Notes from Sen. Steve Southerland’s desk

Steve’s Senate in a Minute

Legislation advances to protect citizens from stalking

(NASHVILLE) February 24, 2023 —

Senate Bill 1223 strengthens Tennessee’s anti-stalking laws by expanding the meaning of stalking to include use of an electronic tracking or Global Positioning System (GPS) device to secretly monitor the location of an individual and/or their property without their consent. State law currently requires at least two separate noncontinuous acts to occur before someone could be charged with the offense. Law enforcement agencies across the nation have warned citizens about the growing problem of stalking with electronic tracking devices being secretly used by criminals to follow vehicles they intend to steal or worse.

Supporting firefighters suffering from PTSD

Among many important bills lawmakers are advancing in the Senate this week is a proposal that seeks to provide support for firefighters following a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis. The Senate Bill 856 allows a firefighter who has been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of his or her service to receive resources through their workers’ compensation benefits plan. The bill establishes a grant program to mitigate the cost to an employer providing worker’s compensation for firefighters diagnosed with PTSD. In order to qualify for the grant, employers must provide mental health awareness training as part of their continuing education program.

Supporting COVID-19 vaccine freedom for military

The State and Local Government Committee passed a joint resolution expressing support for the Allowing Military Exemptions, Recognizing Individual Concerns About New Shots (AMERICANS) Act of 2023, which aims to reinstate service members terminated for not receiving a COVID-19 vaccination and give the reinstated members back pay. Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn is co-sponsoring this legislation in the United States Senate. Senate Joint Resolution 127 now advances to the Senate floor for final approval.

Expanding eligibility for the Tennessee HOPE scholarship

Senate Bill 74 seeks to recruit, retain and reward eligible Tennessee HOPE scholarship students by allowing them to receive the HOPE scholarship until the student has earned an advanced degree or for up to five years from initial enrollment, whichever is first. The HOPE scholarship is funded by the state lottery and is awarded to freshmen who are enrolled at an eligible postsecondary institution within 16 months after graduating from a Tennessee-eligible high school.

Easing requirements for veterans seeking a commercial driver’s license

Passed by the Transportation and Safety committee, Senate Bill 105 waives the knowledge test for active military service members, veterans and national guardsmen applying for a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The bill identifies various alternative requirements for the license, including operating a commercial motor vehicle in the military in combination with a good driving record. Similar laws are in place in 18 other states, including South Carolina, Georgia and Texas.

Dental and Dental Hygienist Interstate Compact

Tennessee is on track to become one of the first states to join the Dental and Dental Hygienist Interstate Compact, which would allow dental providers licensed in a member state to practice in other member states without having to obtain a license in another state. Senate Bill 361 would have a positive impact in Tennessee and help improve the shortage of dental providers by easing the barrier to cross state practice among member states. Under the bill, each member state would be required to have substantially the same licensure requirement. This interstate compact is similar to other compacts in which Tennessee participates, such as psychology, nursing and physical therapy. Compacts like this also benefit military families when they are assigned to a new duty station to make it easier for the servicemember or their spouse to practice their profession in Tennessee or another member state. The legislation passed the Senate Health and Welfare Committee this week.

Topical Medical Waste Reduction Act of 2023

Legislation passed the Health and Welfare Committee to allow patients to take home topical medication administered at a hospital or surgical center that is needed for continued use. Senate Bill 523 will save patients money and reduce waste for medication currently tossed out after being opened at a healthcare facility. The legislation applies to topical antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, dilation, glaucoma drop or ointments.

Permitting school resource officers to serve private schools

Passed by the Education Committee this week, Senate Bill 315 clarifies that private schools may enter into contracts with school resource officers just as public schools are currently permitted.

Thank you for reading this column! Please contact my office to share your thoughts about any legislation. My office can be reached by phone at: (800) 449-8366, extension: 13851 or by e-mail at: Thank you for the honor to serve you in state government and God bless!