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  • Writer's pictureState Rep. Kelly Keisling

Capitol Review from State Rep. Kelly Keisling


General Assembly expands protections for overdose victims


The General Assembly this week approved Republican legislation meant to further encourage individuals to seek medical treatment for an overdose. House Bill 75 extends criminal immunity, at the discretion of law enforcement or the district attorney, to anyone experiencing a second or subsequent drug overdose and is seeking medical assistance.


“When an individual survives a drug overdose, they have an opportunity to seek treatment or other recovery support efforts from the disease of addiction,” said bill co-sponsor State Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin. “They can repair relationships and make a positive impact on their community.”


Anyone seeking medical assistance for themselves or a person experiencing an overdose should not be arrested, charged or prosecuted for a drug violation as a result of seeking help under current law. However, the immunity only applies to individuals who are experiencing their first overdose. House Bill 75 would provide the opportunity for additional immunity. The legislation will now go to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. It will take effect July 1.


4 new state parks included in Gov. Lee’s proposed budget


Gov. Bill Lee has included funding to creating four new state parks as part of his proposed $55.6 billion budget for the upcoming 2023-24 fiscal year.


“Our state parks are a jewel, and they’ll only be around for the future if we invest in them today,” Lee said during his annual State of the State address last month. “Through the years, Tennessee has maintained responsible stewardship of our natural resources, but it’s time to develop a conservation strategy that balances our state’s economic growth with a plan to protect our environment.”

The proposed new state parks include:

  • Devil’s Backbone State Park (Lewis County): The 950-acre natural area, along with an additional 570-acres of state land, offers visitors the opportunity for a quiet hike adjacent to the Natchez Trace Parkway. The potential to add camping for cyclists and motorists along the parkway may also be considered in future development planning.

  • Middle Fork Bottoms State Park (Madison County): The approximately 1,200 acres would serve as a conservation showcase featuring 250,000 recently planted hardwood trees, 20 acres of warm season prairie, more than 200 acres of restored shallow water wetlands and 2 miles of restored stream. If approved, $22.5 million would be used for the construction of a visitors’ center, maintenance facility, boardwalk, boat ramps, trail bridge(s), utility infrastructure and amenities.

  • North Chickamauga Creek Gorge State Park (Hamilton/Sequatchie counties): The 7,093-acre natural area features more than 18 miles of hiking trails, an outstanding 10-mile gorge, a high diversity of plant and animal habitat along with a popular kayaking stream. The terrain and already high visitation require additional infrastructure and Tennessee State Parks personnel to support the intense demand for the area.

  • Scott’s Gulf Wilderness State Park (White County): The park would link three significant state natural areas around Virgin Falls to allow for greater access to recreation on state-owned land while also improving visitor safety and resource protection. If approved, $27.8 million would be used to build a new visitors’ center, maintenance shop, restrooms, roadways, utilities and parking infrastructure.

As part of the selection process for the proposed new state parks, locations already in TDEC holdings were evaluated based on their suitability to better meet the outdoor recreational needs of Tennesseans and visitors. Considerations included their proximity to populations and travel routes; uniqueness of experience; natural, cultural and scenic value; and resource stewardship. Tennessee has 57 unique state parks that provide a variety of activities for outdoor adventurers of all interests and pursuits. Every Tennessean lives within an hour of at least one state park. Additional information about what each park offers can be found online at www.tnstateparks.com.


Pro-life legislation supports children and families, creates trust


Legislation that creates a long-term funding strategy to help support organizations that provide services to children advanced in the House this week. The Tennessee Children’s Trust Fund Act, sponsored by State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, establishes a trust to provide support to nonprofit organizations and agencies of local governments that assist in the care of children.


“In Tennessee, we are going to push, promote and support a pro-life agenda,” Hazlewood said. “We are putting our money where our mouth is and we’re going to prioritize children and families and we’re going to support (them).”


House Bill 792 requires that the trust be funded in the 2023-24 budget by an initial deposit, and to consist of donations, appropriations, or contributions from both public and private institutions. The bill authorizes trustees to adopt and implement investment policies and requires all income received and accrued from the investments to be expended solely for entities assisting in the care of children, and for reasonable expenses incurred through administering trust assets. The bill requires the trustees to provide an annual financial report.


It also requires the trustees to prepare a financial report on the trust at the end of each fiscal year, which, along with other financial records that will be audited by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury. House Bill 792 will be considered in the House Health Committee on March 8.


Lawmakers seek to expand victims’ rights with constitutional amendment


Lawmaker efforts to expand the rights of crime victims outlined in the Tennessee Constitution advanced in the House this week.


