Several new laws will go into effect tomorrow (July 1, 2020) in Tennessee. Here is a look at the highlights from the laws:
DYNAMIC ACCESSIBILITY ACT – The General Assembly approved the “Dynamic Accessibility Act” in 2019 that brings the language and symbols for people with disabilities into the 21st century to focus on ability rather than disability. The act directs the Department of General Services to create rules to designate a symbol depicting a logo with a dynamic character leaning forward with a sense of movement, replacing the static image with a more stylized symbol.
The new symbol will be accompanied by the word “accessible” to designate points of access for persons with disabilities, replacing the term “handicapped” which translates to cap and hand signifying a beggar. The symbol will be used for state buildings or property constructed or renovated on or after July 1, 2020. The legislation also directs the Department of Revenue to create rules designating the new dynamic symbol for the issuance of all new registrations, placards, decals, and license plates starting after July 1, 2020.
LAW ENCOURAGING LOWER HEALTH CARE COSTS THROUGH ASSOCIATION HEALTH PLANS – Legislation which aims to lower premiums and overall health care costs for small businesses through Association Health Plans (AHP) was approved this year. The new law aligns Tennessee’s AHP laws with new federal rules put into place by President Trump’s administration to help small businesses purchase affordable, high quality health insurance as a result of increased flexibility.
AHPs allow small businesses and entrepreneurs to band together with other businesses to purchase insurance with the bargaining power of a big company. The plans are similar to comprehensive large group or self-insured insurance policies offered by most large employers, covering the same types of treatments and procedures.
Since 2003, average family premiums for Tennessee small employers have increased over 75 percent, while at the same time deductibles have spiked. As a result, almost 30,000 fewer workers at small businesses have private insurance coverage due to the decreased affordability.
LAW EXPANDING HEALTH CARE EMPOWERMENT ACT TO ALL MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS – State lawmakers voted this year to expand Tennessee’s Health Care Empowerment Act to allow all licensed medical professionals, instead of only physicians, to use direct medical care agreements without regulation by the insurance laws of this state. It seeks in increase access to care and empower patients regarding their healthcare decisions.
The Health Care Empowerment Act is designed to give healthcare consumers who are struggling to pay the increasing costs of premiums or who have been priced out of the market, an affordable option to contract directly with their physician for health care services. The new law holds that a person seeking medical care outside of an insurance plan, TennCare or Medicare programs and chooses to pay out of pocket, does not forfeit their coverage plan.
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE TENNESSEE RARE DISEASE ADVISORY COUNCIL – The Tennessee Rare Disease Advisory Council will be established under a new 2020 law. The council provides a skilled cohort of rare disease specialists from Tennessee’s leading clinical and academic institutions to advise government entities about the complexities of treating rare diseases and the most efficient and effective treatments. They will make treatment recommendations to advise TennCare and other public and private agencies providing services for persons diagnosed with chronic, complex, and rare diseases like hemophilia, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease and cystic fibrosis. Tennessee observed Rare Disease Day on the last day of February. The main objective is to raise awareness among the general public and decision makers about rare diseases and their impact on patients’ lives.
LAW SEEKING TO EXPAND ACCESS TO DENTAL CARE ADVANCES – A bill to help nonprofit dental clinics provide free care to more Tennesseans in need passed during the 2020 legislative session. It expands the maximum number of dental hygienists a dentist can oversee at a nonprofit provider of free mobile clinics from three to ten. This will allow organizations, like Mission of Mercy and Remote Area Medical Clinics which provide free dental services from volunteer dentists and hygienists, to take care of as many people as possible. Across the state these clinics have had to turn away volunteer dental hygienists because they do not have enough dentists to oversee them.
CONTINUE FUNDS TO SUPPORT HOSPITALS, NURSING HOMES, AMBULANCE SERVICES – State lawmakers approved three bills before the March recess critical to the operations of Tennessee’s hospitals, nursing homes and ambulance services by extending assessments used to draw down federal matching funds. This includes the Tennessee Hospital Assessment Act, which raises $600 million in state funds. The action allows Tennessee to receive $1.1 billion in federal matching funds, for a total of $1.7 billion for the state’s TennCare program.
The assessment, which has been in effect since 2010, provides hospitals a portion of their unreimbursed TennCare costs. In addition to the reduction in payments to hospitals and health professionals, a few examples of programs that would be affected without the assessment are: critical access hospitals; the Graduate Medical Education program, x-rays, physician office procedures, various therapies, and the enrollment cap for the medically needy.
