Legislation protecting Tennessee children passes

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NASHVILLE - Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) today applauded the passage of five bills that help protect Tennessee school children from educator sexual misconduct. The bills were filed after several weaknesses were revealed in a Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury report earlier this year.

"I want to thank each of the sponsors for guiding these bills through the legislative process," said Speaker Harwell. "These protections will help make our children safer for generations to come. Tennesseans expect meaningful changes like these from their government."

All five bills passed on the House floor with bipartisan support. The bills are summarized as follows:

• House Bill 2099 (carried by Rep. Jay Reedy), requires the State Board of Education to post all final disciplinary actions taken by the Board on educator licenses. Also requires the Board to develop policies concerning the transmission of its final disciplinary actions against an educator's license to a national clearinghouse.

• House Bill 2165 (carried by Rep. Tilman Goins), clarifies the appropriate boundaries that should exist between educators and their students by adding new language to the Tennessee Teacher Code of Ethics. Requires school districts to conduct annual training on the Code of Ethics and its requirements.

• House Bill 2009 (carried by Rep. Tilman Goins), clarifies the State Board's authority to take a range of disciplinary actions against the licenses of educators for misconduct violations. Requires Directors of Schools to report certain offenses or allegations to the Tennessee Department of Education.

• House Bill 2433 (carried by Rep. Mark White), prohibits school districts from entering into nondisclosure agreements with employees who have committed sexual misconduct regarding a student.

• House Bill 1997 (carried by Rep. Harry Brooks), requires all public schools and child care programs to ensure criminal background checks are completed every five years for all educators or any other employee whose job requires them to work with or near school children. Additionally, if Tennessee is accepted into a national program, public schools and child care programs would instead be required to participate in the FBI "Rap Back" program, which provides continual notifications directly to districts of any criminal history reported to the FBI after an employee is hired.

Representative Harry Brooks, who also serves as the Chairman of the House Education Administration and Planning Committee, was a co-prime sponsor on every bill, and carried one through the process. Senate Education Chairwoman Dolores Gresham ushered the bills through the Senate.

"Tennessee and its various school districts have a fundamental responsibility to ensure our children are safe from inappropriate sexual conduct in our schools," said Chairman Brooks. "These bills offer new protections, transparency, and a clear disciplinary process for misconduct."

"I was honored to carry one of the bills through the process," said Rep. Reedy. "House Bill 2099 will offer the sort of transparency our school administrators and parents deserve."

Rep. Goins carried two of the bills through the process, and stated, "House Bill 2165 and House Bill 2009 will provide clarity to existing laws on the books that will better guide our educators, State Board of Education, and directors of schools across the state. This guidance will better protect students."

"House Bill 2433 ensures school districts are not concealing any sexual misconduct committed by an employee with a student," said Rep. White. "This measure will ensure this information is available to the public, and transparency is an important part of ensuring the safety of our children."

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