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  • Writer's pictureState Rep. Kelly Keisling

Capitol Review from State Rep. Kelly Keisling



General Assembly confirms new Tennessee Supreme Court Justice


Members of the General Assembly confirmed the appointment of Mary L. Wagner to the Tennessee Supreme Court in a joint session in the House chamber on Monday. 


Wagner is currently the circuit court judge for the 30th Judicial District, which covers Shelby County. She previously served as an associate at a Memphis-based law firm and taught as an adjunct professor at The University of Memphis School of Law.


The Tennessee Supreme Court vacancy will be created by the retirement of Justice Roger A. Page, effective Aug. 31. Wagner’s tenure on the court will begin Sept. 1.


The General Assembly is required to confirm appointments to the Supreme Court per an amendment added to the state constitution in 2014. Justices are retained through a “yes” or “no” election every eight years.


School de-escalation training proposed


The House K-12 Subcommittee this week advanced school safety legislation to require de-escalation training for teachers and administrators in Tennessee.


House Bill 1633, sponsored by State Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, would ensure school personnel receive the training annually beginning in the 2024-25 academic year.


“If we can, we need to train our teachers and administrators on the proper techniques for avoiding a school shooting before it reaches the point of being a school shooting,” Ragan said.


A report last year from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability found that 43 percent of shootings that occurred at school in the state during the last 25 years were due to the escalation of a dispute.


House Bill 1663 is scheduled to be heard in the Education Administration Committee on March 20.


Retention bonuses for highly skilled TN National Guard members advances


Legislation that would authorize bonuses for Tennessee National Guard members in critical roles and would ensure no financial burden for servicemembers who are called to serve advanced out of the State Government Committee this week.


House Bill 2088, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, and co-sponsored by State Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin, authorizes the Tennessee Department of Military to create a critical skills retention bonus program that will be used to award Tennessee National Guard members who continue to serve. 


The bill would create a board to research and identify critical job skills that if left unmanned, would pose a risk to the department’s ability to respond when called upon. Then, the board will provide incentive recommendations on each job skill, up to $10,000, to the adjutant general. 


The board would continue to meet throughout the year to ensure the bonuses continue to be applied to the necessary positions. The retention bonuses are designed to help keep critical positions filled and servicemembers enlisted.  


House Bill 2088 would also ensure that if a state employee is called to serve and their military job pays less than their civilian job, the state will pay the difference so that the employee does not suffer from lost wages while serving our state or nation.  The bill is scheduled to be heard by the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee on March 20.  


Increased punishment for illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes


Legislation that would allow illegal immigrants convicted of violent crimes in Tennessee to receive life in prison without parole advanced out of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week.


House Bill 1872, sponsored by State Rep. Monty Fritts, R-Kingston, would allow a judge to sentence an illegal immigrant to life without parole if convicted of a violent crime or a deadly weapon was involved in the offense. The bill also authorizes the same enhancement for adults convicted of a violent crime on school property.


“Our justice system routinely enhances penalties when one or more crime is committed at the same time as another,” Fritts said. “Illegal aliens, by entering our country, have committed a crime. If they commit another crime, especially a violent crime, those penalties should be enhanced.”


The arrest of an illegal immigrant and all subsequent convictions must be also reported to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. The data will be used to help understand the impact to Tennessee.  


The Department of Homeland Security has reported more than 6 million encounters along the southern border since 2021. An additional 1.7 million individuals entered the country illegally and successfully evaded authorities.


House Bill 1872 is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on March 19. 


Increased punishment for unlawful photography advances


Legislation to increase the punishment for unlawful photography in Tennessee advanced out of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week.


House Bill 1911, sponsored by State Rep. Gino Bulso, R-Brentwood, would make the crime a Class E felony instead of a Class A misdemeanor. The penalty would increase further to a Class D felony or Class C felony in certain cases if the victim was younger than 13. Anyone convicted of unlawful photography would also be required to register as a sex offender. 


House Bill 1911 is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on March 19. If passed, the law would go into effect July 1. 


Legislation would expand penalty for transporting illegal immigrants


A bill to prevent illegal immigrants from being transported in Tennessee advanced out of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week. 


House Bill 2078, sponsored by State Rep. Bryan Richey, R-Maryville, would make it a Class A misdemeanor to knowingly or recklessly transport an illegal immigrant in the state. It is currently a crime to transport an illegal immigrant for commercial advantage or private financial gain.


