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Annie's bill blog: What we're watching in the state legislature in 2019

Medical marijuana, school vouchers and sports betting are among the high-interest issues lawmakers are expected to tackle in Nashville this year.

The 111th General Assembly is in session. Lawmakers will have plenty to consider this year, including another likely-to-be-controversial medical marijuana proposal, several school voucher plans and new sports betting guidelines after the Supreme Court's ruling on the topic earlier in 2018. 

MORE: Tennessee lawmakers elect top leaders

The General Assembly also includes new leaders in the legislature, plus new Governor Bill Lee to work with. He'll be sworn in for his four-year term on Saturday, January 19.

The Republicans still hold a supermajority in the General Assembly. There are 26 Republicans and 5 Democrats in the 33-member state Senate. There are still 2 vacant Middle Tennessee seats. The 99-member state House includes 73 Republicans and 26 Democrats.

In order to pass most bills each chamber needs a simple majority. That means the magic numbers are 17 in the Senate and 50 in the House.

We're here to help you keep track of the bills that could have the biggest impact on East Tennessee. I've linked to each bill's page on the General Assembly's website, so you can keep track of the ones you're interested in or contact your lawmakers about the proposals. You can find your lawmaker by clicking here and filling out your street address. 

Annie's Bill Blog isn't a comprehensive list of every single bill, just a selection of the key proposals that caught our attention. 

If you've heard of something that's not on our list or want us to keep up with something that matters to you, let us know. You can email me at acarr@wbir.com and tell me what you want to see. Check back for regular updates. 


Filed as of February 5

  • Transportation of mental health patients - This plan removes law enforcement as a transportation option provided by the department of mental health and substance abuse services for people with developmental disabilities, mental illness, or serious emotional disturbance. Filed by Rep. Mike Carter (R) Ooltewah. Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler told 10News earlier this year that this has been a big problem for his deputies.
  • Gun violation changes - Filed by Rep. Micah Van Huss (R) Jonesborough, this plan reduces the punishment for a first violation of unlawful carrying of a handgun. It also requires officers to issue a citation in lieu of an arrest.
  • School nurses - This bill would increase the number of full-time public school nurse positions from one for every 3,000 students to one for every 700 students. Filed by Rep. David Hawk (R) Greeneville.
  • Sports Wagering for Stronger Schools Act - Filed by Rep. Rick Staples (D) Knoxville, this plan would go into effect if sports betting were legalized in Tennessee. It would create a tax on betting operators, and allocate that tax into a fund going to various education programs.
  • Mental health and guns - This plan requires clerks to report the race, sex and social security number of a person judicially committed or legally declared a mental defective to the FBI-NCIS index and the department of safety for use in determining a person's eligibility to purchase firearms. Filed by Rep. Johnny Garrett (R) Goodlettsville.
  • Day of the Cowboy and Cowgirl - This plan designates the fourth Saturday of July each year as the "Day of the Cowboy and Cowgirl in Tennessee." Filed by Rep. Andy Holt (R) Dresden. Yee haw, y'all.
  • College credit for high school test scores - This bill requires the department of education to study and recommend a program to provide high school and college credit to students who get high scores on the TNReady and end-of-course assessments in English language arts and math. Filed by Rep. Debra Moody (R) Covington.
  • Guns in cars - Filed by Rep. Mark White (R) Memphis, this bill creates a Class A misdemeanor of leaving a firearm or ammunition unattended or with a person under 18 in a car or boat, if the gun isn't locked up in a glove box or trunk.  
  • Tennessee Hunger-Free Students Act - This plan prohibits a school from taking certain actions against a student who cannot pay for a meal or who owes a meal debt. Filed by Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D) Nashville.
  • Drinks in Thompson-Boling Arena? - This plan, filed by Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R) Knoxville, designates any facility on the campus of a public college or university that is used for school sporting events as a sports authority facility for purposes of consumption of alcoholic beverages on the premises. This would apply to concerts and other non-school-related activities. 

