Senate acts on some of the most important bills of the 2017 legislative session this week as legislative session winds down

NASHVILLE – The Senate continued to make progress this week in winding down the 2017 legislative session, acting on some of the most important bills proposed this year including legislation addressing road improvements, tax relief, elderly abuse, and school bus safety.

The Senate voted 25 to 6 on Wednesday to approve Governor Bill Haslam’s Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy (IMPROVE) Act, which is also named the “2017 Tax Cut Act.” The purpose of the legislation is to rebuild a safe and reliable transportation network, while reallocating revenues to maximize taxpayers’ return on that investment. While one category, highway user fees, increases by 6 cents on a gallon of gas and 10 cents on diesel phased in over three years, the legislation cuts $428 million in taxes which is the largest single tax cut in Tennessee history.

Up to half of the tax dollars collected on diesel fuel and 30 percent on gasoline come from out-of-state drivers, who share in the cost of keeping up Tennessee roads.

Proceeds from the fee increases, which have not been raised in 28 years, are dedicated to the highway fund under the bill with $70 million going to counties and $30 million going to cities annually for local road projects. The $350 million in funds will deliver 962 road and bridge projects across all 95 Tennessee counties to alleviate a $10.5 billion backlog in transportation projects.

The Senate also voted to restore fully the property value threshold for 100 percent disabled veterans from $100,000 to $175,000. Previously, the legislation proposed an increase to $135,000. Because of this improvement, the bill must now go back to the House of Representatives, who also passed the bill on Wednesday.

“We are taking some of the excess revenues we have for Tennesseans and reallocating those to return as much as we can to the taxpayers,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville). “It otherwise changes some of our priorities to allocate more to keep Tennessee safe by accelerating the pace we repair and expand our roads in this state.”

Norris pointed out the plan, as amended, is a lesser increase in the user fees, the gas tax and the diesel tax, than was originally proposed and will be phased in over three years in varying amounts. He noted that the tax cuts are greater than originally proposed as well.

The tax cuts included in Senate Bill 1221 are:
• A 20 percent reduction in the food tax from five to four percent;
• Hall Income Tax relief from five percent to four percent with language to reduce it by one percent until it is gone;
• An optional move to the single sales factor for Franchise and Excise (F & E) tax paying manufacturers; and,
• Tax relief for veterans, elderly, and disabled by raising the home value threshold from $100,000 to $175,000 for veterans and $23,500 to $27,000 for the elderly and disabled.

The legislation is the sixth in a series of laws passed by the General Assembly since 2011 which resulted in tax cuts, with the previous amounting to $438 million in reductions. This includes repealing the gift tax, killing the death tax, reducing the sales tax on food, exempting the sales tax on certain machinery and medical supplies, and a one percent reduction in the Hall Income Tax. Legislators also pledged to work on tax reductions for small businesses next year.

Proudly, Tennessee is one of only five states which do not use debt to fund its roads. This pay-as-you-go practice has been credited as one of the reasons for the state’s top financial rankings.

Wednesday’s Senate session also saw unanimous passage of legislation prioritizing the repair of structurally deficient bridges in Tennessee. Senate Bill 1220, also sponsored by Norris and is otherwise known as the “High Priority Bridge Bill,” authorizes the Department of Transportation (TDOT) to pay up to 100 percent of the cost to repair or replace bridges on local roadways through a new category in the state-aid highway program, a move to help avoid local property tax increases for repairs.

According to TDOT, 200 of the state’s 526 structurally deficient bridges are on local roads and have been weight-posted, a status which can prevent school buses, fire trucks and heavy agricultural vehicles from crossing due to safety risks. Unless there is a comprehensive fix, TDOT expects within 10 to 12 years all 526 bridges that are in need of repair or replacement will likely be added to that list, increasing the infrastructure backlog if funding isn’t approved in the IMPROVE Act.

