News from Nashville
Senate Judiciary Committee approves legislation continuing General Assembly’s efforts to protect elderly and vulnerable adults
Senate Committees worked diligently last week advancing several bills which continue the General Assembly’s ongoing efforts to protect elderly and vulnerable adults. This includes Senate Bill 1039 increasing penalties for the most dangerous crimes involving elder abuse. The legislation is part of a series of bills passed by lawmakers over the last several years with the support of the state’s district attorneys general. The laws aim to protect Tennesseans who are elderly or have diminished capacity from physical abuse and various forms of financial exploitation.
District Attorney General for the 24th Judicial District, Matt Stowe, testified before lawmakers regarding the need for the bill. He said, “As things stand with the law right now, ironically you could potentially suffer more punishment for going in grandmother’s bedroom and stealing her jewelry than for going in there with a baseball bat and beating her up. I think we all agree that we want to put the focus on violent crime.”
The legislation creates a new offense for abusing an elderly or vulnerable adult when the abuse results in either serious psychological injury or physical harm. The offense also applies when the abuse involves the use of a deadly weapon or strangulation. Such crimes would constitute aggravated assault, but the new offense would enhance the felony classification one level to a Class B felony, doubling the average amount of time served by offenders.
The legislation also eases the process for obtaining an order of protection on behalf of an elderly person who lacks financial resources to petition the court.
Stowe also testified regarding the effectiveness of the laws protecting the elderly from physical abuse and financial exploitation previously passed by the legislature. “We started in 2017 in passing comprehensive elder abuse laws and every year, members of this committee who are returning have helped us and given us powerful tools.”
The bill now heads to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for consideration.
Senator Briggs and I always enjoy visiting with
Kelle Shultz and Angie Sledge with Knoxville’s Habitat for Humanity
Elder Task Force continues legislature’s ongoing efforts to protect Tennessee seniors In order to continue efforts to protect Tennessee’s seniors, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation to create an Elder Task Force. Senate Bill 199, sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), calls for the task force to see what further improvements can be made to the Tennessee Adult Protection Act to keep vulnerable adults safe from financial exploitation.
It also asks the task force to examine existing barriers to services and resources addressing the needs of elder persons and vulnerable adults. Recommendations for state policies or responses, including directions for the provision of clear and coordinated services and support to protect and assist the elderly, would be provided to the General Assembly by January 2021 under the proposal.
The bill is now headed to the floor for a final vote.
Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Council to address needs of patients and families
Similarly, The Senate Government Operations Committee passed legislation seeking to more effectively address Alzheimer’s disease and its impact on Tennesseans. Senate Bill 28 creates the State Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementia Advisory Council to continually assess and address the status of the disease in the state.
Approximately 120,000 Tennesseans suffer with disease, with the state ranking fourth in the nation for Alzheimer-related deaths. In addition to the effects it has on patients and families, the disease’s high rate of prevalence also means increased costs for treatment, which is estimated at $1 billion in Tennessee.
The advisory council will assess the current status of Alzheimer’s in Tennessee, as well as its current and future impact to the state. The group would be tasked with examining existing industries, services, and resources addressing the needs of persons, families, and caregivers affected by Alzheimer’s disease. They will also develop a strategy to mobilize a state response to address these needs and will report their recommendation annually to the legislature and Governor Lee.
The bill now travels to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee for consideration.
Resolution seeks to ensure care services for the elderly are provided with respect and compassion
Finally, the full Senate adopted a resolution urging all facilities, programs, medical professionals and caregivers to serve, support, and care for the elderly with respect, consideration, and compassion. Senate Joint Resolution 168 reaffirms the General Assembly’s efforts to ensure that all care and services in Tennessee are provided in a manner that is respectful to the rights, dignity, and lifestyles of our senior citizens. The resolution, which passed unanimously, now goes to the House of Representatives for their approval.
Senator Rose takes oath of office in Tennessee Senate
Newly-elected State Senator Paul Rose (R-Covington) took the oath of office on Thursday, beginning his tenure representing Tennessee’s 32nd Senate District. The oath was administered by Lt. Governor Randy McNally as state senators met in a Thursday morning floor session.
“I am very humbled to have the opportunity to represent the citizens of the 32nd District in the State Senate,” Senator Rose said. “I will work hard to honor that trust and to remain open and accessible to the citizens I represent. I look forward to working with Governor Lee and my colleagues in the General Assembly to improve opportunities for all Tennesseans.”
“Paul Rose is a conservative businessman and a man of strong and abiding faith. I was proud this morning to officially swear him in as a Senator. His experience as a community leader and a candidate will serve him well. I am confident he will be a great asset in keeping Tennessee on the right track.”
Senator Rose won in a decisive victory in a special election on Tuesday. He will complete the remainder of the term of former State Senator Mark Norris, who vacated the seat last year after being appointed U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Tennessee by President Donald Trump. The term ends in 2020.
The 32nd Senate District includes Tipton County and part of Shelby County.
