State Rep. Kelly Keisling: Capitol Hill Review
Transparency in Sentencing for Victims Act passes House chamber
The House of Representatives on Thursday unanimously passed the Transparency in Sentencing for Victims Act. House Bill 2657 is designed to better inform crime victims and their families about how much time an offender will serve at the time of sentencing.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, partnered with State Rep. Michael G. Curcio, R-Dickson, the co-prime sponsor of the bill. House Bill 2657 would require all Tennessee courts to place on the record, either orally or in writing, the estimated number of years and months to be served before a criminal is eligible for parole.
Improving transparency in sentencing ensures victims and their communities will know precisely when an offender will be released from prison and improve overall public safety. The Senate companion version of the bill is expected to be considered in the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 22. Information about House Bill 2657 can be found here.
Proposal to waive registration fees for Tennessee drivers advances
Legislation that aims to reduce vehicle registration fees advanced out of the House Transportation Committee this week. As amended, the House Bill 2640 proposes to provide a tax reduction for Tennessee drivers by waiving the state’s portion of annual registration fees for a Class A or B motor vehicle from July 1, 2022 through June 30, 2023.
“We’re all feeling the pinch of record-high gas prices and inflation that many of us have not seen in our lifetime,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain. “Our state is in great shape fiscally, so this is a way we can put tax dollars back into the pockets of the people it really belongs to – Tennessee taxpayers.”
The savings adds up to $23.75 per automobile for about 5 million registered Class B passenger vehicles in Tennessee and $16.75 for 170,000 Class A motorcycles and autocycles. House Bill 2640 is expected to be heard in the Finance, Ways, and Means Subcommittee on March 23. For more about the bill visit here.
Legislation aims to attract more truckers, alleviate supply chain shortage
A proposal that aims to alleviate the nation’s supply chain crisis and attract more qualified candidates to the trucking industry advanced through House committees this week. House Bill 2146 deregulates the process for obtaining a commercial driver license (CDL) in Tennessee. The bill is expected to be heard in Finance, Ways, and Means on March 23.
The bill aims to address a shortage of drivers in the trucking industry by removing certain barriers on the state and federal level for qualified candidates to obtain a CDL. Some of these obstacles have made it more difficult for candidates to enter the trucking industry and caused serious delays in transporting goods around the nation. House Bill 2146 increases resources of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security to allow for quicker turnaround time for scheduling commercial driving skills tests, co-sponsor Speaker Pro Tempore Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville told members of the Government Operations Committee on March 14.
The bill will also expand options for approved third-party partners to conduct more commercial driving skills tests on the department’s behalf. It lowers the age of eligibility for a Class A or B license from 21 to 18 years when the applicant operates a commercial vehicle solely within Tennessee and meets other certain conditions. House Bill 2146 also authorizes the Tennessee Department of Correction and the Department of Safety to jointly create a CDL training program for offenders who, upon release from prison, may be suitable for careers in the transportation industry. For more about House Bill 2146, visit here.
House passes legislation addressing K-12 staffing challenges
The House Chamber unanimously passed legislation that would help Tennessee school districts address ongoing staffing challenges. House Bill 2783 allows retired members of the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS) to be reemployed as a K-12 teacher, K-12 substitute teacher, or as a K-12 bus driver without the loss or suspension of the retired member’s TCRS benefits.
During the reemployment, retirement benefits would be reduced to 70 percent of the retirement allowance the member would have otherwise been entitled to receive. Currently, some retired members of TCRS can return to work but only for a maximum of 120 days. This bill removes that limit, allowing for 180 calendar days as long as each retiree that participates is 60 or more days past their retirement date. Information about House Bill 2783 can be found here.
State Parks Funding Act maximizes Tennessee’s investment in parks
The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee Committee advanced House Bill 2168 this week. The bill establishes the State Parks Hospitality Maintenance and Improvement Fund. If approved by the General Assembly, the bill would require at least 2 percent of the gross revenue created by park facilities to be deposited into the fund to be used for maintenance expenses each year. The bill replaces the present law priority list of excess revenue.
