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  • Writer's pictureState Rep. Kelly Keisling

End of Session Capitol Review from State Rep. Kelly Keisling

The 113th General Assembly concluded its business for the 2024 legislative session recently and adjourned sine die. 


The 2024 session successfully carried into law a slate of conservative policies that prioritized public safety, economic development, rural health care, education, and conservation.  


“This session was the most tough on crime in the history of Tennessee,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville. “We took additional steps to reduce crime by passing stricter sentencing laws for violent adult and juvenile offenders. I’m thankful for the 113th General Assembly and how we are protecting our communities and fighting to keep our families safe.” 


The session was highlighted by the supermajority’s continuous efforts to keep taxes low and remain fiscally responsible while prioritizing Tennesseans' needs. 


“Tennessee leads because Republicans continue to stand strong to preserve the common-sense conservative values that are important to the people of this state,” said House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland. “Republicans have wisely and responsibly invested in making government work more effectively and efficiently for our citizens. We will continue to build on our successes and deliver on our promise to build a safer, stronger, and more prosperous Tennessee.”


Lawmakers were well prepared to face new budgeting challenges this session with lower state revenue collections, passing a $52.8 billion zero-debt balanced budget which is $10 billion less than last year’s budget.  More than a decade of consistent conservative budgeting during times of record-high revenue growth enabled lawmakers to make strategic investments and keep recurring expenses low. This year’s budget deposits $100 million in the state’s Rainy-Day fund, bringing the total to more than $2 billion. 


“The 113th General Assembly cast a bold vision. I’m incredibly pleased that we rose to the occasion by exceeding expectations and ensuring Tennessee remains the greatest state in the union,” said House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby. “I appreciate the strong conservative fortitude and unwavering dedication of my colleagues. Our state economy is strong and our Rainy-Day fund is healthy. We are well-positioned to face any challenge that comes our way. Tennessee’s future is brighter than ever because of the strong conservative values of this General Assembly.”


Law and Order


The General Assembly passed legislation that continues Tennessee’s efforts to improve public safety and provides proactive measures to combat illegal immigration. Tennessee is a law-and-order state that values and appreciates its law enforcement and first responders. These investments include:


  • $17 million for 60 new Tennessee State Trooper positions 

  • $15 million for grant pools for volunteer firefighters, rescue squads, and EMS

  • $6.4 million for military border deployment of Tennessee National Guard

  • $4.4 million to implement blended sentencing to address juvenile crime

  • $3.3 million for mental health evaluations / treatment for certain misdemeanor defendants 

  • $1.5 million to reduce recidivism of repeat misdemeanor offenders

  • $750,000 in security grants for houses of worship 

  • $383,500 to collect data on illegal immigrants in Tennessee from law enforcement 

  • 13 new positions for the TBI

  • Criminalized abortion trafficking of minors (HB1895)

  • Duty to Warn Act (HB1625)

  • Strengthened deterrents to curb juvenile crime (HB2126)

  • Prioritized public safety when setting bond amounts (HB1642)

  • Increased protections for domestic violence victims (HB2692)

  • Increased support for victims of child sex trafficking (HB1906)

  • Enhanced penalties for threats of mass violence (HB2538) 

  • Strengthened the punishment for bullying (HB2590)

  • Parental Accountability Act (HB1930) 

  • Increased protections for law enforcement officers from assault (HB1881/Back the Blue Act) 


Healthy Tennessee Families


Budget and legislative priorities include significant investments in rural and behavioral health care, with $303 million in new dollars directed to 17 programs. These funds will help to expand bed capacity, fund infrastructure projects for children’s hospitals and expand access to behavioral health inpatient care. These priorities are funded through shared savings from Tennessee’s successful TennCare waiver, which allows the state to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the TennCare program. 


  • Legislative initiatives will support Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens, including individuals with disabilities

  • Expanded TennCare health coverage for mental health services (HB 2921)


Economic Development


Tennessee delivered the strongest protections in the nation when it comes to managing the risks and potential of artificial intelligence. The ELVIS (Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security) Act puts in critical safeguards to protect the humanity and artistic expression of Tennessee innovators and creators from theft through AI-generated media.  


