April 4, 2024 Legislative Update

Senate Republicans protect Second Amendment and promote firearm safety as session end nears

This week, Senate Republicans advanced measures to protect constitutional rights, improve public safety and educate Tennessee children on the development of unborn children. Almost all legislative business has shifted from committees to the Senate floor. The full Senate will meet four times next week to deliberate and pass bills advanced from committees. All but two committees have completed their business for the year. The two remaining committees – Finance, Ways and Means and Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources – are set to meet next week.

Senate Republicans advance constitutional amendments protecting right to bear arms in Tennessee

Senate Republicans are proceeding with two proposals from Senator John Stevens (R-Huntington) to amend the Tennessee Constitution to strengthen Tennesseans’ Second Amendment rights.

Senate Joint Resolution 904 advanced to protect citizens’ right to bear arms in the Tennessee Constitution and limit the legislature’s ability to pass restrictive gun laws. The measure proposes to replace the current constitutional provision that authorizes the legislature to “regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime” and instead state that “citizens have a right to keep, bear and wear arms.”

“The proposed language makes a key distinction that will reinforce Tennesseans’ Second Amendment rights,” said Stevens. “It ensures that the state of Tennessee recognizes that the right to bear arms means citizens have the right to own and carry firearms for their own defense.”

Senate Joint Resolution 904 was read for the first time on the Senate floor this week after passing the Judiciary Committee last month.

This week, Republicans also advanced House Joint Resolution 131 to establish that within the borders of Tennessee, only Tennessee’s gun laws can apply in court.  This would ensure other states cannot enforce their gun laws in Tennessee. 

“This policy is important to protect Tennesseans and Tennessee companies from being sued under another state’s gun laws,” said Stevens. “It would make clear that if a Tennessee gun manufacturer had a weapon used in the commission of a crime in another state, then it would be the policy of the state of Tennessee that only Tennessee’s gun laws can apply to Tennessee citizens and companies.”

In 2023, the General Assembly passed a new law providing civil liability protection to firearm and ammunition manufacturers preventing them from being held liable for illegal acts carried out by criminals using their products.

HJR 131 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee this week and passed the House of Representatives last year. It now advances to the Senate floor for its first passage by the General Assembly.

In Tennessee, a proposed constitutional amendment must first be read aloud to the legislature three times in three separate sessions before being voted on. Then, it must pass the General Assembly twice. The first time it must pass with a simple majority voting in favor. The second time it must pass the next General Assembly by a two-thirds majority.  Finally, the amendment is placed on the ballot. To be successful the proposed amendment must receive more yes votes than no votes, and the number of yes votes must be a majority of the total votes in the gubernatorial election.

Senate passes firearm safety education in public schools

The Senate this week passed Republican legislation to expand firearm safety education in Tennessee public schools.

Senate Bill 2923, sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), would provide students with age and grade-appropriate instruction on firearm safety as part of the existing safety training currently offered in public schools. The curriculum would include safe storage information, how to identify a firearm, the safety risks associated with them and to notify an adult if one is found.

The Department of Education and Department of Safety, in consultation with the Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission, would determine the earliest appropriate grade for students to begin receiving education related to firearm safety. The instruction would continue through the 12th grade.

The legislation would prohibit the use of live firearms and ammunition as part of the curriculum. Instruction would also be required to remain neutral on political and gun-related issues.

Senate passes legislation to include fetal development in family life curriculum

The Senate passed legislation this week that aims to inform students in family life courses about the biological process of human fetal development from conception to birth. The Baby Olivia Act, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), would add that a family life curriculum must include a 3-minute video of a high-definition ultrasound or computer-generated animation depicting the growth of vital organs such as the brain and heart in early fetal development.

The legislation refers to a video called “Meet Baby Olivia” as qualifying material that meets the curriculum standards set in the legislation. 

“The family life curriculum would be incomplete if it did not show the very beginning of human life at conception,” said Bowling.  “The Baby Olivia video is a scientific and medically accurate depiction of human development starting at the very beginning of life when the sperm meets the egg. This video is one of the options teachers have the discretion to show their students about human fetal development.”

Under Tennessee law, family life courses require parental consent for students to participate.

The legislation passed on the Senate floor Thursday and now awaits the governor’s signature.

Judiciary Committee passes legislation to prevent terrorist organizations from meeting in taxpayer funded spaces

Senator Paul Rose (R-Covington) is sponsoring legislation in an attempt to prevent harm caused by terrorist organizations across the state. Senate Bill 2610 will prevent taxpayer funded forums from knowingly allowing spaces for terrorist organizations to meet.

