Capitol Hill Week March 12, 2020

Senate Judiciary Committee passes major criminal justice reform legislation

Contact: Darlene Schlicher (615) 741-6336 or email: [email protected]

For Immediate Release: March 12, 2020

NASHVILLE – The Senate Judiciary Committee passed major criminal justice reform legislation this week with approval of two key bills in Governor Bill Lee’s legislative package. This includes legislation streamlining and appropriately leveraging alternatives to incarceration, namely Recovery Courts and felony probation. The bill is sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), and Senator Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville).

“There are currently 30,000 incarcerated for felonies in state prisons and jails, with our corrections budget now costing taxpayers in excess of $1 billion annually,” said Sen. Yager. “Fifty percent will return, making Tennessee’s recidivism rate the highest in the Southeast. This legislation addresses this problem by helping these individuals with a pathway to a productive life beyond crime, with the ultimate goal of making Tennessee a safer state.”

Yager said Tennessee’s high incarceration rates are fueled by non-violent drug and property offenses which have increased the state’s custody population growth by more than 50 percent since 2009. Senate Bill 2195 expands Tennessee’s successful Recovery Court System, which is a specialized diversion program focused on comprehensive supervision, treatment services and immediate sanctions and incentives for substance abuse offenders. The proposal broadens eligibility for Recovery Courts to include misdemeanors, except domestic assault offenders, and encourages judges to consider available sentencing alternatives.

With $1.7 million in additional funding proposed in the budget, Recovery Courts will expand capacity by 20 percent and serve an additional 500 Tennesseans each year. Individuals who are successfully diverted through this programming are estimated to save the state an average of more than $20,000 per individual in recovered correction costs each year.

“I am very pleased that this important legislation is advancing through our Senate committees,” said Leader Johnson. “These bills take a holistic approach with evidence-based alternatives to incarceration to reduce recidivism and ensure that state resources are squarely focused on public safety in Tennessee.”

The legislation also addresses the high mental health caseload in Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC) facilities. Prisoners treated for mental illness have increased 26 percent from 2016 to 2019, with nearly 8,000 individuals currently being treated. In addition, the number of inmates diagnosed with serious persistent mental illness has nearly tripled over the past 10 years. The legislation requires courts to consider use of available sentencing alternatives for defendants with a documented history of behavioral health problems.

The legislation also highlights Day Reporting Centers as an alternative for judges to use instead of incarceration. These centers serve as alternatives to incarceration by placing eligible participants in structured and intensive outpatient programs.  The programs provide resources and services to offenders to assist them as they work towards becoming productive citizens in their communities. There are currently six centers across the state, with two additional centers and extended hours funded in the governor’s proposed budget. Approximately 74 percent of admissions are for non-violent offenses, with property offenses as the most common reason for admission.

Finally, the legislation clarifies criteria for revoking community supervision status, updates the permitted amount of time that an individual can be sentenced to probation or have their supervision extended, and limits the ability to revoke supervision for non-criminal violations of conditions, also known as technical violations.

Re-Entry Stabilization Act seeks to improve public safety through a multi-pronged approach -- The second bill, called the Re-Entry Stabilization Act of 2020, is a multi-pronged approach to help improve public safety and facilitate positive outcomes for those leaving incarceration. Nearly 40 percent of the felony population expire their sentence, returning to the community without oversight. Senate Bill 2194, sponsored by Johnson, Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon) and Dickerson, establishes mandatory re-entry supervision, so that all individuals exiting state custody will have a minimum of one year supervised re-entry integration. The mandatory supervision does not create parole eligibility for those who are not eligible, including those convicted to life without parole or to the death penalty.

“Our State prison population is swelling, but violent crime rates are not dropping,” said Sen. Stevens. “Too few low-risk inmates are being paroled and too many inmates who have served their full sentence are returning to prison for technical, non-violent violations of the conditions of their parole. Far too many individuals released back in our communities fail re-entry because of a deficit of resources to assist individuals overcoming barriers faced.”

The proposal establishes the Office of Re-Entry Services, which will act as a clearinghouse of existing resources, primarily focusing on providing services to those whose sentences are expiring and are reentering the community. Similarly, it addresses the parole process, incorporating the findings of a validated risk-and-needs assessment into the review process. In doing this, the Board of Parole is better supported in making data driven decisions regarding parole and protecting public safety, while also improving transparency for both victims and perpetrators.

