Budget -- The no-debt budget, which will fund state government for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, continues lawmakers’ efforts to maintain fiscal discipline, while prioritizing education, health care, and job development. It makes historic investments in literacy, mental health, broadband and public safety.
Tax Cut / Sales Tax Holiday – A separate bill, which implements the budget, was approved cutting $50 million in taxes by providing an additional sales tax holiday on the sale of food and food ingredients from July 30, 2021 – August 4, 2021. It also cuts the taxes on the retail sale of prepared food for restaurants during the same time period. This is in addition to Tennessee’s annual sales tax holiday which allows consumers to purchase clothing, school supplies and computers tax-free.
Special Session / Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act --
Among other measures in this comprehensive legislation addressing learning losses, this legislation strengthens the state’s 3rd grade reading retention policy by ensuring that students are on grade-level before being promoted to the 4th grade.
(Senate Bill 7002 / Johnson, Kelsey, Haile, Powers, Reeves, Rose / Public Chapter 1 Sections 1, 2, and 3 effective on February 3, 2021, Section 2 regarding resources and promotion to 3rd grade determined by proficiency in ELA Effective July 1, 2021)
Teacher Pay / Rural Teachers – A bill was passed in 2021 requiring the State Board of Education to increase the minimum salary on the state salary schedule by the same percentage as any increase in funds made to the instructional component of the Basic Education Program (BEP). By doing so, it will ensure that the lowest paid teachers within Tennessee will receive the raises.
Teacher Shortages -- Legislation which will help address teacher shortages was passed by the General Assembly this year by simplifying the teacher licensure process. It provides aid to teachers who are moving into Tennessee to receive an appropriate teaching license, helping qualified teachers get into classrooms quicker.
Teachers / Endorsement Pathways – A new law which seeks to increase retention of high-quality educators by providing an alternative endorsement pathway has passed the General Assembly. The measure provides additional flexibility at the local level. The Board of Education will create a process by which school districts may administer training programs for endorsements without having to enroll in higher education. Individuals will still be expected to pass an assessment to ensure they are qualified.
Textbook Transparency Act -- The Textbook Transparency Act was adopted in 2021 to ensure that all textbooks in the hands of Tennessee students are accessible to the public to view. It makes available online textbooks that are adopted by the state of Tennessee and used by public schools. Compared to the 90-day timeframe textbooks are currently required to be available to the public. This new statute requires publishers to make these materials available so long as they are actively being used in the classroom.
Students / Threat of Mass Violence -- Legislation seeking to address mass violence on school property was approved before lawmakers adjourned the 2021 session. It creates a Class A misdemeanor offense for communicating a threat to commit an act of mass violence on school property or at a school-related activity and a Class B misdemeanor if a person with knowledge fails to report it.
A sentencing court may require a person sentenced for either offense to pay restitution for the destruction of normal activities. It also allows a court to order a child held for threatening mass violence on a school to undergo a mental health evaluation.
Tennessee Accommodations for All Children Act – The Tennessee Accommodations for All Children Act has been approved. It requires a public school to provide a reasonable accommodation to a student who has conveyed through a written request that they are unwilling or unable to use multi-occupancy restrooms or changing facilities designated for the person’s sex. The goal of the bill is to be respectful and protect every child’s right to privacy, as well as to remove any uncertainty about making accommodations for all children.
Student Athletes / Safe Stars Act -- Legislation to protect the health of student athletes was approved by lawmakers this year. The new law creates standards and metrics for student athlete safety in a program that has been recognized as one of the most comprehensive health and safety programs in the United States for K-12 athletics.
Student’s Right to Know Act – The General Assembly enacted legislation to provide critical information to Tennesseans seeking to pursue higher education. The Student’s Right to Know Act requires the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to publish a web-based dashboard for high school students considering their college and career options. It will give students more information regarding higher education cost options, in addition to expected wages in occupations they are considering.
