Left to right: Minority leader Jeff Yarbro; Sen. Sara Kyle; Sen. Brenda Gilmore; Caucus chairwoman Raumesh Akbari; Sen. Heidi Campbell; and Sen. London Lamar

Cutting through partisanship, Senate Democrats deliver results

Senate Dems celebrate passage of more than 40 new laws

NASHVILLE — The 112th Tennessee General Assembly has closed for legislative business.

You may have heard about the record-setting $52.8 billion budget or the one-month grocery tax holiday coming in August, but you probably have not heard about these Democratic bills that passed the Senate.

In between extreme partisan attacks on our freedom and common sense, Senate Democrats successfully sponsored more than 40 new laws to strengthen families and communities, to invest in our kids and future, and to create more opportunity for all Tennesseans.

Our caucus wants to return Tennessee to the basic ideas that built the middle class: Government must work better for families who work hard and play by the rules.

Keep in mind these are only the bills that passed through a GOP supermajority controlled Senate. Our members sponsored dozens of additional bills that were bottled up in committee by the Republican majority. Those measures spanned a variety of issues, including protections for our democracy, raising wages and creating more American jobs, fighting climate change and building a clean energy economy, making health care more affordable, and ensuring racial and economic justice for all Tennesseans.

GOOD JOBS

Alternative to layoffs for some employees

SB 958, by Sen. Yarbro, establishes a voluntary shared work unemployment benefits program, an alternative to layoffs that helps a business owner from having to make full workforce reductions. Under the law, a business owner, who is considering layoffs due to lack of work, can instead reduce employee work hours in exchange for employee access to some unemployment compensation benefits. Similar programs are currently in place in Arkansas, Missouri and Texas.

Reducing red tape for barbers and beauticians

SB 2754, by Sen. Akbari, reduces the licensing requirements for hair stylists who work in both cosmetology and barbering. The change will create more competition and provide additional opportunities for professionals in the hair and beauty industry.

Protection for contract workers

SB 670, by Sen. Kyle, requires ride-share companies to inform contract workers about possible deficiencies in their automobile insurance coverage. Unfortunately, many drivers do not know that their personal auto insurance may not provide coverage if they’re driving for a rideshare app. This law requires ride-share companies to inform drivers about the differences between private and commercial automobile insurance coverage.

State strategy on expanding passenger rail

SB 2602, by Sen. Campbell, would require state officials to develop passenger rail recommendations connecting the major cities of Tennessee. Under the law, state analysts will study the cost, feasibility, and infrastructure of expanding railroad passenger service in this state through Amtrak.

Ban on subminimum wages for workers with disabilities

SB 2042, by Sen. Yarbro, would ban companies from paying a subminimum wage to workers with disabilities. Under federal law, some entities are allowed to pay less than the federal minimum wage — $7.25 an hour — to workers who have a physical or mental impairment. Republicans killed this bill in 2021, but after hard work from the sponsor, this new law bans the practice in Tennessee.

Empowering cities to offer employees more flexibility with retirement benefits

SB 1473, by Sen. Akbari, will give some cities and counties more power to attract and keep workers by adding additional flexibility to retirement plans.

Recouping Nashville’s investment in Fifth + Broad

SB 2313, by Sen. Gilmore, authorizes Nashville Metro Council to levy a privilege tax of up to 5 percent on admission tickets and all retail sales at the National Museum of African American Music at Fifth + Broad. The private-public partnership created a $430 million mixed-use development that has become a major draw downtown. This small user fee will help the city recoup its investment.

QUALITY, AFFORDABLE HEALTHCARE

Expansion of medical marijuana

One of the few bills to expand decriminalization of marijuana: SB 1877, by Sen. Yarbro, adds quadriplegia as a qualifying medical condition for the lawful possession of cannabis oil.

Studies patient care to improve infant, maternal outcomes

SB2150, by Sen. Lamar, requires the state health officials to study doula certification programs and provide recommendations to the General Assembly on best utilizing doulas to improve infant and maternal outcomes. Doulas are trained professionals who provide continuous, hands-on support to a mother throughout her pregnancy.

Addiction warning for opioid prescriptions

SB 2037, by Sen. Gilmore, would have required medical professionals prescribing opioids to discuss with their patient the risks associated with the addictive pain reliever. Note: Legislation failed in the House.

International Maternal Health & Rights Day 2023

SR0174, by Sen. Lamar, designates April 11, 2023, as International Maternal Health and Rights Day in Tennessee. Tennessee continues to rank amongst the states with the worst maternal and infant mortality rate.

September designated Brain Aneurysm Month

SB 2177, by Sen. Akbari, will designate the month of September as “Brain Aneurysm Month.” Brain aneurysms can occur in anyone and at any age, but are most common in adults between the ages of 30 and 60. Approximately 30,000 Americans suffer a brain aneurysm rupture each year.

