Budget — The $32.4 billion budget, which is also called the appropriations bill, authorizes state government spending for the next fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2014 and extends to June 30, 2015. Passage of a balanced budget is the only constitutional requirement for state lawmakers.
Sales tax revenue collections have lagged behind budget projections due to a modest holiday season, followed by a long, cold winter that kept shoppers indoors. The state also had an estimated revenue loss of nearly $332 million due to online commerce. This is in addition to less than expected losses of franchise and excise tax revenues which were down $215 million due to overpayments by businesses last year that are now resulting in credits and refunds. Franchise and excise taxes are privilege taxes on corporations, limited partnerships, limited liability companies and business trusts doing business in Tennessee which often fluctuate.
The 2014-2015 state budget improves funding for education, including an additional $47 million to fully fund the Basic Education Program to address inflationary growth. It includes an additional $8.5 million to address salary equity adjustments for teachers which will go to 83 out of 136 school districts across the state. The budget provides additional funding for the construction of a veterans nursing home in Bradley County, as well as initial start-up money for site evaluation and acquisition of land for the next state veterans’ nursing home in West Tennessee.
The 2014-2015 budget continues to invest in jobs by providing over $56 million to Economic and Community Development for the JOBS4TN program. It contains funds to expand the Turney Industrial Complex by 200 beds to help overcrowding in local jails. In addition, TennCare will receive $77 million in new money to handle eligible but not enrolled Tennesseans and $63 million to meet medical inflation costs and utilization increases in managed care organization expenditures.
The budget actuarially funds the state’s consolidated retirement system obligations to keep the state’s promises to retirees. Although state employees will not receive a pay raise due to less than expected revenues, the budget does provide money to cover an increase in their employee insurance premiums this year. Employees who participate in the 401(k) program will also continue to receive a $50 match.
The budget keeps funding increases proposed earlier this year intact for key areas which serve some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens such as the Department of Children’s Services and the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and local property tax relief for disabled veterans and elderly disabled citizens.
Finally, the appropriations bill provides $35.5 million to the Rainy Day Fund, which is the state’s savings account in the event of an economic downturn or disaster.
VETS – Another key bill passed this year extending opportunities for students to obtain a college education is the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act. This new law encourages enrollment of veterans and removes barriers known to impede their success in attaining higher education credentials.
In the last quarter of 2013, Tennessee was tied with Michigan as having the fourth highest veteran unemployment rate in the country at 9.7%. Approximately 27.7% of Tennessee’s Veterans have some college or an associate’s degree, while 24.3% percent have a bachelor’s degree. The VETS bill works in conjunction with the Drive to 55 initiative to increase the number of college degrees, prioritizing veterans in that goal.
Currently, recently-discharged veterans relocating to Tennessee must pay out-of-state tuition rates until residency is formally established. The new law creates a statewide support structure that offers in-state tuition rates for veterans, providing a clear, easy pathway to attend college in Tennessee and assistance for those who need support to attain their degree. Under the legislation, veterans enrolling within 24 months of discharge immediately receive the in-state tuition rate when starting college classes, eliminating the issue of residency for those relying on GI Bill benefits. To maintain in-state status and rates, veterans have one year to present proof of established residency, such as a driver’s license, motor vehicle registration or proof of employment. Registering to vote also fulfills the requirement.
The act also creates a “VETS Campus” designation to recognize and promote schools that make veteran enrollment a priority. Higher education institutions that satisfy veteran-friendly criteria, such as specialized orientation and the availability of mentoring programs, can receive the designation.
(Senate Bill 1433 by Norris, Crowe, Green, Gresham, Henry, Beavers, Bell, Bowling, Burks, Campfield, Dickerson, Finney , Gardenhire, Haile, Harper, Hensley, Johnson, Kelsey, Ketron, Massey, McNally, Niceley, Overbey, Southerland, Stevens, Summerville, Tate, Tracy, Watson, Yager, Ramsey / Status: Public Chapter 612 / Effective Date: Tuition changes are effective beginning July 1, 2014 and shall apply to veterans enrolled in public institutions of higher education beginning with the fall semester of the 2014-2015 academic year, but for all other purposes, it is effective upon becoming law on April 4, 2014.)
Tuition / State Colleges and Universities – The General Assembly approved legislation permitting students who are U.S. citizens and residents of Tennessee to receive in-state tuition, regardless of their parent’s status. Under current law, an unemancipated minor is considered to have the same residence as his or her parent for purposes of considering in-state tuition status at Tennessee colleges and universities. This new law permits students to receive in-state tuition as long as they are a U.S. citizen, have resided in Tennessee for at least one year and graduated from a Category 1, 2 or 3 public or private secondary school in the state. The legislation follows the policy set by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that “all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the U.S. and the state wherein they reside.”
Education Sovereignty – State lawmakers acted this year to assert Tennessee’s sovereignty over how students are educated. Passage of the legislation comes after the Senate Education Committee conducted fact-finding hearings last year to address concerns regarding Common Core. Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are standards adopted by 45 states to measure student progress that were developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
The Data Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability Act states the federal government has no constitutional right to set educational standards and any partnership is totally at the discretion of the state. The measure further states that state and local authorities have exclusive rights to set education standards and that data collected should be used for the sole purpose of tracking academic progress and the needs of the student.
The new law specifies that Tennessee “shall not adopt common core state standards in any subject matter beyond math and English language arts.” The state began phasing in state common core standards in English language arts and math in 2011, with full implementation of these subjects in the current 2013-14 school year. This legislation helps ensure that state common core standards will not be implemented in science and social studies. In addition, it provides that the state’s Board of Education cannot join a testing consortium that requires the adoption of common standards in social studies or science without full notice to the public and the General Assembly at least 60 days prior.
The bill delays implementation of a new assessment to replace the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test for K-12 students for one year. Tennessee students were scheduled to be assessed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, which aligns with Tennessee’s Common Core State Standards next spring. The legislation instead calls for solicitation of proposals for a new assessment system through a competitive bidding process with review of the contract awarded by the General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee. The new assessment system awarded the contract will be field tested prior to the 2015-2016 school year, when it will replace the existing examinations in the subjects of English language arts and math.