Twenty-four of the state’s 56 parks are located in distressed or at-risk counties that depend on the parks to drive taxpayer dollars to those communities.
House Bill 2168 allows the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to designate the fund through self-funding rather than requesting regular allocations from the general fund. It would cover routine maintenance, replacement of furniture, fixtures and equipment as well as regular renovation. House Bill 2168 is expected to be heard in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on March 23. For information about House Bill 2168 visit here.
Committee advances bill allowing TEMA to use drones for emergency response
The House Criminal Justice Committee is expected to consider legislation next week that would allow the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) to use drones to aid in emergency response efforts. Current state law prohibits the agency from doing so.
House Bill 2178 permits TEMA to use drones to survey the scene of a catastrophe or other damage, coordinate a disaster response, conduct damage assessments of property and infrastructure following a disaster and help with search and rescue efforts.
Allowing drones to fly over and capture images will expedite help and clean-up as well as other services to areas damaged, said the bill’s co-sponsor, State Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin to members of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week. The bill would allow images captured for damage assessment to be retained no more than one year unless the disaster has been declared a major disaster by the president of the United States, in which case the images may be retained for a designated period of time by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for data related to the assessment. Information about House Bill 2178 can be found here.
Age-Appropriate Materials Act of 2022 gets House approval
The Tennessee House of Representatives approved legislation this week to increase transparency and oversight of library materials in public schools statewide.
House Bill 2154, also known as the Age-Appropriate Materials Act of 2022, requires local education agencies and public charter schools to adopt a policy for developing and reviewing school library collections that include factors such as the age and maturity of students. A current list of materials in each school’s library collection must also be posted on the school’s website beginning with the 2022-23 school year.
“There are going to be parents out there that may complain about some textbooks in their libraries and this presents an opportunity for those to be heard by their local board of education,” State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, said on the House floor Monday. “The school board, who are the elected representatives of that community, would be the ones charged with using the community standards to determine whether or not a book should be removed or placed in a different section of the library.”
The Senate approved its version of the bill last month. It will now go to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature. Information about House Bill 2154 can be found here.
Bill requires parental consent for all vaccinations of minors
The House Health Subcommittee is scheduled to discuss legislation next week that would prevent minors from being vaccinated without parental consent.
House Bill 2451, as amended, states that a parent or legal guardian must give written consent before their child receives a vaccination or injection from a health care practitioner. It would also require written permission before a student participated in a mental health screening.
The legislation would replace the portion of the Mature Minor Doctrine which allows health departments to provide vaccinations to patients as young as 14 without parental consent if the individual provider determines that the patent meets the definition of a “mature minor.” Health care providers must already get written consent from a legal guardian before vaccinating a minor against COVID-19, according to legislation approved by state lawmakers last year.
“This bill reiterates the fact that parents have total control when it comes to making the best health care decisions for their children, not the government, not the school system and not the department of health,” State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, said. “Parents are already responsible for their children until they turn 18. This just ensures that they have the final say regarding their children and any current or future vaccines that may be developed.”
House Bill 2451 would not affect the manner in which a local education agency is required to provide educational services to a child as part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or other federal law. It would also not apply to students who are 18 years of age or older. More information about the legislation can be found here.
Committee advances legislation protecting the unborn
A proposal to protect the lives of unborn children in Tennessee advanced this week. House Bill 2779, also known as the Human Life Protection Act, would prohibit abortions except in cases where the mother’s life was at risk or if the procedure would provide the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive.
“My intent is to bring a bill that protects the unborn life in this state,” State Rep. Rebecca Alexander, R-Jonesborough, told members of the House Health Subcommittee on Tuesday.
A private citizen could file a civil lawsuit against an abortion provider in Tennessee that violated the law, as well as anyone who knowingly helped someone get the procedure, according to the legislation. Abortion patients could not be sued or criminally charged. The bill is modeled after a similar law approved in Texas last year, which resulted in a more than 50 percent reduction in abortions, according to a study published by the University of Texas at Austin in October 2021.
