Legislative Update | March 11, 2024

March 11, 2024
Aerial of Capital at night

News from Nashville

Lawmakers were hard at work last week, as the Senate is in full swing. The Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee concluded its business for the year, while many other committees will be working off their final calendars next week. Every committee is advancing important legislation to improve the lives of Tennesseans.

School choice takes center stage as committees work toward final calendars

Senate Education Committee advances legislation to expand school choice in Tennessee

For the second week in a row, the Senate Education Committee reviewed the Education Freedom Scholarship Act to expand school choice and give Tennessee parents more control over how their tax dollars are used in their child’s education. After a lengthy discussion, the committee passed the amended proposal.

The Education Freedom Scholarships Act, a legislative initiative of Governor Lee’s, seeks to establish school choice for all Tennessee families. The Senate Education Committee passed the bill with several changes from the initial proposal while maintaining the initial underlying premise: to empower parents to send their child to the school that best fits their needs. 

Under the amended legislation, in the 2024-25 school year 20,000 Education Freedom Scholarships (EFS) would be available for eligible families to choose alternative educational options outside of the public school they are zoned for. In the 2025-26 school year and beyond, the proposal would establish universal eligibility for all students entitled to attend a public school. 

The state’s new education funding formula – Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) – provides $7,075 to educate each child. The EFS would direct that $7,075 to private or public school tuition, as well as homeschooling expenses.

The measure includes out-of-district enrollment and testing accountability for those who take advantage of the scholarships. The out-of-district enrollment allows parents to send their children to any public school of their choice, based on availability.

To ensure EFS recipients are generally on track with their peers, the testing accountability would require a state or federally-recognized English Language Arts exam in third grade as well as an eighth-grade math exam. However, it does not have any curriculum requirements. 

The House of Representatives advanced a different version of the Education Freedom Scholarship Act. The two chambers are expected to work towards consensus in the coming weeks. The Senate version now advances to the Finance Committee for further review.

Legislation advances to restrict vehicle booting in Tennessee and protect vehicle owners from predatory parking enforcers

Legislation was introduced last week to prohibit unlicensed individuals from booting vehicles in Tennessee and cap the fee to remove a boot at $75. The legislation ensures vehicles are not unfairly immobilized by overzealous parking attendants. To further protect vehicle owners, the bill also proposes new regulations for towing and parking.

Senate Bill 1692 generally prohibits booting vehicles in Tennessee, with exceptions for individuals licensed through a local government. Local governments that choose to allow booting must be responsible for licensing and enforcement compliant with minimum standards set in the legislation. For example, under the bill, to boot a car in a commercial parking lot a licensed parking attendant must be present, identifiable as an employee and available to remove the boot within 30 minutes of a driver’s call.

The legislation also ensures that vehicle owners are properly notified if their vehicle is being towed, sold or demolished by a towing company. Furthermore, if the towing process has begun, but the vehicle hasn’t left the parking area, the bill requires towing companies to release vehicles to the owner for a fee of no more than $100. 

The legislation passed out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee and advances to the Senate floor for final approval.

Smart Heart Act protects health and safety of Tennessee students

In 2015, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation that annually informs and educates coaches and athletes of symptoms of cardiac arrest. Senate Bill 2175 expands upon this act by requiring the governing authority of schools with grades nine through twelve to provide automated external defibrillators (AED) accessible to students during school hours and within 1,000 feet of any athletic student activity. 

The bill also adds that the existing program must include training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), first aid, and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) for all participants.

The bill passed the Senate Education Committee and awaits final consideration on the Senate floor. 

In brief…

Senate advances Debbie and Marie Domestic Violence Protection Act

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced legislation that would increase protections for victims of aggravated domestic assault in Tennessee.

Senate Bill 1972, also known as the Debbie and Marie Domestic Violence Protection Act, would require aggravated assault suspects in certain domestic violence cases to wear a global position monitoring system (GPS) if they are released on bond. Under the legislation, a GPS service provider must be able to notify a victim’s cell phone if their alleged attacker is within a certain proximity of their location. The company would also be required to notify local law enforcement when a violation of a defendant’s bond conditions occurred.

The legislation is named in honor of Debbie Sisco and Marie Varsos. Both women were killed in 2021 by Varsos’ estranged husband Shaun who was out on bond for strangling his wife and threatening to shoot her a month earlier.

There were 61,637 victims of domestic violence statewide in 2022, according to the most recent data from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The legislation advances to the Senate Finance Committee.

Artificial Intelligence Advisory Council 

The usage of artificial intelligence is rapidly increasing, and state governments and businesses are still learning how to manage the technology. Legislation that will create the Artificial Intelligence Advisory Council so that the state can develop a framework for leveraging artificial intelligence safely and effectively was presented last week. The Council will have the responsibility of understanding, navigating and building a structure for the use of artificial intelligence within the State of Tennessee. Senate Bill 2530 was presented in the Senate Government Operations Committee last week where it received a positive recommendation to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

Updates to AOC filing system

A bill that aims to update and maintain new filing systems for the Administrative Office of the Courts was heard last week. Senate Bill 2689 would require the AOC to define and develop new software systems to help with consistency across the state as well as have updated software for a more streamlined filing process. The new systems would include data management, case filing, electronic payment and data reporting. The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and now awaits passage on the Senate floor.