READ MORE: New bill could bring alcohol to East Tennessee campus venues for concerts

Filed as of February 4

Since the beginning of the year, lawmakers have filed more than 1,200 bills and resolutions! By the end of the next legislative session, that number will likely be closer to 4,000. Here are a few of the most interesting ones I found today.

  • Medical Marijuana - We've been hearing about this one for months, and it's finally here. This is an extensive 29-pager that is WAY too much to boil down into a paragraph, so read this full article if you want to know more.
  • Fewer taxes on Vols tickets - If you are, like me, a VFL, your ears will perk up at this one. It would eliminate the amusement tax on tickets to college sporting events. That's about 5% in Knoxville. Filed by Rep. Jason Zachary (R) Knoxville and Sen. Joey Hensley (R) Hohenwald.
  • Guns for first responders - This plan allows EMTs and firefighters to carry handguns while on the job. Filed by Sen. Joey Hensley (R) Hohenwald and Rep. Clay Doggett (R) Pulaski.
  • The Slow Poke law - If you've paid attention to the state legislature in the past, you'll probably remember this controversial plan, which went into effect back in 2016. It makes it an offense to drive in the left hand lane without passing someone. This bill expands that existing law from interstates or highways with 3 lanes to roads with at least 2 lanes. Filed by Rep. John Mark Windle (D) Livingston.
  • No sales tax on gun safes - This plan failed last year, but it's back. It exempts gun safes from Tennessee sales tax, which is 8.5% - 9.75%, depending on where you live. Filed by Sen. Kerry Roberts (R) Springfield.
  • Smart meters and your data - Smart utility meters created a big stir in Knoxville a few years ago, when KUB announced it planned to convert every meter into a "smart" one. This plan is designed to stop utility companies from selling the data those meters collect, unless it's organized in a way that makes the customers unidentifiable. Filed by Sen. Richard Briggs (R) Knoxville.
  • College polling places - This bill requires county election commissions to create early voting locations at institutions of higher learning that have more than 8,000 students. Filed by Rep. London Lamar (D) Memphis.
  • Student internet access - Rural broadband has been a hot topic for a couple years in Nashville. This plan requires the school systems to have students fill out a survey about their internet access at home. That information would go to the department of education, the legislature and the governor. Filed by Sen. Katrina Robinson (D) Memphis.
  • New state poem - 'My Tennessee' by author Michael McDonald could become Tennessee's newest state poem. And no, it's not the one you're thinking of, narrated in a WBIR promo by anchor emeritus Bill Williams. I wasn't that interested in this bill until I read the poem. Here's an excerpt:

              Cowboy boots, pickup trucks,
              White-faced bulls, and lespedeza hay,
              Cottontails runnin', beagle dogs singin'
              Huntin' with Grandpa, on a gray, frosty day.

              Sunday mornin' preachin, hell-fire and brimstone,
              Country ham for dinner, banana puddin' and ice tea,
              Pitchin' them horse-shoes, watermelon cuttin',
              Friends and kinfolk underneath the old oak tree.

              Tennessee, you're a raging river,
               A Lookout Mountain, seeing as far as you can see,
              Bloody Shiloh, brother against brother,
              General Grant and Robert E. Lee.

If that caught your interest, you can read the whole thing here. (I think it gets even better.)

Filed as of January 31

A busy Thursday in Nashville! Lawmakers filed a couple hundred bills today alone. They include some pretty interesting topics, so that's how I organized them today.

