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Higher Education Bills Pass Tennessee General Assembly

Updated: Jun 12

This information is from 28th District State Sen. Joey Hensley MD, R-Hohenwald, who represents Giles, Lewis and parts of Maury, Marshall and Williamson counties in the State Legislature.

The 113th General Assembly has adjourned for 2024, and it was a very successful year. We have taken measures for Tennessee to be a better place in which to live, work and to raise a family. This is some legislation that passed affecting higher education.

Policies For AI In Higher Education – "Legislation, which I sponsored, passed this session requiring the governing boards of public colleges and universities, public charter schools, and local boards of education to regulate the role and use of AI," according to Hensley.

This law tasks schools with determining how professors, teachers and students can and cannot use artificial intelligence.

It aims to prevent abuse of AI in schools, encourage independent thinking from students and address current and future disruptions of AI in the classroom.

Under the new law, schools are required to craft a policy by the 2024-25 school year and submit it annually to the Tennessee Department of Education.

Supreme Court Affirmative Action Ruling - A law ensures that higher education institutions in Tennessee comply with the Supreme Court’s decision to prohibit affirmative action admission practices.

The law states that any audit of a higher education institution by the Tennessee Comptroller must ensure no Tennessee higher education institutions are using race as an admissions factor.

This law is in response to the Supreme Court of the United States reversing the discriminatory practice of affirmative action, which allowed the use of race as a deciding factor in admission to a university.

Additional Protections Against Divisive Concepts Advances – "Senate Bill 2501, which I sponsored, will continue efforts to combat viewpoint discrimination in higher education," according to Hensley.

Lawmakers passed legislation that requires public colleges and universities to investigate alleged violations of the state’s divisive concepts law and report the findings within 10 days. The divisive concepts law, passed in 2022, stipulates that students or employees at public higher education institutions cannot be penalized, discriminated against, or adversely treated due to the student’s or employee’s refusal to endorse divisive concepts.

State lawmakers must also be notified if an institution receives more than 10 reports of violations during a single academic year.

Designating THEC To Govern Higher Education Boards In Case Of A Sunset –  Lawmakers passed legislation to ensure that state universities do not go without governance if a state university board sunsets.

The new law designates the Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to perform the duties of the university board if it should sunset.

These duties include managing academic programs, capital projects, and budget requests. The duties would go to the Executive Director because it is a non-voting member of THEC, which helps prevent any conflict of interest for THEC.

Supreme Court Affirmative Action Ruling - A law ensures that higher education institutions in Tennessee are complying with the Supreme Court’s decision to prohibit affirmative action admission practices.

The law states that any audit of a higher education institution by the Tennessee Comptroller must ensure no Tennessee higher education institutions are using race as an admissions factor.

This law is in response to the Supreme Court of the United States reversing the discriminatory practice of affirmative action, which allowed race to be used as a deciding factor in admission to a university.

Additional Protections Against Divisive Concepts Advances – "Senate Bill 2501, which I sponsored, will continue efforts to combat viewpoint discrimination in higher education," according to Hensley.

Lawmakers passed legislation that requires public colleges and universities to investigate alleged violations of the state’s divisive concepts law and report the findings within 10 days. The divisive concepts law, passed in 2022, stipulates that students or employees at public higher education institutions cannot be penalized, discriminated against, or adversely treated due to the student’s or employee’s refusal to endorse divisive concepts.

State lawmakers must also be notified if an institution receives more than 10 reports of violations during a single academic year.

Designating THEC To Govern Higher Education Boards In Case Of A Sunset – Lawmakers passed legislation to ensure that state universities do not go without governance if a state university board sunsets.

The new law designates the Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to perform duties of the university board if it should sunset.

These duties include managing academic programs, capital projects, and budget requests. The duties would go to the Executive Director because it is a non-voting member of THEC, which helps prevent any conflict of interest for THEC.

Protecting Financial Aid Eligibility For Nursing Students - To ensure license practical nursing (LPN) students can continue to qualify for federal financial aid, lawmakers passed legislation to raise the minimum number of training hours for LPN programs at public higher education institutions from 980 hours to 1,296 hours.

