March 27, 2015

Sam Elkins and Senator Norris in Senate Committee room

Sam Elkins and Senator Norris in Senate Committee room

Sudden Cardiac Arrest legislation seeks to promote awareness among student athletes

 Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act (SB985) – On Wednesday of this week Senator Norris proposed and passed out of the Senate Health Committee a bill designed to raise awareness about Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) in student athletes. SCA is the leading cause of death in student athletes both in youth, high school and collegiate sports. Episodes often occur because coaches are not trained to recognize the symptoms. This bill requires that coaches receive yearly training on SCA symptoms like fainting and seizures, unexpected shortness of breath, chest pains, racing heart, extreme fatigue and dizziness. Coaches may notice these symptoms in players but need to know there could be a bigger issue at hand than simply making the player take a “breather.” The bill mimics the requirements the General Assembly placed on concussion education and training a few years ago.

The bill was brought to him by a constituent from Collierville, Sam Elkins. Sam is a senior at St. George’s Independent School where he plays lacrosse. He testified before the Senate Health Committee that because of a congenital heart defect he has suffered some of these symptoms. After an episode a few weeks ago, Sam had to have heart surgery at Vanderbilt in Nashville. His surgeon, Dr. Frank Fish also testified about needing to raise awareness of SCA among players and coaches. Also from Vanderbilt was Dr. Alex Diamond who is the team physician for Vanderbilt University, the Nashville Predators (NHL) and the Nashville Sounds (AAA-MLB). The doctors testified about the importance of early detection and screening as once symptoms are noticed it can be too late.

One-third of those who die experienced one of the warning signs of SCA.  From 2007 to 2013, there were five student athlete deaths in Tennessee due to the disease but health experts believe the numbers are underestimated since the report relied only on media articles for the count.

Along with its unanimous passage in the Senate Health Committee, the bill passed out of the House Health Committee. The bill is set on the Senate Floor Calendar for Monday March 30th where it will seek final approval from the full Senate.

Third from left – Dr. Frank Fish, Sam Elkins, Dr. Alex Diamond and Emily Elkins waiting to testify about the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act in the Senate Health Committee

Third from left – Dr. Frank Fish, Sam Elkins, Dr. Alex Diamond and Emily Elkins waiting to testify about the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act in the Senate Health Committee

Education bills highlight Capitol Hill Week as lawmakers start to wind down 2015 legislative session

The State Senate approved a wide range of legislation this week, including several key bills aimed at improving education in Tennessee.  Meanwhile, the Senate’s Transportation and Safety Committee and Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee have completed their business as the General Assembly begins to wind down the 2015 legislative session towards adjournment next month.

Legislation, which sets up a process to replace the controversial Common Core education standards with a new set of standards crafted solely by Tennesseans, was approved by the Senate Education Committee this week. Senate Bill 1163, sponsored by Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville), embraces the work and the effort of Governor Bill Haslam’s review process, adding in a new Recommendation Committee to provide another opportunity for stakeholders, educators and the general public to weigh in on the new Tennessee-specific standards.  The Recommendation Committee would be comprised of ten members, with four appointed by the Governor, three appointed by the Speaker of the Senate, and three appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

“This is not a standards bill, but a process bill,” said Sen. Bell.  “It sets up a very robust process to develop Tennessee-specific standards that are high standards.  This process is not to rebrand Common Core, nor is it set up to reaffirm Common Core.  It is set up to replace Common Core with Tennessee standards and Tennessee values.”

The Governor set up a process in October for education professionals to vet the standards and allow for public comments.  Bell said the Standards Recommendation panel would embrace the best practices obtained through the Governor’s review panel, passing it through a filter that is more representative of the people of the state.  In addition, the bill calls for the final draft of the Standards Review and Standards Recommendation panels to be placed back on the Internet for 60 days so stakeholders, parents, teachers and administrators will have another opportunity to view and address the body of work being produced before it is set up for adoption.  The bill also helps to ensure that no standards will be imposed on the state by the federal government in the future. The legislation requires the State Board of Education to cancel the “Memorandum of Understanding” that had previously been agreed upon concerning Common Core State Standards.

