New state laws take effect Jan. 1

Gary B. Gray • Updated Dec 30, 2016 at 10:55 PM

A flurry of new laws approved by the Tennessee General Assembly will go into effect in the coming year, from new handgun permit requirements and a new award for state residents to toughening of drunken driving punishments and the availability of higher alcohol content beer.

The following is a brief explanation of new state laws that will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017:

  • Handgun Permits/Veterans/Age 18 — Lawmakers voted in 2016 to lower the minimum age for handgun carry permits for veterans and active duty members of the U.S. armed services. Tennessee will become the 19th state to allow honorably discharged and active members of the armed forces to obtain one beginning at the age of 18. The General Assembly agreed that those men and women that are entrusted to carry in the military to protect the nation should be allowed the same rights outside the armed forces.
  • Lifetime Handgun Permits — This new law reduces the fee from $500 to $200 for current permit holders. First-time applicants will pay the $115 fee currently in effect, plus $200 for a lifetime handgun permit.
  • Civics/Education — Components of the test administered by the United State Citizenship and Immigration Services to those seeking citizenship now will be one of the tools used in assessing student progress under Tennessee’s civics education program. The legislation calls on local education agencies to utilize 25 to 50 of the 100 questions posed by the citizenship test. The must be administered during high school, and may be taken by the student multiple times until he or she scores the 70 percent minimum required for graduation.
  • Public Safety Act — The law addresses serious offenses driving up 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. It sets the minimum period of incarceration to 85 percent for third and subsequent convictions for aggravated burglary, especially aggravated burglary, and Class A, B, and C felonies for the sale, manufacture, and distribution of controlled substances. The legislation also allows law enforcement officers to seek an order of protection on behalf of a domestic abuse victim. If a law enforcement officer makes an arrest for a crime involving domestic abuse, then an automatic order of protection will be issued under the new law when there is probable cause to believe that the alleged assailant used or attempted to use deadly force against a domestic violence victim. The new statute also provides that a third and subsequent domestic violence conviction becomes a Class E felony.
  • Hall Tax/Angel Investors — The statute provides a tax credit against the Hall Income tax for “angel investors.” An angel investor is someone who provides the earliest stage of capital investment to assist entrepreneurs. The tax credit is equal to 33 percent of the value of the cash investment and requires a minimum investment of $15,000. The credit is capped at $50,000 per investor per year and the overall cap is $3 million for 2017, $4 million for 2018 and $5 million for 2019 and subsequent years. It applies to businesses newer than 5 years old.
  • Telehealth — This legislation ensures that Tennesseans utilizing telehealth (remote monitoring/care) services are not receiving different reimbursements based upon their rural or urban locality. The new law provides that coverage and reimbursement for telehealth services cannot be impacted by the geographical location of the client. This is particularly important to people in rural communities who may have to drive long distances to receive healthcare services.
  • Central Service Technicians/Hospital Safety — State lawmakers passed legislation this year to require central service technicians to undergo certification and credentialing. Central service technicians provide support to all patient care services in health care facilities. They are responsible for decontaminating, cleaning, processing, assembling, sterilizing, storing and distributing the medical devices and supplies needed in patient care, especially during surgery. The new statute requires the technicians undergo 10 hours of continued education annually.
  • Radiology — A new law was passed creating the Tennessee Radiologic Imaging and Radiation Therapy Board of Examiners. The board will establish licenses for various x-ray machine operators, radiation therapy technologists and other medical technicians. The new statute requires every individual performing these tests, no matter where, be held to the same standards. Forty-six other states have passed similar legislation.
  • Recognizing Distinguished Citizens — Creates an award recognizing Tennessee’s distinguished citizens. The new statute creates the “Tri-Star General” honor for people who have shown outstanding displays of community service. The legislation authorizes each member of the General Assembly to nominate one individual per year for the award, while the governor can recognize up to five additional individuals.
  • Restricted Driver’s Licenses — Legislation has been signed into law that deletes the requirement that a person's driver license be suspended for an additional period if they are convicted of driving on a suspended or revoked license. This allows a court to order issuance of a restricted driver license contingent on the person participating in a payment plan for any unpaid fines or costs and aims to get people back to work.
  • Emergency 911 — The General Assembly approved a new statute to help ensure emergency services are easily accessed by hotel and motel patrons. The legislation grew out of a Texas case in which a child attempted to dial 911 at a hotel where her mother was being attacked, but was unable to connect to emergency services because she did not realize she had to dial a separate digit to be connected out. The new law provides that when motels and hotels upgrade their phone systems there is no requirement to dial excess digits when calling emergency services.
  • Vehicular Homicide — Legislation will go into effect prohibiting anyone convicted of, or who pleads guilty to, vehicular homicide by intoxication from being eligible for parole. This is part of a continued effort to make Tennessee’s drunk driving laws tougher and more appropriate. The new law requires anyone who took a life while operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol to serve the full sentence given to them by the judge.
  • Opiate Abuse/Substitution-Based Clinics — State lawmakers approved a bill defining nonresidential substitution-based treatment centers for opiate addiction and places them under the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse for licensure. This addresses the problem of misuse of suboxone or buprenorphine, drugs used to treat opiate addiction, which is similar to the use of methadone in the treatment for heroin dependence. Unlike methadone clinics, suboxone clinics are not regulated. Doctors are restricted to serving a certain number of patients; however, some clinics are skirting the law by opening multiple physician offices under the same roof.
  • Pharmacies/Robberies — New legislation will enhance the sentencing of robbery, aggravated robbery and especially aggravated robbery on the premises of a licensed pharmacy with the intent to obtain controlled substances unlawfully. Between 2006 and 2010, pharmaceutical robberies rose 81 percent nationally and Tennessee is ranked 5th in most cases. The new law comes after a series of robberies, including one in Bean Station in 2013 that resulted in the deaths of a pharmacist and patient and left two clerks severely injured.
  • Local Education Budgets — A new law was approved requiring timelines for budgets of local education agencies (LEAs) to be established by local county legislative bodies. The LEA and local legislative body must agree by Aug. 31 of any year or the budget will statutorily be equal with the minimum budget required to comply with the local match and maintenance of effort provisions of the BEP. This new statute is in accord with multiple departments, including the County Services Association, the Comptroller’s Office, the County Commissioners Association and the State Board of Education.
  • E-Verify/Lawful Employment — This legislation puts more teeth in Tennessee’s E-Verify law to ensure that new hires are in the state legally. The new law targets those who find it more advantageous to pay a one-time $500 fine for hiring illegal aliens than to follow Tennessee’s Lawful Employment Act passed in 2011. All Tennessee employers with six or more employees must keep a copy of an employee’s or new hire’s driver’s license or listed identity/employment authorization documents showing that he or she is in the U.S. legally. This legislation makes it mandatory for a company with 50 or more employees to use the E-Verify system beginning Jan. 1.
  • Consumers/Craft beer — Beginning Jan. 1, beer up to 10.1 percent alcohol by volume can be sold anywhere beer is currently available, including convenience and grocery stores. The legislation clarifies laws allowing liquor retailers to sell high gravity craft beer growlers. It also ensures current brand rights agreements are not affected by the change in the definition of beer. The bill also is aimed at helping Tennessee’s craft brewer entrepreneurs grow their businesses, as well as attracting craft brewers from other states to market and brew their product in Tennessee.
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