Legislation to increase school bus safety advances through the Senate Finance Committee

Legislation aiming to increase safety on Tennessee school buses was approved by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee this week. Senate Bill 1210, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), raises the minimum age for drivers to 25 and requires all drivers to complete a school bus driver training program based on standards developed by the Department of Education and the Department of Safety prior to transporting any students. Governor Bill Haslam has included $350,000 in funding to pay for costs associated with the legislation, including the proposed driver training requirements. The legislation also clarifies that drivers must have five consecutive years of unrestricted driving experience prior to the date of application.

The proposal comes after a deadly crash in Chattanooga which killed six children in the district represented by Gardenhire. It also follows a fatal crash which occurred in Knoxville due to distracted driving, killing two children and a teacher aide.

“The recurring common denominator in each of the recent school bus accidents has been driver error,” said Senator Gardenhire. “This bill will help to decrease the likelihood of driver error by increasing the amount of training the driver receives.”

The proposal also requires school districts and charter schools to appoint a transportation supervisor, who receives annual training is responsible for monitoring and overseeing student transportation for their district or charter school. The transportation supervisor would be responsible for implementing the school safety policy set by the local board of education.

Each school transportation policy must include:
• A plan for initiating an investigation into any complaint of a safety violation or concern with regard to school bus transportation within 48 hours;
• A plan for completing an investigation within 60 days of receiving a complaint and submitting a report detailing the findings and any action taken;
• A procedure for collecting and maintaining records related to transportation services; and,
• A procedure for notifying students and families of the process for reporting complaints or concerns.
The bill, which has already received approval in the House of Representatives, now goes to the Senate floor for final consideration.

Senate Judiciary Committee approves legislation strengthening penalties for elderly abuse

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved major legislation this week strengthening penalties for elderly abuse. The “Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act,” sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) and Lt. Governor Randy McNally, is one of three proposals stemming from the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Task Force to protect Tennessee seniors. The other two bills, dealing with financial exploitation of the elderly, were approved on final consideration on the Senate floor this week as well.

Senate Bill 1230 further codifies elder and vulnerable adult abuse and exploitation by creating class C and D felonies for those found guilty of committing these crimes and requires state agencies to submit offenders’ names to the Tennessee Department of Health’s Abuse Registry or local law enforcement.

The legislation builds on a new law, sponsored by Norris and passed by the General Assembly last year, that set up Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Teams (VAPIT) across the state to foster cooperation and information sharing between different government agencies whose purpose is to protect elderly and vulnerable adults.

“Elderly abuse is a silent crisis,” said Sen. Norris. “Crimes of elder abuse often go unreported, leaving its helpless victims to suffer silently. And, far too frequently, it happens at the hand of those whom they trust the most. This legislation would keep seniors and vulnerable adults safer by giving law enforcement the tools they need to prosecute individuals who prey on seniors.”

The Department of Health reports that an average of 116 individuals has been added to the Elder Abuse Registry each year over the last five years. This reflects an increase of 35 percent in 2015 and 28 percent in 2016.

The financial exploitation legislation approved on the Senate floor includes Senate Bill 1192, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), and Senate Bill 1267, sponsored by Norris. The measures give securities officials and financial institutions the tools they need to help detect and prevent financial exploitation of those age 65 and older and vulnerable adults with diminished capacity.

Studies show that over the past decade, reported cases of assault and financial exploitation of vulnerable adults has increased by 20 percent or more. It is estimated that only one in 14 cases of elder abuse are ever reported.

Similarly, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation establishing a Public Guardian Working Group led by the Commission on Aging and Disability to review Tennessee’s public guardianship for the elderly program and make recommendations on how it can be more effective.

Public guardians, also known as conservators, help people over 60 who can no longer help themselves. The person needing help may be unable to make decisions about money or medical care. They often need help with basic needs. Senate Bill 1287 calls for the working group to review who has access to the services of a public guardian and who does not and what best practices, if any, are available from other states with similar programs. The Commission shall report to the General Assembly by January 15, 2018.

The legislation also clarifies that background checks on employees or volunteers who come into direct contact with service recipients should be done and provides immunity for lawsuit for any licensed nursing home facility that declines employment to someone based on that background check. The legislation is sponsored by Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City).

Voluntary Prescription Drug Donation Repository Program would help indigent or uninsured receive prescribed medications

Legislation which sets up a repository program to help indigent or uninsured individuals who cannot afford their prescribed medications was unanimously approved by the State Senate on Monday. Senate Bill 429, sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), authorizes the Department of Health, in cooperation with the Board of Pharmacy, to operate a voluntary prescription drug donation repository program under which any individual, medical facility, or company may donate prescription drugs and supplies to help eligible persons.

“This legislation allows the redistribution of still-packaged, unexpired pharmaceuticals that right now are being thrown away instead of being donated to this repository program,” said Senator Kelsey. “This program will be a great help for those in need in Tennessee to receive the drugs that they need to regulate their illnesses.”

For the donation to be accepted, the drugs must be in the original sealed or tamper-evident packaging and within the given expiration date. The donated prescription drugs include cancer and anti-rejection medications but would exclude any controlled substances. The donation must be inspected by a licensed pharmacist before being distributed to ensure it is not contaminated or misbranded.

The program calls for the donations of these specified prescription drugs and supplies to be made on the premises of a medical facility or pharmacy that has elected to participate in the drug repository program and meets the standards set forth under provisions of the act. A facility that receives donations may in turn distribute them to another eligible facility for distribution. Because it is a donation program, the legislation provides civil and criminal immunity to donors or participants except in the case of gross negligence, willful misconduct or bad faith.

Kelsey said most of the donations will likely come from long-term care facilities who throw them away to dispose of them.

“There is a huge amount of medication that goes unused that is destroyed but with this program could be used,” said Deputy Senate Speaker Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), a pharmacist who co-sponsored the legislation. “Unless you have worked in these facilities, you don’t realize the amount of medication we are talking about. So I appreciate this bill.”

The Board of Pharmacy will be responsible for setting up rules for the program, including eligibility requirements for participants and recipients, as well as the list of prescription drugs the repository program will accept. Organizations administering the program are required to report the total number of prescription drugs and supplies each year so that the success of the program can be tracked.

The bill is pending further action in the House of Representatives, where it is pending in the House Finance Committee.

Legislation seeks to curb opioid abuse by identifying high-risk prescribers

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week requiring the Department of Health (DOH) to identify individuals who are in the top 20 percent of prescribers of opioids in the state. After being identified and notified of the high volume opioid prescriber status, this legislation, sponsored by Deputy Speaker Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), requires the prescribers to comply with certain requirements.

“We are in the midst of a chronic opioid epidemic across our nation and Tennessee is number two in the nation for abuse,” added Senator Haile, “In 2015 alone, 1,451 Tennesseans died as a result of an opioid addiction and there were 800 reported cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome. This legislation aims to discourage abuse.”

“When I graduated from pharmacy school, medical students and pharmacy personnel were taught to treat pain,” said Senator Haile, who is a pharmacist. “In the late eighties and early nineties, that changed. Medical personnel were taught to prevent pain, which is a huge difference in philosophy as to the approach. The drug companies also came along and said there were no addictive properties to these products and to use them freely. That was a huge mistake which has caught up with us now and we have got to address these issues.”

Under current law, the DOH monitors the 100 highest volume opioid prescribers in Tennessee. Senate Bill 1041 calls for DOH, in addition, to look at prescribers who are at high-risk based on clinical criteria, such as overdoses or dangerous drug combinations.

Once a high-risk prescriber is identified under protocols established by the DOH, these individuals would be subject to additional criteria, including participation in continuing substance abuse education. The legislation also calls for the affected prescriber’s waiting rooms and clinical areas to contain materials regarding the risks and complications of drug addiction. After three weeks of therapy and every 30 days thereafter, the prescriber would need to obtain a written consent form for the patient’s record, containing the risks of abuse, signed by the patient.

The legislation now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration.

In Brief…

License Plates / “In God We Trust” — The Senate Transportation and Safety Committee approved a bill this week which gives motor vehicle owners in Tennessee the option to obtain a license plate with the nation’s official motto “In God We Trust.” The motto was adopted by the 84th Congress in 1956 but has appeared on U.S. coins since 1864. It has also appeared on the nation’s paper currency since 1957. Under Senate Bill 1355, sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), the request for the plate could be made at the time the owner’s license is issued or renewed on or after the bill’s effective date of July 1, 2017.