HOPE Scholarship / Homeschoolers -- Before the General Assembly wrapped up the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers also dealt with inequities in the HOPE Scholarship Grant for homeschool students. Under previous law, homeschool students could not qualify for HOPE Scholarships through their GPA score, unlike their public and accredited private school counterparts. Instead, they solely relied on their ACT scores for eligibility. The new law solves this discrepancy by extending aid to homeschool students who both complete six credit hours of dual-enrollment and maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in those courses. Additionally, the legislation removes the requirement that a student must have been enrolled in a home school for one year immediately preceding the completion of their high school level education.
Confucius Institutes / Foreign Influence on Higher Education -- State lawmakers voted this year to provide greater transparency regarding foreign influences on state college and university campuses. The new statute prohibits the establishment of Confucius Institutes which have ties to communist regimes and requires state institutions to disclose gifts received from and contracts initiated with a foreign source in excess of $10,000.
Child Protection / Adoption / Health Check – Legislation was passed this year requiring adoptive parents receiving subsidies to annually provide the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) with medical or school enrollment records in order to ascertain a health check.
This legislation comes after the horrific deaths of two Roane County children. Authorities believe the children were buried several years before discovery. The arrest warrant said the children were fed a “starvation diet of light bread and water” by their adoptive parents. They were also locked in a basement and caged in isolation. The adoptive parents continued receiving financial benefits for both children after their death.
The new law also authorizes DCS to initiate a face-to-face visit if the adoptive parent fails to provide the documentation and foul play might be suspected.
Child Care Task Force / High Quality Day Care – A new Tennessee Child Care Task Force has been formed as a result of legislation passed this year. The purpose is to develop a strategic plan to address the current challenges of providing and accessing high-quality affordable child care. The group will look at ways to build public and private partnerships to streamline coordination of state departments to find solutions to these challenges.
(Senate Bill 677 / Massey, Hensley, Powers, Gilmore, Haile, Akbari, Yarbro / Public Chapter 474 For the purpose of making appointments it is effective May 18, 2021, otherwise it is effective July 1, 2021)
Child Care Quality Rating Improvement System – Another bill was passed this year making significant revisions to the Child Care Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS). This system provides the mechanisms for conducting quality assessment of child care providers, the child care report card system, and the child care rated licensing systems. It replaces the outdated Report Card system with a new assessment tool to weave quality indicators into the licensing rules so that it is a seamless system for parents and providers to navigate.
Children / Evelyn’s Law – Several significant bills addressing crimes against children were approved during the 2021 legislative session, including Evelyn’s Law. Under the new law, parents in Tennessee who do not report children missing to law enforcement within 24 hours could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. It is named after a Sullivan County 15-month-old who was found dead after her mother failed to report her missing to the authorities for months.
Children / Eli’s Law – Legislation putting more guardrails in place to protect children from abusive parents was passed. Called Eli’s Law, the measure allows the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to investigate the birth of subsequent children born to parents who have had a previous child removed from their custody.
The legislation was introduced last year in response to a story from Ronda Paulson, founder of the Isaiah 117 House. Paulson began fostering nine-month-old Isaiah in 2015 after being removed from his parents’ custody due to months of both neglect and abuse. Less than two years later, Isaiah’s biological parents gave birth to their second son, Eli, for which the law is named. Under Tennessee law, DCS was not expected to investigate the well-being of a child born to parents whose other child had been previously removed from their custody. Eli, much like Isaiah, was subjected to traumatizing levels of abuse.
This legislation helps prevent such tragic situations by creating a legal presumption of possible dependence or neglect of any child born to a parent who had a child removed from their custody. Acting in the best interest of the child, DCS will be required to notify the court which decided the first child’s case and any other entitled party of the subsequent child’s birth upon learning of it. The court must then immediately schedule a hearing regarding any conceivable effect that the birth may have on the case and consider further action to ensure the safety and well-being of the child.
