The committee calendars are getting longer and the hours getting later as lawmakers enter the first week of April. Legislators are running out of time to roll their bills with the first year of the 110th General Assembly inching towards a close. Here are five things to keep an eye on this week but remember, all of this legislation is subject to delay:
Key Haslam bills hit the floor
Back in January during his State of the State address, Gov. Bill Haslam promised to expand broadband to rural communities, fund road improvements through a new gas tax and provide tuition-free attendance to those enrolled in the military in Tennessee.
While the gas tax is still working its way through committees, Haslam’s other key priorities of his legislative agenda will be heard before the Senate floor on Monday. The STRONG Act of 2017 would provide tuition-free college education to members of the Tennessee National Guard. The second bill would establish a grant program for developing broadband service to more rural areas. Both are carried by Senate Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville.
Elder Abuse Legislation:
The legislation would increase criminal penalties for those found guilty of elderly abuse, build communication coalitions between government agencies to raise awareness of scams and ease restriction on financial confidentiality laws so family members can help report abuses.
This act comes on the recommendations of a two year study undertaken by the Elder Abuse Task Force that was charged with combating the growing epidemic of elder abuse in Tennessee.
Tennessee could become a closed primary state
Under current law, Tennessee is an open primary state. This means that registered voters do not have to be members of a certain political party to vote in that party’s primary. A new bill sponsored by Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, aims to close the primary system.
The bill would make Tennessee a closed primary state, where only those registered with a certain political party could vote in that party’s primary. If passed, Tennessee would join 12 other states who have similar primary systems. The measure will be heard before the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Tuesday.
Stronger protections for minors in criminal cases
The Senate Judiciary Committee will debate several bills aimed at providing extra protections to minors involved in criminal cases on Tuesday.
Largely sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Mufressboro, the bills would stiffen penalties for sexual abuse of minors, keep the identities of minor victims of crime confidential and creates a pilot program to aid treatment of minor human trafficking victims.
Proposed constitutional amendment recognizing "Almighty God"
After initially failing in the Civil Justice Subcommittee earlier this session, a House joint resolution proposing a new amendment to the Tennessee Constitution is back in the same committee this week.
The joint resolution proposes an amendment to the constitution that would recognize "that our liberties do not come from governments, but from Almighty God." Sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, the resolution is one of several recent pieces of legislation dealing with state recognition of God. Last week, an amended version of a bill that would have required "In God We Trust" to be printed on all license plates passed through committee after the sponsor added an amendment making the phrase option.
Reach Kirk A. Bado on Twitter at @kirk_bado