Summary of Legislation Introduced by Senator Norris and enacted into law during the 107th General Assembly

 

Public Chapter 1 on April 6, 2011
Senate Bill 25 House Bill 51

Local Education Agencies – Public Chapter 1 maps out an orderly process for transferring the responsibilities of a special school district to the county school system, if the result of the transfer doubles the current student population. The bill was passed to ensure a necessary and orderly transitional process before Memphis voters decided to surrender their special school district charter and combine 103,000 students into the 47,000 student Shelby County School system. That action will make the school district the 16th largest in the United States. The effort to consolidate the schools is based on a vague state law put into place many years ago which has never been used. The legislation requires a 21-member Transition Planning Commission to be appointed that would be tasked with formulating and submitting a transition plan guaranteeing the rights of the affected employees and students. The Commission must also come up with a strategy for integrating the two school systems.

Public Chapter 235 on May 25, 2011
Senate Bill 352 House Bill 324

Election Laws – This bill is the next step in our task of preserving the integrity of our election system. This bill requires the Coordinator of Elections to compare the statewide voter registration database with the Department of Safety’s motor vehicle database to ensure non-United States citizens are not registered to vote in this state. Should evidence exist that a registered voter may not be a U.S. citizen, the State Coordinator of Elections shall notify the County Election Commission of such individuals. The County Election Commission shall then notify the individual and request they present proof of citizenship. That individual shall have 30 days to present such evidence. If the voter does not provide evidence of citizenship, the voter shall be purged from the voter registration database. Recently, Colorado compared its voter registration database with its driver’s license records and found more than 11,000 non-citizens on their voter rolls.

Public Chapter 110 on April 28, 2011
Senate Bill 355 House Bill 1787

Alcoholic Beverages – This bill allows the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis the opportunity to obtain a permit to serve alcoholic beverages on premises at events held at the museum. Previously, the museum had to apply for a special permit for each individual event. This was costly and time consuming. Now, the museum has the ability to apply for an annual permit for all of their events.

Public Chapter 222 on May 25, 2011
Senate Bill 356 House Bill 686

Sexual Offenders – This legislation addresses a loophole in our current law. Current law requires registered sexual offenders who are not incarcerated or confined to a nursing home or mental hospital to register with the law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction over the primary or secondary residence, place of physical presence, place of employment, school or institution of higher education where the student is enrolled or, for offenders on supervised probation or parole, the board or court ordered probation officer. It does not, however, specify with whom an offender who is a resident of a halfway house must register. This bill closes that loophole by clarifying that sex offenders who are housed at halfway houses must register and report with the offender’s registering agency.

Public Chapter 68 on April 28, 2011
Senate Bill 598 House Bill 574

Telecommunications – This bill enacts the “Uniform Access, Competition, and Consumer Fairness Act of 2011.” This Act establishes a state requirement that all telephone companies in Tennessee charge other telephone companies the same rate for connecting calls into their network, whether the calls originate inside the state (intrastate access) or outside the state (interstate access). It establishes a transition period during which intrastate access rates will be brought down in equal steps to the same level as interstate access rates. After an agreement was reached among all interested parties, the legislation passed reduces the disparity between intrastate and interstate access fees by a rate of 20 percent each year for the next five years beginning April 1, 2012 and each subsequent April 1. It further establishes February 2011 rates as baseline rates for the start of the transition to prohibit companies from inflating access rates before enactment. This bill permits telephone companies to recoup lost revenue by adjusting retail prices in a competitive environment without having to undergo a long regulatory process and provides the ability for telephone companies to account for permissible increases in interstate access rate changes, which are federally governed, and change their intrastate rates to mirror federal changes.

Public Chapter 182 on May 23, 2011
Senate Bill 599 House Bill 612

Election Laws – Last year, both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee agreed that, after the early and front-loaded 2008 calendar forced candidates to campaign during the holidays, the first four caucus and primary states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina – should be the only states to hold their primary contests in February. Under the new rules – ratified by the RNC at its summer meeting in August – states choosing to hold contests before March 1 would be stripped of their delegates to the convention. This bill changes Tennessee’s presidential primary date from the first Tuesday in February to the first Tuesday in March.

