It has been busy on Capitol Hill during the week of April 19th, with Tennessee lawmakers acting on some of the most important bills of this legislative session. With the closure of two more Senate Committees, action for the remainder of the 2021 legislative session will shift to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee, which considers all legislation that affects the state budget, and the Senate floor, as bills pass final consideration.
Transparency of Foreign Influence on State College and University Campuses – State senators voted to provide greater transparency regarding foreign influences on state college and university campuses. Senate Bill 1191, which I carried in the Senate, also prohibits the establishment of Confucius Institutes which have ties to communist regimes. The legislation requires state higher education institutions to disclose gifts received from and contracts initiated with a foreign source in excess of $10,000. The bill requires the institution to submit a disclosure report to the Comptroller of the Treasury and Department of Safety for review. It now goes to Governor Lee for his signature before becoming law on July 1.
BEP Funds / Hold Harmless — Legislation which holds school districts in Tennessee harmless on their Basic Education Program (BEP) funds due to COVID-19’s negative effects on student attendance was approved by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee. BEP funding is based on the average daily attendance of students. During the pandemic, school attendance has fluctuated greatly. Senate Bill 774 requires that a Local Education Agency’s (LEA) BEP funds for the 2021-2022 school year to not be less than the LEA’s BEP calculation for the 2020-2021 school year. The school districts can receive additional funds if their average daily attendance has increased.
Firearms / Protection of Rights — Legislation aiming to protect the anonymity of citizens related to firearm ownership was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 1142, also known as the Firearm Information Privacy Protection Act, will protect Tennesseans who are exercising their constitutional right to own and purchase firearms. This legislation will create a Class A misdemeanor for any public personnel who intentionally discloses information about an owner of a firearm for the purpose of compiling a federal firearms database or confiscation of firearms. The Firearm Information Privacy Protection Act will serve as buffer between Tennessee and any federal government attempt to prohibit citizens from exercising their right to protect themselves and their families.
In similar action, Judiciary Committee members approved the Tennessee Firearm Protection Act prohibiting the expenditure of state or local funds to enforce any federal law or executive order regulating the sale of firearms, ammunition or firearm accessories if they violate state law or the Tennessee Constitution. Senate Bill 557 also prohibits the use of employees for this purpose. It allows the State Attorney General and the General Assembly to review violations of this law and to decide whether to revoke the offending entity’s state funding for the next fiscal year.
Unborn Child Dignity Act – Senate Bill 828, which advocates for the dignity of the unborn by requiring proper burial or cremation for a surgically aborted child, was approved by the Tennessee Senate. The legislation grants the same protection, respect and dignity to a deceased, surgically aborted child required by law to any other deceased human being. The legislation is based on a similar Indiana law that survived a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2019. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized that states have a legitimate interest in the proper disposition of human fetal remains and did not impose a burden or interfere with an abortion choice. In Tennessee, about one in nine pregnancies ends in abortion. At last reporting, 10,880 children were lost to abortion in one year throughout the state. Currently, 11 states require burial or cremation of aborted fetal remains. The bill now goes to Governor Lee for his signature.