Parents are given greater access to information under the legislation, including the right to review data collected on their child. It also requires consent by a parent before any biometric data can be collected on a student and forbids the state from conducting an assessment or applying for a grant that violates this requirement. Similarly, the bill protects the identifying information of teachers regarding their personal evaluation scores.
To provide greater public transparency, the state’s Board of Education must publish a list of all data elements collected under the bill along with the purpose or reason for collecting them. It requires that proposed changes to any state educational standard shall be posted for public review on the State Board of Education’s website and submitted to the Education Committee of the House and the Senate at least 60 days prior to consideration.
Senate Bill 1835 by Gresham, Tracy, Haile, Johnson, Bowling, Campfield, Norris / Status: Public Chapter 905 / Effective Date: The competitive bidding portion is effective upon becoming law on May 13, 2014, while the remaining sections are effective on July 1, 2014
K-12 Education / Fundamentals — State lawmakers gave final approval to a bill requiring students to be taught the fundamentals of government. Under the new law, students will be taught the fundamentals of both Tennessee and U.S. government, including instruction in foundational documents. This includes the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions and other key documents like the Declaration of Independence. The legislation leaves it up to the local boards of education to decide which grade the instruction is best suited.
Teachers / Investigation – A new law was passed this year which prohibits a director of schools from suspending a teacher who is under investigation for more than 90 days, except in criminal investigation cases, a Department of Children’s Services investigation or an internal investigation by a local education agency which might warrant his or her dismissal. The bill calls for teacher’s full salary to be paid for the suspension period upon being vindicated or reinstated.
Teachers / Classroom Supplies – Legislation to help ensure teachers receive their classroom supply allowance at an earlier date has been approved. The bill clarifies that at least $100 out of the $200 allotted for supplies under current law, be distributed by October 31. This measure allows teachers to spend the allowance at any time during that school year on instructional supplies as determined necessary by the teacher. It also requires Local Education Agencies (LEA) to send a written explanation for any noncompliance.
Students / Erin’s Law / Prevention of Child Sex Abuse — “Erin’s Law,” which focuses on preventing child sexual abuse, met final legislative approval this year. As passed, the legislation encourages schools across the state to provide age-appropriate instruction to students on personal body safety and how to report sexual abuse, including occurrences that could potentially happen in the home. The bill is named after Erin Merryn, an Illinois native who was sexually abused as a child. Merryn now fully dedicates her time to getting the law passed in all fifty states.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported that in 2012 there were 3,508 child sexual abuse cases reported across the state. The U.S. Department of Justice, however, indicates child sexual abuse is underreported in about 60% of cases, meaning the actual number of abuse cases in Tennessee is most likely higher than reported. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 93% of juvenile sexual assault victims know their perpetrator, with 34% of the offenders being family members. The Bureau reports that 59% of offenders were acquainted with the victim and only 7% were strangers.
Student Health – Legislation received final approval that prohibits schools from using the time provided to students to walk from one class to the next, from being used as the 90 minutes per week required under Coordinated School Health Law for students to receive physical activity. The measure aims to ensure that schools abide by the spirit of that law intended to help students make healthy choices through physical activity. Tennessee ranks among the highest in the nation in childhood obesity and diabetes.
Rights / Holiday Greetings — Legislation allowing school officials and students to say Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or Happy Holidays to one another has become law this year. The new statute seeks to allow the greeting to be exchanged in schools without fear of a lawsuit.
Child Fatalities – In other legislation regarding children, the General Assembly approved a law that sets minimum disclosure requirements for the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) after a fatality or near fatality. The legislation places into law disclosure requirements which have been voluntarily implemented by DCS Commissioner Jim Henry regarding investigations of abuse and neglect in these cases. It ensures that the policy will not change under a new department head or gubernatorial administration.
The newly-passed law requires DCS to release the child’s age, gender, and a history of the department’s involvement with the child within five business days of the child’s fatality as a result of abuse or neglect. At the closure of DCS’s investigation, the department must release the final disposition of the case, whether the case meets criteria for a child death review, and the full case file. Following DCS’s final classification of a child abuse or neglect near fatality, the department would be required to release a full case file. The legislation authorizes the redaction of any case file to comply with current confidentiality requirements. Records in fatality cases are regularly redacted and released in a de-identifying manner.
This measure makes certain that the state continues to disclose information regarding deaths or near fatalities of children in DCS custody as implemented by Commissioner Henry, regardless of who is in control of the department in the future.
TAMP Act — Major legislation designed to combat the manufacture of methamphetamine was passed during the final hours of the 2014 legislative session. Tennessee ranked second in the nation, behind Indiana, in meth lab seizures last year.
In 2013, 1,691 labs were seized in Tennessee. The state spends approximately $2 million annually on meth lab clean-up. The Department of Children’s Services has reported that 1,347 children came into state custody from 2010 through 2013 due to exposure to meth, not including the number of children where non-custodial arrangements were made. An estimated cost for care of these children is more than $7 million. This is in addition to tens of millions of dollars in TennCare costs associated with meth lab burns, many which involve children.
Currently, Tennessee uses the NPLEx technology to help block PSE from being used in the manufacture of meth. In order to obtain the drug, customers must show identification to ensure they are not purchasing over the allowed limit. The goal of this system was to allow allergy and cold sufferers to continue to receive needed medication without having to visit a physician in order to obtain a prescription, while setting limits to deter the manufacture of meth. The Tennessee Anti-Meth Production (TAMP) Act cuts the amount of pseudoephedrine (PSE) that can be bought in Tennessee from the current limit of 9 grams a month to 5.76 grams.
PSE is the active ingredient in many safe and effective medicines that treat common cold and allergy symptoms—medicines like Advil Cold & Sinus, Claritin-D, and Sudafed. It is also the key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
The Tennessee Anti-Meth Production (TAMP) Act targets so-called ‘smurfers’ who buy PSE products from a variety of stores in small quantities until they have enough to manufacture meth. The new law sets an annual limit on pseudoephedrine purchases of 28.8 grams. It also requires a prescription for any person under eighteen years of age to purchase a product that contains any immediate methamphetamine precursor, unless a pharmacist-generated prescription is issued.
