TN debuts 31 new or revised laws for 2017

With the new year, Tennessee residents are now subject to more than two dozen new or revised laws that help to fight crime, reduce the number of uninsured drivers, arm qualified people, reduce maternal deaths, make dialing 911 easier on complicated phone systems, track law enforcement-related deaths, brew and buy Tennessee high-gravity beer, and accomplish other goals within the state.

The changes for 2017 include 29 new or revised Tennessee laws, as well as two laws that were approved in earlier legislative sessions but which had components that didn’t go into effect until this Jan. 1.

Enactment of the “Public Safety Act of 2016”

This major piece of anti-crime legislation addresses key areas that are driving the state’s violent crime rate. (See House Bill 2576.)

It establishes mandatory 85 percent minimum sentences for those convicted of three or more of the most serious offenses: Aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary, or drug trafficking.

It increases the thresholds for various classes of property theft (Class A misdemeanors and classes A-E felonies). Thresholds refer to the value of stolen goods/services.

The act also takes steps to better protect victims of domestic violence. The responding law enforcement officer can seek an order of protection for the victim, regardless of whether the victim requests it or if there’s been an arrest. An automatic order of protection will be issued for arrests when the officer has probable cause to believe the suspect used or tried to use deadly force against the victim. At any time outside of normal court house, judicial districts must have an official available who can issue an order of protection upon request from law enforcement.

A third or subsequent domestic assault conviction now is punishable by a fine of $1,100-$5,000 and by confinement in the county jail or workhouse for a specified period (at least 90 days or up to 11 months and 29 days). Under some conditions, a third such conviction is now a Class E felony with a mandatory sentence of at least 90 days. (Third and subsequent domestic violence convictions are currently a misdemeanor.)

The act also addresses the problem of probationers or parolees being sent to prison for violating supervision conditions. They accounted for 40 percent of the 12,588 people who entered state prison in 2015. This practice is costly and ineffective and may increase the risk of future offending. Instead, this act made changes to community supervision to reduce these numbers when the violators’ noncompliance doesn’t rise to the level of a new criminal offense.

The act also authorizes the Department of Correction to use a structured matrix of sanctions and incentives to help the state’s more than 71,000 probationers and parolees comply with the conditions of supervision.

The act further ensures offenders are properly evaluated. A “validated risk and needs assessment” designed by the Department of Correction is now part of an offender’s pre-sentence report and an item the judge must consider when sentencing a defendant. Such assessments must be updated at least annually.

To read the full 16 pages of this act, visit

No probation for certain vehicular homicide offenders

If alcohol or drugs were involved, a person convicted of vehicular homicide is now ineligible for probation. (See Senate Bill 0035.)

Stiffer sentencing for pharmacy robbers

There’s a new sentencing enhancement factor when a person is convicted of robbery, aggravated robbery, or especially aggravated robbery on the premises of a licensed pharmacy in an effort to unlawfully obtain, sell, give, or exchange a controlled substance, controlled substance analogue, or other illegal drug. (See Senate Bill 0593.)

Increased emphasis on reducing the number of uninsured drivers

The James Lee Atwood Jr. Law gives law enforcement a new tool to verify that drivers at least carry liability insurance, which is the state’s minimum requirement. (A word to the wise: It’s particularly important for each driver to ensure that the Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, is correct on the vehicle’s registration and insurance papers.)

Drivers without valid insurance face fines of up to $300 and the possible loss of the vehicle’s registration. They also could be subject to a Class C misdemeanor. An officer has the discretion to require that an uninsured driver’s vehicle be towed. (See House Bill 606, passed in the 2015 legislative session, with components that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2017.)

Softening of suspension requirement for people driving on suspended/revoked licenses

Previously, it was required that a person’s driver’s license be suspended for an additional period if convicted of this. Now the court can instead order that the person be issued a restricted driver’s license, contingent on the person complying with a payment plan for unpaid fines or costs. People who default on the payment arrangements will have their licenses suspended and won’t be eligible again for the payment plan. The restricted license is valid only for travel to and from work. (See House Bill 1495.)

