(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), March 13, 2014 — The legislative pace quickened on Capitol Hill this week as several important bills to combat the manufacture of methamphetamine in Tennessee advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The action came after compelling testimony was heard from the state’s top law enforcement authorities about the scope of the problem and its impact on users, their families, crime, and the environment, as well as healthcare costs and the loss of productivity.
Tennessee ranks second in the nation, behind Indiana, in meth lab seizures last year. Two hundred sixty-six children were removed by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) from homes due to meth-related incidents in 2013 at an estimated cost of more than $7 million. The state spends approximately $2 million annually on meth lab clean-up, and in 2013, 1,691 labs were seized in Tennessee. This is in addition to tens of millions of dollars in TennCare costs associated with meth lab burns.
“Lab seizures and meth use have affected many aspects of Tennesseans’ lives,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who is sponsoring legislation proposed by Governor Haslam to attack Tennessee’s meth problem. “This bill is aimed at fighting the production of meth, while not overburdening law-abiding Tennesseans who need temporary cold and sinus relief.”
Senate Bill 1751, the Tennessee Anti-Meth Production (TAMP) Act, cuts the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be bought in Tennessee from the current limit of 9 grams a month to 4.8 grams, which is equivalent to 40 12-hour tablets. Norris said this targets the so-called ‘smurfers’ who buy from a variety of stores in small quantities until they have enough to manufacture meth. The legislation sets an annual limit on pseudoephedrine purchases of 14.4 grams. Currently, the most frequently purchased box size contains 2.4g of pseudoephedrine or ephedrine, and in 2012, the average Tennessee consumer bought 4.8g for the entire year.
As amended, the proposal allows an allergy sufferer to purchase an unlimited amount of liquid or gel caps, but the consumer would have to get a prescription to exceed the limit in pill form. Liquid and gel caps cannot be utilized in the manufacture of methamphetamines. Under the bill, consumers under the age of 18 may not purchase pseudoephedrine products, without a prescription unless they buy liquid or gel caps.
Other bills which were approved by the Judiciary Committee include:
- Senate Bill 1791, sponsored by Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), which calls for pharmacist authorization reduced to writing for consumers purchasing pseudoephedrine products without a prescription. The bill is designed to utilize a pharmacist’s professional skills in order to weed out those who want to purchase this drug for use in the manufacture of meth.
- Senate Bill 1647, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), which requires either a prescription by a physician or an oral prescription by a pharmacist reduced to writing not to exceed six months in length. The legislation does not cap the amount but makes it a controlled Schedule VII substance, meaning purchases will be reported to the Controlled Substance Database for tracking by law enforcement authorities. Meth resistant pseudoephedrine products would not be affected by the bill.
- Senate Bill 2540, sponsored by Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), which allows local governing bodies by a two-thirds vote to ban the sale of methamphetamine precursors in their jurisdiction without a prescription. Several Tennessee counties have voted to ban the sale of the products without a prescription; however, the state Attorney General ruled last year that the legislature must act to give them this authority.
- Senate Bill 2021, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), which provides for a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of meth of 30 days in jail and 180 days in jail for manufacturing of meth.
- Senate Bill 1312, sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), which requires that anyone with a drug felony, not just a methamphetamine felony, be placed on the methamphetamine registry, preventing them from purchasing pseudoephedrine products for 10 years.
The bills now go to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee where they will be further examined with the goal to come up with a comprehensive plan to attack the state’s meth problem that can meet House and Senate approval.
Healthcare consumer bill would give patients and their physicians greater knowledge and input into insurance preauthorization process
Legislation to help ensure that physicians and their patients have more information regarding what their health insurance covers and the protocols necessary to receive preauthorization approval has been approved by the State Senate. The bill, sponsored by Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), also requires insurance denials be made by a physician who is licensed to practice the procedure which has been requested to be performed.
“Dealing with an injury or illness is stressful for the patient as well as the family,” said Senator Green, who is a physician. “When an insurance carrier denies payment for a medical procedure or therapy that has been requested to be performed by the treating physician, it places additional stress and can even precipitate a crisis situation. This bill establishes a set of evidence-based rules based on nationally recognized protocol standards so everyone understands what is required when a procedure is recommended.”
Senate Bill 1142 amends the state’s “Utilization Review Act” by requiring that healthcare insurers, or third party payers, publish or post on the Internet at least the non-proprietary portion of the standards so physicians can know the rules of the game beforehand. In addition, it ensures that the utilization review is done by a physician knowledgeable about the procedure, rather than an insurance administrator who does not have medical training or expertise in the procedure that has been requested.
