March 11, 2016

Elvis Presley in the House Chamber March 8, 1961.

Elvis Presley in the House Chamber March 8, 1961.

On Wednesday, March 8, 1961, the General Assembly convened in a Joint Convention at 11:00am, “being the hour set by Senate joint Resolution No. 52”.

From the House Journal:

“Mr. President Baird appointed a committee composed of … [eleven Senators and Representatives] to escort Governor Ellington, Elvis Presley, and their party into the Chamber of the House.”

Elvis had come to the General Assembly.

As the Speaker of the Senate, William Baird, understated, “The House Chamber is quite crowded.” The Speaker is then heard to say, “If any lady faints, please let Elvis catch her.”

The image above is from the Tennessee State Library and Archives, TSLA Photograph Database. Speaker of the Senate (and President of the Joint Convention) William Baird is behind Elvis to Elvis’ right; Speaker of the House James Bomar is behind Elvis to Elvis’ left. Governor Buford Ellington is to Elvis’ right on the left side of the image.

Senator Norris with members of the Tennessee Humane Society in Nashville this week

Senator Norris with members of the Tennessee Humane Society in Nashville this week

Legislation strengthening Tennessee’s DUI laws advances in Senate

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a major bill this week strengthening Tennessee’s DUI laws. The proposal, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), requires immediate sharing of an impaired driver’s DUI arrest and conviction history with law enforcement, the courts and the National Crime Information Centers (NCIC).

The legislation stems from a tragic crash in Mississippi involving the deaths of two Shelby County students by a driver who carried five convictions for first offense DUI and was out on bond for his sixth DUI. Records revealed that three counties and one municipality in Mississippi failed to inform the Mississippi Department of Public Safety about the convictions so that it could be put into the NCIC database. The NCIC database is accessible by law enforcement officers in their squad cars to check the criminal background of arrestees.

“This is inexcusable,” said Leader Norris. “This legislation helps to ensure that multiple DUI offenders do not fall through the cracks and return to the roads where they are a danger to everyone who crosses their path. Our judges need to be fully informed if an offender has a prior history so that appropriate action can be taken by the court from the onset.”

The Mississippi and Tennessee legislatures are moving similar legislation to address the sharing of information in DUI cases, as well as conditions related to bail for defendants with prior alcohol-related offenses and the procedure for revoking bond. Specifically, Senate Bill 2576:

  • Requires that after an arrest but before a bail hearing, a criminal background check shall be run using all available databases to determine prior arrests for DUI offenses;
  • Creates the procedure for a bail revocation hearing if the defendant violates a condition of release, is charged with an offense during release or engages in conduct which results in the obstruction of the orderly and expeditious progress of the trial or other proceedings; and
  • Makes special conditions on bail mandatory when the defendant has one or more prior alcohol-related convictions, including ignition interlock devices, transdermal monitoring devices or other alcohol monitoring devices, electronic monitoring with random alcohol or drug testing or pre-trial residency in an in-patient alcohol or drug rehabilitation center;

If being monitored is a condition of bail, the legislation requires the defendant must periodically report to the supervisor every 30 days to verify proper operation of the monitoring device and the court must be notified upon any violation.

Another bill sponsored by Norris and approved by the committee calls for timely transmission of fingerprints taken for vehicular impairment offenses. Senate Bill 2577 requires that when fingerprints are taken for these offenses, they must be sent within five business days if by mail or two business days if done electronically. The proposal further requires that when a person is convicted of a vehicular impairment offense, the final court order must be sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) by the court clerk within seven business days if by mail or up to five business days if electronically for entry into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Similarly, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), which gives judges the discretion to order monitoring for first time DUI offenders. The monitoring can include a transdermal monitoring device, electronic monitoring with random alcohol and drug testing, GPS monitoring or any device a judge believes necessary to ensure that the offender complies with probation conditions and a clinical assessment, if applicable.

“This legislation simply ensures that a judge has the discretion to order the most appropriate monitoring device given not all offenses are due to alcohol,” said Sen. Overbey.

