Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley March 24, 2021


   Legislation to help small businesses survive a health crisis overcomes first hurdle with approval by key committee

  The General Assembly continued to advance significant legislation during the week of March 15th, including a key proposal aiding small businesses. Senate Commerce and Labor Committee members approved Senate Bill 474 allowing businesses to remain open during a pandemic or other health emergency if they follow guidelines issued by any government to keep their customers and employees safe. The Tennessee Business Fairness Act puts all businesses on the same playing field in a declared state of emergency, so small businesses are not forced to close while their bigger competitors stay open.  

   We learned a lot over the last year about public health guidelines, essential vs. non-essential businesses, social distancing and more during the pandemic. We also learned that certain small businesses were impacted much more negatively than others and that certain industries needed greater flexibility. This legislation addresses those concerns going forward. First, it would provide greater flexibility for businesses to follow the public safety guidance – state or local – that works best for them, their customers and employees. Secondly, it would ensure government isn’t in the business of picking winners and losers like Michigan, where big box retailers are thriving while small retailers remain at 50% capacity as of early March. The bill, which now heads to the Senate floor for final consideration, is supported by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). 

   In Other News…

  The Cure Bill — No cure for a disease has been developed since the 1950’s polio vaccine. Senate Bill 234, approved by the Senate Government Operations Committee, aims to change that. The “Cure Bill,” which I sponsor in the Senate, forms a multi-state compact that sets up a procedure to incentivize companies, private individuals, and others to invent cures for certain diseases. It would offer future taxpayer savings as an incentive to any entity that develops a cure for a disease that would result in actual savings to state budgets. The Solemn Covenant of the States to Award Prizes for Curing Diseases Compact Board would designate those diseases included under this legislation. The compact will become effective and binding upon legislative enactment by six compacting states. Twelve states have introduced similar legislation. We were in the process of getting this legislation passed last session before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, so I am happy to be pushing this through again this year and I look forward to seeing it passed.

   Text-to-911 – The full Senate has approved Senate Bill 182 that would aid Tennesseans by developing a statewide implementation plan for Text-to-911 service by January 1, 2023. Text-to-911 is the ability to send a text message to reach 911 emergency call takers from your mobile phone or device. Tennesseans who would particularly benefit from this service are individuals with speech and hearing disabilities; medical situations like allergies or strokes; and victims of abduction, domestic violence, human trafficking, and school shootings. Individuals who maintain the ability to call 911 are advised to do so, using the text function only when necessary. As of May 2020, 11 of Tennessee’s 911 stations are already offering it, and 38 are in the process of launching the service. This bill will establish a statewide standard that would ensure access to this life-saving service for all Tennesseans.

   Cracking down on child sex offenders – Legislation aiming to prevent child sex offenders from reoffending or further traumatizing victims advanced in the Senate. Senate Bill 281 ensures that a juvenile convicted of conduct that would constitute rape, aggravated rape, rape of a child or aggravated rape of a child if committed by an adult would not be able to work or volunteer at a place that would cause the juvenile offender to be in close or frequent contact with children. This restriction would remain in effect until the juvenile turns 18 years of age. The need for the bill stems from an incident where a juvenile convicted of raping a 5-year-old boy was volunteering at an elementary school where the victim was set to attend. This bill aims to prevent that from occurring.