“We need the highest standards and we need exemplary college- and work-ready skills,” added Senator Bell.  “We want to continue to be the fastest improving state in the nation, providing a model for education improvement.  We also want to tailor it to Tennessee students, exerting state responsibility over education.  We believe the final results will be that Tennessee will have the highest standards in the nation without compromising our values.”

Students from the University of Memphis visit the office for Social Worker ‘Day on the Hill’ in Nashville

Students from the University of Memphis visit the office for Social Worker ‘Day on the Hill’ in Nashville

Bill protecting victims’ rights approved by Senate Judiciary Committee

A bill to permit the Board of Probation and Parole to deny an inmate’s parole if the he or she is using the parole hearings process to intimidate and harass the victim was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.  Senate Bill 407, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), stems from the brutal kidnapping of Laura Dean and Gerald Street in Hawkins County, Tennessee.  The victims were taken through multiple counties and Dean was raped before the two were thrown off a bridge.

The perpetrators were sentenced to 130 years in prison.  Since that time, they have become eligible for parole and had at least seven parole hearings in a ten-year period, two being only 9 months apart.

According to former Jefferson County General Sessions Court Judge Ben Strand, who testified before the committee, it takes the victims about six weeks to “calm down” from reliving the trauma of the crime after the hearing process.  Strand called the kidnapping and brutalization of Dean and Street “probably the most heinous crime that has been committed in Hawkins County in modern-day time.”

“This piece of legislation deals with parole hearings and is specifically dealing with a situation where the frequency of parole hearings are themselves a form of harassment of the victims of a crime,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville).

Currently, the Department of Corrections doesn’t have any discretion in determining whether an inmate is eligible for parole. That discretion lies with the Parole Board.

Good Samaritan Law seeks to provide senior citizens with transportation needs to help them remain independent

Legislation which encourages good Samaritans to volunteer to transport senior citizens to places such as doctor appointments, the grocery store or the pharmacy has received final Senate approval.  The Protection of Volunteer-Insured Drivers of the Elderly (PROVIDE) Act, sponsored by Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), would help non-profit Human Resource Agencies and charitable organizations by giving transportation volunteers civil immunity as they seek to provide these citizens the help they need to remain independent.

Tennessee law protects volunteer drivers who are volunteering with a government agency, but not through a charitable organization or human service agency.  Senate Bill 117 extends volunteer driver protection to any person volunteering through a charitable organization or human service agency as long as the volunteer driver does not commit gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct and the sponsoring organization maintains liability insurance with limits at least equal to the limits set forth in the Governmental Tort Liability Act.

“Transportation services for the elderly remain a growing need in Tennessee,” said Senator Yager.   “Our human service agencies and charitable organizations do a wonderful job in filling this need, but the threat of a lawsuit can hamper volunteerism.  The PROVIDE Act would encourage more people to become volunteer drivers for the elderly because of the liability protection it offers.”

Uninsured Motorist Bill Passes in Senate Commerce and Labor Committee

A bill to implement an online verification program for uninsured motorists passed in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Tuesday.  Senate Bill 648, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), would establish an online verification program to help ensure compliance with the Tennessee Financial Responsibility Law.

“The goal of this program is to reduce the state’s uninsured motorist rate, which is currently at 23-24 percent, and offer a real-time system of auto liability policy verification,” said Senator Ketron.

This bill requires that notice procedure be provided to any driver found to be uninsured, allowing them 15 days to provide proof of insurance or exemption. Failure to comply will result in a $25 coverage failure fee. If there is no response to such notice, the owner will be sent a 2nd notice informing them that they have 30 days to provide proof of insurance or exemption. Failure to comply will result in $100 coverage failure fee and suspension or revocation of registration.