  • $393 million to deliver tax cuts and provide $1.5 billion in nonrecurring funds to simplify franchise tax

  • $36 million to help distressed counties and rural communities with economic development initiatives for community asset improvements, marketing and downtown revitalization grants


Education 


The budget adds $261 million in new recurring dollars for K-12 education, bringing the total base Tennessee Investment in Achievement (TISA) budget to $6.8 billion and the overall budget for public education to $8.55 billion.  The new dollars will cover medical insurance premiums, retirement for teachers, and funding for teacher raises to bring the annual starting base salary up to $50,000 by 2026. 


  • $30 million for summer learning programs 

  • $3.2 million for AP courses to students across rural and urban Tennessee

  • $2.5 million to strengthen students’ reading and phonics skills

  • Protected students from political indoctrination in the classroom (HB1605)

  • Ensuring AI regulations in education (HB1630)

  • Allow college students to protect themselves on campus (HB1909)

  • Improved school safety by allowing school faculty and staff to participate in voluntary training programs for crisis management  


Children and Families


  • Enshrined parental rights in state law (HB2936)

  • Increased protections for children online from accessing pornography (HB1614)

  • Protected children from abortion trafficking (HB1895)

  • Required parental consent for minors using social media (HB1891)


Conservation


  • $59 million for Tennessee State Parks capital projects

  • $51 million to the Heritage Preservation Fund to preserve land across this state

  • $20 million to expand blueways trail access with new recreational access points 

  • $10 million to improve water quality at rivers, lakes and streams across the state

  • $10 million to expedite the Bill Dance Signature Lakes initiative

  • $5 million to protect and enhance scenic beauty along our major highways

  • $3 million to make state parks more accessible to Tennesseans with disabilities


Death penalty option for child rapists heads to governor’s desk


The General Assembly this week approved legislation allowing the state to seek the death penalty as an option for those convicted of raping a child under the age of 12.  


“If we are going to have the death penalty for any offense, it should be an option for these offenses,” said bill sponsor House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland. “Not in every single case, but in those cases where there are aggravating circumstances… it should at least be an option for a jury for the worst of the worst offenders out there.”


In order to be eligible for the death penalty, biological evidence must be presented during a trial linking the defendant to the crime, and serious bodily injury must have been caused to the victim.


 House Bill 1663 builds on the General Assembly’s efforts in recent years to improve public safety, reduce recidivism rates, and hold criminals accountable through smart-on-crime justice reforms. The General Assembly in 2022 passed truth in sentencing laws that increased penalties for the most violent of crimes and now requires offenders to serve 85-100 percent of their sentences.  


House Bill 1663 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. It will take effect July 1.


Debbie and Marie Domestic Violence Protection Act approved


The General Assembly this week passed landmark legislation significantly increasing protections for domestic violence victims in Tennessee.

 

The Debbie and Marie Domestic Violence Protection Act, sponsored by State Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, requires aggravated assault suspects in certain domestic violence cases to wear a GPS monitoring system if they are released on bond. A GPS service provider must notify a victim’s cell phone if their alleged attacker is within a certain proximity of their location. The company must also notify local law enforcement if a defendant violates the terms of their bond conditions.


“Tennessee has struggled in recent years with a high number of domestic violence cases,” Doggett said. “As a former law enforcement officer, I have seen firsthand the devastating effects these crimes can have in our communities. Strengthening public safety and support for victims across our state remains a top priority. The Debbie and Marie Domestic Violence Protection Act will undoubtedly save lives, and I appreciate my colleagues in the General Assembly for their support.”


The legislation is named in honor of Debbie Sisco and her daughter Marie Varsos. Both women were killed in 2021 by Varsos’ estranged husband who was out on bond after being arrested for strangling his wife and threatening to shoot her a month earlier.   


Statewide, there were 61,713 domestic violence cases reported in 2022, according to the most recent data from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Of those victims, 71 percent were female. 


The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates that nearly 40 percent of women in Tennessee will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime. 


House Bill 2692 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. It will take effect July 1.


Republicans increase protections for children from adult content online


Republicans passed legislation that will further protect children from accessing pornography online in Tennessee.

 

The General Assembly this week passed the Protect Tennessee Minors Act, sponsored by State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain. The act requires websites to implement an age-verification process if a substantial portion of their content is harmful to minors. 