“Terrorist organizations have grown around the world, and more troublingly, in the United States,” said Sen. Rose. “Recently these organizations have begun to spread their messages through different means. This bill will prohibit these malicious organizations from meeting on public property  or using other taxpayer funded means to spread their hateful ideologies.”

The legislation creates a Class E felony offense, punishable by a fine of up to $3,000, for an entity receiving public funds to knowingly provide meeting spaces or other forums, including electronic and print platforms used to solicit support for terrorist organizations.

Under Tennessee law, terrorist organizations include any entity designated by the United States Department of State as a foreign terrorist organization or by the United States Department of the Treasury as a specially designated national.

The bill advances to the Senate floor for final consideration.

Additional protections against divisive concepts advances

A bill that aims to strengthen protections for free expression at public universities in Tennessee passed the Senate floor this week.

Senate Bill 2501, sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) would require public colleges and universities to investigate alleged violations of the state’s divisive concepts law and report the findings promptly.

The results of each investigation must be reported to the Comptroller’s office within 10 days of being completed, according to the legislation. Status updates for ongoing investigations must be submitted every 30 days. State lawmakers must also be notified if an institution receives more than 10 reports during a single academic year.

The General Assembly approved the Tennessee Higher Education Freedom of Expression and Transparency Act last year, which allows any student or employee of a public university to file a report of an alleged violation of the state’s divisive concepts law.

Divisive concepts are those that exacerbate and inflame divisions on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, national origin and other criteria in ways that are contrary to the unity of the United States of America and the well-being of Tennessee and its citizens.

TennCare for Working Individuals with Disabilities Act - Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson) is sponsoring the TennCare for Working Individuals with Disabilities Act to establish a buy-in program so that individuals with disabilities can continue gainfully working without losing their health insurance coverage through TennCare. Current TennCare policy strictly limits eligibility for supports and services based on income. These restrictions limit the types of work individuals with disabilities can do without losing health coverage. Senate Bill 2791 will allow enrollees to pay a monthly premium of 5% of their income to receive the care and benefits needed, allowing the individual to still work gainfully.

“We want to encourage individuals with disabilities to fully engage in their community,” said Sen. Watson. “This legislation can change the lives of these individuals without fear of losing access to care.”

The bill advances to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.

Katie Beckett Waiver - This year, Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) is sponsoring Senate Bill 2864 which will increase the number of slots available for part B of the Katie Beckett waiver, allowing more families to participate in the program. The Katie Beckett program provides TennCare coverage for in-home care for children with severe and medically complex disabilities.

The Katie Beckett Waiver was started under President Ronald Reagan. It created the opportunity for states to apply for a Medicaid waiver to allow the use of federal and state dollars to cover in-home care for children with medically complex disabilities, instead of only covering hospital care.

The General Assembly approved the Katie Beckett Waiver in 2019 to expand TennCare coverage to in-home care for about 3,000 children with medical disabilities.

The bill advances out of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee to the Senate Finance Committee.

Judicial redistricting - Senator Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) advanced Senate Bill 305 out of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Because of the growth of Tennessee, there is a need to disperse judicial resources and redistrict according to population size. The proposed changes, which will take effect September 1, 2030, are as follows:

  • 14th Judicial District - the current 15th Judicial District would be renamed the 14th Judicial District and would lose Wilson County. It would be comprised of Trousdale, Macon, Smith, Jackson and gains Clay County.
  • 15th Judicial District - becomes a single county judicial district, comprised of Wilson County.
  • 16th Judicial District - becomes a single county judicial district of Rutherford County as Cannon County is removed.
  • 31st Judicial District - will gain two counties, Cannon and Coffee, to its existing counties, Warren and Van Buren.

The redistricting proposal eliminates the current 14th judicial district by adding Coffee County to the 31st Judicial District. These changes will allow for accurate reflections of population, resulting in a more efficient and effective judicial system for the state.

The bill advances to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

Empowering parents in vaccine decisions – To protect parental authority in decisions regarding their children's health, the Judiciary Committee passed Senate Bill 2641, sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) to ensure parents play a role in the decision-making process of childhood vaccinations.

Instead of declaring that parents and legal guardians should adhere strictly to predefined vaccination guidelines, the legislation proposes that vaccination decisions should be guided by recommendations from healthcare providers, in consultation with parents or guardians, aligning with the commissioner of health's recommendations when deemed appropriate. The bill advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee for further consideration.

Increasing responsibility for medication aides - On Monday, the Senate passed legislation that would expand the abilities of medication aides to administer medications.  Senate Bill 1993, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), would remove certain restrictions on medication aides, allowing them to administer oral and topical medications without the requirement of a prior nursing assessment completed by a licensed nurse.

