New driver's license law takes effect Jan. 1

4:48 PM, Dec 30, 2012   |    comments
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The Tennessean

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A new law requiring Tennessee residents 60 years of age or older to have a photo on their driver's license is among those that take effect on Tuesday, though its sponsor says those who don't already have them won't be required to go get them.

Sen. Jim Tracy, the legislation's sponsor, said for some reason those individuals were exempted when the law was passed years ago requiring photos on driver's licenses.

"We went back and researched the law and could not find a reason why they were exempted, so we decided to close the gap and make it the same for everyone," said the Shelbyville Republican.

He said those seniors who don't have a photo on their license before Tuesday won't be required to get one.

"They can keep it the same; we didn't want to inconvenience them," Tracy said.

However, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis said the new requirement does pose an inconvenience to seniors with mobility issues, or those in rural areas, who may be unable to get to the proper location to make the change.

Kyle said they were exempted when the measure requiring photos on driver's licenses first passed because the legislation was aimed at preventing teenagers from using fake identification to purchase alcohol.

"That's what drove that issue," he said. "Someone who is 60 years old is not going to look younger than 21 in order to purchase alcohol."

Mary Mancini of Tennessee Citizen Action said such legislation could end up affecting a person's voting rights, and she cited as an example the law that requires voters to have photo identification in order to vote.

Mancini, who helped organize a coalition of poll watchers during the general election in November, said some voters were disenfranchised because of the photo ID law and she fears the new driver's license law could do the same. It's not clear exactly how many people over 60 it would impact, but state officials have said there were about 230,000 registered voters over age 60 that had licenses without photos when the photo ID law took effect last January.

Since then, more than 23,000 people over 60 who had a non-photo driver's license got it converted to one with a photo in order to vote, according to the state Safety Department.

"It puts an impediment in front of the vote, no matter what the scenarios are," Mancini said. "There's always going to be someone affected negatively by this."

Another law taking effect seeks to help displaced workers find employment.

Modeled after programs in Georgia and New Jersey, the measure will allow dislocated workers to receive on the job training at private companies, while continuing to receive their unemployment benefits for eight weeks.

After that period, the company providing the training will have the opportunity to hire the retrained worker in a full-time capacity. Employers that demonstrate a pattern of continued employment of the workers will be eligible for grants under the new law.

Democratic House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, the sponsor of the legislation, said Georgia's labor commissioner estimated the program there saved the state about $6 million in unemployment insurance, "while nearly two-thirds of participants found work within three months of completing the program."

"The great thing about this legislation is that it's not just another entitlement, it actually requires people to work in order to receive their benefits," Fitzhugh said. "At the same time, companies get to train a new employee at little to no cost. So by the time the training is done, the displaced worker has a new job and the company has a highly trained employee."

Also going into effect is a law aimed at prohibiting abortion-inducing drugs such as RU-486 from being prescribed by a doctor remotely or through teleconferencing. The physician is required to be present with the pregnant woman.

"Even with the advent of new technology, the doctor-patient relationship remains a critical part of a good healthcare system," said Republican Sen. Rusty Crowe of Johnson City, who sponsored the measure. "The dispensing of this medication can have serious effects and should never be done remotely."

Other laws taking effect on Tuesday include a measure to curb prescription drug abuse by requiring doctors to check a controlled-substance database before prescribing certain drugs, and legislation to keep business owners apprised of changes in government regulation and their status as license holders.

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