Legislative Update | March 4, 2024

March 4, 2024
Aerial of Capital at night

News from Nashville

Last week, Senate members advanced several bills to increase penalties for criminals, specifically repeat offenders and criminals who target children.

Senate advanced legislation to crack down on crime and hold criminals accountable

Strengthening Tennessee’s response to repeat misdemeanor offenders

To address the issue of persistent crime, Tennessee lawmakers are prioritizing solutions to tackle the challenge of repeat misdemeanor offenders who often avoid significant consequences. Senate Bill 2155 passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee which would increase the minimum jail time following a fifth qualifying misdemeanor offense. The list includes 37 total crimes ranging from assault to driving under the influence. 

Under this legislation, a criminal who has been convicted of any combination of five or more qualifying misdemeanors in the past ten years would be subject to a class E felony charge at the discretion of a judge. In the case of certain repeat violent offenses such as domestic assault and child neglect, the legislation would raise the third or subsequent conviction from a class D misdemeanor to a class E felony. A Class E felony is punishable by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $3,000. 

This bill now awaits passage on the Senate floor.

Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee advances legislation to protect children from abusers

The Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee advanced multiple pieces of legislation that will protect children from known abusers and also enhance the punishments for child abuse. 

Senate Bill 1835 enhances the penalty for abusing a child over the age of nine. Currently, the offense results in a Class A misdemeanor, and abusing a child under the age of nine is a Class D felony. This enhancement will bring the offense of abusing a child older than nine to a Class E felony to ensure child abusers are held accountable. The legislation advances to the Senate Finance Committee.

Another bill will create a Class A misdemeanor offense for knowingly leaving a child in the care or supervision of a person who is a registered sex offender. Senate Bill 1587aims to protect children from unsafe environments. This bill advances to the Senate floor for final consideration. 

Senate Bill 2070 will protect children from being in unsafe homes. The bill will ensure that a child cannot be in a home where there is a history of child abuse. It also holds caregivers, parents or guardians accountable to protect the child from abuse by other individuals in the home. Senate Bill 2070 advances to the Senate floor for final consideration. 

These pieces of legislation are some of the latest efforts the General Assembly is advancing to protect children in and out of the home by enhancing punishments for abusing children.

Dr. Benjamin Mauck Act

The Dr. Benjamin Mauck Act advanced last week to increase penalties for assault in a healthcare facility. On July 11, 2023, Dr. Benjamin Mauck was shot point blank three times in his Collierville medical facility. One week prior, his life had been threatened by the individual who savagely murdered him. 

Senate Bill 1709 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would enhance the punishment for assault in healthcare facilities to a Class A misdemeanor and aggravated assault in healthcare facilities to a Class C felony. Senate Bill 1709 advances to the Senate Finance Committee.

Bill to prohibit local restrictions on routine traffic stops advances

To fight violent crime in Memphis, Senate Bill 2572 passed out of the Senate State and Local Government Committee to ensure law enforcement can conduct routine traffic stops as part of their efforts to protect public safety. The Memphis City Council passed a resolution last year to prohibit Memphis Police from stopping vehicles for expired tags, broken tail lights, loose bumpers, and similar offenses. Taylor’s legislation would prohibit local governments from restricting law enforcement’s ability to conduct routine traffic stops. Routine traffic stops have resulted in major arrests and the apprehension of violent criminals for years. 

Members of the East Tennessee Realtors stopped 
by to discuss housing in our area.

In brief…

Reclaiming regulatory oversight of intrastate commerce from federal government

Last Tuesday, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee advanced Senate Bill 2133 that would delegate regulatory oversight of intrastate commerce from the federal government to the state. The legislation would empower Tennessee to govern the production and distribution of goods within its borders. This bill makes it clear that if commerce in Tennessee does not fall under interstate commerce because it takes place solely within our state, then it falls under the purview of the state of Tennessee.

The Tennessee General Assembly has taken steps in recent years to claw back regulatory authority from the federal government. In 2023, a new law passed enabling Tennessee to reclaim control of meat inspection from the federal government and speed up the process which was hurting meat producers. 

The bill passed committee and now awaits passage on the Senate floor.

The Family Rights and Responsibilities Act advances

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation that explicitly lays out twelve fundamental rights of parents in Tennessee Code. The Family Rights and Responsibilities Act protects parents’ fundamental rights and responsibilities to make education, healthcare, moral and religious decisions for their child. The bill aims to protect children from being indoctrinated by ideologies contrary to the values taught by their parents.

The relationship between a parent and child predates the institution of government itself. Parents know their children best, and they have the right and responsibility to make decisions in the best interest of the child without undue influence from the government. The legislation advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and moves to the Senate floor for final consideration.

Legislation addressing generative AI in music industry awaits senate floor vote

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee passed the Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security (ELVIS) Act, a bill updating Tennessee’s Protection of Personal Rights law to include protections for songwriters, performers, and music industry professionals’ voice from the misuse of artificial intelligence (AI). The ELVIS Act would be the first legislation in the nation to protect against the unauthorized use of someone’s likeness by adding “voice” to the existing protections.

Tennessee’s music industry supports more than 61,617 jobs across the state, contributes $5.8 billion to the state’s GDP, and fills over 4,500 music venues.

Tennessee’s current law protects name, image and likeness, but it doesn’t specifically address new, personalized generative AI cloning models and services that enable human impersonation and allow users to make unauthorized fake works in the image and voice of others. Artists and musicians at all levels are facing exploitation and theft of their unique voices, threatening the future of Tennessee’s creators, the jobs that they support across the state and country, and the bonds between fans and their favorite bands. The bill now awaits passage on the Senate floor.