They will also be allowed to administer medications delivered by aerosol, nebulizers or material hand-held inhalers. The current restrictions have often led to delays in medication administration and increased burdens on nursing staff, ultimately impacting patient care.

Equal coverage for non-opioid medications – In an effort to curb excessive opioid usage in Tennessee, Senator Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro) is sponsoring legislation ensuring equal coverage for non-opioid pain medications.  Senate Bill 2011 would make sure that non-opioid drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for pain are not at a disadvantage compared to opioid or narcotic drugs in terms of coverage for pain treatment or management on the Prescription Drug List (PDL). The bill passed the Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature.

Textbook accessibility - Legislation ensuring students have reasonable access to necessary classroom materials passed the Senate chamber this week. Senate Bill 2312, sponsored by Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) requires schools that provide electronic textbooks and instructional materials to students to also provide a physical copy if the child’s parent requests it. The bill passed the Senate floor this week and awaits the Governor’s signature.

Giving trained teachers the option to conceal carry a firearm to protect their school – To give teachers more tools to protect themselves and their students, Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) is sponsoring Senate Bill 1325 that would allow school faculty and staff with enhanced handgun carry permits to carry concealed firearms within the school.

The school staff who chose to carry a firearm would also be required to complete 40 hours of annual training and a psychological evaluation. The legislation passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits passage on the Senate floor.

Threats of violence - Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans advanced legislation 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 advances to the Senate floor for final approval. If approved, the new law would take effect July 1.

Reporting funding for broadband services – It is important for Tennessee to ensure recipients of taxpayer funds are held accountable for the services promised.  That is why Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) is sponsoring legislation that would require bi-annual reports from broadband providers that received state or federal grants to provide broadband internet to unserved areas.

The reports must be submitted to the Department of Economic and Community Development and must include the list of locations that remain unserved and the date on which they plan to serve these locations. Senate Bill 2907 passed the Senate floor this week and is moving through committee in the House of Representatives.

Protecting victims of cybercrimes from litigation - Cybersecurity is an increasingly large issue hurting businesses and consumers. To help protect businesses from class action lawsuits caused by predatory cybersecurity attacks, Senator Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro) is sponsoring legislation that would ensure businesses that are victims of cyberattacks are not held civilly liable. Senate Bill 2018 would not cover cases of willful or gross negligence on the part of the private entity. Senate Bill 2018 passed the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and now awaits passage on the Senate floor.

Protecting Tennessee workers –  Legislation passed the Senate this week ensuring that workers are properly compensated for all hours worked. Senate Bill 2017, sponsored by Senator Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro), would require causes of action for all compensation owed to employees or independent contractors to be brought within three years of accruing the cause of action. These actions include breach of contract, unjust enrichment, or quantum merit for unpaid wages for hours worked, overtime, minimum wage, salary, bonuses, commissions, or other compensation. The three-year timeline brings Tennessee in line with federal standards. This bill has also passed the House and now awaits the governor’s signature.

Inmate sentencing – Senator Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) is sponsoring Senate Bill 2044 which would ensure that an inmate’s actual sentence could not be reduced with good-time credits. The Tennessee Department of Correction can issue good-time credits for inmates, but the bill clarifies that these credits can only be used toward release eligibility, not towards reduction of the actual sentence. The bill advances to the Senate Finance Committee.

Justice for victims of illegal distribution of obscene material – Senator Paul Rose (R-Covington) advanced legislation to ensure anyone who produces and distributes illegal obscene material can be held civilly liable for injuries and damages to victims. 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 child pornography and obscenity in Tennessee. The bill moves to the Senate floor for final approval.

Strengthening sex offender registry – The Tennessee General Assembly is taking active steps to protect communities from sexual offenders. Senate Bill 2630, sponsored by Mark Pody (R-Lebanon), aims to do this by 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. The legislation passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and now moves to the Senate floor for final consideration.

Holding juvenile delinquents accountable - Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) is sponsoring legislation aimed at enhancing community safety and preventing juvenile offenders from accessing firearms. Under current law, juvenile delinquents can purchase firearms upon reaching 18 years old. Senate Bill 2911, would raise the age limit to 25 for juveniles convicted of specific crimes to purchase firearms. If approved, this bill would apply if a juvenile over the age of 14 was convicted of crimes that if committed by an adult would constitute a charge like criminal homicide and aggravated assault. The legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and moves to the Senate floor for final consideration.

