Senate Convenes 2016 Legislative Session

On January 15, 2016, in News from Nashville 2016, by Mark Norris

January 15, 2016

Senate Convenes 2016 Legislative Session

Senate Convenes 2016 Legislative Session

The Tennessee General Assembly returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to begin the 2016 legislative session with a host of issues slated for discussion this year including the state budget, jobs, education, criminal justice, transportation, prescription drug abuse and taxes. Before getting down to work, the State Senate stood in a moment of silence to remember the four Marines and Navy sailor who died in an act of terrorism in Chattanooga in July. Sergeant Carson A. Holmquist, Logistics Specialist Randall Smith, Gunnery Sergeant Thomas J. Sullivan, Lance Corporal Squire K. “Skip” Wells and Staff Sergeant David A. Wyatt were hailed for their sacrifices and heroism. A resolution expressing the State of Tennessee’s deepest sympathy and offering condolences to the families of the fallen soldiers, which was approved by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, is pending in the Senate Calendar Committee and could be up for final consideration next week.

Judicial Confirmation Conference Committee Appointed – On the first day of the Senate’s 2016 legislative session, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey appointed a new conference committee to meet with the House of Representatives to work out differences on Senate Bill 1 sponsored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian Kelsey (R-Memphis). Those appointed were Senator Kelsey, Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), Senator John Stevens (R-Huntingdon), Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senator Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville).

The legislation was introduced last year to put into place the framework to fulfill the constitutional mandate adopted by voters in 2014 calling for legislative confirmation of appellate court nominees. Under the constitutional amendment, appellate judges are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature. The voters of Tennessee have the ability to vote to retain or not retain judges at the end of their 8-year terms. The House and Senate agreed on most provisions of the bill, except how the confirmation vote should be handled.

There are several ways in which the confirmation vote can be conducted including:

  • A resolution to confirm the nominee that must receive approval by both the House and Senate in separate votes like the process used for other pieces of legislation;
  • A vote in a specially called joint session where the Senate is weighted to recognize it as an equal body with the House of Representatives;
  • A vote in a specially called joint session where the Senate is unweighted and the House of Representatives controls three-fourths of the number needed for confirmation; and
  • A vote in a specially called joint session where the Senate and House vote separately and one body could reject the confirmation.

The amended constitution provides for “confirmation by default” if an unconfirmed appointee is not rejected within 60 days of the appointment or of the first day of session if the appointment is made out of session.

On January 7, Governor Bill Haslam appointed Judge Roger Page of Jackson to the Tennessee Supreme Court, replacing Justice Gary Wade who retired in September. If the legislature does not reach resolution of the issue by March 12, Judge Page will be confirmed by default on March 13.

Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act – Two bills were approved by Senate Committees this week. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 8 to 0 to approve Senate Bill 326, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), which sets the framework for how provisions can be made by persons while living for alternative access to digital assets such as Facebook, Linked-in and email accounts. The Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act makes such access after death of the account holder consistent with other existing Tennessee statutes on estates and related matters.

The bill follows cases where heirs were unable to terminate or access digital accounts after the death of a family member or loved one. “After folks die, according to the terms of their user agreement, they don’t have a right to assign their password or access to the account to anyone else and there it remains,” said Senator Norris. “It’s not only accounts like Facebook, but it’s email accounts and other digital records that remain after the person passes.”

The bill clarifies that, if done in accordance with the proposed law, access to digital assets is not a violation of Tennessee’s Personal and Commercial Computer Act. It also adds a new section to the Uniform Durable Power of Attorney Act providing the authority to access any catalog of electronic communications and any other assets by power of attorney. In addition, it provides that heirs can use online tools or a power of attorney to override the terms of agreement that does not require the deceased account holder to act affirmatively.

Senator Norris with Brigadier General Wendell H. Gilbert

Senator Norris with Brigadier General Wendell H. Gilbert

New State Veterans Home Opens in Clarksville

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Veterans Services Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder dedicated the new Brigadier General Wendell H. Gilbert Tennessee State Veterans Home in Clarksville today. Haslam was also joined by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) who chairs the Veterans Subcommittee of State & Local Government, Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville), Rep. Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville), and Sen. Mark Green (R-Clarksville)

“There are more than 506,000 veterans in Tennessee and 42 percent of them are age 65 or older,” Haslam said. “We are grateful for these Tennessee heroes and proud of this much needed home to care for our veterans with the dignity they deserve.”

“Tennessee’s State Veterans Homes offer comradery, compassion and high-quality health care,” Grinder said. “This is the first Tennessee home built using the new federally mandated cottage floor-plan designed to offer a more home-like environment.”

The new state of the art facility includes 108 beds in nine separate homes. Each home includes separate cottages with individual kitchens, fireplaces and a central lounge area.

“This home is equipped with the latest technology, state-of-the-art physical rehabilitation equipment and several warm touches to ensure the heroes who come here feel welcomed and recognized,” Harries said. “Our residents deserve our very best and we are committed to deliver on that promise every day.”

The 103,000 square foot campus includes an industrial sized kitchen, bistro and large dining area, library, physical therapy resources, chapel, barber shop and salon as well as multiple patios and walking areas to ensure residents have several options for entertainment and recreation.

In Brief….

Credit Recovery / Schools — The Senate Education Committee heard from the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability this week about how Tennessee High Schools use Credit Recovery programs. Credit recovery is a strategy that permits high school students who have failed courses to recover course credits, allowing them to graduate. Students are eligible for credit recovery after failing one or more high school courses that are required for graduation. Districts that reported data for the survey served more than 7,600 students in credit recovery during the 2014-15 school year. In Tennessee, as in most states, credit recovery programs are designed and implemented at the district and school levels, with a modicum of oversight by state education officials. In an effort to provide more clarity around the administration of credit recovery courses, the State Board of Education is actively working to consider what additional policies or guidance may be needed concerning credit recovery.

Senate Finance Investigation and Oversight Subcommittee — The Senate Finance Committee’s Investigation and Oversight Subcommittee held their first meeting this week. The committee, led by Chairman Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), reviewed block grants and other reports submitted by the Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Economic and Community Development and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. The subcommittee was created to ensure that agencies of state government are accountable in reporting the appropriate financial information to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee. The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee has the responsibility of considering all measures dealing with the appropriation of state funds and has oversight regarding legislation pertaining to bonds, pensions, investments or indebtedness.

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