Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley August 4, 2021

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Legislation Enacted July 1st

   Reemployment protections to Tennessee National Guard— Legislation protecting civilian reemployment rights for Tennessee National Guard members upon completion of service in a State Active Duty was approved during the 2021 session. This provides members of the National Guard returning from State Active Duty the same right to reemployment afforded to service members called to federal active service, protecting them from discrimination in the workplace based on their military service. 

   Tennessee’s National Guard servicemen and women have been on the frontlines of the state’s COVID-19 response for the past year, providing a critical service to people across our state. This legislation will support their efforts and serve as a recruitment tool to ensure the very best continue to serve in the Tennessee National Guard. 

   STRONG Act / Tennessee National Guard – Legislation which expands eligibility for tuition reimbursement for members of the Tennessee National Guard under Tennessee’s Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen (STRONG) Act was also approved.

   The General Assembly passed the original STRONG Act in 2017. That legislation provided reimbursement to an educational institution in the amount equal to 100% of the maximum resident undergraduate in-state tuition. This is a great benefit, but the 2021 amendment to the STRONG Act has made it even better. It provides eligible service members with tuition reimbursement for up to 120 hours for a bachelor’s degree, 40 hours for a master’s degree and 24 hours for a vocational or technical program. The legislation also provides reimbursement for up to 30 additional hours for any service member enrolled in ROTC or other officer-producing programs while pursuing a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree. 

   Students enrolled in officer-producing programs are required to take certain courses, which can be outside the requirements of their chosen degree. This could lead to ROTC students hitting the credit hour cap before obtaining their degree and losing their eligibility for additional reimbursement. Finally, the new law extends the program for four more years until June 30, 2025. The STRONG Act has boosted recruitment of service members in the National Guard since its enactment in 2017. This legislation aims to retain and renew more service members by offering additional education benefits.

   Helping Heroes Grant — State lawmakers approved legislation this week to aid Tennessee veterans by expanding eligibility for the Helping Heroes Grant. Previously, veterans who have earned either the Global War on Terrorism medal on or after September 11, 2001; the Iraq campaign medal; or the Afghanistan campaign medal were awarded aid through the program. The new law adds eligibility for any veteran who has earned a service expeditionary medal identified by rules and regulations created by the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation. 

   100% Service-Connected Disabled / State Park Fees — A new law passed this year increasing the current state park camping fees discount available to veterans from 50% to 100% for Tennessee residents who have a 100% service-connected permanent disability as determined by the VA.  The legislation applies to overnight lodging fees at state parks.  Discounts are subject to availability and only apply to reservations made within 30 days of the intended stay.    

    Disabled Veterans / State Employee / Sick Leave – A new law in Tennessee allows a state employee, who is a veteran with a service-connected disability of 30% or more, to receive 36 hours of sick leave each year to attend appointments related to that disability. The intent behind the legislation is that a disabled veteran who is a state employee should not have to use their sick leave or vacation time to make their Veterans Administration (VA) appointments.