Fee decrease for a lifetime handgun carry permit

The fee has decreased dramatically for lifetime handgun carry permits. Previously, the cost was $500. It’s now the cost of the regular carry permit fee plus $200, which currently amounts to $300. (See House Bill 1424.)

A lower age for certain citizens to get a handgun carry permit. The age has dropped from 21 to 18 for active-duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces, retired military veterans or former service members who were honorably discharged. The guiding belief for this change was that the public will be better protected if people who are trained to use weapons are allowed to carry them. Fatal shootings of five Chattanooga service members in July 2015 spurred the change in the law. (See House Bill 2425.)

Fee decrease for certain law enforcement officers’ lifetime handgun carry permits

This applies to retired federal, state, and local law enforcement officers as defined in TCA 39-11-106, and they must have retired in good standing as certified by their organization’s chief law enforcement officer. They must also be Tennessee residents. The cost decrease comes from exempting them from paying the application and processing fee. (See Senate Bill 1665.)

Enactment of the “Maternal Mortality Review and Prevention Act of 2016”

This law addresses the need to investigate women’s deaths from pregnancy-related causes and complications. It authorizes the creation of a panel of experts to look into how and why these deaths occur and also to compile related data. (See Senate Bill 2303.)

The law adds requirements for reporting such deaths, making a special notation on the death certificate, and having the Department of Health maintain data on maternal mortality and publish it on the department’s website. Other states that passed similar legislation in mid-2016 included Washington, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Improvement of 911 services for multi-line phone systems

“Kari’s Law” says that multi-line phone systems (commonly used in hotels and office buildings) must be configured so people can simply call 911 without other dialing requirements. The law also requires that the system be configured so that a central location on the site gets notification when someone there dials 911. (See Senate Bill 2137.)

The law is named in honor of Kari Hunt, whose estranged husband killed her at a Northeast Texas motel in December 2013. Her nine-year-old daughter tried repeatedly to dial 9-1-1 from the motel room’s phone, unaware that the phone system required dialing an extra 9 to reach an outside line.

Kari’s Law has passed in several other U.S. states, including Texas, Illinois, and Maryland, and it is currently being considered for nationwide enactment.

Annual report on law enforcement-related deaths

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) is now required to provide the commissioner of health and the Tennessee General Assembly (Senate and House of Representatives) with an annual report on all law enforcement-related deaths that occurred in the previous calendar year. (See House Bill 2122.)

Higher limits for beer/cider alcohol contents

For Tennessee breweries, the maximum alcohol content went up from 6.5 percent to 10.1 percent. This means that breweries in the state are now allowed to brew high-gravity beer for the first time. Previously, they had to pay for a distillery license to do so, making this beer option a costly venture for most breweries. Such beer from out-of-state breweries was already available at liquor stores, as well as bars and restaurants that have liquor licenses, so this allows Tennessee breweries to be more competitive. (See House Bill 0047/Senate Bill 0289, passed in an earlier session but in effect as of Jan. 1, 2017.)

The law also widens where the more potent brews can be sold: Previously, such beers haven’t been sold in grocery stories, c markets, beer bars or growler fills that don’t have a liquor license. Now they may be sold in any establishment that has a beer permit.

More notification about lead exposure

This expands the notice requirement when lead is present in the drinking water supply. (See Senate Bill 2450.)

Requirement for high school students to pass a U.S. civics test

Students must take and pass the 100-question test used for people seeking to become naturalized U.S. citizens. High schools have to give students as many opportunities as necessary to take the test. A passing grade is 60 or higher. (See House Bill 0010.)

Budgeting procedure changes for county governments

The law deals with the annual incentive that may be paid to employees who earn the designation of a “certified public administrator.” The change to the law requires the annual report on any such incentives to be made available in an electronic format. (See House Bill 2087.)

Rules about certain interactions between nonprofits and school districts

This law authorizes the Tennessee Board of Education to set up rules about recognizing 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporations who wish to help school districts select and appoint qualified volunteers. The law also requires school districts to establish a local appeals process so a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation can appeal the local school district’s decision to reject the corporation’s offer of assistance. (See Senate Bill 1864.)