Children / Severe Child Abuse / Exposure to Dangerous Drugs – A new law was passed this year to protect children from being exposed to dangerous illegal drugs. It expands the definition of “severe child abuse” to involve a child’s exposure to certain extremely dangerous or illegal drugs. It also provides an individual that knowingly allows a child to be in the presence of and have accessibility to such drugs as cocaine, methamphetamine or fentanyl will be guilty of severe child abuse. The measure was recommended by Dickson Youth Leadership.
Children / Child Neglect and Endangerment / Exposure to Dangerous Drugs – Similarly, a new law was passed which expands the definition of child neglect and endangerment to include the exposure of a child to methamphetamine or any other dangerous drug that are not Schedule VI. Schedule VI drugs are marijuana and its equivalents.
Under the new law, offenders are subject to a Class A misdemeanor unless it is a child 8 years old or under, which would be a Class D felony.
Safe Home for Trafficked Children – A new law was approved to help prevent minors who are victims of human trafficking from being prosecuted for prostitution and ensure they are given the care they need to recover. It requires law enforcement officers to alert the Department of Children’s Services when they take a minor into custody on charges of prostitution so the child can appropriately be placed in a safe home. This helps ensure the child can receive any professional assistance they may need and can be removed from a life dictated by abusive traffickers.
Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking Victims / Self Defense – A new law was enacted to establish certain considerations regarding the use of force by victims of human trafficking. It authorizes victims to use force that could result in serious bodily injury or death, even if the victims are engaged in illegal activity or in a location they are not legally allowed to be, if they are in the situation as a result of their status as a human trafficking victim.
Under the new law, the victim must prove in court they are a victim of human trafficking in order to use deadly force. Previously, Tennessee law allowed victims to respond in kind to a reasonable belief of a threat of death or serious bodily injury by using force as self-defense or defense of a third party. However, force was not lawful when used by persons engaged in criminal activity in a location they were not allowed to be or in a location that furthered criminal activity.
Often times, victims of human trafficking can be engaged in criminal activity that is largely forced on them by a trafficker, such as manufacturing or selling drugs.
Statute of Limitations / Commercial Sex Trafficking – Another new statute aiming to curb human trafficking removes the statute of limitations for any commercial sex trafficking offense committed against a child on or after July 1, 2021.
Many victims of human trafficking fear retaliation of violence against them or their families by their traffickers if they report the crime. There is also reluctance to report due to embarrassment. By the time victims do report the crime, the statute of limitations could be elapsed and charges cannot be filed. This legislation extends the statute of limitations so that traffickers who traffic children can be brought to justice.
Sex Trafficking / Full Sentence – Another bill passed this year adds those convicted of sex trafficking to the category of sexual predators who are ineligible for early parole or release before completion of their full sentence. The new law applies to offenders who have been convicted of one or more predatory offenses.
Human Trafficking / Evidence / Social Media Platforms – Legislation was passed during the 2021 session to help prosecute crimes involving human trafficking in cases where a social media platform was used. In human trafficking cases, it is common for defendants to use their cellphones to communicate through social media or chats to negotiate over a price of a victim.
The legislation authorizes a law enforcement officer, district attorney or designee, or the attorney general or designee to require the disclosure of wire and electronic communications for evidentiary purposes to crack down on human trafficking offenses organized through social media platforms.
The conversation or data from these platforms is needed to corroborate the victim’s story of what happened.
Companies or providers that refuse to comply with the legislation can be punished for contempt of the court.
Truth in Sentencing – The 112th General Assembly passed major “Truth in Sentencing” legislation strengthening protections for victims and their families. It ensures certain violent or sexual offenders serve 100 percent of the sentence imposed by a judge or jury.
The new law affects offenses that historically target women and children such as rape, sexual battery, continuous sexual abuse of a child, sexual battery by an authority figure, incest, promoting prostitution, aggravated child abuse, domestic assault, aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and trafficking for a commercial sex act. While the legislation does not remove judicial discretion, it ensures that parole and probation are not options for those found guilty of crimes that fall into these categories.
