The General Assembly passed numerous bills during the 2017 legislative session to aid Tennessee’s veterans and show support for those who serve in the U.S. armed forces.
BUDGET — The budget fully restores property tax relief for 100 percent service-related disabled veterans by raising the home value threshold from $100,000 to $175,000. The budget also calls for additional veterans courts to help offenders get the help they need through a specialized program which has been highly successful. In addition, appropriations this year provide $18 million for a State Veterans’ Home in West Tennessee.
Veterans / Employment — Legislation has passed which provides protections to employers if they give hiring preference to honorably discharged veterans, their spouses, in certain cases, or survivors. It includes spouses of a veteran with a service-connected disability, unremarried widows or widowers of a veteran who died of a service-connected disability, and unremarried widows or widowers of a member of the military who died in the line of duty.
The new law allows companies to give special consideration for hiring veterans. Many companies want to give preference to veterans because of their unique skill sets, proven work ethic, and reliability, but may be hesitant to do so out of concern of being sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII, Section 11 of the Civil Rights Act contains a carve-out that exempts veterans’ preference processes that are authorized by state statute.
Handgun Training / Military Personnel – A new law passed during the 2017 legislative session that exempts active-duty military service members and veterans who have specialties as military police, special operations, or Special Forces from handgun carry permit firing range requirements. The specialties include military police, special operations, and Special Forces due to the intensive firearms training that is required of these soldiers.
U.S. Armed Forces / Marriage While Deployed — Members of the United States Armed Forces, stationed in another country, can be married via video conferencing under another law which passed this year. This legislation aims to help soldiers who are deployed and wish to marry during that time.
Senate Bill 494 / by Briggs, Yarbro / Status: Signed by Gov. on May 19.
Veterans / Yellow DOT Program — Veterans / Yellow DOT Program — Lawmakers voted this year to extend the state’s Yellow DOT Program to include veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). The Yellow DOT Program is designed to provide first responders with an individual’s medical information in the event of an emergency on Tennessee’s roadways. This new statute calls for including veterans, should they choose to opt in, to inform the police officers and other responders of a potential medical situation due to PTSD. It also authorizes TDOT to publicize the Yellow Dot Program in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Services and agencies providing services to veterans.
Armed Forces / Veterans Hospitals – Two resolutions passed by the Tennessee General Assembly this year urge the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish VA hospitals in Knoxville and Clarksville. Over 500,000 veterans of the United States Armed Forces live in Tennessee. Clarksville in Montgomery County is the home of Fort Campbell and the 101st Airborne Division with about 28,000 veterans residing there and 8,000 living just across the state line in Kentucky. Veterans from Clarksville must drive 80 miles or more to receive care, while those in East Tennessee may have to drive more than 150 miles.
POW/MIA Flag – Legislation was approved which calls for flying the POW/MIA flag over the Legislative Plaza and the Vietnam Veterans Plaza all year to remember the sacrifices of soldiers who are prisoners of war or missing in action. It will be displayed over the State Capitol during the month of September as the third Friday of September is National POW/MIA Recognition Day.
Senate Bill 125 / by Green, Crowe, Niceley / Status: Transmitted to Gov. on May 22, 2017.
Veterans / Burial Flag – A new law passed requiring the adjutant general to provide a burial flag to the members of the family of a deceased person who is an active, honorable discharged, or retired member of the national guard who served at least one year.
Senate Bill 1360 / by Bailey, Bowling, Roberts / Status: Signed by Gov. on May 18, 2017
U.S. Flag / Armed Forces — A new statute has been signed into law which prohibits homeowners’ associations from adopting or enforcing regulations that prohibit flying of the U.S. flag or flags representing the Armed Forces. The law applies to those adopted on or after July 1, 2017, the effective date of the act.
Enhanced Penalties for Targeting Law Enforcement or Military – Legislation was passed this year increasing penalties against those convicted of intentionally selecting their victim because of his or her status as a uniformed law enforcement officer or member of the armed forces. The enhancement factor can be considered by the court at the time of sentencing. The new law was inspired by the many brave men and women in uniform, who have lost their lives, were injured or targeted simply because of their jobs as protectors of the community. This legislation aims to send a clear message that the reprehensible behavior of these dangerous criminals will not be tolerated, and they will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.
STRONG ACT — Two key bills providing more education opportunities for those serving in the military passed during the 2017 legislative session. This includes the STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act, which creates a pilot program to provide eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard tuition. The new law provides funding toward a first time bachelor degree through a tuition reimbursement program for those who protect and serve our state and country. It also provides consistency for recruiting, increasing competitiveness with surrounding states.
To be eligible the individual must be in good standing with the Tennessee National Guard and be admitted to and enroll in an eligible institution (any Tennessee public community college, public university, or private college or university, all of which must be regionally accredited). Individuals attending private institutions will be reimbursed for the average cost at a public institution. Program recipients must maintain a minimum grade point average of 2.0. An individual who loses eligibility for failing to maintain a 2.0 grade point average may regain eligibility upon maintaining a 2.0 grade point average in a subsequent semester.
As a last-dollar reimbursement, the amount of state tuition reimbursement is offset by any other funds received. In addition to strengthening the Tennessee National Guard, the STRONG Act will strengthen Tennessee’s workforce and economy and contribute to the Drive to 55.
Veterans / Making Military Training Count in Higher Education – The second law approved this year providing education opportunities for veteans makes it easier for veterans to determine how their military training can count as credit in Tennessee’s colleges and universities. The measure also grants in-state tuition to anyone currently living in Tennessee who is using VA educational benefits, regardless of their official home of record. In addition, the legislation updates and enhances Tennessee’s Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act, which encourages enrollment of veterans and removes barriers known to impede their success in attaining higher education credentials. It calls on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to select representatives of various state colleges and universities by December 2018 to work collaboratively in adopting policies for Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs) for veterans.
Effective Date: Upon becoming law on March 29, 2017