Danielle’s Law

The full Senate unanimously passed legislation this week that will extend the statute of limitations for cases of rape or sexual assault, provided the victim is 18 years old or older. It extends the permissible time frame for initiating prosecution to three years if law enforcement was not involved and to five years if law enforcement was involved. 

Gold Star Children’s Day

The Senate State and Local Government Committee unanimously approved House Joint Resolution 733 which designates Aug. 1 as Gold Star Children’s Day in Tennessee. Gold Star Children are children who have had a parent killed while serving in the U.S. military. House Joint Resolution 733 will now go to the Senate floor for final approval. 

Ensuring safe school traffic 

Senate Bill 2771 aimed at protecting kids from traffic during busy school transportation hours. This bill would allow counties to hire employees or use volunteers to direct vehicles within a marked school zone. Senate Bill 2771 would also authorize counties to close roads within certain hours of the day for easier and safer pickup and dropoff zones. This bill passed the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee on Wednesday and awaits final consideration from the Senate. 

Members of Tennessee Mortgage Bankers stopped by to discuss legislation of importance to their industry.
Members of Tennessee Mortgage Bankers stopped by to discuss legislation of importance to their industry.
A second group of our local Mortgage Bankers
stopped by later in the day.
A second group of our local Mortgage Bankers stopped by later in the day.

Senate passes bill ensuring teacher accountability

The Senate unanimously passed legislation to ensure teachers are held to the highest standards of conduct and safety for students. Senate Bill 1701 would remove educators’ licenses if the educator is found guilty of certain criminal offenses. This legislation now heads to Governor Lee’s desk.

Preventing opioid overdoses

Senate Bill 2141 passed on the Senate floor last week. The bill ensures that any student present at school or a school-sanctioned event cannot be punished for possessing naloxone. Naloxone is a drug that can reverse the effects of an opiate overdose, but it must be used quickly. It is now available over the counter as the opioid crisis continues to rise and claim the lives of Tennesseans. Teenagers aged 14-19 are the fastest growing category of overdose victims, leaving some students feeling the need to carry naloxone to have it available in the event of needing to save a life. 

Prohibiting license plate flippers

The Senate Transportation and Safety Committee passed legislation criminalizing the selling, manufacturing, purchasing and possessing of license plate flippers. Senate Bill 2585 makes purchasing or possessing license plate flippers a Class B misdemeanor. The bill also makes the manufacturing, distributing and selling of license plate flippers a Class A misdemeanor. Plate flippers, which allow drivers to switch between their legitimate plate and a blank space or expired plate, are sold in several physical and online retailers. Concealment of a license plate is currently a Class C misdemeanor in Tennessee. The bill awaits final consideration on the Senate floor.

Presidential at-large delegates 

Senate Bill 1960 advanced out of the Senate State and Local Government Committee. It would require presidential at-large delegates and alternates that are selected by a state political party to be selected after the first Thursday in April and before the first Thursday in May. It would also require the number of delegates to be proportional to the votes the candidate received. The bill advances to the Senate floor for final consideration. 

Increasing public accommodations for disabled adults

The full Senate passed legislation to increase the availability of public adult-sized changing tables in Tennessee. Senate Bill 2484 would allow the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to increase grant amounts from $5,000 to $10,000 to support the installation of powered, height-adjustable, adult-sized changing tables in public restrooms statewide. The legislation also allows for the creation of an ad-hoc committee to advise and assist with grant applications. The General Assembly in 2022 allocated $1 million in state funding to expand the availability of adult-sized changing tables in public restrooms in Tennessee. The legislation is awaiting Gov. Lee’s signature. 

Protecting elderly and disabled adults

In an attempt to protect Tennessee’s vulnerable communities, legislation is being sponsored to enable elderly and disabled adults and their families to guard against financial exploitation. Senate Bill 2147 would remove the financial and beneficiary rights of a surviving spouse if the spouse is found by a court to have entered into a marriage in a deceptive or financially exploitative manner. This legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and has been referred to the Senate floor for passage.

Social work licensure compact 

To increase access to quality social workers, Senate Bill 2134 will establish the Social Work Licensure Compact. The legislation, which passed the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, seeks to enable social workers who are qualified to work in other states participating in the compact to work in Tennessee. Two states have already ratified the Compact. This legislation puts the framework in place for the compact to go into effect when seven states ratify the Compact. 

Temporary No-Wake Zones

Legislation that will increase the safety of workers trying to make repairs around bodies of water in Tennessee passed in committee last week. The bill grants the executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency the authority to declare a special, temporary no-wake zone in very limited circumstances. Senate Bill 2046 advances to the Senate floor for final consideration. 