Meth / Penalties — Legislators also voted this year to strengthen penalties against those who manufacture methamphetamine. This measure provides for a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of meth of 30 days in jail and 180 days imprisonment for the manufacturing of meth.
In addition, the legislature passed a new law which adds anyone convicted of a drug felony to the Methamphetamine Registry to prevent them from purchasing pseudoephedrine, the precursor used for making meth. The legislation also extends the time from 7 to 10 years in which offenders would be prohibited from purchasing any pseudoephedrine products if they are on the Drug Registry.
Meth / Tracking — In order to better track meth arrests and convictions, the General Assembly approved legislation to subdivide methamphetamine from other Schedule II drugs in charging offenders with possession. The bill delineates meth from cocaine, crack and other Schedule II drugs so law enforcement can track it.
Meth / Housing — Another bill passed this year requires a person who makes a profit from housing to report to law enforcement when they know that methamphetamines have been manufactured there. The measure prescribes a Class B misdemeanor for property owners or caretakers that do not notify law enforcement within 24 hours of discovering that methamphetamine has been or is being manufactured in order to protect the public.
Drugs / Synthetic Drugs — The synthetic cannabinoids, quinolinylindolecarboxester and propylindazolecarboxamide, have been added to the state’s Schedule I controlled substances law under legislation adopted this year. The General Assembly has passed legislation to ban other chemical compounds used in synthetic drugs; however, unscrupulous chemists manufacturing the drugs continue to modify molecules in the organic compounds to avoid prosecution. The new law aims to keep these drug compounds, which produce a dangerous hallucinogenic effect, out of the hands of Tennesseans.
Drugs / Identification — Legislation was approved this year to require a person to present valid government-issued identification, or a public or private insurance card, prior to being dispensed a seven day or greater supply of any Schedule II – IV opioid, benzodiazephine, zolpidem, barbiturate, or carisoprodol. The identification requirement is not be applicable to persons known personally by the pharmacist or technician dispensing the medication. Other persons make pick up the prescription, but must show identification. If a person is homeless or a minor, the pharmacist must exercise professional judgment when presented the request for the drug. The legislation is another tool to assist law enforcement in the prosecution of the illegal use of prescription pain pills.
Drugs / Opiate-Related Emergencies — Legislation was adopted authorizing a licensed healthcare practitioner to prescribe the drug Naloxone to a person at risk of experiencing an opiate-related overdose. Opiate overdoses have soared nationwide. Naloxone is specifically used to counteract life-threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system and has been highly successful in reversing heroin overdoses with very few side effects. The new law also allows the physician to prescribe the drug to a family member, friend or other person in a position to assist a person experiencing an opiate-related overdose, as long as the doctor provides written communication establishing a factual basis that a person is at risk. Finally, the bill provides a prescribing physician or person administering the drug immunity from civil liability.
The next bill has a July 1, date deadline in the legislation – but was enacted upon the Governor’s signature
Rape Kits / Justice for Victims – Another bill passed this year calling for justice for rape victims requires all law enforcement agencies or departments charged with the maintenance, storage, and preservation of sexual assault kits to generate a report based on that inventory by July 1, 2014. The legislation follows a report that there are as many as twelve-thousand rape kits with evidence that have been tested in Shelby County. Similar reports of untested kits can be found in other U.S. localities.
The report must contain the number of untested kits and the date the evidence was collected. After receiving the information, the measure calls for the TBI to deliver a report by September 1, 2014 to the speakers of the State Senate and House of Representatives regarding their findings. The report is the first fundamental step in helping quantify the scope of the problem so steps can be taken to help victims and survivors find justice.
Note: The July 1, 2014 deadline was: By July 1, 2014, law enforcement agencies and
departments charged with the maintenance, storage and preservation of sexual assault collection kits shall conduct an inventory of all such kits being stored by the agency or
department. (c) By July 1, 2014, each law enforcement agency shall compile, in writing,
a report containing the number of untested sexual assault collection kits in the possession of the agency or department and the date the sexual assault kit was collected. The report shall be transmitted to the Tennessee bureau of investigation.
Sex Offenders / Restrictions — Similarly, the legislature voted to help ensure Tennessee is not a destination for sex offenders as a result of having weaker laws than other states regarding work and residential restrictions. Tennessee law already has such restrictions for child sex offenders. This legislation prohibits any sexual offender, whose victim was an adult, from knowingly establishing a residence or to accept employment within 1,000 feet of any public, private or parochial school, licensed day care center, other child care facility, public park, playground, recreation center or athletic field available for use by the general public.
Sex Offender Registry — State lawmakers also passed a law which deals with observation without consent. Currently, voyeurism without consent is a Class A misdemeanor, no matter how many times it occurs. This legislation places those who are convicted of the crime three or more times on the state’s Sexual Offender Registry.
Sex Offenses / Children / Reporting — Legislation to help ensure child sex abuse is reported has passed. The bill adds to the list of individuals who must report any known or suspected child sex abuse any authority figure at a community facility, including any facility used for recreation or social assemblies, for educational, religious, social, health, or welfare purposes.
Missing Children / TBI — A new statute was passed requiring the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to add information on its missing children website when a child is found. The bill calls on the TBI to update the missing children registry to include pertinent information about rescued children in the same manner as the report of a missing child.
Promoting Prostitution / Child Abuse — Legislation was approved to add the offense of promoting prostitution to the list of offenses that constitute severe child abuse
Consent Defense — A new law was passed which prohibits asserting that the subject of the offense was a consenting minor or a law enforcement officer as a defense to promoting prostitution.
Penalties / Patronizing Child Prostitution — Lawmakers approved a bill which attacks the “demand side” of human trafficking. The legislation toughens penalties against those who patronize prostitution from a child or a person with intellectual disabilities and removes certain defenses that violators have attempted to use. The bill increases the penalty from a Class E to either a Class A or Class B felony, depending on the circumstances surrounding the offense. It also prohibits as a defense to patronizing prostitution the assertion that the subject of the offense was a consenting minor or a law enforcement officer.
Child Prostitution / Sex Offender Registry – Finally, the General Assembly voted to ensure that those who are guilty of patronizing prostitution of a minor are placed on the state’s Sex Offender Registry.