Wildlife and Agriculture

  • Permanent hunting licenses for veterans - This plan requires the state's wildlife resources agency to issue permanent combination hunting and fishing licenses to honorably discharged veterans for a $10 lifetime fee. Filed by Rep. Mark Hall (R) Cleveland.
  • Hemp regulation - This plan comes amid a big trend toward hemp farming in Tennessee. It requires the commissioner of agriculture to submit a plan to the federal government for Tennessee to have primary regulatory authority over hemp production in this state. Filed by Sen. Steve Southerland (R) Morristown
  • Deer and elk urine regulations - Okay, I'll admit... this one is on the blog only because I had no clue that there was any use for deer urine, let alone a market for selling. Upon doing a little research, I have discovered it in, in fact, a thing. This bill bans the use or sale of deer or elk urine that originated in an area with documented occurrences of chronic wasting disease. CWD has caused all kinds of problems for hunters in West Tennessee this season. You can read more about that here. The bill was filed by Sen. Art Swann (R) Maryville.



  • SB280 - increases age restrictions for tobacco and vapor-related products from 18 years of age to 21 years of age
  • SB301 - prohibits smoking and vaping in a motor vehicle when a child who is secured in a child safety seat or required to be secured in a child safety seat is present in the vehicle
  • SB360 - expands the Prevention of Youth Access to Tobacco and Vapor Products Act and other laws concerning juveniles' access to tobacco and vaping products to apply to hemp for smoking

Government changes

  • HB411 - prohibits the governing bodies of state and local governmental entities from casting votes via text message
  • HB298 - authorizes county governments to hire up to two firefighters to staff each volunteer fire department station in the county; requires the state to pay for the health and retirement benefits for firefighters employed under this bill.
  • HB335 - designates 911 calls, recordings, and transmissions as confidential except for certain purposes or unless a recorded caller consents to the release of such records
  • HB363 - requires employers to provide employees four hours of leave, paid or unpaid, each year for parental involvement in schools, subject to certain conditions; establishes a private cause of action for employer violations


  • HB256 - prohibits the use of wireless telecommunications devices while operating a motor vehicle unless the vehicle is lawfully parked; authorizes use of earpiece, headphone device, or wrist device; authorizes law enforcement and emergency personnel to use wireless telecommunications devices in the actual discharge of their official duties.
  • HB263 - removes weekend and federal holiday driving restriction for antique motor vehicles and allows them to be used for general transportation any day of the week; provided, that they are not driven more than 5,000 miles annually
  • HB334 - requires department of safety to automatically register a qualified person to vote from information on an application for a driver license or photo identification card unless the person opts out; designates certain other state departments, and agencies and offices thereof, as voter registration agencies; requires such agencies to automatically register a qualified person to vote from information on an application for services unless the person opts out
  • HB360 -requires any person 75 years of age or older who applies for renewal of a driver license to pass a vision test unless the person submits a certified statement reporting the results of an examination by an ophthalmologist or optometrist and the need for any corrective lenses or diagnosed impaired night vision; authorizes persons with diagnosed impaired night vision to use night vision equipment without a driving-during-daytime-only restriction

READ MORE: Proposed bill would require eye tests for TN drivers over 75


  • HB258 - enacts the "Sergeant Daniel Baker Act," which removes the appeal to the court of criminal appeals in death penalty cases; provides for automatic direct review by the Tennessee supreme court for convictions for which a sentence of death is imposed
  • HB260 - expands the offense of reckless endangerment to include a person's reckless failure to render inoperable or safely secure or lock a firearm, resulting in a child under 13 years of age gaining possession of the firearm and injuring or killing the child or another

Wine and food

  • HB345 - extends the hours during which a manufacturer may sell its product at retail on Sunday on its licensed premises from 12:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m.; deletes repeal provision, thereby clarifying that a manufacturer of alcoholic beverages may, on and after July 1, 2019, continue to have a direct or indirect interest in an establishment with a license authorizing consumption of alcoholic beverages on the premises if the interest is held in an irrevocable trust
  • HB355 - creates a task force to study the development of initiatives to reduce the waste of food in this state
  • SB363 - increases from 18 percent by volume to 24 percent by volume the alcohol content of wine that can be sold in grocery stores


  • HB397 - establishes a victims of human trafficking fund in the state treasury to provide comprehensive treatment and support services to victims of human trafficking