To facilitate a successful reentry for prisoners into communities, the Re-Entry Stabilization Act seeks to advance employment outcomes by improving the certificate of employability process, clarifying occupational licensing for those with a criminal history, and granting limited employer liability to businesses who make good faith hires within certain criteria.

In addition, the proposal standardizes parole revocation practices for technical violations. Approximately 40 percent of those prisoners rearrested land back in prison because they broke their parole on technical violations, not for committing new crimes.

“Tennessee ranks number one in violent crime rate when compared to our neighbors in ten surrounding states,” added Stevens. “This legislation focuses on improving our parole processes, improving oversight for those leaving jail and prison, and expanding opportunities for better outcomes for prisoners once they return to the community.”

Lawmakers advance legislation to ensure sex offenders have expert supervision during sentences – Continuing lawmakers’ efforts to ensure public safety, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week to prevent sex offenders from being sentenced to the community corrections grant programs or from being supervised by the community corrections grantees. The community corrections grant program was established in 1985 to provide funds for community-based alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent felony offenders. Since then, supervision standards for sex offenders have significantly improved by using evidence-based, best practices that are recognized nationally.

The Department of Correction (TDOC) now has specialized officers with extensive training to deal with sex offenders and the inherent, specific risks they pose. In contrast, community correction agencies are neither trained nor have expertise in dealing with sex offender populations. Senate Bill 2152, sponsored by Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), will ensure that these high-risk populations will be supervised by TDOC to the extent they are involved in the criminal justice system.

Legislation seeks to reduce high recidivism rates in rural counties – The Senate State and Local Government Committee advanced legislation seeking to encourage rural and smaller Tennessee counties to offer recidivism reduction opportunities for inmates through enhanced jail per diem. Senate Bill 2108, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), would provide an additional $5 per day for prisoners in counties under the population of 336,000 participating in approved recidivism reduction programs. The program could focus on education, vocational training, mental health, substance abuse rehabilitations, building healthy relationships, or any other program shown by evidence to reduce recidivism and increase the likelihood of successful re-entry.

Roughly half of county jails in Tennessee are over 100 percent of their capacity according to Department of Corrections’ reports. County jails can have up to an 80 percent recidivism rate compared with state-run jails which have a 48 – 51 percent recidivism rate. Large urban counties generally have recidivism programs in place, but many rural counties do not. This legislation seeks to help rural counties secure the resources necessary to implement programs that positively affect recidivism rates, saving counties money and improving public safety.

Governor Lee declares state of emergency to marshal state and federal resources to combat COVID-19

Governor Bill Lee issued an executive order this week declaring a state of emergency in Tennessee in order to facilitate the medical response needed to combat the spread of COVID-19, which is also known as coronavirus.  The order will also help Tennessee access federal funding to provide more resources to respond to citizens’ needs. 

The executive order listed 13 provisions to more effectively mobilize resources inside and outside of the state to fight the virus strain which was declared a global pandemic this week. Among other action, the order permits health care professionals licensed in other states to provide health care services in Tennessee related to COVID-19; allows pharmacists to dispense an extra 30-day supply of maintenance prescriptions as needed in response to COVID-19; allows health care professionals to provide localized treatment to patients in temporary residences; expands testing sites for COVID-19; allows the construction of temporary health care structures in response to COVID-19; implements price gouging protections on medical and emergency supplies.

This follows a tough week for Tennesseans with widespread destruction in three counties and substantial damage in several others due to the tornadoes which ripped through the state last Tuesday.  

“Today’s action will move us into a position to utilize additional emergency funds as needed and relax provisions of certain laws to provide the flexibility needed to respond to this disease,” said Gov. Lee. “While the risk to the general public remains low, we encourage all Tennesseans to exercise caution and maintain good hygiene practices as there are serious risks to our vulnerable populations.”

Lt. Governor Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton issued a statement following Governor Lee’s emergency declaration urging vigilance during proceedings on Capitol Hill to protect visitors and staff. 