House Bill 2779 now heads to the full House Health Committee for additional discussion. More information about the legislation can be found here.
Bills protecting visitation at hospitals, long-term care facilities advances
Two bills that would ensure visitors are allowed for hospital patients and residents of long-term care facilities in certain situations advanced out of the House Health Subcommittee on Tuesday.
House Bill 2778 would require hospitals to allow patients to have at least one family member or representative as a visitor if the individual agrees to follow all safety protocols established by the hospital. The requirement would not apply to patients who are in an intensive care unit.
“Every patient has a right to one advocate with them at all times,” State Rep. Rebecca Alexander, R-Jonesborough, told members of the subcommittee. “This is not just for COVID, it is not for a pandemic (but) it is for all times.”
Another piece of legislation, House Bill 2535, would require nursing homes and assisted-care facilities to allow visitors for a resident during end-of-life situations. Any visitor must not be exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or any other communicable disease, and they must agree to follow all safety protocols established by the long-term care facility.
“The federal government closed the facilities to indoor visitation for more than a year during the pandemic, but still allowed end-of-life visitation,” Alexander said. “Visits must adhere to… infection control protocols like hand washing, face coverings in common areas, as well as other required safety protocols.”
Both bills now head to the full House Health Committee for additional discussion. Additional information about House Bill 2535 can be found here.
Legislation advances to strengthen punishment for evading arrest in a vehicle
Legislation to make Tennessee roadways safer by increasing the punishment for those who flee law enforcement advanced out of the House Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday.
House Bill 1886 would allow vehicles used to evade arrest to be seized by authorities and subject to forfeiture in accordance with existing state law.
“It’s important that we do everything we can to give law enforcement the tools they need to keep our streets and neighborhoods safe,” State Rep. John Gillespie, R-Memphis, said. “This legislation sends a strong message not to flee from police, and will hopefully make individuals think twice before doing so.”
Only Peace Officer Standards and Training-certified or state-commissioned law enforcement officers would be authorized to seize a vehicle, according to the bill. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security would be responsible for conducting the forfeiture proceeding of any seized property.
Evading arrest while operating a motor vehicle is already a Class E felony punishable by a minimum 30 days in jail, according to state law. Anyone found guilty of the offense is also required to have their driver’s license suspended for a minimum of six months. House Bill 1886 now moves to the Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration. More information about the legislation can be found here.
Legislation bars foreign groups from interfering in elections
The House of Representatives this week unanimously passed legislation prohibiting foreign influence from a corporation, charitable or nonprofit organization, foreign governmental entity or body, or interest group. The bill bans foreign interests from interfering with a federal, state, or local election, governmental entity, agency, or governing body by providing financial support for certain initiatives and referendums or through social media advertisements intended to disseminate disinformation. The Senate companion bill is still advancing through committees. Information about House Bill 2203 can be found here.
Students advance bill expanding training program to identify abuse
Members of Youth Leadership clubs from Creekwood and Dickson County high schools visited Cordell Hull this week to present a bill in the House Education Administration Committee on Wednesday. The students partnered with State Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson to draft House Bill 2021. The legislation expands efforts to help local school districts identify cases of child abuse and neglect. Current law already requires Tennessee teachers to complete child abuse training program as part of their in-service training. House Bill 2021 expands that training to all school employees that work directly with students. It is the fourth time Littleton has worked with the club to draft legislation. Information about House Bill 2021 can be found here.
Property tax relief for disabled veterans advances
A bill advancing through House committees would increase the amount of property value threshold for determining property tax relief for disabled veterans and their surviving spouses. Disabled veterans currently do not pay property tax on the first $175,000 of their home’s value. House Bill 1846 would increase that threshold to $200,000. The bill is expected to be heard in the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee on March 23. Information about House Bill 1846 can be found here.
Bill addresses operational challenges faced by charter schools
Legislation that aims to allow charter schools to run more effectively in Tennessee advanced out of the House Government Operations Committee on Monday.