Senate Bill 2564 by Kelsey / Status: Public Chapter 722 / Effective Date: July 1, 2014
Crime / Gangs — The Community Safety Act, which aims to curb gang crime, was approved during the 2014 legislative session. The new law clarifies that a petition for the abatement of gang-related conduct may be filed against a criminal gang itself to which the members belong. The court would have the authority to restrict gang activity in certain geographic locations, including public parks.
Gang-related offenses include crimes that Tennessee communities combat every day, such as robbery, carjacking, and drug possession with intent to sell, among other more violent offenses. This year’s legislation builds on a law passed in 2013 that changed the definition of “criminal gang offense” from a vague and broad definition to a specific list of offenses to make it easier for prosecutors to seek a greater sentence. Other laws enacted since 2011 create tougher sentences for certain types of crimes committed by three or more acting in concert and tougher sentences for convicted felons who persist in illegally possessing guns.
The new law requires gang-related conduct to be proven beyond clear and convincing evidence, rather than preponderance. It includes an opt-out provision that allows a gang member to be dismissed from an injunction if he or she renounced membership. The measure also makes it a Class C misdemeanor for a gang member to knowingly violate any temporary or permanent injunction.
Crime Victims / Court Process — The General Assembly gave final approval to two bills to help crime victims and their families from being further victimized by an unjust court process. The new laws stem from the brutal murders of Knoxville residents Channon Christian and Chris Newsom, who were carjacked, brutally raped, tortured and murdered. Law enforcement authorities have said the murders were among the most heinous crimes in Tennessee history.
Christian and Newsom’s killers were tried in a court of law and found guilty by the jury of the brutal crimes five years later. However, due to the presiding judge being found guilty of illegally taking narcotics during the trial, a special judge ordered retrials for the defendants, putting the families through two additional years of painful courtroom testimony before they were convicted a second time. The presiding judge, who verbally accepted the verdict, had not signed a routine form accepting the jury’s decision before being removed from the bench. The successor judge decided he could not sign it, even though he found no errors in the trial.
The first bill creates a presumption applicable to a successor judge that the presiding judge, who serves as the 13th juror, is presumed to have completed his duties once the judge accepts the verdict of the jury.
The second measure puts new restrictions on bringing into evidence presumptions or false information that are related to the victim that is totally unrelated to the crime. This provision puts Tennessee law into agreement with the constitutional amendment passed by Tennesseans in 1998 which states crime victims should be free from intimidation, harassment or abuse throughout the criminal justice system.
Senate Bill 1796 by McNally, Campfield, Massey, Yager / Status: Public Chapter 694 / Effective Date: July 1, 2014 and Senate Bill 1797 by McNally, Campfield, Massey, Yager / Status: Public Chapter 713 / Effective Date: July 1, 2014
Death Penalty — The State Legislature voted to close a loophole in the state’s death penalty law. Current law allows for the state to use execution to carry out a death sentence if a court should rule lethal injection is unconstitutional but does not address what happens if the chemicals used in the fatal dose are not available. The new law allows for the death sentence to be carried out through electrocution if the Commissioner of Correction certifies that one or more of the ingredients essential to the lethal injection dose cannot be obtained through no fault of the department.
Lethal injection is the primary method of execution in the state. The legislation is designed to address delays that could occur in executions due to a shortage of lethal injection drugs. That shortage could be compounded if the state does not prevail in keeping the anonymity of the department’s lethal injection drug supplier.
There are 75 males and 1 female on death row in Tennessee. Legislation was passed in 2000 specifying lethal injection for all inmates sentenced to death except for death row inmates who committed their crime prior to January 1, 1999, unless he or she requests electrocution.
The last execution in Tennessee was in December 2009, when multi-murderer Cecil Johnson was put to death by lethal injection for three counts of first degree murder. Johnson was convicted in 1981 for the triple killing at a convenience market and was given three death sentences by a jury. Seventeen death row inmates have been sentenced with multiple death sentences.
Crime / Domestic Violence / Survivor Safety — Legislation was passed this year to aid victims of domestic violence and ensure perpetrators serve 100% of their sentences day-for-day. The new law requires that repeat offenders must serve at least the mandatory minimum sentence in jail day-for-day and consecutively. It also prescribes that, if the offender receives less than the maximum sentence for the crime, that he or she must spend the difference between the actual time served and the maximum allowable sentence on supervised probation.
Tennessee is currently ranked 6th in the nation for the number of women killed by men. Repeat convicted offenders are sometimes permitted to serve their time on weekends.
In 2012, the General Assembly passed minimum sentencing for repeat domestic assault. However, repeat convicted offenders do not necessarily serve their sentences day-for-day, which means a second-time offender may receive two for one credit and spend as little as 15 days behind bars for inflicting bodily injury on their partner or family member. Called the “Survivor Safety Bill,” this legislation goes a step further to require convicted batterers who inflicted bodily injury to serve longer consecutive day-for-day sentences.
Crime / Domestic / Aggravated Child Neglect – Legislation that raises the penalty for aggravated child neglect or endangerment was approved during the 2014 legislative session. The new statute puts aggravated child abuse into the category of crimes in which convicted offenders must serve at least 85% of their sentences in prison. Currently, those convicted of aggravated child neglect and endangerment are eligible for release after serving 55% of their sentence. The legislature has moved several violent crimes to the 85% category over the past several years, which previously allowed offenders to serve as little as 35% of their sentences behind bars.
Abuse of Elderly and Disabled — The State Legislature passed legislation to help protect elderly and adults with disabilities from abuse during the 2014 legislative session. The new law increases punishment for adult abuse, exploitation or neglect from a Class E to a Class D felony. The move will help district attorneys prosecute the crime without having to meet the higher evidentiary standard required under the state’s adult abuse laws reserved for more serious crimes.
The legislation also requires court clerks to notify the Department of Health when someone has been convicted of adult abuse so the offender can be added to the Adult Abuse Registry. All employers of adult caretakers must check the Registry before hiring an employee. In addition, the bill creates a Task Force comprised of a variety of departments and agencies that will meet over the next several months to develop initiatives to better protect vulnerable adults.
