March 26, 2016

Easter is a time of new beginnings. For those of other faiths, or no faith at all, take heart in our celebration of the Resurrection.

The wisdom of C.S. Lewis comes to mind:

“It cost God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost Him crucifixion.”

We all need new beginnings. This week, we stood in silence in the Senate to pay homage to the victims of terrorism in Brussels. Last week, before the bombings, I happened to catch this image of the Belgian Flag unfurled at the base of Rockefeller Center.

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I offered a word of prayer in the Senate:

“Heavenly Father, we pause to pray for those maimed, missing and slaughtered by terrorists in Brussels this week; to pray for their loved ones; and to pray for your guidance as we seek the proper way forward in these uncertain times. We confide our trust in you that your will be done and that the peace which passeth all understanding shall prevail.”

Here’s to new beginnings. Happy Easter!

Mark

4H Members from Shelby & Tipton Counties visit Senator Norris during “Ag Day on the Hill” this week

4H Members from Shelby & Tipton Counties visit Senator Norris during “Ag Day on the Hill” this week

Right to Farm Act

Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) protecting Tennessee’s farming industry was given final approval this week as the General Assembly recognized “Ag Week.” Senate Bill 2591, which amends the Right to Farm Act, clamps down on illegitimate nuisance suits by removing the standard regarding nuisance actions on new types of farming operations. The bill requires the same burden of proof for nuisance action for these farms as used in established farming operations. The measure 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.

Legislation aims to stop the selling of fetal remains in Tennessee

Action in the Tennessee General Assembly continued to shift from legislative committees to the floor of the Senate this week as lawmakers look towards adjournment in April. Committees worked diligently to advance a number of key bills, including legislation proposed by Governor Bill Haslam and sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) which addresses concerns raised last year regarding the selling of human fetal tissue. The “Fetal Remains Act,” seeks to stop the possibility of abortion clinics selling fetal remains by properly equipping the Tennessee Department of Health to be able to identify this practice.

Senate Bill 2568 requires increased reporting of the disposition of fetal remains, prohibits reimbursement of any costs associated with shipping an aborted fetus or fetal remains and establishes a mandatory interim assessment process for an ambulatory surgical treatment center performing more than 50 abortions annually. At present, any abortion performed in Tennessee must be reported to the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) within 10 days of the procedure. This bill adds the requirement that, for a surgical abortion, physicians must also report the method of disposition of the fetal remains and, in the event the remains were transferred to a third party, the name and address of the third party and date of transfer. For facilities performing 50 or more surgical abortions per year, these facilities must maintain a record of such reports and produce the reports to TDH during inspections under the legislation.

In addition to the current ban on the sale or purchase of fetal tissue, this bill adds language to make clear that reimbursement for any costs associated with the preparation, preservation, transfer, shipping or handling of an aborted fetus or fetal tissue is also a Class E felony. The legislation requires the mother’s authorization for disposition of the fetus that results from a surgical abortion to be included as part of the informed consent process prior to the procedure, as well.

Finally, the bill requires that any facility performing more than 50 surgical abortions per year must perform interim assessments of their compliance with the Board of Licensing Health Care Facilities on specified measures and report on sentinel events. Facilities with deficiencies will develop an acceptable plan of correction. These assessments will provide for a more robust on-site inspection by TDH and help foster a continuous culture of compliance.

Senator Norris speaking to the Capitol Hill Media

Senator Norris speaking to the Capitol Hill Media

Legislation giving teachers and principals a choice whether to use 2015-2016 TNReady assessment goes to the Governor

Legislation giving teachers and principals the choice whether to include student results from the 2015-2016 TNReady assessment in his or her evaluation is now on its way to the governor for his signature after the Senate and House of Representatives approved the measure this week. The bill, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) provides additional flexibility for educators, while supporting Tennessee’s continuing efforts to strengthen teaching, learning, and accountability.

The bill comes after technological problems were experienced with the state’s new online assessment last month. The glitches resulted in an unexpected transition from the online test to a paper format.