Preserving Wildlife Management

In an effort to proactively prevent issues hunters in other states are facing, legislation is proposed that will codify in statute that hunting, fishing and conservation are the preferred methods of wildlife management in Tennessee. It also would require appointees to the Fish and Wildlife Commission to be active participants in activities regulated by the commission. Senate Bill 2039 advances to the Senate floor for final consideration. 

County Fire Departments 

Senate Bill 2428, which will enable county fire departments to be better prepared to respond to emergencies, authorizes a county to enter a mutual aid agreement with a municipality for fire services. County general funds can also be used to fund up to fifty percent of the cost of providing fire services within the county. The bill advances out of the Senate State and Local Government Committee and awaits final consideration on the Senate floor.

Bills Previously Covered that Passed on Senate Floor 

SJR 919 – would expand judges’ ability to deny bail for certain violent crimes when it is in the best interest of public safety. 

Senate Bill 1587 – creates 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 1688 – allows parents and guardians to hold back their child from the next grade without the approval of the school board if their child has a learning or behavioral delay. 

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. 

Senate Bill 2036 – would enable caregivers who live with their patients to receive payment through TennCare, which would offer crucial support to both the caretaker and the patient. 

Senate Bill 2071 – makes changes to the Relative Caregiver Program which provides stipends to those who meet a certain income threshold to care for children in their family. 

Senate Bill 2081 – will help recruit and retain Tennessee National Guard service members with specialized skills. 

Senate Bill 2082 – will help local governments mitigate risks from natural disasters by creating the Resilient Tennessee Revolving Loan Fund Act. 

Senate Bill 2100 – would allow a third-party examiner, inspector, engineer, or professional to inspect certain processes. 

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. 

Senate Bill 2424 – would allow a local government to negotiate with an energy project developer. 

Senate Bill 2571 – the Parent Accountability Act is aimed at creating accountability for parents with delinquent children. Under the legislation, judges would have the discretion to fine parents or guardians instead of the child for their delinquent actions after their first offense. 

Senate Bill 2083 – addresses the disparity in workers’ compensation benefits for the Tennessee National Guard. The bill requires that workers’ compensation injury or death benefits for Guard members be based on whichever compensation rate is higher between their civilian wages and active duty wages.

Matt Schaefer and Adam Cook with East Tennessee Children's Hospital visited from Knoxville
Matt Schaefer and Adam Cook with East Tennessee Children’s Hospital visited from Knoxville
I enjoyed visiting with area dental hygienists
during their Day on the Hill.
I enjoyed visiting with area dental hygienists during their Day on the Hill.
James Wheeler, with the UT College of Pharmacy,
was in Nashville with some of his students for
Pharmacy Day on the Hill
James Wheeler, with the UT College of Pharmacy, was in Nashville with some of his students for Pharmacy Day on the Hill
Local members of the Tennessee Association
of Nurse Anesthetists stopped by my office
Local members of the Tennessee Association of Nurse Anesthetists stopped by my office

Legislation I’m Sponsoring 

Removing barriers to licensure for counselors

Senate Bill 2628 will require the Board for Professional Counselors, Marital and Family Therapists, and Clinical Pastoral Therapists to grant licensure to an applicant who meets certain qualifications if the board has entered into a reciprocal agreement with another state. This requirement will allow easier access to professional counselors who are licensed in another state to practice in Tennessee. This bill was passed by the full Senate

Newborn screenings

Each year, around 385 Tennesseans are born with a rare genetic disorder. Tennessee leads the nation in newborn screenings, one of the most successful public health programs offered. The Recommended Uniform Screening Panel (RUSP) is a list of conditions that should be tested for during the newborn screening, but sometimes it takes years for new conditions to be added to the screening panel in Tennessee. Senate Bill 1791 which will ensure that any new diseases from RUSP will be added to Tennessee’s state panel within three years. If the timeline is not possible, then the Department of Health will notify the applicable legislative committees of the reason for the delays. Early detection is important as it can save and improve the quality of life of those with rare genetic disorders. The bill passed the Senate floor this week and is moving through committee in the House of Representatives.

Staff with Helen Ross McNabb and the Baer Foundation stopped by to discuss children's services in Tennessee
Staff with Helen Ross McNabb and the Baer Foundation stopped by to discuss children’s services in Tennessee
Burton Sampsom and Jeff Knight with Cherokee Distributing stopped by during their visit to the Capitol
Burton Sampsom and Jeff Knight with Cherokee Distributing stopped by during their visit to the Capitol
Amy Nolan and Doug Lawyer, with the Knoxville
Chamber visited Nashville recently
Amy Nolan and Doug Lawyer, with the Knoxville Chamber visited Nashville recently
Advocates from East Tennessee stopped by to discuss the challenges of housing in our area
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