Increasing compensation for community-based long-term care providers

In-home caretakers confront challenging work conditions, leading to low retention rates across the state. In an attempt to alleviate this issue, legislation sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs aims to compensate long-term care providers who already reside with patients. Senate Bill 2036, if enacted, would enable caregivers who live with their patients to receive payment through TennCare, offering crucial support to both the caretaker and the patient. 

The legislation passed the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Tuesday and now awaits passage on the Senate floor.

Updates to workers’ comp. benefits for Tennessee National Guard

Senate Bill 2083 addresses the disparity in workers’ compensation benefits for the Tennessee National Guard. Currently, if a National Guard member is injured while on active state duty, their workers’ compensation benefits are based on their Guard pay, even though their civilian pay might be higher. The bill requires that workers’ compensation for for for injury or death benefits for Guard members be based on whichever compensation rate is higher between their civilian wages and active duty wages. The bill will ensure that Tennessee National Guardsmen injured on state active duty are not suffering financially while recovering from their injuries. The bill passed the Senate State and Local Government Committee and advances to the Senate Finance Committee.

Safeguarding homeowners

On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee passed legislation designed to shield homeowners from the threat of foreclosure by Homeowners Associations (HOAs). Under Senate Bill 2150 HOA’s would not be permitted to foreclose on a resident’s home for their failure to pay fees associated with nonessential amenities. This measure ensures that homeowners are protected from disproportionate consequences for financial challenges related to optional community features. The bill now advances to the Senate floor for final approval.

Election day school closures

The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved legislation aimed at improving school safety during elections. Senate Bill 1836 requires public schools to be closed for instruction if the building is being used as a polling place for a presidential election primary. Schools used as polling locations for the November general election are already required to be closed.

I enjoyed visiting with the leadership 
from Covenant Health
Dr. Bill Powell and Dr. Charles Greenblatt 
visited on Dental Day on the Hill

TWRA grants for Marinas

In 2022, legislation that established a grant program for marinas to address public infrastructure costs was passed. The program was funded through gasoline tax revenue sold at the marina and administered by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA). This year, legislation that will allow these grants to be administered based on the amount of gasoline sold. It also will ensure that a minimum of twenty-five marinas receive a grant, ensuring that regardless of size, all marinas can participate in the grant program. The legislation advanced out of the Senate Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Committee this week and moves to the Senate floor. 

Dietitian Licensure Compact

The Senate Government Operations Committee gave a positive recommendation to Senate Bill 1862, sponsored by Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), which would create the Dietitian Licensure Compact. The compact aims to facilitate the interstate practice of dietetics to improve public access to dietetics services. The bill now moves to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

Bills Previously Covered that Passed the Senate Floor This Week

Senate Bill 613 – Allows courts to add trauma-informed education as a requirement in a parenting plan when children have been removed from their homes in cases of dependency or neglect. 

Senate Bill 1679 – Requires schools to develop a safety response plan when an unscheduled fire alarm is activated. The goal is to help school personnel more quickly determine whether an emergency is a fire, inclement weather, or an active shooter situation. 

Senate Bill 1768 – Requires an administrator of elections to temporarily step down from the position at least 30 days prior to an election if an immediate family member was on the ballot in the county they serve. 

Senate Bill 1825 – Prohibits all state entities from contracting, negotiating with or paying an individual or entity that is a known system hacker. 

Senate Bill 1853 – Increases the number of available credit hours for high school work-based learning programs from a yearly maximum of three to six.

Senate Bill 1957 – Allows veterinarians in Tennessee to report suspected animal cruelty and testify in judicial proceedings regarding that animal’s care without violating veterinarian-client-patient confidentiality. 

Senate Bill 2066 – Requires childcare facilities in Tennessee to have carbon monoxide detectors installed in every room.

Matt Schaefer and Adam Cook with East Tennessee Children’s Hospital visited from Knoxville
I enjoyed visiting with families from Emerald Academy during their 
Day on the Hill.
Tony Benton and co-workers with Tennova Healthcare stopped by on the Hospital Association’s Day on the Hill
Members of the Metropolitan Drug Commission stopped by to discuss legislation of importance to them

Legislation I’m Sponsoring

Therapists Licensure Compact

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved legislation that would create the Board of Therapists Licensure Compact for professional counselors, marital and family therapists, and clinical pastoral therapists. Senate Bill 2628 aims to facilitate the interstate practice of therapy to improve public access to these needed services. the bill now moves to a vote by the full Senate.

Volunteers with Alzheimer’s Tennessee updated me on the number of seniors who have been safely returned to their loved ones through the Silver Alert program which I sponsored and passed in 2021
Mayor Indya Kincannon stopped by during 
her visit to the Capitol
I was honored to have Jacob Loyacano join me on the Senate floor as my Page for the Day. Jacob is a student at Bearden High School and a member of the NJROTC. If you know a high school student who would like to join me as my page, please have them contact my office.
Advocates from East Tennessee stopped by to discuss the challenges of housing in our area

If our office can ever be of service to you or your family, please don’t hesitate to contact us. On the left is Carly Nelson, my Legislative Assistant. On the right is Debbie Gazzaway, our Research Analyst for the Transportation and Safety Committee. We can help with issues with a state department, information on legislation, setting up a tour of the Capitol or scheduling an appointment or speaking engagements.

For information on State Senators including phone numbers and email addresses, click Tennessee State Senators.

For House members, click Tennessee House Members

For all other information on the General Assembly including legislation, schedules and videos, click Tennessee General Assembly

As always thank you for continued support!

Becky Massey
District 6 Senator