Legislative Update: Hensley, Capley share weekly pertinent bills in Tenn. legislature

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Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald

State Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald (District 28)
State Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald (District 28)

Judiciary Committee advances legislation to expand permit less carry law

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to strengthen 2nd Amendment rights of Tennesseans this week and approved Senate Bill 1503 to lower the age to legally carry a handgun without a permit in the state from 21 to 18.  The measure also lowers the age from 21 to 18 to obtain an enhanced or lifetime enhanced handgun carry permit. The legislation is part of an effort to ensure Tennessee’s gun laws are consistent with the recent United States Supreme Court Case, "New York State Rifle v. Bruen" (2022). The bill now advances to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.

Protecting firearm and ammunition manufacturers – The Judiciary Committee advanced legislation to provide civil liability protection to firearm and ammunition manufacturers to prevent them from being held responsible for illegal acts carried out by criminals using their products. In 2005, the Federal Protection of Lawful Commerce and Arms Act was passed with the intent to protect firearms and ammunition manufacturers from frivolous claims. However, these types of lawsuits have been allowed in state courts, and Senate Bill 822 which I sponsored, ensures those lawsuits never happen in Tennessee. However, the bill does maintain citizens’ ability to file legitimate claims against bad actors.

According to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Tennessee is #1 in the nation for employment in the firearms industry with nearly 8,000 jobs and a $1.1 billion impact to the state’s economy. This legislation will help protect the 20 firearm and ammunition manufacturers in the state and the Tennesseans they employ.  Having the right to bear arms is meaningless if no one is willing to make those arms. This bill will help secure our rights by protecting gun manufacturers from civil liability in Tennessee.

Keeping inappropriate material out of public schools – In an effort to prevent inappropriate or obscene materials from entering a K-12 public school, the Judiciary Committee passed legislation to create a Class E felony offense for book publishers, distributors, or sellers that knowingly sell or distribute obscene material to a public school. Last year, the General Assembly passed several bills aimed at removing and blocking obscene or inappropriate materials on school computers and in school classrooms and libraries. Senate Bill 1059, which I sponsored, builds on those efforts.

Expanding paid leave for teachers who have been victimized on the job — A bill that expands paid leave for teachers who were assaulted on the job from three months to up to a year passed the Education Committee this week. Senate Bill 906 would pay teachers who are unable to return to the classroom due to injury their full salary and full benefits.

Restitution for injury or damage by dog – Legislation passed the Senate this week to require the owner of a dog that has attacked a person or damaged another’s property to pay restitution for all damages. Currently, judges can only fine a dog owner for this offense. Under Senate Bill 1320, dog owners would be required to pay restitution if their dog killed another’s chicken, damaged landscaping, or injured a person, to name a few examples.

Protecting parental rights regarding vaccines – The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation to prohibit a healthcare provider from giving vaccinations to minors without parental consent. Senate Bill 1111, is called the Mature Minor Doctrine Clarification Act. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tennessee Department of Health issued a memo to healthcare providers that cited the Mature Minor Doctrine for authority to provide COVID-19 vaccines to minors without parental consent. After  lawmakers raised concerns with the newly authorized shots being given to children without parents’ knowledge or consent, the department reversed course. This legislation clarifies that the Mature Minor Doctrine does not allow vaccinations to be given to minors without consent from their parents.

Rep. Kip Capley, R-Summertown, District 71

Kip Capley
Kip Capley

House protects Tennessee workers’ right to private votes - House Republicans on Thursday passed legislation ensuring Tennessee workers’ rights are protected by secret ballot in union-organizing elections. House Bill 1342, sponsored by House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and State Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, prohibits an employer who accepts economic development incentives from Tennessee from disclosing an employee or subcontractor’s personal contact information to a labor organization without consent.

Tennesseans voted in 2022 to codify the right-to-work in the state constitution. This measure protects Tennessee workers from being fired for not joining or paying a union. Even with these protections in place, Tennessee workers can still face intimidation when it comes to unionizing. Through a process known as card check, union officials pressure workers privately and publicly until they collect enough signatures directly from the workers until they have enough signatures to begin bargaining collectively.

House Bill 1342 ensures taxpayer dollars are not used to support coercive union tactics like card check. The legislation protects workers’ right to a private ballot in union elections and respects their right to privacy at home when companies take taxpayer-funded economic incentives. The companion bill is currently advancing through the Senate.

Republicans protect foster children from abusive parents - Legislation to help further protect foster children from abusive parents was approved this week by the Tennessee House of Representatives.

House Bill 752 would make it a Class C misdemeanor for the first time a foster parent in a kinship placement allows a child to visit a parent despite a court order prohibiting the contact. The fine for first-time offenses would be $50. Subsequent violations would result in a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. There are approximately 121 children in Tennessee who are currently in kinship foster care and have a visitation restriction in place against their parents, according to information from the Department of Children’s Services.

Law aims to minimize trauma for child victims of sexual assault - Both chambers of the General Assembly this week passed legislation that aims to minimize trauma for underage victims of sexual assault during the criminal justice process.

Current state law allows minors who have been sexually assaulted to be interviewed by trained professionals and recorded to for court proceedings. The law only allows these videos to be used in court for minors under the age of 13 and only for sexual offenses. House Bill 557, sponsored by State Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, extends the admissibility of forensic interviews in court for all children under 18 years of age, and allows forensic interviews to cover statements on sexual and physical abuse. The law also adds an additional qualification for forensic interviewers that increases the credibility of forensic interviews and their admissibility in a court of law. The bill will prevent children from being further traumatized by being required to testify in court in front of their abuser. House Bill 557 now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Committee advances bill to enhance third-grade literacy - Legislation aimed at further improving third-grade literacy in Tennessee advanced out of the House K-12 Subcommittee this week.

House Bill 437, as amended, includes several enhancements to bipartisan legislation passed in 2021 to address learning loss related to COVID-19 and provide students with additional academic support before being promoted to the fourth grade if they are approaching reading on-level. If approved, the bill would expand fourth-grade eligibility by allowing students who score in the “approaching” category on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test to still be promoted to the next grade level if they also scored in the 50th percentile or higher on their most recent benchmark assessment provided by the state and given as a test.

Parents would also be able to receive additional assistance from school administrators when filing a waiver to appeal their child’s retention. The legislation also requires a tutor to be assigned for one year to all students in kindergarten through third grade who are retained beginning with the 2023-24 school year. State Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, who is the primary sponsor of House Bill 437, told members of the committee on Tuesday that Tennessee must also continue to focus on early childhood literacy beginning in pre-kindergarten.

House passes zero tolerance for threatening school violence - The Tennessee House of Representatives approved legislation this week to enhance the punishment for students who threaten violence at school.

House Bill 340 expands what constitutes a zero-tolerance offense to include threatening mass violence on school property or at a school-related activity. A violation would result in a student being expelled from school for at least one calendar year.  It would be up to the local director of schools or the head of a charter school to determine whether the expelled student must attend an alternative school or virtual classes.

Other zero-tolerance offenses include bringing a firearm onto school property; committing aggravated assault or assault that results in bodily injury to a school employee; or is in unlawful possession of any drug, including any controlled substance, on school grounds or at a school-sponsored event. The companion version of the bill is still currently advancing through the Senate.

Email rep.kip.capley@capitol.tn.gov or call 615-741-2190. E-mail sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov or call 615-741-3100.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Herald: Legislative Update: Hensley, Capley share weekly pertinent bills in Tenn. legislature