Facilitation of Rape of a Child / Full Sentence – State lawmakers approved a new statute requiring a person convicted of the facilitation of rape of a child or aggravated rape of a child to serve 100% of the sentence imposed minus a maximum of 15% sentence reduction credits. It also requires the offenders to be sentenced to community supervision for life.
Crime / Post-Conviction Fingerprint Analysis -- Justice for crime victims is the focus of a new law establishing a process for post-conviction fingerprint testing in Tennessee. It aims to help solve cold cases and can also bring justice in instances where a person has been wrongly convicted.
Every state has the ability to test DNA post-conviction, and this sets up a similar process for fingerprints, which can be just as important for solving cold cases.
Jim Coley Protection for Rape Survivors Act – State lawmakers approved the Jim Coley Protection for Rape Survivors Act of 2021, a victim-centered bill that provides more transparency regarding the rape kit backlog process. It makes sure the handling procedure of rape kits is responsive, reliable and consistent.
In addition, the new law requires the TBI to develop and implement an electronic system that tracks the location and status of each rape kit and gives victims access to the system through a tracking number. Victims must also be notified 60 days before destruction or disposal of the evidence.
(Senate Bill 1035 / Bell, Bowling, White, Yager, Gilmore, Jackson, Lundberg, Massey, Robinson, Rose, Yarbro, Akbari, Campbell / Public Chapter 362 Effective May 11, 2021 for sections 6 and 10, the remainder are effective July 1, 2021)
Rape Victims / Custody Rights – Legislation protecting rape victims and children conceived in rape from questionable outcomes in civil custody battles passed this year. The measure ensures child custody rights are removed for those who are convicted or plead guilty to a lesser offense of rape. It adds aggravated statutory rape and statutory rape by an authority figure to the list of offenses for which the offender will be prohibited from having custody rights.
Counselors / Sexual Misconduct -- Legislation designed to protect victims from an unscrupulous counselor or clergy member was approved on final consideration this year. The new law adds a victim is incapable of defense if sexual contact occurs during the course of a consultation, examination, treatment, therapy or other professional service that are provided by a physician, psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, social worker, nurse, chemical dependency counselor or a member of the clergy.
Rape of a Child by a Juvenile -- Legislation aiming to prevent juveniles who are sex offenders from reoffending or further traumatizing victims has passed the General Assembly. The measure ensures that a juvenile convicted of conduct that would constitute rape, aggravated rape, rape of a child or aggravated rape of a child if committed by an adult cannot work or volunteer at a place that is in close or frequent contact with children.
The new law stems from an incident where a juvenile convicted of raping a 5-year-old boy was volunteering at an elementary school where the victim was zoned to attend.
Lifetime Order of Protection -- Several important bills were approved before lawmakers adjourned the 2021 session to help victims subjected to stalking and domestic violence. This includes a new statute which creates a lifetime order of protection that can be issued to a victim of certain felony offenses to prohibit the offender from coming around or communicating with them. Under this legislation, a victim of a felony offense of assault, criminal homicide, attempted homicide, kidnapping, or sexual offenses may file a petition for a lifetime order of protection against their convicted offender. It also permits service of ex parte orders of protection for up to one year from issuance.
Victim Advocates / Confidentiality – Another law passed recently protects confidentiality of victim advocates. It ensures communication between a victim of domestic violence or sexual abuse and a trained victim advocate remains confidential through statutory protections.
Animal Cruelty – Aggravated animal cruelty is a grave crime that includes intentionally killing or causing serious physical harm to a companion animal such as a dog or a cat. State lawmakers approved legislation in 2021 to remove barriers to prosecute aggravated animal cruelty cases in Tennessee.