The Tennessee Commission on Aging has reported that assaults on the elderly have grown over the last three years of reporting from 1,360 in 2009 to 1,492 in 2011. In addition, underreporting of abuse may also occur due to incapacitation or abuse that may be mistaken for “usual aging.”
Crime / Felony Arrests — State lawmakers voted this year to approve legislation which helps ensure innocent individuals are not arrested and jailed on felonies just because someone else has a grudge against them and uses the judicial system to carry out their feud in court. The new law calls for a law enforcement officer to sign an affidavit of complaint for a felony arrest before a warrant can be issued unless the accusations include domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
Under current law any private citizen can give a statement to an officer, take that statement to a judicial commissioner and swear out a warrant against another private citizen with a simple signature. The judicial commissioner is asked to make a probable cause determination based only on one side of the story. This situation results in too many innocent individuals being arrested and imprisoned until they can make bond and push through the judicial system.
The situation was portrayed in detail with the Keith Bullock arrest last year. The case was dismissed within weeks by an Assistant District Attorney, after a cab driver had him arrested for robbery.
The new statute still allows for a private individual to obtain a misdemeanor warrant on their signature alone, but a presumption is created encouraging a citation or summons so people are not arrested and forced to make bond just because another private individual says they should be without any law enforcement investigation at all. Private individuals would still be able to obtain a felony or misdemeanor indictment through the Grand Jury process.
Theft / Re-encoders — State Senators voted to approve a new law making it a Class A misdemeanor offense to use a credit card skimming device, also known as a re-encoder, to steal an individual’s credit card number or data stored through the card’s magnetic stripe. Since 2001, 31 states and Puerto Rico have enacted statutes that provide criminal penalties for using the device to aid or abet theft.
Copyrighted Works / Piracy — Legislation aiming to curb piracy of copyrighted movies and music produced by Tennessee artists has received final approval by the General Assembly. The bill deals with online retailers, many which are based overseas, that sell audio and visual recordings fraudulently via the Internet. The new law creates civil penalties for failure to clearly and conspicuously disclose correct names, physical address, and a telephone number on a website or online service in a location readily accessible to online users. This gives the state the opportunity to get involved in enforcement activity and provides consumers with information regarding whether the business is a legal entity. It also addresses issues of non-compliance with other third party companies that may be supporting that website which can be a powerful remedy in tackling the problem of piracy.
Veterans / Children — A measure was approved calling for school systems to add a special identifier in the current database that the student is the dependent of a military person in the effort to help meet the student’s education needs.
Veterans / State Jobs — Legislation was approved to help ensure that while a soldier is deployed that his or her state job cannot be given away, and if it is that he or she can pursue legal action under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994.
Senate Bill 2004 by Green, Crowe, Johnson, Overbey, Stevens / Status: Public Chapter 574 / Effective Date: July 1, 2014 and applies to all claims against a governmental entity accruing on or after such date
Second Amendment Rights / Castle Doctrine — The General Assembly voted to approve a bill which recognizes a person’s automobile as an extension of their home in applying the state’s Castle Doctrine. The Castle Doctrine designates a person’s home as a place in which that individual has certain protections and immunities permitting him or her to legally use force to defend themself against an intruder. This bill recognizes court action which has upheld extension of the Castle Doctrine to a person’s automobile.
Second Amendment Rights / Drones / Hunter Harassment — A new law has been approved to add the use of drones to Tennessee’s hunter harassment law. The bill prohibits the use of drones to conduct video surveillance of private citizens who are lawfully hunting or fishing. The measure comes after People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) announced a new hobby drone that can monitor hunters’ activities and subject them to harassment. This new law makes it illegal for drones to interfere with private citizens who are legally hunting or fishing in the state.
Privacy Rights / Search and Seizure — A new law was passed this year which prohibits law enforcement officers from searching or seizing a person’s cellular telephone data, unless there is a search warrant, the owner gives informed consent, it is abandoned or exigent circumstances exist to suspect criminal activity at the time of the seizure. The new law classifies cellular telephones as sealed containers and prohibits the search and seizure during a routine traffic stop.
No cellular telephone data that is obtained in violation of the legislation is allowable in any court of law as evidence.
Privacy Rights / Automated License Plate Data — Lawmakers voted this year to protect the privacy of innocent drivers in Tennessee. Governments currently use cameras, with the most common being automated license plate recognition for traffic law enforcement. Traffic cameras have also been used to help find those with an outstanding warrant. The new law prohibits any state or local government agency from storing or retaining any captured plate data for more than 90 days, unless there is an ongoing criminal investigation.
State Highways / Rapid Transit — Legislation was passed in 2014 specifying that no metropolitan government or transit authority can operate a bus rapid transit system using a separate lane or other separate right-of-way dedicated solely to that use unless it is approved by the legislative body and the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The focus of the measure, which addresses any future systems, is to keep mass transit passengers safe when they are discharged from the bus onto state roads. The legislation also addresses any congestion that could be the result of such a future transit system on roads owned by the people of Tennessee.
Rules of the Road / E-Citations – A bill setting up a framework for the issuance of e-citations in Tennessee has been adopted. An e- (electronic) citation is an automated traffic ticket that is prepared by a law enforcement officer and filed electronically with the court. The new law aims to cut the time police officers spend on the side of the road at a traffic stop by 10 minutes, freeing them up for more important duties. Several tragic accidents involving law enforcement officers during traffic stops point to a real safety concern during issuance of citations.
The bill also eliminates concerns over legibility of handwritten citations and clerical errors, as well as reducing the costs for data entry processing of citations to the courts. In order to defray the costs of the system, a $5.00 fee would be paid by defendants that plead guilty or are found guilty. Currently six cities in Tennessee use e-citations and two are in the process of implementing the system. Eight states have already implemented e-citations in their state.
Rules of the Road / Yellow Lights — Legislators approved a bill that authorizes drivers, in the event they cannot stop safely for a yellow light, to drive cautiously through the intersection.
