Lawmakers work to provide resources to tornado victims
Middle Tennessee was torn apart by tornados in the early hours of Tuesday morning. I was able to accompany the Department of Safety that morning in their aerial survey of the damages. Seeing it firsthand from the air was emotional and heart-wrenching. all I could do while seeing it was pray. I want to thank our first responders, safety and road personnel, other state, city and county employees, medical personnel, non-profit organizations, volunteers and everyone who have and will be working tirelessly to get our communities back functioning.
Senate committees also heard updates from various officials of state government regarding the emergency response to help victims of the devastating tornadoes.
Prayers for those devastated by the storms were lifted by committee members continually on Tuesday and Wednesday, with lawmakers standing in recognition of victims and the state’s emergency responders during Thursday morning’s floor session. Senators commended state and local emergency personnel who performed above the call of duty during the disaster and expressed appreciation for the heroic efforts of citizens who participated in rescue and recovery efforts. They also stopped to remember those who lost their lives and the families who must rebuild in the aftermath of the storms.
At the direction of President Donald Trump, federal officials were dispatched to Tennessee immediately after the storms to assess the damage and assist with the recovery. The President said, “We send our love and our prayers of the nation to every family that was affected. And we will get there, and we will recover and we will rebuild, and we will help them.” The President visited Tennessee on Friday to meet with victims and to survey the damages.
A federal disaster designation enables local governments and individuals to access the critical federal grants and loans needed to help them recover from the damages sustained. The aid also helps citizens and state and local governments with costs for damage to roads, bridges, emergency protective measures, and debris removal.
Multiple agencies of state government have set up mobile operations in affected areas to aid victims. A full list of information about the ongoing tornado recovery resources can be found on the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency’s (TEMA) website at https://www.tn.gov/tema.html.
A tax relief bill to help storm victims rebuild is already being drafted. The legislation would allow building materials to be purchased tax-free for those affected.
I enjoyed visiting with Knoxville area pharmacists during their day on the hill
Senate Judiciary Committee approves comprehensive pro-life legislation
Major pro-life legislation, which includes a prohibition on abortions where a fetal heartbeat exists, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Senate Bill 2196 also includes a layered structure that prohibits abortion after the unborn child reaches certain gestational age milestones. The “ladder” provision bans abortion at 11 gestational age milestones ranging from 6 weeks to 24 weeks, with severability clauses for each step of the ladder. It is modeled after a Missouri law to protect against legal challenges.
A medical emergency exception is provided, under the bill, if certain requirements are met.
The proposal is part of Governor Bill Lee’s legislative priorities for the 2020 session. It also comes as a result of meetings held by the Senate Judiciary Committee last year which studied ways to implement pro-life legislation that will meet court scrutiny.
The bill calls for mothers to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion where the gestational age and the fetal heartbeat will be determined. The proposal also prohibits discriminatory abortion based on the unborn child’s race, sex, or Down syndrome diagnosis.
In addition, the legislation eliminates the requirement that the Department of Children’s Services provide court advocates and other information about judicial procedures to minors who are considering an abortion.
The bill now heads to the Senate floor for final approval.
Senator Briggs and I presented Randy Boyd, Interim President of UT, and Proclamation honoring the 225th anniversary of UT-Knoxville
I was honored to receive the Rural Health Association’s Legislator of the Year Award
Senate Commerce Committee approves legislation raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21
Legislation which raises the minimum age required under state law to purchase tobacco products was approved by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Senate Bill 2202 raises the age from 18 to 21 to purchase, possess, transport, or consume any tobacco product, smoking hemp or vapor products.
The use of vaping products has grown dramatically over the past several years among youth. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration study shows that 20.8 percent of high schoolers are considered frequent users of e-cigarettes.
In December, President Trump signed into law a provision in the federal budget making it a violation to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21, including e-cigarettes and vaping cartridges. This proposal puts state statutes in harmony with federal law and ensures that Tennessee will continue to receive $32 million in federal block grant funds.