Before, to convict a person of aggravated animal cruelty a prosecutor must prove the act was done in a ‘depraved or sadistic manner.’ The new law removes the language ‘depraved or sadistic’ from the law, which is a difficult intent to prove. It provides that a person commits aggravated cruelty to animals when, with no justifiable purpose, the person intentionally or knowingly kills, maims, tortures, crushes, burns, drowns, suffocates, mutilates, starves, or otherwise causes serious physical injury, a substantial risk of death, or death to a companion animal.
Cracking down on “Porch Pirates” – Criminals who steal packages left in mailboxes or on doorsteps could face stiffer jail time under a new law passed this session. Mail theft is currently charged under existing theft statutes, which applies penalties based on the value of the item stolen. The first offense will continue to be punished based on the value of the stolen item. However, the legislation stipulates that the second or subsequent offense of mail theft must at least be charged as a Class E felony.
Catalytic Converter Theft -- Nationwide, police are reporting a surge in thefts of catalytic converters on automobiles. This year, the Tennessee General Assembly approved legislation requiring any person who buys unattached catalytic converters to be registered as a scrap metal dealer in a fixed location business and to track purchases. In addition, it ensures the person selling a detached catalytic converter provides documentation and identification.
Catalytic converters contain three precious metals - rhodium, palladium and platinum. Today rhodium has a value of $25,850 per ounce as compared to gold which is valued at $1,700 per ounce. Palladium has a value of $2,648 per ounce, while platinum is valued at $1,200 per ounce. This has fueled a black market in stolen catalytic converters, which can be sawed off the underside of a car in less than a minute.
Drag racing -- The Senate and House of Representatives approved legislation to discourage drag racing, which is becoming an increasing public safety issue on Tennessee roadways. It stiffens the penalty for drag racing from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor to deter drivers from engaging in this reckless behavior.
Beyond the increase in force at the moment of impact in a collision, traveling at excessive speed imposes many obstacles to the safe operation of a motor vehicle. These include decreased reaction time to avoid vehicles or pedestrians, inability to safely turn or to retain control through curves, increased risk of skidding off roads, increased rollover risk, etc.
Enhanced penalties for aggravated riots – A new law passed this year adds to the offense of aggravated rioting to include those who are compensated to participate in a riot or travel from outside the state to participate.
Under Tennessee law, riot means “a disturbance in a public place or penal institution involving an assemblage of three or more persons which, by tumultuous and violent conduct, creates grave danger or substantial damage to property or serious bodily injury to persons or substantially obstructs law enforcement or other governmental function.
Protecting Law Enforcement Informants – Over the past several years, law enforcement has seen a decline in the number of people willing to work with them due to instances where defendants are intimidating informants. This includes posting the informants information on social media.
Legislation passed this year seeks to protect the identifying information of informants to help remedy this issue. The new law states that if a district attorney general is required to disclose to the defendant personal identifying information or statements made by a law enforcement informant or witness in certain cases, then the district attorney general may petition the court for a protective order. The order prohibits the defendant and their counsel from publishing the information or statements made before or during the trial.
Crime / Good Samaritan – State lawmakers approved legislation this year which enhances penalties for murder against a person who was acting as a “Good Samaritan.” This refers to a person who helps, defends, protects, or renders emergency care to a person in need without compensation. The new law applies to cases when the defendant knew that the person was acting as a Good Samaritan.
Firing a Firearm from a Vehicle – A new law has passed making it reckless endangerment subject to a Class C felony to fire a firearm from within a motor vehicle, enhancing penalties for the crime.
Criminal Justice Reform – The General Assembly passed major criminal justice reform legislation this year with approval of key proposals in Governor Bill Lee’s legislative package. This includes legislation recommended by the Tennessee Criminal Justice Reinvestment Task Force to streamline and appropriately leverage alternatives to incarceration, namely Recovery Courts and felony probation.
There are currently 30,000 individuals incarcerated for felonies in state prisons and jails, with Tennessee’s corrections budget now costing taxpayers in excess of $1 billion annually. Almost half of paroled inmates return, making Tennessee’s recidivism rate among the highest in the nation. Tennessee’s high incarceration rates are fueled by non-violent drug and property offenses which have increased the state’s custody population growth by more than 50 percent since 2009.
