House members file 1,369 bills
Published 11:49 am Tuesday, February 6, 2024
Constitutional amendment regarding bail proposed
A proposed amendment to Tennessee’s constitution would increase public safety statewide by allowing judges to hold more violent criminals in jail without bond.
House Joint Resolution 859, filed this week by House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, would add crimes like terrorism, second-degree murder, aggravated rape and grave torture to the list of offense where bond can be denied by a court.
“People are tired of career criminals who continue to get out and continue to offend, and there is no opportunity to hold them or deny them bail based on the state constitution,” Sexton said Thursday. “We have a constitution problem that does not give judges the discretion to deny bail except for capital offenses… It needs to be changed.”
If approved, House Joint Resolution 859 would also increase transparency by requiring judges to explain their reasons for allowing or denying bail to an individual.
Any proposed amendment to the Tennessee State Constitution must first pass two different General Assemblies before being placed on the ballot for voters statewide to decide.
Bills filed to increase parental accountability over school materials
The House K-12 Subcommittee this week advanced legislation to increase parental and community involvement over what materials should be available to minors.
House Bill 1632, sponsored by State Rep. Gino Bulso, R-Brentwood, would make clear the parent of a public school student or public charter school student has standing to file civil action against the local education agency to enforce the Age-Appropriate Materials Act of 2022.
“It’s going to reduce the cost to private litigants and to the state because no longer will any board of education across the state even be able to argue that a parent lacks standing to bring a case. It’ll be clear here in the statute,” Bulso said.
The Age Appropriate Materials Act requires public school libraries to post online a list of materials in library collections and to create a review framework to ensure age-appropriateness. A total of 181 books were challenged statewide between January and August 31, 2023. House Bill 1632 is schedule to be heard in the Education Administration Committee on Feb. 7.
State Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, has also introduced legislation to protect children from inappropriate materials. House Bill 1661, also known as the Restricted Access by Minors to Obscene Library Materials Act, would allow community members to petition for the removal of the display and distribution of obscene materials to minors at public libraries. House Bill 1661 is scheduled to be heard in the House Department and Agencies Subcommittee on Feb. 7.
Increased school bus safety measures advance
A bill introduced by House Republicans aims to increase school bus safety in Tennessee.
House Bill 1700, sponsored by State Rep. William Slater, R-Gallatin, advanced in the House this week. The bill would require school districts to place a notice on every school bus stating that unauthorized individuals are not allowed to enter the vehicle. The sign must also include contact information in case there is an issue. Training for new school bus drivers and transportation supervisors would also be required to include information about the law.
“There are several districts that are already doing this,” Slater said. “Currently, it is against the law for any unauthorized person to enter a school bus. This doesn’t change that law at all.”
House Bill 1700 is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Administration Committee on Feb. 7.
Tennessee Republicans stand with Texas to secure southern border
House Republicans have filed several pieces of legislation in support of Texas and its fight to secure the southern border amid surging illegal immigration.
House Joint Resolution 801, sponsored by State Rep. Jake McCalmon, R-Franklin, urges the federal government to do everything in its power to get the border crisis under control. A separate resolution filed by State Rep. Jody Barrett, R-Dickson, also encourages Gov. Bill Lee to continue allowing the Tennessee National Guard to assist Texas in its efforts to combat illegal immigration.
“What’s happening at the southern border is a foreign invasion and the Biden administration is complicit,” McCalmon said. “President Biden has been derelict in his duty to protect American citizens and secure our nation’s borders. The federal government’s inaction has put Tennesseans and Americans across the country at risk. We cannot afford the current administration’s open border policies, which is why I am calling on Biden to do his job and use every resource possible to stop the invasion.”
House Joint Resolution 801 is scheduled to be heard in the Departments and Agencies Subcommittee on Feb. 7.
Additionally, a proposed amendment to House Bill 2190, sponsored by State Rep. Monty Fritts, R-Kingston, would also authorize the governor, in accordance with the state constitution, to deploy a brigade-sized force of between 3,000 and 5,000 troops to Texas for up to a year. The deployment could be extended for up to six months at a time upon approval of the General Assembly.
There have been more than 10 million reported illegal border crossings within the last three years, which include apprehensions by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and those who evaded capture. Since 2019, Tennessee has sent 562 National Guard soldiers to help secure the southern border.
Stronger punishment for habitual misdemeanor offenders
Republicans have introduced legislation to significantly increase the punishment for criminals who commit multiple misdemeanors in Tennessee.
House Bill 2323, filed by State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, would make it a Class E felony to commit six or more qualifying misdemeanors within a certain number of years. The list includes 34 total crimes ranging from assault to driving under the influence.
“It is unacceptable for criminals to commit multiple crimes in our communities without any significant consequences for their actions,” Hazlewood said. “This legislation will hold these habitual offenders more accountable and send a strong message that this behavior is not tolerated in Tennessee. My colleagues and I remain committed to increasing public safety across our state.”
An individual would also face a Class E felony if found guilty of committing any combination of three or more specific misdemeanors on the list. Those crimes include assault against a first responder or nurse; child abuse; child neglect or endangerment; domestic assault; unlawful carrying or possession of a firearm; violation of an order of protection or restraining order; or violation of a no-contact order.
The legislation would not apply if there was more than 10 years between when the current and most recent qualifying misdemeanors occurred. A Class E felony is punishable by up to six years in prison, according to state law. It can also include a fine of up to $3,000.
Republicans seek additional protections for children from sex offenders
The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week advanced Republican legislation to increase protections for children from sex offenders in Tennessee.
House Bill 1727, sponsored by State Rep. Ron Gant, R-Piperton, would expand the offense of child endangerment to include a parent or guardian who knowingly leaves their child under the care or supervision of a person who is required to register as a sex offender.
“This addresses a problem that is recurring here in the state of Tennessee,” Gant told members of the subcommittee Tuesday. “In the 8th Judicial District alone there have been recent cases where a mother allowed her minor child to be cared for by a known sex offender. They prosecuted the sex offender each time, but could not prosecute the mother.”
The legislation would not apply if the registered sex offender is the minor’s parent and is authorized to reside, visit overnight or be alone with the child. House Bill 1727 is scheduled to be heard in the House Criminal Justice Committee on Feb. 6.
Workers’ compensation rates continue to decline
Workers’ compensation insurance premiums will decline for most Tennessee businesses in 2024, according to the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance (TDCI). This marks the 11th consecutive year rates have fallen statewide.
An order approving a 9.4 percent overall loss cost decrease beginning March 1 on new and renewal polices for the voluntary market beginning March 1 was signed by TDCI Commissioner Carter Lawrence late last year.
“I am proud to see our work over the last few years on workers’ compensation reforms have such a positive impact on Tennesseans,” said State Rep. Clark Boyd, R-Lebanon. “These declining rates are a win-win for businesses and employees across our state. I look forward to working alongside my colleagues in the General Assembly to find additional ways we can continue to improve.”
Insurance carriers combine the National Council on Compensation Insurance loss cost filings with company experience and expenses to develop insurance rates.
Since Tennessee’s workers’ compensation system reforms began in 2014, TDCI reports that employers across the state have seen substantial savings due to loss cost reductions. Businesses have also reported fewer significant workplace injuries, which have contributed to the reduction in loss costs.
(John 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.)