Similarly, legislation that provides funds essential for operating nursing homes in Tennessee was adopted. The measure raises funds allocated to the Nursing Home Assessment Trust Fund by $134.6 million, allowing Tennessee to draw down $259.8 million in needed federal matching funds.
NEW LAW ADDRESSING SHORTAGE OF TEACHERS — A new law has passed to help Local Education Agencies (LEAs) fund a “Grow Your Own” scholarship program. The program helps train high school students and non-teaching staff to become certified teachers in a three-year program at a higher education institution.
The Grow Your Own Program has been implemented in Clarksville Montgomery County Schools in partnership with Austin Peay State University and has proven to be an effective pipeline for LEAs to fill open teaching positions. Last year, there were 1,123 teacher vacancies reported in Tennessee, leaving over 20,000 students without a certified teacher.
The new statute authorizes the commissioner of education to grant a waiver to a requesting LEA exempting them the average class size standards to assist the LEA in funding a Grow Your Own Program. By increasing the class size across the district by one or two students, districts can significantly reduce the number of teaching positions and use those savings to develop their own teachers.
NEW LAW HELPS ENSURE LICENSE REVOCATION FOR TEACHERS CONVICTED OF CERTAIN CRIMES — The 111th General Assembly approved legislation clarifying that licensed teachers convicted of certain crimes against children will have their license revoked by the State Board of Education. The criminal offenses that apply, after the teacher has exhausted or waived due process rights, include communicating a threat concerning a school employee, arson, aggravated arson, burglary, child abuse, child neglect, child endangerment, aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect, aggravated child endangerment, providing handguns to juveniles, sexual offenses, and violent sexual offenses. In addition, it includes teachers or administrators whose name is placed on the state’s Vulnerable Persons Registry or the state’s Sex Offender Registry, or those identified by the Department of Children’s Services as having committed child abuse, severe child abuse, child sexual abuse, or child neglect.
NEW LAWS STRENGTHEN PENALTIES AGAINST CHILD SEX OFFENDERS – Legislation was passed this year strengthening Tennessee’s statutes against the “worst of the worst” child sex offenders. Currently, sex offenders can be charged with aggravated rape of a child if their victim is zero to three years old. Beginning July 1, the new law raises that age range to zero to eight years old. Under legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2019, aggravated rape of a child is a Class A felony offense which is automatically punishable by life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Increasing the age range from zero to three to zero to eight, will help to ensure more of these offenders are taken off the streets.
LEGISLATION BANS CONVICTED ANIMAL ABUSERS FROM OWNING PETS IN CERTAIN CASES — Final approval was given to legislation banning some convicted animal abusers from ever owning any pets again. The new law prohibits individuals convicted of some of the worst offenses against animals from owning companion animals for at least two years from the date of conviction and may impose a lifetime prohibition. Upon a subsequent offense, the court shall prohibit the individual from having custody of any companion animal for the person’s lifetime. The measure builds on a 2015 law that created the Tennessee Animal Abuse Registry, the first ever animal abuse registry in the nation.
NEW LAW CRACKS DOWN ON THOSE WHO FLEE ARREST – A new law passed this year cracking down on those who flee an arrest. The measure requires an offender evading arrest to pay restitution if he or she recklessly damages government property.
LEGISLATION CLARIFIES ORGANIZED CRIME RETAIL LAW – A new law will go into effect July 1 clarifying Tennessee’s organized retail crime statute. The legislation provides that the illegal purchase of merchandise or stored value cards may be made by physical or electronic means under Tennessee statutes to further curtail the crime. The measure seeks to cut off the flow of funds used in the purchase of illegal drugs through retail theft. The offense of organized retail crime includes an individual that acts in concert with one or more individuals to commit theft of any merchandise with a value greater than $1,000 aggregated over a 90 day period with the intent to fraudulently return the material to retail merchant. Expert testimony taken in the General Assembly previously revealed that Tennessee was losing over $14 million in sales tax dollars and retailers were losing over $200 million each year related to return fraud. Nationwide, the loss was $12-15 billion, with almost all being related to the illicit drug trade.
TENNESSEE TO JOIN INTERSTATE DRIVER LICENSE COMPACT – Tennessee is joining 42 other states in an interstate Driver License Compact under a new law which becomes effective July 1. The compact is used by states to exchange information regarding driver license revocations or suspensions due to major traffic violations by non-residents. The offenses are then forwarded to the home state where the person is licensed. The compact’s theme is “one driver, one license, one record.”
