Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley 1-1-20

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    As we ring in the 2020 year, Tennesseans can expect to find several new laws on the books at the start of the New Year. January 1st will usher in enactments of several health-related laws, consumer protections, and the new concealed carry permit. I hope each and every one of you has a happy and prosperous year.

    Proton Therapy Access Act – Another new statute which seeks to provide greater access to care for employees of the State of Tennessee provides that those diagnosed with cancer can receive hypo fractionated proton therapy if the physician and patient believe that it would be more beneficial to their treatment plan. The measure requires the state insurance plan to cover proton therapy at the same rate that would be paid for traditional radiation therapy (IMRT), as long as certain conditions have been met. 

    Consumers / Hospital Billing Transparency – A new law was passed by the General Assembly this year calling for more transparency in hospital billing practices by restricting statements from including any language that refers to specialty healthcare services rendered at the hospital. Often times, hospital bills include charges for supplies and equipment labeled as specialty service charges which are mistaken by patients as the total amount being billed by their physician. The measure aims to help healthcare consumers avoid confusion in determining if the bill came from their specialty physician. It follows legislation passed by the General Assembly last year which called for transparency in medical charges by requiring a hospital to provide an estimate to patients regarding out-of-network charges. 

   Elderly Abuse – The 2019 legislative session saw passage of several bills to combat exploitation of Tennesseans who are elderly or have diminished capacity. There are over 5 million elder abuse victims in the United States. That is more than the combined total of child abuse victims and domestic violence victims.

   The Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act of 2019 approved this year, increases penalties for the most dangerous crimes involving elder abuse. The legislation is part of a series of laws passed by lawmakers over the last three years with the support of the state’s district attorneys general. The goal is to protect Tennesseans who are elderly or have diminished capacity from psychological abuse, physical abuse, neglect, and various forms of financial exploitation.  

   This year’s legislation creates enhanced offenses for abusing an elderly or vulnerable adult when the abuse is committed with a deadly weapon or results in serious bodily injury. It raises the felony classification for most extreme forms of abuse of an elderly person from a Class C to Class B felony, doubling the average amount of time served by offenders of the most horrific crimes. In addition, the act expands the availability of protective orders for elderly and vulnerable adults and broadens who has the authority to seek an order of protection on behalf of the elderly victim. The legislation also eases the process for obtaining an order of protection on behalf of an elderly person who lacks financial resources to petition the court. It authorizes the court to waive any court costs, taxes, or fees for obtaining an order of protection upon a finding that the individual for whose benefit an order of protection has been sought is indigent.

   Travel Agents / Consumer Protection – The General Assembly approved new consumer protections this year to ensure travel agents properly handle customers’ money. The need for this law arose after a travel agent in Tennessee defrauded over 100 people by commingling funds from customers with the agent’s personal funds. The money was then used for the agent’s personal expenses, rather than booking customers’ travel. The new law requires travel agents to deposit funds received from a customer for disbursement for travel services into a separate general trust account with a recognized financial institution. Under the new law, failure to adhere to these guidelines is a violation of the consumer protection act, which empowers the Attorney General to take action to enforce the requirements of the bill.

   New Handgun Permit – A new concealed carry handgun carry permit for Tennesseans was approved this year creating a more affordable and accessible concealed carry permit so that more Tennesseans are able to exercise their right to self-defense. The current carry permit will not be changed; rather it will be called an enhanced permit. The new carry permit aims to ease the application process by increasing affordability and expanding the qualified training programs. 

   The new law creating a concealed carry permit expands qualified training programs. It allows applicants to take a hunter education safety course or other firearms training courses to fulfill the training requirement for the permit, including free online videos or classes. All classes, however, must be approved by the Department of Safety. Required material for the course is outlined in the law and must cover topics such as Tennessee’s gun laws, in order to ensure permit applicants are educated. 

   The new concealed carry permit application is $65, compared to $100 for the enhanced permit.  In order to receive the new concealed permit applicants must be at least 21 years of age, pass a background check from the TBI and provide proof they have completed a Department of Safety approved hand gun safety training course within one year of the date of application.

   Unlike the enhanced permit, the new concealed permit does not allow a person to carry on higher education campuses. The legislation gives Tennesseans more choice and flexibility when applying for a carry permit by enabling them to apply for one which best fits their lifestyle.