“The General Assembly is encouraging groups who have planned non-essential events and activities in and around the Cordell Hull Building and Capitol to consider rescheduling or postponing,” they said.  “We will continue with the business for which we have been elected and for which we are constitutionally bound. But we will do so with extreme caution and in the public health’s best interest. We will continue to monitor the spread of the virus and keep in consultation with Governor Lee and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Our website will remain online and meetings will continue to be streamed and televised. The people of Tennessee will still have access to the work they have elected us to do. We will continue to take additional action as needed.”

On Monday, Department of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Hodgen Mainda told members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee that Governor Lee has made preparedness and a swift response to the potential spread of coronavirus top priorities.  “As part of our mission, we have requested Tennessee’s health carriers to assist in facilitating prevention measures, including covering the cost of coronavirus testing, in order for our state to successfully fight the spread of this disease,” Mainda said.  He noted the department has received positive responses from health carriers in Tennessee.

President Trump and Vice President Pence also met with executives from America’s largest health insurance companies earlier this week.  According to the Vice President, there is widespread agreement among health carriers to waive copays on coronavirus testing and extend coverage for treatment of the virus in their benefit plans.  Insurers also agreed to cover telemedicine services, which will allow all patients, particularly among the vulnerable senior population, to be treated without feeling the need to go to a hospital or doctor’s office.

Medicare and Medicaid announced recently that beneficiaries will have coronavirus testing and treatment covered.

State officials are urging those with coronavirus symptoms to call ahead to your doctor’s office before visiting. Here is a list of recommendations from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  Citizens of Tennessee should visit the Tennessee Department of Health’s website to get the most up-to-date information. The Tennessee Coronavirus Public Information Line (1-877-857-2945) is available from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (CT) daily.

Tennessee Responsible Borrowing Initiative Act passes Senate 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 the Senate on Thursday.  Senate Bill 2503, sponsored by Sen. Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), 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. 

“Student debt is almost in a crisis mode,” said Sen. Dickerson.  “Over the last six years it has exploded 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.” 

“What this bill does is mandates that we have 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. This will allow students who come to our public institutions to really understand how much they’re are going to owe at the end of their four years and how they’re going to have to grapple with that debt.”

The bill follows passage of the Tuition Transparency and Accountability Act in 2018.  The law, which was also sponsored by Dickerson, provided more transparency and accountability when it comes to tuition and fee hikes at the state’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.

In other news….

Revenue Subcommittee votes to reduce Tennessee’s professional privilege tax -- The Senate Revenue Subcommittee voted this week to recommend legislation to the full Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee to further reduce Tennessee’s professional privilege tax. During the 2019 legislative session, the General Assembly eliminated the professional privilege tax for 15 of 22 professions which were covered. Senate Bill 2201, sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Senator Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro), provides further tax relief by decreasing it from $400 to $200 across the board for the remaining professions. Those professions are attorneys, security agents, broker-dealers, investment advisors, lobbyists, osteopathic physicians and physicians.

The funds for the tax cut were included in Governor Lee’s budget proposal submitted to the General Assembly in February. Under Republican leadership, the General Assembly has cut $845 million in taxes since 2011, while increasing the number of jobs and providing record investments in education. This includes reducing the sales tax on food by nearly 30 percent and eliminating gift and inheritance taxes.

Consumer protection legislation includes text messaging under the state’s anti-phishing laws -- Legislation which ensures that text messages are included under the anti-phishing provision of Tennessee’s Consumer Protection Act was approved by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week. Senate Bill 2212, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), widens the definition of “wireless communication” to include text messages sent and received on smart devices.

Phishing is a scam where fraudsters send spam or text messages or create deceptive websites to lure personal or financial information from unsuspecting victims. The messages or websites often appear to be from well-known or seemingly trustworthy entities, but instead collect information for fraudulent purposes. The legislation prohibits any party from representing itself to be another person, either directly or by implication, without the authorization or permission of such other person for the purpose of soliciting a resident of the state to provide identifying information. The bill now moves to the floor of the Senate for final consideration.

