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2017 Tennessee Legislative First Session Final Report – Part 9

 

Written by Curtis Johnson
Tennessee State Representative

Tennessee State Representative - District 68Nashville, TN – The first session of the 110th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned on May 10th, 2017, after passing major legislation that will benefit Tennesseans for generations to come. This is Part 9 of a 12 Part report.

This includes a measure making Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college; a new law rebuilding a safe and reliable transportation network, while reallocating revenues to maximize taxpayers’ return on that investment; and a bill which provides a responsible path to improve access to broadband through investment, deregulation, and education. 

Action in the General Assembly also included passage of a balanced budget which takes on no new debt, as well as legislation protecting the elderly, enhancing the state’s robust job growth, cracking down on crime, and boosting efforts as the fastest improving state in the nation in K-12 student achievement.  Following is a report on key legislation passed this year.

Tennessee State Representative Curtis Johnson

Tennessee State Representative Curtis Johnson

 

Veterans

The General Assembly passed numerous bills during the 2017 legislative session to aid Tennessee’s veterans and show support for those who serve in the U.S. armed forces. 

BUDGET

The budget fully restores property tax relief for 100 percent service-related disabled veterans by raising the home value threshold from $100,000 to $175,000.  The budget also calls for additional veterans courts to help offenders get the help they need through a specialized program which has been highly successful.  In addition, appropriations this year provide $18 million for a State Veterans’ Home in West Tennessee.  

Veterans / Employment

Legislation has passed which provides protections to employers if they give hiring preference to honorably discharged veterans, their spouses, in certain cases, or survivors.  The new law allows companies to give special consideration for hiring veterans. 

Many companies want to give preference to veterans because of their unique skill sets, proven work ethic, and reliability, but may be hesitant to do so out of concern of being sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Title VII, Section 11 of the Civil Rights Act contains a carve-out that exempts veterans’ preference processes that are authorized by state statute. 

The bill includes spouses of a veteran with a service-connected disability, unremarried widows or widowers of a veteran who died of a service-connected disability, and unremarried widows or widowers of a member of the military who died in the line of duty. 

House Bill 165   /Status:  PC 9 / Effective Date:  Upon becoming law on March 22nd, 2017.

Handgun Training / Military Personnel

A new law passed during the 2017 legislative session that exempts active-duty military service members and veterans who have specialties as military police, special operations, or Special Forces from handgun carry permit firing range requirements.  The specialties include military police, special operations, and Special Forces due to the intensive firearms training that is required of these soldiers. 

House Bill 27  /  Status:  PC 159 / Status:  Upon becoming law on April 24th, 2017.

U.S. Armed Forces / Marriage While Deployed

Members of the United States Armed Forces, stationed in another country, can be married via video conferencing under another law which passed this year.  This legislation aims to help soldiers who are deployed and wish to marry during that time.

House Bill 463 /  Status: PC 397 / Effective Date: Upon becoming law on May 18th, 2017.

Veterans / Yellow DOT Program

Lawmakers voted this year to extend the state’s Yellow DOT Program to include veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  The Yellow DOT Program is designed to provide first responders with an individual’s medical information in the event of an emergency on Tennessee’s roadways. 

This new statute calls for including veterans, should they choose to opt in, to inform the police officers and other responders of a potential medical situation due to PTSD.   It also authorizes TDOT to publicize the Yellow Dot Program in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Services and agencies providing services to veterans.  

House Bill 1116/  Status:  PC 34 / Effective Date:  Upon becoming law on March 29th, 2017.

Armed Forces / Veterans Hospitals

Two resolutions passed by the Tennessee General Assembly this year urge the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish VA hospitals in Knoxville and Clarksville.  Over 500,000 veterans of the United States Armed Forces live in Tennessee. 

Clarksville in Montgomery County is the home of Fort Campbell and the 101st Airborne Division with about 28,000 veterans residing there and 8,000 living just across the state line in Kentucky.  Veterans from Clarksville must drive 80 miles or more to receive care, while those in East Tennessee may have to drive more than 150 miles.  

Senate Joint Resolution 4  /  Status:  Signed by Gov. on March 16th, 2017 / Senate Joint Resolution 5 / Status:  Signed by Gov. on March 22nd, 2017.

POW/MIA Flag

Legislation was approved which calls for flying the POW/MIA flag over the Legislative Plaza and the Vietnam Veterans Plaza all year to remember the sacrifices of soldiers who are prisoners of war or missing in action.  It will be displayed over the State Capitol during the month of September, as the third Friday of September is National POW/MIA Recognition Day. 

House Bill 73 /  Status: PC 437 / Effective Date: Upon becoming law on May 25th, 2017.

Veterans / Burial Flag — A new law passed requiring the adjutant general to provide a burial flag to the members of the family of a deceased person who is an active, honorable discharged, or retired member of the National Guard who served at least one year.

House Bill 107   / Status: PC 430 / Effective Date: Upon becoming law on May 18th, 2017.

U.S. Flag / Armed Forces

A new statute has been signed into law which prohibits homeowners’ associations from adopting or enforcing regulations that prohibit flying the U.S. flag or flags representing the Armed Forces.  The law applies to those adopted on or after July 1st, 2017, the effective date of the act.

House Bill 456   / PC 331 / Effective Date:  July 1st, 2017.

Enhanced Penalties for Targeting Law Enforcement or Military

Legislation was passed this year increasing penalties against those convicted of intentionally selecting their victim because of his or her status as a uniformed law enforcement officer or member of the armed forces.  The enhancement factor can be considered by the court at the time of sentencing. 

The new law was inspired by the many brave men and women in uniform, who have lost their lives, were injured or targeted simply because of their jobs as protectors of the community.  This legislation aims to send a clear message that the reprehensible behavior of these dangerous criminals will not be tolerated, and they will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. 

House Bill 835 /   Status:  PC 265 / Effective Date:  July 1st, 2017.

STRONG ACT

Two key bills providing more education opportunities for those serving in the military passed during the 2017 legislative session.  This includes the STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act, which creates a pilot program to provide eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard tuition. 

The new law provides funding toward a first-time bachelor degree through a tuition reimbursement program for those who protect and serve our state and country.  It also provides consistency for recruiting, increasing competitiveness with surrounding states.

To be eligible, the individual must be in good standing with the Tennessee National Guard and be admitted to and enroll in an eligible institution (any Tennessee public community college, public university, or private college or university, all of which must be regionally accredited). 

Individuals attending private institutions will be reimbursed for the average cost at a public institution.  Program recipients must maintain a minimum grade point average of 2.0.  An individual who loses eligibility for failing to maintain the required grade point average may regain eligibility upon maintaining a 2.0 grade point average in a subsequent semester.

As a last-dollar reimbursement, the amount of state tuition reimbursement is offset by any other funds received.  In addition to strengthening the Tennessee National Guard, the STRONG Act will strengthen Tennessee’s workforce and economy and contribute to the Drive to 55.

House Bill 530 /  Status:  PC 229 / Effective Date:  Upon becoming law on April 24th, 2017.

Veterans / Making Military Training Count in Higher Education

The second law approved this year providing education opportunities for veterans makes it easier for veterans to determine how their military training can count as credit in Tennessee’s colleges and universities.  The measure also grants in-state tuition to anyone currently living in Tennessee who is using VA educational benefits, regardless of their official home of record. 

In addition, the legislation updates and enhances Tennessee’s Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act, which encourages enrollment of veterans and removes barriers known to impede their success in attaining higher education credentials.  It calls on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to select representatives of various state colleges and universities by December 2018 to work collaboratively in adopting policies for Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs) for veterans.

House Bill 433 /  Status:  PC 31 /

Effective Date:  Upon becoming law on March 29th, 2017.


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