NASHVILLE – Senate Committees worked at “full steam” this week as they wrapped up budget hearings for various agencies and departments of state government and moved a number of important bills to the Senate floor for final action. The committees are preparing to conclude their business within the next two to three weeks, as the General Assembly is working to adjourn the 2010 legislative session by the end of April.
Senator Beavers’ Ignition Interlock Bill Gets Approval from Senate Judiciary Committee
Senate Bill 2965 passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday with a 9-0-0 vote, bringing the bill one step closer to becoming law. The bill is designed to increase the use of ignition interlock devices to curb the number of alcohol-related car crashes on our Tennessee highways.
Currently, ignition interlocks are required for repeat offenders, those drunk drivers who have statistically driven hundreds of times before they are ever caught. Senator Beavers’ bill would require interlock devices to be installed for a year in cases of aggravated first offenders (those who blow a 0.15 BAC, which is almost twice the legal limit), people driving with children in the car, or those involved in accidents caused by alcohol impairment.
Courts often restrict those convicted of drunk driving to traveling only to work and home. The restriction routes can be difficult for law enforcement officers to monitor. Officers would easily be able to see if a convicted offender has a court-ordered interlock device, which would be installed at the offender’s expense.
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 represents a big step forward towards increasing the use of these devices to keep drunk drivers off our roads,” said Senator Beavers. “The record is clear that ignition interlock devices save lives.”
As of January, 2,743 Tennessee driver’s license holders had an interlock restriction, while 580 license holders had an interlock device installed. Eight other states already have laws that require DUI offenders to install interlock devices if they register .15 or higher. The National Transportation Safety Board has urged Tennessee to pass a more uniform and mandatory system for installation of interlock devices for those convicted of drunk driving.
Lawmakers Honor Veterans Through Various Legislative Measures
Among legislation approved in committees this week were several bills to honor and provide assistance to Tennessee’s veterans. This includes legislation approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee that would develop and encourage relationships with veteran-owned businesses that have not always had access to state government contracts.
The bill, Senate Bill 2785, calls for state agencies actively to solicit bids and proposals for equipment, supplies, and services from veteran-owned businesses. These businesses are defined as those which are at least 51 percent-owned by a veteran who has served honorably on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that there are at least 548 veteran-owned businesses in the state.
In separate action, the Senate Government Operations Committee approved Senate Bill 2488 that would create the Veterans' Honor Medal program to recognize and honor distinguished service by Tennessee veterans. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs, under the bill, would commission the design of a medal for the program to which gold or silver stars will be added to indicate that an armed forces member was killed or wounded in action. The medal program would honor both active duty, National Guard and reserve component veterans based on criteria established by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Similarly, the Senate Transportation Committee approved legislation to authorize a “wounded warrior” specialty license plate with proceeds going to help with the cost of rehabilitation, readjustment and treatment of veterans. The bill, Senate Bill 3416, would give first priority to providing assistance to members of the Tennessee National Guard wounded in conflicts in federal service and then to all other disabled veterans in the Armed Services. Any remaining funds could be used for other honorably discharged veterans. The license plates would be designed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and, if approved, could be ready for sale as soon as this summer.
The Senate Education Committee also approved two military-related bills. The first proposal, Senate Bill 942, ensures that military personnel who have taught as JROTC instructors for at least two years and are licensed to teach another subject are credited with their years of service in JROTC instruction for the purpose of salary rating.
The second measure, Senate Bill 3022, authorizes local education agencies to issue a diploma to a student who failed to receive one due to their service in the Vietnam War.
Tennessee law already allows for high school diplomas to be issued to veterans whose education was interrupted by service in World War I, World War II, or the Korean War. A surviving spouse or other immediate family member of a deceased veteran may also request the diploma.
Protecting Medical Patients from Sexual Offenders
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill this week to require the Board of Medical Examiners to deny the application for licensure or revoke the license of a physician convicted of an offense which requires registration as a sexual offender. The bill, Senate Bill 3362, provides for communications between the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s (TBI) Sex Offender Registry and the Board of Medical Examiners within 30 days to assure notification is given. It also requires the Medical Examiners to make sure that no existing physician is currently listed on the Registry.
The action comes after a mother in Middle Tennessee learned her child’s family practice physician was listed on the state’s Sex Offender Registry. The doctor had been convicted of first-degree rape and sexual abuse of a young girl in 1987 before moving to Tennessee. He obtained a medical license in Tennessee in 1992 after being turned down by two other states. The state later renewed his license, even after the TBI listed him as a violent sex offender.