The 111th General Assembly adjourned on the morning of June 19th after overcoming many obstacles this session. I am proud to say that despite the destruction and devastation of COVID-19, we passed a balanced budget and other key pieces of legislation that will benefit Tennesseans across this state. Below are some of those bills that became effective on July 1st. Although we have completed our legislative work for the year, I will continue to provide these updates and remain dedicated to my constituents in the 28th District. Please let me know if I can be of assistance to you in any way.
New law helps ensure license revocation for teachers convicted of certain crimes – We approved legislation that I co-sponsored, clarifying that licensed teachers convicted of certain crimes against children will have their license revoked by the State Board of Education. The criminal offenses that apply, after the teacher has exhausted or waived due process rights, include communicating a threat concerning a school employee, arson, aggravated arson, burglary, child abuse, child neglect, child endangerment, aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect, aggravated child endangerment, providing handguns to juveniles, sexual offenses, and violent sexual offenses. In addition, it includes teachers or administrators whose name is placed on the state’s Vulnerable Persons Registry or the state’s Sex Offender Registry, or those identified by the Department of Children’s Services as having committed child abuse, severe child abuse, child sexual abuse, or child neglect.
New law seeks to address shortage of teachers — A new law has passed to help Local Education Agencies (LEAs) fund a “Grow Your Own” scholarship program. The program helps train high school students and non-teaching staff to become certified teachers in a three-year program at a higher education institution.
The Grow Your Own Program has been implemented in Clarksville Montgomery County Schools in partnership with Austin Peay State University and has proven to be an effective pipeline for LEAs to fill open teaching positions. Last year, there were 1,123 teacher vacancies reported in Tennessee, leaving over 20,000 students without a certified teacher. The new statute authorizes the commissioner of education to grant a waiver to a requesting LEA exempting them the average class size standards to assist the LEA in funding a Grow Your Own Program. By increasing the class size across the district by one or two students, districts can significantly reduce the number of teaching positions and use those savings to develop their own teachers.
Dynamic Accessibility Act — The General Assembly approved the “Dynamic Accessibility Act” in 2019 that brings the language and symbols for people with disabilities into the 21st century to focus on ability rather than disability. The act directs the Department of General Services to create rules to designate a symbol depicting a logo with a dynamic character leaning forward with a sense of movement, replacing the static image with a more stylized symbol. The new symbol will be accompanied by the word “accessible” to designate points of access for persons with disabilities, replacing the term “handicapped” which translates to cap and hand signifying a beggar. The symbol will be used for state buildings or property constructed or renovated on or after July 1, 2020. The legislation also directs the Department of Revenue to create rules designating the new dynamic symbol for the issuance of all new registrations, placards, decals, and license plates starting after July 1, 2020.
Legislation bans convicted animal abusers from owning pets in certain cases — Final approval was given to legislation banning some convicted animal abusers from ever owning any pets again. The new law prohibits individuals convicted of some of the worst offenses against animals from owning companion animals for at least two years from the date of conviction and may impose a lifetime prohibition. Upon a subsequent offense, the court shall prohibit the individual from having custody of any companion animal for the person’s lifetime. The measure builds on a 2015 law that created the Tennessee Animal Abuse Registry, the first ever animal abuse registry in the nation.