March 23, 2013

The members of Leadership Bartlett visited the Capitol this week. The class of Leadership Bartlett with Rep. Jim Coley, Sen. Mark Norris, Gov. Bill Haslam, Secretary of State Tre Hargett and program director, Sue Griffith Coleman

The members of Leadership Bartlett visited the Capitol this week. The class of Leadership Bartlett with Rep. Jim Coley, Sen. Mark Norris, Gov. Bill Haslam, Secretary of State Tre Hargett and program director, Sue Griffith Coleman

Senate Committees working hard to wind down the business of the 2013 legislative session

Senate Committees worked at full steam this week as they wrapped up budget hearings for various agencies and departments of state government and moved a number of important bills to the Senate floor for final action. The Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee have closed their business for the 2013 legislative session. The remaining committees are preparing to conclude their business over the next three weeks, as the General Assembly is working to adjourn next month.

Field Norris makes his first visit to Granddad’s Nashville office this week. He is looking through the Tennessee Code.

Field Norris makes his first visit to Granddad’s Nashville office this week. He is looking through the Tennessee Code.

Legislation advances in the Senate to improve student discipline in the classroom

Two major bills designed to improve discipline in the classroom advanced in the State Senate this week. This includes key legislation, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) that requires principals to suspend or expel students who cause bodily injury to a teacher, bus driver or other school personnel.

Presently, Tennessee law states a principal “may” suspend a student for a variety of reasons, including assault or violence against school employees. Senate Bill 264 authorizes a student to be suspended from school for using vulgar, obscene or threatening language toward a principal, a teacher, a school bus driver or other personnel at anytime on or away from school property. The bill, however, makes the punishment mandatory when a student escalates to committing an act that results in bodily injury.

The proposal leaves the type and duration of the suspension up to the school principal, but requires that prior to readmission the parent or legal guardian of the offending student must meet with the principal or a designee.

“This bill makes it very clear that students can be held accountable for their actions at the school house as well as away from it,” said Gresham. “A student needs to know they cannot lay in wait for a teacher to step off of school grounds and then verbally or physically assault them thinking it will not be dealt with back at school. And, teachers need to know they can move about freely in their community without the fear of a student threatening violence or using vulgar, obscene or threatening language against them with impunity.”

The bill is now headed for the Senate floor for a final vote.

Another bill giving teachers an additional tool to use in maintaining student discipline was approved by the full Senate this week on final consideration. Senate Bill 883, sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), requires local boards of education to adopt policies regarding a teacher’s ability to remove disruptive students from the classroom in grades 5 – 12. The policy must specify the actions required by the teacher and the actions required by the principal in removing the students for disruptive behavior. The bill gives the principal the flexibility to decide the punishment but says that after three times of removing a disruptive student, the principal cannot send that student right back into the classroom.

“This legislation makes it clear what prerequisites have to be met before a teacher can send a student to the principal’s office for additional disciplinary action,” said Senator Hensley. “This lets students know that if they create problems within their classrooms in violation of what is acceptable behavior, that there will be consequences up to and including suspension and possible expulsion.”

Legislation approved by Senate Judiciary Committee allows prosecutors to charge DNA profile as a person in rape cases

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved legislation by a former emergency room doctor that will give Tennessee prosecutors a new weapon in rape cases where the Statute of Limitations is about to expire. Under the measure sponsored by Senator Mark Green, MD, (R-Clarksville), prosecutors will soon be able to obtain a “John Doe” arrest warrant based on the perpetrator’s DNA profile, saving the case from dismissal on grounds that too much time has passed.

“To me, this is personal,” Dr. Green declared, noting that as an emergency room physician, he treated “all too many rape victims who could not identify their attackers.”

“Approximately 90,000 women are raped every year in the United States, with only 25 percent of these attacks resulting in arrests,” he added. “It’s heartbreaking for the victims and their families when, years later, they are told that even if the perpetrator is caught, he can’t be prosecuted because too much time has expired – especially when courts at all levels have recognized the validity of DNA tests in identifying suspects and establishing guilt.”

Senate Bill 831 will allow a criminal prosecution to be commenced by issuing an arrest warrant that identifies the perpetrator based on the DNA profile.

“Skilled emergency room personnel often obtain DNA evidence that identifies the perpetrator of rape, even if the victim herself cannot do so,” Dr. Green noted.

“As the DNA registry expands – often because these individuals are arrested for some other crime – and better technology decreases the time it takes for analysis, this legislation will be increasingly valuable to prosecutors seeking justice,” he predicted.

“The science of DNA comparison is changing the way law enforcement agencies treat and investigate rape and sexual assault,” Dr. Green said. “It is already resulting in more detailed police investigations and greater rates of conviction. This bill ensures that Tennessee law keeps pace with this emerging science so that prosecutions will be kept alive even when the perpetrator can’t be brought to justice within the time allowed by the statute of limitations.”

In Brief…..

Military / Licenses – Senator Green also led passage of legislation to ease license requirements for members of the U.S. Armed Forces or National Guard. As amended, Senate Bill 493 waives professional license fees for soldiers who are on active duty deployment and gives them a six-month grace period when they return for renewal. The legislation also allows soldiers and their spouses who have professional licenses from a different state and who move to Tennessee to have their licenses expedited. The intent of this bill is to help active duty soldiers who have moved to Tennessee who hold, or whose spouse holds, a professional license in another state. Often times those families depend on a second income of a spouse who is using a professional license and time is of the essence to help them with employment.

“As a former army ranger it is in my DNA to do all I can for those among us who keep us free,” said Senator Mark Green. “These are just two of a slate of bills focused on serving America’s heroes.”

Electronic Insurance DocumentationSenate Bill 512 passed out of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week allowing insurance documentation to be displayed in an electronic format. Currently, state law provides that proof of financial responsibility be proven through a hard-copy, paper document only. This bill opens up this language to also allow an individual to provide proof of insurance in an electronic format using a smart phone, laptop, or other electronic device. The bill is sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald).

Prescription Drugs / TennCareSenate Bill 500, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week restricting any person, besides a licensed medical professional, from selling, delivering, or helping anyone to obtain a drug through the use of TennCare. Written to stop potentially fraudulent use of TennCare benefits, especially in the case of controlled substances, the legislation makes an offense a Class E Felony, a sentence that includes mandatory jail time.

Workers’ Compensation — Legislation that reforms Tennessee’s workers’ compensation system to make the state more attractive to job creation, while protecting injured employees moved through the Senate Government Operations Committee. Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), was sent to the committee because it creates a new Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims to keep claims from going to trial court and establishes a new Ombudsman program to help employees and employers who are underrepresented get the assistance they need. The bill aims to cut costs to businesses, create more predictability, improve the efficiency of claims management, simplify the physician selection process for injured employees and reduce benefit delays to workers.

Reduction of Food Tax – The Senate Tax Subcommittee has approved Senate Bill 199, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), which reduces the state sales tax on food from 5.25% to 5.0%. This year’s legislation follows a law adopted by the legislature in 2012 lowering the state’s portion of sales tax on food from 5.5 % to 5.25 %. The state budget legislation as proposed by Governor Bill Haslam provides a total of $23.1 million which will go back to taxpayers through a combination of tax relief proposals.

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