INVESTING IN KIDS

“Industry 4.0 diploma” for students pursuing high-need, technical careers

SB 2498, by Sen. Akbari, creates an “Industry 4.0” diploma distinction for high school students who are participating in work-based learning programs and interested in pursuing a career in a high-need, high-skill industry after graduation. Oftentimes, this distinction will mean that students are ready to enter the workforce filling jobs that are in demand.

Making the supplemental food program for mothers, kids more accessible

During the height of the pandemic, state officials developed a variety of ways to continue providing essential services to Tennesseans, oftentimes through remote means. SB 2043, by Sen. Yarbro, requires the state to develop a strategy to continue providing online access to the special supplemental food program for women, infants and children, known as WIC.

Save Tennessee Students Act makes suicide prevention phone number more accessible

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death 15–19 year-olds in America. In 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a state of emergency concerning the mental health of children and teenagers. SB 2510, by Sen. Akbari, ensures that every school district in the state will include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on all student identification cards.

Expanding access to Black history

SB 2501, by Sen. Akbari, enacts the Black History Act guaranteeing that black history lessons will be included in American history curriculum for all Tennessee students. The law places an emphasis on social studies curriculum in grades five through eight. This law is the culmination of a two-year effort by Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, who sponsored the House version of the bill.

Lessons from the Civil Rights Movement for high schoolers

SB 2508, by Sen. Akbari, urges education officials to include key events from the Civil Rights Movement in social studies curriculum for students in grades nine through 12.

‘The Invisible Epidemic’: Yarbro bill takes aim at food insecurity among college students

SB 1825, by Sen. Yarbro, requires state higher education officials to study food insecurity issues at public college campuses and report recommendations back to lawmakers. An article in Health Affairs, a public health policy journal, named food insecurity at college campuses “the invisible epidemic.”

Studying driver safety education for students

SB 1508, by Sen. Akbari, requires state officials to study the benefits of providing driver education in public high schools at low or no cost to students. The study will also review potential sources of funding for driver education and research on driver education.

Authorizes schools to use the “Ticket Program” for rewarding and disciplining student behavior

SB 1958, by Sen. Gilmore, authorizes schools across the state to utilize the “Ticket Program” for rewarding and disciplining students. The system is designed to bridge the gap between home and school by rewarding positive behavior and correcting unwanted behavior in real time.

Affordable childcare: Childcare agency cost equalization bill

Right now, state law requires some nonprofit child care providers to pay for an independent audit every year, but, due to an inconsistency in state law, other nonprofit daycares do not. SB 2750, by Sen. Akbari, would have equalized the auditing requirements for nonprofit childcare providers, which would save providers thousands of dollars each year. That money, the childcare groups say, could be used to keep tuition costs more affordable. Note: The House version of the bill got stuck in committee.

Ensuring students can drive to school, work

Tennessee is the only state that suspends a student’s driver’s license for academic performance, but the policy has backfired. Students who can no longer drive ultimately miss more school and cannot even drive to work. SB 2176, by Sen. Akbari, removes this outdated policy from state law, enabling more kids to keep their driver’s license and continue attending classes or working a job.

Covid-19 leave to care for a child

SB 2672, by Sen. Kyle, would grant state employees up to five days of leave to care for a child that is required to stay home as the result of a COVID-19 infection or school closure. Note: Legislation failed in the House.

EQUAL OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL

Caring for veterans: Ensuring payments owned to families of deceased military veterans

SB 2306, by Sen. Campbell, makes sure coroners review a deceased military veteran’s medical records before issuing a death certificate. In instances where a service-connected injury contributed to the death, the deceased veteran’s family may be entitled to additional benefits. This change, while small, will ensure that more families of deceased veterans receive payments owed to them for the injuries their loved one sustained during military service.

The CROWN Act bans discrimination against people for natural hairstyles

SB 136, by Sen. Akbari, enacts the CROWN Act, which stands for: Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. Tennessee’s statehouse the first in the deep South to approve legislation prohibiting discrimination against natural hairstyles. For decades, black hair styles have been unjustly policed as too “unprofessional” or “unkempt” for public spaces, such as classrooms and workplaces. Under the new law, employers and public schools in Tennessee will be prohibited from adopting policies against natural and protective hairstyles, such as braids, locs and twists.

Healthy mothers, healthy babies: Law ban practice of shackling incarcerated women during childbirth

SB 2769, by Sen. Akbari, will ensure more pregnancies result in healthy babies and healthy mothers–even when they’re incarcerated. Under this law, prisons and jail guards are prohibiting the use of restraints when an incarcerated woman is in labor. The American Medical Association Journal of Ethics says that restraining incarcerated women during pregancy increases the potential for physical harm for a woman and her fetus, including the potential for miscarriage.

Dallas’ Law: Measure strengthens training requirements for security guards

Dallas Barrett, a 22-year-old Tennessean, died while being restrained by untrained and unlicensed security guards at a Nashville bar. SB 2514, or Dallas’ Law by Sen. Yarbro, would require unarmed security guards to complete new training requirements. Under the bill, security guard applicants would have to undergo training in de-escalation and safe restraint techniques, and hold a current certification to administer emergency first aid and CPR.

