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Broadband Legislation Passes State Senate Committee


This information is provided courtesy of 28th District State Sen. Joey Hensley R-Hohenwald, whose district includes Giles and five other area counties.

Legislation aimed at expanding access to broadband internet in rural communities has advanced through the Commerce and Labor Committee.

Building on successful legislation passed in 2017, Senate Bill 2034 would allow rural electric and community services cooperatives to provide broadband services outside their service area to people who do not purchase electricity from the cooperative.

Existing law makes such allowances for telephone and telecommunication service, but not broadband. The bill also includes a “good neighbor provision” ensuring cooperatives work in concert with neighboring utilities as they provide broadband service to new customers, and removes a prohibition on cooperatives providing alarm services.

The time to make these sensible changes is now.

Electric cooperatives are the only private companies in the state that have any type of territorial restrictions on where they can provide broadband.

We need more options to get people connected not less, Hensley said.

it only makes sense to allow our electric cooperatives the same ability as every other private company that provides broadband in our state.

This bill builds on the successful strategy we implemented in 2017.

The General Assembly in 2017 passed the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, which de-regulated Tennessee’s electric cooperatives and allowed them to serve broadband to their electric customers.

Since then, electric cooperatives have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in broadband projects and changed the lives of tens of thousands of Tennesseans who never would’ve been able to access internet without their cooperative taking this bold action.

Every Tennessean should be able to access the internet, not just those who live in our large cities.

Committee advances legislation addressing school staffing challenges

A bill that would help Tennessee school districts address ongoing staffing challenges has advanced through the State and Local Government Committee.

Senate Bill 2702 would allow retired members of the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS) to be reemployed as a K-12 teacher, K-12 substitute teacher, or as a K-12 bus driver without loss or suspension of the retired member’s TCRS benefits.

Teachers, substitute teachers and bus drivers are especially needed, and many retirees are ready and willing to help.

This bill will remove barriers to making that happen. Some retired members of TCRS can return to work for a maximum of 120 days.

This bill would remove that limit as long as each retiree that participates is 60 or more days past their retirement date.

Legislation ensures pornography and obscene materials are blocked on school computers

Present law requires students to be prohibited from accessing pornography and other obscene materials on school computers.

Senate Bill 2292, approved by the Health and Welfare Committee, ensures vendors that contract with schools comply with the law and take steps to block inappropriate content.

This bill is about vendors the state contracts with, and whether that vendor will abide by state law. In new contracts, companies have to prohibit students from accessing inappropriate material.

If a provider fails to comply with the bill, then a local education agency (LEA) may withhold further payments to the provider and ultimately consider non-compliance a breach of contract.

The bill also requires each local board of education to establish a mechanism for parents to report a failure of technology selected by the LEA to prevent access to harmful materials, and submit an annual report to the state board of education on the successes or failures of the technology.

The bill, if signed into law, will apply to all future contracts.

Two bills aim to expand emergency services personnel

The Senate has passed two bills aimed at expanding emergency services personnel in Tennessee.

Senate Bill 1966 creates two categories of emergency first responders to assist EMTs in responding to emergencies, driving ambulances and engaging in limited medical interventions.

Ambulance services have seen a consistent workforce shortage before the pandemic and the shortage has increased. This legislation easing barriers to joining emergency response teams. Two classes of emergency services personnel created by the bill are an emergency medical responder (EMR) and emergency medical services – apprentice (EMS-A).

Those in the former role successfully completed an EMR training course and qualified by examinations to perform lifesaving interventions and to assist higher-level personnel at the scene. The latter does not possess an EMS license to provide emergency medical care in Tennessee, but meets all requirements for operating an emergency vehicle.

The EMS-A or EMR must obtain licensure as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), or, in the case of an EMS-A, as an EMR, within 12 months of the EMS-A's initial employment date.

Senate Bill 1908/House Bill 1956 expands a pilot program established by the General Assembly four years ago. That program allows up to 15 EMT/AEMT training centers operated by licensed ambulance services.

This bill makes the pilot project a regular program and doubles to 30 allowable training centers.

The Senate also passed an amendment to the bill urging ambulance services operating such training centers to pursue partnerships to increase the capacity to prepare EMTs, AEMTs and paramedics.

Bill seeks to return tax revenue to local governments

The Finance, Ways, and Means Committee advanced legislation that could pave the way for more than $20 million in tax revenue returning to Tennessee counties.

The state Department of Revenue has long charged a 1.125% fee to process local option sales tax. Lowering that fee to 0.5%, as has been proposed in the past, would free up an estimated $20.2 million each year that could be sent back to the counties. Such a move would allow Davidson County to reclaim $5.3 million, Hamilton County $2.07 million, Rutherford County $2.1 million, and Maury County $563,000 each year.

Senate Bill 160 does not propose a new fee, but would require the Tennessee Department of Revenue to report on the cost of processing sales tax revenue.

That report could be the basis for future conversations about a potential fee change. The 1.125% processing fee was imposed in the 1960s for costs associated with handling and processing the envelopes, paper forms and paper checks collected each month from businesses across the state. The cost of such work is likely significantly lower now that computers handle it.

In Brief:

LitterSenate Bill 2012 increases penalties for illegal dumping of tires.

The bill makes knowingly dumping two or more tires on public or private property without permission a Class A misdemeanor offense of aggravated littering, and also adds a Class E felony offense for a first-time conviction when dumping eight or more tires for commercial purposes.

The bill is in response to an uptick of illegal dumping of tires in Bradley County and other parts of the state.

Veterans — Disabled veterans currently do not pay property tax on the first $175,000 of the home value.

Senate Bill 1795, which cleared the State and Local Government Committee, would increase that threshold to $200,000.

Heroes need something for their service and their sacrifice for our country .These people need the breaks in today’s economy. These people laid down their lives for our country and they should be applauded, they are certainly heroes.

Another bill passed by the Senate, Senate Bill 2486, allows public universities to grant in-state tuition to military-affiliated students regardless of where they reside.

Traffic safetySenate Bill 2367 allows a person convicted of speeding to take a defensive driving course within 90 days of their conviction.

After successful completion of the course, a person may have up to five points on their license removed.

This bill may be applied to only one speeding offense for each driving course completed and only once in four-years.

Criminal offensesSenate Bill 2683 requires individuals convicted of first-degree murder, the perpetration or attempted perpetration of rape, rape of a child and aggravated rape of a child be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. The bill was passed by the Senate this week.

Long-term care facilitiesSenate Bill 2574 requires long-term care facilities to allow patients at the end of their lives to see visitors during emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It was recommended by the Health and Welfare Committee.

“We’ve seen too many people in nursing homes who’ve died alone, and I hope we never see that happen again with any kind of emergency, Hensley said.

Hensley may be reached at 425 Rep. John Lewis Way N., Suite 742, Nashville, TN., 37243, or call 615-741-3100, toll free at 1-800-449-8366 ext. 13100, or fax 615-253-0231.

His district office is 855 Summertown Highway, Hohenwald ,TN., 38462, his telephone number is 931-796-2018, his cell phone is 931-212-8823, or e-mail sen.joey.hensley@capitol.tn.gov

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