The bill also increases the fine for failure to provide proof insurance from $100 to $300 and if a driver fails to provide proof of insurance to an officer, the officer may tow the vehicle as long as the officer’s agency has adopted a policy for such procedure.

Rhonda Cochran, the mother of James Lee Atwood Jr., a young man killed by an uninsured motorist, gave her testimony in front of the committee.  Cochran said that the man who hit and killed her son was cited earlier that day for driving uninsured, but was let go.

“I don’t want anyone else in Tennessee, or anywhere, to go through what we’ve gone through,” she said, “Please don’t let my son have died for nothing.”

Upon going into effect, the bill would enact the “James Lee Atwood Jr. Law,” in honor of Cochran’s son.  The bill is pending action in the Government Operations Committee in the House of Representatives.

In Brief

Identity Theft — The State Senate has approved a bill that aims to help guard against consumer identity theft.  Currently, Tennessee has no restrictions that prevent businesses or individuals from requesting or requiring that a customer provides their social security number on a personal check before it is accepted. Senate Bill 336, sponsored by Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), prohibits the printing of social security numbers on checks in order to receive a benefit, good, service or other value, unless the person provides written permission or the disclosure is required by the state or federal law.

Drones — State Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) guided passage of legislation through the Judiciary Committee this week to prohibit the use of a drone at an open-air ticketed event where more than 100 people are gathered without the venue owner and operator’s consent.  Senate Bill 509 would prevent an amateur drone enthusiast from flying an unmanned aircraft over events like a Titans game while it is in progress. The legislation also prevents a drone from flying within or over a fireworks display without consent of the owner or within the grounds of a correctional facility.

County Road Relief Act — Legislation which changes the way Tennessee currently manages its State Aid Road Grant Program to make it easier for counties to access state funds to upgrade, repair and improve roads has received final approval.  Currently, to receive funding through the State Highway Aid System, a 25 percent local match must be made by local governments.  Senate Bill 1005, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), would allow a county to use state highway aid for a project, as long as the county contributes at least two percent of the approved project cost or provide in-kind work as approved by the Department of Transportation.  The “County Road Relief Act of 2015” is modeled after the “County Bridge Relief Act of 2014,” which lowered the match to allow local governments to access unused funds in Tennessee’s State Aid Bridge Grant Program.  That program has allowed counties to access unused funds to improve bridges which had fallen into disrepair.

Veterans / Access, Choice and Accountability Act – Final approval was given to legislation updating the state’s laws pursuant to the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.  Senate Bill 976 would add spouses and dependent children as parties eligible for in-state tuition rates.  Since a veteran can assign their benefits to a spouse or children, they would also qualify for these tuition and fee rates.  It would also shift the period of eligibility after discharge for in-state tuition rates from two years to three years.  In addition, it requires the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to convene the University of Tennessee (UT) and Tennessee Board of Regents systems to review processes related to awarding academic credit to veterans.  This is known as “PLA” or “prior learning assessment’” and ensures that veteran students receive as much academic credit as possible for training or skills obtained during their service.  The bill is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).

Veterans / Military Drivers – Similarly, the full Senate has approved a bill that would give non-resident veterans the same authorization as veterans who are Tennessee residents to use their experience as a military truck driver to receive a commercial driver’s license (CDL).  Senate Bill 368, sponsored by Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), would allow experienced military drivers to waive the state’s CDL skills test requirement upon providing proof of a military license for the class of vehicle for which they are seeking licensure.  This would apply as long as their driving record shows no accidents or citations over the past two years.

History for Kids / Senate — An educational booklet written and designed by Tennessee History for Kids is now available through a partnership with the Office of the Chief Clerk of the Tennessee Senate.  The 36-page book was created for K through 12 students.  The book contains information regarding the purpose of state government, how to be a good citizen, the Senate and its members, State Senate districts, how a bill becomes law, parliamentary procedure and language, and the State Capitol grounds and highlights of events that have occurred there.  To order the book go to


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