House Joint Resolution 94, also known as Marsy’s Law, proposes a constitutional amendment that would add more than a dozen specific rights crime victims have in the state. The legislation must pass two separate General Assemblies and be approved by a majority of Tennessee voters in order to take effect.


“No criminal should have more rights than the victim, and Marsy’s Law simply will ensure that won’t happen,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain. “The whole purpose… is to make sure we treat our victims as well as we treat those who are convicted or accused of a crime.”


Among the victims’ rights that would be enshrined in the state’s constitution include the right to be notified of all public criminal proceedings involving the accused; the right to be present and heard in court; the right to be free from harassment, intimidation and abuse throughout the process; and the right to receive reasonable notice of any release, transfer, or escape of the accused or convicted person.


Marsy’s Law is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas of California who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Marsy’s family was unaware that her murderer had been released on bail until they were confronted by him at a market one week after her death. House Joint Resolution 94 is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on March 7.


Proposal establishes Tennessee Juvenile Justice Review Commission


Legislation aimed at finding new solutions for juvenile justice issues in Tennessee advanced out of the House Children and Family Affairs Subcommittee this week.


House Bill 1103, as amended, would create the Tennessee Juvenile Justice Review Commission to review a sampling of juvenile justice cases and any critical incidents involving juveniles in the custody of the Department of Children’s Services. It would be modeled after the Second Look Commission which reviews severe child abuse cases.


The legislation was among multiple recommendations that were made earlier this year by the General Assembly’s Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Juvenile Justice. The findings were based on months of hearings with various state agencies, non-profits, local law enforcement, district attorneys, juvenile judges and health care professionals.


“We realized [in the ad hoc committee] what a problem we have,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson. “We know that some of these [juveniles] have fallen through the cracks. A lot of them have actually been in the system from time to time, so this would give us some of the harder cases to study and see what we’ve missed.”


If approved, the 15-member commission would meet at least quarterly and would be required to provide the General Assembly with findings and legislative recommendations in an annual report beginning in 2024. House Bill 1103 is scheduled to be heard in the Civil Justice Committee on March 8.


Bill increasing punishment for voluntary manslaughter advances


The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week advanced legislation to increase the punishment for voluntary manslaughter in Tennessee.


House Bill 722, as amended, would make the crime a Class B felony instead of a Class C felony.


“Lots of times you get to a voluntary manslaughter charge when somebody has been charged with first- or second-degree murder,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport. “A jury can reduce (the charge) down to voluntary manslaughter, but it’s illegal to tell a jury what the sentence is… and they get horrified, and so does the family, when somebody kills somebody and they get three to six years or are eligible for parole before they get through the court system and found guilty.”


According to state law, voluntary manslaughter is described as the intentional or knowing killing of another in a state of passion produced by adequate provocation sufficient to lead a reasonable person to act in an irrational manner.


A Class B felony is punishable by eight to 30 years in prison along with an up to $25,000 fine. A Class C felony is punishable by three to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. House Bill 722 is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on March 7.


Monroe County fourth-graders inspire pumpkin pie resolution


The House chamber on Thursday approved House Joint Resolution 23, sponsored by State Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore, to make pumpkin pie a symbol for the state of Tennessee. If passed by the Senate, the honorary title would only apply for the 113th General Assembly.


The idea for the resolution came from a fourth-grade class at Madisonville Intermediate School in Monroe County. While learning about different state symbols as part of their social studies curriculum, the students discovered that Tennessee does not have an officially recognized state pie. The class unanimously chose pumpkin pie as their favorite.


Ban on property purchases by sanctioned foreign countries advances


Legislation to prevent individuals and other entities from sanctioned foreign countries from purchasing property in Tennessee advanced out of the House Local Government Committee this week.


House Bill 40, as amended, would prohibit nonresident aliens, foreign businesses, foreign governments or their agents, trustees or fiduciaries from acquiring real property in the state if their respective country is on the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s sanctions programs and countries list.


“It’s about protecting Tennessee’s sovereignty from these foreign entities,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin. “If they ever roll off [the sanctions list], then… these folks could start selling property to them again.”


If approved, the restrictions would not apply to property acquired before July 1, 2023. House Bill 40 is scheduled to be heard in the Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee on March 8.


Majority Whip Johnny Garrett names 9 deputies


House Majority Whip Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, this week named nine Republican freshman legislators to serve as deputy whips for the 113th General Assembly.