Rules of the Road / Speed Trap Prevention — Legislation designed to prevent a small municipality from policing the interstate highways with speed traps was passed by the 108th General Assembly. The new law requires a municipality with a population between 2,500 and 10,000 to have at least one interstate exit within their boundaries to have the authority to patrol the interstate with local police. Those municipalities with less than 2,500 in population must have two interstate exits within their boundaries and own the land between them before being permitted by the Commissioner of Safety to patrol the interstate with local police.
DUI / Recidivism — Legislation which focuses on reducing recidivism for DUI offenders was approved during the final legislative week. The new statute gives courts the power to sentence second- and third-time DUI offenders to a substance abuse treatment program as a condition of probation after completing a clinical substance abuse assessment and serving a period of time of confinement in jail.
Under the “Recidivism Reduction Act of 2014” DUI offenders will serve 25 days of up front jail time upon a second offense, before participating in a substance abuse treatment program. Those convicted on a third offense will serve at least 65 days in prison before being sentenced to treatment. The legislation allows a judge to keep a second or third DUI offender on probation for up to two years if the offender participates in treatment.
Studies show that graduates of a treatment program end up with a recidivism rate of only 10 percent. This new law takes the most dangerous drivers off our roads by giving the judge the authority to order them to treatment.
Senate Bill 1633 by Norris, Overbey, Burks, Yager / Status: Public Chapter 902 / Effective Date: July 1, 2014 and shall apply to any person committing a second or third violation on or after such date. If a person commits a second or third violation prior to such date, but the conviction for such offense does not occur until after July 1, 2014, the person shall elect to the judge at the time of conviction whether to come within the provisions of this act or be sentenced in accordance with the law in effect at the time the offense was committed.
DUI / Ignition Interlocks – Legislation was passed this year which makes minor revisions to the DUI and ignition interlock legislation that the Tennessee General Assembly enacted in 2013. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) found two provisions of Tennessee’s ignition interlock law which were not in sync with federal requirements. These provisions include a requirement that states suspend the driver’s license of repeat DUI offenders for a minimum of one year with only limited exceptions allowing the offender to drive equipped with an ignition interlock device. As a result, NHTSA required the state’s Department of Transportation in 2014 to take about $18 million of its federal aid funds which would ordinarily be allocated to highway construction and maintenance, and transfer them to be used only for alcohol impaired driver programs or certain limited safety projects.
The bill eliminates the exception allowing repeat DUI offenders to drive an employer-owned vehicle without an ignition interlock while that person is at work. The measure also amends another section of the Tennessee law that authorizes courts to allow persons arrested for a DUI to have a restricted license for the limited purpose of driving to and from work without requiring the interlock device in the vehicle. This makes it clear that the provision allowing a restricted driver license to drive to and from work applies only to the period after a person has been arrested but not yet convicted of a DUI. Finally, the legislation clarifies that a restricted driver license does not override any other restrictions on a person’s driver license.
Employment Law Reform — Legislation was approved this year to reform Tennessee’s cumbersome employment law which makes it harder to settle workplace discrimination and retaliation cases. The bill also provides clarity and uniformity while maintaining adequate provisions to penalize employers and individuals who violate provisions of existing law.
Key provisions in the bill include:
- Elimination of filing simultaneous state and federal lawsuits, meaning employees must pick one court, not both;
- Implements reasonable caps, consistent with prior tort reform legislation, on certain types of damages that an employee can recover under the THRA to prevent forum shopping;
- Conforms the Tennessee Human Rights Act (THRA) to federal law so that only the employing entity, and not the individual supervisor, may be sued for employment discrimination and retaliation;
- Requires employees that have a whistleblower claim under the Tennessee Public Protection Act to report the alleged illegal activity outside of the employer’s organization to help prevent unsubstantiated claims; and,
- Eliminates a former employee’s ability to bring two different types of retaliatory discharge claims on the same set of facts.
Unemployment Insurance / Job Recruitment — A new law which is designed to help attract new businesses to the state met legislative approval this year. The measure allows new companies coming to Tennessee to base their unemployment insurance premiums on the past history of the state from which they are relocating.
Under present law, workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own are provided weekly unemployment insurance payments. These payments are funded by employers who pay taxes on the wages paid to employees. The tax rate that employers must pay is based on whether they are a new employer or an experience-rated employer. New companies locating to the state must currently pay a higher rate because they have no prior experience in Tennessee.
The legislation calls on companies participating in this new program to provide the department with all necessary employment data dating back three years. Proponents of the legislation believe this change in the unemployment insurance law will help recruit an additional five manufacturers to the state each year.
Felons / Employment – State lawmakers approved legislation to help reformed former felons seek employment and lead lawful lives as productive members of society. The new law will allow a person who has turned his life around to receive a certificate of employability. This certificate will give businesses who hire these reformed felons protection from negligent hiring lawsuits. The measure protects the public by requiring a judge to determine that an individual does not pose a risk to public safety before he or she can receive a certificate of employability.
Senate Bill 276 by Kelsey, Gardenhire, Harper / Status: Public Chapter 815 / Effective Date: It is effective on July 1, 2014 for the purpose of employers receiving the immunity from liability and a person petitioning the appropriate court to obtain a certificate of employability, as well as a person who obtains a certificate of employability using it to apply for employment in an occupation that does not require a license or certificate issued by the state.
Limited Liability Partnerships – The legislature adopted legislation during the 2014 session to give partners seeking limited liability protection a similar level of liability protection that members of Limited Liability Corporation’s (LLC) currently have. The new law makes clear that partners in Limited Liability Partnerships (LLP) are not personally liable for partnership obligations, whether arising in contract, tort or otherwise, unless the liability arises out of an individual’s partners own wrongful acts, omissions, torts, misconduct, malpractice etc.
Unions / Workplace Intimidation – Under new legislation passed this year, it constitutes extortion to impair the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured by the laws of Tennessee in an effort to obtain something of value. The bill aims to help remove disorderly conduct from the workplace.
Industrial Hemp — A new law allowing farmers to be licensed to grow hemp in Tennessee was approved in 2014. Over the years, many people have mistakenly associated hemp with marijuana; however they are actually two very different species. Not only do they look drastically different, but they are also cultivated in very dissimilar ways. Although it is legal to import, purchase or export hemp, it is illegal to grow it in Tennessee. In recent years, states like neighboring Kentucky have passed measures legalizing the farming of hemp for industrial purposes. These purposes include turning the plant’s fibers into such products as oil, wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, paper, and fuel. There are approximately 75 manufacturers using hemp in America today, most prevalently with plastics, which can be reinforced with hemp.