Public Chapter 409 on June 10, 2011
Senate Bill 690 House Bill 1068

Criminal Offenses – Gangs and gang related violence are of ever increasing concern to the citizens of Tennessee. For many years, gangs have desired to strike fear and intimidation into the hearts of anyone that would oppose them, as well as retaliate against rival gangs. One tactic employed by gangs in hope of achieving such outcomes is the “drive-by shooting.” These acts occur too frequently. This bill seeks to hinder the commission of those acts. Since most criminals who commit a drive-by shooting claim that they did not know the home was occupied, the harshest penalty that may be assessed to them is reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon, which only carries a Class E felony charge. This legislation would create an additional section to the “Reckless Endangerment” statutes by adding language to make it a Class C felony for discharging a weapon into a residence that was occupied and a Class D felony if the habitation was unoccupied. These measures add some real “teeth” to the law regarding drive-by shootings and should make gang members think twice about committing such an act.

Public Chapter 116 on April 28, 2011
Senate Bill 930 House Bill 1086

Alcoholic Beverages – This legislation allows the city of Goodlettsville to conduct a referendum for the sale of alcoholic beverages at retail package stores. The need for the bill arises from the fact that the city of Goodlettsville is shared by Davidson and Sumner Counties, and there are existing retail package stores within the Davidson County portion of the city. The 105th General Assembly faced a similar situation in 2007. An Attorney General’s opinion from July 19, 2006 found that if a referendum for liquor-by-the-drink were to be held and should that referendum fail, the existing establishments in the Davidson County portion of Goodlettsville that served liquor-by-the-drink would lose their lawful ability to sell such liquor. The bill further states that if such a referendum should be put and should such a referendum fail, the existing retail package stores within the Davidson County portion of Goodlettsville would not be forced to close.

Public Chapter 48 on April 28, 2011
Senate Bill 931 House Bill 950

Statutes & Codification – The Tennessee Code Commission directs the publication, sale, and distribution of an official compilation of the statutes, codes, and laws of the state. As such, in their compilation of the Tennessee Code Annotated, they are charged with correcting various items such as misspellings and typographical errors. This act simply extends their authority to make stylistic, non-substantive changes, such as removal of periods from acronyms, capitalization exceptions, gender neutrality changes (councilman to council member), elimination of hyphenation, and punctuation errors.

Public Chapter 416 on June 10, 2011
Senate Bill 932 House Bill 1503

Employees, Employers – The General Assembly has passed legislation which makes changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system. The measure aims to put Tennessee in a better competitive situation with neighboring states in regards to the costs of doing business. Review of worker compensation cost data from four companies that have similar facilities in Tennessee and other states show the cost here was 5, 7 and 11 times higher. In a state-to-state comparison of like claims in carpal tunnel syndrome, Tennessee is 100 percent higher than its sister states. The study also shows that state indemnity costs for workers’ compensation rates have risen over the last ten years by 30 percent for permanent partial disability and 45 percent for temporary total disability as compared to a 19.4 percent increase in the consumer price index. Factors contributing to the higher cost include Tennessee’s complicated and unpredictable workers’ compensation system which was open to interpretation, and which encouraged litigation. Another result has been a longer wait time for injured workers to reach a conclusion regarding claims. The bill returns the state’s workers’ compensation to the system in which it was originally intended by calling for a “no-fault” system. The purpose is to replace lost wages when injured employees are medically unable to work and pay for health services and physicians charges due to work-related injuries. The new law aims to reduce lengthy court cases and result in more timely payments to employees. It removes unnecessary and illogical restrictions from the parties’ ability to resolve and settle future medical benefits. Another key element of the legislation is to provide a clear definition of injury in workers’ compensation cases, an important point not addressed in the 2005 reform law. Under the bill, an injury would be “accidental” only if it is caused by a specific incident (or incidents) arising out of and in the course of employment and is “identifiable by time and place of occurrence.” Diseases would be excluded, except when they arise “naturally and are unavoidable” due to the worker’s employment. The opinion of a selected physician from the employer’s designated panel would be presumed correct regarding the cause of an injury unless the contrary is proved by a preponderance of the evidence.

Public Chapter 257 on May 25, 2011
Senate Bill 935 House Bill 794

Election Laws – This legislation addresses a recent court decision that held Tennessee’s policy for recognition of a minor political party to be unconstitutional. Specifically, the court held that Tennessee’s requirement of party membership on petitioning requests is unconstitutional. This bill removes that provision. Further, this bill retains the current signature requirement for recognition of 2.5% of the total number of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial race. If a candidate fails to receive the amount of signatures of qualified voters by the first Thursday in April deadline, the candidate would still appear on the November ballot as an Independent. This legislation marks the end of over 25 years of Democrat-led resistance to allowing more statewide parties on the Tennessee ballot.

