of bullying or cyberbullying to make a report of the incident and notify the parent or guardian when the victim is a minor. The bill now sits on the Governor’s desk and awaits his signature.

Juvenile offenders - The Senate this week passed legislation that would require a child admitted to a juvenile detention facility to be allowed at least one phone call per day before being adjudicated. Senate Bill 2507, sponsored by Johnson, would also require an alleged juvenile offender to receive one half hour in-person visit per day with a parent or guardian. By requiring quick parental access to juvenile offenders, the bill will help affected families and create consistency in juvenile detention center rules.

Protecting Tennessee businesses - Senate Bill 2898, sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) would protect the investments of Tennessee businesses operating at the permission of a local government from arbitrarily losing their license to operate. Members of the entertainment transportation industry must comply with expensive, long-term regulations which cost the companies millions of dollars such as enclosing the vehicles, insurance requirements, etc. Senate Bill 2898 would protect these investments and ensure a government that has enacted and enforced these expensive regulations cannot then take away the license from companies that remain in compliance.

Alcohol sales at salons - Legislation sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) will allow barbershops and salons to sell alcoholic beverages to their customers. Current law allows the distribution of alcohol in these retail businesses but not the sale of it. Senate Bill 2506 passed the Senate on Monday and now moves to the House.

Public transparency on status of criminal cases - Senator Brent Taylor (R-Memphis) is sponsoring Senate Bill 2556 which will require the District Attorneys Conference to report annually the charges and convictions that occurred within the year. The bill aims to increase transparency with regard to crime across the state. The report will include the charges, sentences imposed, plea deals and much more information on the status of cases. The reports will be submitted to the governor, the Speaker of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, and the appropriate committee chairmen. The bill passed the Senate floor this week and awaits the Governor's signature.

Parentage fraud restitution - Senator Jon Lundberg is sponsoring Senate Bill 2551 which will create a pathway for restitution for victims of parentage fraud. In the event that a person is convicted of falsely leading a person into believing they are the biological parent of a child, then the judge or jury must ascertain the value of any child support paid by the victim in reliance upon the parentage fraud. The court will also order the defendant to pay the victim restitution of that value of child support. The bill passed the Senate floor this week and awaits the Governor's signature.

Failure to appear in court - Senator Todd Gardenhire is sponsoring legislation that will put individuals who fail to appear in court for a bench warrant on a federal fugitive database. Senate Bill 2304 would require individuals charged with a felony or a Class A or B misdemeanor that is violent or sexual in nature to be put on the database within 10 business days after failing to appear in court. The bill passed the Senate floor this week and awaits passage in the House of Representatives.

Bills previously covered that passed the Senate floor:

  • Senate Bill 1692 - sponsored by Johnson, generally prohibits booting vehicles in Tennessee, with exceptions for individuals licensed through a local government. (Covered Week 8).
  • Senate Bill 1720 - sponsored by Hensley, requires any advertisement that uses a healthcare practitioner’s name to prominently state the profession or license held by the practitioner. (Covered Week 10).
  • Senate Bill 1866 - sponsored by Hensley, specifies that when an employer considers hiring an immigrant who might be in the process of getting their documentation to work in the country legally, the employer must consider the immigrant’s legal status at the time he or she is seeking employment. (Covered Week 11).
  • Senate Bill 1915 - sponsored by Niceley, would enable individuals with specific criminal offenses on their record to secure employment opportunities. (Covered Week 11).
  • Senate Bill 1984 - sponsored by Niceley, prohibits the use of eminent domain power to seize land for recreational use. (Covered Week 9).
  • Senate Bill 2172 - sponsored by Hensley, will set up a uniform system for the collection of delinquent property tax by allowing partial payments. (Covered Week 11).
  • Senate Bill 2221 - sponsored by Powers, creates a Class E Felony offense for a person who causes bodily injury to or offensive contact with someone who is part of a judicial proceeding. (Covered Week 11).
  • Senate Bill 2363 - sponsored by Watson, would require hospitals and physicians to accept electronic insurance cards as valid proof of insurance. (Covered Week 11).
  • Senate Bill 2508 - sponsored by Johnson, will create the live music and performance venue fund which will be used to support live music and performance venues, performers and promoters across the state. (Covered Week 10).
  • Senate Bill 2565 - sponsored by Taylor, will ensure that a defendant’s ability to pay is not used as a determining factor when setting bail. (Covered Week 11).
  • Senate Bill 2610 - sponsored by Rose, will prevent taxpayer funded forums from knowingly allowing spaces for terrorist organizations to meet.
  • Senate Bill 2630 - sponsored by Pody, extending the period of time that an offender may request for their names to be taken off of the sexual offender registry from 10 to 15 years. (Covered Week 12).
  • Senate Bill 2636 - sponsored by Rose, would create a 12-member advisory task force to review impaired driving and boating statewide, and offer solutions to reduce those crimes from occurring. (Covered Week 10).
  • Senate Bill 2654 - sponsored by White, would create a Class B misdemeanor for any person who knowingly tampers with or removes their monitoring device that has been court-mandated to wear the device. (Covered Week 12).
  • Senate Bill 2662 - sponsored by White, would increase the charge for anyone who acts negligently or engages in conduct that places an eight-year-old child or younger in danger from a Class D felony to a Class B felony. (Covered Week 11).
  • Senate Bill 2677 - sponsored by White, would create more support for veterans by requiring funding for veteran treatment court programs. (Covered Week 12).
  • Senate Bill 2689 - sponsored by White, would require the AOC to define and develop new software systems to help with consistency across the state as well as have updated software for a more streamlined filing process. (Covered Week 8).
  • Senate Bill 2929 - sponsored by Powers, prioritizes the autopsies of children involved in active investigations by DCS. (Covered Week 11).
  • Senate Joint Resolution 904 - sponsored by Stevens, passed the Senate on second and third reading this week, and protects Tennesseans’ right to bear arms. (Covered Week 12).
  • House Joint Resolution 131 - sponsored by Stevens, establishes that within the borders of Tennessee, only Tennessee’s gun laws can apply in court. (Covered Week 12).