Another bill sponsored by Overbey and that passed through the committee this week, authorizes the use of the state’s Interlock Assistance Fund for transdermal monitoring devices or other alternative alcohol or drug monitoring devices when a court determines that an offender is unable to pay for it. The measure caps the assistance to $200 per month for each device. The name of the fund would be changed to the DUI Monitoring Fund under the bill.

Finally, the full Senate voted this week to approve a measure creating a DUI memorial signing program. The “Tyler Head Law,” sponsored by Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), upon request, erects and maintains memorial signs on the state highway system commemorating residents of Tennessee who died as a result of a DUI related accident.

“It’s not only an opportunity to memorialize those who have tragically lost their lives to drunk drivers, but will serve to remind Tennesseans of the danger of driving under the influence,” Roberts said. “The signs, which will cost very little, will be a very visible tool in our efforts to combat driving under the influence.”

There is an average of 70-80 of DUI-related fatalities in the state annually. Senate Bill 1730 is named after Tyler Head, a Springfield college student who was killed by an impaired driver while driving to Austin Peay State University in February 2012.

Senator Norris with Justice Holly Kirby of the Tennessee Supreme Court and Debi Taylor Tate, the Executive Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts

Senator Norris with Justice Holly Kirby of the Tennessee Supreme Court
and Debi Taylor Tate, the Executive Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts

Legislation protecting Tennessee farms advances

Legislation protecting Tennessee’s farming industry advanced in the Senate this week as the Judiciary Committee approved an amendment to the state’s Right to Farm Act. Senate Bill 2591 clamps down on illegitimate nuisance suits by removing the standard regarding nuisance actions on new types of farming operations. The bill, which is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), requires the same burden of proof for nuisance action for these farms as used in established farming operations.

“If you look at the state seal, the wording most prominent across the middle is ‘agriculture,” said Senator Norris. “Agriculture remains the biggest business that Tennessee embraces and at the same time, we’re concerned about the continued loss of farm land and farm operations, not only across the United States, but here in Tennessee, as well. As development expands and land use changes, those in the farming business need to be vouchsafe. They need to have their heritage and their livelihood, the opportunity to pursue it, preserved. This bill helps in those efforts.”

The proposal establishes a rebuttable presumption that a farm is not a public or private nuisance unless overcome by a preponderance of the evidence that either the farm does not conform to generally accepted agricultural practices or those set by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Conservation. The bill would not affect legitimate cases of nuisance like the improper use of pesticides, herbicides or disposing of waste improperly.

“This bill removes the standard as it relates to new types of farming operations, simply saying that if you’re farming, you’re farming and you have a rebuttable presumption. There is no distinction between existing’ and new types of farms,” Norris continued.

The measure now goes to the floor of the Senate where it could be scheduled as early as next week.

In other farm news this week, the full Senate approved legislation 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 bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

Senator Norris & Rep. Jimmy Eldridge with visiting members of the Tennessee Farm Bureau

Senator Norris & Rep. Jimmy Eldridge with visiting members of the Tennessee Farm Bureau

Legislation aiming to cut fraud and abuse in Tennessee’s welfare system approved by State Senate

Legislation aiming to reduce fraud and abuse in Tennessee’s welfare system was approved by the State Senate this week. The proposal, sponsored by Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), makes substantial changes to the way the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) contracts and monitors third-party agencies that receive taxpayer money to feed children and adults.

The legislation comes after comptroller audits and investigations that identified financial mismanagement and fraud within some of the federal food programs administered by DHS. Approximately $80 million flows through DHS for program services.

Senate Bill 1472 directs DHS to conduct background checks on each applicant of the subrecipient or sponsoring organization. It also requires sponsoring organizations applying to participate in any food program administered through the department to obtain and maintain a performance bond. If the contract is awarded, the department must perform both unannounced and announced physical site visits during the subrecipient monitoring process and report their findings. Similarly, DHS must develop sub-recipient monitoring plans, under the bill, utilizing analytical procedures that must be submitted to certain legislative leaders and the state comptroller on an annual basis. In addition, the bill requires the inspector general of DHS must submit a report summarizing the results of any substantiated investigations concerning fraud, waste and abuse regarding the child and adult care food program and summer food service program every three months.

