Lewis County Herald - Serving Hohenwald, Lewis County Tennessee Since 1898

District 71 Capitol Hill Update

 


House Republicans pass historic criminal justice reform

The Tennessee House of Representatives approved two major criminal justice reform bills this past week in Nashville. Both are proposals from Gov. Bill Lee’s legislative package and are part of his efforts to reform criminal justice in Tennessee. The bills reflect changes recommended by the Tennessee Criminal Justice Reinvestment Task Force.

House Bill 784 provides by alternatives to incarceration expanding Tennessee’s successful Recovery Court System, which includes Veterans Courts, Mental Health Courts and Drug Courts for those charged with misdemeanor assaults. The Alternatives to Incarceration bill establishes criteria for revoking community supervision status, updates the permitted amount of time that an individual can be sentenced to probation and limits the ability to revoke supervision for non-criminal violations of conditions, also known as technical violations. This bill also proposes a redesign of the Community Corrections program.

The legislation gives judges the discretion to provide treatment for individuals who need it when the facts of their case indicate that a recovery court is the best correction option available. It also puts a limit on the amount of time an individual can be sentenced to probation, with the ability for this time to be extended each year for specific case-by-case situations. The legislation brings the cap for probation down from 10 years to a maximum of eight years, except for defendants who receive multiple convictions. The proposal will standardize parole revocation practices for technical violations. 

The Reentry Success Act of 2021 is a multi-pronged approach to help improve public safety and promote positive outcomes for those leaving incarceration. House Bill 785 establishes mandatory supervision, so all individuals exiting state custody will have a minimum of one-year supervised reentry integration. The bill seeks better returns on public safety investments by focusing on community supervision, parole processes, and ensuring oversight for those leaving jail and prison. The bill aims to help facilitate better outcomes once someone returns to their community after incarceration.  

The legislation establishes a presumption of parole release at a person’s release eligibility date or upon a subsequent parole hearing, unless good cause is shown. Eligible inmates are those who are serving a nonviolent felony offense or a sentence for a Class E or Class D felony offense. The inmate must have no disciplinary record, be designated low risk for community supervision and must have completed or be enrolled in recommended programing to help ensure successful reentry into society.

General Assembly approves the Unborn Child Dignity Act

Republicans successfully guided passage of the Unborn Child Dignity Act through both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly this past week in Nashville. House Bill 1181 advocates for the dignity of the unborn by requiring proper burial or cremation for a surgically aborted child. The legislation grants the same protection, respect and dignity to a deceased, surgically aborted child required by law to any other deceased human being. The bill does not limit or restrict an abortion or access to an abortion. Tennessee law grants guidelines for the disposal of pets and animals, but gives no such dignity to aborted children. The legislation ensures that a surgically aborted child’s body is treated with the same respect as any other human being.

Bill banning lawmakers from profiting from public office approved by General Assembly

The General Assembly on Thursday passed legislation prohibiting Tennessee lawmakers from selling services to the legislative branch. House Bill 1040 aligns with existing law related to the sale of goods by state employees, which dates back to the 1950s. At that time, the practice of selling goods was more common than the sale of services. In recent years, the demand for services has steadily increased. This bill places the same prohibitions on the selling of services by state employees to the state that already exist as it relates to the sale of goods, creating a Class E felony penalty moving forward.

The bill grandfathers in current members who are providing or have offered to provide a service to the state prior to July 1, 2021. That information must be disclosed on statement of interest declarations filed with the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance no later than Sept. 1, 2021 and annually thereafter for all years in which they continuously serve. There are exceptions in the legislation for employment contracts, indigent defense contracts, as well as medical service contracts. Businesses owners who provide services to the state and who desire to run for office after July 1 of this year would also be required to place their financial interests into a blind trust prior to administration of that member’s oath of office. That financial interest would remain in the blind trust throughout the member’s tenure in the General Assembly, as well as for six months after their term in office ends. The legislation does not impact existing contracts with local and county governments. It will increase transparency and it will ensure members of our body are not perceived like other elected officials in our country who are deemed to benefit financially from their time in office.  

Republicans improve law enforcement use-of-force policies

Legislation that seeks to improve state law enforcement’s use-of-force policies has advanced in the House this week.