“The crisis at our southern border has made every state a border state,” Richey said. “Thousands of people are illegally making their way into our country every day as a result of the Biden administration’s inaction. This common-sense bill will prevent illegal immigrants from being unlawfully transported into our state. Tennessee Republicans are committed to ensuring we don’t become a haven for illegals because of the federal government’s dereliction of duty.”


The legislation would also increase the fine from $1,000 to $5,000 for each person illegally transported. House Bill 2078 is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on March 19.


Bill would save Tennesseans money on medications


The House Health Subcommittee this week advanced legislation aimed at saving Tennesseans money on their prescription medications.


House Bill 2897, sponsored by State Rep. Sabi Kumar, R-Springfield, would require pharmacies to make all reasonable efforts to notify a customer of the lowest available cost of their prescription prior to their purchase. 

 

“Recently, our health system has seen insurers purchasing certain pharmacy chains and pharmacy benefit managers, and they are increasing the price of the medications because they are buying it from themselves,” Kumar said. “We are trying to make the best effort to save Tennesseans as much money as possible on their medications.”


This bill also encourages pharmacists to use a software program that will tell them if the medication is available for a lower cost, and to inform the patient if there is a more affordable option. 


House Bill 2897 is scheduled to be heard in the Health Committee on March 20.


Increased protections against financial elder abuse


A bill to prevent elderly and disabled adults from being exploited financially through marriage advanced out of the Children and Family Affairs Subcommittee this week.


House Bill 2420, sponsored by State Rep. Jody Barrett, R-Dickson, would prevent the surviving spouse of an elderly or disabled adult from any entitlement or benefit from their marriage if a court found the marriage occurred deceptively or under certain exploitative circumstances. 


“Right now, there’s not an avenue under the law for these types of situations to be challenged by family,” Barrett said. “So, this law is attacking that issue and providing family members with the ability to go after this and try to make sure that they can get some remedies.” 


The victim’s family must prove that the surviving spouse entered into the marriage as part of a scheme involving neglect, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, abuse or theft. House Bill 2420 is scheduled to be heard in the Civil Justice Committee on March 20. 


Restricted Access by Minors to Obscene Library Materials Act advances


The House State Government Committee this week advanced legislation to further protect minors from obscene materials in libraries. 


House Bill 1661, also known as the Restricted Access by Minors to Obscene Library Materials Act, would create a process for members of the public to petition for inappropriate materials to not be easily accessible to minors in libraries. 


“This bill allows community standards to be determined by a petition,” said bill sponsor State Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge. “The petition is basically five percent of voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election.”


The Secretary of State would create policies for the petition process. House Bill 1661 is scheduled to be heard in the Government Operations Committee on March 18.


Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act advances


Legislation to ensure the integrity of presidential electors advanced in the House this week. 


House Bill 1794, also known as the Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act, would require each elector or alternate to vote for the candidate for which they were elected or appointed to represent. If they refused to they would be replaced.


“This corrects a problem that has happened in other states in presidential elections,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Tim Rudd, R-Murfreesboro. “Luckily, and to my knowledge, it has not happened here. That’s why we’re taking care of this reform.” House Bill 1794 is scheduled for a vote in the House chamber on March 18. 


Protect Tennessee Minors Act advances


The Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week advanced legislation to further protect children from accessing pornography online.  


The Protect Tennessee Minors Act, sponsored by State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, would require website owners to implement an age-verification process if 33.3 percent or more of their total content was harmful to minors. 


“We don’t allow those under 18 to go into adult entertainment establishments and we don’t allow them to access certain materials,” Hazlewood said. “Unfortunately, in the cyber world it is much easier for children to access it.”


“All of us are aware of the exponential increase in mental health issues, particularly with our children, and I sincerely believe that this is one of the causes,” she added.


A national survey found that 73 percent of teen respondents between the ages of 13 and 17 admitted to having viewed pornography online. 


The legislation would require owners of websites with adult content to match a user’s photo to a valid form of identification issued in the United States. Stored data must not include any personal identifying information and the active user must remain anonymous after access has been granted.


Search engines, internet service providers and public interest broadcasts and publications would be excluded from the age verification requirement. Any website owner or operator found to be in violation of the law would face a Class C felony.


House Bill 1614 is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on March 19.  


