Haslam Announces 2016 Legislative Agenda

Thursday, January 21, 2016 | 04:04pm

Legislation focuses on education, public safety, efficient and effective state government

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced his legislative agenda for the 2016 session, continuing his focus on education, public safety and efficient and effective state government. 

“A major focus this session will be on the next step in the Drive to 55: making sure our colleges and universities are organized and empowered in the best way to increase student success and the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or credential,” Haslam said. “You’ll also see a focus on public safety with legislation that makes smarter use of prison bed space and stiffens penalties for the most serious offenses driving Tennessee’s violent crime rate, including continuing to address domestic violence in Tennessee.”

The governor’s legislation, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), includes:

The Focus On College and University Success (FOCUS) Act is the next step in the Drive to 55: ensuring that Tennessee’s public colleges and universities are organized, supported and empowered in their efforts to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential to 55 percent by 2025. To enhance student success across higher education, the legislation provides more focused support for the Tennessee Board of Regents’ (TBR) 13 community and 27 technical colleges; increases autonomy by creating local boards for Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University and the University of Memphis; and strengthens the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC).

The Higher Education Authorization Act aligns the for-profit higher education sector with the Drive to 55 by reshaping its regulatory framework, providing fast-track authorization for currently accredited institutions and directing THEC to redesign regulation for non-accredited institutions. This statute was last updated in 1974, and these changes will transform a cumbersome and outdated structure in order to increase productivity and modernize consumer protections.

The Public Safety Act of 2016 is an initial step in implementing recommendations by the Governor’s Task Force on Sentencing and Recidivism. Of the 12,588 people entering state prison last year, 5,061 – or 40 percent – were probationers or parolees sent to prison because they violated supervision conditions. The bill retools community supervision to reduce the number of people returning to prison for probation and parole violations when their noncompliance does not rise to the level of a new criminal offense. This legislation also addresses the most serious offenses driving Tennessee’s violent crime rate by establishing mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of three or more charges of aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary, or drug trafficking and increasing the penalty for three or more domestic violence convictions to a Class E felony. The legislation would also allow law enforcement to seek an order of protection on a domestic violence victim’s behalf.

To address concerns raised regarding the selling of human fetal tissue, the Fetal Remains Act requires increased reporting of the disposition of fetal remains, prohibits reimbursement of any costs associated with shipping an aborted fetus or fetal remains and establishes a mandatory interim assessment process for an ambulatory surgical treatment center performing more than 50 abortions annually.

The Efficiency in Handgun Permitting Act improves the process for gun owners and lowers the fee associated with obtaining a handgun carry permit. It extends the current five-year handgun carry permit to eight years, lowers the initial handgun permit fee from $115 for five years to $100 for eight years and expands the renewal cycle from six months to eight years after the expiration of a permit before a person must reapply as a “new” applicant. Under this proposal background checks will continue to be conducted at the time of initial issuance and at the time of renewal. Additionally, an internal background check will be conducted in the fourth year of the eight-year permit.

“The Fetal Remains Act strengthens accountability and transparency for surgery centers performing abortions,” Haslam said. “The procedure for obtaining a handgun carry permit can be more customer friendly without harming the integrity of the permitting process, and this legislation achieves that.”

The governor will also have legislation around a budget-related initiative in education.

A total of 42 bills have been filed on behalf of the administration, but the above pieces of legislation represent the governor’s priorities.

For more information on the governor's bills, visit www.tn.gov/governor/topic/2016-legislation.