“We do not allow minors to go into adult establishments,” Hazlewood said. “We do not allow minors access to written materials that are inappropriate. This bill would do the same thing in the cyber world. There is a great deal of in-depth research and data that shows exposure to these kinds of materials at a young age is very damaging to our children.”


The legislation requires website owners 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 are 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.


A national survey found that 73 percent of teen respondents between the ages of 13 and 17 admitted to having viewed pornography online. House Bill 1614 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. It will take effect Jan. 1, 2025.


General Assembly approves penalties for abortion trafficking


The General Assembly this week approved legislation further protecting the unborn in Tennessee. 


House Bill 1895, sponsored by State Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, makes abortion trafficking a minor a Class A misdemeanor. The legislation seeks to prevent anyone from attempting to circumvent the state’s current abortion law by helping to facilitate an abortion for a minor without parental consent. 


“The legislation that you have in front of you ensures that parents can make the best decision for their children,” Zachary said. “(It) is critically important because the recruitment and transporting of a minor to facilitate an abortion is happening in our state.”


The legislation also allows any adult who illegally transports a minor for an abortion to be held civilly liable for the wrongful death of the unborn child.


Republicans in the General Assembly in 2019 laid the groundwork to ensure life is protected at conception in Tennessee should the U.S. Supreme Court ever reverse its decision to legalize abortion. The General Assembly that year passed the Human Life Protection Act, a conditional trigger law written to go into effect 30 days following the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade. 


When the high court overturned its 1973 decision on June 24, 2022, the Human Life Protection Act became law and automatically made abortion for any reason a felony in Tennessee. 


House Bill 1895 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. It will take effect July 1.


Tennessee Prevention of Drunk Driving Act approved


Legislation that aims to curb drunk driving in Tennessee now heads to the governor’s desk to become law.  


The Tennessee Prevention of Drunk Driving Act, sponsored by State Rep. Ron Gant, R-Piperton, creates a 12-member advisory task force to review impaired driving and boating statewide and offer solutions.  The Impaired Driving Advisory Council would also be required to submit all of its reports, strategic plans and recommendations annually to the General Assembly.


“Law enforcement across the state are doing everything they can, but they need help in solving this problem,” Gant said Tuesday.


House Bill 2845 also requires law enforcement officers investigating fatal wrecks involving a suspected drunk driver to determine if they were served alcohol at a licensed establishment. The findings must be reported to the Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC) within 48 hours.


Additionally, server permits issued after Jan. 1, 2025 must be renewed every two years instead of every five years. The change will ensure applicants complete a certified alcohol awareness program more regularly.


The ABC will also be required to regularly report to the legislature ways to prevent underage drinking, drunk driving and other harmful uses of alcohol in Tennessee.


There were 6,135 wrecks statewide that involved an alcohol-impaired driver in 2022, according to the most recent data from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. There were 324 fatalities and more than 3,700 injuries as a result.


Public school therapy dog pilot program approved


Legislation creating a therapy dog pilot program for public schools in Tennessee was approved by the General Assembly this week. 


House Bill 1908, sponsored by State Rep. Gino Bulso, R-Brentwood, authorizes the Tennessee Department of Education to place a therapy dog in five schools during the 2024-25 school year. 


“This builds on a program we have in Williamson County that has been particularly effective in raising students' spirits and addressing any anxiety or emotional issues that some students have,” Bulso said. 


The bill requires the department to select at least one school from each of the state’s three grand divisions to participate in the program. Priority should also be given to schools that serve a variety of different grade levels. 


At the end of the school year, the department will submit a report to the General Assembly providing the outcomes of the pilot program and recommend whether it should be extended. 


House Bill 1908 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Bill allowing additional school safety measures approved


The General Assembly this week approved legislation giving school districts additional options to protect students and teachers in Tennessee.


House Bill 1202, sponsored by State Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, allows faculty or staff members in K-12 public schools statewide to carry a concealed handgun on campus if allowed by the local superintendent, principal and law enforcement agency. Rigorous training and other safety measures would also be required prior to any approval.