“In cases where there aren’t established standards, this legislation addresses who is allowed to make that medical decision when there is no consensus in the medical literature,” he added. “Based on the conversations that I’ve had with physicians, right now the appeals that go forward are happening not between physicians talking to a physician, they are happening between a physician talking to an insurance administrator who can make decisions, and in some cases about life and death procedures, without having the necessary medical training. This proposal requires that the person who makes that very important healthcare decision must be a licensed physician trained to do that particular procedure.”
Senate approves “Officer Gary Daugherty Act” toughening penalties against fleeing suspects who injure others while evading capture
The State Senate has approved legislation sponsored by Senator Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) toughening penalties for those convicted of injuring someone while evading arrest. The “Officer Gary Daugherty Act” is named for a Washington County sheriff’s deputy who was seriously injured while deploying a spike strip to stop a car driven by a fleeing robbery suspect. Daugherty sustained serious injuries that have required multiple surgeries and intensive physical therapy.
“This legislation strengthens our law to place additional jail time and fines on those who injure others during a high speed chase while evading capture,” said Senator Crowe. “Officer Daugherty’s injuries highlight the reason this bill is needed to protect both our police officers, who put their lives on the line to protect the public and innocent bystanders who are in the path of the fleeing suspect.”
Presently, a person can be prosecuted for a Class D felony for “creating a risk of death or injury to innocent bystanders or other third parties,” punishable by 2 to 12 years in prison and a fine of $5,000 on first offense. However, if a bystander is injured or killed, the punishment remains the same. Senate Bill 1783 rewrites the state’s evading arrest law to require that a person be charged with a Class C felony if someone sustains serious bodily injury as a result of a suspect evading arrest in a motor vehicle. The Class C offense elevates penalties to 3 to 15 years in prison and a fine of $10,000 on first offense.
“This bill may not ease the pain and suffering of Officer Daugherty, but I hope that it does help in making it clear that such actions by a fleeing suspect will not result in a slap on the wrist,” added Crowe. “This legislation puts teeth in the law by making penalties more in line with the severity of this crime.”
Senate passes legislation allowing state to sell gift certificates for specialty license plates
The Senate passed legislation on Monday night allowing the state to sell gift certificates that can be redeemed for the purchase of specialty license plates. Senate Bill 1718, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), 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.
“If enacted, this legislation will allow consumers to buy gift certificates for their family and friends that they can redeem for the specialty plate of their choice,” said Leader Norris. “The arts generate over $132.4 million in Tennessee annually, affecting 4,000 jobs in the state. Many people don’t realize how much good this program does to promote the arts and preserve our heritage.”
Two million of the six million vehicles in the state participate in the specialty plate program. Norris hopes that the gift certificate program will boost sales.
“This should be a tremendous help in boosting sales of the plates,” added Norris. “It provides consumers with a great option for a personalized gift for family and friends, and helps support the arts at the same time, a win-win for all concerned.”
Senate passes legislation to help farmers who supplement their income through agritourism
The House and the Senate has approved and sent to the governor legislation amending Tennessee’s “Right to Farm Act” to help farmers who supplement their income through agritourism. The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), expands the definition of “agriculture” under current law to include entertainment activities conducted in conjunction with, but secondary to, commercial production of farm products and nursery stock.
Agritourism, or agricultural tourism, is a commercial enterprise at a working farm conducted for the enjoyment or education of visitors and that generates supplemental income for the farm owner. It is estimated that visitors spend more than $34.4 million in Tennessee each year at agritourism operations, which includes such entertainment activities as pumpkin patches, corn mazes, festivals, U-pick and tree farms. A 2013 Tennessee Supreme Court decision, however, questioned what activities constitute an agricultural activity under current law.
“This bill updates the current definition of farm operations and farm products to be consistent with the current trends in agriculture and agritourism activities,” said Leader Norris. “Agritourism is big business in Tennessee, not only for our farmers, but the folks who work there with a total of $54.2 million spent in our state when the multiplier effects of tourism are included.”
Senate Bill 1614 adds “the marketing of farm products in conjunction with the production of farm products and any other form of agriculture” to the definition of farm operations in the Right to Farm act. It also expands the definition of agriculture by adding “entertainment activities conducted in conjunction with, but secondary to, commercial production of farm products and nursery stock,” when such activities occur on land used in commercial production.
“This legislation defends the right to farm and the use of property for farm-related agritourism and helps to keeps it safe from frivolous claims,” Leader Norris concluded.
“Certificates of Employability” give 2nd chance to reformed criminals
The Tennessee Senate approved legislation to help reformed former felons find employment and lead lawful lives as productive members of society. The bill, modeled after a successful Ohio law, aims to spur job creation, reduce crime, and protect businesses from needless lawsuits by allowing individuals to petition courts for a certificate of employability. These certificates operate to protect employers who hire new job-seekers from claims of negligent hiring.
