March 17, 2014

Legislation to combat the manufacture of meth approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee

The legislative pace quickened on Capitol Hill this week as several important bills to combat the manufacture of methamphetamine in Tennessee advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The action came after compelling testimony was heard from the state’s top law enforcement authorities about the scope of the problem and its impact on users, their families, crime, and the environment, as well as healthcare costs and the loss of productivity.

Tennessee ranks second in the nation, behind Indiana, in meth lab seizures last year. Two hundred sixty-six children were removed by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) from homes due to meth-related incidents in 2013 at an estimated cost of more than $7 million. The state spends approximately $2 million annually on meth lab clean-up, and in 2013, 1,691 labs were seized in Tennessee. This is in addition to tens of millions of dollars in TennCare costs associated with meth lab burns.

“Lab seizures and meth use have affected many aspects of Tennesseans’ lives,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who is sponsoring legislation proposed by Governor Haslam to attack Tennessee’s meth problem. “This bill is aimed at fighting the production of meth, while not overburdening law-abiding Tennesseans who need temporary cold and sinus relief.”

Senate Bill 1751 the Tennessee Anti-Meth Production (TAMP) Act, cuts the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be bought in Tennessee from the current limit of 9 grams a month to 4.8 grams, which is equivalent to 40 12-hour tablets. Norris said this targets the so-called ‘smurfers’ who buy from a variety of stores in small quantities until they have enough to manufacture meth. The legislation sets an annual limit on pseudoephedrine purchases of 14.4 grams. Currently, the most frequently purchased box size contains 2.4g of pseudoephedrine or ephedrine, and in 2012, the average Tennessee consumer bought 4.8g for the entire year.

As amended, the proposal allows an allergy sufferer to purchase an unlimited amount of liquid or gel caps, but the consumer would have to get a prescription to exceed the limit in pill form. Liquid and gel caps cannot be utilized in the manufacture of methamphetamines. Under the bill, consumers under the age of 18 may not purchase pseudoephedrine products, without a prescription unless they buy liquid or gel caps.

Other bills which were approved by the Judiciary Committee include:

  •  Senate Bill 1791, sponsored by Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), which calls for pharmacist authorization reduced to writing for consumers purchasing pseudoephedrine products without a prescription. The bill is designed to utilize a pharmacist’s professional skills in order to weed out those who want to purchase this drug for use in the manufacture of meth.
  • Senate Bill 1647, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), which requires either a prescription by a physician or an oral prescription by a pharmacist reduced to writing not to exceed six months in length. The legislation does not cap the amount but makes it a controlled Schedule VII substance, meaning purchases will be reported to the Controlled Substance Database for tracking by law enforcement authorities. Meth resistant pseudoephedrine products would not be affected by the bill.
  • Senate Bill 2540, sponsored by Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), which allows local governing bodies by a two-thirds vote to ban the sale of methamphetamine precursors in their jurisdiction without a prescription. Several Tennessee counties have voted to ban the sale of the products without a prescription; however, the state Attorney General ruled last year that the legislature must act to give them this authority.
  • Senate Bill 2021, sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), which provides for a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of meth of 30 days in jail and 180 days in jail for manufacturing of meth.
  • Senate Bill 1312 sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), which requires that anyone with a drug felony, not just a methamphetamine felony, be placed on the methamphetamine registry, preventing them from purchasing pseudoephedrine products for 10 years.

The bills now go to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee where they will be further examined with the goal to come up with a comprehensive plan to attack the state’s meth problem that can meet House and Senate approval.

Senate passes legislation allowing state to sell gift certificates for specialty license plates

The Senate passed legislation on Monday night allowing the state to sell gift certificates that can be redeemed for the purchase of specialty license plates. Senate Bill 1718, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), aims to enhance the sale of more than 90 specialty license plates offered to Tennessee motorists to display on their registered vehicles.

Specialty license plates represent a wide variety of colleges and universities, branches of the military, special interest organizations, professional organizations and other topics. Part of the $36 fee charged for the plates goes to support a wide variety of art activities in Tennessee, including ticket subsidies for students. The plates generated over $4.4 million last year to help promote visual, literary, performing and folk art, and the organizations which support them.

“If enacted, this legislation will allow consumers to buy gift certificates for their family and friends that they can redeem for the specialty plate of their choice,” said Leader Norris. “The arts generate over $132.4 million in Tennessee annually, affecting 4,000 jobs in the state. Many people don’t realize how much good this program does to promote the arts and preserve our heritage.”

Two million of the six million vehicles in the state participate in the specialty plate program. Norris hopes that the gift certificate program will boost sales.

“This should be a tremendous help in boosting sales of the plates,” added Norris. “It provides consumers with a great option for a personalized gift for family and friends, and helps support the arts at the same time, a win-win for all concerned.”

Senate passes legislation to help farmers who supplement their income through agritourism

The House and the Senate has approved and sent to the governor legislation amending Tennessee’s “Right to Farm Act” to help farmers who supplement their income through agritourism. The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), expands the definition of “agriculture” under current law to include entertainment activities conducted in conjunction with, but secondary to, commercial production of farm products and nursery stock.

Agritourism, or agricultural tourism, is a commercial enterprise at a working farm conducted for the enjoyment or education of visitors and that generates supplemental income for the farm owner. It is estimated that visitors spend more than $34.4 million in Tennessee each year at agritourism operations, which includes such entertainment activities as pumpkin patches, corn mazes, festivals, U-pick and tree farms. A 2013 Tennessee Supreme Court decision, however, questioned what activities constitute an agricultural activity under current law.