“This bill seeks to… create a deterrent across our state,” Williams said. “We (also) wanted to ensure that the maximum amount of safety and understanding with a firearm would be met, so we required that a majority of the training… would be hands-on.”


“If they are found to not be proficient, then the law enforcement agency would simply not approve them,” he added.


Prior to carrying a concealed handgun on campus, a school faculty or staff member would also need to obtain an enhanced carry permit, undergo 40 hours of law enforcement training annually with hands-on experience, a mental health evaluation, background and fingerprint check.


Private schools and distressed counties in Tennessee already have the ability to allow school faculty and staff to carry a concealed weapon on campus, Williams noted. Similar laws also already exist in 33 other states nationwide. 


The Republican-led General Assembly allocated $232 million in 2023 to enhance school safety, which included $140 million for an armed school resource officer (SRO) in every Tennessee public school. More than 550 schools statewide were without an SRO as of October, according to the Tennessee Department of Education. House Bill 1202 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. 


General Assembly creates elder financial abuse hotline


Legislation protecting elderly and vulnerable Tennesseans from financial exploitation was unanimously approved by the General Assembly this week. 


House Bill 1248, sponsored by State Rep. Dennis Powers, R-Jacksboro, requires the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to create a system for financial institutions to report suspected cases of elder financial exploitation. 


“We have an estimated $500 million (stolen) and more than 7,000 victims of elderly financial abuse reported in Tennessee every year,” Powers said. “This hotline will hopefully be able to intercept most of these terrible scams before they ever happen.” 


Once a report is received, a referral will be made to local law enforcement, district attorneys or Adult Protective Services who will take on the investigation. Data will be collected from the hotline and used to determine exactly how many attempts are made each year, where they take place, and how many investigators could be needed to handle the reports. 


The legislation will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. The reporting platform must be in place by Oct. 1. 


Back the Blue Act increases protections for police 


The General Assembly this week passed legislation offering additional protections for police officers in Tennessee. 


The Back The Blue Act, sponsored by State Rep. Kip Capley, R-Summertown, enhances the penalty for assault against a law enforcement officer from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony punishable by a mandatory minimum 60-day sentence and a $10,000 fine. 


“An assault on law enforcement is an attack on the entire community that he or she serves,” Capley said. “Police go to work each day with the goal of improving public safety and it’s important we support the difficult job they do. Tennessee Republicans will always back the blue and I thank my colleagues for supporting this important bill.”   


In Tennessee, assaulting a first responder, including nurses, firefighters and emergency services personnel, is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by 30 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. Assault includes knowingly causing bodily injury or knowingly causing offensive physical contact, including spitting, throwing or transferring bodily fluids, human pathogens or waste onto a first responder. 


There were 1,603 simple assaults on law enforcement officers last year in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. 


House Bill 1881 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Chris Wright Act targets habitual misdemeanor offenders


Criminals who commit multiple misdemeanors in Tennessee will see stiffer penalties following passage of a new law approved this week by the General Assembly. 


The Chris Wright Act, sponsored by State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, makes it a Class E felony to commit six or more qualifying misdemeanors within a certain number of years. The list includes more than 30 total crimes ranging from assault to driving under the influence.


“The situation… is about the misdemeanants that you have in your community that have offended over and over and over again with little or no punishment,” Hazlewood said. “We (also) recognize that people sometimes make mistakes, they get with a bad crowd, they do things they later regret and… turn their lives around. So, if you go 10 years without a misdemeanor the automatic felony charge does not apply.”


An individual would also face a Class E felony if found guilty of committing any combination of three or more specific misdemeanors on the list. Those crimes include assault against a first responder or nurse; child abuse; child neglect or endangerment; domestic assault; unlawful carrying or possession of a firearm; violation of an order of protection or restraining order; or violation of a no contact order.


The legislation is named in honor of Chris Wright, who was fatally shot in Chattanooga last year. The suspect had been previously arrested 66 times, including dozens of misdemeanor offenses.


House Bill 2323 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. It will take effect July 1.


New law protects drivers from predatory car booting


The General Assembly this week approved legislation that streamlines Tennessee’s towing code and provides protections for drivers against car booting.  


