Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley: June 17, 2020

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   Limited Visitation at Tennessee Long-Term Care Facilities Will Resume Under New Guidelines

   I recently voiced my encouragement on the Senate Floor for The Department of Health and Governor Lee to re-open visitation to long-term care facilities here in our state. I understand the decision to limit exposure to these residents, but I believe the time has come to open these facilities back up. I know how important it is to the health and well-being of patients to be allowed visitors. I am very pleased that the Department of Health, along with Governor Lee, has released new guidelines to allow visitation at these facilities. You can find these new guidelines on the TN Department of Health’s website.

  Senate passes Tennessee Recovery and Safe Harbor Act to provide reasonable liability protections against unsupported COVID-19 lawsuits

   The full Senate approved major legislation on June 11th providing clarity, predictability and fair standards regarding lawsuits related to the coronavirus. The Tennessee Recovery and Safe Harbor Act seeks to provide necessary and reasonable protections against unsupported legal claims, allowing Tennessee’s small businesses and other entities to resume operations with confidence and actively participate in Tennessee’s economic recovery.  

   Senate Bill 2381 provides civil liability protection from health emergency claims relative to the coronavirus for a wide array of covered entities in Tennessee if the entity complied with or reasonably attempted to comply with any public health guidance. Entities covered under the bill include for-profit and nonprofit businesses, health care providers, schools and educational institutions, child care providers, religious organizations, local governments, and their employees or volunteers. In addition, the bill protects state health care providers on the front lines of the pandemic who are burdened with liability concerns stemming from the delivery of essential medical care to coronavirus patients during extraordinarily difficult circumstances. It provides that covered entities will not be liable for damages, injury or death that results in connection with a health emergency claim unless the claimant proves by clear and convincing evidence that it was caused by gross negligence, willful misconduct or substantial non-compliance with public health guidance. 

   The measure adopts a comprehensive definition of “public health guidance,” which includes all forms of governmental guidance and direction released throughout the progression of the pandemic. While the legislation intends to provide protection from the financial toll and distraction of legal defense, it does not seek to excuse bad actors or create blanket immunity from pandemic-related lawsuits. Protection from health emergency claims does not apply if a claimant proves by clear and convincing evidence that the covered entity caused damages, injury, or death by acting with gross negligence or willful misconduct. The act applies to all causes of action accruing on or after the first confirmed coronavirus case reported by the Department of Health on March 5, 2020 and expires on July 1, 2022. The legislation is supported by the Business Recovery and Safe Harbor Coalition. The coalition includes more than 30 groups representing business, hospitality and tourism, healthcare, higher education and non-profits. I was happy to vote for and support this legislation. The bill is pending final action in the House of Representatives where it is headed to the floor for a final vote.

   Senate approves legislation raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 

   Legislation which raises the minimum age required under state law to purchase tobacco products is on its way to Governor Bill Lee for his signature after the Senate adopted a House amendment to the measure. Senate Bill 2202, sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), raises the age from 18 to 21 to purchase, possess, transport, or consume any tobacco product, smoking hemp or vapor products. “Smoking is a significant health issue,” said Sen. Hensley, who is a physician. “Raising the age limit for tobacco products will help us prevent premature deaths and improve the health and quality of life for thousands of citizens, as well as save millions in health care costs.”

   In December, President Trump signed into law a provision in the federal budget making it a violation to sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21, including e-cigarettes and vaping cartridges. This proposal puts state statutes in harmony with federal law and ensures that Tennessee will continue to receive $32 million in federal block grant funds. The House amendment adds language to the original bill which requires any person under 21 years of age who directly or indirectly purchases or attempts to purchase smoking paraphernalia using fake identification be subject to the jurisdiction of the appropriate general sessions court rather than to juvenile proceedings.

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