“This bill updates the current definition of farm operations and farm products to be consistent with the current trends in agriculture and agritourism activities,” said Leader Norris. “Agritourism is big business in Tennessee, not only for our farmers, but the folks who work there with a total of $54.2 million spent in our state when the multiplier effects of tourism are included.”

Senate Bill 1614 adds “the marketing of farm products in conjunction with the production of farm products and any other form of agriculture” to the definition of farm operations in the Right to Farm act. It also expands the definition of agriculture by adding “entertainment activities conducted in conjunction with, but secondary to, commercial production of farm products and nursery stock,” when such activities occur on land used in commercial production.

“This legislation defends the right to farm and the use of property for farm-related agritourism and helps to keeps it safe from frivolous claims,” Leader Norris concluded.

In Brief…

State of Tennessee Reducing Debt by Hundreds of Millions — The state’s debt continues to shrink, according to a new report released by the State Comptroller on Wednesday. The state’s total debt fell during the last six months of last year by $347 million – or more than a third of a billion dollars. Of that decrease, the state reduced the debt on its general obligation bonds, which are used to pay for most of the government’s capital projects, by more than $95 million. That’s part of a two-year decrease of nearly $190 million. Lower debt translates into lower interest payments on money owed, which, in turn, translates into substantial savings for Tennessee taxpayers. “The conservative principles of our state legislators and our governor are reflected in this indebtedness report,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said, “This legislature and this governor told their constituents that they would hold down spending in state government and that is exactly what they are doing.” The indebtedness report comes a few months after a report issued by Fitch Ratings, one of the country’s largest bond rating agencies, concluded that Tennessee’s debt ratio was the lowest in the nation.

Revenue Collections — Tennessee tax collections were once again below the budgeted estimate in February, a trend that began in August of last year. February sales tax collections, which reflect consumer spending in January, recorded modest growth for the month as did franchise and excise taxes along with several of the smaller tax categories tax categories according to Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin. The commissioner said the department continues to be concerned with the lack of positive growth in corporate tax collections. On an accrual basis, February is the seventh month in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Year-to-date collections for seven months were $259.9 million less than the budgeted estimate.

Optometrists — Legislation was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee this week to allow optometrists to use local anesthetic in conjunction with the primary care treatment of an eyelid lesion. Optometrists are already allowed to apply topical anesthetic solutions. Senate Bill 220, as amended, allows them to inject a local anesthetic within an optometrist’s current scope of practice, which is to treat such conditions as styes or chalazions. The bill also makes it clear that the proposal does not affect current law regarding the requirement that only ophthalmologists can perform reconstructive surgical procedures on the eyelid. The bill is sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville).

Rape / Statute of Limitations — The full Senate voted 31 to 0 to approve legislation that would repeal the statute of limitations for rape, aggravated rape, rape of a child and aggravated rape of a child, as long as law enforcement or the district attorney general has been notified within three years of the offense. Senate Bill 2084 pertains to acts committed on or after the bill’s July 1, 2014 effective date and offenses committed prior to that date, as long as the statute of limitations has not expired. The current statutes of limitations range from 8 years to 15 years for rape of an adult, and up to 25 years after the 18th birthday of the victim when the offense involves a child. “This bill will give law enforcement new tools to prosecute this heinous crime,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), sponsor of the bill. “This not only provides due process protection, but encourages victims to come forward.” Courts at all levels have recognized the validity of DNA tests in identifying suspects and establishing guilt.

Tuition / State Colleges and Universities — Members of the Senate Finance Committee have approved legislation permitting students who are U.S. Citizens and residents of Tennessee to receive in-state tuition, regardless of their parent’s status. Under current law, an unemancipated minor is considered to have the same residence as his or her parent for purposes of considering in-state tuition status at Tennessee colleges and universities. Senate Bill 2115, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), permits students to receive instate tuition as long as they are a U.S. citizen, have resided in Tennessee for at least one year and graduated from a Category 1, 2 or 3 public or private secondary school in the state. The bill follows the policy set by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that “all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the U.S. and the state wherein they reside.”

Industrial HempSenate Bill 2495 to allow farmers to be licensed to grow hemp in Tennessee was approved by the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. Over the years, many people have mistakenly associated hemp with marijuana; however they are actually two very different species. Not only do they look drastically different, but they are also cultivated in very dissimilar ways. Although it is legal to import, purchase or export hemp, it is illegal to grow it in Tennessee. In recent years, states like neighboring Kentucky have passed measures legalizing the farming of hemp for industrial purposes. These purposes include turning the plant’s fibers into such products as oil, wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, paper, and fuel. There are approximately 75 manufacturers using hemp in America today, most prevalently with plastics, which can be reinforced with hemp. The bill is sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains).

Soldiers / Uniform Services Relief Act — Legislation was approved by the full Senate this week that removes the state’s immunity from claims that can be brought by a soldier returning from deployment pursuant to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. This act establishes service members’ reemployment rights when returning from a period of service in the uniformed services, including those called up by the National Guard or reserves, and prohibits employer discrimination based on military services or obligation. Senate Bill 2004, sponsored by Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), helps to ensure that while a soldier is deployed that his or her state job cannot be given away, and if it is that he or she can pursue legal action.

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