NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee General Assembly is back in session in Nashville! Over the next few months, lawmakers will discuss bills about several controversial issues. Many bills are expected to lead to more intense discussion than others.
Many can also directly impact people in Tennessee. Some of the most important and interesting bills headed to the legislature are listed below.
HB 1634 — Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris)
This bill would require election commissions in counties across the state to include three nonbinding questions about marijuana on the November 2022 ballot. The legislature will not be required to act in response to the questions, and they mostly act as a statewide survey about people's attitudes towards marijuana.
The questions are listed below:
- Should the State of Tennessee legalize medical marijuana?
- Should the State of Tennessee decriminalize possession of less than one ounce (1 oz.) of marijuana?
- Should the State of Tennessee legalize and regulate commercial sales of recreational-use marijuana?
HB 1634 was previously criticized by Representative Gloria Johnson, who called it a way to stall action towards legalizing marijuana in the state.
HB 1650 — Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris)
This bill would reduce the amount of tax that Tennessee collects at gas pumps, changing two existing laws. One would be brought down by 6 cents per gallon, to $0.20 per gallon of gas collected by the state. Another tax law would be reduced to $0.17 per gallon.
It would essentially bring the amount of tax collected from gasoline sales to levels before the IMPROVE Act was passed in 2017.
It would also require 2% of the money collected from the gas tax to be allocated to the state's highway fund and make several other changes to supplement the state highway fund and local government road programs.
HB 1662 — Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris)
This bill would ban the use of voting machines or ballot marking devices in elections across the state. Instead, it says county election commissions will need to use hand-marked paper ballots which would need to be counted using an optical ballot scanner.
That scanner also would not be able to use proprietary software, and the software will need to be open to public inspection before and after the election.
It would also apply to the 2022 elections. If county election commissions cannot get the necessary equipment before then, it says they would be allowed to ask for an extension to 2024 from the secretary of state.
The state would cover at least 50% of the cost of shifting to paper ballots, according to the bill. Paper ballots will also need to include security features like watermarks, digital holograms or other technology to make sure they are not duplicated.
It also amends the law to allow poll watchers to take video recordings of polling locations.
HB 1664 — Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro)
This short bill would amend Tennessee law to explicitly make it illegal to post a fake review about a business online, with the intent to defraud the public.
Information about the kind of crime this would be considered and the severity of the punishments for it was not immediately available.
SB 1659 — Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga)
This bill is otherwise known as the "Healthy Food Financing Act" and will establish a 5 cent tax on non-alcoholic, plastic drink containers to pay for a program improving the availability of fresh foods in underserved communities across the state.
The program would provide financing for retailers to open, renovate or expand grocery stores in specific communities.
It would establish a new fund using the taxes as well as private grants or loans, and any available federal funds, for grocery stores to use. It could be administered with the help of a nonprofit organization, according to the bill.
Administrators behind the fund would need to annually report on projects they funded. Applicants who want to use it to expand or open grocery stores ould need to show they can successfully implement the store and show they will be able to repay the money provided.
They would also need to agree to provide at least 30% of retail space for perishable goods such as fruits, vegetables, meats and fish. They would also need to show how they planned to hire from within their communities.
If passed, the law would take effect on July 1, 2022.
SB 1670 — Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga)
The law would expand the list of people required to undergo training on how they can prevent human trafficking to include educators across the state. All school personnel, instead of just teachers, would need to be trained every 3 years.
The law would go into effect on July 1, 2022, and it would apply to the 2022-2023 school year.
HB 1671 - Rep. Michael Curcio (R-Dickson)
The bill would allow families to receive school vouchers if the school district took certain COVID-19 precautions. These include having less than 180 days of in-person learning due to COVID-19 or if it implemented a mask mandate policy that did not allow parents/guardians to opt children out of it.
HB 1690— Rep. Chris Hurt (R-Halls)
This bill restricts the ability to sell, purchase, or possess products containing intoxicating cannabinoids derived from hemp to persons who are 21 years of age or older.
It requires retailers and wholesalers of products containing hemp-derived cannabinoids to be licensed; levies privilege tax at the rate of 6.6% on wholesale sale of products containing hemp-derived cannabinoids.