House Bill 2468 would address various operational challenges identified by charter schools in the state in the following ways:
If a charter school has to use an enrollment lottery, the bill would allow the school to provide additional weight for at-risk students to ensure fairness and equity in enrollment.
The number of students that could attend a charter school from outside of an LEA would be capped at 25 percent of its student body.
If a charter school organizer or administrator runs other charter schools in an LEA and is applying for an additional charter school, the LEA must review those schools as part of application evaluation process.
A charter school must be notified at least 120 days prior to a local education agency implementing changes to its grade bands for elementary, middle or high school.
A charter school applicant would not be required to provide a transportation plan in their application if it does not plan to provide transportation services.
“There is a broader debate about charter schools and I understand that,” State Rep. Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro, told committee members Monday. “This bill doesn’t seek to resolve that debate. It just seeks to clarify particular elements of the code.”
House Bill 2468 will now go to the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee for additional debate. Information about the legislation can be found here.
Motor vehicle registrations
House Bill 1544 would allow private, non-commercial vehicle owners and lessees to renew their registration for a 24-month period rather than the current 12-month period with a fee to offset revenue that would have otherwise been collected. The legislation advanced out of the House Transportation Committee on March 15 and will go to the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee for consideration. If approved by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Bill Lee, the bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2023. More information about House Bill 1544 can be found here.
Residency requirement for congressional races
The Tennessee House of Representatives approved legislation on Monday that would add a residency requirement for Tennessee congressional candidates. House Bill 2764 which would require a candidate for U.S. Senate to have lived in the state for at least three years prior to the date of the election in order to qualify for the race. Candidates for the U.S. House would have to live in the district they are seeking to represent for at least three years in order to qualify. The House version of the bill would take effect Nov. 9 while the Senate version would take effect immediately. Both chambers will need to agree on an effective date before the legislation would go to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature. More information about House Bill 2764 can be found here.
Safer wakesurfing on public waters
The House of Representatives this week approved legislation designed to make wakesurfing on public waters safer in Tennessee. House Bill 2223 prohibits wakesurfing between sunset and sunrise, on a body of water that is less than 50 acres in size and within 200 feet of any shoreline, among other new rules. Wakesurfers must wear a personal flotation device approved by the United States Coast Guard. Information about House Bill 2223 can be found here.
Swimming pool rentals added to prohibited provisions for sex offenders
The House of Representatives passed legislation making it a Class A misdemeanor for a sex offender to rent or offer to rent a swimming pool, hot tub or other body of water located on property owned, leased or under the control of a sex offender. House Bill 1922 adds to the provisions governing prohibited activities by registered offenders. These provisions include pretending to be, dress as, impersonate the identity of a real or fictional person or character or a member of a profession while in the presence of a minor, being employed in professions that require direct and unsupervised contact with a minor, and operating a vehicle, such as an ice cream truck for the purpose of attracting a minor. Information about House Bill 1922 can be found here.
2022 Tennessee Ag Day on the Hill
To be held at the Beth Harwell Plaza on Tuesday, March 22. The event will feature animals in pens beginning at 7:30 a.m. followed by networking with exhibitors and producers from 8:30 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. A presentation and contest will take place at 9:30 a.m. For more information visit www.facebook.com/AgDayontheHill.
Seasonal work impacts January unemployment rates
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development recently released labor force estimates for January 2022. The end of seasonal work at the start of the new year was one of the contributing factors that led to higher county unemployment rates across Tennessee in January. While statewide unemployment numbers are adjusted to consider the impacts of seasonal labor, county unemployment rates are not adjusted. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased slightly in Tennessee from 3.6 percent in December to 3.5 percent in January. During the same time period, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for the United States increased from 3.9 percent to 4 percent.
The entire Labor Force Estimates report for January 2022 can be found here.
Kelly Keisling serves as State Representative for House District 38 which encompasses Macon, Clay, Pickett, Scott, and part of Fentress Counties.