Capitol Hill Update from State Representative David Byrd August 19, 2020

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   General Assembly Reconvenes for 61st Extraordinary Session

   This week, the General Assembly reconvened in Nashville for the 61st Extraordinary Session in Tennessee history. As part of this historic special session, four new committees were created so that every House member had the opportunity to work on the three issues that comprised Governor Lee’s call for the session.

   These panels focused on setting new standards to address the possibility of frivolous lawsuits related to the Covid-19 pandemic, increasing access to telehealth services for Tennessee patients during these unprecedented times, and holding those who promote lawlessness or who attack law enforcement and first responders accountable. The special session began at 4 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 10 in the House chamber, and it concluded shortly after 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 12 with the sine die adjournment resolution.

   Telehealth Services for Tennesseans

   During the special session, the General Assembly led efforts to increase access to telehealth services for Tennesseans through passage ofHouse Bill 8002. This legislation has been a priority throughout the 111th General Assembly, and it was carefully vetted to prioritize Tennessee patients having access to their very own doctors and health care providers.

   House Bill 8002 increases access to electronic health care services and provides payment parity for clinically appropriate, medically necessary services so insurance companies reimburse providers at the same rates they would for in-person visits.

   Under this legislation, patients must have been seen in person by a physician or health service provider’s practice group within 16 months of a telemedicine visit. The bill also enables Tennesseans to utilize telemedicine as an alternative to in-person visits with their physicians or providers during the pandemic. As part of the Republican CARE Plan that was first introduced in 2019, this innovative solution puts Tennessee patients first, by increasing access, promoting affordability, and improving overall health outcomes. The measure now awaits the governor’s signature. 

   Business Sustainability in Tennessee

   The General Assembly this week also set new standards to address the potential for frivolous lawsuits against a person or entity resulting from the ongoing pandemic in Tennessee throughHouse Bill 8001.

   The Tennessee Covid-19 Recovery Act was approved in the House chamber by an 80-10 vote Wednesday. This legislation increases liability protections for businesses, schools, institutions of higher learning, churches, as well as civic organizations that operate in good faith from frivolous claims by raising standards for action from the current standard of simple negligence to a new standard of gross negligence or willful misconduct.

   Under this proposal, any individual alleging injury must file a verified complaint, citing specific facts, as well as clear and convincing evidence that the injury was caused by an act or omission constituting gross negligence or that an entity demonstrated willful misconduct, resulting in a loss, damage, injury, or death from Covid-19.

   All lawsuits already filed or in process on or before the date of the governor’s call for a special session on Aug. 3 would not be affected by the Tennessee Covid-19 Recovery Act and may still proceed. These are extraordinary times, and our businesses have suffered considerable hardships because of unexpected closures in recent months. Additionally, schools have worked tirelessly to implement protocols and procedures so they can safely reopen and educate our children. 

   The Tennessee Covid-19 Recovery Act protects these and other entities by establishing predictable standards moving forward for future pandemic-related lawsuits so individuals or groups seeking a payday do not abuse our legal system to file a baseless claim against an individual or organization in our state.

   Republican Lawmakers Push for Law and Order

   House Republicans on Wednesday evening approved legislation that holds those who promote lawlessness or who attack law enforcement and first responders in Tennessee accountable.  Known as the Law & Order bill,House Bill 8005 protects the rights of citizens enshrined in our Constitution to peaceful assembly. However, those few individuals who escalate peaceful demonstrations into acts of aggression, intimidation, rioting, vandalism or who seek violence towards law enforcement, firefighters and first responders will be held totally accountable for their actions.

   The legislation has statewide application, and it is necessary because of recent incidents across Tennessee and our nation where a few bad actors have escalated peaceful demonstrations and have turned them into acts of total lawlessness. House Bill 8005 creates mandatory minimum prison sentences for assault and aggravated assault of law enforcement, firefighters, and first responders, as well as rioting and aggravated rioting.

   These mandatory minimums include:

•A 30 day mandatory minimum sentence for assault of a first responder.

•A 90 day mandatory minimum sentence for aggravated assault of a first responder.

•A 30 day mandatory minimum sentence for participation in a riot and an order of restitution for property damage or loss associated with the offense.

•A 45 day mandatory minimum sentence for aggravated rioting and an order of restitution for property damage.

   The legislation also clarifies and strengthens our existing laws related to illegal camping on state property, and it addresses those who deface our state and public buildings, while keeping peaceful protestors, law enforcement, first responders, and our citizens safe. 

   When the Covid-19 pandemic first began, Tennessee’s first responders were our heroes, and this is an opportunity to once again join together to support all who protect and serve us and who risk their lives each and every day for the citizens of Tennessee. We want our citizens to exercise their constitutional rights and participate in peaceful demonstrations, but at the same time, House Republicans will not stand for anarchy or lawlessness here in our state.

   Government Accountability Measure Passes House Chamber

   Legislation that holds local governments accountable for prohibiting emergency response during public demonstrations was also approved this week. House Bill 8006 removes immunity for mayors, chief executives, governing boards or government entities if they choose to prohibit law enforcement or fire and rescue services from accessing specific areas within their jurisdiction which they have left unprotected during a public demonstration.

   The measure — which is the first of its kind — does not apply to any decisions made by local law enforcement, fire or rescue services personnel based on safety risks to those responding or to the general public. Under this legislation, anyone who violates this law will be held financially liable if damages, injury or death occurs to our citizens and their property. House Bill 8006 now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature. 

   As always, I am truly humbled and honored to be your voice in Nashville. If there is ever any issue I can assist you with, please contact 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 as we continue to protect Tennessee’s conservative values throughout the remainder

of the 111th General Assembly.