Public Chapter 228 on May 25, 2011
Senate Bill 1158 House Bill 758

Mortgages – In 2009, the legislature passed the “Tennessee Residential Lending, Brokerage and Servicing Act.” This bill corrects a problem encountered in that legislation by allowing owner-financed mortgages to take place as long as the owner completes no more than 5 transactions in a 1-year period.

Public Chapter 382 on June 3, 2011
Senate Bill 1161 House Bill 1203

Taxes, Exemption and Credits – Up until a few years ago, the family housing on Fort Campbell was built and operated by the federal government. Through a land lease, the family housing there is now being built by a public-private partnership. The State of Kentucky does not charge Franchise & Excise tax, whereas Tennessee does. Since the family housing will be located on base and because Fort Campbell is located in Kentucky and Tennessee, this bill seeks to grant an exemption from F & E taxes for entities building family housing on Fort Campbell premises. The implementation of this bill will allow more family housing to be built in Tennessee to stay competitive with Kentucky and, most importantly, to benefit the men and women stationed at Fort Campbell and their families.

Public Chapter 72 on April 28, 2011
Senate Bill 1520 House Bill 1992

Taxes – This legislation delays the implementation of the Streamlined Sales Tax from July 1, 2011 to July 1, 2013.

Public Chapter 510 on June 21, 2011
Senate Bill 1522 House Bill 2008

Civil Procedure – This bill enacts the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011 and brings about major changes in tort reform. This bill is designed to provide certainty and predictability for businesses, while ensuring that injured plaintiffs receive all of the economic, quantifiable damages they suffer. Tennessee’s current civil justice law puts the state at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting new businesses and jobs, especially since it is one of the few in the Southeast which has yet to reign in lawsuit abuse through tort reform.

Key provisions of the measure include:

• The bill limits the maximum appeal bond amount from $75 million to $25 million or 125 percent of the judgment amount.
• It defines two components of compensatory damages: economic and non-economic damages.
• The measure places a cap on non-economic damages, which are subjective damages like pain and suffering, at $750,000 per injured plaintiff for both healthcare liability action and other personal injury actions. However, if the harm suffered is intentional, the caps would not apply.
• As amended, the bill raises the cap to $1.0 million if the plaintiff becomes a paraplegic or quadriplegic because of spinal cord injury, sustains third degree burns over 40 percent or more of his or her body or face, has an amputation of a hand or foot, or wrongfully dies leaving one or more minor children.
• There is no cap, under the measure, on economic damages and any damages that can be objectively quantified may be recovered.
• Caps punitive damages, which must be proved by clear and convincing evidence, at two times compensatory damage or $500,000, whichever is greater unless the defendant intended to injure the plaintiff, was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or intentionally falsified records to avoid liability.
• Prevents punitive damages in products liability actions, unless the seller had substantial control over the design or manufacturing of the product or had actual knowledge of the defect in the product at the time it was sold.

Public Chapter 466 on June 15, 2011
Senate Bill 1523 House Bill 1989

Schools, Charter – This bill aims to create an environment that promotes the growth of high quality charter schools, allows districts access to innovative tools to address their unique challenges, and gives many more parents the option of sending their child to a school that better suits his or her needs.

Key provisions of the new law include:

• Removes the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the state
• Allows for open enrollment in charter schools (removes eligibility restrictions while maintaining current system that gives preference to certain applicants and provides for a lottery system when applications exceed the number of seats available in the school)
• Gives preference in the application process to proposed charter schools that demonstrate a capability to support certain high-need populations
• Provides the Achievement School District with the ability to authorize charter schools within the district
• Allows for appeal of charter revocation or nonrenewal to State Board of Education except when those decisions are based on the current AYP accountability guidelines for charters (maintains high accountability standards)
• Removes “automatic repeal” provision so that there is no automatic sunset date on the charter law
• Allows a local education agency to deny charter school applications if a local education agency demonstrates that opening the school would create a substantial negative fiscal impact that would be contrary to the best interest of their students, district or community.