Under Senate Bill 2508, the option that results in the highest score will automatically be selected. Educators will be able to log into TNCompass, the state’s new licensure and evaluation portal, to see which calculation benefited them the most and was ultimately incorporated into their evaluation. This information will be available in late summer or early fall when teacher’s composite evaluation scores become available. If at any point in this three-year transition an educator’s evaluation would not benefit by including the student growth data from the 2015-16 TNReady test, he or she can have that data excluded.

Similarly, a safe harbor will be provided for schools. The department will run the Priority School list excluding 2015-2016-2017 school years. However, if removing the first year of TNReady data moves a school out of the bottom five percent, that school will not be considered a priority school. The safe harbor provision will not result in any additional schools being added to the list.

The bill will become effective upon the governor’s signature.

In Brief

DUI / Finger Prints — The Senate and House of Representatives gave final approval to legislation this week calling 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). The measure is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).

VETS Campuses — Legislation passed the full Senate this week that will make the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) program available to private, non-profit institutions of higher education throughout the state. The highly successful VETS program, authored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), was passed into law in 2014. It encourages colleges and universities to prioritize outreach to veterans and successfully deliver the services necessary to create a supportive environment where student veterans can prosper while pursuing their education. Currently, there are 13 public institutions that can claim VETS Campus Certification. The certification recognizes and promotes schools that make veteran enrollment a priority. Higher education institutions that satisfy veteran-friendly criteria, such as specialized orientation and the availability of mentoring programs, can receive the designation. Senate Bill 2598, which is also sponsored by Senator Norris, is now awaiting a signature from Governor Haslam before becoming law.

Welfare Fraud –The full Senate approved legislation that would increase the penalty for TennCare fraud from a Class E felony to a Class D felony. Senate Bill 2548 increases the term of imprisonment from 1 – 6 years to 2 – 12 years and imposes a mandatory fine, in addition to restitution, in the amount of $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense, and $1,000 for a third offense. The legislation aims to ensure that TennCare services are fully available to those who require it most, as fraud hinders the state’s ability to serve the interests of those Tennesseans who need it most. It is sponsored by Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson) and is part of Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative priorities.

Earlier Date for Sales Tax Holiday Weekend — The full Senate has approved 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 purpose of the bill is to allow families to purchase the educational necessities during the sales tax holiday before the school session begins. The measure is sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald).

Handgun Permitting Act — The “Efficiency in Handgun Permitting Act” has received final Senate approval and is on its way to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature. The bill, which is sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), aims to improve the process for gun owners and lowers the fee associated with obtaining a handgun carry permit. Senate Bill 2566 was given approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is part of a package of bills submitted to the legislature by Governor Bill Haslam. The legislation extends the current five-year handgun carry permit to eight years, lowers the initial handgun permit fee from $115 for five years to $100 for eight years and expands the renewal cycle from six months to eight years after the expiration of a permit before a person must reapply as a “new” applicant. Under the legislation, background checks will continue to be conducted at the time of initial issuance and at the time of renewal. Additionally, an internal background check will be conducted in the fourth year of the eight-year permit without charge. It also gives a member of the armed forces, whose permit does not expire while deployed until two months after their return to Tennessee, the same eight-year period after expiration that a civilian has to renew a permit before having to reapply as a new applicant.

Students with F1 or M1 Visas – Legislation was passed by the full Senate this week authorizing the Commissioner of the Department of Safety and Homeland Security to issue a subpoena for valid law enforcement purposes to an institution of higher education regarding students who are in Tennessee on F-1 or M-1 visas. The purpose of the Senate Bill 2394 is to give the Department of Safety and Homeland Security more information about those students who are here on a student visa but are not attending classes. F1 visa and M1 visa are the two categories of visas that are issued to international students who wish to study in the U.S. The subpoena would compel the production of the following information from higher education institutions in Tennessee: the number of non-immigrant students who possess an F-1 or M-1 visa for instruction enrolled at an institution at the beginning and end of a period of study; and the names and addresses of non-immigrant students who were enrolled at the beginning of a period of study, but were not enrolled at the end of the period of study.

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