Colonel Thomas G. Bowden Act advances to provide relief for caregivers of Alzheimer patients – The Senate Health Committee approved legislation that would create a three-year pilot program under the Commission on Aging and Disability to provide home and community-based services for those who are experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. The purpose of the program is to provide crucial support and immediate relief to Tennesseans living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia and their caregivers. Supports would include respite care, personal care, and home-delivered meals. 

Senate Bill 1889, sponsored by Senator Reeves (R-Murfreesboro), is aptly named the Colonel Thomas G. Bowden Act in memory of the retired Colonel who had a distinguished 26-year career in the United States Army. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 63 and lost his life to the disease at age 68. This act serves as a testament to Colonel Bowden’s life, as well as a tribute to the loving care provided by his wife of 46 years, Barbara.

“There are 120,000 Tennesseans living with Alzheimer’s disease and 439,000 people are providing unpaid care for those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia,” said Senator Reeves. “This disease has a devastating impact not just on those with the disease. It’s also an extreme burden on their caregivers – a job that usually falls on their family and friends. I am honored to carry this bill in memory of Colonel Bowden and to provide relief for these dedicated caregivers.”

The pilot would operate as part of the OPTIONS program from July 1, 2020 to January 1, 2024. Enrollment would begin no later than July 1, 2020 and offer services no later than January 1, 2021. In 2021, the number of enrollees can be up to 150 participants and should be at least 150 participants for 2022 and 2023.

Legislation to allow personal delivery devices on pedestrian walkways passes Senate— A bill allowing delivery robots to operate at low speeds on sidewalks and crosswalks in Tennessee has been approved by the Tennessee Senate. The robots operating under Senate Bill 2836 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. Sponsor Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson), says the proposed law does not preempt local governments’ ability to regulate the personnel delivery devices if necessary for public safety.

Senate votes to continue critical funds to support hospitals – Members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted this week to continue the hospital assessment adopted since 2010 to prevent potentially catastrophic cuts to Tennessee hospitals.   The hospitals asked the General Assembly to enact the coverage assessment for another year in order to raise almost $600 million in state funds, which in turn allows Tennessee to draw down $1.1 billion in federal matching funds.  The action prevents more than $1.7 billion in potentially catastrophic TennCare cuts from taking effect on July 1, 2020.  

The critical funds are necessary to provide hospitals a portion of their unreimbursed TennCare costs.  A few examples of programs, in addition to the reduction in payments to hospitals and health professionals, that would be affected without the assessment are: critical access hospitals; the Graduate Medical Education program, x-rays, physician office procedures, various therapies, and the enrollment cap for the medically needy.  The legislation, Senate Bill 2202, is sponsored by Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin).

Resolution calls for matchups between UT and UofM -- A resolution calling for the University of Memphis (UofM) and the University of Tennessee (UT) to play each other in football and men’s basketball has been adopted by the Tennessee Senate. Senate Joint Resolution 881, sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Memphis), provides that the major Tennessee teams meet at least once during their regular seasons. The last time the Tigers and the Vols met on the football field was 2010. The measure would be effective for the football teams beginning in the 2025-2026 seasons to provide for advanced scheduling. The two teams played each other in basketball in December. The resolution ensures that such matchups continue during future regular seasons.

Senate votes to authorize TDOC to contribute funds for funeral services if correctional employee is killed in the line of duty -- The Senate voted this week 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. Senate Bill 1578 is sponsored by Senator Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville). 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 calls for creation of Tennessee Equine Health Advisory Commission—Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) passed Senate Bill 2874 on final consideration in the Senate on Monday. The legislation creates an advisory council to study best practices for equine health.

“The national organizations that I’m a part of have found there are a lot of emerging equine diseases. This trend is actually causing a lot of economic impact to the areas where these shows are being held because of the diseases these horses carry are being transported,” said Bailey.

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 would not be compensated by state funds.

Bill allowing State Board of Education subpoena power for educator licensure investigations passes Senate—Legislation to allow the chairman of the Tennessee Board of Education the power to issue subpoenas for educator licensure investigations passed the Senate Monday night. Senate Bill 2260, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), 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.

Senate approves Holly Bobo Act raising the minimum age for endangered child alerts -- Legislation allowing 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 was approved by the full Senate this week. Senate Bill 2464, sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), is named the “Holly Bobo Act” for a 20-year-old young woman who was kidnapped from her Darden, Tennessee home and murdered in 2011.  Currently, endangered child alerts are 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. 

