House approves sweeping school safety enhancements
The House chamber of Thursday 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.
House and Senate leaders joined Gov. Bill Lee on Monday to announce the additional actions to heighten safety at public and private schools across Tennessee. 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.
“Our children must feel safe when they attend their school of choice. Gov. Lee’s plan to fund SROs for public and private schools will provide a safer learning environment and additional security,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville. “We also must continue to address mental health in K-12 education and provide resources like counselors, social workers, and other health care professionals.”
The bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, and House Education Chairman Mark White, R-Memphis, codifies best practices already carried out in most Tennessee schools. The bill aims to ensure a statewide standard of school safety by putting in place collaborative prevention strategies for threat assessment, active shooter drills, and requires public and charter schools to secure all exterior doors and vestibules. It requires all newly built schools to install classroom door locks.
“The tragedy at Covenant School underscores that evil takes the path of least resistance and preys on society’s most vulnerable. No child, parent, teacher or school employee should ever fear for their safety,” said Lamberth. “I am thankful to Gov. Lee and my Republican colleagues for their continued commitment and investment in our schools. These are aggressive and necessary steps that will ensure Tennessee’s schools are the safest, most secure in the nation.”
The Tennessee General Assembly and Gov. Lee have prioritized investments in school safety over the last four years. Lee in 2021 signed Executive Order 97 and launched a statewide effort to enhance school safety by boosting collaboration among parents, schools and local law enforcement across the state.
The School Safety Act of 2023 / House Bill 322:
• Enacts a multi-tiered accountability plan to require exterior doors of public and private schools are locked when students are present
• Requires that private security guards are held to a high standard and receive active shooter training
• Requires every public and private school to develop annual safety plans
• Require all newly-built schools to:
- Install classroom door locks that lock from the inside
- Secure vestibules for visitor entry
- Require the installation of a clear bullet-resistant or entry-resistant film on the glass panel of any exterior entry or basement-level window to prevent individuals from entering who are not allowed
- Require camera systems to continuously monitor each entrance hallway and communal area.
Gov. Lee’s amended budget proposal includes:
• $30 million to expand a statewide homeland security network with agents serving students in public and private schools
• $140 million to establish an SRO grant fund to place a trained, armed security guard at every public school
• $20 million for public school security upgrades
• $7 million for private school security upgrades
• $8 million for additional school-based behavioral health liaisons across the state
Republicans pass historic tax cuts for families and businesses
House Republicans on Monday passed the largest tax cut in state history, which represents $407 million in cuts impacting every Tennessean, including a three-month-long sales tax holiday on food from Aug. 1-Oct. 31
The Tennessee Works Tax Reform Act of 2023 makes a number of changes to the state’s tax code.
House Bill 323, sponsored in the House by Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, and Assistant Majority Leader Mark Cochran, R-Englewood, is part of Gov. Bill Lee’s top legislative initiatives for 2023.
The bill aims to lower the tax burden on businesses, boost Tennessee’s economic competitiveness, promote entrepreneurship and small business formation, as well as provide targeted relief to families.
Tennessee Republicans remain committed to keeping taxes low. Tennessee is the second-lowest taxed state in the nation and collects zero income tax.
The cuts provide significant tax relief to small businesses by lowering the burden of the franchise and excise tax as well as the business tax rate. The bill would allow more than 23,000 small businesses in Tennessee to reduce their excise tax liability to zero by exempting the first $50,000 in income. It also exempts up to $500,000 of business property from franchise tax liability.
The tax cuts would exempt 140,000 Tennessee businesses from the business tax by raising the threshold for business tax exemptions from $10,000 to $100,000 of gross receipts. In addition, it reduces the highest rate from 0.3% to 0.1%.
The proposal will strengthen Tennessee’s economic competitiveness while prioritizing businesses within our state’s borders. It incentivizes businesses to hire Tennesseans and headquarters here. It ensures state tax deductions for research and development (R&D) expenses that help companies grow, innovate and produce superior products and services.
Finally, it also seeks to incentivize businesses to provide paid family leave to employees by establishing a state-paid family leave franchise and excise tax credit on wages paid for a two-year pilot period. The companion version of the bill is currently advancing in the Senate.
House approves safeguards against illegal adoptions
The Tennessee House of Representatives on Monday passed legislation to strengthen protections for children and families from illegal adoption facilitators.
House Bill 606 establishes that it is a violation of the Consumer Protection Act to engage in the placement of children, charge or receive anything of value in exchange for an adoptive child, or provide certain services related to adoption using false or misleading representations of fact.
The legislation is an important step toward protecting unsuspecting birth parents, prospective adoptive parents and defenseless children from fraud.
“Adoption facilitators are unlicensed, unregulated and illegal entities in the state of Tennessee,” said bill sponsor State Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville. “They are typically out-of-state bad actors who prey online on both expectant parents and prospective adoptive parents. They charge exorbitant fees for adoptive parents with no real services.”
Adoptive parents or prospective adoptive parents would be allowed to bring a civil action against a facilitator who violated the law. The legislation would also make it a Class A misdemeanor for a person who illegally places or attempts to place a child up for adoption in Tennessee. The companion version of House Bill 606 is still making its way through Senate committees.
General Assembly makes it easier for school bus drivers to navigate routes
The Tennessee General Assembly has unanimously approved Republican legislation that will make it safer for school bus drivers to navigate their routes.
House Bill 1321, sponsored by State Rep. Esther Helton-Haynes, R-East Ridge, allows school bus drivers to use a portable electronic device for navigation under certain conditions.
“The way the law is written right now, bus drivers have to use paper maps if they need directions and this will be much safer,” Helton-Haynes said on the House floor Monday.
Bus drivers who use a global positioning system (GPS) must have it mounted to the windshield, dashboard or center console in a way that does not hinder their view of the road. They must also not hold or enter information into the device while the vehicle is moving.
Additionally, the legislation allows bus drivers to use a portable electronic device to accurately account for students who are on board. House Bill 1321 will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.
Legislation helps bring criminal defendants to justice
The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee this week advanced legislation that ensures certain defendants’ criminal histories are more readily available to law enforcement and judges.
House Bill 1022 would require an individual who fails to appear in court on any felony, Class A misdemeanor or Class B misdemeanor to be put into all available law enforcement databases no later than 10 days after missing court.
“When someone makes bond for a bondable offense, they may be arrested or picked up in another county or another state,” said bill sponsor State Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski. “A lot of times, if they are not entered into (the National Crime Information Center database) we’re not able to know where they’re at. This will help with that and it can also help bring closure to victims because a lot of people abscond on these charges and you have victims that never have their day, their opportunity in court.”
The legislation will also require any arresting agency in Tennessee to print the available database information on all new arrestees. Such information would include a defendant’s prior history, active criminal cases and active warrants. The printout would be placed into the criminal defendant’s case file.
Having this information more readily available before a hearing takes place will allow judges, magistrates and judicial commissioners to make better-informed decisions on various matters regarding a criminal defendant’s case.
House Bill 1022 is scheduled to be heard in the Criminal Justice Committee on April 11.
Duck River: The Tennessee General Assembly has approved legislation that expands protections for a portion of the Duck River in Maury County. House Bill 447, sponsored by State Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culleoka, classifies approximately 30 river miles of the waterway as a Class II scenic river area. The designation generally prohibits certain activities like mining, commercial timber harvest or the construction of roads from occurring within a certain proximity of the river. The legislation will now head to Gov. Bill Lee’s desk to be signed into law.
State offices are closed Friday, April 7 in observance of Good Friday.