GOP introduces bill to protect first responders
BY REP. JOHN HOLSCLAW
Republican leaders last week advanced legislation aimed at further protecting first responders through the Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday. House Bill 511 was amended to add new language under the current definition of terrorism that creates new protections for law enforcement, paramedics, firefighters, correctional officers, department of corrections employees, and other emergency medical rescue workers. The bill raises the offense of murdering an on-duty first responder for their profession to an act of terrorism. If convicted, the perpetrator would receive life without parole or the death penalty. Once signed into law, House Bill 511 would be among the nation’s strongest legislation protecting first responders. House Bill 511 now heads to the Calendar and Rules Committee.
The First Responder Safety Act, House Bill 585, aims to protect first responders by enhancing penalties against those who harass, threaten, or intimidate first responders. Currently, those who take negative action against a first responder can be charged with either harassment or with terrorism. The bill would enhance the harassment charge since negative action against a first responder impacts the ability to recruit and retain first responders.
LEGISLATION BENEFITS VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS
Volunteer Firefighters would benefit by several proposals under consideration in the General Assembly this year. House Bill 612 proposes to incentivize volunteer firefighter recruitment by establishing a retirement system called a Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP). The legislation authorizes the State Treasurer to inquire with local governments and the volunteer fire departments about establishing a LOSAP plan for volunteers providing firefighting and prevention services, emergency medical services, and ambulance services.
The majority of Tennessee’s firefighters are volunteers. The State Fire Marshal’s Office reported 22,065 active firefighters in Tennessee in 2020. Of that, 14,218 (64 percent) are volunteers and 7,847 (35.6 percent) are career firefighters.
LOSAPs may be defined contribution plans, similar to 401k, or defined benefit plans, like a pension. Such a program is funded by contributions from the local government or nonprofit entities that utilize the services of eligible volunteers. To be eligible to receive benefits from the LOSAP, an individual must be a bona fide volunteer who receives no compensation for the services and instead receives only reimbursement for reasonable expenses or benefits and nominal fees customarily paid to them.
CONSTITUTIONAL CARRY BILL ADVANCES
House Republicans continued to advance House Bill 786, also known as the Constitutional Carry bill, through committees this week and on to Finance Ways and Means Subcommittee for consideration on March 17.
House Bill 786 ensures honest, law-abiding citizens who are legally eligible may utilize their Second-Amendment right to self-defense without asking for government permission. Alongside of that, the bill strengthens penalties for anyone who steals a firearm, felons in possession of a firearm, and dangerous stalkers. House Bill 786 makes Tennessee communities safer and corrects current law that leaves law-abiding citizens defenseless in violation of their constitutional rights.
Currently, concealed carry permit holders have the right to carry a handgun, except in restricted areas. House Bill 786 would extend the same constitutional right to carry a handgun without a permit to all law-abiding citizens 21 and older or 18 and older for active members of the military.
STATEWIDE SILVER ALERT PROGRAM
Legislation creating a statewide Silver Alert program passed the Criminal Justice Subcommittee meeting this week. House Bill 119 requires the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) to implement the Silver Alert program to assist in the locating of missing and vulnerable citizens.
The Silver Alert program will benefit persons who are 60 years of age or older, suffer from a documented case of dementia, or are 18 years of age or older with an intellectual, developmental, or physical disability whose whereabouts are unknown or are believed to be in danger or unable to return to safety without assistance.
Currently in Tennessee, local police or sheriff departments are the gatekeepers for Silver Alert, left to make a judgement on when or if a Silver Alert is warranted. House Bill 119 moves this responsibility to the TBI, who will then be required to alert law enforcement agencies and designated media outlets across the state upon receiving notice of a missing citizen fitting the description above.
ALL CHILDREN ACT ADVANCES
House Bill 1233, the “Tennessee Accommodations for All Children Act” will be considered by the House Education Administration Committee on March 17. The bill guarantees reasonable accommodations for all children in Tennessee’s public schools while also protecting every child’s right to privacy. It removes the uncertainty about making accommodations for all children from our teachers, administrators, parents and students. The goal of House Bill 1233 is to be inclusive and respectful of all children in our public schools.
HOUSE GOP SCALES BACK HEALTH BOARD
House Republicans passed House Bill 7 on the House floor this week, legislation that scales back the power of Tennessee’s independent metropolitan health boards to advisory boards. These independent health boards currently exist in six counties: Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Madison, Shelby, and Sullivan counties. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the boards’ unchecked power to adopt rules and regulations as unelected bureaucrats in these counties. This legislation restores proper balance of government in a county by removing an unelected health board’s ability to overrule an elected county executive on final decisions pertaining to health matters. House Bill 7 awaits consideration in the Senate.
TEACHER DISCIPLINE ACT PASSES
A bill giving Tennessee teachers more control in the classroom successfully passed in both chambers of the General Assembly this week. House Bill 16, also known as the “Teacher Discipline Act,” establishes a process for local school districts to enable teachers to remove a student who causes repeated disruptions.
Once the disruptive student is disciplined, principals could use their discretion to send them back into the classroom or permanently remove the child. The bill allows teachers to file an appeal with a schools’ director or local superintendent if they disagree with that decision. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.
(John Holsclaw serves as Chairman of Department & Agencies Subcommittee. He is also a member of State Government Committee, Commerce Committee, Business & Utilities Subcommittee, Local Government Committee, and Election & Campaign Finance Subcommittee. Holsclaw lives in Elizabethton and represents House District 4, which includes Unicoi and part of Carter counties. He can be reached by email at Rep.John.Holsclaw@capitol.tn.gov or by calling (615) 741-7450.)