House considers additional safety measures, prepares to pass budget
Lawmakers have been winding down legislative business for the first session of the 113th General Assembly as the House and Senate chambers prepare to pass a budget and additional safety measures to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals.
Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday issued an executive order aimed at strengthening background checks. Tennessee law already prohibits people who have been involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment from possessing or purchasing firearms. The governor’s order sets a 72-hour period for reporting new relevant criminal activity and court mental health information to the Tennessee Instant Check System (TICS).
The House chamber last week passed bipartisan legislation that significantly strengthens safety at public and private schools across Tennessee. The School Safety Act of 2023, House Bill 322, was introduced in January, though several measures were added following the deadly shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville on March 27.
These measures include enhanced legislation and funding to place an armed security guard at every Tennessee public school, boost physical school security at public and private schools, and provide additional mental health resources for Tennesseans. The bill adds $140 million to establish a school resource officer (SRO) grant fund to place a trained, armed security guard at every public school.
The House on Thursday formally honored the Metro Nashville Police Department along with officers Rex Engelbert and Michael Collazo who took down the active shooter at the Covenant School, a private Christian academy. House Joint Resolution 504 honored the department and the officers whose heroic actions stopped the shooter within minutes of arriving at the school. House Resolution 521 recognized the Nashville Fire Department and the Nashville Department of Emergency Communications for the critical role they played in facilitating a quick response. The House also passed six joint resolutions to honor each of the six victims of the Covenant School shooting.
Each of the victims was memorialized in House Joint Resolutions 523, 524, 525, 526, 527, 528. They are Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney, and Hallie Scruggs, all age nine, Mike Hill, age 61, Cynthia Peak, age 61, and Katherine Koonce, age 60.
House passes Tennessee Information Protection Act
The House of Representatives on Monday unanimously approved legislation that will protect Tennesseans’ right to privacy and ensure they have control of the personal information they share online.
House Bill 1181, also known as the Tennessee Information Protection Act, requires large technology companies like Google, Instagram, and TikTok to fully disclose to consumers what information is being collected about them through their online activities.
When consumers interact on websites, social media or apps, they leave behind personal information that is sold without their knowledge to groups that use it to market their products, ideas or beliefs with targeted ads.
The Tennessee Information Protection Act will require online platforms to disclose up-front exactly what personal information will be collected and how they intend to use it. Tennesseans will also be able to opt-out of the selling of their personal information to third parties without discrimination. Additionally, the legislation includes protections for biometric data that measures physical characteristics like voice records, fingerprints, retinal scans or facial recognition.
Companies that misuse a consumer’s information will also be held accountable. The bill gives the state attorney general the authority to impose civil penalties if these big tech companies fail to safeguard private data or violate consumer protections.
The companion version of House Bill 1181 is still awaiting Senate approval.
House increases support for human trafficking victims
Republican legislation to allow victims of human trafficking to receive financial support in Tennessee has been unanimously approved by the House chamber.
House Bill 555 adds human trafficking offenses to the list of eligible victims who can receive compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation (CIC) Fund for personal injury or loss incurred as a result of the crime.
The CIC was established as a fund of last resort to financially assist innocent victims of violent crimes in Tennessee that result in personal injury. Eligible victims and claimants may be reimbursed for medical expenses, loss of wages and other unforeseen costs related to the crime.
The legislation clarifies that an individual is still eligible for compensation from the fund if they could not fully cooperate during the investigation and prosecution of the offender if their cooperation was impacted due to their age, physical condition, psychological state, cultural or linguistic barriers or due to other health and safety concerns. It also removes the requirement that human trafficking victims, or claimants acting on their behalf, must have reported the offense to law enforcement within 48 hours. The companion version of House Bill 555 is currently advancing in the Senate.
“In God We Trust” on license plates: The House on Thursday passed the omnibus license plate bill, sponsored by State Rep. Dan Howell, R-Cleveland. House Bill 142 adds “In God We Trust” to all license plates in Tennessee. Currently, Tennesseans can choose to opt-in to having the phrase on their license plate, and this legislation will change it to an opt-out option. The legislation now heads to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.