Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley: July Enactments

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   The first session of the 112th General Assembly came to an end in May and marked the close of a very productive year for the Tennessee General Assembly. Legislation was passed involving a wide variety of topics that are all aimed at bettering the lives of Tennesseans across the state. Below is a list of legislation that will take effect in July of 2021.

   Tax Cut / Sales Tax Holiday – Legislation was approved cutting $50 million in taxes by providing an additional sales tax holiday on the sale of food and food ingredients from July 30, 2021 – August 4, 2021. It also cuts the taxes on the retail sale of prepared food for restaurants during the same time period. This is in addition to Tennessee’s annual sales tax holiday which allows consumers to purchase clothing, school supplies and computers tax-free. 

    Special Session / Tennessee Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act — Among other measures in this comprehensive legislation addressing learning losses, this legislation strengthens the state’s 3rd grade reading retention policy by ensuring that students are on grade-level before being promoted to the 4th grade.

   Teachers / Endorsement Pathways – A new law which seeks to increase retention of high-quality educators by providing an alternative endorsement pathway has passed the General Assembly. The measure provides additional flexibility at the local level. The Board of Education will create a process by which school districts may administer training programs for endorsements without having to enroll in higher education. Individuals will still be expected to pass an assessment to ensure they are qualified. 

    Textbook Transparency Act — The Textbook Transparency Act was adopted in 2021 to ensure that all textbooks in the hands of Tennessee students are accessible to the public to view. It makes available online textbooks that are adopted by the state of Tennessee and used by public schools. Compared to the 90-day timeframe textbooks are currently required to be available to the public. This new statute requires publishers to make these materials available so long as they are actively being used in the classroom. 

    Students / Threat of Mass Violence — Legislation seeking to address mass violence on school property was approved before lawmakers adjourned the 2021 session. It creates a Class A misdemeanor offense for communicating a threat to commit an act of mass violence on school property or at a school-related activity and a Class B misdemeanor if a person with knowledge fails to report it. A sentencing court may require a person sentenced for either offense to pay restitution for the destruction of normal activities. It also allows a court to order a child held for threatening mass violence on a school to undergo a mental health evaluation. 

    Tennessee Accommodations for All Children Act – The Tennessee Accommodations for All Children Act has been approved. It requires a public school to provide a reasonable accommodation to a student who has conveyed through a written request that they are unwilling or unable to use multi-occupancy restrooms or changing facilities designated for the person’s sex. The goal of the bill is to be respectful and protect every child’s right to privacy, as well as to remove any uncertainty about making accommodations for all children. 

   Student’s Right to Know Act – The General Assembly enacted legislation to provide critical information to Tennesseans seeking to pursue higher education. The Student’s Right to Know Act requires the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to publish a web-based dashboard for high school students considering their college and career options. It will give students more information regarding higher education cost options, in addition to expected wages in occupations they are considering. 

    HOPE Scholarship / Homeschoolers — Before the General Assembly wrapped up the 2021 legislative session, lawmakers also dealt with inequities in the HOPE Scholarship Grant for homeschool students.  Under previous law, homeschool students could not qualify for HOPE Scholarships through their GPA score, unlike their public and accredited private school counterparts. Instead, they solely relied on their ACT scores for eligibility. The new law solves this discrepancy by extending aid to homeschool students who both complete six credit hours of dual-enrollment and maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in those courses.  Additionally, the legislation removes the requirement that a student must have been enrolled in a home school for one year immediately preceding the completion of their high school level education.

    Confucius Institutes / Foreign Influence on Higher Education — State lawmakers voted this year to pass a bill that I sponsored to provide greater transparency regarding foreign influences on state college and university campuses. The new statute prohibits the establishment of Confucius Institutes which have ties to communist regimes and requires state institutions to disclose gifts received from and contracts initiated with a foreign source in excess of $10,000.