House Bill 1406 is a result of Gov. Bill Lee’s partnership with state and local law enforcement agencies through his Use of Force Policy Committee, which issued recommendations on Sept. 10, 2020 in the form of a sample use of force policy for law enforcement agencies to adopt across the state. This legislation bans chokeholds unless an officer believes deadly force is authorized; requires chokehold training be taught at police academies; requires law enforcement agencies to develop de-escalation policies; requires other officers to intervene in cases of excessive force; prohibits firing at moving vehicles unless the officer believes deadly force is authorized; and prohibits the

The General Assembly on Thursday passed legislation prohibiting Tennessee lawmakers from selling services to the legislative branch. House Bill 1040 aligns with existing law related to the sale of goods by state employees, which dates back to the 1950s. At that time, the practice of selling goods was more common than the sale of services. In recent years, the demand for services has steadily increased. This bill places the same prohibitions on the selling of services by state employees to the state that already exist as it relates to the sale of goods, creating a Class E felony penalty moving forward.

The bill grandfathers in current members who are providing or have offered to provide a service to the state prior to July 1, 2021. That information must be disclosed on statement of interest declarations filed with the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance no later than Sept. 1, 2021 and annually thereafter for all years in which they continuously serve. There are exceptions in the legislation for employment contracts, indigent defense contracts, as well as medical service contracts. Businesses owners who provide services to the state and who desire to run for office after July 1 of this year would also be required to place their financial interests into a blind trust prior to administration of that member’s oath of office. That financial interest would remain in the blind trust throughout the member’s tenure in the General Assembly, as well as for six months after their term in office ends. The legislation does not impact existing contracts with local and county governments. It will increase transparency and it will ensure members of our body are not perceived like other elected officials in our country who are deemed to benefit financially from their time in office.  

General Assembly approves CTE legislation to prepare students for high-skill, high-wage jobs

The Tennessee General Assembly approved legislation requiring the Department of Education to begin preparing students in middle school grades for a Career Technical Education (CTE) pathway that may align with their career aptitude.  House Bill 1446 introduces students to career opportunities that allow them to explore a wide variety of high-skill, high-wage, or in-demand career fields. The measure complements Gov. Bill Lee’s initiative to increase CTE opportunities through grant programs and other resources that give student more hands-on learning as they prepare for careers. 

Present law requires local school districts to administer a career aptitude assessment to students in grade seven or grade eight in order to help inform a student’s high school plan of study. This bill adds that, upon administering the assessment, students must be provided with information on CTE opportunities offered by the LEA in which they are eligible to participate.

Legislation establishing a Mental Health Trust Fund to meet needs of K-12 students advances

Legislation aimed at addressing the mental health needs of Tennessee’s K-12 students is advancing through House committees. House Bill 73 allocates $250 million for a Mental Health Trust Fund established a framework for how this money can be invested and utilized long-term. The proposal utilizes abundant one-time funding as an investment that will have an impact well into the future. Proponents maintain that as the fund builds and grows over time, there will be flexibility in how it can be used to address mental health issues that are known now and unknown challenges that may face Tennessee students in the future.

The legislation would invest $225 million into an endowment account for future needs, with the remaining $25 million to be used for a statewide needs assessment. The assessment will better determine what the needs are at the local level and what student supports would work best. These funds are in addition to approximately $18 million in federal funds for Mental Health and Family Resource Centers to support student mental health needs. Services supported by the Mental Health Trust Fund will include direct clinical services in schools; mental health awareness and promotion; suicide prevention strategies; trauma-informed programs and practices; violence and bullying prevention; and Project Basic, a program that includes mental health supports for students. Nationally, one in five children has a mental health diagnosis in any given year, with over 60 percent of children receiving mental health services through their school.

Helping Heroes Grant advances through House

A bill that will aid Tennessee veterans by expanding eligibility for the Helping Heroes Grant is advancing through the House. Currently, veterans who have earned either the Global War on Terrorism medal on or after September 11, 2001; the Iraq campaign medal; or the Afghanistan campaign medal were awarded aid through the program. House Bill 1150 would add eligibility for any veteran who has earned a service expeditionary medal identified by rules and regulations created by the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation. Additionally, the proposal removes both the provision that limits eligibility to an eight-year timeframe after discharge and the $750,000 cap on the total amount of all Helping Heroes grants. The legislation is expected to be considered by the House Finance Ways and Means Committee on April 26.

The General Assembly approves epidemic response strategy

Both chambers of the General Assembly have approved a bill designed to formulate a better response strategy for Tennessee in the case of a statewide epidemic. House Bill 778 would authorize the commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Health to declare an epidemic. The state’s chief medical officer would then implement a statewide collaborative pharmacy practice agreement with a licensed pharmacist to administer vaccines to vulnerable populations. The bill comes in response to the challenges many states have faced in efficiently combatting the spread of Covid-19 and providing the vaccine to citizens. House Bill 778 now goes to Gov. Lee

As always, I am truly humbled and honored to be your voice on Capitol Hill. If there is ever any issue I can assist with, please reach out to my office by calling 615-741-2190 or emailing me at [email protected]

 

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