Capitol Hill Update from State Representative David Byrd 12-11-19

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   First Amendment Right to Free Speech – Action was taken this year to further protect Tennesseans’ First Amendment right to free speech. The new law, Public Chapter 185, seeks to protect citizens from being silenced by “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” (SLAPP), which are frivolous lawsuits aimed at silencing outspoken citizens. The threat of costly, time consuming litigation tends to silence and intimidate whistle blowers, journalists, and political protesters by deterring them from speaking out. The legislation protects these defendants from frivolous lawsuits by allowing them to petition the court for dismissal before the defendant has to spend thousands of dollars defending their First Amendment rights. Discovery in such lawsuits cannot proceed until the judge determines the suit’s validity. The legislation also establishes clear guidelines for judges in determining if a lawsuit is considered to be a SLAPP. If it is found to be frivolous, then the defendant may be rewarded all incurred court costs and attorney’s fees.

   Boating / Paddlecrafts — Legislation was approved this year amending a 2018 law giving the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) the authority to regulate commercial outfitters for paddlecrafts. The TWRA regulations caused much concern among the industry. Public Chapter 347 establishes five parameters in the regulation of “commercial operations.” (1) Information gathered by the TWRA related to the number and type of craft being in the water by the outfitters is sealed and is only to be used in the aggregate in TWRA reports and records; (2) Outfitters will be required to submit a report to TWRA three times per year; (3) The TWRA is not authorized to establish a fee before July 1, 2021; (4) Authorizes the TWRA to consider multiple year permits; and (5) Creates a commercial paddle craft advisory committee. 

   Scooters – Legislation defining motorized scooters was approved this year as the number of them continues to rise in cities across the state. Public Chapter 388 authorizes local government, by ordinance of its legislative body, to regulate, control or ban the use of and operation of electric scooters.

   Animal Cruelty – The General Assembly approved legislation to strengthen penalties related to cockfighting. The new law, Public Chapter 164, creates a Class A misdemeanor for those who possess, own, buy, sell, transfer or manufacture cockfighting paraphernalia with the intent to use it in cockfighting.

   Drones / Critical Infrastructure / Penalties – The General Assembly approved a new law, Public Chapter 60, during the 2019 legislative session which increases the penalty for those who fly drones within 250 feet of critical infrastructure or communication towers from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class E felony for public safety purposes.

   Drones – Similarly, the General Assembly voted to amend current law prohibiting drones from taking photos of individuals or events at an open-air venue event to include the dropping of items or substances. Public Chapter 40 applies to unmanned aircrafts at ticketed events when more than 100 people are gathered for protection of the public and event organizers. Violation is subject to a Class C misdemeanor under the legislation. 

   As always, I am truly humbled and honored to be your voice on Capitol Hill. If there is ever any issue I can assist with, please reach out to my office by calling 615-741-2190 or emailing me at rep.david.byrd@capitol.tn.gov. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, ideas, concerns, and suggestions during the second half of the 111th General Assembly.