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Front Page - Friday, May 13, 2022

Rogers column: Well, at least legislators helped protect dogs

The best spin that can be put on the recently completed legislative session is that it could have been worse. Especially for those who indulge in plant-based mind-altering products. More on that later, but first, a big thumbs-up:

Joker’s Law is law.

Joker, you may recall from an earlier column, is a K9 officer for the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office in East Tennessee. In September he was shot three times, including in the face, while tracking some bad guys.

He survived, but his ordeal brought to light an unfortunate situation: Tennessee did not have a law specifically protecting four-legged cops.

Criminal justice students and animal lovers at Cleveland State Community College took it upon themselves to remedy that with a petition that thousands signed. Then Rep. Mark Hall of Cleveland introduced legislation to address the issue.

Thanks to his bill, it’s now a Class D felony “to knowingly and unlawfully cause serious bodily injury to or kill a police dog, fire dog, search and rescue dog, service animal, or police horse.” The punishment is up to 12 years in prison and a fine up to $5,000.

“Joker’s Law makes it very clear that we will not tolerate the killing of any service animals here in Tennessee,” Hall said in a statement announcing the passage.

Good job, all.

• A thumbs-down for the resolution that passed calling on Congress to appropriate money to complete a wall along the Southern border. Not only is it a frivolous measure, wasn’t Mexico supposed to pay for that?

• A thumbs-up – sort of – to the fact that a resolution calling for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations died quietly in a House committee.

• Along the same lines, a thumbs-up for the failure of a House bill I wrote about in February. It would have set up a mechanism by which Tennessee could determine that “a federal law, rule, or executive order is unconstitutional under the Constitution of the United States.”

Nullification, as the process is known, was pretty much kiboshed in the 1830s in a presidential proclamation by a fellow named Andrew Jackson. This latest, misguided effort suffocated in a House committee. Good riddance.

• A bill seeking to bar regulations on churches during “a state of emergency, major disaster, or natural disaster” also failed. Here’s hoping that, at some point, legislators stop fighting the COVID battle from the wrong side.

• Lawmakers weren’t particularly engaged with designating official state whatevers this session, but they did manage to install two more state songs: “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” as rendered by Dolly Parton, and “I’ll Leave My Heart in Tennessee,” by Dailey & Vincent. That brings us up to … 10? 12? I’ve lost count, and the official record in the Tennessee Code seems at odds with the state government website. More investigative journalism may be called for.

One thing’s for certain: No one heeded my call to make the banjo the official state musical instrument. Too busy banning books and transgender athletes and harassing homeless people, I guess.

• As to the mind-altering edibles: I wrote in January about how marijuana is illegal in Tennessee because a chemical compound in the plant – tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – is psychoactive. And yet products containing THC made from hemp are legal and available all over the state.

The column explained why. I won’t get into it all again here, but it involves how hemp – though basically the same plant as marijuana, cannabis sativa – is legal because it contains lower levels of THC.

The Tennessee Growers Association, a group that supports hemp and cannabis-based products, got behind a bill that would have regulated commerce in such goods. But fears about 3-year-olds getting stoned on candy-like gummies had legislators on the verge of banning altogether what is now a multimillion-dollar business in the state.

“Constituents and voters blew up their phones in response to that potential ban,” Kelley Hess, executive director of the association, told me.

Much behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing produced compromise legislation that addressed a lot of concerns. The prospects for it looked good, Hess said, but ultimately it fell short, too.

The whole issue is expected to come up again next session, Hess said, with perhaps some fine points revisited. Meanwhile, “We’d much rather have nothing than a ban,” she said. Me too.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com