Senator Joey Hensley, MD; Tennessee 28th District Capitol Hill Week in Review
February 24, 2022
(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), February 17, 2022 – The Education Committee this week passed legislation requiring public schools to post online a list of the materials in their libraries. Proposed by Gov. Bill Lee, the Age-Appropriate Materials Act of 2022 (Senate Bill 2407) now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
This bill simply sets forth a framework for all of our public school libraries to use to make sure parents and other stakeholders, including teachers and school board members, have a way to find out what is in the public school libraries. This bill ensures public school libraries contain only materials that are age-appropriate for students across Tennessee. This bill does not ban any book. It does not compel any board or any school to ban a book. Many schools already publish lists of their library materials. This is widely acknowledged to be a best practice.
The bill also creates a required standardized review framework to ensure school library collections are periodically evaluated for age-appropriateness. Currently, classroom textbooks and instructional materials used in Tennessee public schools are vetted for age-appropriateness and standards alignment through the textbook review, approval and adoption process. But there is no such standardized process for the review of public school library collections.
The bill requires each local board of education and public charter school governing body to adopt a policy establishing procedures for the review of school library collections. Each policy must include a procedure for schools to receive and evaluate feedback from students, parents, and school employees about materials in the library collection.
Should a school find a material is not age-appropriate based on student, parental or employee feedback, then the school would have to remove it. The decision is ultimately up to the school in conjunction with the school board.
If it passes, this bill sends a message that the General Assembly believes in the ability of parents to know and to be able to review those materials in a library and then have an appropriate framework through which they can provide feedback.
Bill seeks to codify medical, religious exemption
for COVID-19 vaccine
Last year, President Joe Biden issued an executive order requiring healthcare workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The order, which was initially enjoined by federal courts before being upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, included provisions that compel applicable employers to honor religious and medical exemptions.
Senate Bill 1823 proposes to codify into state law the executive order’s medical and religious exemptions for COVID-19 vaccination mandates. The bill also goes a step further in assisting those seeking such an exemption by providing a state enforcement mechanism.
Under the federal order, those wishing to obtain an exemption must hire an attorney and work with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to challenge the requirement. This bill would allow those seeking an exemption to also work with the Attorney General, who could then take civil action against that employer if they fail to honor the exemption. The medical exemption can be obtained via a note from a Tennessee physician while the religious exemption can be obtained simply by declaring a strongly held religious reason for not getting vaccinated.
That’s where it ends and then the employer must honor that request. The bill puts some teeth to make sure these employers in Tennessee are honoring the exemption request as provided for in the executive order.
Senate approves ranked choice voting ban
A ban on ranked choice or instant runoff voting in state and local elections (Senate Bill 1820) was passed by the Senate this week.
Ranked choice voting is a voting method in which voters rank candidates by preference. The candidate with a majority of first-preference votes wins. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, then the candidate with the lowest preference is eliminated and their votes are redistributed among the remaining candidates. The process repeats until a winner is identified. It’s a very confusing and complex process that ultimately leads to lack of confidence in the vote totals. It also leads to reporting results in a process that’s difficult, slow and costly. The Oakland 2010 mayoral election, which utilized ranked choice voting, had 10 recounts, 11% of ballots were thrown out, and the winner still didn’t get 50% of the vote. New York City’s mayoral election last year, which also used ranked choice voting, saw eight recounts, 13% of ballots thrown out, and the winner won with just 31% of the votes cast. This bill does away with that process and ensures that confusion doesn’t come to Tennessee.
New state song — The Senate named “I’ll Leave My Heart in Tennessee” by Bluegrass group Dailey and Vincent, written by Karen Staley, as an official state song. It is Tennessee’s 11th official state song.
Human Trafficking training — The Senate voted in favor of Senate Bill 1670, which requires all school personnel, instead of only teachers, be trained at least once every three years on the detection, intervention, prevention, and treatment of human trafficking in which the victim is a child.
Residency requirements — Senate Bill 2616 would prohibit a person from being nominated as a candidate for U.S. Senator or member of the U.S. House of Representatives unless the person has voted in the three previous elections in this state. The bill cleared the State and Local Government Committee this week.
The Tennessee State Constitution requires seven years of residency in the state to run for Governor, five years of residency to run for judge or district attorney, and three years of residency to run for the State Senate or House. But the state and U.S. Constitution are silent in regards to residency for running for a seat in the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives. When the constitution is silent, the states can do what they want to do.
Local Education Agencies — The Senate this week passed Senate Bill 503, which entitles Local Education Agencies to receive reimbursement for the cost of providing health or medical services to eligible students. Payment will come from the Department of Finance and Administration. This will help stop a hemorrhage of funds from our LEAs. This is really a good piece of legislation that will help the kids and our school districts.
Crime — Senate Bill 1807 adds rape to the list of offenses for which a defendant is not eligible for probation under the Tennessee Criminal Sentencing Reform Act of 1989. The bill was passed by the Judiciary Committee this week.