Filed as of January 29

READ MORE: Medical marijuana in Tennessee? Here's what to expect with new Governor Bill Lee

MORE: Stop the Bleed event shares simple but lifesaving skills

  • ATVs on roads - This plan allows "off-road vehicles" - usually defined as ATVs or dirt bikes - on certain roads in Morgan County. Rep. John Mark Windle (D) Livingston filed this plan. You can find a full list of the roads included here. They are all near Windrock Park - an ATV "experience park" near Oliver Springs.
  • Crackdown on animal fighting - This plan, filed by Sen. Jon Lundberg (R) Bristol, creates Class A misdemeanor of possessing, owning, buying, selling, transferring, or manufacturing animal fighting paraphernalia.
  • Daylight Saving Time - A similar plan filed last year created quite a stir on the WBIR Channel 10 Facebook page. First, Rep. Rick Tillis (R) Lewisburg (the same lawmaker who introduced the plan this year) introduced a plan that would exempt the state from Daylight Saving Time. Later, he told us the text of the bill was incorrect; he actually wanted the state to stay on DST all year. At the time, he told WBIR switching from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time is "a huge inconvenience, there's no benefit to it." Rep. Tillis eventually filed a new plan to reflect that. You can read the whole saga here. This year, that plan is back. It would establish daylight saving time as the standard time in Tennessee. And if you really want to keep reading about Daylight Saving Time, here are some fun facts we dug up when we "fell back" last year.

MORE: What would happen if Tennessee opted out of Daylight Saving Time?

KEEP READING: Proposed bill would keep Tennessee on Daylight Saving Time year-round

  • State recording artist - You may not realize just how many state symbols Tennessee has. We've got a state beverage (milk), state tartan (to honor the state's Scottish heritage) and, my personal favorite, a state wild animal (the raccoon). But we do not yet have a state recording artist. This plan, filed by Sen. Brenda Gilmore (D) Nashville and Rep. Bob Freeman (D) Nashville seeks to create one. The plan requires the secretary of state to conduct an online poll to determine a nominee to designate as the official state recording artist. You can find a list of the other state symbols here.
  • Dockless scooter safety - It's no secret electric scooters are popping up everywhere - in fact Carson-Newman is about to add some to its campus. Sen. Dolores Gresham (R) Somerville wants to make sure students know how to deal with them safely. Her plan requires safety instruction provided by a school to include information about the safe usage of dockless electric scooters, if those scooters are available for use in the area around the school.
  • Lockable vials for some prescriptions - In another effort to fight Tennessee's opioid epidemic, Sen. Richard Briggs (R) Knoxville filed this plan, requiring Schedule II opioids, Schedule II stimulants, and Schedule IV benzodiazepines be dispensed in a lockable vial.
  • Enforcing school bus stop arms - This plan, also filed by Sen. Briggs, allows school districts to install cameras on school buses to record vehicles that pass a stopped school bus. THP says this a recurring issue on the roads.
  • Voting registration on election day - Sen. Brenda Gilmore (D) Nashville introduced this plan. It allow a qualified person to register and vote on election day. It also allows a person to update his or her voter information and vote on election day.

Filed as of January 25

Filed as of January 23 

It's getting busy in Nashville! Several dozen bills in both the House and Senate have popped up over the last couple days. Here are the highlights.

MORE: 'Heartbeat Bill' back in TN state legislature

Filed as of January 17

  • Diaper changing stations - This plan would require any newly-renovated or constructed buildings under the control of any public entity to have at least one diaper changing station. Filed by Rep. Jason Potts (D) Nashville.
  • School bus stops - Rep. Potts also filed this proposal, which would make not stopping for a school bus a Class E felony, punishable by a $500-$3,000 fine.

January 16

The Knox County Board of Education approved its legislative priorities for the year today.

Filed as of January 15

Filed as of January 14

Note: The General Assembly doesn't have any formal meetings scheduled this week. They'll start those up again next week after Governor-elect Bill Lee's inauguration on Saturday.