The new law expands Tennessee’s successful Recovery Court System, which includes Veterans Courts, Mental Health Courts and Drug Courts for those charged with misdemeanor assaults. Studies show these courts have an excellent track record for individuals who require specialized and highly accountable treatment. It also gives judges the discretion to provide treatment for individuals who need it when the facts of their case indicate that a Recovery Court is the best correction option available.
In addition, the new law puts a limit on the amount of time an individual can be sentenced to probation, with the ability for this time to be extended each year for specific case-by-case situations. The legislation brings the cap for probation down from 10 years to a maximum of eight years, except for defendants who receive multiple convictions. Judges will have the discretion for crediting time served while on probation.
Finally, the legislation standardizes parole revocation practices for technical violations. Approximately 40 percent of prisoners rearrested go back to prison because they broke their parole due to technical violations, not for committing new crimes.
Criminal Justice / Reentry Success Act -- The Reentry Success Act of 2021 was also approved this year. The new law is a multi-pronged approach to help improve public safety and facilitate positive outcomes for those leaving incarceration. It establishes mandatory supervision, so all individuals exiting state custody will have a minimum of one-year supervised reentry integration.
Thirty-seven percent of the current felony population expire their sentence, returning to the community without oversight. This legislation addresses this problem by helping these individuals with a pathway to a productive life beyond crime, to ultimately improve public safety by utilizing validated, nationally-tested practices for community supervision. The mandatory supervision does not create automatic parole eligibility for those who are not eligible, including those convicted of certain particularly violent or egregious crimes and those who are to life without parole or to the death penalty.
The legislation establishes a presumption of parole release at a person’s release eligibility date or upon a subsequent parole hearing, unless good cause is shown. Eligible inmates are those who are serving a nonviolent felony offense or a sentence for a Class E or Class D felony offense. The inmate must have no disciplinary record, be designated low risk for community supervision and must have completed or be enrolled in recommended programing to help ensure successful reentry into society. If the Board of Parole declines parole, the time period for the next hearing would be set at six years, instead of 10 as provided under current law, unless an inmate is serving a sentence for multiple first-degree murder or facilitation of first-degree murder.
Other key provisions in the new law include:
As part of the Reentry Success Act of 2021, local jail grants will be provided to facilities which design and implement strategies which improve the likelihood of successful integration back into the community following release from prison and empirically demonstrate they are effective. The Evidence-Based Jail Programming project provides $5 million for programs demonstrated to reduce recidivism rates and increase local collaboration to improve outcomes for convicted felons after release.
(Senate Bill 768 / Johnson, Yager, Bowling, Akbari, Bailey, Gilmore, Haile, Jackson, Reeves / Public Chapter 410 Section 2 and 4 are effective January 1, 2022, Sections 5-8 are effective July 1, 2021, Sections 9-15 are effective July 1, 2021. Section 17 became effective May 11, 2021, Section 18 became effective May 11, 2021 for the purpose of rule promulgation, but for other purposes will take effect October 1, 2021)
Criminal Justice Data Collection -- Legislation to improve data collection within Tennessee’s criminal justice system has been enacted to help lawmakers make the best decisions possible to protect public safety and curb recidivism. The legislation requires the Administrative Office of Courts to provide each court clerk in eight counties which have not installed Tennessee Court Information System (TN CIS) with a list of data that is required to be integrated.
Expunction for Employment – The General Assembly acted this year to help remove barriers for employment and education for Tennesseans with nonviolent or low-level assault offenses on their criminal record. It allows these individuals to have their record expunged in very limiting circumstances. The legislation offers those who have made mistakes in their past and paid their debt to society a second chance so they can find housing, employment and provide for their family. Similarly, a new law makes a simple assault committed after July 1, 2000 eligible for consideration of expungement. The new law does not apply to those convicted of domestic abuse.