“People who have paid their debt to society should be given the opportunity to work,” said Senator Brian Kelsey, who sponsored the bill. “With this bill, these individuals will now have a meaningful path to obtaining a job and leading a law-abiding life.”
Senate Bill 276 puts in place a process whereby those members of society who may have made mistakes in the past can have a second chance at meaningful employment. By providing a means for employment to those individuals, this bill gives the state yet another tool in the fight to reduce criminal recidivism.
“This bill protects the public by requiring a judge to determine that an individual does not pose a risk to public safety before he can receive a certificate of employability,” said Sen. Kelsey. “This bill will help prevent future crimes by ensuring these individuals have access to good paying jobs and are not tempted to return to a life of crime.”
State of Tennessee Reducing Debt by Hundreds of Millions — The state’s debt continues to shrink, according to a new report released by the State Comptroller on Wednesday. The state’s total debt fell during the last six months of last year by $347 million – or more than a third of a billion dollars. Of that decrease, the state reduced the debt on its general obligation bonds, which are used to pay for most of the government’s capital projects, by more than $95 million. That’s part of a two-year decrease of nearly $190 million. Lower debt translates into lower interest payments on money owed, which, in turn, translates into substantial savings for Tennessee taxpayers. “The conservative principles of our state legislators and our governor are reflected in this indebtedness report,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said, “This legislature and this governor told their constituents that they would hold down spending in state government and that is exactly what they are doing.” The indebtedness report comes a few months after a report issued by Fitch Ratings, one of the country’s largest bond rating agencies, concluded that Tennessee’s debt ratio was the lowest in the nation.
Revenue Collections — Tennessee tax collections were once again below the budgeted estimate in February, a trend that began in August of last year. February sales tax collections, which reflect consumer spending in January, recorded modest growth for the month as did franchise and excise taxes along with several of the smaller tax categories tax categories according to Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin. The commissioner said the department continues to be concerned with the lack of positive growth in corporate tax collections. On an accrual basis, February is the seventh month in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Year-to-date collections for seven months were $259.9 million less than the budgeted estimate.
Hospitals — The Hospital Coverage Assessment was continued under legislation approved by the Senate Finance Committee. Senate Bill 1908, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), prevents potentially catastrophic cuts to Tennessee hospitals. The assessment is used to draw down federal funds available through a Medicaid match program approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). It will continue to provide the critical dollars necessary to help with the hospitals’ unreimbursed TennCare costs. A few examples of programs that would be affected without the assessment, in addition to the reduction in payments to hospitals and health professionals, are: critical access hospitals; the Graduate Medical Education program; 8-visit limit imposed on outpatient services, x-rays, and physician office procedures; various therapies; and the enrollment cap for the medically needy. The bill’s language ensures that the coverage assessment cannot be passed along to patients.
Teachers / Duty-free Planning Time – State Senators have approved legislation that requires the State Board of Education to develop rules and regulations for providing teachers from kindergarten through grade twelve with individual duty-free planning periods during the instructional day. Currently, teachers are required to have at least two and a half hours of planning time per week. Senate Bill 2257, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), adds the word “individual” into the law when defining the planning period, so that teachers can concentrate on their classroom and students during their planning period and not on other assigned duties.
Optometrists — Legislation was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee this week to allow optometrists to use local anesthetic in conjunction with the primary care treatment of an eyelid lesion. Optometrists are already allowed to apply topical anesthetic solutions. Senate Bill 220, as amended, allows them to inject a local anesthetic within an optometrist’s current scope of practice, which is to treat such conditions as styes or chalazions. The bill also makes it clear that the proposal does not affect current law regarding the requirement that only ophthalmologists can perform reconstructive surgical procedures on the eyelid. The bill is sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville).
Murfreesboro to Nashville Monorail Study – The Senate Transportation Committee approved legislation this week calling for a study to determine the feasibility of a monorail public transportation system along the I-24 Nashville Southeast Corridor that connects downtown Murfreesboro to Nashville. Senate Bill 2515 directs the Department of Transportation to look at the costs of construction, operation and financing of the monorail system, including identifying all public and private funding sources. TDOT will report its findings and recommendations to the Senate and House Transportation Committees by February 1, 2015. The 32-mile strip of interstate is the most congested corridor in the state, with the population of Rutherford County expected to grow from 290,000 to 600,000 by 2025. The bill is sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro).