MORE: Tennessee Rep. wants to ban talking on hand-held devices while driving

Filed as of January 11 - the end of week 1

  • Handgun permit expiration dates - This plan, filed by Rep. Micah Van Huss (R) from Jonesborough allows the Department of Safety to issue handgun permits with zeroes in place of an expiration date for people in military who are stationed out of state
  • Illegal possession of a handgun penalties - Also filed by Van Huss, this plan reduces the punishments for people charged with illegal possession of a handgun
  • Sales tax weekend changes - Rep. John B. Holsclaw (R) from Elizabethton filed this plan. It changes the sales tax holiday from the weekend beginning with the last Friday of July to the weekend beginning with the first Friday of August.
  • Death penalty and mental health - After a year when Tennessee executed three inmates, Sen. Richard Briggs (R) Knoxville filed this plan. It prohibits the state from using the death penalty in cases where the defendant was suffering from "severe mental illness" at the time of the offense. The bill requires that mental illness to be documented before the crime. It's especially interesting, given David Earl Miller's lawyers argued he should not be put to death because he suffered from a mental illness at the time of his crime. The state executed Miller using the electric chair on December 6.
  • Liberties come from God - Last year, a version of this plan recognizing that the individual liberties of Tennesseans "do not come from the government, but from Almighty God," easily passed the House. This year, it is back. The plan seeks to add that line to the state constitution. Amending the Tennessee constitution is a lengthy process. The bill has already passed in one two-year session of the General Assembly. This time, it must pass by at least two-third of the vote. If it passes by that margin, Tennessee voters must approve it the next gubernatorial year, in 2022. Filed by Rep. Micah Van Huss (R) Jonesborough.

Filed as of January 9

  • The State of the State address - Filing a resolution is just a formality, but we have a date for Bill Lee's first state of the state address as Governor. It will be March 4 in Nashville.
  • Nationwide suicide hotline - There's already a suicide hotline that anyone, anywhere can call, but this resolution supports the creation of a 3 digit number, like 911, that people could call to get immediate help. Republican Sen. Rusty Crowe from Johnson City filed this plan.
  • Tennessee Reconnect for inmates - Democrat Rep. Barbara Ward Cooper filed this bill, which would allow people in jail who are already allowed to enroll in some community college classes to receive the Tennessee Reconnect grant. The grant is a state program that lets adults to go back to school tuition-free to earn an associate degree or technical certificate. 
  • Limiting vaping - This plan does a lot to keep adults from vaping in the presence of kids. It bans vaping in the following places around kids: child care centers, group care homes, community centers, health care facilities, museums, zoos, public and private schools and school grounds. Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R) from Chattanooga filed this one.

Filed as of January 8, 2019 - the first day of the 111th General Assembly

Filed as of December 21, 2018

MORE: Ban limiting raw milk raises controversy over community health and civil liberties 

Filed as of November 27, 2018 - the early birds of the state legislature.

  • Sports betting - This is likely the first of a few sports betting proposals, after the Supreme Court cleared the way for states to make it legal in May 2018. This plan would allow sports betting in local jurisdictions if they approve it in a referendum. It also sets up a framework for where the tax on gambling revenue would go – partially to general appropriations, partially to technical schools, partially to local governments. Democrat Rick Staples of Knoxville filed this one in the House.

READ MORE: New gambling legislation ups ante for Tennessee sports fans

MORE: Removing TN gym tax could be heavy lifting

About the blogger:

Credit: WBIR

Hi, I'm Annie! I'm a producer at WBIR Channel 10 and an East Tennessee native. I've covered all kinds of news during my time here - including the Olympics, the total solar eclipse, and East Tennessee's homelessness problems. I also keep up with the state legislature every year. You can reach me by email at acarr@wbir.com or by phone at (865) 541-5320. 


Daylight Saving Time drama


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