(Senate Bill 675 / Haile, Akbari, Campbell, Gilmore, Yarbro / Public Chapter 539 Effective July 1, 2021) (Senate Bill 707 / Walley, Gilmore, Campbell, Yarbro / Public Chapter 494 Effective July 1, 2021)
Juvenile Justice System Improvements – State lawmakers approved legislation to improve Tennessee’s juvenile justice system by better assessing where improvements and resources should be focused. The new law provides legislators, judges, law enforcement officials and other stakeholders with more accurate information by modernizing and standardizing information collected by juvenile courts across the state.
Juvenile Detention Facility Breaches and Escapes –A new law passed this year which requires an immediate report of a security breach or escape of a juvenile to be submitted to the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) and local law enforcement when discovered.
Prisons / Cell Phones -- Cell phones in Tennessee prisons have long been an ongoing security and public safety concern, with dangerous inmates using them to direct criminal activity despite the fact that they are confined within penitentiary facilities. They have been used in the planning of escapes, drug dealing, money extortions, witness/victim intimidation, and violent crimes such as murder. Legislation approved by the General Assembly this year aims to curb the practice by making the possession of a telecommunications device in a penal institution a Class E felony, punishable by a fine of up to $3,000 on second offense.
Constitutional Challenges / State Statutes– The General Assembly has passed a law which creates a mechanism for a three-judge panel to hear a challenge regarding the constitutionality of a state statute, an executive order, or an administrative rule or regulation. This includes challenges to the constitutionality of a state statute that apportions or redistricts state legislative or congressional districts. The Supreme Court will select two trial court judges of courts of record to sit with the judge to whom the civil action was originally assigned as the three-judge panel to hear and decide the civil action.
Courts / Challenges to the Constitutionality of State Statutes - A new statute passed this year gives the State Attorney General the right to immediately file an appeal regarding a court decision to enjoin a state law based on its constitutionality. It speeds up the process to the higher court so the issue can be resolved timely rather than leaving it in limbo.
Volunteer Firefighters / Payment for Training -- Another major bill helping volunteer firefighters provides an annual $600 payment upon completion of at least 30 hours of training. In addition, the budget included $1 million to provide support grants for volunteer firefighter departments under a program set up by legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2019.
(Senate Bill 778 / Johnson, Bell, Yager, Massey, Walley, White, Reeves, Bowling, Crowe, Haile, Akbari, Bailey, Briggs, Gardenhire, Hensley, Jackson, Pody, Powers, Rose, Southerland, Stevens, McNally / Public Chapter 478 Effective July 1, 2021)
Police Officers / Spencer Bristol Act / Evading Arrest – Legislation which increases protections for police officers by strengthening penalties for criminals who evade arrest, was passed before the 2021 session adjourned. The legislation is named for Master Patrol Officer Spencer Bristol who was struck and killed on December 30, 2019 by a vehicle while involved in a foot pursuit of a subject. Officer Bristol was a U.S. Navy veteran who served in the Hendersonville Police Department for four years.
Previously, penalties for evading arrest on foot were far less stringent than those imposed for suspects fleeing in a vehicle. The new law puts the crime of fleeing on foot and in a vehicle in parity. If evading arrest results in serious bodily injury of a law enforcement officer, the penalty is increased to a Class C felony, punishable by 3 to 15 years in prison. The sentence is increased to a Class A felony, punishable by 15 to 60 years in prison, if the offense results in the death of a law enforcement officer.
Protecting First Responders / Murder -- Legislation was passed this year ensuring that someone convicted of murdering a first responder with targeted intent for the job they do will be charged and punished as a terrorist for their crime. This includes punishment of life without parole or the death penalty.
