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State Rep. Jody Barrett’s Capitol Hill Review

General Assembly passes ELVIS Act

Tennessee first in the nation to protect ‘voice’ from AI misuse

The General Assembly this week unanimously passed first-of-its-kind legislation protecting artists’ identity and work from misuse of artificial intelligence (AI).

The Ensuring Likeness Voice and Image Security (ELVIS) Act, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, now heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature.

“As technology advances, we must ensure intellectual property and humanity is protected. Consumers should be fully informed when they encounter artificial content,” Lamberth said. “The ability of artificial intelligence to replicate someone else’s legitimate voice and likeness should deeply concern us all. The ELVIS Act sets critical safeguards that protect creators against harm, exploitation and theft.”

While Tennessee’s existing law protects name, image and likeness, it does not address new, personalized generative AI cloning models and services that enable human impersonation and allow users to make unauthorized fake reproductions in the image and voice of others.

The emergence of artificial intelligence threatens the careers of artists whose image, likeness, and voice are replicated, as well as the future of the music industry and the jobs it supports.

Tennessee is home to more than 68,000 songwriters. The state ranks No. 1 in the nation for music industry employment, with jobs growing by 21 percent over the last five years. Overall, Tennessee’s music industry supports nearly 62,000 jobs across the state, contributes $5.8 billion to gross domestic product (GDP) and fills more than 4,500 music establishments.

The ELVIS Act is the first legislation of its kind in the nation to build upon existing state rule protecting against the unauthorized use of someone’s likeness by adding “voice” to the realm it protects. Once signed by the governor, the legislation takes effect July 1.

Tennessee Prevention of Drunk Driving Act advances

Legislation to reduce drunk driving in Tennessee advanced out of the House Departments and Agencies Subcommittee this week.

The Tennessee Prevention of Drunk Driving Act, sponsored by State Rep. Ron Gant, R-Piperton, would create a 12-member advisory task force to review impaired driving and boating statewide, and offer solutions to reduce those crimes from occurring. The Impaired Driving Advisory Council would also be required to submit all of its reports, strategic plans and recommendations annually to the General Assembly.

Additionally, law enforcement officers investigating fatal wrecks involving a suspected drunk driver would be required to determine if the individual was served alcohol at a licensed establishment. The findings would be reported to the Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC) within 48 hours.

“Impaired driving is destroying families,” Gant said Wednesday. “Law enforcement across this state is doing everything they can, but they need help solving this problem… This bill is meant to identify the problem and come up with solutions that will save lives here in Tennessee.”

There were 6,135 wrecks statewide that involved an alcohol-impaired driver in 2022, according to the most recent data from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. There were 324 fatalities and more than 3,700 injuries as a result.

The legislation would also require the ABC to regularly report to the legislature ways to prevent underage drinking, drunk driving and other harmful uses of alcohol in Tennessee.

Adults who begin drinking as a teenager are more likely to develop an alcohol dependence at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The study of 43,000 U.S. adults also found that nearly half of those who developed alcoholism had become alcohol-dependent by the age of 21.

House Bill 2845 is scheduled to be heard in the State Government Committee on March 13.

Republicans fight to combat illegal immigration in Tennessee

The House State Government Committee this week advanced Republican legislation that seeks to combat illegal immigration in Tennessee.

House Bill 2124, sponsored by State Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern, would ensure all law enforcement in the state notify the appropriate federal authorities if an individual they come into contact with is found to be in the country illegally. Notification is currently not required under state law.

“The federal government continues to put the safety of every Tennessean at risk by not properly securing our nation’s borders,” Grills said. “We are either a nation of laws or we are a lawless nation. Until this crisis is over, we must ensure the proper authorities know about individuals who are found to be in this country illegally. This legislation will better protect our communities and make sure those wishing to come here do so the right way.”

There were more than 2.4 million encounters at the nation’s southwest border during the 2023 fiscal year, according to the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security. Since 2021, there have been at least 1.7 million individuals who illegally entered the country and successfully evaded authorities.

House Bill 2124 is scheduled to be heard in the House chamber on March 11. The companion version of the legislation is still advancing through the Senate. If approved, the new law would take effect July 1.

House advances legislation protecting Tennesseans from ‘debanking’

Legislation to protect Tennesseans from discrimination by financial institutions for personal beliefs advanced in the Banking and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee on Tuesday.

House Bill 2100, sponsored by State Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, would prohibit financial institutions and insurers from discriminating, denying or canceling their services to Tennesseans based on political opinions, religious beliefs, social credit scores and other factors. The practice is commonly referred to as “debanking.”

“The trend of freezing bank accounts based on religious or political beliefs is deeply worrying to me,” Zachary said. “We will put a stop to this dangerous practice in Tennessee because having to self-police speech for fear of being denied financial services is not representative of our state’s values. Tennessee Republicans will continue protecting the right of citizens to freely express their convictions.”

Debanking for political and religious reasons has increasingly become an issue in the United States. The bill would make debanking by financial institutions with more than $100 billion in assets for beliefs and other criteria an unfair or deceptive practice under the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act of 1977, which is a Class B misdemeanor offense.