Legislation bolsters state’s Volunteer Public Trust Fund to expand donors to state’s K-12 public schools
Legislation that will bolster the state’s Volunteer Public Education Trust Fund to help K-12 public schools, received final approval in the Senate on Thursday. Senate Bill 625 makes improvements to the fund’s structure to expand the pool of donors and create an endowment where the interest could be used to assist with improvements or projects outside a school’s normal funding stream.
This fund was created in 1985 to be similar to the Tennessee Chairs of Excellence endowment which has been very successful for our colleges and universities. While the Chairs of Excellence Fund has raised $395.9 million since its creation, the Volunteer Public Education Trust Fund for K-12 schools has only received $171,147.
The legislation expands the pool of donors authorized to contribute to include public entities, in addition to private individuals and entities. The money would be distributed through competitive grants. It also designates the State Treasurer and the State Commissioner of Education as the fund’s trustees, restructuring it to mirror the Chairs of Excellence Fund.
The Tennessee Volunteer Public Education Trust Fund provides an opportunity to direct donations to local schools or projects. Contributions can be placed in subaccounts where the money is earmarked by the donor for a specific purpose or project.
Tennessee’s education successes are spotlighted during budget hearings
Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn appeared before the Senate Education Committee this week to present her department’s budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The presentation was one of 12 heard by Senate committees last week, as the lawmakers examine the budget proposals of 59 departments and agencies of state government over the next four weeks.
Schwinn reminded lawmakers that Tennessee’s incredible economic strength, with record low unemployment and record high small business growth, has a direct correlation to education improvements being made.
Some of the education accomplishments cited by Schwinn include record high graduation rates and ACT composite scores in Tennessee. The average ACT score in Tennessee is currently 20.1, on track to meet the short-term goal of 21 by 2020. The improvements occurred with more students taking the exam. She also noted that the state was nationally recognized for strength in career and technical education and aligned pathways to the workforce. In addition, Tennessee was the first state in the nation to remove financial barriers to college with Tennessee Promise. “As a result, more students are going to college and being successful when they get there,” Schwinn said.
The department is focusing on using Tennessee’s resources in areas that will provide the most impact for students to continue improvements. Other short-term goals listed by the department include getting 75 percent of third graders proficient in reading. The Read to Ready campaign and other initiatives are working to strengthen early literacy. The department is also focusing on improving students’ National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) scores. Student scores have moved into the top half in the nation in both grades four and grade eight in science. All other rankings are also up significantly, a departure from just a decade ago when scores for Tennessee students consistently ranked in the bottom ten states.
I was pleased to visit with members of the Tennessee Highway Patrol from Knoxville
Ag Day on the Hill — The Tennessee General Assembly showcased the contributions of the state’s farmers and forestland owners on Tuesday as part of national and state “Ag Day on the Hill” activities. Farm animals and a variety of agricultural equipment were on display outside the Capitol. Agricultural organizations were also available to discuss programs and opportunities with lawmakers and citizens participating in the event. Agriculture is one of the top industries in Tennessee, with over 67,000 farms contributing 3.3 billion to the state’s economy. Tennessee also ranks 15th in the nation for farms selling local foods directly to consumers with over 125 fresh farmer markets.
Farmers / Farming Equipment – Legislation was approved by the full Senate which excludes certain farming equipment from the slow-moving vehicles requirements under Tennessee law. Presently, vehicles traveling at least ten miles per hour below the lawful maximum speed must pull off the road so others can pass, when five or more vehicles are lined behind them. This has become more difficult for farmers since modern equipment has increased in size, making it unsafe and nearly impossible for them to pull off on many Tennessee roads. Senate Bill 1496 addresses this issue by amending current law to specify that farm tractors and implements of husbandry do not apply.
Spec Ticketing / Consumer Protection – Legislation addressing “spec ticketing” and aims to provide transparency to protect consumers passed the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Spec ticketing occurs when a ticket broker sells a ticket to a customer that the broker does not have in hand and sometimes has not yet gone on sale. The ticket broker is speculating that when the tickets go on sale, he/she can find one for a price less than the one advertised and sold to the customer. When a broker cannot find a ticket for less than the price he/she sold the spec ticket, the customer’s money is refunded. This leads to confusion and disappointment because the customer is often unaware the ticket purchased was a spec ticket.
Senate Bill 1176 requires that brokers provide notice to consumers that they do not have the ticket in hand at the time of purchase. It does not ban any company from participating in ticket sales; rather it ensures transparency to consumers so they understand what types of tickets they are purchasing. Under this legislation, if proper notice is not provided then it is a violation of the Consumer Protection Act, is a Class B misdemeanor and creates a right of action for a court to award a victim damages. The Attorney General’s office is also able to review complaints and pursue legal action. This bill will now advance to the floor to be considered by the full Senate.
March Madness and Fantasy Football Freedom Act – Under current Tennessee law, it is illegal to wager money to participate in Fantasy Football and March Madness office pools. This law, however, is rarely enforced. The law is in place because of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which in 2018 was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Murphy v. NCAA. Currently thousands of Tennesseans who participate in harmless office pools are subject to prosecution and conviction of a Class C misdemeanor if involved, a Class B misdemeanor if they promote the creation of an office pool, or even a Class E felony if two or more people were to engage in the regular promotion of an office pool.