The bill is pending action in the Finance, Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives.

In Brief

Government Accountability / State Audits — The State Senate approved a bill this week that would make it a Class A misdemeanor criminal offense for a supervisor or employee of state government to intentionally interfere with, impede, obstruct or limit access to information that is requested during an audit conducted by the Comptroller of the Treasury. Audits provide information to assist the legislature in overseeing the use of public funds and the efficient operation of government. Senate Bill 1649, sponsored by Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), now goes to the House of Representatives where it is pending action in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

Epinephrine / Law Enforcement Officers — Legislation allowing law enforcement officers to administer epinephrine in emergency situations was approved by State Senators this week. Epinephrine injection is used along with emergency medical treatment to treat life-threatening allergic reactions caused by insect bites or stings, foods, medications, latex and other causes. Senate Bill 1767, sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), is permissible legislation that authorizes use of epinephrine if the officer’s law enforcement agency has adopted a protocol governing its administration. The bill also authorizes physicians to prescribe epinephrine to law enforcement agencies and provides immunity from civil liability for the law enforcement officer or agency, physician and pharmacist, unless they act in reckless disregard for safety.

Schools / Bullying – Final approval was given this week to a bill which aims to improve Tennessee’s bullying law. Senate Bill 2002 requires that school policy include a procedure for referral of appropriate counseling and support services for students involved in bullying when deemed necessary. The measure also requires that investigations of incidences reported must be prompt and immediate, with principals or their designees initiating an investigation within 20 school days unless more time is needed to appropriately document it. The principal must then inform parents or legal guardians of the incident and the availability of intervention services for the student. In addition, the bill expands current reporting requirements of bullying incidents to the Tennessee Department of Education. Presently, the report only includes the number of incidents. The proposal adds to that report where an investigation supported a finding and the type of bullying identified, as well as the manner in which it was resolved. Finally, the bill encourages each local education agency to review their policy prohibiting harassment, intimidation, bullying or cyberbullying at least once every three years and transmit any changes made to the Commissioner of Education in a timely manner. The bill is sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro).

Defibrillators / Schools — Legislation received final approval in the State Senate on Wednesday to help ensure school personnel have training in how to use automatic external defibrillators (AED). Senate Bill 2088 expands the “Tanner Lee Jameson Act” by requiring schools which have AEDs to include training in the lifesaving device as part of those school’s previously scheduled staff meetings or in-service days on an annual basis. It also requires the instruction be included in the school’s curriculum for juniors and seniors in high school. The Tanner Lee Jameson Act, which was passed in 2010, required that schools must place an AED in the gym, and if there is no gym, it must be in a readily accessible location. Jameson died on June 26, 2009 when he collapsed during his middle school basketball game. According the American Heart Association when CPR is performed correctly and an AED is used, survival chances almost triple compared to those who do not receive CPR or an AED. The bill is sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville).

Prescription Safety Act – Legislation which makes permanent the comprehensive prescription reform set forth in Tennessee’s Prescription Safety Act of 2012 has been approved. That law ensured that healthcare professionals tap into the state’s Controlled Substance Monitoring System when prescribing certain scheduled drugs. Senate Bill 2552 is in response to both the Governor’s Prescription for Success, a multi-year strategic plan to curb opiate abuse, and the 2015 comptroller’s audit of the state’s controlled substance monitoring database and prescription safety laws. In both documents, it was determined that while the state is making great strides in combating the prescription drug epidemic gripping the nation, more can be done. This proposal removes the sunset put in the 2012 public chapter and would seek to remove exemptions from reporting and checking of the controlled substance monitoring database recognized by the comptroller as potential loopholes. Further it increases the state’s ability to partner with federal agencies and other states to share de-identified information to stop prescription leakage from Tennessee’s borders, while still protecting patient records. This proposal, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), makes bold but reasonable strides in cutting back the prescription opioids flooding Tennessee streets, while not overburdening healthcare practitioner’s care.

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