Public Chapter 70 on April 28, 2011
Senate Bill 1528 House Bill 2012

Teachers, Principals and School Personnel – Building upon last year’s First to the Top legislation, this bill reformulated the process for teachers to obtain tenure. This act:

• Extends teacher tenure probationary period from three to five years
• Ties the teacher evaluation system to tenure eligibility and requires a teacher to score in the top two (out of a total of five) effectiveness categories on the evaluation in the two years immediately preceding becoming eligible for tenure
• Expands the definition of “inefficiency” as a grounds for dismissal of a tenured teacher to include evaluations demonstrating an overall performance effectiveness level that is “below expectations” or “significantly below expectations”
• For teachers tenured after the enactment of the new law, it requires a return to probationary status after two consecutive years scoring in the bottom two effectiveness categories of the evaluation
• Moves non-renewal deadline from May 15 to June 15

Public Chapter 437 on June 15, 2011
Senate Bill 1529 House Bill 2010

Lottery, Scholarships and Programs – Last year, we passed the Complete College Tennessee Act with the goal of raising educational attainment rates in Tennessee by promoting and incentivizing college completion. In keeping with that goal, the legislature passed a new law to give students the option to attend summer classes in order to progress and graduate in a timely manner. Current law allows up to five years on the lottery scholarship but does not include funding for summer semesters. The legislation passed this year redefines “academic year” for the purpose of the lottery scholarship program to include the summer semester. It also allows colleges and universities to better utilize their buildings and campuses all year long.

The measure also places a 120-hour cap on lottery funding, with exceptions allowed for programs that require more than 120 hours for completion. It will apply to students who first received a lottery scholarship in the fall semester of 2010 or thereafter. For those students who will be subject to the 120-hour cap, courses taken this summer (2011) that do not receive lottery funding will not count against their cap.

Public Chapter 81 on April 28, 2011
Senate Bill 1531 House Bill 1991

Driver Licenses – This bill places Tennessee in compliance with Federal regulations governing commercial driver licenses and commercial motor vehicles. Current law only allows the Department of Safety to request a suspension of a commercial driver license within six months of a commercial motor vehicle violation. Federal regulations do not have this restriction. This bill removes that provision.

Public Chapter 142 on May 10, 2011
Senate Bill 1532 House Bill 1996

Criminal Procedure – This legislation deals with individuals who are acquitted of felony charges by reason of insanity. Currently the criminal court must order the person to be diagnosed and evaluated on an outpatient basis. The evaluation is performed by the community mental health agency or a licensed private practitioner designated by the Commissioner of Mental Health. This bill authorizes the court to have the individual detained until such evaluation can be performed.

Public Chapter 158 on May 10, 2011
Senate Bill 1533 House Bill 1997

Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities – This act cleans up outdated references such as “mental retardation” and replaces them with more appropriate terms such as “intellectual and developmental disabilities.” The act also redefines a “developmental disability” to read:
in a person over five years of age means a condition that:

(1) Is attributable to a mental or physical impairment;
(2) Is manifested before 22 years of age;
(3) Is likely to continue indefinitely;
(4) Results in substantial functional limitations in three or more of the following major life activities: self-care, receptive and expressive language, learning, mobility, self-direction, capacity for independent living, and economic self-sufficiency; and
(5) Reflects the person’s need for a combination and sequence of special, interdisciplinary, or generic services, supports, or other assistance that is likely to continue indefinitely and to need to be individually planned and coordinated.

Further, this act states that the eligibility criteria for medical assistance programs and services for persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities would be established by the Bureau of TennCare, and set forth in the medicaid state plan, federal waivers, or in rules promulgated by the Bureau of TennCare, and would be subject to the availability of funding in each year’s general appropriations act. Similarly, eligibility criteria for state-funded programs and services for persons with intellectual or developmental disabilities would be established by the department of intellectual and developmental disabilities and set forth in department rules, and would be subject to the availability of funding in each year’s general appropriations act.

Public Chapter 275 on May 25, 2011
Senate Bill 1535 House Bill 2006

Juvenile Offenders – Present law governing juvenile court proceedings provides that a proceeding may be commenced only in the county in which the child resides, or, if delinquent or unruly conduct is alleged, the proceeding may be commenced in the county in which the delinquent or unruly acts occurred. This bill adds that if unruly conduct is alleged against a child in the custody of the Department of Children’s Services, the proceeding may be brought in the juvenile court exercising continuing jurisdiction or it may be brought in the juvenile court that issued the order granting custody to DCS.

Public Chapter 100 on April 28, 2011
Senate Bill 1537 House Bill 1999

Banks and Financial Institutions – This is housekeeping legislation that allows the conference of state bank supervisors and the money transmitter regulators association to the list of entities which the department of financial institutions may release confidential information to concerning licensees and applicants, if such organizations enter into confidentiality agreements with the commissioner.