House Bill 2100 is scheduled to be heard in the Commerce Committee on March 12.

Republicans introduce Family Rights and Responsibilities Act

Republicans have introduced legislation that explicitly lays out 12 fundamental rights of parents in Tennessee law.

The Family Rights and Responsibilities Act, sponsored by House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, protects parents’ fundamental rights and responsibilities to make education, health care, moral and religious decisions for their child. The bill aims to protect children from being indoctrinated by ideologies contrary to the values taught by their parents without interference from a government entity.

“This legislation honors the fundamental role moms and dads play in the lives of their children as lead decision-makers and protectors,” Faison said.  “It shields families from government overreach by ensuring a parent’s inherent right to instill personal values, beliefs and cultural practices is preserved.”

The bill further codifies that only parents and legal guardians can give consent for the collection, storage, or sharing of biometric data, such as facial images and fingerprints, or DNA and blood.

House Bill 2936 is currently advancing in the House and Senate chambers. If approved, the legislation would take effect July 1.

Additional protections from child gender-disfiguring procedures advances

Legislation to further protect children in Tennessee from gender-disfiguring procedures advanced out of the House Civil Justice Subcommittee this week.

House Bill 2310, sponsored by State Rep. Bryan Richey, R-Maryville, seeks to stop anyone from knowingly taking a minor across state lines without parental consent in order to receive a prohibited medical procedure like the removal of the child’s healthy body parts in order for them to identify as a gender that is different from their biological sex.

“This is just to prevent bad actors from coming in and taking our children to go somewhere else without that child’s parent or guardian giving them permission to do that,” Richey said.

Any adult who recruits, harbors or transports a minor for a restricted medical procedure could be charged with a Class C felony and held civilly liable by the child’s parent or legal guardian under the proposed legislation.

The General Assembly last year passed the Protecting Children from Gender Mutilation Act. The legislation provided the nation’s strongest protections against disfiguring gender mutilation surgeries and treatments on minors.

House Bill 2310 is scheduled to be heard in the Civil Justice Committee on March 13.

Bill to prevent ‘swatting’ advances

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday advanced legislation to increase protections against the intentional false reporting of emergencies in Tennessee, often referred to as “swatting.”

House Bill 2395, filed by State Rep. Elaine Davis, R-Knoxville, would make it a Class C felony to knowingly make a false report of an active shooter and hostage situation in order to draw a large law enforcement response to a specific location.

“This is absolutely frightening our community,” Davis said regarding recent swatting incidents in Tennessee. “Someone is going to get seriously hurt in response to some of these false reports.”

It is already illegal under state law to intentionally make a false report regarding a past, present or future bombing or fire. House Bill 2395 is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on March 12.

House approves bill allowing overdose reversal drug in schools

The House chamber this week unanimously passed legislation aimed at increasing the availability of potentially life-saving medication on school campuses that would counteract the effects of a drug overdose.

House Bill 2311, sponsored by State Rep. Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro, would allow students, employees or visitors to carry an opioid antagonist, such as Naloxone, while on school property or attending a school-sponsored activity held off-campus. The legislation would also ensure the medication is stored properly at the school.

Naloxone, more commonly known as Narcan, is a pressurized nasal spray that is designed to be given to someone experiencing a drug overdose to rapidly reverse it.

“This is a potentially life-saving medication, and I believe it is vital that it is readily available in our schools or at school-related events, should it ever be needed,” Baum said.

The companion version of House Bill 2311 is still advancing through the Senate. 

Bill increasing protections from bullying, cyberbullying advances

The Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week advanced legislation to further protect students in Tennessee from bullying and cyberbullying.

House Bill 2590, sponsored by State Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore, would classify the crimes as forms of harassment. The legislation would also require an officer who has knowledge of bullying or cyberbullying to make a report of the incident and notify a parent or guardian when the victim is a minor.

“A common factor in acts of violence and suicide seems to lead back to the person being bullied. If passed, this bill will hopefully define what bullying is and notify the child’s parents when they have been a victim of bullying,” Russell said.

House Bill 2590 is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on March 12.

House passes bill to ensure local governments enforce laws

Legislation to ensure police can properly investigate suspected traffic-related crimes in Tennessee was approved by the House chamber this week.

House Bill 1931, sponsored by State Rep. John Gillespie, R-Memphis, prevents local governments or officials from limiting the ability of law enforcement to conduct a traffic stop if a local, state or federal law is believed to have been violated.

“All we’re saying is that local law enforcement has to enforce state law,” Gillespie said Thursday. “There is nothing more to this legislation than just that.”

The companion version of House Bill 1931 is still advancing through the Senate.


Child Victims’ Privacy Act: The House chamber on Monday passed legislation to protect the privacy of child victims of violent crime and their families. The Child Victims’ Privacy Act, sponsored by State Rep. Rebecca Alexander, R-Jonesborough, ensures county medical examiner and autopsy reports of minors who are victims of violent crime remain private except in certain circumstances. The bill protects sensitive information generally included in autopsy reports like a victim’s medical history, photos, toxicology, and communications with family members and law enforcement. The reports would still be allowed to be released in certain circumstances, including when a parent or guardian is not a suspect in the death of a child and gives explicit consent. A court may also order the release of the records upon showing good cause. The companion version of House Bill 1695 is still advancing through the Senate.