Legislation joins Tennessee in Interstate Driver License Compact -- Legislation passed the full Senate on Monday joining Tennessee with 42 other states in an interstate Driver License Compact. 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.”

Senate Bill 1643, sponsored by Senate Transportation Committee Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), 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 in 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.

Legislation seeking to expand access to dental care advances – A bill to help nonprofit dental clinics provide free care to more Tennesseans in need passed the Senate Health Committee. Senate Bill 2017, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), 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 to help address shortage of teachers unanimously passes Senate --  On Monday night, the Senate unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Senator Bill Powers (R-Clarksville) to help Local Education Agencies (LEAs) fund a “Grow Your Own” scholarship program to 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.

Powers suggests the solution to addressing teacher shortages must be broader than increasing pay. The lawmaker says the state must support innovative programs, especially those that utilize existing funding sources, to produce high quality teachers.  Senate Bill 1790 authorizes the commissioner of education to grant a waiver to a requesting LEA exempting them 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.

Health Committee passes resolution urging Medicaid Waiver for DIDD Choices Program – The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved a resolution this week urging TennCare to submit a waiver amendment to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that would make changes to home and community-based services offered through TennCare for the state’s intellectual and developmentally disabled population. Because each individual’s needs are different, in March 2019, CMS relaxed the criteria for services that can be offered through TennCare’s Employment and Community First CHOICES (ECF) program. This allows states to have flexibility regarding service settings. This flexibility would enable individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities the freedom to choose a setting which best meets their needs.

Senate Joint Resolution 879, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), stresses the importance of person-centered home and community-based services that provide the most integrated setting appropriate for each individual. If granted, the waiver would require TennCare to make non-contracted providers eligible for consumer direction and reimbursement for qualifying home and community-based services.

Tennessee to issue new license plate to commemorate 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage -- Legislation providing for the issuance of a new state license plate to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage passed the Senate this week.  Funds from the plate will be allocated to the historic society to support educational research activities and events celebrating the anniversary. Senate Bill 2692 is sponsored by Senator Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro).

Similarly, the Senate State and Local Government approved Senate Bill 2635 by White designating August 18th of each year as Women’s Suffrage Day.  

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.

Resolution declaring June 12 as Women Veterans Day passes Senate committee—Legislation to pay recognition to women veterans passed the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday.  House Joint Resolution 831, sponsored by Senator Bill Powers (R-Clarksville), 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.

Senate approves legislation to expand family life education in public schools – On Thursday, the Senate approved legislation supporting pro-family education in public schools. Senate Bill 2089, sponsored by Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), would require all 95 counties in the state to create and implement a family life curriculum. Currently, only counties which have more than 19.5 pregnancies per 1,000 females ages 15-17 are required to implement family life programs that meet certain standards. This legislation expands these requirements to all local education agencies (LEAs). In addition, the proposal prohibits anyone from making abortion referrals or otherwise advocating for - or encouraging - abortion while they are present on school property.

Legislation to incentivize creation of cures for diseases passes Senate committee with favorable recommendation -- No disease has found a cure since polio in the 1950s. Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), a physician, is sponsoring Senate Bill 2039 which aims to change that. The bill forms a multi-state compact that sets up a procedure to incentivize companies, private individuals, and others to invent cures for certain diseases.

“Over the years we’ve had a lot of treatments for diseases, but we haven’t really had any cures invented since polio was cured in the 1950s,” said Sen. Hensley. “The purpose of this legislation is to encourage the invention of cures by providing incentives for the development of cures, as opposed to treatment.”

Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Butler of the Ohio State House of Representatives passed the “Cure Bill” in 2017. He attended the Government Operations committee to testify on behalf of this legislation.

The compact’s board would designate those diseases included under this legislation. The compact will become effective and binding upon legislative enactment by six compacting states. Fourteen other states have introduced similar legislation.

Legislation aims to reduce effects of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome in Tennessee -- The full Senate approved legislation this week aimed at reducing the risks and effects of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in Tennessee. 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.

Senate Bill 2552 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. The proposal is sponsored by Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson).