State budget, legislation tackling Tennessee’s opioid epidemic among key laws set to become effective July 1

 (NASHVILLE, TN), June 29, 2018  — Sunday, July 1, marks the beginning of a new 2018-19 fiscal year in Tennessee as the state’s budget passed by the General Assembly in April becomes effective.  Many other new laws are also set for enactment, including major legislation addressing Tennessee’s opioid epidemic.

The centerpiece of the opioid legislation is Governor Bill Haslam’s TN Together initiative, a three-prong plan to attack the problem by focusing on law enforcement, treatment and prevention.  The first half of the plan, which is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), allows the state to better track, monitor and penalize the use and distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs.  The second half, sponsored by Norris and Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), seeks to prevent opioid addiction, and ultimately, misuse and abuse by limiting the supply and dosage of opioid prescriptions with emphasis on new patients.

Drug dealers will face stiffer penalties when a death occurs as a result of their actions under two new laws that will be enacted.  This includes Henry’s law, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), which stiffens penalties against drug dealers when a minor dies as a result of an overdose on Schedule I or II drugs distributed by them.  A separate measure will make the unlawful distribution, delivery or dispensation of fentanyl, carfentanil, or a combination of any controlled substance and fentanyl, second degree murder when it is the proximate cause of death.  It is sponsored by Senator Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol).

In order to ensure that patients receive treatment for opiate addiction using best practices, legislation will be implemented on Sunday to keep prescribers and patients in non-residential facilities focused on a full recovery.  The legislation, which is sponsored by Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), prevents over-prescription of addiction treatment drugs to ensure they’re used to treat addiction rather than perpetuate it.

A new law sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) will be enacted on July 1 to cut off the flow of funds used to purchase opiates by addressing the used of gift cards obtained through retail theft.  Nationwide, the loss from retail theft is estimated at $12-15 billion, with almost all being related to the illicit drug trade.

On opioid education, a new law sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) will take effect calling for physicians to inform a woman of child-bearing age about the risks of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) on infants before prescribing the drug.  More than 1,000 infants in Tennessee are born dependent on drugs each year.

Other key laws set for July 1 enactment are:

Budget — The balanced budget addresses opioid abuse, school safety, teacher funding, juvenile justice reform, rural economic development and job growth, while allocating additional funds for the care of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens.  It focuses on the four “e’s” of Tennessee:  employment, education, economic opportunity and enforcement of the law.  (Public Chapter 1061 by Norris)

Juvenile Justice Reform – The Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2018 balances judicial discretion with new guardrails on placing children in out-of-home custody, brings needed investment in treatment and other services, and ensures individualized case planning, among other improvements.   The legislation addresses the problem of longer incarceration periods for juveniles with minor offenses, which studies have shown increases their risk for recidivism.  Misdemeanor offenses, unruly offenses and technical violations make up nearly half of youth in costly out-of-home placements, and many youth in Tennessee are being confined for minor offenses or conduct that would not be crimes for adults.  (Public Chapter 1052 by Norris)

Jobs —  The Tennessee Visual Content Act capitalizes on the state’s competitive advantages to be a national leader for creative technology jobs, which is the fastest-growing cluster of jobs in the entertainment industry.   Also set for enactment on July 1 is legislation to update Tennessee’s law regarding independent Internet marketplace platform contractors to keep up with the growth of the “gigabyte economy” and encourage development of this industry.   (Public Chapter 919 by Norris, Sen. Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville, and Public Chapter 648 by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson)

Healthcare – The Tennessee Rural Hospital Transformation Act will give struggling hospitals the resources to assess and implement operational changes to operate more efficiently in an ever-evolving healthcare marketplace in communities where services and economic support are vital.  Another key healthcare law to be enacted requires the Tennessee Emergency Medical Board to establish protocols to get stroke patients in Tennessee to the best hospital with the best treatment capabilities to foster better outcomes and save lives.  To help ensure transparency in medical charges, a new law set to take effect on Sunday requires a hospital to provide an estimate to patients regarding out-of-network charges so they won’t be blindsighted with unexpected charges.  (Public Chapter 1055 by Watson, Public Chapter 722  by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Public Chapter 840 by Lundberg)

