March 4, 2016

Senator Norris with representatives from West Tennessee Arts Groups visiting for Arts Advocacy Day on the Hill

Senator Norris with representatives from West Tennessee Arts Groups visiting for Arts Advocacy Day on the Hill

Testimony from NATO Commander validates concerns of legislators pushing passage of resolution seeking clarity regarding refugees coming into Tennessee

A resolution sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) concerning the federal Refugee Resettlement Program has been validated by comments from NATO commander, General Philip Breedlove this week.

According to reports published this week, Breedlove stated, “ISIS is spreading like a cancer” within the waves of refugees fleeing conflict in Syria and other countries to Europe. He indicated that “members of ISIS were hiding among the flood of refugees entering Europe, taking advantage of paths of least resistance, threatening European nations and our own.”

Senate Joint Resolution 467 urges the commencement of legal action, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, from the federal government’s mandated appropriation of state revenue and noncompliance with the Refugee Act.

“SJR467 calls for legal action to help keep Tennessee safe; to declare our State’s right to confer with the federal government concerning its desire to locate refugees within Tennessee without sufficient background information. The federal government has gone silent. Our own Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security can’t even get a response,” said Norris.

General Breedlove’s concerns are an echo of the sentiments expressed from leaders across Europe and Africa who are currently dealing with the great mass of refugees fleeing the Middle East. These very apprehensions are shared by the majority of Americans. According to a Rasmussen Report survey, 72 percent of US voters are concerned that giving thousands of Syrians asylum poses a national security risk to the United States.

“Tuesday’s testimony by NATO Commander General Phillip Breedlove before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee is another wake-up call. We are at risk. The federal refugee resettlement scheme presently in place provides inadequate protection,” said Norris. “It is imperative that we continue to pressure Washington to do its job.”

The resolution was adopted by the Senate on February 22 and has been transmitted to the House of Representatives. It will next be discussed in the House State Government Subcommittee.

Speaking to WestStar, the West Tennessee Leadership Program

Speaking to WestStar, the West Tennessee Leadership Program

LEAP Program / LEAP Day

The Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) showcased its successes at sites across Tennessee on TN LEAP Day, February 29. Education and employer sites throughout the twelve LEAP site areas demonstrated the skills students are learning through the program and provide students an opportunity to meet with employers. LEAP was established in 2013 through legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville). The program works with educators and employers to identify and close skills gaps that hinder the economic development of communities throughout the state. The 2016 LEAP Report, released by THEC in January, noted that, as of December 2015, 1,591 high school students have enrolled in courses enhanced or funded by LEAP and 630 college students have enrolled in LEAP-supported programs. In total, 13,363 students have engaged in LEAP-funded programming, including work-based learning experiences, career exploration programs, and other industry-focused learning activities.

Senate passes resolutions honoring those killed in the Chattanooga terrorist attack

The State Senate approved five resolutions this week honoring 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. Senate Joint Resolutions 471, 472, 473, 474 and 475, sponsored by Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson), expresses the State of Tennessee’s deepest sympathy and offers condolences to the families of the fallen soldiers. Personnel Specialist 1st Class Benito Orozco, Yeoman 2nd Class Tyler Perry, Petty Officer 3rd Class Michelle Roberts, Petty Officer 3rd Class Kareatha McGowan and Senior Chief Joe Lindsey represented the five fallen soldiers in the Senate Chambers as lawmakers voted on the resolutions.

In separate action, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week to give personal and civil immunity to guardsmen if they return fire during a terrorist attack. Following the terrorist attack in Chattanooga, Major General Max Haston, Tennessee Adjutant General, authorized the carrying of personal firearms on state military facilities by Tennessee National Guard members with valid handgun carry permits. State law, however, does not provide immunity or personal liability protection in the event of damage or injury sustained in defense of the service member or others during a terrorist attack.

Under Senate Bill 1760, civil immunity would be provided if he or she is acting in self-defense or the defense of others due to imminent danger or the threat of substantial bodily harm. It also provides for legal representation from the state if the service member acts in accordance with provisions of the law. The bill is sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville).

Bills advance in Senate to protect children against sexual predators and child abuse

Legislation advanced in the Senate this week to protect children against sexual predators and extend the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to extend the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse from one to seven years from the date the child reaches age 18. Senate Bill 2484, sponsored by Senator Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville), would align Tennessee’s criminal statute regarding the time limit for starting criminal proceedings with the state’s civil statute which defines the period in which a lawsuit must be filed to initiate a civil action in court.

Ginger Reed, a survivor of sexual abuse, told members of the committee that many victims wait years to disclose the trauma that they have suffered. Reed said research indicates that about 60 percent of the individuals who do disclose they have suffered child sexual abuse only do so when asked.

Similarly, the committee passed a bill, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), revising penalties for offenses of sexual exploitation of a minor, sexual contact with a minor by an authority figure and the lesser included offenses of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery.

Currently, it is unlawful knowingly to possess material that includes a minor engaged in sexual activity or simulated sexual activity that is patently offensive and each individual image, picture, drawing, photograph, movie or VHS counts as a separate charge, usually classified as a Class D felony. However, if the amount of images reaches more than 50, it constitutes a Class C felony and more than 100 images is considered a Class B felony.