The measure requires the state to report convictions to an offender’s home state when it involves manslaughter, negligent homicide, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and failure to stop and render aid when a motor vehicle accident results in the death or serious injury of another. It also applies to offenders with felony convictions when a motor vehicle is used in the commission of a crime. The licensing authority in the compact’s party state may not issue a license to an applicant if the individual has been suspended or revoked in a compact party state and the period of termination has not expired. After one year, the applicant can reapply for a driver’s license, with the compact state’s licensing authority. The applicant’s eligibility for a license is determined through an investigation looking at whether or not it is safe to allow them to drive.
STATE’S “SLOW POKE” LAW IS EXTENDED UNDER NEW LAW – Legislation was approved this year extending the state’s “slow poke” law to divided highways with two or more lanes in each direction. Current law requires cars to stay out of the left lane of interstate highways with at least three lanes, except in the case of passing other vehicles or while the road is under construction or repair, with violators facing a $50 fine. Many traffic safety experts believe that driving too slow in the passing lane is at least as dangerous as diving too fast, resulting in a number of highway accidents.
LEGISLATION UPDATES AND CLARIFIES TENNESSEE’S PROMPT PAY ACT GOVERNING CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY — Legislation updating and clarifying Tennessee’s Prompt Pay Act governing payments between contractors, subcontractors and lenders was approved during the 2020 session of the Tennessee General Assembly. It helps ensure fair procedures are in place for contractors and subcontractors to recover payment for work completed under a contract, including adequate timing, notice, and penalty provisions.
The legislation is the result of numerous negotiations between representatives in the construction and banking industries over the past two years.
The new law clarifies that all contractors may recover construction proceeds through an equitable action; sets interest rates for late payment in line with those applicable to the State of Tennessee purchases; and introduces a “stop work” notice procedure to allow contractors and subcontractors to stop work when they are not paid per the contract agreement. It also provides a “Demand for Reasonable Assurances” to ensure the owner has obtained sufficient funding to pay for all labor and materials on a project.
Finally, the legislation clarifies the construction statute of repose applies to litigation and arbitration and affirms that limitations of liability do not violate public policy.
PILOT PROGRAM ALLOWS PERSONAL DELIVERY DEVICES ON WALKWAYS — A bill allowing delivery robots to operate at low speeds on sidewalks and crosswalks in a pilot program in Tennessee has been approved by the Tennessee General Assembly. The robots won’t be able to exceed 10 miles per hour and must be equipped with a braking system to come to a controlled stop. The robots have sensors that stop them when approaching a person, animal, or item. They would only operate in pedestrian areas and must be clearly marked, including contact information. The new law does not preempt local governments’ ability to regulate the personnel delivery devices if necessary for public safety.
CONSUMER INSURANCE PROTECTIONS BECOME LAW—Legislation was adopted prohibiting a person from creating false certificates of property or insurance documents which contain untrue or misleading information. The new law prohibits third parties from using certificates to alter insurance term policies. It addresses problems which have arisen of third-parties attempting to request and use certificates to expand or alter the terms of the underlying policy.
A certificate of insurance is an informational document that shows a good faith snapshot of a party’s coverage at a certain time. It is not the insurance policy and cannot alter or amend the underlying policy it represents. Clarifying that definition of insurance certificates and insurance policies will help curb third-party vendors from misleading consumers.
LEGISLATION ENSURES WORLD WAR II VETERANS CAN HAVE THEIR MILITARY SERVICE INDICATED ON THEIR DRIVER’S LICENSE — Legislation was approved by the General Assembly to ensure that World War II veterans can have their military service indicated on their driver’s license or photo identification card. Currently to receive the acknowledgement, veterans must provide a certified copy of their Department of Defense form 214 (DD 214) showing dates of service and that the applicant received an honorable discharge. This certification process, however, did not take into consideration World War II veterans whose service pre-dated implementation of the DD 214 paperwork.
Effective July 1, the new law corrects this error by allowing honorably discharged veterans whose service pre-dates the form to utilize an AGO Form 53-55 or NAVPERS 553 as documentation, continuing the state’s long-held tradition of acknowledging and honoring our World War II veterans.
NEW LAW EXPANDS EMERGENCY SERVICE TAGS TO MORE PROFESSIONS — A new law passed this year which allows additional emergency service personnel to be issued special emergency license plates. The legislation expands the definition of emergency service squad to include emergency medical technicians, paramedic, emergency medical technician paramedics, and other emergency medical responders. It also includes physicians and nurses who accompany or attend a patient in an ambulance. Emergency responders seeking emergency tags are required to submit proof of their profession to their county clerk’s office.