Foster youth services bill advances in Tennessee House

Published 2:33 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2022

The Government Operations Committee this week unanimously passed legislation aimed at enhancing the support system for youth in foster care.
House Bill 2145 expands eligibility for Extension of Foster Care (EFC) Services, a wraparound services program for young adults still in DCS custody when they turn 18. Presently, these services are available up until age 24 for young adults that meet certain requirements, such as being enrolled in a four-year institution. House Bill 2145 will expand those services to include young people who are employed full time and taking non-credit vocational training programs. The expansion would help an additional 300 young Tennesseans get on their feet.
The bill also proposes reimbursing relative caregivers 50 percent of the full foster care rate if certain conditions are met. Many times, relatives of foster children would like to provide care but lack the means to do so. The bill aims to keep these children with their family so they can avoid entering into state custody and experiencing the trauma that ­can occur.
Republican legislation that would make it easier for law enforcement to identify individuals convicted of human trafficking advanced out of the House Transportation Committee this week.
House Bill 2573 would require a person convicted of human trafficking to obtain a driver’s license or photo identification license that includes a designation on it that would enable authorities to identify their conviction.
State Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, told members of the subcommittee on Tuesday that the bill gives law enforcement the opportunity to ask additional questions and further investigate in situations such as traffic stops.
Tennessee laws define human trafficking as the sale of an adult for the purposes of commercial sex by means of force, fraud or coercion, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s (TBI) ITHasToStop outreach campaign. Any commercial sex act involving the sale of a child for the purposes of commercial sex is also considered human trafficking, regardless of the use of force, fraud or coercion.
Additional human trafficking information:
• Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world, just behind drug trafficking.
• There are an estimated 27 million people worldwide currently enslaved by traffickers.
• Every year, more than 1.2 million children are trafficked for the purpose of being sold
• In Tennessee, an average of 85 minors are trafficked every month
• The average age of entry into sex trafficking is 15 years old
• Anyone who believes they may have witnessed trafficking or encountered a victim of trafficking should contact the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-855-55-TNHTH.
House Bill 2573 now moves on to the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee for consideration.
A Republican proposal to prevent obscene materials from being available to students in K-12 public school libraries in Tennessee advanced out of the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week.
House Bill 1944, as amended, would prohibit a local education agency (LEA) or public school, including charter schools, from allowing “obscene materials or material harmful to minors” to be made available to students in school libraries. The legislation would also require every board of education and public charter school in the state to adopt a policy that allows a student’s parent or legal guardian to report any obscene material in a school’s library to their local director of schools for a review.
“The process is there for one specific reason, to prevent any arbitrary removal of any book from any school library,” State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka told members of the subcommittee on Wednesday. “We can’t think of anybody better who would represent the community standards than the school board of that local LEA who are elected by the people to represent their views and what they believe are their standards in their communities.”
As part of the review process, the material in question would be removed from the school library for at least 30 days in order to give the local board of education or public charter school’s governing body time to determine if the material is obscene, harmful to minors or appropriate for students. If the material is found to be acceptable, it would be returned to the library. If not, it would be permanently removed from the libraries of all public schools in the district.
House Bill 1944 now moves on to the full House Criminal Justice Committee for further discussion.
The House Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee this week advanced Republican legislation that would add a residency requirement for congressional candidates in Tennessee.
House Bill 2764, as amended, would require a candidate for U.S. Senate to have lived in Tennessee for at least three years prior to the date of the election in order to qualify for the race. Candidates for the U.S. House would have to live in the district they are seeking to represent for at least three years in order to qualify.
If approved, the legislation would take effect Nov. 9 and would not apply to incumbent members of Congress.
A companion version of the bill was approved by the Senate chambers earlier this week. However, it would become effective as soon as it was signed into law by Gov. Bill Lee.
House Bill 2764 will now head to the House Local Government Committee for consideration.