Senate Bill 2495 by Niceley, Bowling, Green / Status: Public Chapter 916 / Effective Date: Upon becoming law for the rules which are to be promulgated within 120 days of the act becoming law, otherwise it is effective July 1, 2014
UAVs / Farming (ALSO FILED UNDER CITIZENS’ RIGHTS) — Legislation was passed this year which both protects the privacy of citizens against the improper use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and ensures the rights of farmers to utilize them for agricultural purposes. The Federal Aviation Administration, which currently has authority over UAVs, is in the process of lifting their regulations. This action would create a vacuum in Tennessee law for the private use of these vehicles to collect images or video.
The legislation allows landowners to utilize the vehicles on their property. This provision helps to ensure farmers can use them for agricultural purposes. Farmers are increasingly using UAVs to monitor their crops. It is predicted that this trend will increase dramatically over the next ten years.
The new law creates a criminal offense for using these vehicles except for certain exceptions, including the landowner’s permission, testing of aircraft authorized by the FAA, activity by the military, law enforcement for the pursuit of felony criminals, satellite mapping, and such emergency situations like an oil spill, fire suppression and to rescue a person in danger. A violation of the basic prohibition will be a Class C misdemeanor under the bill with subsequent distribution or use of unauthorized images as a Class B misdemeanor.
Consumers / Wine in Grocery Stores — Legislation that lets Tennesseans in certain communities vote on whether to allow the sale of wine in retail food stores via a local referendum was approved by the Tennessee General Assembly this year. The referendum bill applies to communities that currently allow retail package stores, liquor-by-the-drink establishments or both.
In order to place the referendum on the ballot, a petition must be presented to the county election commission where the referendum is to be held. The petition must include signatures from 10 percent of the jurisdiction’s population that voted in the last gubernatorial election. The first opportunity that a referendum could be on the ballot is November 2014. If approved by the voters, wine sales in food stores could begin on July 1, 2016.
Businesses in areas authorized to sell wine must receive a retail food store wine license and participate in the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s Responsible Vendor Program. This program requires retailers’ employees to complete training on the responsible sale of alcoholic beverages. The legislation also calls for mandatory carding for package stores and requires that all transactions must be face to face, rather than through a “self-checkout” system.
Other provisions of the new law include:
- package stores, which are currently limited to the sale of alcohol, will be permitted to sell other items like mixers, glasses, corkscrews, food, beer and cigarettes beginning July 1, 2014;
- the hours for retail food stores would mirror package store hours of 8:00 AM to 11:00 PM Monday through Saturday, with no Sunday sales;
- beer wholesalers may also be licensed as an alcoholic beverage wholesaler;
- allows wholesalers to operate in counties with a population of more than 120,000; and
- sets the minimum square footage requirements for newly licensed food stores to be able to sell wine to 1,200 square feet and sets the cost of the license at $1,250.
Thirty-six states, including six of Tennessee’s border states, allow the sale of wine in retail food stores.
Senate Bill 837 by Ketron, Bowling, Henry / Status: Public Chapter 554 / Effective Date: The legislation provides for three dates of enactment. The section regarding the referendum is upon becoming law. Section 30 which includes the 20 percent minimum mark-up is July 1, 2016. For all other purposes, which includes the sale of other items in liquor stores, it is effective July 1, 2014. (The first opportunity that a referendum could be on the ballot is November 2014)
Consumers / Craft beer — Beginning January 1, 2017, beer up to eight percent alcohol by weight can be sold anywhere beer is currently available, including convenience and grocery stores, under legislation approved by the General Assembly this year.
Craft beer is the fastest growing segment of the beer industry. This growth is driven by consumer demand for more styles and varieties of beer. High gravity craft beer means that brewers are adding more ingredients during the brewing process in order to create a more complex and uniquely flavored beer, not necessarily to increase the alcohol content.
This new law allows craft brewers to sell their high gravity beer in their tap rooms beginning July 1, 2014. The legislation clarifies the law that allows liquor retailers to sell high gravity craft beer growlers. It also ensures that current brand rights agreements are not affected by the change in the definition of beer.
The bill will encourage Tennessee’s craft brewer entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, as well as attract craft brewers from other states to market and brew their product in Tennessee.
Senate Bill 289 by Ketron, Green, Kelsey, Dickerson, Tate / Status: Public Chapter 861 / Effective Date: Section 17(Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 57-5-101(c)(1)(A), is amended by adding the language “or high alcohol content beer or both” after the language “barrels of beer”) is July 1, 2014, Section 1 and 2 is July 1, 2017, all other sections are upon becoming law on May 1, 2014
Sinkholes / Consumers — State legislators voted to adopt a bill protecting consumers and insurors in cases involving sinkholes. This legislation clarifies sinkhole coverage shall be made available for purchase by policyholders in Tennessee. It creates objective standards to determine if a covered sinkhole loss has occurred based on determination of building standards approved by ANSI, which is the most widely-recognized accrediting agency for building standards. If initial inspection indicates that a claim is sinkhole-related, the insurance company cannot deny the claim unless it obtains a certification from a qualified engineer or geologist concluding that the loss is not sinkhole-related. The new law aims to protect consumers from unscrupulous third parties that might take advantage of the property owner’s situation.
Consumers / Lawsuit Lending — The General Assembly passed legislation to regulate the lawsuit lending industry and rein in excessive fees and interest rates charged for loans, which can exceed 100 percent interest. Lawsuit lending refers to cash loaned to plaintiffs awaiting judgments or settlements in civil lawsuits, most often personal injury cases such as automobile accidents, personal injuries or product liability issues. The lending industry claims the interest rates are high because the loan is only paid back if the borrower’s settlement proceeds and because they take significant risks.
The new law provides for a yearly fee of up to 10 percent of the amount of the transaction and provides for a maximum annual fee rate of 36 percent per year borrowed for a term not to exceed three years. It provides for an additional administrative fee of up to 10 percent per year. Other provisions in the “The Tennessee Litigation Financing Consumer Protection Act” include:
- Requires a written funding agreement with a five-day recision option.
