As our Senate committees continue to finalize their business for the 112th General Assembly, the Judiciary Committee approved legislation to enhance protections for victims of human trafficking and abuse. Important legislation to shine light on political organizations advanced in the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week, and Senators continued to present their proposals for budget appropriations amendments to the Appropriations Subcommittee. Additionally, the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee heard testimony from the Tennessee Department of Education on how the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA) Act, which has been proposed by Governor Lee to alter the state’s education funding formula, will affect the state’s finances.
Senate works to halt human trafficking and aid victims
A series of bills aimed at preventing human trafficking and protecting victims of abuse advanced last week.
We passed Senate Bill 2793 which requires the Department of Correction, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and the Department of Human Services to provide mandatory training on the identification, intervention, prevention and treatment of human trafficking victims. The training must be selected by the Human Trafficking Advisory Council and administered annually starting in 2023.
On average in the U.S., every two minutes a child is bought or sold for sex: 13 years or older is the average age a child is sold and the average lifespan of victims after entering slavery is seven years, Massey noted.
Our Judiciary Committee passed Senate Bill 2740 requiring the district attorneys general conference in collaboration with various state agencies to develop recommendations on the creation of multidisciplinary teams tasked with responding to child sex trafficking cases. The teams are intended to enhance services to victims of child sex trafficking, improve the coordination of investigations of such cases, and identify gaps in services.
Similarly, to ensure Tennessee has top-notch services for victims of sex trafficking, Senate Bill 2739 tasks the Department of Children’s Services and the Department of Human Services to identify existing resources and gaps in services for victims between the ages of 18 and 24.
Working to increase wages for healthcare professionals – Our Senate gave final approval to legislation creating a healthcare task force to review the reimbursement of healthcare professionals employed by healthcare agencies in the state. This task force would include studying fair market pay for direct support professionals (DSP), mental health providers, and children’s services workers. Senate Bill 2304 works to address the worker shortages and staffing challenges many state providers face, largely due to compensation of these professionals.
Expanding eligibility for CTE teachers in high schools – Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses have become an important aspect of preparing Tennessee’s high school students for quality, high-paying jobs upon graduating. However, it can be challenging to attract qualified CTE teachers. Senate Bill 2442 was given final approval last week in our Senate to make it easier for local schools to find CTE teachers. Current law requires CTE instructors to have five years of work experience within the last ten years and requires their license to be from the state of Tennessee. The legislation allows a person to teach a CTE class if he or she has three years of relevant experience within the last five years and an industry certification from any state.
Reinstating work requirements for SNAP benefits – The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted in favor of to reinstate work requirements in order for individuals to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the work requirements for SNAP benefits – which require able-bodied individuals between the ages of 18 and 49 to work, train or volunteer for at least 20 hours per week – were suspended. Senate Bill 2071 also makes clear that any waivers to the work requirement issued by the Department of Human Services must have just cause. The bill now moves to the Senate floor for final approval.
Providing tax relief for victims of natural disasters – To help aid citizens who experienced damage to their properties following an array of natural disasters in West and Middle Tennessee in 2021, our Senate State and Local Government Committee approved legislation which I am cosponsoring to provide tax relief for these victims. Senate Bill 2821 allows the local legislative bodies in Cheatham, Decatur, Dickson, Dyer, Gibson, Lake, Obion, Stewart and Weakley Counties to provide property tax proration to victims of natural disasters upon a two-thirds approval of its members. The legislation uses guidance from previous state action following the 2010 floods in Middle Tennessee and the 2018 wildfires in East Tennessee.
Restitution for children of victims of DUI offenders — In the event a parent of a minor child is killed by an intoxicated driver, Senate Bill 2103 requires the convicted offender to pay restitution in the form of child maintenance to each of the victim’s children until each child reaches 18 years of age and has graduated from high school or the class of which the child is a member has graduated.
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