Legislation strengthens state’s TANF program to assist families in achieving self-sufficiency and build a thriving Tennessee
House Bill 142, legislation strengthening and improving the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, advanced through the Government Operations Committee on Monday.
The bill was recommended by a group appointed to study possible changes to the program, which currently has $710 million in reserves. The funds, which come from a federal block grant, provide important support to struggling families such as child care assistance, temporary cash assistance, transportation, job training, employment activities and other support services offered through the state’s Families First Program.
This legislation creates a two-year pilot program which provides enhanced cash assistance to individuals who are actively pursuing educational opportunities. The bill also increases the TANF allotment and distributes $180 million through a new Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Program, which will create large-scale programs benefiting TANF recipients.
House Bill 142 will create the Families First Community Grants to infuse $50 million in TANF reserves funds into the community through grants to organizations providing services to low-income families. It includes the Two-Generation program, which focuses on intergenerational poverty through a “whole family” approach by combining parent and child interventions to break the cycle of poverty and create a pathway to economic security. The TANF Advisory Board would be created to approve grantees and provide important input regarding the effectiveness of existing Families First and Two-Generation Program policies and grant programs.
In addition, the bill provides that $191 million will be reserved to ensure the program’s stability during an economic downturn. However, once those reserves are in place, it provides that funding not spent from the department’s previous year will be used for community grants that will be spread statewide to build stronger families and a thriving Tennessee.
House unanimously votes to protect first responders
The General Assembly on Thursday unanimously approved legislation ensuring someone who murders a first responder with targeted intent for the job they do will be charged and punished as a terrorist for their crime. House Bill 511 adds new language under the current definition of terrorism that creates new protections for law enforcement, paramedics, firefighters, correctional officers, department of corrections employees, and other emergency medical rescue workers. If convicted, the perpetrator would receive life without parole or the death penalty.
Once signed into law, House Bill 511 would among the nation’s strongest legislation protecting first responders.
Business Fairness Act protects businesses in state of emergency
Legislation that seeks to protect small business during a state of emergency passed the Commerce Committee this week. The Covid-19 pandemic presented many challenges for small businesses across the state. Those that were not deemed essential suffered while their bigger competitors were allowed to remain open, ultimately giving government the authority to pick winners and losers in business.
House Bill 855, also known as the “Business Fairness Act,” provides businesses with the assurance that they cannot be forced to close while larger competitors stay open, and also gives businesses the choice to follow any set of guidelines, state or local, that allows them to operate at the capacity that works best for the business to protect their customers and employees.
House Bill 855 will be heard for consideration on the House floor on Monday, March 29.
General Assembly bans human traffickers from getting commercial driver’s licenses
Both House and Senate chambers on Monday gave unanimous approval to legislation further strengthening Tennessee’s human trafficking laws. House Bill 116 bars anyone convicted of human trafficking from getting a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in Tennessee for life. The bill mirrors the No Human Trafficking on Our Roads Act of 2018 signed by President Donald Trump but is stronger because it does not only apply to perpetrators who commit human trafficking crimes while using a commercial vehicle.
House Bill 116 strongly supports a national effort to eradicate the appalling and heinous crime of human and sex trafficking by imposing tough penalties on those who exploit others. More than 11,500 reports of human trafficking cases were reported in 2019, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Unreported cases are believed to be significantly higher. House Bill 116 heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.
Evelyn Boswell’s Law approved by the General Assembly
House Bill 384, known as “Evelyn Boswell’s Law” passed unanimously in in both chambers of the General Assembly this week.
The legislation honors a missing Sullivan County toddler reported missing in February 2020. The law will require a parent or guardian who believes a child 12 years of age or younger is missing to report it to a law enforcement agency or the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation within 24 hours. Failure to report or delaying a report would result in a Class A misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Evelynn Boswell was 15-months-old when she was last seen in December 2019. She wasn’t reported missing until February 2020. Her remains were found weeks later on a family member’s property.
The child’s mother, Megan Boswell, never reported her daughter missing. She currently faces 19 felony charges, including felony murder, aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect.
Once signed by the governor, Evelyn Boswell’s Law will go into effect July 1.
General Assembly protects women’s sports
Both chambers of the General Assembly gave final approval to legislation protecting the competitive balance of women’s sports this week.
House Bill 3 ensures female athletes are not discriminated against by clarifying that participation in public middle and high school interscholastic sports must correspond with a student’s biological gender at birth. Women’s sports were created to give girls a fair chance at competition. That includes fair victories and fair defeats.
Local school districts have a legitimate interest and obligation to ensure they are not creating opportunities for undue injury to children who participate in interscholastic activities and sports. The bill ensures boys are not able to displace girls in competitive events which could deny female athletes’ victories, opportunities or scholarships.
Republicans enhance protections for aging and vulnerable citizens
An important piece of legislation advancing through the House is the “Safe Seniors Act of 2021,” House Bill 718. This bill
enhances protections for Tennessee’s aging and vulnerable citizens.
House Bill 718 places elder abuse alongside child abuse as a crime that requires a magistrate to make specific findings before setting bail for suspects arrested on suspicion of abusing older citizens. It also makes it easier for prosecutors to take depositions to preserve testimony of aging and vulnerable people. The legislation modifies current law to recognize that many older and vulnerable people are unable to sufficiently communicate to testify that a specific act was painful. The bill makes accommodations to satisfy the definition of ‘physical harm’ to include acts that would cause a reasonable person pain.
House Bill 718 allows the vulnerability of a victim of abuse a factor that can be considered in cases of rape and aggravated rape. It also allows multiple counts of sexual abuse to be a factor that judges can weigh when deciding whether to impose consecutive sentencing. The Safe Seniors Act of 2021 will assist law enforcement and prosecutors by taking dangerous individuals who abuse aging and vulnerable citizens off the streets. Judges will have the ability to ensure sentences for these terrible acts reflect the severity of the crimes.
House Bill 718 is scheduled for consideration in the Rules and Calendar Committee on April 1.
Legislation gives Tennessee’s governor authority to require all schools to offer in-person learning
The General Assembly on Thursday gave final approval for legislation giving Tennessee’s governor the authority to issue an executive order requiring all schools across the state to offer in-person learning.
House Bill 225 gives the governor this authority in the instance of an emergency, which is defined as an “occurrence or threat, whether natural, technological, or manmade, that results or may result in substantial injury or harm to the population, including disease outbreaks and epidemics, or substantial damage to or loss of property.”
In addition to giving the governor the ability to issue the statewide order, the bill also grants school boards more independence regarding whether their schools should be open or closed to in-person learning during a public emergency. School boards can delegate the authority to the director of schools under an amendment added to the legislation.
House Bill 225 heads to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk for his signature.
The General Assembly celebrates agriculture in Tennessee
The General Assembly celebrated “Ag Day” on Tuesday, recognizing the critical role that farmers and foresters play in providing a dependable food supply and premium lumber products. Ag Day events were held statewide to help cultivate the next generation of farmers and foresters, with universities and K-12 schools promoting the vast opportunities ag-related careers offer students. Due to the pandemic, the annual event was celebrated virtually this year. The National Ag Day theme is Food Brings Everyone to the Table. Whether families get their food from the farm, farmers market or grocery store, meals are the perfect time to reflect on where quality food comes from and how purchases support local communities.