Monitoring state detention centers – Legislation sponsored by Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) aims to provide protections for children in post-adjudication juvenile detention centers. Senate Bill 2860 would require inspections for the state’s post-adjudication juvenile detention centers to ensure that these facilities are complying with state laws and regulations. This bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and now awaits final passage on the Senate floor.

Veteran treatment court programs – Tennessee values and supports veterans. Senator Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro) is sponsoring legislation that would create more support for veterans by requiring funding for veteran treatment court programs. These programs have helped many veterans through rehabilitation and mental health struggles they often face. Senate Bill 2677 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and now moves to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

Ensuring retired law enforcement can carry firearms at all times - Legislation sponsored by Senator Paul Rose (R-Covington) seeks to enhance public safety by allowing retired officers to carry firearms at all times. Senate Bill 2797 would expand the definition of law enforcement officer to include retired officers to ensure these officers can be armed to protect in times of need. The legislation passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and now awaits passage on the Senate floor.

Increasing penalties for assaulting officers – Legislation sponsored by Senator Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro) would increase the penalties for assaulting a police officer from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony. Senate Bill 2062 would also increase the mandatory minimum sentence from 30 days to 60 days and the fine from $5,000 to $10,000. Senate Bill 2062 passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and now moves to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

Preventing monitor device tampering – Legislation sponsored by Senator Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro) aims to prevent monitor device tampering. Senate Bill 2654 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. This legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits final approval on the Senate floor.

Enhancing charges for unlawful photography – Senator Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro) is sponsoring legislation that would enhance the charges for the harmful act of unlawful photography. Senate Bill 2669 would raise the offense of unlawful photography from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony. This bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and now moves to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

Supporting and protecting other states – The Senate Judiciary Committee passed legislation this week to help support other states in need of assistance. Senate Bill 2624, Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), would allow Tennessee state or local law enforcement to provide assistance to other states during an emergency if directed by the executive officer of that law enforcement agency. The legislation now awaits passage in the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

Ensuring public meetings are open – To keep governing bodies accountable, legislation sponsored by Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) would allow courts to impose fees on a governing body if the court finds that the governing body knowingly and willfully refuses to comply with open meeting laws. Senate Bill 1963 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and now moves to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

Increasing penalties for drag racing – Senator Brent Taylor (R-Memphis) is sponsoring Senate Bill 2710 which would increase the penalty for drag racing from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony. This change will give law enforcement the option to charge a person with either drag racing or reckless driving, which is also proposed to change to a Class E felony charge under other new legislation. The bill passed the Judiciary Committee and advances to the Senate Finance Committee. 

Bills Previously Covered that Passed the Senate Floor

  • Senate Bill 757 - sponsored by Haile, would require a local law enforcement agency to verify a detainee’s citizenship. (Covered Week 11).
  • Senate Bill 1715 - sponsored by Hensley, would ensure that all schools have a school resource office (SRO) on campus. (Covered Week 11).
  • Senate Bill 1723 - sponsored by Lowe, requires each elector or alternate to vote for the candidate for which they were elected or appointed to represent. (Covered Week 11).
  • Senate Bill 1801 - sponsored by Johnson, allows victims to sue up to 30 years after they turn 18 for any injuries or illnesses that occurred as a result of the sexual abuse. (Covered Week 10).
  • Senate Bill 1802 - sponsored by Taylor, would permit a neighboring District Attorney to prosecute certain Shelby County crimes if the Shelby County DA refuses to prosecute. (Covered Week 11).
  • Senate Bill 2004 - sponsored by Rose, adds licensed professional counselors, marital and family therapists and clinical pastoral therapists to the list of medical practitioners in code. (Covered Week 10).
  • Senate Bill 2097 - sponsored by Johnson, will safeguard children from harmful content found on social media platforms. (Covered Week 9).
  • Senate Bill 2315 - sponsored by Pody, creates a process for financing infrastructure to facilitate more residential development in cities and counties that desire to use it. (Covered Week 10).
  • Senate Bill 2482 - sponsored by Rose, will ensure parents are informed by physicians about their minor child’s prescription medications and/or suicidal ideation. (Covered Week 10).
  • Senate Bill 2627 - sponsored by Massey, will ensure judges are equipped to handle custody proceedings involving child abuse. (Covered Week 10).
  • Senate Bill 2636 - sponsored by Rose - will reduce drunk driving in Tennessee by appointing an advisory task force to review impaired driving. (Covered Week 10).
  • Senate Bill 2861 - sponsored by Roberts, will prohibit the Department of Corrections from administering hormone replacement therapy or providing sex reassignment surgery for inmates with gender dysphoria. (Covered Week 10).