House Bill 1731, also known as the Modernization of Towing, Immobilization and Oversight Normalization (MOTION) Act, restricts unlicensed individuals from booting vehicles in Tennessee. It also caps removal fees at $75 for commercial parking lots and offers drivers other guarantees against unfair booting and towing.


“This is a consumer protection bill that will ensure Tennesseans aren’t being exploited,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Jake McCalmon, R-Franklin. “I’ve heard several stories around the state of a few bad apples taking advantage of drivers when there’s a more efficient and cost-effective solution than booting or towing a vehicle. The MOTION Act ensures Tennessee drivers are being treated with the respect they deserve.”


The legislation prohibits commercial parking lot owners from booting vehicles if the vehicle is not abandoned, immobile or unattended. It also prohibits lot owners from using automatic license plate readers without proper signage and from charging penalties for non-payment of parking fees if certain conditions have been met.


House Bill 1731 ensures no vehicle is booted without a licensed parking attendant present and available to remove the boot within 45 minutes of a driver’s call. It also ensures tow operators release a vehicle if the driver pays a fee before the car in question leaves the lot.  


The legislation will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. 


General Assembly keeps guns from violent juvenile offenders


Teenagers who commit certain violent crimes will be barred from purchasing a firearm until they are 25 beginning July 1.


The General Assembly this week passed House Bill 1600, sponsored by State Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, which applies to any juvenile 14 years of age or older that is adjudicated delinquent by a court for committing one of more than a dozen violent offenses. 


“This would just prohibit them from being able to purchase a gun until their brain fully develops at 25,” Williams said. “The repercussions of their actions as a juvenile will carry into adulthood and therefore possibly prevent crime.”


The legislation would apply to those minors whose conduct, if tried as an adult, would be classified as aggravated assault, aggravated assault against a first responder or nurse, criminal homicide, robbery, aggravated robbery, especially aggravated robbery, carjacking, burglary, aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary, aggravated cruelty to animals, a threat of mass violence, or any other criminal offense that involves the use or display of a firearm.


Once an individual turned 19, they could petition a court to have their right to purchase a firearm restored early.


House Bill 1600 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. 


Juvenile blended sentencing bill passes in General Assembly


Legislation allowing blended court sentences for certain juvenile offenders was approved by the General Assembly this week. 


House Bill 430, filed by State Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, and carried by State Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, creates a blended sentencing option for crimes committed by a juvenile 16 years or older that would be a Class A, B or C felony if they were an adult. The bill also extends the juvenile court’s jurisdiction from a juvenile’s 19th birthday to their 24th birthday. 


“The blended sentencing route allows for a juvenile coming into young adulthood to still have access to the services and support they need to become successful, law-abiding citizens once they are released,” Farmer said. 


Juveniles accused of an act that would require them to be classified as serious youthful offenders would also have the right to a jury trial. However, they can waive that right only after consulting with their attorney. 


House Bill 430 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. It will take effect Jan. 1. 


Lawmakers crack down on illegal street racing, road-blocking 


Legislation aimed at keeping Tennessee’s roads clear of dangerous and illegal obstructions now heads to the governor’s desk. 


House Bill 2031, sponsored by State Rep. Jody Barrett, R-Dickson, allows someone who suffered injury or loss to bring legal action against a person who intentionally obstructs a Tennessee roadway or other place used for the passage of vehicles without legal authorization. 


“Street racing, takeovers and other forms of intentionally blocking roads are growing problems in our state and across the country,” Barrett said. “It’s illegal, it’s reckless and I’m committed to finding solutions to put a stop to it.” 


Street racing has become prevalent across Tennessee and the entire country. More than 60 cars blocked a Nashville intersection in November for a street racing event. In 2022, more than 300 arrests were made in Memphis during a six-month period for drag racing and reckless driving. 


In Tennessee, knowingly or recklessly obstructing a roadway or other public passageway without lawful authority is a Class A misdemeanor. 


Assisted Care Living Facility Improvement Fund approved


Legislation aimed at further improving Tennessee nursing homes and assisted care living facilities passed unanimously in both chambers of the General Assembly this week. 


House Bill 2650, sponsored by State Rep. Esther Helton-Haynes, R-East Ridge, improves the Tennessee Health Facility Commission’s ability to regulate nursing homes and assisted care living facilities. It also creates the Assisted Care Living Facility Improvement Fund to provide grants for assisted living facilities to utilize.


