General Assembly confirms new Tennessee Supreme Court Justice

Published 2:09 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Members of the General Assembly confirmed the appointment of Mary L. Wagner to the Tennessee Supreme Court in a joint session in the House chamber on Monday.

Wagner is currently the circuit court judge for the 30th Judicial District, which covers Shelby County. She previously served as an associate at a Memphis-based law firm and taught as an adjunct professor at The University of Memphis School of Law.

The Tennessee Supreme Court vacancy will be created by the retirement of Justice Roger A. Page, effective Aug. 31. Wagner’s tenure on the court will begin Sept. 1.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The General Assembly is required to confirm appointments to the Supreme Court per an amendment added to the state constitution in 2014. Justices are retained through a “yes” or “no” election every eight years.

SCHOOL DE-ESCALATION TRAINING

The House K-12 Subcommittee this week advanced school safety legislation to require de-escalation training for teachers and administrators in Tennessee.

House Bill 1633, sponsored by State Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, would ensure school personnel receive the training annually beginning in the 2024-25 academic year.

“If we can, we need to train our teachers and administrators on the proper techniques for avoiding a school shooting before it reaches the point of being a school shooting,” Ragan said.

A report last year from the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability found that 43 percent of shootings that occurred at school in the state during the last 25 years were due to the escalation of a dispute.

House Bill 1663 is scheduled to be heard in the Education Administration Committee on March 20.

RETENTION BONUSES FOR NG MEMBERS

Legislation that would authorize bonuses for Tennessee National Guard members in critical roles and would ensure no financial burden for servicemembers who are called to serve advanced out of the State Government Committee this week.

House Bill 2088, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, and co-sponsored by State Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin, authorizes the Tennessee Department of Military to create a critical skills retention bonus program that will be used to award Tennessee National Guard members who continue to serve.

The bill would create a board to research and identify critical job skills that if left unmanned, would pose a risk to the department’s ability to respond when called upon. Then, the board will provide incentive recommendations on each job skill, up to $10,000, to the adjutant general.

The board would continue to meet throughout the year to ensure the bonuses continue to be applied to the necessary positions. The retention bonuses are designed to help keep critical positions filled and servicemembers enlisted. 

House Bill 2088 would also ensure that if a state employee is called to serve and their military job pays less than their civilian job, the state will pay the difference so that the employee does not suffer from lost wages while serving our state or nation.  The bill is scheduled to be heard by the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee on March 20. 

INCREASED PUNISHMENT FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT CRIMINALS

Legislation that would allow illegal immigrants convicted of violent crimes in Tennessee to receive life in prison without parole advanced out of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week.

House Bill 1872, sponsored by State Rep. Monty Fritts, R-Kingston, would allow a judge to sentence an illegal immigrant to life without parole if convicted of a violent crime or a deadly weapon was involved in the offense. The bill also authorizes the same enhancement for adults convicted of a violent crime on school property.

“Our justice system routinely enhances penalties when one or more crime is committed at the same time as another,” Fritts said. “Illegal aliens, by entering our country, have committed a crime. If they commit another crime, especially a violent crime, those penalties should be enhanced.”

The arrest of an illegal immigrant and all subsequent convictions must be also reported to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. The data will be used to help understand the impact to Tennessee.  

The Department of Homeland Security has reported more than 6 million encounters along the southern border since 2021. An additional 1.7 million individuals entered the country illegally and successfully evaded authorities.

House Bill 1872 is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on March 19.

BILL WOULD SAVE MONEY ON MEDICATIONS

The House Health Subcommittee this week advanced legislation aimed at saving Tennesseans money on their prescription medications.

House Bill 2897, sponsored by State Rep. Sabi Kumar, R-Springfield, would require pharmacies to make all reasonable efforts to notify a customer of the lowest available cost of their prescription prior to their purchase.

“Recently, our health system has seen insurers purchasing certain pharmacy chains and pharmacy benefit managers, and they are increasing the price of the medications because they are buying it from themselves,” Kumar said. “We are trying to make the best effort to save Tennesseans as much money as possible on their medications.”

This bill also encourages pharmacists to use a software program that will tell them if the medication is available for a lower cost, and to inform the patient if there is a more affordable option.

House Bill 2897 is scheduled to be heard in the Health Committee on March 20.

PROTECT TENNESSEE MINORS ACT

The Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week advanced legislation to further protect children from accessing pornography online. 

The Protect Tennessee Minors Act, sponsored by State Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, would require website owners to implement an age-verification process if 33.3 percent or more of their total content was harmful to minors.

“We don’t allow those under 18 to go into adult entertainment establishments and we don’t allow them to access certain materials,” Hazlewood said. “Unfortunately, in the cyber world it is much easier for children to access it.”

 

“All of us are aware of the exponential increase in mental health issues, particularly with our children, and I sincerely believe that this is one of the causes,” she added.

A national survey found that 73 percent of teen respondents between the ages of 13 and 17 admitted to having viewed pornography online.

The legislation would require owners of websites with adult content to match a user’s photo to a valid form of identification issued in the United States. Stored data must not include any personal identifying information and the active user must remain anonymous after access has been granted.

Search engines, internet service providers and public interest broadcasts and publications would be excluded from the age verification requirement. Any website owner or operator found to be in violation of the law would face a Class C felony.

House Bill 1614 is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on March 19.

(Rep. John Holsclaw of Elizabethton represents Carter County in the Tennessee Legislature)