Deterring juvenile crime: Legislation aimed at curbing violent crimes committed by juveniles in Tennessee was approved by the House chamber this week. House Bill 2126, sponsored by State Rep. Rusty Grills, R-Newbern, allows local district attorneys and judges to determine if a juvenile age 15 and older should be transferred to adult criminal court when they are charged with committing or attempting to commit organized retail crime or theft of a firearm. The legislation addresses a dangerous trend in which minors are being recruited by adults to steal or break into businesses, homes or cars because there are fewer consequences for their actions. The companion version of House Bill 2126 is still advancing through the Senate.

Orders of protection: The House Criminal Justice Committee this week advanced legislation to increase protections for domestic abuse victims in Tennessee. House Bill 2168, sponsored by State Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, would require an order of protection related to allegations of domestic abuse to remain in effect during an appeal unless otherwise order by the general sessions judge or official. The legislation is scheduled to be heard in the House chamber on March 11. The companion version of the bill is still advancing through the Senate.

Protecting children: The House chamber on Monday passed legislation to ensure anyone that produces and distributes illegal obscene material can be held civilly liable for injuries and damages to victims. House Bill 2159, introduced by State Rep. Jody Barrett, R-Dickson, will discourage the production and distribution of child pornography and obscenity in Tennessee. Individuals and entities who produce, sell, send, or distribute obscene material are already in violation of state and federal law. The companion version of House Bill 2159 is still working its way through the Senate.

Campus safety: The House chamber on Monday approved legislation to ensure Tennessee college students can protect themselves on campus without facing criminal charges. House Bill 1909, introduced by State Rep. Gino Bulso, R-Brentwood, clarifies that it is not a crime for adults to carry certain non-lethal weapons in most buildings, recreation areas and other facilities on public college campuses in the state. Non-lethal weapons include items like pepper spray, mace, a stun gun or other conducted energy device. The companion version of House Bill 1909 is still advancing through the Senate.

Consumer protection: The House chamber on Monday approved legislation to ensure that foods sold at grocery stores in Tennessee are properly labeled if they contained a vaccine intended for use in humans. House Bill 1894, sponsored by State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, would classify the foods as drugs under the Tennessee Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The legislation is a preemptive consumer protection measure to address potential advances in technology that could lead to vaccines or vaccine material being used in consumer foods. The companion version of House Bill 1894 is still advancing through the Senate.

Victims’ rights: The House chamber on Monday unanimously approved legislation to update Tennessee’s Safe at Home Program, which provides protections for victims of domestic abuse, stalking, human trafficking and other sexual crimes. House Bill 1858, introduced by State Rep. Elaine Davis, R-Knoxville, allows individuals who apply for the home address confidentiality program to reside at addresses not previously identified in any public records. The companion version of House Bill 1858 is still advancing through the Senate.

Public safety: A bill to strengthen Tennessee’s bail laws and improve public safety passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week. House Bill 1718, sponsored by State Rep. John Gillespie, R-Memphis, would require defendants charged with a Class A, B, C or D felony to submit to pretrial monitoring if the magistrate issues conditions of release. Courts must also forfeit bail and may issue an arrest warrant if a defendant fails to comply with the conditions. House Bill 1718 is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on March 12.

Street racing: Legislation to create a task force to explore ways to curb illegal street racing in Tennessee advanced out of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Wednesday. House Bill 2062, sponsored by State Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, would task the group with determining how to implement recommendations at the local level, and whether additional state laws are necessary. House Bill 2062 is scheduled to be heard in the Transportation Committee on March 12.

Month of prayer and fasting: The House chamber this week approved House Joint Resolution 803, sponsored by State Rep. Monty Fritts, R-Kingston, which designates July as a time of prayer and fasting in Tennessee. Those who are physically able and spiritually inclined to do so are encouraged to participate. The 30 days of prayer and fasting coincides with the start of the state’s 2024-25 fiscal year. House Joint Resolution 803 will now head to the Senate for approval.

Threats of mass violence: The Criminal Justice Committee advanced legislation to increase the punishment for juveniles who threaten mass violence in Tennessee. House Bill 1698, sponsored by State Rep. Robert Stevens, R-Smyrna, would add a one-year suspension of driving privileges to the punishment for any minor who threatened to commit mass violence on school property or at a school-related activity in the state. The child would not be able to obtain a driver’s license during that period as well. The legislation is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on March 12.

General Assembly: A bill to ensure the Tennessee General Assembly can follow the state constitution when determining rules for its proceedings was approved by the House chamber on Monday. House Bill 1652, sponsored by State Rep. Gino Bulso, R-Brentwood, would transfer jurisdiction for all legal challenges to the rules, regulations and procedures of the Tennessee House or Senate from state to federal court. The companion version of the bill is still advancing through the Senate.

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