Additionally, the bill authorizes the Tennessee Health Facilities Commission (HFC) to file for receivership of facilities in financial distress, allowing the state to appoint a temporary manager to oversee them. It also establishes an independent and formal dispute resolution program for nursing home facilities to contest disciplinary actions against them. House Bill 2650 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. It will take effect July 1. 


Unified court system streamlines judiciary


The General Assembly this week approved legislation streamlining court records in Tennessee. 


House Bill 2930, filed by House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and carried by House Majority Whip Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville, creates a unified court system for clerks to use for case management, data collection, and overall communication.


The General Assembly previously appropriated $75 million for the new system. This legislation authorizes the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) to work with clerks across the state to determine the best software to use. 


“We have more than 300 court systems in the state and they all operate on different systems,” Garrett said. “Technically, they can’t talk to one another. This unified system will greatly improve the communication between our clerks while also allowing us to collect data on what crimes are committed and where they are taking place.” 


The AOC must provide a plan of action for the system implementation by January 2025. House Bill 2930 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Expanding TennCare access for disabled Tennesseans


The General Assembly this week unanimously approved legislation expanding TennCare access for employed Tennesseans with disabilities.


The TennCare for Working Individuals with Disabilities Act allows qualified disabled individuals to pay a premium to access Medicaid’s long-term support services, even if their income exceeds the current Medicaid eligibility requirements.


“This bill is an important priority for the disability community and opens up a brand-new horizon for Tennesseans with disabilities to go to work, sustain their families and live their lives,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Tim Hicks, R-Gray. 


House Bill 2940 prohibits income, resources or maximum age from being factors in restricting eligibility for the program. A monthly premium must equal five percent of a participant’s countable income, according to the bill. 


Currently, disabled Tennesseans who wish to work risk losing access to certain TennCare programs, making them choose between adequate health care or increased income levels through employment. 


Forty-six other states have passed similar legislation improving the quality of life and health care options for disabled individuals.


House Bill 2940 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Low-income housing incentive program approved


The General Assembly approved legislation this week incentivizing developers to build more affordable housing in rural areas of Tennessee.


House Bill 1046, sponsored by State Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, creates the Tennessee Rural and Workforce Housing Act. 


The legislation mirrors the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, which provides incentives for the development of affordable housing for people that earn 60 percent or less of the area’s median income. Those tax credits are currently administered by the Tennessee Housing and Development Authority (THDA). 


“My hope is that the creation of this program will help to stimulate growth and development in our rural areas,” Vaughan said. “As a result, it will give our low-income families more options for affordable, safe and quality housing.”


House Bill 1046 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. 


Republicans increase mental health care access


Legislation increasing access to mental health services and treatment for TennCare patients was unanimously approved by the General Assembly this week.


House Bill 2921, filed by House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and carried by State Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, requires TennCare health benefit plans to provide the same coverage and reimbursement rates for mental health services as those for alcoholism and drug dependence treatment. 


“For far too long… the reimbursement rate for mental health services was lower,” Williams said. “With the Speaker’s guidance on this bill, it will be required that those two services are reimbursed at exactly the same rate… so that those mental health practitioners can serve more Tennesseans.”


TennCare is the state’s Medicaid program that provides health care for approximately 1.5 million Tennesseans. House Bill 2921 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. It will take effect July 1.


Briefly…


Protecting Tennessee farmland: Legislation further protecting property in Tennessee from being purchased by hostile foreign nations was approved by the General Assembly this week. House Bill 2553, sponsored by State Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, strengthens an existing ban on prohibited foreign parties designated by the federal government from owning or acquiring property in the state unless certain conditions are met. Prohibited entities that currently own land in the state will be required to divest themselves from the property within two years, according to the bill. The legislation also requires those prohibited foreign parties or business that hold an interest in property to register with either the Department of Agriculture or the Secretary of State beginning Jan. 1, 2025. Of the 26.4 million total acres in Tennessee, there were 427,288 acres of agricultural land and 434,268 acres of non-agricultural land owned by a foreign country or investor as of December 2020, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Attorney General’s office would take legal action if a required divesture did not occur, and violations could result in a Class A misdemeanor. House Bill 2553 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Violation of bond conditions: The General Assembly this week approved legislation to strengthen the penalty for individuals who violate their bond conditions. House Bill 1641, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, makes it a Class A misdemeanor for a defendant who violates the conditions of their pre-trial release. The change allows law enforcement to arrest individuals who are suspected of violating their bond conditions instead of having to wait for the district attorney’s office to file a motion and schedule a court hearing beforehand. The new law will take effect July 1.