School Zone Safety — Legislation which bans drivers from knowingly driving through an active school zone while talking on a hand-held cell phone, met the approval of the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee this week. Senate Bill 954 applies to marked school zones, when warning flashers are in operation. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), aims to provide greater safety for children as they go to and from school.

Consumer Protection / Automobiles — Legislation protecting consumers from purchasing a used automobile that has been recalled and is unsafe to drive advanced through the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee this week. Senate Bill 172, sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), provides transparency to buyers regarding the recall before the purchase is made from a licensed Tennessee dealer. Also called the “Motor Vehicle Recall and Disclosure Law,” the legislation prescribes that any vehicle deemed unsafe by the Highway Safety Administration to drive is too dangerous to be sold until properly repaired by the dealer. Other than “stop sale” recalls, vehicles for sale with unrepaired open recalls would have to be disclosed to the customer in writing before the sale. The bill also provides that after 30 days of waiting for a repair part, the manufacturer must pay a one percent monthly payment to the dealer based on the average trade in value of the vehicle being withheld from sale. The proposal now moves to the Senate floor for final consideration.

Workers’ Compensation — The full Senate passed Senate Bill 1214 on Monday, which primarily cleans up language from a major workers’ compensation reform law passed in 2013. The bill also establishes a penalty for entering false information on a construction service provider’s application to the Secretary of State Exemption registry and if an employer of a construction services provider fails to present proof for workers’ compensation insurance coverage. The penalty fee would be limited to a maximum of $500 for first time offenders. In addition, the legislation would provide an educational benefit for injured employees who are not able to return to their pre-injury job. These individuals will be provided with a $5,000 benefit for vocational training that is capped at $20,000 dollars per worker and $500,000 in any year for the entire program. It is sponsored by Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Jack Johnson (R-Franklin).

Transportation Funding / Repayment — Members of the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee voted this week to repay $120 million to the state’s highway fund which was diverted to the general fund at the recommendation of previous administrations from 2001 to 2007. Called “dedicated funding” since users pay for the roads through gas taxes and fees, the highway fund is supposed to be used only for transportation purposes. Senate Bill 251, sponsored by Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), represents the final payment on the $280 million in diverted funds. “We have a covenant with our citizens that the gas tax charged by the state at the pump is dedicated to transportation-related purposes and not something totally unrelated,” said SenatoRir Tracy. “It is such an important principle in some states that it is provided for in their Constitutions. This money should have never been diverted for other state government purposes and should have been paid back at the first available opportunity.”

DUI / Implied Consent — The Senate approved key legislation this week which aligns Tennessee with the verdict reached by the U.S. Supreme Court in Birchfield vs. North Dakota. Presently, any individual who drives a motor vehicle in Tennessee is considered to have given consent to testing for the purpose of determining alcohol levels or drug content, or both, of that person’s blood. Senate Bill 134, sponsored by Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), would make the existing implied consent law only applicable to breath tests and establishes that consent or a warrant must be obtained before conducting a blood test. In the cases where exigent circumstances are present the warrant requirement may be waived. In addition, the bill states that if the operator of a vehicle is not properly informed of the consequences when refusing to submit to a breath test, then the court does not have the authority to suspend the operator’s license or require the installment of an interlock device. The bill now goes the Governor Haslam for his signature.

Help Find the Missing Act — The State Senate approved legislation, sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), this week creating the Help Find the Missing Act. Senate Bill 113 streamlines the procedure for how local law enforcement, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), and the medical examiner’s office communicate with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). The legislation would require every county medical examiner to submit to the TBI and NamUs copies of fingerprints, partial prints, dental records, and personal identifying data of deceased persons whose deaths are in a classification requiring inquiry by the medical examiner or coroner where the deceased is not identified or the medical personnel is not satisfied with the decedent’s information. In turn, the TBI must promptly make this information available to all Tennessee law enforcement agencies and those of other states if requested. In addition, the TBI will compare the submitted fingerprint data with information filed at the TBI in order to identify the deceased. The results are to be submitted to the appropriate medical examiner or coroner, and if a tentative or positive identification is made, they will also submit the results to the law enforcement agency that submitted the missing person report. The legislation now heads to Governor Haslam for his signature.

