February 1, 2024 Legislative Update

Senators work to file legislation ahead of deadline

Governor to unveil budget priorities next week

This week lawmakers worked diligently to file all their legislation with the Senate Clerk’s office ahead of the February 1 deadline. When legislation is formally filed, it receives a bill number and a bill jacket that travels with the bill as it goes through the legislative process. All legislation filed is easily accessible through the legislature’s award-winning website.

Now that all bills for the 2024 session have been filed, legislative work will ramp up as Senators put more legislation on notice with one of the Senate’s nine standing committees.  A committee is the first opportunity in the legislative process for a bill to be voted on by lawmakers. Depending on its content, legislation must pass one, two or sometimes three committees before it is put for a final vote on the Senate floor. 

Next week attention will turn to the 2024 budget. On Monday evening at 6 o’clock central, Governor Lee will unveil his budget priorities in the annual State of the State address, which will take place in a joint session of the General Assembly.

This week Senators approved several bills in committee and worked towards improving public safety.

Senator Taylor files bill to prohibit local restrictions on routine traffic stops

To fight violent crime in Memphis, State Senator Brent Taylor (R-Memphis) filed Senate Bill 2572 this week to ensure law enforcement can conduct routine traffic stops as part of their efforts to protect public safety. The Memphis City Council passed a resolution last year to prohibit Memphis Police from stopping vehicles for expired tags, broken tail lights, loose bumpers, and similar offenses. Taylor’s legislation would prohibit local governments from restricting law enforcement’s ability to conduct routine traffic stops.

“Crime is on the rise across the country. Violent crime has reached a crisis level in Memphis,”  said Taylor. “Police officers and deputy sheriff’s need to have more tools available to combat rising crime, not fewer. This proposed law will prohibit cities and counties from restricting routine traffic stops and other crime-fighting tactics.”

Routine traffic stops have resulted in major arrests and the apprehension of violent criminals for years.  Whether it’s a random drug trafficker pulled over for running a stop sign or the most well-known case—Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh—routine traffic stops are a proven means of catching violent offenders, drug traffickers, and other dangerous criminals.

Senators support AG lawsuit defending rights of NCAA student athletes’

On the Senate floor Wednesday lawmakers expressed support for a lawsuit filed by Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) for violating federal antitrust laws by placing anticompetitive restrictions on the ability of current and future student-athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness (NIL).

The AG’s action is consistent with legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2021 to push back against unfair NCAA policies and ensure student-athletes attending Tennessee universities could financially benefit from their NIL. This week, State Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon), who co-sponsored the legislation, emphasized that Tennessee law clearly stands on the side of NCAA athletes on this issue.

“Tennessee law is very clear. The NCAA cannot impair a student athlete’s right to earn a living based upon their name, image or likeness if they have not violated the rules set forth by the NCAA,” said Stevens. “I thank the Attorney General of Tennessee and Virginia. They have filed suit against the NCAA on behalf of not only the student-athletes in the state of Tennessee but those other student-athletes outside the state of Tennessee who chose to come to our universities to maximize not only their educational opportunities but also their financial opportunities.”

When prospective student-athletes are deciding where to attend college, the NCAA prohibits them from discussing potential NIL opportunities with schools prior to enrolling. These restrictions leave prospective student-athletes unable to consider the full scope of NIL-related services a school might offer.

Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) also stood on the floor to express support for the lawsuit and the University of Tennessee, which is currently under investigation by the NCAA for violations of their NIL policies. Briggs said that the current NCAA rules are unclear and unfairly punish student-athletes. He hopes the AG lawsuit against the NCAA will result in clear and fair policies for student-athletes.

New security technology eligible for school safety grants following legislation sponsored by Sen. Pody

This week, State Senator Mark Pody (R-Lebanon) announced important progress in ongoing efforts to improve school safety in the Senate Education Committee. Pody told the committee a new wearable security alert device is now eligible for the school safety grants funded by the General Assembly in 2023. The device would be worn by teachers and would cut down on response times in emergencies to protect teachers and students. At the push of a button, the new technology can alert law enforcement and school administrators to threats while also providing real-time video footage of the classroom or surrounding area.

After Pody filed legislation this year to make the new security technology eligible for school safety grants, the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) agreed to approve the technology administratively. Now, instead of waiting on the months-long legislative process, the new technology can be available to schools immediately. TDOE will notify school districts across the state that the school safety grant eligibility is expanded to cover this technology.

“This technology has the potential to save lives, and I am so grateful to the Department of Education for streamlining the process of approving the technology for school safety grant funding,” said Pody. “It will improve the response time of law enforcement and EMS to immediate classroom threats such as discipline issues, medical emergencies or active shooters. It will be like having a Ring doorbell on teachers’ lanyards that alerts the appropriate personnel. When teachers press that button, they know help is coming.”

Though Pody’s legislation had specific requirements for the device, the department approved a more broad application of the school safety grants.

The funding for the school safety grants is a result of legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2023. Lawmakers approved over $230 million in the budget to place a school resource officer (SRO) at every Tennessee public school, boost physical security at public and private schools, and provide additional mental health resources for Tennesseans.

Expanding highway access for off-road vehicles to boost local economy

On Thursday, the Senate passed legislation to expand access of off-road vehicles to certain sections of a state highway in Oliver Springs. Senate Bill 1131, sponsored by State Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), allows off-road vehicles on permitted sections of TN-330 and TN-62 any day of the year. Currently, off-road vehicles can drive on the permitted sections two weekends a year. The bill would also stimulate economic growth by attracting individuals to the restaurants, grocery stores and gas stations located on the highways.

"The thriving ATV community serves as a vital industry in Oliver Springs," said Senator Yager. "This bill not only aims to draw a greater influx of enthusiasts to the town but also seeks to catalyze economic growth and prosperity in the region."

The bill is now moving through committee in the House of Representatives.

In Brief…

Natural Disaster Relief Program -  To increase aid to counties affected by natural disasters, this week the Senate State and Local Government Committee advanced Senate Bill 1660, sponsored by Sen. Page Walley (R-Savannah), to create the Natural Disaster Relief Program. The program, which would be administered by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA), authorizes a county to request grants to offset the costs of responding to natural disasters that do not rise to the level of a regional Federally Declared Disaster but are nevertheless devastating to a county. Recently, many Tennessee counties suffered the effects of tornadoes and incurred large costs associated with clean-up and repair. The legislation advances to the Senate Finance Ways and Means Committee.

Hot slaw is on its way to becoming an official state food

This week slaw was a hot topic in the Senate. On Thursday, senators voted to make hot slaw an official state food and designate Cleveland, Tennessee as the state’s “hot slaw capital.” The legislation, Senate Bill 1573 and Senate Bill 1574, is sponsored by Senator Adam Lowe (R-Calhoun). It awaits action in the House of Representatives before being sent to the Governor for his signature.

Governor's Early Literacy Foundation shows significant impact on students’ access to literacy 

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance, Ways and Means committee heard updates from the President and CEO of the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation about the significant impact of Tennessee's investment in the program. The foundation, which is celebrating its 20th year of service, began with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in 1996 and has since grown into a statewide foundation aimed at providing children with guidance, resources and support for literacy in the formative years of their learning.

Over the past two decades, the state has funded $4.5 million to the foundation and has served 70% of the birth-to-five population yearly. In 2020, the foundation focused its attention on K-3rd grade students, rolling out the new program in succession year by year. Six books (fiction and nonfiction), think sheets and parent resources have been sent to every child in every school district as well as teachers and school librarians each summer. In 2023, 1.2 million books were mailed to over 200,000 students and 11,000 teachers. The foundation plans to roll out a Kindergarten program this summer and hopes to continually reach a greater number of students and communities.

Wear Red for Heart Disease

In honor of National Wear Red Day on Feb. 2, Senate members gathered on the floor Thursday wearing red to bring awareness to women’s heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women, claiming the life of a woman every 80 seconds. As the Senate celebrates Heart Health Month, the American Heart Association will be hosting a free CPR training in the Cordell Hull Building on February 14 to provide education for heart disease and preventative care.

“Heart disease will claim one out of every three women as a cause of death,” said Senator Briggs, a heart surgeon. “Everyone here has known someone who has been affected by heart disease - this training could literally be a life saver.”