The following is a legislative update from State Senator Mae Beavers
A flurry of bills began to move through the State Senate this week, including legislation getting tough on crime. Meanwhile, the Senate received an update on the state’s continued declining revenue collections and growth estimates in preparation for its work on the budget.
Lawmakers act on several anti-crime bills
Armed Robbers – A bill to strengthen penalties against armed robbers was debated in the Senate Finance Committee this week. The legislation, Senate Bill 3431, would more than double the minimum amount of time served for aggravated robbery.
Presently, armed robbers convicted on a first offense can receive up to eight years in jail, but the 30 percent requirement places the actual sentence at less than three years. This legislation would increase the mandatory minimum percentage of jail time for these armed offenders from 30 percent to 74 percent.
Meth labs – In other Judiciary Committee action, members approved legislation designed to protect the public from being harmed by the ill effects of entering a house or building that has been used as a meth lab. The bill, Senate Bill 2969, makes it a Class B misdemeanor offense to knowingly inhabit a property quarantined by law enforcement due to the manufacture of methamphetamine within the structure, unless that person is part of the official police investigation.
Child Abductions – Lawmakers gave final approval to legislation that aims to reduce the risk of child abduction in Tennessee. The bill, Senate Bill 3065, would provide courts with guidelines to follow regarding potential child abductions and to provide courts with appropriate measures to prevent these crimes.
Legislation prohibiting taxpayer-funded coverage for abortion arising from federal healthcare bill wins unanimous approval in Senate Commerce Committee
The Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation that would prohibit taxpayer-funded coverage for abortion services in Tennessee associated with the federal healthcare bill passed by Congress last month. The bill, Senate Bill 2686, prohibits any health care plan established pursuant to federal health care reform legislation enacted by the 111th United States Congress from offering coverage for abortion services.
Many experts believe the Executive Order signed by President Obama was part of an agreement to gain the votes of a key block of anti-abortion Democrats as the price for the massive federal health care law. Yet, the order may not stop funding for abortions, as the federal healthcare law left open the option for state-paid abortions, and was ambiguous in terms of allowing federal taxpayer funding for abortions.
Senate passes legislation to help homeowners avoid foreclosure
The Senate has approved legislation that would provide assistance to homeowners who are about to lose their home due to non-payment. The bill, Senate Bill 3519, gives people the opportunity to contact their lender in an effort to avoid foreclosure, as well as requiring that a new simple and easy-to-understand notice be sent to homeowners when they fall behind or become delinquent in their mortgage payments. Such a bill might help them find a resolution or to see if there are any governmental programs available to avoid a foreclosure sale.
The state has consistently ranked among states with the highest number of foreclosures for the past decade. Tennessee ranked 26th in the nation in February according to some reports.
Issues In Brief
Overreaching by Congress – The State Senate gave final approval to Senate Joint Resolution 897 sponsored by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and Senator Mae Beavers, which urges Tennessee’s Attorney General to join 19 other states in challenging the unconstitutional provisions in the federal government takeover of the nation’s health care system. The resolution states that the General Assembly shares the concern of other states that mandated insurance coverage for citizens within their boundaries violates the Commerce Clause and the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Elected Attorney General – The Senate heard two readings this week of a resolution sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers calling for an elected State Attorney General (AG). The resolution, Senate Joint Resolution 698, seeks to amend the state’s Constitution to allow a popular election every four years. Tennessee is the only state in the nation that allows the State Supreme Court to select the attorney general. The amendment process requires three readings before a vote is taken on the resolution. It must be approved by both the 106th General Assembly, currently in session, and the 107th, which will take office in 2011, before going to voters in a statewide referendum in November 2014.
English in the workplace – The Senate Commerce Committee has approved a bill to clarify that Tennessee employers have a right to institute an English-in-the-workplace policy. The bill, SB 2753, clarifies that employers can require that English be spoken on the job as long as it is posted. Many think that requiring English is often a safety precaution. Businesses where employees are continuously handling toxic products or food containers have a need to require English.
College Savings – The Senate Finance Committee has approved legislation to increase the number of college graduates by providing essential education to parents and students about how to save for college. The proposal, Senate Bill 3234, would create an 11-member Tennessee Financial Literacy Commission to establish a state clearinghouse of information, resources, and assistance for improving financial literacy in the area of college savings.
Similarly, a separate measure was approved by the full Senate that authorizes the Board of Trustees of the Tennessee Baccalaureate Education System Trust (BEST) to establish an incentive plan to encourage citizens to participate in any 529 college savings program that the Board has contracted with to assist in these efforts. The proposal, Senate Bill 1142, helps citizens take advantage of the incentive plans, grants and scholarships that could be available to them through individual savings accounts established by or on behalf of residents through BEST.
Medal Program – The full Senate approved Senate Bill 2488 that would create the Veterans' Honor Medal program to recognize and honor distinguished service by Tennessee veterans. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs, under the bill, would commission the design of a medal for the program.
Mammograms – Senator Mae Beavers pushed passage of Senate Joint Resolution 890 through the full Senate this week encouraging women to consult with their doctors and organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, when choosing to have annual mammograms. Beavers, a breast cancer survivor, credits screening and early intervention as a reason for her success in defeating the disease. The resolution takes issue with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ new guidelines increasing the age for baseline mammograms to age 50, and changing the recommendation for annual screenings to having the exams every other year. The resolution instead urges Tennessee women to use the American Cancer Society’s recommended standard for annual screenings beginning at age 40.