Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, January 3, 2020

Look for fewer bills as legislators eye early adjournment, re-election

So far, fewer than 100 bills have been filed for consideration in this year’s session of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly, but they include laws on hot-button issues such as school vouchers, vaping, immigration, guns and gender.

The earliest-filed bill, by Rep. Rick Staples, D-Knoxville, would create a new state legal holiday, Emancipation Day, to fall on Aug. 8 each year. Staples also filed the first House bill last year, which eventually was passed and will bring online sports gaming to Tennessee.

Only a handful of the new bills have sponsors in both houses or have co-sponsors.

One Democrat-sponsored bill with House and Senate sponsors would require the state’s police training commission to study how drivers and passengers should respond to police in traffic stops, then include the findings in the driver’s license manual and on the Department of Safety website.

Sponsors are Sen. Brenda Gilmore of Nashville and Rep. London Lamar of Memphis.

Several bills deal with education, either K-12 or higher education.

A Republican bill with sponsors in both houses would allow local education agencies to conduct TCAP tests on paper instead of by computer. This bill has several House co-sponsors with original sponsor Rep. Scott Cepicky of Culleoka.

Another education-related bill, filed only in the House, is being sponsored or co-sponsored by 20 of its 26 Democrats. The bill, sponsored by Nashville Rep. Bo Mitchell, is one sentence and would rescind the Educational Savings Accounts bill that passed by one vote in a controversial House session late last year.

Only one House Democrat, Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis, voted for the ESAs last year. They provide income-qualified parents in Shelby and Davidson counties with about $7,400 in state funds to educate their children in private schools.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, introduced a higher-education bill that creates a student athlete graduation grant fund for eligible student athletes who graduate from a public four-year postsecondary institution in Tennessee but do not advance to the pros.

Turning to firearms, a bill sponsored by Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, and Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, would create exceptions, rather than defenses, to the offense of open or concealed carrying of a firearm for persons legally in possession of the firearm.

Another Griffey bill, co-sponsored by Hensley, would require the state to refuse to receive refugees for resettlement and would require local governments to similarly refuse immigrants. It allows local governments to approve refugee resettlement within its jurisdiction if it follows a prescribed process.

Regarding vaping, Gilmore has introduced two bills in the Senate to discourage vaping. One would make it an unfair practice under the state Consumer Protection Act for a seller of vaping products to not include a warning label on the products.

The other would require the Tennessee Department of Health to post information on the health hazards of vaping on its website information and to work with the Department of Education to disseminate the education in public schools from middle schools on up.

Other Republican bills with sponsors in both houses deal with the right of sex offenders to live with, have an overnight visit with or be alone with their own children, as long as the parent’s parental rights have not been terminated or are in the process of being terminated and the parent’s sex offense didn’t involve abusing that child or another child. Sponsors are Hensley in the Senate and Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, in the House.

A House Joint Resolution introduced by Griffey proposes amending the state constitution so that, beginning in 2024, the state attorney general would be popularly elected and limited to two consecutive terms.

There’s also a bill dealing with gender and student athletes in public schools. The bill, by Griffey, requires elementary and secondary schools that receive public funding to ensure that student athletes participate in school-sanctioned sports based on the student’s biological sex at birth. Schools could lose public funding and be assessed civil penalties for not following the law, and public officials could be penalized, as well.