HB 1714— Rep. Todd Warner (R-Chapel Hill)
It enacts the Verify Our Tennessee Elections (VOTE) Act. The bill requires county election commissions to conduct a forensic audit, canvassing, and review of the chain of custody of ballots and equipment from the 2020 general election. The bill says it would be to determine the accuracy of the election results for the president of the United States and for each United States congressional election.
It specifies that county election commissions would be able to "conduct the investigation in the manner most likely to yield accurate and reliable results, including the authority to examine witnesses and subpoena documents and records other than ballots."
Election commissions would need to report to the secretary of state by June 1, 2022. Then, the secretary would submit a report to the "ad hoc election integrity subcommittee nine days afterward.
That committee would be made up of six members from the joint government operations committee, with three members selected by the senate speakers and another three chosen by the house speaker.
The final report, after moving through several committees, would be given to the governor by July 1, 2022.
Many claims saying that machines were hacked or votes were improperly counted in the 2020 presidential election have been proven to be incorrect in many reports, including ones of dead people voting.
SB 1690— Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield)
This bill enacts the "DMV Modernization Act of 2022". It requires the department of safety to issue licenses to third-party service providers to perform certain driver services, such as the issuance of driver licenses.
HB 1735— Rep. Chris Todd (R-Madison Co.)
This bill lowers the age requirement to obtain an enhanced or concealed handgun carry permit or lawfully carry a handgun in public from 21 to 18 years of age. It states that the statutory authorization to transport or store a firearm or firearm ammunition in a motor vehicle under certain circumstances does not apply to a person under 21 years of age in a parking area that is owned, operated, or while in use by any school unless the person is at least 18 years of age and meets certain military qualifications.
HB 1738— Rep. Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna)
The bill extends for an additional year, until June 30, 2023, the sales tax holiday for the retail sale of gun safes and gun safety devices.
HB 1742— Rep. Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna)
The bill authorizes local correctional officers and local law enforcement officers to enroll in one course at any state-supported college or university without having to pay tuition and fees.
HB 1761— Rep. Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin)
It establishes that assault against a sports official while the official is officiating a sporting event is a Class E felony or Class A misdemeanor, depending on the nature of the assault.
SB 1764— Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville)
It requires the BEP formula to fund full-time school counselor positions at a ratio of one per 350 students or one full-time school counselor position for each LEA, whichever is greater.
HB 1770 - Rep. Jesse Chism (D-Memphis)
It prohibits a landlord from refusing to rent, lease, or otherwise extend housing opportunities to a person solely because the person was previously convicted of a criminal offense if the conviction was for an offense other than a violent offense, sexual offense, or violent sexual offense and the conviction occurred more than five years before the refusal.
HB 1830 - Rep. London Lamar (D-Memphis)
It requires certain state departments to create programs to reduce gun violence in communities, including a youth employment program, violence intervention program, and a firearm buyback program.
The buyback program would be run through the Department of Safety, and would provide cash or items of value such as grocery vouchers and sports tickets for guns people voluntarily surrender. The surrendered guns would be destroyed.
It also requires the Tennessee Department of Health to submit a quarterly report to the legislature and counties and municipalities on the effects of gun violence in communities.
The Department of Education would be required to develop a program for children in K-12 schools to teach students how to resolve conflicts in non-violent ways.
HB 1833 - Rep. Mark Hall (R-Cleveland)
It expands littering laws to include the offense of knowingly placing, dropping, or throwing tires on public or private property without permission, and classifies aggravated criminal littering as a Class A misdemeanor if it involves less than four tires or a Class E felony for four or more tires.
HB 1835 - Rep. Rusty Grills (R-Newbern)
It authorizes a volunteer rescue squad worker to respond to an emergency during the worker's regularly scheduled working hours without loss of pay, vacation time, sick leave, or earned overtime accumulation. It also authorizes the worker to take their next shift off as a vacation or sick day without loss of pay under certain circumstances.
HB 1836 - Rep. John Clemmons (D-Nashville)
The bill requires each public high school to begin classroom instruction no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and each public middle school to begin classroom instruction no earlier than 8:00 a.m. beginning in the 2023-2024 school year.