Senate Bill 1057 decriminalizes participation in “low-level sports entertainment pools,” which includes March Madness and Fantasy Football office pools that have an entry fee of no more than $25.00 and the total pool is no more than $1,000. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the legislation last week, and it will now advance to the Senate floor to be approved by the full Senate.
First Amendment Right to Free Speech — Legislation advanced through the Senate Judiciary committee further protecting Tennesseans’ First Amendment right to free speech. The bill seeks to protect citizens from being silenced by “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” (SLAPP), which are frivolous lawsuits aimed at silencing them. The threat of costly, time consuming litigation tends to silence and intimidate whistle blowers, journalists, and political protesters by deterring them from speaking out.
Senate Bill 1097 will protect these defendants from frivolous lawsuits by allowing them to petition the court for dismissal before the defendant has to spend thousands of dollars defending their First Amendment rights. Under this legislation, discovery in such lawsuits cannot proceed until the judge determines the suit’s validity. The bill also establishes clear guidelines for judges in determining if a lawsuit is considered to be a SLAPP. If it is found to be frivolous, then the defendant may be rewarded all incurred court costs and attorney’s fees. The bill now moves to the full Senate floor for final consideration. Thirty other states have adopted similar legislation.
TCRS – On Tuesday, the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee approved legislation to lessen the length of time a person must be a member in Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS) for a surviving spouse to receive the deceased member’s benefits. Senate Bill 1371 grants a retirement allowance to a surviving spouse who is a designated beneficiary if the deceased TCRS member is vested with five years of credible service. Current law requires a member to have ten years of credible service in order for a surviving spouse of a member to receive retirement benefits.
Slow Poke Law / Left Lane – Legislation extending the state’s “slow poke” law was approved by the full Senate this week. Current law requires vehicles to stay out of the left lane of interstate highways with at least three lanes, except in the case of passing other vehicles unless the road is under construction or repair. Senate Bill 1497 would extend the law to divided highways with two or more lanes. Some experts believe that driving too slow in the passing lane is at least as dangerous as driving too fast, resulting in a number of highway accidents.
Domestic Violence — Legislation designed to protect domestic abuse victims from being manipulated into evading the court process or giving untruthful testimony received final Senate approval last Monday. Currently it is a Class D felony to coerce a witness of domestic violence by threatening them to testify falsely or evade court. However, there is no law preventing a defendant from improperly influencing a witness which is equally harmful to the victim and the case. Senate Bill 611, which I sponsored, addresses this gap by making it a Class A misdemeanor for an offender in a criminal domestic violence case to influence their victim to testify falsely, withhold any truthful testimony, or elude the legal process.
Tennessee has been the third most violent state in the U.S. and a large part of our violence is due to domestic abuse. The number one obstacle to prosecutors addressing domestic violence is keeping the victim and key witnesses involved in judiciary proceedings until the case is concluded. The reasons for victims failing to cooperate are complex and vary, but often involve improper influence to testify falsely, withhold testimony, or elude the legal process.
Telemedicine — Legislation passed the full Senate floor last Monday improving patient care through the use of telemedicine. Telemedicine refers to the practice of physicians caring for their patients remotely through HIPAA–compliant electronic information systems. Senate Bill 972 permits mental health physicians to collaborate with advanced practice nurses and physician assistants, allowing them to arrange for required review of the patients charts and the required visitation via HIPAA-compliant electronic means, rather than at the site of the clinic. Under this legislation the collaborating physicians must have the same prescribing authority as the nurse practitioners and physicians assistants they supervise. Telemedicine is particularly important in Tennessee’s rural communities.
Suicide Prevention – The Senate approved a resolution supporting the Suicide Prevention Act’s recommended feasibility study to create a nationwide three-digit suicide and mental health hotline. Over 44,000 Americans committed suicide last year alone. In Tennessee, suicide is the tenth leading cause in overall deaths, killing at least 1,163 persons. Suicide rates among youth have also greatly increased by more than 200 percent in the last 50 years. Senate Joint Resolution 53 also encourages other states to pass similar resolutions to show broad support. Creating a national hotline could assist individuals with suicidal intervention or other mental health crises, saving countless lives. This resolution now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Commemorative Birth Certificates / Miscarriages – Members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved a proposal on Wednesday calling for the State of Tennessee to acknowledge the miscarriage of a baby by issuing a commemorative birth certificate to the parents upon their request. The action comes after parents who have lost babies due to miscarriage have discussed with lawmakers the need for an official recognition of the baby’s existence and the role such a certificate would have in their healing process. The state already allows for a certificate for stillborn infants. Senate Bill 1389 would allow parents to request a commemorative birth certificate from the State Department of Health if they so choose.
I was honored to participate in the Change of Command ceremony and present a Resolution from the General Assembly honoring Major General Terry “Max” Haston as the outgoing Commander of the Tennessee Military Department
Pete DeBusk, with DeRoyal Industries,
stopped by for a visit
Chase Countiss served as my Page for the Day
Knoxville Area Realtors stopped by for a visit.
Dr. Elise Denneny dropped by for a visit while
she was serving as the Doctor of the Day.
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As always thank you for continued support!
District 6 Senator