Newly appointed members are State Reps. Robert Steven, R-Smyrna; Bryan Richey, R-Maryville; Jeff Burkhart, R-Clarksville; Monty Fritts, R-Kingston; Ed Butler, R-Rickman; Elaine Davis, R-Knoxville; Jake McCalmon, R-Franklin; Michael Hale, R-Smithville; Gino Bulso, R-Brentwood.


“These freshman leaders have already demonstrated their strong commitment to the people of their district and earned the respect of their colleagues in the House,” Garrett. “They will play a crucial role in further advancing and protecting the conservative values that matter most to Tennesseans.”


As newly appointed deputy whips, the members will assist in counting votes as well as communicating with members about the Republican supermajority’s position on issues or important legislative initiatives. They will support Garrett who is the fourth-ranking officer of the House Republican Caucus.


Tennessee Freedom to Cook Act


The General Assembly this week passed House Bill 483 to protect Tennesseans from any potential government attempts to limit the types of appliances they can use in their homes. The legislation, sponsored by State Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon, prevents the state or any local government in Tennessee from banning the sale or installation of appliances used for cooking, space heating, water heating or any other end use based on the source of energy they are powered by. It also applies to the connection or reconnection of utility services. The legislation will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk.

Enhanced handgun carry permit fee reduction


House Bill 578, sponsored by State Rep. Rush Bricken, R-Tullahoma, would remove the $100 application and processing fee for enhanced handgun carry permits in Tennessee from Jan. 4, 2024 until Jan. 1, 2027. The legislation is meant to promote responsible gun ownership by encouraging residents to take an approved handgun safety course. The House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee is scheduled to consider House Bill 578 on March 8.


Modernizing regulations for the money transmitter industry


House Bill 316 , co-sponsored by State Rep. Rush Bricken, R-Bricken, R-Tullahoma, seeks to modernize regulatory standards to enhance the safety and soundness of the money transmitter industry while supporting business, innovation and economic progress. The bill would replace the Tennessee Money Transmitter Act of 1994 as the industry has changed significantly over the years from operating out of brick-and-mortar offices to Internet-based models in multiple states. It clarifies the types of activities subject to licensing, enhances the standards required by licensees and it better aligns these standards with the risks associated with the evolving industry. Multiple other states are considering similar legislation. The House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee will take the bill up on March 8.


Alleviating the teacher shortage


The House Education Administration Committee on March 8 will consider a bill supporting Tennessee teachers. House Bill 784, sponsored by State Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, creates a fund and process to reimburse teachers for the cost of a licensure assessment after earning a passing score. Candidates must earn a passing score on required assessments to demonstrate their preparations to obtain a license and enter the classroom ready to teach. Additional funds to cover these assessments will allow more educators to become licensed in Tennessee and reduce the state’s teacher shortage.


Extending the Ground Ambulance Service Provider Assessment Act


Sponsored by State Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, House Bill 893 extends the Ground Ambulance Service Provider Assessment for one year through June 30, 2024. Ambulance providers in Tennessee impose a fee on themselves that’s administered by the Bureau of TennCare, and the fee is then leveraged into additional federal dollars that are distributed to participating ambulance services based on the number of ground transports. The bill will be considered in the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee on March 7.


Law enforcement


Legislation that will improve the hiring process for out-of-state law enforcement officers now heads to the governor’s desk. House Bill 313 allows for more efficient processing for out-of-state law enforcement personnel, while giving the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission the flexibility to determine standards of certification. An administration bill sponsored in the House by State Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore, this legislation adds practical experience and education of an applicant certified in another state to the criteria evaluated by the POST Commission when considering qualifications for certification. Current law only authorizes the POST Commission to evaluate the training received in another state compared to the training programs in Tennessee. In addition, the legislation prohibits the POST Commission from certifying a person who has been decertified in another state due to criminal or other misconduct.


Topical Medical Waste Reduction Act of 2023


The House Health Committee on Wednesday advanced legislation that allows patients to take home topical medication administered at a hospital or surgical center that is needed for continued use. House Bill 495, sponsored by State Rep. Brock Martin, R-Huntingdon, will save patients money and reduce waste for medication currently tossed out after being opened at a health care facility. It applies to topical antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, dilation, glaucoma drop or ointments. House Bill 495 is expected to be considered on the House floor next week.


Third-grade retention


The third-grade retention law passed in 2021 provides students with additional academic support before being promoted to the fourth grade if they are not reading on-level. Lawmakers this session have filed 18 bills to address concerns about the law. The House K-12 Education Subcommittee will begin to consider the proposals in a special hearing scheduled for March 7 at 4:30 p.m.


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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 Twitter.


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