Illegal immigration


Legislation to combat illegal immigration in Tennessee was approved this week by the House chamber. House Bill 2124, sponsored by State Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern, would ensure all law enforcement in the state notify the appropriate federal authorities if an individual they came into contact with is found to be in the country unlawfully. This type of notification is not currently required by state law. The companion version of the legislation is still advancing through the Senate. If approved, the new law would take effect July 1.


Adult-sized changing tables


The General Assembly this week unanimously approved legislation to increase the availability of adult-sized changing tables in Tennessee. House Bill 2690, sponsored by State Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, will allow the Department of Intellectual and Development Disabilities to increase grant amounts from $5,000 to $10,000 to support the installation of the devices in public restrooms statewide. The General Assembly in 2022 allocated $1 million in state funding to support the initiative. House Bill 2690 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Drag racing


The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week advanced legislation to further prevent drag racing on Tennessee streets. House Bill 2814, sponsored by State Rep. John Gillespie, R-Memphis, would increase the penalty for organized street racing from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony. The bill is scheduled for a vote on the House floor on March 18. If approved, the new law would take effect July 1. 


D-Day Remembrance Day


The General Assembly this week unanimously approved House Bill 1950 to designate June 6 of every year as D-Day Remembrance Day in Tennessee. The legislation honors the anniversary of the Allied invasion of France during World War II on June 6, 1944. Nearly 133,000 troops from the United States, the British Commonwealth and their allies took part in the largest amphibious invasion in military history. More than 10,000 casualties occurred. D-Day Remembrance Day honors their sacrifice and efforts to liberate Europe from the tyranny of the Nazi Germany regime.


Prescriptions


Legislation to alleviate prescription drug shortages advanced out of the Heath Subcommittee this week. House Bill 2358, sponsored by State Rep. Michele Carringer, R-Knoxville, would establish a procedure for certain specialty medications to be returned and re-dispensed by certain approved pharmacies. Specialty medications include various prescription drugs used in cancer treatment and those with blood diseases. House Bill 2358 is scheduled to be heard in the Health Committee on March 20.  


Textbooks


The Education Instruction Committee this week advanced legislation to ensure students can access textbooks in Tennessee. House Bill 2177, sponsored by State Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet, requires local school boards that provide electronic textbooks and instructional materials to also provide students with reasonable access to printed versions. A parent or guardian must submit a written request for the materials to the school’s principal in order to receive a physical copy of the materials. House Bill 2177 is scheduled to be heard in the Education Instruction Committee on March 19. 


Christian Heritage Month


The House chamber this week passed legislation to designate November as Christian Heritage Month in Tennessee. House Bill 2125, sponsored by State Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern, encourages residents to learn more about the state’s Christian founding and history. The companion version of the legislation is still advancing through the Senate.


Beekeeper protections


A bill to increase protections for beekeepers in Tennessee advanced out of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week. House Bill 2848, sponsored by State Rep. Dave Wright, R-Corryton, would make it a Class C felony to take control of bees and beekeeping equipment without the owner’s consent. The legislation is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on March 19.


Ag Day


The annual Tennessee Ag Day on the Hill will take place on Tuesday, March 19 on the Beth Harwell Plaza at the State Capitol in Nashville. The annual event starts with a biscuit breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and will feature farm animals, equipment, a legislative versus executive branch competition and various other agriculture-related activities. 


Unemployment rate


The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development recently reported the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the state was 3.5% in January. 


  • The unemployment rate decreased in one county, increased in 93 counties and remained the same in one county.

  • Williamson County reported the lowest unemployment rate at 2.5%

  • Meigs County had the highest rate at 5.7%

  • The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the U.S. remained the same at 3.7%


Tennessee’s Labor Force Estimate Report for January can be found here.


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Media Contact:

Zach Stephens


Kelly Keisling serves as State Representative for House District 38 which encompasses Macon, Clay, Pickett, Scott, and part of Fentress Counties. To reach State Representative Kelly Keisling, call 615-741-6853 or email him at rep.kelly.keisling@capitol.tn.gov. Connect with Kelly on Facebook and X.


Representative Keisling serves as Chairman of the State Government Committee as well as serving as a member of the Calendar & Rules Committee, Finance, Ways & Means Committee, Government Operations Committee, Appropriations Subcommittee, Corrections Subcommittee, Departments & Agencies Subcommittee, Public Service & Employees Subcommittee.

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