Capitol Hill Updates from Sen. Ken Yager

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State Capitol at night. (photo: www.capitol.tn.gov)

Capitol Hill Week by Sen. Ken Yager

Legislation Extends the Prescription Safety Act of 2012

NASHVILLE – Action in the Tennessee General Assembly continued to shift from legislative committees to the floor of the Senate this week as lawmakers look towards adjournment in April.  Committees worked diligently to advance a number of key bills, including legislation which removes the sunset provision from the Prescription Safety Act of 2012.

I sponsored the 2012 act at the request of Governor Haslam to create a tool to fight the statewide epidemic of prescription drug abuse. The bill authorized a database for pain pill and required both physician and pharmacist to check the data base before issuing or dispensing a prescription for pain pills.  The intent to curb the so called doctor shopping (one person using multiple prescriptions for same drug as different pharmacies) which was a major source of pain pills.  The 2012 Act also authorized a committee of health care professionals to monitor the data base for patterns of abuse.

I am pleased to write that this tool has been successful.  Doctor shopping has reduces by 48%!   The sunset provision of the 2012 Act has been removed and it is now permanent

In other action,  the General Assembly passed legislation giving teachers and principals the choice whether to include student results from the 2015-2016 TNReady assessment in his or her evaluation is now on its way to the governor for his signature after the Senate and House of Representatives approved the measure this week.  The bill provides additional flexibility for educators, while supporting Tennessee’s continuing efforts to strengthen teaching, learning, and accountability.

The bill comes after technological problems were experienced with the state’s new online assessment last month.  The glitches resulted in an unexpected transition from the online test to a paper format.  I am dismayed that the state could spend so much money of a system that didn’t work and have asked the Chairman of the Joint Fiscal Review Committee, of which I am a member, to call the Commissioner of Education to explain how and why this happens.

Under Senate Bill 2508, the option that results in the highest score will automatically be selected.  Educators will be able to log into TNCompass, the state’s new licensure and evaluation portal, to see which calculation benefited them the most and was ultimately incorporated into their evaluation.  This information will be available in late summer or early fall when teacher’s composite evaluation scores become available.  If at any point in this three-year transition an educator’s evaluation would not benefit by including the student growth data from the 2015-16 TNReady test, he or she can have that data excluded.

In Brief  . . . .

Livestock / Custom Meat Sales — The Senate approved legislation concerning the on-farm sale of custom slaughtered meat this week.  Under current statute, a person can sell custom slaughtered beef to an individual, as long as the sale took place before the animal was brought to the slaughter house.  However, any sale of the meat after the slaughter takes place is illegal.  Under Senate Bill 1798 a person can sell the meat at any time before or after the slaughter takes place.  The legislation aims to give farmers more power over their livestock and livelihood.

Vandalism / State of Emergency – The full Senate approved Senate Bill 1609 this week broadening the sentencing enhancement for committing theft during a declared state of emergency to also include Class C felony vandalism offenses.  The legislation follows a new law passed last year which enhanced penalties for theft during a declared emergency.

Welfare Fraud –The full Senate approved legislation that would increase the penalty for TennCare fraud from a Class E felony to a Class D felony.  Senate Bill 2548 increases the term of imprisonment from 1 – 6 years to 2 – 12 years and imposes a mandatory fine, in addition to restitution, in the amount of $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense, and $1,000 for a third offense.  The legislation aims to ensure that TennCare services are fully available to those who require it most, as fraud hinders the state’s ability to serve the interests of those Tennesseans who need it most.

Child Custody / Parental Location — The State Senate passed legislation on Monday to help clarify existing law concerning child custody and parental relocation.  Senate Bill 2483 states that, if a parent wishes to relocate outside the state and more than 50 miles away from the other parent, they must provide that parent with proper notice.  This would stand in cases where a parenting plan or judicial order has already been finalized.  The bill passed unanimously and its companion bill is scheduled to be discussed before the full House.

Statute of Limitations / Aggravated Statutory Rape — State Senators have approved legislation that would extend the statute of limitations for aggravated statutory rape to 15 years after the victim turns 18 years of age.  Senate Bill 1841 passed unanimously and is pending action in the Finance, Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives.

Firefighters — The Senate State and Local Committee discussed a bill this week that would allow counties and municipalities to offer eligible voluntary firefighters group insurance benefits.  Senate Bill 1824 does not mandate that local ordinances offer insurance, but does give them the freedom to do so, if they wish.  According to the U.S. Fire Administration’s 2015 National Fire Department Census, nearly 75 percent of the 638 fire departments in the state are fully volunteer operations.  The bill passed committee unanimously and is scheduled next on the Senate floor.  Our volunteer fire departments play a critical role in rural fire protection.  This would be one way to thank these selfless volunteers.

Earlier Date for Sales Tax Holiday Weekend — The full Senate has approved Senate Bill 2239, which would move the sales tax holiday weekend to the last weekend in July.  The sales tax holiday assists parents with the high costs of back-to-school supplies, which, according to the National Retail Federation, cost families an average of nearly $670.   Current law was put into place before the school calendar changed to an earlier start date.  The purpose of the bill is to allow families to purchase the educational necessities during the sales tax holiday before the school session begins.

Handgun Permitting Act — The “Efficiency in Handgun Permitting Act” has received final Senate approval and is on its way to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.  The bill aims to improve the process for gun owners and lowers the fee associated with obtaining a handgun carry permit.  Senate Bill 2566 was given approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is part of a package of bills submitted to the legislature by Governor Bill Haslam.  The legislation extends the current five-year handgun carry permit to eight years, lowers the initial handgun permit fee from $115 for five years to $100 for eight years and expands the renewal cycle from six months to eight years after the expiration of a permit before a person must reapply as a “new” applicant.

Under the legislation, background checks will continue to be conducted at the time of initial issuance and at the time of renewal. . Additionally, an internal background check will be conducted in the fourth year of the eight-year permit without charge.  It also gives a member of the armed forces, whose permit does not expire while deployed until two months after their return to Tennessee, the same eight-year period after expiration that a civilian has to renew a permit before having to reapply as a new applicant.

Go to www.capitol.tn.gov to read more about these bills and others that are making their way though the Senate committees.  As always, call on me any time at www.kenyager.com

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