The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse partners with Department of Agriculture each year to ensure tobacco products are not sold to underage individuals. Federal block grant funds provide prevention treatment and recovery support services and activities for people at risk or who have substance abuse disorders.
Tennessee Commissioner of Health Lisa Piercey told the Senate Health and Welfare Committee that smoking is a key contributing factor in the state’s poor health rating. She said while three people die each day of opioids, 31 deaths are attributed to tobacco use during the same period. The Department of Health has requested $4 million in the 2020-2021 budget for tobacco prevention programs.
In other news…
Legislation to end judicial diversion for continuous child sexual abusers passes Senate — The full Senate voted last week to add continuous sexual abuse of a child to the list of offenses which are not eligible for judicial diversion. Judicial diversion allows a charge or charges to be diverted for an agreed upon amount of time once the defendant pleads guilty and agrees to conditions given by the judge.
Continuous sexual abuse of a child is a serious felony offense that occurs when a person engages in multiple acts of child sexual abuse. Under the Tennessee statute, this offense may occur in a few different situations. This includes engaging in three or more incidents of child sex abuse involving the same minor on separate occasions over a period of 90 days or more. The offense may also be charged for one incident of sexual abuse with at least three children on separate occasions over a period of 90 days or more. Some examples are cases that involve victims related to the defendant by blood or marriage, or a defendant who is considered an authority figure, such as a parent, teacher, priest, or child care provider. Senate Bill 2332 ensures no judicial diversion can be considered by the courts for this serious crime.
Department of Health gives update on COVID -19 novel coronavirus in Tennessee — The Tennessee Department of Health gave lawmakers an update on the COVID19 novel coronavirus this week. The department has launched a Tennessee Coronavirus Public Information Line in partnership with the Tennessee Poison Center which will be available from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. CST daily. The hotline number is 877-857-2945.
Although Tennessee has received its first positive test result for a case of the virus, Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said the overall risk to the general public remains low. She said, “We are working closely with local health care partners to identify contacts and contain spread of this disease in our communities. We’ve been anticipating identification of COVID-19 cases in Tennessee. At this time, the overall risk to the general public remains low. We are continuing to work with the CDC and other agencies to provide guidance to Tennesseans to protect their health.”
Piercey said citizens should use the normal practices to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses. These include washing hands with soap and water; covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing; and not touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. She also urged those who are sick to stay home and stay away from other people.
People with concerns about their health should contact their health care providers. TDH has additional information available at www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html. The CDC has updated information and guidance available online at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
On Wednesday, Governor Bill Lee announced the formation of a Coronavirus Task Force to enhance Tennessee’s coordinated efforts to prevent, identify, and treat potential cases of COVID-19.
Continued good news on the jobs front / Unemployment rate in Tennessee holds at a low 3.3 percent –Tennessee continues to have low unemployment according to statistics released by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development on Thursday. The statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for January 2020 is 3.3 percent. This represents a .1 percent drop as compared to the rate in January 2019. Tennessee employers added 6,500 new jobs across the state between December and January, with the most significant increase in the education and health services sector. When comparing January 2019 to January 2020, employment grew by 46,100 positions statewide.
Legislation calls for open records regarding acts of terrorism committed by juveniles –On Thursday, the full Senate approved legislation to ensure that any acts of terrorism committed by juvenile offenders are open to the public for inspection. Senate Bill 2747 adds an act that constitutes terrorism or attempt to commit terrorism by an adult to the list of juvenile court petitions and orders currently open for public inspection. The legislation also prohibits expunction of a juvenile’s record relating to a delinquent act of terrorism or an attempt to commit terrorism.
An act of terrorism is defined as conduct that violates the law and is intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence the policy of a unit of government by intimidation or coercion; or affect the conduct of a unit of government by murder, assassination, torture, kidnapping, or mass destruction. The bill is pending action in the House of Representatives.
