Several new Tennessee laws take effect on Friday
Published 9:26 am Tuesday, December 29, 2015
With the coming of a new year on Friday, several new laws will be hitting the books in Tennessee — including the creation of an Animal Abuser Registry, increased fines for motorists not wearing seatbelts, and a ban on selling certain cough syrups to persons under the age of 18.
Some of the new laws going into effect on Jan. 1, 2016, are aimed at helping to make our highways safer.
As of Friday, the fines for persons not wearing their seatbelts will more than double.
Currently the fine for a first offense of not wearing a seatbelt is $10 but on Friday, that fine will increase to $25. Repeat offenders currently face a $20 fine for not wearing their seatbelts, but with the new year that fee is increasing to $50.
The goal of fine increase, according to lawmakers who supported the proposal, is to encourage more people to buckle up when they take to the highways.
Another measure aimed at improving driver safety will kick into effect on Jan. 1, but it may be a year before the law is fully implemented.
Maintaining vehicle liability insurance has been mandatory in Tennessee for about 40 years, but when the “James Lee Atwood Jr. Law” goes into full effect that requirement will become more enforceable.
A new law will eventually require all Tennessee County Court Clerks to confirm insurance compliance before issuing new vehicle registration tags.
Beginning on Jan. 1, 2016, the state is charged with creating an electronic database of vehicle insurance policies issued in the state of Tennessee. The creation of the database will allow the County Court Clerks and law enforcement officers to electronically confirm whether or not a person has an active vehicle insurance policy. Under the terms of the new law, the database is supposed to be up and running by Jan. 1, 2017.
The new law also provides stiffer penalties —such as increased fees and revocation of vehicle registrations — to people who fail to comply with the state’s insurance requirement.
The law is named after the late James Lee Atwood Jr., of Memphis, who was killed in 2014 in an accident involving an uninsured driver. The uninsured driver had been pulled over earlier that day and cited for not having insurance, but with the current laws could not be prevented from driving on.
The new law also includes a provision which will allow police to have a vehicle towed from the scene if it is found to be uninsured.
One of the new laws taking effect Friday will prohibit the sale of cough medications containing dextromethorphan to persons under the age of 18.
Dextromethorphan, also know as DXM, is a common ingredient in cough and combination cold medications. However, in recent years, an alarming trend has emerged as teens have used the cough medicine as a means of getting high.
“Taking huge doses of cough medicine to get high may sound revolting. In fact, you might assume it’s just an obscure fringe thing. But it’s not,” a WebMD article on DXM said. “A 2008 study found that one in 10 American teenagers has abused products with DXM to get high, making it more popular in that age group than cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, and meth. Although DXM products are quite safe when taken as recommended, high doses can cause hallucinogenic trips — and pose serious risks.”
Starting on Friday, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is required under state law to maintain and make public a listing of persons convicted of animal abuse offenses on or after Jan. 1, 2016. Those individuals convicted of animal abuse offenses prior to Jan. 1, 2016 will not be listed in the Animal Abuser Registry.
The new state law specifies that the registry shall be maintained on the TBI’s website, much like the state’s Sexual Offender Registry is.
The law defines an animal as “a companion animal,” such as dogs and cats, and does not include animals classified as “livestock” or “wildlife.”
After Jan. 1, 2016, any person convicted of an animal abuse offense — such as cruelty to animals or animal fighting — will be added to the state’s Animal Abuser Registry. The court clerk is required to forward a copy of the judgement to the TBI within 60 calendar days of the date of the judgement.
The registry listing will include a photograph taken of the convicted animal abuser as part of the booking process, the convicted person’s full legal name and “other identifying data as the TBI determines necessary to properly identify the animal abuser and to exclude innocent persons,” according to the terms of the law.
When a person is convicted of an animal abuse offense for the first time, they will be added to the Animal Abuser Registry for a period of two years following the date of their conviction. At the end of the two years, they will be removed from the list provided that they have not been convicted of another animal abuse offense during that two-year time period.
If a person is convicted of a second or subsequent animal abuse offense, they will be added to the Animal Abuser Registry for five years from the date of their most recent conviction. At the end of the five years, the TBI will remove the person from the registry, provided they have not be convicted of any additional animal abuse offenses during that five-year period.