Without this change, students enrolled in Tennessee Board of Regents’ (TBR) LPN programs would lose their federal financial aid due to a new rule set by the federal government.

Beginning July 1, colleges that offer LPN programs longer than the minimum hours set by state law or regulatory board will no longer qualify for federal financial aid. The TBR LPN programs exceed the previous minimum requirement of 980 hours.

LPNs are in high demand, and this change will help keep LPN programs affordable, so Tennessee can continue to educate LPNs to meet the demands.

Election Integrity

Protecting Against Illegal-Immigrant Voter Fraud - "A new law which I sponsored, requires the coordinator of elections to compare the statewide voter registration database with the Department of Safety’s database to verify illegal aliens are not registered to vote," according to Hensley.

Increased Regulations For Voter Registration Drives - Lawmakers approved legislation to prohibit a convicted felon from handling or collecting voter applications in a voter registration drive.

The law also ensures that a person involved in the voter registration drive cannot alter an application without the applicant’s consent.

This change in law will bring more integrity to election registration and survive court scrutiny.

Shortened deadline to request mail-in ballots - Legislation passed this session requires picking up absentee ballots further in advance of election day.

The law shortens the deadline to request an absentee ballot from 7 to 10 days before an election.

In Tennessee, all absentee ballots must be returned by mail. Three additional days are largely needed as a result of service standard changes made by the United States Postal Service in October 2021 that resulted in 1-2 day delivery delays for first class mail.

Print Disability Absentee Voting Act - This law directs the coordinator of elections to make absentee ballots accessible to voters who are blind and those with other print disabilities. Print disability is a disability that interferes with a person’s ability to read, write, or use printed materials.

The law will help those with print disabilities to vote in private and keep their vote confidential.

Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act - Lawmakers passed the Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act which will require each elector or alternate to vote for the candidate they represent.

This legislation clarifies that in cases where the person refuses to do so, they will be replaced.

Protecting Against Conflicts Of Interest For Administrator Of Elections - Legislation passed that would require an administrator of elections to temporarily step down from their position if a family member qualifies as a candidate for public office.

The administrator would have to step down at least 30 days prior to the election. This new law will help ensure all measures are taken for accurate elections.

Out-Of-State Conferences For Election Administrators – "A new law which I sponsored, requires administrators of elections who attend an out-of-state educational event related to elections to report that event to the Tennessee Secretary of State within 15 days of the event," according to Hensley.

Protecting Against Illegal-Immigrant Voter Fraud  - "A new law which I sponsored, requires the coordinator of elections to compare the statewide voter registration database with the Department of Safety’s database to verify illegal aliens are not registered to vote," according to Henley.

Increased Regulations For Voter Registration Drives - Lawmakers approved legislation to prohibit a convicted felon from handling or collecting voter applications in a voter registration drive.

The law also ensures that a person involved in the voter registration drive cannot alter an application without the applicant’s consent. This change in law will bring more integrity to election registration and survive court scrutiny.

Shortened Deadline To Request Mail-In Ballots - Legislation passed this session requires absentee ballots to be picked up further in advance of election day.

The law shortens the deadline to request an absentee ballot from 7 to 10 days before an election.

In Tennessee, all absentee ballots must be returned by mail. Three additional days are largely needed as a result of service standard changes made to the United States Postal Service in October 2021 that resulted in 1-2 day delivery delays for first class mail.

Print Disability Absentee Voting Act- This law directs the coordinator of elections to make absentee ballots accessible to voters who are blind and those with other print disabilities. Print disability is defined as a disability that interferes with a person’s ability to read, write, or use printed materials.

The law will help those with print disabilities to vote in private and keep their vote confidential.

Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act - The Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act will require each elector or alternate to vote for the candidate they represent. This legislation clarifies that in cases where the person refuses to do so, they will be replaced.

Protecting Against Conflicts Of Interest For Administrator Of Elections - This year, legislation passed that would require an administrator of elections to temporarily step down if a family member qualifies as a candidate for public office.

The administrator would have to step down at least 30 days prior to the election. This new law will help ensure all measures are taken for accurate elections in Tennessee.

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

His district address is 855 Summertown Highway, Hohenwald, TN., 38462, or call 931-796-2018 or call his cell phone at 931-212-8823.



                                                                                 

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