Prohibition against requiring certain people to make payments owed by former tenants

This law applies to a property owner who leases residential property, the property owner’s agent, or a subsequent tenant of the property. The law prohibits Hamilton County authorities from requiring them to pay (or to guarantee the payment of) charges, penalties, or other fees that were incurred by a former tenant. The law also establishes other related requirements. (See House Bill 2119.)

Governance of certain funeral merchandise

This law defines funeral merchandise for prearrangement insurance policies and also revises provisions governing such merchandise. Funeral merchandise includes caskets and burial vaults. (See Senate Bill 0621.)

Provisions about certain opioid treatment facilities and programs

These newly enacted provisions govern nonresidential office-based opioid treatment facilities and nonresidential opioid treatment programs. (See Senate Bill 0829.)

Revised provisions that govern insurance coverage of telehealth services

In part, “telehealth” means the use of real-time audio, video or other electronic media and telecommunications technologies that let the healthcare services provider interact with the patient. (See Senate Bill 2373.)

New state service award

The governor will give out the new Tennessee Tri-Star General Award to distinguished individuals who have a record of outstanding service to the state or a local subdivision of it. (See Senate Bill 1458.)

Tax credit change for angel investors

This establishes a tax credit equal to 33 percent of the value of cash investments made in certain companies by an “angel investor” against the angel investor’s Hall income tax liability. This law defines the term specifically for Tennessee, but in general an angel investor refers to someone who invests in start-up businesses in exchange for part ownership or convertible debt. (See Senate Bill 2539.)

Revised common carrier provisions

The revisions govern overweight and overdimensional loads that are permitted and nondivisible under the state’s code for motor/other vehicles. (See House Bill 1776.)

Requirements for central service technicians at hospitals and health care facilities

The licensing board for such facilities must now report by Jan. 15, 2017, on the need for central service technicians to be regulated in order to provide certified sterile processing. The report goes to the chairs of the Tennessee Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee and House of Representa-tives’ Health Committee. (See Senate Bill 2581.)

Amended provisions governing X-ray equipment operators

Present law authorizes the board of medical examiners, in regard to operators of X-ray equipment and/or machines in physician offices, by rules and regulations, to, among other things: establish and issue limited X-ray certifications to qualified individuals in the areas of densitometry, chest, extremities, skull and/or sinus, and lumbar spine; and establish and issue full X-ray certifications to individuals who hold current and unrestricted national certification from the American registry of radiologic technologist.

This revised the authority granted to the board of medical examiners to apply to operators of all radiologic imaging and radiation therapy equipment or machines in physicians' offices, hospitals, outpatient diagnostic centers, and recuperation centers. This bill also makes several revisions to the list of items for which the board may enact rules. (See Senate Bill 0899.)

Changes related to the medication aide program

This changes terminology from “medication aides certified” to “medication aide,” and it also revises training and other requirements for the medication aide program. (See Senate Bill 2383.)

Licensing requirements for RV dealer/salespeople

This establishes licensing requirements specifically for recreational vehicle dealers and salespeople to be overseen by the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission. (See Senate Bill 1980.)

Registration/licensing requirements for mobile hair and grooming shops

The Tennessee Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners must issue certificates of registration for mobile barber shops and licenses for mobile cosmetology, dual, manicure, skin care or other category of shop licensed by the board. (Senate Bill 2167.)

Permission for pilot project about voting

This gives Rutherford County permission to participate in a pilot project about voting. The project is about establishing convenient voting centers for use on election day upon the super-majority vote of the county election commission. (Senate Bill 2101.)

governance of off-highway vehicles that can be operated on county roads

This law governs certain off-highway vehicles, including all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), dirt bikes, mini-trucks and other vehicles known as sand buggies, dune buggies, rock crawlers, or sand rails. The law authorizes issuance of off-highway license plates for each category and establishes equipment and safety requirements. (See Senate Bill 2255.)

Workers Compensation changes

This law revises various provisions governing workers’ compensation in regard to the case management system and settlements. It caps the cost of medical paperwork copying. (See Senate Bill 1880.)