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Legislative Summer School

The General Assembly is officially in recess for the year. But a number of matters are as yet unresolved and will be taken up over the coming weeks and months in study committee sessions.

Lawmakers may have headed home en masse for the year, but smaller bands and bunches of them will drop back in the Capitol from time to time over the next several months to reconsider issues left in limbo during the regular session.

The hope is, at least among sponsors of the bills, that doubts and disagreements over the details of the proposed legislation can be worked out and the legislation will have a better shot of passage next year.

Almost two dozen bills were sent to “summer study” for further review this year, giving lawmakers more time during the legislative off-season to explore the ins, outs and implications of potentially controversial or complicated issues before the 2012 session.

Many times, lawmakers shove those bills into the study committee meetings to get the legislation out of the committee’s hair without rejecting it. Other times, they take those study committees seriously and spend months examining policy, statistics and reports to determine whether it’s worth changing the law.

Lawmakers have yet to determine which of these bills will actually be taken up this summer. That decision is up to the committee chairman and the bill’s sponsor.

Lawmakers don’t vote on any legislation while they consider it in summer study, but they can use the time to draft a preferred piece of legislation the body will OK once the next session gets rolling.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the bills lawmakers could take up this summer:


– Public Notice for Government Action (SB115, Sen. Stacey Campfield) and (SB1263, Sen. Bo Watson)

Lawmakers have bickered for a couple years now about whether they can skip posting legal notices or government business notifications in dead-tree newspapers and stick them online instead. Senators will take up that issue as they mull two bills that would create pilot projects in Knox and Hamilton County, respectively.

– Who To Lead Water Utility Districts (SB500, Sen. Charlotte Burks) and (SB830, Sen. Jim Summerville)

These two bills will be taken up together. They pertain to how commissioners of water utility districts should be chosen, whether it be through appointments or elections. The first bill considers a specific utility district in White County while the latter concerns districts in Lawrence County.


– No Babies on Board (HB153, Rep. Bob Ramsey)

This proposal would ban children younger than 5 years old from riding on a motorcycle.

– More Frequent Mental Health Reports (HB296, Rep. Jeanne Richardson)

This measure would require the Department of Mental Health to give the Legislature more frequent reports on current accommodations for patients, including the number and length of any delayed admissions.

– Red-Tape Enhancements  (HB977, Rep. Mike Sparks)

This proposal would require facilities that perform elective cosmetic medical procedures to obtain a license.

The Deer Farmer (HB1112 Rep. Frank Niceley)

The blunt-speaking Republican from Strawberry Plains wants the Department of Agriculture to license farmers and ranchers to raise domesticated white-tail deer. Tennessee’s state government wildlife agency and hunting groups oppose the move, saying deer-farming could introduce infectious diseases into the state’s game herds. Niceley says opponents of the bill are deliberately overstating the potential risks. He says his bill will provide a boost to struggling rural economies.

Victims of Sexual Abuse (HB1322) Rep. Sherry Jones

This legislation would require a child advocacy center to conduct the initial forensic interview with a child victim of alleged sexual abuse. That agency would also be in charge of any additional interviews. The catch is that this practice would take the Department of Children’s Services out of the process.

– Domestic Abuse Paperwork (HB1398, Rep. Karen Camper)

This bill would require law enforcement officers investigating allegations of domestic abuse to file a report with a supervisor within 48 hours of the initial investigation when possible.

– To Great-Grandmother’s House We Go (HB1418, Rep. Mark White)

This bill expands the same visitation and custodial rights grandparents have to great-grandparents. The House Children and Family Affairs committee decided to spend a little more time on the issue this summer to examine other states’ practices and the implications. Rep. Sherry Jones said the rights shouldn’t be doled out so easily.

– Knowing the Equipment (HB1637, Rep. Vance Dennis)

Decatur County’s highway department chief administration officer would be required to have four years of experience using construction equipment now used for highway construction and maintenance.

– Check Your Head (HB1673, Speaker Pro Tem Judd Matheny)

This measure would allow motorcycle riders to skip out on a helmet if they are at least 21 years old and have at least $15,000 in medical insurance coverage.

– Adding Fairfield Glade to the List (HB184, Rep. Cameron Sexton)

This bill would define Fairfield Glade as a governmental entity under the state’s Governmental Tort Liability Act.

– Policing Parental Involvement (HB1887, Rep. Antonio “2 Shay” Parkinson)

This bill takes the session’s education reform debate to the next level by allowing teachers to grade elementary-school parents as “excellent,” “satisfactory,” “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory.” The same bill never advanced in the Senate.

– Guns on Campuses (HB2016, Rep. Andy Holt)

The Tennessee Firearms Association was up in arms this session that more gun bills weren’t seriously considered this year. This bill would allow full-time faculty at public colleges with handgun carry permits to take their pieces with them to work.

– Docking State Dollars (HB2023, Rep. Bill Sanderson)

As introduced this bill authorizes commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Transportation to contribute yearly to fund ferries that substantially add to interstate commerce in the state.

– No Death Penalty for Clinically Deranged (HB2064, Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny)

This bill would make people convicted of first-degree murder who suffered from severe mental illnesses at the time of the crime exempt from the death penalty. Those criminals would instead serve life in prison or life without parole.

– Defining ‘General Circulation’ Newspaper (HB2066, Rep. Rick Womick)

As lawmakers begin examining their legal requirements to post public notices in newspapers across the state, this bill would allow the Secretary of State to determine which newspapers can actually be deemed a “newspaper of general circulation.”

– Bids, Proposals and Contracts, Oh, My (HB2079, Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh)

This bill would give Tennessee businesses an edge by allowing government officials to evaluate their proposals assuming they come in up to a 5 percent lower rate.

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