Capitol Hill Week
by State Senator Paul Bailey
The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, which I chair, approved several significant bills this week before we closed our business for the 2021 legislative session. This included legislation to help ensure COVID-19 vaccines remain voluntary and that medical information reflecting the status of a person’s vaccination cannot be required by any state entities in Tennessee.
Senate Bill 858 prohibits a state or local governmental official, entity, department or agency from mandating a private business to require “vaccine passports” as a condition for entering their premises or utilizing their services. The bill is supported by Governor Bill Lee.
Vaccines should not be a government mandate. That is a personal health decision. I supported this legislation, which also protects the privacy of a person’s health information by preventing “vaccine passports”.
The legislation also removes authority from county boards of health to enforce and adopt rules and regulations regarding COVID-19, preserving their role as an advisory body to the elected county mayor. Only Hamilton, Shelby, Knox, Madison, Sullivan, and Davidson counties have independent county health boards, which have the power to make final decisions on health-related restrictions during an epidemic.
County mayors already have the authority to make these decisions in the state’s other 89 counties where health departments get their direction from the Tennessee Department of Health.
Text Messages/Anti-Phishing Act
Our committee also approved legislation clarifying that text messages sent and received on smart phones or devices are subject to the state’s Anti-Phishing Act. Phishing is a scam where fraudsters send spam or text messages or create deceptive websites to lure personal or financial information from unsuspecting victims. The messages or websites often appear to be from well-known or seemingly trustworthy entities but instead collect information for fraudulent purposes.
Representing oneself as another person while online is a crime against the Anti-Phishing Act of Tennessee. Senate Bill 1211 ensures these same offenses apply when a person uses text messages to defraud Tennesseans.
Volunteer Firefighters/Payment for Training
Members of our committee approved legislation this week aiding volunteer firefighters. Senate Bill 778 would provide an annual $600 payment upon completion of at least 30 hours of training.
Approximately 64% of Tennessee’s firefighters are volunteers. I am proud to support this legislation to provide this training payment to the courageous volunteers who put their lives on the line to protect our communities.
Currently, the cost of any training or equipment is often at their own expense. The $4.92 million cost for the annual volunteer firefighter training payment is included in Governor Bill Lee’s 2021-2022 budget proposal.
Senate Bill 831 unanimously cleared our committee this week to aid Tennessee farmers. The legislation acts as a tractor lemon law that would require manufacturers to either replace or refund the full purchase price of farm machinery under certain circumstances. Under the bill, the manufacturer must cover any repair costs that are not a result of normal wear and tear during the machinery’s usage. It also enables consumers to bring civil action against the manufacturer if it is brought within two years after the defect has been reported.
Bills aiding military
In other action this week, the Tennessee Senate approved several bills this week aiding active military service members. This includes action by the Senate State and Local Government Committee to approve legislation providing reemployment protections to Tennessee National Guard service members who are called to state active duty. Senate Bill 754 closes the gap in benefits by providing state active duty benefits more closely aligned to those provided while in federal status.
Currently, state law does not provide for the protection of civilian employment rights upon completion of service in a State Active Duty status for members of the Tennessee National Guard. This legislation would provide members of the National Guard returning from State Active Duty the same right to reemployment afforded to service members called to federal active service, protecting them from discrimination in the workplace based on their military service.
Tennessee’s National Guard servicemen and women have been on the frontlines of the state’s COVID-19 response for the past year, providing a critical service to people across our state. This legislation will support their efforts and serve as a recruitment tool to ensure the very best continue to serve in the Tennessee National Guard.
The full Senate approved legislation allowing military veterans who are honorably discharged to be given credit for active duty training and coursework, which is applicable towards occupational licensure. Senate Bill 382 amends a law passed by lawmakers in the 111th General Assembly that allowed high school students and inmates to receive full credit for coursework or training completed toward an occupational licensure, registration or certification. The goal is to help military services members prosper and develop skills to advance their career opportunities. This bill now heads to Governor Bill Lee for his signature.
In closing, we have several busy weeks ahead of us as action will shift from committees to the Senate floor for the remainder of the 2021 legislative session. I want to remind you to please call me when I can help you or if you want to express your views on the issues we face.