Legislation aimed at inspiring communities to reduce litter on local roads, shorelines and in waterways advanced through the House Transportation Committee this week.
House Bill 2194 expands the state’s Litter Grant Program to nonprofit organizations, law enforcement and local governments to participate in litter clean-up campaigns. It creates an avenue for nonprofit groups and their volunteers to raise money for their mission.
The bill expands the program to include waterways and shorelines. It authorizes the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to award the grants from funds already generated by tax on beer and bottled soft drinks.
“Litter impacts us all because it hinders road safety, hurts the health of our environment and it sends an unintentional message that citizens don’t care about their neighborhoods. This legislation will directly help communities tackle this preventable problem and improve quality of life,” said Assistant Majority Leader Ron Gant, R-Piperton.
Roadside litter is a huge burden to the state financially and ecologically, costing taxpayers approximately $15 million each year, according to TDOT.
“The easiest and most direct way Tennesseans can save tax dollars and help beautify our state is to make sure trash ends up where it is supposed to, in a garbage or recycle bin,” Gant said.
The Litter Grant program is available to all 95 counties. According to TDOT, the program is responsible for the removal of an average 11,573 tons of trash each year.
Republicans have introduced legislation to strengthen Tennessee’s anti-stalking laws and further protect residents from being unknowingly tracked.
According to House Bill 2802, a person would be guilty of stalking if they used an electronic tracking or Global Positioning System (GPS) device to secretly monitor the location of an individual and/or their property without their consent. State law currently requires at least two separate “noncontinuous acts” to occur before someone could be charged with the offense.
“With recent advancements in technology, devices like GPS trackers have become significantly smaller in size and are much more affordable than ever before,” State Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern, said. “While these devices can have beneficial uses like helping someone find their missing keys, they can also unfortunately be exploited by criminals in terrifying ways.”
Police departments across the country have warned residents in recent months about tracking devices being secretly used by would-be criminals to follow vehicles they intended to steal or worse.
“The goal of this bill is to provide another way to help protect people, their property and their privacy,” Grills added.
There were nearly 1,600 reported cases of stalking in Tennessee during 2020, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s most recent annual report.
House Bill 2802 would not prevent law enforcement from using an electronic tracking device during an ongoing criminal investigation.
Disabled license plates — Passed by the House Transportation Committee this week, House Bill 2318 requires the design of disabled license plates to incorporate the color scheme, base design and details used on the standard registration and license plate. By integrating the standard Tennessee registration plates with disabled license plates, House Bill 2318 brings the state into compliance with the most integrated setting regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. House Bill 2318 has been referred to the House Calendar and Rules Committee. The Senate version passed unanimously on Feb. 24. Should the bill become law, it becomes effective Jan. 21, 2023.
More Tennessee State Troopers for Shelby County — In ongoing efforts to fight rising crime in Memphis, Gov. Bill Lee on Wednesday announced his budget would fund an additional 20 Tennessee Highway Patrol officers for Shelby County this year. The governor’s proposal includes several key public safety investments and proven crime prevention methods to directly support Memphis and Shelby County. These efforts include the creation of a $150 million Violent Crime Intervention Fund for law enforcement agencies to invest in evidence-based programming and resources. Other initiatives include:
• $30 million to support relocation bonuses for out-of-state police officers willing to move to Tennessee
• Expansion of state funding for law enforcement basic training and increasing the frequency of training
• Access to a statewide hiring portal that includes qualified law enforcement recruits from outside of Tennessee
The House chamber recently passed legislation lifting residency requirements for Memphis police and firefighters. Memphis Police Department has been understaffed while the crime rate has sharply risen in previous years. In 2019, 237 homicides were reported in the city. That number climbed to 327 in 2020 and to 346 for 2021.
The Tennessee House of Representatives honored Joker, a law enforcement K-9 officer from Bradley County, on Thursday, March 3. Joker was shot multiple times while attempting to apprehend suspects after responding to an auto burglary last year. He spent nine days in intensive care at an animal hospital in Chattanooga before being released. Joker returned to work in December and tracked down three suspects on his first day back. State Rep. Mark Hall, R-Cleveland, introduced Joker’s Law to strengthen the penalty for anyone who harms a law enforcement or service animal in Tennessee.
(John Holsclaw serves as Chairman of Departments & 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.)

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