Volunteer Firefighters and Rescue Squads — Legislation aiding Tennessee’s volunteer firefighters and rescue squad members advanced through the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee this week. The legislation, which is sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), would exempt eligible volunteer firefighters and rescue squad members from regular motor vehicle registration fees, vehicle privilege taxes and all additional fees imposed on initial registration or at the time of renewal in appreciation for their sacrifices in serving their communities. Under Senate Bill 270, the volunteer must show a sworn statement from the captain of the local fire department or rescue squad to which the person is attached confirming active status in the organization.

Suicide Prevention Training Act – Legislation which aims to prevent suicide by providing training to medical professionals who are most likely to interact with troubled individuals has been approved by the full Senate. Senate Bill 489, sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), enacts the “Kenneth and Madge Tullis, MD, Suicide Prevention Training Act.” This would require professional counselors, marital and family therapist, pastoral therapist, social workers, alcohol and drug abuse counselors, and occupational therapist to undergo suicide prevention training. The bill calls for the program to be in place by January 1, 2020. Professional affected would then have exactly two years to complete the initial training required with follow-up training every five years thereafter. Likewise, any professionals joining the field after 2022 would have two years to complete the training with a refresher course following every five years after. Dr. Tullis, a survivor of seven suicide attempts and multiple addictions, is an award-winning psychiatrist specializing in mood disorders, addictions, psychological trauma, and suicide prevention. Tullis and his wife, Madge, organized and co-chaired Tennessee’s first-ever Suicide Prevention Conference. Together with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, they founded the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN), which has become a model for other states.

Abortion / Tennessee Infants Protection Act — Senate bill 1180, sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), that would enact the “Tennessee Infants Protection Act” was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week to protect a viable fetus 24 weeks gestational age and older. The legislation calls for doctor to test viability before an abortion when the woman is at least 20 weeks past the gestational age, and there will be a rebuttable presumption that an unborn child of at least 24 weeks is viable. The bill provides health exceptions in the cases for abortions to be performed after the 20-week time frame, including those in which the mother is in imminent danger of death or if there is a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function. It now goes to the Senate floor for final consideration.

Child Rapist / Monitoring — State Senators voted on Thursday to approve legislation requiring any person who is considered a child rapist or a child sexual predator and who does not have either a primary or secondary residence to enroll in a satellite-based monitoring and supervision program. Senate Bill 468 would require that the offender remain in the program for the full duration of their probation for the protection of children. The bill, which is sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), now goes to Governor Haslam for his signature.

Sexual Exploitation of Children — The Senate approved legislation, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), on Thursday that expands the definition of “material” in regard to the sexual exploitation of children. This new definition would include any computer image, or computer-generated image, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, to ensure Tennessee’s child pornography law covers the practice of morphing. Morphing is the smooth transportation of one image into another by a computer. The practice has been used by pornographers to put a child’s face over an adult body in lewd sexual situations. Although federal law covers morphing, not everyone is charged federally. Senate Bill 605 ensures state law bans such practices as well.


Truancy — The full Senate approved legislation establishing a creative and innovative truancy intervention program for students in K-12 schools. Truancy is the most frequent reason given for schools referring juveniles to court. Senate Bill 196, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), creates a mentorship-type relationship between a designated school representative and child and parent in an opportunity to focus on attendance prior to it becoming a juvenile court issue. The legislation requires that the schools notify parents at the beginning of the school year in writing regarding their attendance policy. After three unexcused absences, the student and parent are pulled into a conference with a school representative to address the absences and to implement the first tier of the progressive truancy intervention. An agreement is then signed by the student, parent and school representative, including the school’s attendance expectations for the child and penalties for additional absences. Two additional tiers of interventions would be applied if the student accumulates additional unexcused absences in violation of the attendance contract. At least one tier must include an individualized assessment regarding the reasons for the absence, and if necessary, referral to the child to counseling, community-based services or other services aimed at addressing the student’s attendance problems.

