NASHVILLE – The pace quickened on Capitol Hill this week as committees considered a wide variety of bills and continued to review budget requests from departments and agencies of state governments.
In addition, the Senate heard a presentation on the Senate Floor from the Future Farmers of America, an organization that promotes the growth of agricultural education amongst junior high, high school, and college students. Senator Beavers welcomed this year’s FFA President James Flatt and Middle Tennessee Vice President Andy Ligon, both from Wilson County in Senate District 17.
Lastly, this week Senator Beavers was honored by the Concerned Motorcyclists of Tennessee and given a lifetime appreciation award for her career efforts in supporting motorcyclists and their issues.
Senate Judiciary Committee debates bill to require drunk drivers with a high blood alcohol level to install ignition interlock devices
Among bills considered was one debated in the Senate Judiciary Committee that would require extreme drunk drivers to install an ignition interlock device. The proposal would apply to persons arrested with blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .15 or more, a level which is 385 times more likely to cause a crash.
Interlock devices are small pieces of equipment attached to the steering wheel of a car with a tube that the driver must breathe into in order to allow ignition to start. The current alcohol ignition interlock technology makes it easier for courts to require drunk drivers to utilize the device.
“This bill aims squarely at those who drink, drive and kill,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet), sponsor of the bill. “The record is clear that ignition interlock devices save lives.”
According to the Department of Safety, 3,877 restricted driver’s licenses were issued to people with DUI convictions in 2008, of which 1,163 were to offenders having a BAC level of .15 or higher. The bill aims to strengthen Tennessee’s law against DUI offenders who register high levels of alcohol upon arrest. State law already requires persons who are convicted and have a prior conviction within the past five years to install an interlock device for a six month period at their own expense.
Eight other states already have laws that require DUI offenders to install interlock devices if they register .15 or higher. Action on the bill, Senate Bill 2965, was deferred until next week.
Government Operations Committee reviews objectives to loosen grip of special interest groups and lobbyists on state’s boards and commissions
The Senate Government Operations Committee is currently considering action to loosen the grip of special interest groups and lobbyists over the various boards and commissions in Tennessee as they are reviewed by the panel in their normal sunset review process. Several members of the committee have expressed serious concerns about repeated language in Tennessee law that requires appointing authorities to select a candidate from special interest organizations.
The governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the house are most commonly responsible for naming those who serve on the approximately 250 boards and commissions currently in operation in the state. The boards cover a wide variety of matters and involve oversight for various professions in the state from real estate and health care to athletic training and funeral homes. Special interest groups over the years have lobbied to make sure that their organizations are included in the language of the law by requiring that appointments are made from members of their group.
One of the key concerns includes the idea that many qualified citizens are eliminated from consideration because they may not be members of an organization. This is especially the case in professional organizations, some of which have a small percentage of members who are licensed within that profession.
Issues in Brief
Online Driver Safety Class – The Senate and House have approved and sent to the governor legislation that would allow senior drivers in the state to take an online driving course in order to receive a discount on their automobile insurance premiums. The bill, Senate Bill 2570, would allow the discount to citizens over 55 years of age if they complete an online driver safety course approved by the State Department of Safety. Currently, only seniors who take courses in a classroom are eligible to receive the discounts.
Snow Days – School superintendents would have more flexibility in making up missed days due to snow or other weather-related problems under legislation that was approved by the full Senate this week. The bill, Senate Bill 3031, authorizes the Commissioner of Education to approve directly proportional variations from half-hour extension of the school days and the corresponding accumulation of 13 days of adjustments to the instructional time requirements.
Motorcycle Lemon Law – The Senate approved legislation, Senate Bill 2649, to add motorcycles to Tennessee’s “lemon law” regarding warranty protections. The lemon law requires that motor vehicle manufacturers, or their authorized agent or dealers, must repair new vehicles that are under warranty and replace or accept the return of them if they cannot be repaired after a reasonable number of attempts.
Trust laws – The State Senate has approved legislation to update and improve Tennessee’s trust laws to keep the state competitive as a prime location for investments. The bill, Senate Bill 3522, improves Tennessee’s Uniform Principal and Income Act, the Uniform Trust Code, and the Investment Services Act by adding a number of statues to upgrade and improve the state’s trust laws. It also creates a new type of trust in Tennessee called the unitrust. The legislation employs the top features of trust laws in other states and best practices in trust administration to put Tennessee ahead of other states in desirability for trust administration.
Troops / Voting – Legislation making it easier for troops who are deployed overseas to vote received final approval in the State Senate this week. The bill, Senate Bill 2681, authorizes a county Election Commission to e-mail a ballot to each member of the armed forces, as well as citizens temporarily outside the United States, who are entitled to vote and who have submitted a valid application for a ballot. The move would expedite the process so the voter would have more time to make a decision and return their ballot so they will be counted. According to the Pew Center on the States, about half of overseas voters fail to vote or to have their votes counted because of current voting rules.
Honoring fallen heroes – The State Senate took time this week to honor two fallen Tennessee heroes who lost their life this week in a helicopter accident in Iraq. The soldiers, Capt. Marcus Ray Alford and Chief Warrant Officer Billie Jean Grinder, were with Louisville's 1/230th Air Cavalry. In addition, Sergeant David Clay Prescott, Jr. and Staff Sergeant Michael Wayne Tinsley of the Guard’s Armored Calvary Regiment were killed earlier this month. Public Chapter 169 which was approved last year, requires that if members of the Tennessee National Guard die in the line of duty, the Governor shall proclaim a day of mourning in their honor and the names of the deceased members of the armed forces shall be recorded in the journal of the Senate and House of Representatives. The new law also requires that flags be flown at half-mast to honor these soldiers who make the ultimate sacrifice for their state and country.