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State Rep. Jeremy Faison’s Capitol Report

It is to believe we’re already halfway through session! This was a big week as we passed legislation protecting children from abusive parents, ensuring all Tennessee schools have a zero-tolerance crime policy, increasing property tax relief for disabled veterans, and more. I was joined this week by some very special guests– Appalachian Electric Youth Leadership, Save the Children organization, Miss Tennessee, some great friends from Cosby, and Jessie Smith who helped me get elected 14 years ago.

Cosby Mafia

 House protects Tennessee workers’ right to private votes

House Republicans on Thursday passed legislation ensuring Tennessee workers’ rights are protected by secret ballot in union-organizing elections. House Bill 1342, sponsored by House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and State Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, prohibits an employer who accepts economic development incentives from Tennessee from disclosing an employee or subcontractor’s personal contact information to a labor organization without consent. 

Tennesseans voted in 2022 to codify the right-to-work in the state constitution. This measure protects Tennessee workers from being fired for not joining or paying a union. 

Even with these protections in place, Tennessee workers can still face intimidation when it comes to unionizing. Through a process known as card check, union officials pressure workers privately and publicly until they collect enough signatures directly from the workers until they have enough signatures to begin bargaining collectively.

House Bill 1342 ensures taxpayer dollars are not used to support coercive union tactics like card check. The legislation protects workers’ right to a private ballot in union elections and respects their right to privacy at home when companies take taxpayer-funded economic incentives. The companion bill is currently advancing through the Senate. 

Republicans protect foster children from abusive parents

Legislation to help further protect foster children from abusive parents was approved this week by the Tennessee House of Representatives. 

House Bill 752 would make it a Class C misdemeanor for the first time a foster parent in a kinship placement allows a child to visit a parent despite a court order prohibiting the contact.

The fine for first-time offenses would be $50. Subsequent violations would result in a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

There are approximately 121 children in Tennessee who are currently in kinship foster care and have a visitation restriction in place against their parents, according to information from the Department of Children’s Services. 

Law aims to minimize trauma for child victims of sexual assault 

Both chambers of the General Assembly this week passed legislation that aims to minimize trauma for underage victims of sexual assault during the criminal justice process. 

Current state law allows minors who have been sexually assaulted to be interviewed by trained professionals and recorded to for court proceedings. The law only allows these videos to be used in court for minors under the age of 13 and only for sexual offenses. 

House Bill 557, sponsored by State Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, extends the admissibility of forensic interviews in court for all children under 18 years of age, and allows forensic interviews to cover statements on sexual and physical abuse. 

The law also adds an additional qualification for forensic interviewers that increases the credibility of forensic interviews and their admissibility in a court of law. The bill will prevent children from being further traumatized by being required to testify in court in front of their abuser. House Bill 557 now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature. 

Committee advances bill to enhance third-grade literacy 

Legislation aimed at further improving third-grade literacy in Tennessee advanced out of the House K-12 Subcommittee this week.

House Bill 437, as amended, includes several enhancements to bipartisan legislation passed in 2021 to address learning loss related to COVID-19 and provide students with additional academic support before being promoted to the fourth grade if they are approaching reading on-level.

If approved, the bill would expand fourth-grade eligibility by allowing students who score in the “approaching” category on the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test to still be promoted to the next grade level if they also scored in the 50th percentile or higher on their most recent benchmark assessment provided by the state and given as a test.

Parents would also be able to receive additional assistance from school administrators when filing a waiver to appeal their child’s retention. The legislation also requires a tutor to be assigned for one year to all students in kindergarten through third grade who are retained beginning with the 2023-24 school year.

State Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, who is the primary sponsor of House Bill 437, told members of the committee on Tuesday that Tennessee must also continue to focus on early childhood literacy beginning in pre-kindergarten.  

House passes zero tolerance for threatening school violence

The Tennessee House of Representatives approved legislation this week to enhance the punishment for students who threaten violence at school.

House Bill 340 expands what constitutes a zero-tolerance offense to include threatening mass violence on school property or at a school-related activity. A violation would result in a student being expelled from school for at least one calendar year. 

It would be up to the local director of schools or the head of a charter school to determine whether the expelled student must attend an alternative school or virtual classes.

Other zero-tolerance offenses include bringing a firearm onto school property; committing aggravated assault or assault that results in bodily injury to a school employee; or is in unlawful possession of any drug, including any controlled substance, on school grounds or at a school-sponsored event. The companion version of the bill is still currently advancing through the Senate.


Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act: House Bill 1503, sponsored by State Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, aims to protect Tennesseans from being unexpectedly billed for out-of-network health care services that were provided at in-network facilities. As amended, the comprehensive legislation would hold patients harmless in surprise billing situations as well as establish an independent dispute resolution process for insurers and providers. It would also implement greater oversight of network adequacy standards. The Surprise Billing Consumer Protection Act would not apply to TennCare. House Bill 1503 is scheduled to be heard in the Government Operations Committee on March 20. 

Aggravated kidnapping, rape sentences: The House chamber this week passed legislation to enhance the punishment for aggravated kidnapping, aggravated rape and rape convictions. House Bill 5, sponsored by State Rep. John Gillespie, R-Memphis, would require the sentences for those crimes be no less than those imposed for a Range II offender. For aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape, which are both Class A felonies, the punishment would be between 25 and 40 years in prison. For rape, which is a Class B felony, the punishment would be 12 to 20 years in prison. The companion version of the bill is still currently advancing through the Senate.

Tax relief for disabled veterans: House Bill 1361, sponsored by State Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, would increase property tax relief that is available to disabled veterans and their spouses in Tennessee. The legislation would increase the threshold for calculating property tax relief from $175,000 to $210,000 for tax years beginning Jan. 1, 2024. House Bill 1361 is scheduled to be heard in the Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee on March 22.


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