Modernized bail payment options

SB 1472, by Sen. Akbari, creates more cash payment options for Tennesseans who are approved for bail. Under the law, bail bonds could be paid with a debit card or mobile cash app, in addition to paying with cash.

Protecting a victim, a child and family’s right to a speedy trial

SB 2601, by Sen. Lamar, better protects both the victim and the accused’s right to a speedy trial in Tennessee’s juvenile court. Under the law, proceedings must begin within six months unless a different timeline is agreed to by both parties.

Keeping kids out of legal proceedings when possible

Sometimes children are involved in legal proceedings and have to be in a courtroom, which can cause them to miss school or be exposed to unnecessarily stressful situations involving loved ones. SB 2201, by Sen. Yarbro, removes the requirement that a juvenile appear in court for small tort settlements.

New layer of protections for domestic violence victims

SB 1546, by Sen. Yarbro, creates a new level of protection for victims of domestic violence. Under the law, a judge would have the option to extend the 12-hour hold period up to 24 hours for a person accused of aggravated domestic violence. This additional hold could provide a victim more time to find safe accommodations.

Closes a loophole in Tennessee’s “revenge porn” criminal statute

Revenge porn, the distribution of intimate photos without consent, is illegal in Tennessee. But a loophole in the law was denying some victims justice. SB 2535, by Sen. Yarbro, cleans up the definition of distribution to ensure people who harass others this way can be prosecuted.

Report on state contracting with businesses owned by underserved populations

SB 2516, by Sen. Gilmore, will help lawmakers examine deficiencies in state contracting practices. Under the law, the state Office of Diversity Business Enterprises will publish an annual report listing each state department’s aspirational goals and achievements for contracting with businesses owned by minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and service-disabled veterans, as well as other small businesses.

Healthy mothers, healthy babies: Ban on solitary confinement for pregnant women

SB 827, by Sen Yarbro, generally prohibits the use of solitary confinement for pregnant inmates and inmates who have given birth within the past eight weeks. Some jails and prisons have used solitary confinement, not as a punishment, but as a tool to segregate incarcerated persons with medical conditions, such as pregnancy, from general populations. When an inmate is left in solitary confinement for extended periods of time, they may become more anxious or prone to panic attacks, paranoia, and other effects, according to a 2013 study by the American Public Health Association. Note: Bill passed the Senate in 2020 and passed the House this year.

July 16 is Ida B. Wells Day in Tennessee

SB 2757, by Sen. Akbari, designates July 16 as “Ida B. Wells Day.” A journalist, a schoolteacher and an advocate for human and civil rights, Wells led a public campaign against lynch mobs in Memphis, even putting herself in grave danger. But her important work raised awareness across the country of the cruelty being placed on African Americans in the Jim Crow South.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities Day

SB 2749, by Sen. Gilmore, designates November 8th as “Historically Black Colleges and Universities Day.” Tennessee is home to seven HBCUs. November 8th is the anniversary of the Higher Education Act of 1965, when Congress officially defined an HBCU as a school of higher learning that was accredited and established before 1964.

CLEAN AIR, WATER, SPACES & ENERGY

Increased fines for littering

SB 2070, by Sen. Campbell, increases the penalty for littering trash from a $50 fine to a $500 fine. State transportation officials spend millions of tax dollars each year cleaning up trash along Tennessee’s roadways. Pollution affects our economy too. A great deal of trash makes its way into our lakes and rivers while more still ends up tangled in crops costing our outdoor recreation and agriculture industries millions.

SUSTAINABLE INFRASTRUCTURE, RESILIENCE & INNOVATION

Better aligned regional planning

SB 2308, by Sen. Campbell, restructures the Greater Nashville Regional Council to better align the policy priorities of local governments investing in infrastructure and long-term livability in the region.

Expansion of the Community Gardening Act

SB 2515, by Sen. Yarbro, expands the Community Gardening Act, which allows local governments to promote healthy eating and active living in their community by supporting community gardens. Under this law, otherwise vacant public land controlled by local parks and recreation departments can be used for community garden programs.

Transportainment regulations

After a public outcry from Nashvillians and downtown business owners, SB 825, by Sen. Yarbro, authorizes local governmental entities to regulate entertainment-transportation services, sometimes called “transportainment.” Sensible rules will help keep traffic flowing and ensure safety for both locals and visitors.

SUPPORT FOR COMMUNITIES

Local control over county boundary decisions

There are several counties in Tennessee that own land completely surrounded by another county. In some counties, there have been efforts to swap these non-contiguous parcels to the county surrounding them. SB 2203, by Sen. Yarbro, allows this land transfer to take place, but requires the county commissioners of counties seeking to change boundary lines to consider the potential impact to all relevant departments before adopting the resolution to request the general assembly change the county boundary lines.

Supporting community nonprofits

SB 2307, by Sen. Campbell, and SB 2493, by Sen. Akbari, authorize qualified nonprofit organizations to file with the Secretary of State’s office an application to operate an annual fundraising event in the July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023, fiscal year.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store