Public Chapter 206 on May 25, 2011
Senate Bill 1538 House Bill 2004

Department of Commerce & Insurance – This bill revises certain provisions of the Tennessee Health Carrier Grievance and External Review Procedure Act by authorizing the Commissioner of Commerce & Insurance to requires assignments of independent review organizations on a random basis if random assignments are required by the U.S. department of health and human services. This amendment authorizes the commissioner to use emergency rulemaking procedures to implement the random assignments.

Public Chapter 344 on June 3, 2011
Senate Bill 1539 House Bill 2005

Insurance, Health, Accident – Currently, insurance companies that issue policies of health insurance in this state to individuals must file any request for a premium rate increase with the Department of Commerce & Insurance for approval before effectuating the rate increase. This bill changes existing language in the insurance law relative to the procedure for the Department’s review of an insurance company’s request for a premium rate increase. If the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determines that a state’s review of an insurance company’s health insurance rates is inadequate, they will have authority over approval or denial of rate increases. The Department of Commerce & Insurance does not currently have the authority to approve or deny filings of rate increases for small group plans. This bill authorizes the commissioner to approve or deny small group rate increases. HHS regulations state that they will assume a state’s rate review process to be sufficient if they address the following 12 factors that impact rates:

1. Medical trend changes by major service categories
2. Utilization changes by major service categories
3. Cost-sharing changes by major service categories
4. Benefit changes
5. Changes in enrollee risk profile
6. Impact of over- or under-estimate of medical trend in previous years on the current rate
7. Reserve needs
8. Administrative costs related to programs that improve health care quality
9. Other administrative costs
10. Applicable taxes, licensing or regulatory fees
11. Medical loss ratio
12. The health insurance issuer’s risk-based capital status relative to national standards.

Public Chapter 468 on June 15, 2011
Senate Bill 1540 House Bill 2007

Insurance Companies, Agents, Brokers, Policies – This bill updates Tennessee’s captive insurance statues. Captive insurers are a special form of insurance company that insures risks of related entities and closely-managed companies. This bill expands the types of captive insurance forms available in the state and the insurance coverage allowed to be underwritten. With this overhaul of our captive insurance laws, Tennessee may become an attractive captive insurer domicile, creating a cottage industry for risk management and contributing to the economy of the state.

Public Chapter 473 on June 21, 2011
Senate Bill 2090 House Bill 2139

Appropriations – The budget represents an overall 3.7 percent decrease from the $32 billion budget adopted last year. It maintains essential government services by focusing reductions in administrative areas to minimize any impact felt by Tennessee taxpayers. It continues the commitment to education by fully funding the Basic Education Program, provides Hall Tax relief for seniors, and does not increase taxes on Tennesseans.

The budget, which is based on a realistically conservative 3.7 percent revenue growth, includes $82.2 million in specific recurring reductions which are necessary as part of the multi-year budget plan to bring the budget back into balance.

The budget legislation contains the following highlights:

• Supports economic development and the opportunity for nearly $5 billion in new investment and more than 5,000 jobs
• Funds the Basic Education Program
• Provides a salary increase for state employees, teachers and higher education for the first time in four years
• For the first time in three years, the state will add to the Rainy Day Fund (which is essentially the state’s savings account) and not reduce the reserves
• For the first time in three years, the budget is balanced on a recurring to non-recurring basis
• Fully funds the inflationary costs for TennCare and CoverKids
• Fully restores the Agriculture Enhancement Program
• Allocates $71.3 million in state funding to assist with Disaster Relief Grants, as well as $9 million for sales tax relief from disaster-related recovery expenses
• Provides $1 million for Hall Income Tax relief for eligible seniors 65 years of age and older
• Allocates money to give HOPE scholars the ability to utilize their scholarships during summer school
• Provides $100 million in capital outlay funds for higher education capital projects and maintenance
• Anticipates that additional funding may become available based on money owed to Tennessee for Medicaid overcharge from the federal government, which if received will be used to delay certain reductions in TennCare

The budget represents a multi-year strategy to lower the size of government by making thoughtful reductions in all areas of state government. Tennessee is in better economic condition than most states, many of whom are struggling to stay afloat amid huge budget deficits. In the previous three years, Tennessee had already reduced discretionary spending by 21 percent. Financial experts have also placed Tennessee among the best states in the nation in terms of low indebtedness and unfunded liabilities.

 

Comments are closed.