County Bridge Relief Act — The County Bridge Relief Act of 2014, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), has been approved by the Senate on final consideration. The bill changes the way Tennessee currently manages its State Aid Bridge Grant Program to make it easier for communities to access state funds to upgrade, repair, and rehabilitate bridges that have fallen into disrepair over the years. Currently, to receive funding through the Bridge Grant Program, a 20% local match must be made by local governments. However, because many localities cannot afford the match, a large percentage of the bridge funding set aside by the state has gone unused. Senate Bill 1679 reduces this local match percentage to only 2%. In addition, it allows local governments to match the rate by using in-kind services as approved by the Commissioner of Transportation. The 2013-2014 statewide total of unexpended balance funds for all Tennessee counties, pending local matches, is $9.54 million.
Rape / Statute of Limitations — The full Senate voted 31 to 0 to approve legislation that would repeal the statute of limitations for rape, aggravated rape, rape of a child and aggravated rape of a child, as long as law enforcement or the district attorney general has been notified within three years of the offense. Senate Bill 2084 pertains to acts committed on or after the bill’s July 1, 2014 effective date and offenses committed prior to that date, as long as the statute of limitations has not expired. The current statutes of limitations range from 8 years to 15 years for rape of an adult, and up to 25 years after the 18th birthday of the victim when the offense involves a child. “This bill will give law enforcement new tools to prosecute this heinous crime,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), sponsor of the bill. “This not only provides due process protection, but encourages victims to come forward.” Courts at all levels have recognized the validity of DNA tests in identifying suspects and establishing guilt.
Oath of Office / Local Officials — Final approval has been given to legislation which authorizes members of the General Assembly to administer the official oath of office for any local public official. Senate Bill 2513, sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), defines “local public official” as a person elected or appointed to any office or entity of local government.
Human Trafficking Legislation — The Senate approved legislation sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) 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 is one of eleven measures that have been proposed this year by the Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition to toughen state laws, help survivors, and aid law enforcement in the quest to eradicate human trafficking in Tennessee.
Tuition / State Colleges and Universities — Members of the Senate Finance Committee have 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. Senate Bill 2115, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), permits students to receive instate 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 bill 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.”
Sex Week UT — The full Senate has approved a resolution calling for the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Board of Trustees to consider ways in which to increase transparency and accountability in the process by which student activity fee funds are allocated to student organizations for student programming. The resolution comes after a UT Knoxville program, organized by the Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee (SEAT), featured controversial topics on the campus on March 2 – 7. In addition to using campus facilities, most of the $25,000 event cost were taken from mandatory student fees paid by students and parents when they enroll at the university. The program also received a $5,000 “Ready for the World” grant from the university. Senate Joint Resolution 626, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), calls for the University to allow students to check a box to authorize fees for programming which may be of a controversial or objectionable nature.
Industrial Hemp — Senate Bill 2495 to allow farmers to be licensed to grow hemp in Tennessee was approved by the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. 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. The bill is sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains).
Domestic Violence / Order of Protection – Legislation providing more timely protection to victims of domestic violence when the perpetrator lives across county lines has been approved on final consideration by the State Senate. Current law requires notification for an order of protection to be mailed to law enforcement if it is in another county so it can be served on the person perpetrating the domestic violence. Senate Bill 2091, sponsored by Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), allows the order of protection to be faxed from one county to another so it can be served as soon as possible, protecting the victim.
Diabetes / Students – The State Senate voted this week to approve a bill allowing non-medical personnel to receive training to assist in diabetes care of children, including the administration of insulin in cases where students blood sugar is too high. Approximately 500,000 Tennesseans suffer from diabetes, including many who are school aged children who require monitoring or administration of medicines like glucagon and insulin. Tennessee law currently allows appropriately trained non-medical personnel to administer glucagon to students whose blood sugar become too low. Senate Bill 1445, sponsored by Senator Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), allows trained volunteer school personnel to administer insulin to a student based on the student’s Individual Health Plan (IHP), which has been authorized by his or her parent.
Copywrited Works / Piracy — Legislation aiming to curb piracy of copyrighted movies and music produced by Tennessee artists has received final approval by the State Senate. The bill deals with online retailers, many which are based overseas, that sell audio and visual recordings fraudulently via the Internet. Senate Bill 1936, sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), 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.
Soldiers / Uniform Services Relief Act — Legislation was approved by the full Senate this week that removes the state’s immunity from claims that can be brought by a soldier returning from deployment pursuant to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. This act establishes service members’ reemployment rights when returning from a period of service in the uniformed services, including those called up by the National Guard or reserves, and prohibits employer discrimination based on military services or obligation. Senate Bill 2004, sponsored by Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), helps to 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.
Erin’s Law / Sexual Abuse — Legislation focused on preventing in-home sexual abuse passed out of the Senate Education Committee this week with unanimous support. The purpose of Senate Bill 2421, known as “Erin’s Law,” is to encourage schools across the state to provide age-appropriate instruction to kids on personal body safety and how to report sexual abuse, with a specific focus on 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 bill is sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville).