The 112th General Assembly has adjourned for 2022, and it was a very successful year. We have taken measures for Tennessee to be a better place to live, work and to raise a family. I will go over the laws passed this session over the next few weeks.
Protecting critical energy infrastructure
To ensure Tennessee’s energy infrastructure can support the state’s economic demands for reliable and affordable fuel, a new laws local governments from blocking the development of such infrastructure, while preserving local zoning authority. The law applies to storage tanks, pipelines, gas transmission lines and other infrastructure critical to fuel economy and meet transportation and manufacturing needs.
Energy infrastructure often crosses multiple county lines, so one locality should not have the authority to outright ban energy infrastructure, especially when that infrastructure serves the vital needs of the people of an entire state. Industries involved in energy and energy infrastructure are some of the most highly regulated in the state. Many federal laws already regulate safety aspects of pipeline construction and maintenance.
Maintaining TVA coal plants – A joint resolution passed the General Assembly this year requesting the Tennessee Valley Authority maintain operation of its coal-fired plants until a reliable backup to the power grid is developed.
Expanding benefits for firefighters injured in the line of duty – Under previous law, the Barry Brady Act allowed firefighters to be eligible for workers compensation benefits for certain cancers. The act established a presumption that any conditions or impairments of full-time firefighters were caused by certain occupational cancers which occurred while on the job. Cancers covered are non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, colon cancer, skin cancer, and multiple myeloma. A new law passed by the General Assembly this year expands the list of cancers to which the presumption applies to include leukemia and testicular cancer.
Compensating families of deputy jailers killed in the line of duty – A new law will ensure families of representative jailers tragically killed in the line of duty receive compensation on par with families of first responders who were killed in the line of duty. It expands the compensation program to include deputy jailers, retroactive to March 1, 2020. Under the program, families of first responders in the line of duty receive a $250,000 annuity paid over five years in $50,000 installments.
Two deputy jailers were killed in Tennessee in 2020, and this law will ensure their families can be compensated for their loss.
Honoring Peace Officers who die in the line of duty – A new law will ensure that peace officers who die in the line of duty are properly honored with the Three Stars of Tennessee Award, even if there are no available next of kin to receive the award. Under the new law, a representative of the agency at which the peace officer served can receive the Three Stars of Tennessee Award on the peace officer’s behalf, if there is no family available. Due to a bill passed in 2014, peace officers who die in the line of duty or suffer a career-ending injury are presented the Three Stars of Tennessee Award in a ceremony on or around Sept. 11 each year.
Strengthening protections for police and service animals – Legislation known as Joker’s Law passed this year to strengthen the penalty for anyone who harms a law enforcement or service animal in Tennessee. The new law increases the penalty for anyone who knowingly and unlawfully kills a police dog, fire dog, search and rescue dog, service animal or police horse. Offenders would now be charged with a Class B felon. Anyone between the ages of 14 and 17 who kills or causes serious injury to one of those animals could also be tried as an adult. Previously, killing a law enforcement service animal was a minimum Class E felony. The law is named in honor of Joker, a K-9 with the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office who was seriously injured after being shot during a pursuit last year.
Increasing access to law enforcement officers at hospitals – A new law aims to help increase public safety at hospital facilities by giving hospitals the ability to employ and commission police officers to provide security and law enforcement at hospitals across the state. The new measure seeks to meet a growing need for law enforcement at hospitals across the state, specifically in emergency departments which have had an increase in patient volume and emotionally charged patient admissions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the legislation, police officers hired by hospital facilities would only have law enforcement authority at the geographic location of the hospital.
Unethical conduct of constables – To ensure constables have a mechanism to address criminal or unethical conduct similar to all other law enforcement officers, a new law lays out how that should happen. It stipulates that whenever a constable is arrested or indicted for a felony or specific misdemeanor, a court judge may put the constable on administrative leave or even remove them from office. The constable would be provided a right to a hearing, and the right to appeal by a court of appeals.
Expanding emergency services personnel – A new law creates two new categories of emergency first responders to assist EMTs in responding to emergencies, driving ambulances and engaging in limited medical interventions. The two new classes of emergency services personnel created by the bill are an emergency medical responder (EMR) and emergency medical services – apprentice (EMS-A). The former role successfully completed an EMR training course and has qualified by examinations to perform lifesaving interventions and to assist higher-level personnel at the scene. The latter does not possess an EMS license to provide emergency medical care in Tennessee, but meets all other requirements for operating an emergency vehicle. The EMS-A or EMR must obtain license as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), or, in the case of an EMS-A, as an EMR, within 12 months of the EMS-A’s initial employment date. Ambulance services have seen a consistent workforce shortage before the pandemic and the shortage has been increased by the pandemic. This legislation seeks to address that problem by easing barriers to joining emergency response teams.
Increasing EMT/AEMT Training Centers – A new law expands a pilot program established by the General Assembly four years ago. That program allows for up to 15 EMT/AEMT training centers to be operated by licensed ambulance services. This law makes the pilot project a regular program and doubles to 30 the number of allowable training centers. The measure also urges ambulance services operating such training centers to pursue partnerships to increase the capacity of the state to prepare EMTs, AEMTs and paramedics
Expanding retirement benefits for TWRA and TBI retirees – In 2021, the General Assembly passed a bill that allows Tennessee Highway Patrol retirees with 25 years of service to receive 80% of the scheduled premium or defined contribution for the health benefits provided by the state. That’s five years sooner than was previously allowed. Passed by the General Assembly this year, a new law extends the same provision to retirees from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI).
Contact Sen. Joe Hensley, R-Hohenwald, at firstname.lastname@example.org.