Under Senate Bill 1682 each motion picture, film or video recording will count as 51 images.

The bill passed unanimously and will next be considered before the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

On the Senate floor, final approval was given to three bills protecting children, including legislation which extends the statutes of limitations for some of the more severe cases of child abuse. Senate Bill 1447, sponsored by Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), would extend the statute of limitations to 10 years after the child reaches 18 years of age for aggravated child abuse, child neglect and endangerment.

State Senators also voted to add child abuse, neglect and endangerment, as well as domestic assault, to the list of offenses in Tennessee for which pretrial diversion is not permitted. Pre-trial diversion is the process in which the prosecutor halts the case against a defendant if he or she meets certain conditions like probation, counseling and community service, among others. These crimes involve perpetrators who are in positions of authority over the victims in the vast majority of cases. Senate Bill 1564, which has already passed the House of Representatives, now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature. It is sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston).

Finally, legislation which provides that referees or officials of interscholastic athletic events must submit to a criminal background check has passed. The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) requires a background check under their rules for referees or officials. Senate Bill 2118, sponsored by Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), simply puts those rules in statute to help ensure children are safe from predators. Education employees are already subject to a criminal background check.

Moderating a workforce development panel at the Annual Meeting of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce

Moderating a workforce development panel at the Annual Meeting of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce

Senate Health and Welfare Committee approves legislation calling for more convenient access for women to birth control

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved legislation this week that would give women more convenient access to birth control by allowing them to go directly to a pharmacist to get a prescription. The bill, sponsored by Senator Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), applies to women over the age of 18 and emancipated minors.

It is estimated that in Tennessee more than 50 percent of pregnancies are either unplanned or mistimed.

“This legislation aims to provide timely and convenient access for Tennessee women to birth control,” said Senator Dickerson, who is an anesthesiologist. “Requiring a physician’s prescription can be an obstacle to access and effective use, especially among low-income women, when this can be safely issued by a pharmacist. One of the barriers for women is the fact they need to go to a doctor’s office to get a prescription. Often, this burdens them with missing work or takes them away from their family, resulting in unintended pregnancies.”

Although the authority to permit over-the-counter birth control lies with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Tennessee law can authorize it to be put behind the counter through a prescription issued by the pharmacist. Senate Bill 1677 would only apply to pharmacists who join in a collaborative practice agreement with a physician and complete an approved training program. The woman must complete a risk assessment screening prior to receiving the prescription. The screening tool will be developed by the Board of Pharmacy, Board of Medical Examiners, Board of Osteopathic Examination and the Tennessee Department of Health. The pharmacy would also be allowed to charge a fee for the service under the proposal.

Dr. Leonard Brabson, State Chairman of the College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, testified that in 2014 TennCare spent two-thirds of a billion dollars on pregnancy and child care from birth to the first year of life. About 47 percent of all deliveries in Tennessee are paid for by TennCare. He said the drug is safer than several other medications offered over the counter. “We believe the risks are greatly outweighed by the benefits, therefore our college recommends over-the-counter birth control,” he said.

“Given the large amount of research on oral contraceptives, I believe women can safely make a decision about these medications in collaboration with the pharmacist,” added Senator Dickerson. “The process put into place under this bill makes sure pharmacists are well educated and have physician oversight, while providing safe, affordable and reliable access for women.”

Oregon and California were the first states to allow women to buy birth control without a doctor’s prescription. Oregon’s statute has already been implemented, while California’s law is expected to take effect next month.

In Brief

Agriculture / Seeds — The Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee approved legislation this week which gives the Commissioner of Agriculture authority to regulate seeds that are sold, purchased and planted in Tennessee. Senate Bill 1934, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), aims to reduce the risk of potentially harmful seeds from other parts of the world coming into the state. The Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee unanimously passed the legislation which will next be heard on the Senate Floor.

Earlier Date for Sales Tax Holiday Weekend — The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Revenue Subcommittee gave favorable recommendation to Senate Bill 2239, which would move the sales tax holiday weekend to the last weekend in July. The sales tax holiday assists parents with the high costs of back-to-school supplies, which, according to the National Retail Federation, cost families an average of nearly $670. Current law was put into place before the school calendar changed to an earlier start date. The bill, which is sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) and Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), was brought to the members from their constituents and would allow families to purchase the educational necessities during the sales tax holiday before the school session begins.

Wine in Grocery Stores – State Senators voted this week to allow applicants for a retail food store wine license to seek a certificate of compliance from local government and receive approval letter from the Alcoholic Beverage Commission prior to July 1, 2016. The purpose of Senate Bill 2094 is to allow wholesalers to solicit orders from retail food stores and deliver wine prior to July 1, 2016; however, such wine may not be sold to the public until July 1, 2016. The bill clarifies that a retail package store may deliver to customers without such activity being in connection with a party, special event, tasting, etc. It also clarifies that a person having such items delivered by a retailer is not required to purchase the items at the physical location of the retailer. Retail package store licenses are limited to two per owner under the proposal. The bill is sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro).

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