TACIR mandate to study cost of Amtrak construction in Tennessee passes Senate –A trip down to Atlanta might be possible by train if the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) deems it an efficient cost. Senate Bill 2065 mandates TACIR to study the demand for faster rail service, operating characteristics of potential service options, forecast performance options and projected operational costs to the state to expand railroad passenger service from Nashville to Atlanta. The bill passed 30-0.
Legislation to extend CoverKids to 2025 passes Senate –An extension of CoverKids, Tennessee’s children’s health insurance program (CHIP), came up for vote during last Monday’s session. Senate Bill 2183 will extend the CoverKids program from June 30, 2020, to June 30, 2025. The program provides coverage to uninsured Tennessee children who are not eligible for the Tennessee Medicaid program. Similar to Medicaid, the program is financed and administered by both the federal and state government. It covers about 40,000 children and 6,000 pregnant women in Tennessee.
The legislation passed unanimously and now heads to Governor Lee for his signature.
Legislation to allow Department of Veteran Services to use nonprofits for suicide prevention training — Legislation advanced through the full Senate last week requiring the Department of Veteran Services to provide suicide prevention training to employees who directly interact with veterans. Senate Bill 2755 bill authorizes the Department of Veteran Services to use nonprofit organizations to provide the training.
In 2017, 154 veterans committed suicide in the state of Tennessee out of the 6,139 committed nationwide in the U.S according to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report. The bill passed unanimously and is pending action in the House of Representatives.
Bill expanding emergency service tags to more professions passes senate— Legislation to allow additional emergency service personnel to be issued emergency license plates was approved by the Senate. Senate Bill 2766 expands the definition of emergency service squad to include emergency medical technicians, paramedic, emergency medical technician paramedics or other emergency medical responders. It also includes physicians and nurses who accompany or attend a patient in an ambulance. Emergency responders seeking emergency tags are required to submit proof of their profession to their county clerk’s office.
New Museum Building named “Bill Haslam Center” — The Senate approved legislation renaming the new building which houses the Tennessee State Museum as the Bill Haslam Center. The museum was previously located in the lower level of the War Memorial Building until it was moved into the new James K. Polk Center in 1981. It remained there for more than 35 years until 2015 when Gov. Haslam proposed a new home for the museum on the northwest corner of the Bicentennial Mall in Nashville. The General Assembly approved funds in 2015 to build the new 137,000 square foot facility with additional funding raised through private contributions. Highlights of the museum include six exhibitions, a children’s gallery, interactive tables and screens, and documentary films. A second-floor veranda overlooks Bicentennial Mall with views of the state Capitol and downtown Nashville. Senate Bill 2301 is pending action in the House Finance, Ways, and Means Committee.
Bill to give judges discretion in determining child custody plans passes Senate–The Senate unanimously approved legislation that gives judges discretion in determining child custody plans when a parent has committed domestic abuse against the child, other parent or other individual residing with the child. Senate Bill 2733 requires a court to make its decision based on the best interest of the minor child when limiting a parent’s residential parenting time because the parent has engaged in willful abandonment or abuse of the parent, child or another person living with the child. Current law has conflicting statues governing these instances. One statute allows a judge to use discretion in determining a child custody plan if there is proof they have committed an act of domestic violence, but another statute provides that a judge must limit a parent’s residential plan if there is proof they have committed an act of domestic violence. This legislation clarifies the law and mirrors other code governing parental rights, which prioritizes the best interest of the child.
Dr. Keith Lindsey, Interim President of Knoxville College, and his wife stopped by for a visit
Members of the Associated General Contractors stopped by to discuss legislation
I appreciate members of the UT Student Government Association stopping by and discussing issues of importance to them
It was a special treat to visit Sam E. Hill School and read to several kindergarten and first grade classes
It is always a pleasure to meet with members of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors. I am pictured here with Rusty and Beverly Farrell
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As always thank you for continued support!
District 6 Senator