- Requires disclosures, notices, and an attorney’s review.
- Prohibits conflict of interest, commissions and referral fees.
- Requires registration with the Secretary of State and a $50,000 surety bond.
- Prohibits the funding of lawsuits in workers’ compensation cases; and
- Gives the attorney general enforcement powers under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act.
Senate 1360 by Johnson / Status: Public Chapter 819 / Effective Date: For rules, upon becoming law on April 28, 2014; for the purposes of collecting the annual fee and maximum yearly fee, TCA 47-51-110 as enacted in section 1 of the bill shall take effect on July 1, 2015; for all other purposes, the act shall take effect on July 1, 2014and shall apply to litigation financing contracts executed on or after that date.
Truth in Advertising / Medical Spas — Legislation which calls for truth in advertising for medical spas passed during the 2014 session of the Tennessee General Assembly. The new law defines medical spas and requires them to disclose who their supervising physician is and whether the physician is board-certified. The physician must state affirmatively if they are not. The intent of the “Tennessee Patient Safety Cosmetic Procedures Act” is to provide important information to consumers regarding the qualifications of the physicians supervising spa procedures.
Hospital Assessment – The State Legislature voted to continue the annual Hospital Coverage Assessment for the 2014-2015 fiscal year. This action prevents more than $800 million in potentially catastrophic TennCare cuts from taking effect on July 1, 2014. The cuts would negatively affect hospitals, physicians, patients and enrollees across the state. The assessment, which has saved Tennessee over $1 billion over the last four years, is used to draw down federal funds available through a Medicaid match program approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The bill’s language ensures that the coverage assessment cannot be passed along to patients.
Local Government Debt — The General Assembly voted this year to require local governments to obtain approval by the Comptroller of the Treasury before issuing balloon indebtedness. The legislation is focused on preventing the issuance of debt where the terms of bonds exceed 31 years when there is no significant payment on the principal in the first 10 years. If the municipality has a high credit rating, such as a AAA or AA+, then those governments are exempt from the provisions of the bill. The bill is designed to prevent current governments from creating debt that will have to be paid by a future administration.
TNInvestco — The House and Senate passed legislation this year that provides greater accountability and transparency in the state’s TNInvestco Program. TNInvestco is a program administered by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (EDC) that provides benefits to small, medium-sized, and start-up businesses to encourage job growth in the state.
The new law is designed to provide greater oversight and ensure that companies receiving tax credits are completing their statutorily required investment strategy scorecards. It also helps to ensure investment strategy benchmarks are being met and that investments are free from fraud, waste, and abuse.
Some of the key provisions included in the new statute are:
- requires the department to obtain sufficient documentation to support the state’s profit share percentage;
- changes the date through which the TNInvestcos submit their information in the annual report to provide better accuracy of investment activity for the calendar year;
- changes the number of days that a TNInvestco has to submit their annual audited financial statements from 180 days to 120 days so that information is received in a more timely fashion;
- changes the number of days that the TNInvestco has to cure any areas of non-compliance from 60 days to 45 days to ensure that policies and procedures are being met without substantive delays;
- allows ECD to promulgate rules and regulations to ensure compliance with requirements of the program; and
- gives ECD greater enforcement capability by allowing them to assess a penalty for persistent non-compliance by a TNInvestco.
The measure also allows a TNInvestco to re-invest their returns and the state’s returns in equal portions up to the 7th anniversary of the fund. Finally, it adds new language to the law that requires ECD to liquidate all remaining ownership interests by the state beginning December 31, 2021.
State Government Contracts / Organizational Conflicts — Legislation has passed to address potential conflicts of interest in the state’s government contracting process. The state has three procurement and contracting entities: the State Procurement Office, the State Building Commission and the Department of Transportation. Each procurement and contracting process was created legislatively as a separate entity because of their unique requirements.
The new law defines organizational conflicts of interest as any relationship or action between any party, including contractors and consultants, and the state or its agents making decisions to procure a contract that may conflict with the state’s best interest or taint the procurement process or the state’s reputation. The measure requires each of the state’s oversight entities established by statute to develop policies and procedures to fit each unique procurement and contracting process. In addition, it calls for implementation of policies and procedures to define and identify organizational conflicts of interest. The determinations of conflicts will be made in writing and reported to both the Speakers of the House and the Senate.
Fee Cut for Charitable Organizations — Charitable organizations and the people who raise funds for them might end up paying a lot less to register with the state under legislation that advanced through the General Assembly this year. The new law cuts fees across the board by 20 percent. For a charity raising between $30,000 and $48,999.99 per year, the new annual fee would be only $80. At the top end of the scale, a charity raising $500,000 or more would pay $240 per year. The legislation also reduces the annual registration fees for professional solicitors from $800 to $250 and for fundraising counsels from $250 to $100. The changes are expected to affect about 8,100 organizations and individuals who must register with the division.
Specialty License Plates Gift Certificates – Consumers will be able to purchase gift certificates that can be redeemed for specialty license plates under a new state law. The legislation aims to enhance the sale of more than 90 specialty license plates offered to Tennessee motorists to display on their registered vehicles.
Specialty license plates represent a wide variety of colleges and universities, branches of the military, special interest organizations, professional organizations and other topics. Part of the $36 fee charged for the plates goes to support a wide variety of art activities in Tennessee, including ticket subsidies for students. The plates generated over $4.4 million last year to help promote visual, literary, performing and folk art, and the organizations which support them.
The arts generate over $132.4 million in Tennessee annually, affecting 4,000 jobs in the state. Two million of the six million vehicles in the state participate in the specialty plate program. It is hoped that the gift certificate program will boost sales.
State Government Entities — The General Assembly voted for 70 bills which continue the existence of various government departments and agencies under Tennessee’s Sunset Review process and 11 of which call for elimination. The sunset legislation includes the merging of the Barber Examiners and Cosmetology Board. That move is expected to save money for both boards and could help reduce fees for licensees by cutting administrative costs, creating dual licenses and combining inspections. The bill will also restructure the board to be more representative of the professionals in the licensure pool.