School alert systems: The General Assembly this week passed legislation establishing a pilot grant program to help fund the installation of safety alert systems in Tennessee public schools. House Bill 2528, sponsored by State Rep. Ron Gant, R-Piperton, will provide $48,000 annually to assist local school districts and public charter schools with the installation of rapid response devices. The systems can pinpoint the exact locations of an emergency and directly notify law enforcement in situations such as a medical emergency, unauthorized intruder, or other crisis. The Department of Education would be in charge of administering the grant program and funds must be awarded to two schools from each of the state’s three grand divisions. Several school districts in the state already use similar mobile panic alarm systems. House Bill 2528 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Electronic medical records: Legislation protecting Tennesseans’ access to their electronic medical records and streamlining the transfer of that information between health care providers passed unanimously in both chambers of the General Assembly this week. House Bill 2011, sponsored by State Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, prohibits health care professionals from contracting with a person or entity that restricts patients or their representatives from accessing their electronic health records. It also specifies that certain test results should be held for 72 hours so that the health care provider is able to speak with the patient before it publishes to the online portal. House Bill 2011 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.  


Judicial redistricting: Legislation reallocating two circuit court judgeships in Tennessee was approved by the General Assembly this week. House Bill 2002, sponsored by State Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, provides the 4th and 19th judicial districts each with an additional judge that has been needed for several years. The 4th Judicial District includes Cocke, Grainger, Jefferson and Sevier counties while the 19th Judicial District includes Montgomery and Robertson counties. Once signed into law, the judges will begin their terms on Sept. 1. 


School safety: The General Assembly this week unanimously passed legislation establishing guidelines for public schools in Tennessee that choose to use electronic mapping of their facilities. House Bill 2283, sponsored by State Rep. Kirk Haston, R-Lobelville, provides consistency in digital school mapping for first responders to use during an emergency. House Bill 2283 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. 


Vaping: The General Assembly this week unanimously passed legislation aimed at learning more about the effects of vaping on young Tennesseans. House Bill 2433, sponsored by State Rep. Bryan Terry, R-Murfreesboro, directs the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations to identify the prevalence of vaping among individuals under the age of 21, and include things such as health outcomes, enforcement of underage sales and how to address usage on school grounds. House Bill 2433 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. 


Bail discretion: The General Assembly this week passed a proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that would increase public safety by allowing bail to be denied for more violent crimes. Senate Joint Resolution 919 would expand a judge’s ability to deny bail for certain violent crimes, including terrorism, second-degree murder, aggravated rape and grave torture. The proposed amendment would also increase judicial transparency by requiring a judge or magistrate to explain their reasons for allowing or denying bail for a defendant. Any proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution must first be approved by two separate General Assemblies before it can be placed on the ballot for voters to decide.


Eminent domain: Legislation increasing protections for Tennessee property owners from eminent domain was approved by the General Assembly this week. House Bill 2120, sponsored by House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, removes recreational facilities, recreational purposes and parks from the definition of public use for eminent domain. House Bill 2120 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. 


Parental accountability: The General Assembly this week approved legislation allowing juvenile courts to issue orders of restitution of up to $1,000 to a parent if their child is found delinquent for a second or subsequent act. The Parental Accountability Act, sponsored by State Rep. John Gillespie, R-Memphis, applies to parents, legal custodians, and guardians of a delinquent child. Parents would pay restitution of at least $250 to a law enforcement agency for expenses incurred responding to delinquent acts. The fine can be substituted by community service if a person is found indigent. There were 1,288 juveniles were adjudicated delinquent in Tennessee during the 2022-23 fiscal year. A 2021 report found that 11.8% of juvenile delinquents were adjudicated for an additional act within a year. House Bill 1930 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. 


