The following bills either had Jan. 1 enactment dates or were triggered Jan. 1 or have a major provision take effect on that date.
• Curbing Meth Production – Major legislation was passed this year that stiffens penalties for making methamphetamines in the presence of a child and implements a statewide electronic tracking system to curb meth production in the state.
The system, called NPLEx (National Precursor Log Exchange), will monitor and block illegal purchases of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine (PSE), a key ingredient in methamphetamine production.
Previously, there was no mechanism in place in Tennessee to block illegal PSE sales in real time, as many pharmacies and retailers rely on handwritten, paper logbooks to track purchases. As a result, criminals learned to circumvent the system.
Under he new law required as of Sunday, all pharmacies must use NPLEx, which would export the data to law enforcement.
The NPLEx system will be at no cost to pharmacies or the state. NPLEx must have a stop sale mechanism in place by that time for potential purchasers over the allowable purchase limit and anyone on the meth offender registry.
It also calls for a pharmacist or pharmacy intern to counsel the potential purchaser of a product containing pseudoephedrine before the transaction takes place and may decline the sale if it is deemed not to be for a legitimate medical purpose.
Senate Bill 1265: Beavers, McNally, Burks, Yager, Marrero, Ford, Overbey, Ketron, Johnson, Kelsey, Campfield, Herron, Roberts
• Curbing Prescription Drug Abuse – Legislation designed to curb the abuse of prescription drugs at pain clinics in Tennessee was passed during the 2011 session. Tennessee ranks second in the nation in regard to the overutilization of prescription pain medications, having exceeded the national average for controlled substance use for many years. Some claim that the proliferation of unscrupulous operators of pain clinics, often referred to as “pill mills,” contribute to this problem.
The new law requires the Department of Health, in concert with the doctors, nurses and physician assistants, to establish rules to govern the operation of clinics, including personnel, patient records, data collection and reporting, inspections, health and safety requirement and patient billing. No pain management clinic will be allowed to operate without a certificate from the Department of Health.
Under the new law, the department may deny a certificate to anyone who has committed a felony or a misdemeanor related to the distribution of illegal prescription drugs or a controlled substance.
In addition, the legislation prescribes that the boards of medical examiners, osteopathic examination and nursing, as well as the committee on physician assistants, will regulate their own members who practice in a pain clinic.
These boards will have the authority to examine pain clinics, their staff and patient records, to ensure compliance with the rules. They will also have the authority to investigate complaints. Professionals violating the statute or rules are subject to personal fines.
The legislation also requires the presence of a medical doctor licensed to practice in Tennessee on site at least 20 percent of the clinic’s weekly total number of operating hours. Cash transactions are banned under the bill, except for insurance co-pays, coinsurance or deductibles, creating a paper trail on every transaction.
Senate Bill 1258: Yager, Tracy, Bell, Southerland, Campfield, Henry, Tate, Overbey, Burks, Johnson
• Photo Identification – Legislation was passed in 2011 which requires voters to present valid photo identification when at the polls to make certain that those voting are both legal residents and are the person registered to vote. The bill is designed to reduce voter fraud and provides exemptions for those voting absentee, overseas, in nursing homes and for the infirmed and indigent, who may not be able to obtain proper identification.
Under the new law, various forms of photo identification could be used, including a driver’s license, military identification, a valid passport, various forms of government employee identification cards and any federal and state-issued identification cards that contain a photograph of the voter. Nine other states have such requirements.
It also provides recourse for voters without photo identification to cast a vote through a provisional ballot. This safeguard ensures that these voters will have their votes counted after officials verify that person’s valid identification.
In addition, Tennesseans age 65 and older have the right under state law to vote absentee by mail. Therefore, these citizens can choose to vote by absentee ballot if they do not have photo identification and do not want to obtain one. Those who do not have a photo ID and need it to vote can also obtain one from the state’s Driver’s License Centers free of charge under legislation passed this year.
State elections officials have discovered more than 10,000 felons on Tennessee’s voter rolls. They were able to identify several hundred of those who had actually voted in an election. In addition, thousands of individuals are registered not only in Tennessee but also in other states.
Senate Bill 16: Ketron, Gresham, Tracy, Beavers, Kelsey
• Military/Voting Improvements – Tennessee took steps this year to enhance the voting procedure for those serving in the military by ensuring Tennesseans abroad who do not receive their official ballot in time can participate in an election.
Tennessee ranks among the top states in the nation in the number of military personnel. The measure requires that the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot, a back-up measure for voters who have not received their official ballots in time, is accepted for all elections in which a person is eligible to vote; and may be used simultaneously for registration and an absentee ballot request.
Senate Bill 875: Gresham, Barnes, Beavers, Bell, Berke, Burks, Campfield, Crowe, Faulk, Finney L, Ford, Harper, Haynes, Henry, Herron, Johnson, Kelsey, Ketron, Marrero , McNally, Norris, Overbey, Ramsey, Roberts, Southerland, Stewart, Summerville, Tate, Tracy, Watson, Woodson, Yager
• Sex offenders/Rape of a Child – Several bills were approved this year that aim to strengthen Tennessee’s sex offender laws, including legislation to clarify a court may increase the sentence for rape of a child above the mandatory 25 years when appropriate. The bill aims to clarify any confusion concerning additional punishment above the 25-year mandatory sentence for the crime.
The measure clears up any ambiguity. It spells out that rape of a child is a Class A felony and that punishment is subject to a minimum sentence of 25 years; however, the court may increase the time when appropriate and in cases where the defendant’s prior history warrants an enhanced sentence of up to 60 years for the most egregious circumstances.
Senate Bill 755: Gresham
• DUI/Blood Alcohol Testing – Legislation has advanced through the General Assembly which requires the testing of a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level in cases where the driver has previously been convicted of a DUI or when there is a child present in the vehicle.
Tennessee’s DUI law already requires BAC testing when there is serious bodily injury to a victim or death. This measure simply puts these two additional conditions into the law when testing must be performed, whether or not the driver consents.
The test results may be offered into evidence, subject to the rules of evidence.
Senate Bill 1270: Beavers, Burks
• E- Verify – One key immigration bill approved this year calls for Tennessee employers to use the “E-Verify” system to ensure that new hires are in the state legally.
The new law calls for businesses with over five employees to obtain a copy of his or her driver’s license or utilize the E-Verify system. The bill provides a safe harbor for employers who use E-Verify if the worker is later found to be in the country illegally due to its accuracy in detecting illegal aliens.
E-Verify, an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security in partnership with the Social Security Administration, allows participating employers to electronically verify the employment eligibility of their newly-hired employees by entering their name and a Social Security number.
It is free to employers in all 50 states, including Tennessee, where more than 4,000 businesses have voluntarily participated in the system. The E-Verify system is 97.4 percent accurate.
The measure would penalize businesses for violation of the law with escalating consequences for repeated offenses. It also provides a mechanism for small businesses without Internet access to call the Department of Labor for verification assistance.
Federal contractors or subcontractors have been required to use E-verify since 2008 to determine employment eligibility of employees performing direct work. Fifteen states, including five which are adjacent to Tennessee, require the use of E-Verify for public and/or private employers. Another 25 states are considering similar legislation.
There are more than 140,000 illegal immigrants in Tennessee, with over 110,000 in the state’s workforce according to estimates.
Senate Bill 1669: Tracy, Beavers, Stewart, Campfield, Roberts, Ketron, Berke
Submitted by Darlene Schlicher of the Senate Republican Caucus