Reducing Recidivism – An innovative pilot program will be enacted to provide grants to local county sheriffs or probation departments that are successful in reducing recidivism to help identify and formulate better policies to make Tennessee’s communities safer.  A separate law aims at reducing recidivism by addressing occupational barriers for those who are looking for a fresh start in life when past crimes are not directly related to the job sought, excluding certain felonies.  (Public Chapter 1051  by Jackson and Public Chapter 793  by Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield)

Human Trafficking – Three new laws continuing the General Assembly’s multi-year effort to attack human trafficking will be enacted.  One makes promoting prostitution punishable as trafficking for a commercial sex act when the victim has an intellectual disability, while another creates a path for juvenile victims of human trafficking to have their records expunged in order to clear their record and move forward with their lives as productive citizens.  The third law protects the records of trafficking victims who seek treatment from service providers during their recovery process.  (Public Chapter 1019 by Ketron, Public Chapter 1018 by Ketron and Public Chapter 613 by Sen. John Stevens (R-Huntingdon)

Domestic Violence — To help keep victims of domestic violence safe, legislation will become effective which improves upon the Public Safety Act of 2016 by imposing bond conditions on offenders designed to protect domestic violence victims.  (Public Chapter 586 by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown)

 Underage Drinking — Legislation will be implemented requiring all new drivers’ licenses issued to persons under the age of 21 in Tennessee be printed in a vertical format to help businesses easily identify those who cannot drink alcohol.  More than two-thirds of the states across the nation have vertical licenses for drivers under the age of 21 to help prevent underage drinking and curb DUI-related fatalities.   (Public Chapter 388 by Massey)

 Sexual Offenses — Several new laws will take effect July 1 strengthening Tennessee’s law against sex offenders, including one prohibiting a person charged with incest from participating in judicial diversion.  A second law ensures sex offenders convicted of continuous sexual abuse of a child are listed on the Sex Offender Registry as a violent offender.  Another measure creates an exception to the heresay rule in criminal proceedings regarding statements made by young children relative to sexual and physical abuse.  It applies to non-testimonial statements made by children under the age of 12 and would be admissible under the ruling of a judge who reviews them in a separate hearing utilizing certain guidelines.   (Public Chapter 951 by Lundberg, Public Chapter 719 by Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, and Public Chapter 708  by Yager)

Firearm Safety / Mental Health Reporting – Two major laws to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals who are mentally ill are set for enactment as the new month begins.  The first measure requires acute care hospitals to report involuntary commitments in their psychiatric units to law enforcement so that they can be a part of the record used in the verification process for the purchase of firearms.  This legislation closes the gap in current law, which already requires mental health hospitals to report these commitments, to ensure existing gun laws are properly enforced.  The second creates greater cooperation between the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and local authorities in order to prevent those with mental health issues from purchasing firearms.   (Public Chapter 1015  by Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) and Public Chapter 799  by Haile)

Child Custody / Custodial Parent / Relocation – A key measure which shifts the focus of a custodial parent’s relocation to the best interest of the child will be enacted.  This new law requires a parent seeking to relocate to provide notice to the non-relocating parent before doing so.  If an objection has been made by the non-relocating parent within 30 days of notice, this requires the court to determine whether relocation is in the best interest of the child using eight factors, including the nature of the relationship with the parents, the needs of the child, the feasibility of preserving the relationship with the non-relocating parent, the child’s preference, and more.  (Public Chapter 853 by Stevens)

Education / Teacher Sexual Misconduct in the Classroom — Student safety was the impetus of a package of new laws sponsored by members of the Senate Education Committee led by Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) to keep sexual predators out of the classroom.   The legislative package follows a comprehensive report from Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson that revealed deficiencies in hiring practices for school personnel that could allow predators to slip through the cracks.  (Public Chapter 1006  Public Chapter 938  Public Chapter 937 Public Chapter 935 )

Schools Serving Special Needs Students – Legislation will be enacted that ensures equitable access to the state’s special education excess cost reimbursement program. It is a part of the General Assembly’s ongoing efforts to ensure all students are able to receive a quality education, have their needs met, and be treated with dignity and respect.  (Public Chapter 767 by Gresham)

 Tuition Transparency and Accountability Act – A new law to provide more transparency and accountability when it comes to tuition and fee hikes at the state’s colleges and universities is set for a July 1 enactment. Any tuition increase must be substantiated by stating the amount of increase, the reason for the increase, and any steps that may have been taken to control it. (Public Chapter 614 by Dickerson)

 A full list of laws that will take effect is posted on the General Assembly’s website at:



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