Supporting truckers: The General Assembly unanimously passed legislation requiring the Tennessee Department of Revenue to issue refunds to families of deceased freight motor vehicle operators for vehicle registration fees. The Ethan Wade Walls Act, sponsored by State Rep. Ed Butler, R-Rickman, directs the department to issue prorated refunds on commercial tags for trucking companies with less than three trucks. House Bill 1805 is named in honor of Ethan Wade Walls, a 30-year-old who died after the dump truck he was driving veered off a narrow roadway and rolled. The tragedy occurred just months after fulfilling his dream of owning and operating his own trucking company. Walls left behind a wife and two sons. House Bill 1805 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. 


Ocoee River: Legislation allowing the Ocoee River Recreation and Economic Development Fund Board to work with the deputy commissioner of state parks to negotiate with the TVA for additional water release days during the rafting season was approved by the General Assembly this week. House Bill 1946, sponsored by State Rep. Dan Howell, R-Ocoee, is expected to bring more tourists and rafting enthusiasts to the region. The bill will also designate the Ocoee as an Olympic River in keeping with the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Act. Permit holders who wish to retire or sell their business to transfer permits will be allowed to under the legislation. The Ocoee River, part of the Tennessee state park system, boasts Class III-IV rapids and was the venue for the 1996 Summer Olympics canoe slalom event. More than 220,000 paddlers take to its waters each year, contributing almost $44 million annually to the region and providing more than 600 jobs.


Indecent exposure: The General Assembly this week approved legislation enhancing the penalty for indecent exposure by prisoners. House Bill 1924, sponsored by State Rep. Ed Butler, R-Rickman, enhances the indecent exposure offense from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 14 days if the person was confined in a penal institution and the inmate intended to abuse, torment, harass or embarrass a guard or staff member. The bill now awaits Gov. Bill Lee’s signature.


Drag racing: The General Assembly this week passed legislation improving safety on Tennessee roads by deterring illegal street racing. House Bill 2814, sponsored by State Rep. John Gillespie, R-Memphis, enhances the penalty for drag racing from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony. House Bill 2062, sponsored by State Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, creates a task force to study how to deter illegal street racing in this state. The task force is required to report its findings to the General Assembly by Jan. 15, 2025. Both bills now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law. 


School zone safety: The General Assembly this week passed legislation improving traffic safety at schools in Tennessee. House Bill 1623, sponsored by State Rep. Michael Hale, R-Smithville, allows cities and counties to hire employees or appoint volunteers to direct traffic on public roads within a school zone. Traffic directors would be required to undergo training and use the appropriate safety apparel and equipment. The legislation would apply at schools only during the times necessary for picking up and dropping off students. Drivers who knowingly disobey traffic warnings within the marked school zone could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $50. House Bill 1623 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Illegal immigration: Legislation requiring the District Attorney General Conference to collect data and cost statistics on the number of illegal immigrants incarcerated in the United States was approved by the General Assembly this week. House Bill 2774, sponsored by State Rep. Jake McCalmon, R-Franklin, will provide the Tennessee Attorney General with adequate resources to bring suit against the federal government for their failed border policies. The legislation will be repealed on July 1, 2032. House Bill 2774 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Fentanyl: The General Assembly this week passed legislation that aims to reduce fentanyl overdose deaths in Tennessee. House Bill 2301, sponsored by State Rep. Dan Howell, R-Ocoee, gives district attorneys broader discretion when prosecuting drug dealers. This legislation moves from Tennessee’s criminal code to drug code the language that allows alleged drug dealers to be charged with second-degree murder if a fentanyl overdose death occurs. The bill seeks to clarify Tennessee law and clean up prosecutions of certain drug offenses. House Bill 2301 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


Hospital support: The General Assembly this week approved legislation providing financial relief for hospitals in Tennessee. The Annual Coverage Assessment Act of 2024, sponsored by State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, increases the coverage assessment rate from 4.87 percent to 6 percent. The legislation is expected to bring $3 billion in additional federal funding for TennCare, which will benefit rural and safety net hospitals and help prevent cuts to the program. The legislation also ensures funding for critical asset hospitals in the state. House Bill 1723 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.


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