Tennessee Educator’s Protection Act – State Senators voted this week to create liability protections for teachers, education employees, school board members, and authorized volunteers in Tennessee’s public and private schools. Named the “Tennessee Educator’s Protection Act,” the proposal protects school employees from frivolous lawsuits aimed at harassing faculty and staff while performing their duties. It is sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville). She said, “Meritless litigation against school employees interferes with the quality of public and private education, particularly where it arises out of the good faith efforts of educators to maintain classroom discipline or to address threats to student safety. We must protect our school employees from this type of harassment.”

Human Trafficking / Minor Victims –Legislation was approved by the full Senate which makes the identifying information of the minor victim of a criminal offense confidential and not open to inspection by members of the public, unless a court waives the confidentiality at the request of the minor’s parent. Minors who have been victimized, such as child pornography or sex trafficking victims, should not have their identifiable information available to the public in a manner that could potentially be discovered and used to further victimize the minor in the media or social media. Social media victimization is an ever increasing problem and has been cited in a number of suicides in Tennessee and across the country. Senate Bill 550 provides a measure of protection for both children and families and is supported by the Chiefs of Police, the Sheriffs Association and the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. The bill is sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro).

Soldiers / Handgun Permit – Legislation received final Senate approval on Wednesday to help soldiers applying for a handgun permit who have already received handgun training while serving their country. Senate Bill 1388 provides that a handgun carry permit applicant shall not be required to comply with the firing range requirements for obtaining a handgun carry permit if the applicant submits proof of successfully passing small arms qualification or combat pistol training in any branch of the military. The bill is sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta).

Taxpayer Money / Audit Findings — Legislation aiding taxpayers passed the full Senate this week, calling for a plan of action when a local government entity is audited and problems, or findings, are cited. Senate Bill 315 adds to the Local Government Modernization Act of 2005 to require a local government receiving annual audit findings to submit its annual budget and a corrective action plan to the Comptroller of the Treasury. The corrective action plan must provide the name or names of the contact person or persons responsible for the corrective action, the corrective action taken or planned, and the anticipated completion date. If the local government does not agree with an audit finding, or believes corrective action is not required, the corrective action plan must state the reasons and justifications for disagreement or belief. The legislation is sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville).

Palliative Care – Legislation creating a State Task Force on Palliative Care and Quality of Life in Tennessee has received final Senate approval. The purpose of the bill is to promote patient-centered and family-focused palliative care in the state. Palliative care is an approach intended to improve the quality of life of patients and their families who are facing serious or life-threatening illnesses. It aims to prevent and relieve their suffering by means of early identification, impeccable assessment, and the treatment of their pain, physical, psychosocial, spiritual, and various other ailments. Senate Bill 1170, sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), creates a nine-member task force charged with consulting and advising the Department of Health on matters relative to the establishment, maintenance, operation, and outcome of palliative care initiatives. Over the last decade, a multitude of studies have shown the benefits of palliative care, including improved quality of life, reduced patient and caregiver burden, and an overall reduction in total health care costs. Currently, 16 states have laws establishing these Advisory Councils, and an additional seven states introduced comparable bills during their most recent legislative sessions.

Human Trafficking — Among bills approved by the full Senate on final consideration this week is Senate Bill 553 which adds “trafficking for a commercial sex act” within the definition of “child sexual abuse” and “severe child abuse” under Tennessee law. Including child sex trafficking within this section of Tennessee law ensures that child welfare can intervene and provide services in cases that involve any form of commercial sexual exploitation of children. The legislation also changes the definition of “caregiver” in state law to allow victims to receive child welfare intervention. The changes proposed in the bill would help ensure that child sex trafficking victims are properly identified and that child welfare does not face barriers in responding to these young victims. Bringing child sex trafficking within the definition of abuse facilitates a protective, coordinated, and consistent response to this form of sexual abuse. It is sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro).

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