(Senate Bill 841/ Johnson, Bowling, Crowe, Jackson, Rose, Stevens, Pody, White / Public Chapter 528 Effective July 1, 2021) (Senate Bill 842/ Johnson, Crowe, Rose, Stevens / Public Chapter 394 Effective July 1, 2021)
Supporting Law Enforcement Officers – Another bill passed this year provides that a reward be offered for information leading to the arrest of any individual responsible for shooting a law enforcement officer in the line of duty. It provides a $10,000 reward to the individual providing the information if the law enforcement officer is injured, and a $20,000 reward if the officer is killed.
Retired Law Enforcement Officers – Another law passed this year allows retired law enforcement officers, authorized to carry a firearm in the same manner as an active one, to provide private security services without completing the firearms training required for private protective services licensing.
TANF -- Major legislation was unanimously approved by the General Assembly in 2021 strengthening and improving the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The funds, which come from a federal block grant, provide important support to struggling families, such as child care assistance, temporary cash assistance, transportation, job training, employment activities and other support services offered through the state’s Families First Program.
The new law creates a two-year pilot program which provides enhanced cash assistance to individuals who are actively pursuing educational opportunities. This encourages TANF recipients to attain degrees which will assist them in bridging the gap to self-sufficiency. The legislation also increases the TANF allotment. For example, it increases the monthly amount a family of three receives from $277 to $387.
The legislation makes significant investments with community partners and stakeholders by deploying the TANF reserves, including distribution of $180 million through a new Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Program. This will fund seven pilot programs to create large-scale programs benefitting TANF recipients. The pilot programs established will be subject to third party, academic review to determine their effectiveness.
Similarly, the legislation creates the Families First Community Grants to infuse $50 million in TANF reserve funds into the community through grants to organizations providing services to low income families. This more traditional grant program will offer smaller non-profits, which are unable to be selected for large scale pilots, the ability to utilize TANF funding in their communities to improve outcomes and opportunities for parents and children.
A TANF Advisory Board is created under the legislation to approve grantees and provide important input regarding the effectiveness of existing Families First and Two-Generation Program policies and grant programs. Two-Generation is a program which focuses on intergenerational poverty through a “whole family” approach. It combines parent and child interventions to break the cycle of poverty and create a pathway to economic security. The Board will make recommendations regarding development of effective policies.
Finally, the new statute puts into place mechanisms to ensure Tennessee continues to combat fraud, waste, and abuse in TANF programs. It increases civil penalties for individuals using false identities to secure benefits. It also provides for confidential reporting of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and TANF fraud to encourage reporting such activity.
Graduate Medical Education – A new law designed to increase the number of primary care physicians in Tennessee’s rural communities was approved by the General Assembly before adjourning the 2021 legislative session. It establishes residency opportunities focusing on family practice, general pediatrics, internal medicine and psychiatry to provide medical and behavioral health services in Tennessee’s underserved and distressed rural counties.
Over the past 25 years, the population of Tennessee has doubled, but the number of primary care physician residencies remains frozen at the same amount due to the lack of federal funding. Under this legislation, rural hospitals and community health centers will have access to these residents, which has been needed for a long time. Approximately 60% to 70% of doctors stay in the communities where they train.
The residencies will be open to all graduates of University of Tennessee schools, Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University. Residents will be approved by the National Accreditation Agency for Graduate Medical Education (GME). The program requires the residencies be open to all qualified candidates and filled through the existing matching process employed by the GME. In addition, the bill establishes residencies through Lincoln Memorial University which offers osteopathic medicine instruction. The new residencies will be distributed across all grand divisions of the state. Both programs will be conducted in cooperation with the Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC).
Current workforce projections show Tennessee with a doctor shortage of 1,050 by 2025. It is hoped that this legislation will help address this shortage and provide greater access to care.
PBMs / Prescription Drugs – The Patient Access Choice and Transparency Act was passed during the 2019 legislative session prioritizing patient-centered care by making certain reforms to how Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) operate in Tennessee. It helps ensure patients can use the pharmacies they choose and trust rather than being forced by their insurance companies to use specialty pharmacies that often don’t meet pa