HB 1849 - Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown)
It authorizes a local education agency to use the ACT, ACT Aspire, or SAT suites of assessments, instead of state-mandated assessments, to test students in grades 9-12 in the subjects of math and English language arts.
HB 1862 - Rep. Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka)
It requires, beginning with the 2022-2023 academic year, each four-year public institution of higher education to obtain the SAT/ACT or similar score of a student seeking to enroll as a condition of admission.
HB 1866 - Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin)
The bill would remove child custody or visitation rights for parents who have not paid child support for three years or more. It allows the other parent of the child to ask the court to grant the parent who has not paid child support "reasonable visitation rights" with their child.
HB 1869 - Rep. London Lamar (D-Memphis)
It requires county election commissions to designate public institutions of higher education with more than 20,000 enrolled students, such as the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, as polling places during early voting in federal and state general elections and presidential primaries for at least three days. It also authorizes the institution to select the days for early voting.
HB 1867 - Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville)
It requires an employer with a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy to grant an exemption to the policy to any person who provides a medical reason supported by a statement from a licensed healthcare practitioner or a religious reason.
SB 1786 - Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol)
It prohibits a sexual offender, violent sexual offender, or a violent juvenile sexual offender from knowingly renting or offering to rent a swimming pool, hot tub, or other body of water to be used for swimming that is owned by the offender.
SB 1822 - Sen. Steve Southerland (R-Morristown)
It prohibits felons who haven't had their voting rights restored in Tennessee from entering a polling place, and allows local county commissions to adopt policies to authorize credentialed members of the press access to polling locations and to take video/photographs at such locations.
HB 1894 - Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge)
It prohibits males from participating in public higher education sports that are designated for females. Creates a cause of action for violations that deprive a student of an athletic opportunity or that cause direct or indirect harm to a student at the middle school, high school, or postsecondary level.
HB 1895 - Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge)
It requires the commissioner of education to withhold a portion of the state education finance funds that an LEA is otherwise eligible to receive if the LEA fails or refuses to determine a student's gender, for purposes of participation in school sports, by the student's sex at the time of birth. Exempts an LEA that fails or refuses to determine a student's gender, for purposes of participation in school sports, by the student's sex at the time of birth if the LEA's failure or refusal to do so is required by a court or other legally binding order.
HB 1898 - Rep. Rusty Grills (R-Newbern)
It renames enhanced and concealed handgun carry permits as enhanced and concealed firearm carry permits and authorizes a permit holder to carry any firearms, rather than handguns, that the permit holder legally owns or possesses. It expands the circumstances in which a permit holder may carry a firearm.
HB 1905 - Rep. Clay Doggett (R-Pulaski)
It requires hospitals, clinics, and persons, including doctors and nurses, who are called upon to render aid to a person suffering from the effects of a drug overdose to report the drug overdose to the appropriate chief of police or sheriff and district attorney general.
HB 1909 - Rep. Mike Sparks (R-Smryna)
It authorizes a public charter school to enroll a school-age child who resides outside the geographic boundaries of the LEA in which the public charter school is located if the school-age child resides in a school district in which a public charter school is not located, regardless of the out-of-district enrollment policy, if any, of the LEA in which the public charter school is located.
HB 1911 - Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson)
It raises from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony certain animal cruelty offenses involving a cock; requires a fine of not less than $1,000 nor more than $2,500 for the offense of being a spectator at a cock fight.
HB 1912 - Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby)
It authorizes LEAs to provide up to 10 days of the required 180 days of classroom instruction through remote instruction in accordance with certain criteria.
HB 1919 - Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro)
It prohibits taking custody of certain children transported across state lines without the written consent of the department of children's services.
HB1921 - Rep. Dave Wright (R-Corryton)
It designates a segment of Tazewell Pike in Knox County as the "SSG Ryan C. Knauss Memorial Highway."
HB1968 - Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville)
It enacts the "Free All Cannabis for Tennesseans Act," which establishes a regulatory structure for the cultivation, processing, and retail sale of marijuana and marijuana products in this state to be administered by the department of agriculture.
SB 1856 - Sen. Frank S. Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains)
It authorizes hunters to donate meat from wild hogs and other non-indigenous animals to nonprofit organizations that operate food pantries and soup kitchens, under certain circumstances.