As my Tennessee House of Representatives colleague — state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland who represents the 22nd Legislative District — and I conclude this eight-week recap of many of the most significant actions taken in the 108th General Assembly, I want to join him in offering some thanks.
Last week, Watson was spot on in pointing to two entities who have made our work possible in Nashville, and whose work in the future is vital if Tennessee is to remain the viable, progressive and down-home state that we know it to be.
First up, thank you to the people of our respective districts who sent us to Nashville to do a job. We hope we didn’t let you down and that we met your high expectations. State lawmakers field a lot of pressure, both from their home districts and from state leaders who want what’s best for Tennessee. Making Tennessee the best it can be is also the mission of legislators, but we must also keep an open ear to the needs of our districts back home. It’s a delicate balance, but with your continued support we can carefully weigh the wants of our district versus the needs of an entire state.
And secondly, as did Watson last week, I would like to thank the Cleveland Daily Banner for giving us the opportunity to communicate directly in print with our constituents. Throughout the 108th General Assembly, we both contributed regular updates that were published on the Banner’s Editorial Page, as we are doing in this closing series of summaries. This 159-year-old member of the Fourth Estate has been vital in helping the Bradley County legislative team to communicate with our respective districts.
I say this on behalf of all four members of the local delegation: State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville in the 9th Senatorial District; state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga in the 10th Senatorial District; and state Rep. Watson and myself.
Now, I’ll finish out our legislative summaries:
New law allows prosecutors
to stop Statute of Limitations
when DNA profile is known
Under legislation approved by the Tennessee House of Representatives this year, prosecutors are now able to proceed with criminal charges against perpetrators even when they can’t be captured or identified by name, as long as the individual’s unique DNA profile is known.
At a news conference attended by leading state prosecutors and Republican members of the General Assembly, the bill’s sponsors said the measure lets prosecutors “stop the clock” on the statute of limitations; that is, the time limit by which criminal actions must be commenced in criminal cases.
The legislation codifies the practice used in the case of Robert Jason Burdick, the so-called “Wooded Rapist,” whose crimes spanned more than a decade. His case was kept alive because a piece of skin he left at the scene of one of his earliest crimes provided law enforcement DNA evidence linking him to the crime.
Even though the “Wooded Rapist” wasn't taken into custody until several years after the crime, investigators were able to preserve the case through the DNA that was collected at the scene. As was the case for the “Wooded Rapist,” the use of DNA as a way of identifying defendants and preventing the statute of limitations from running out will help bring people to justice.
And in case you missed it:
n Safe Harbor Bill: Legislation which will improve health outcomes for infants born to drug-addicted mothers easily passed the House earlier this year. House Bill 277 encourages pregnant women who misuse prescription drugs to access early prenatal care and drug rehabilitation. In exchange, they would be given a safe harbor from having their parental rights terminated through a petition filed by the Department of Children’s Services due to prenatal drug abuse. The safe harbor only applies if the mother is seen by an obstetrician provider within the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy, attends regular prenatal visits, and complies with substance abuse treatment.
n Prescription Drugs: House Bill 519 was approved by the House this year and restricts any person, besides a licensed medical professional, from selling, delivering or obtaining a drug through the use of TennCare. Written to stop potentially fraudulent abuse of TennCare benefits, the legislation makes such an offense a Class E Felony, a sentence that includes mandatory jail time.
n Electronic Insurance Documentation: House Bill 478 unanimously passed the House and Senate this year and was signed into law in recent days. As passed, the bill allows insurance documentation to be displayed in an electronic format. Currently, state law provides that proof of financial responsibility be proven through a hard-copy, paper document only. HB 478, in contrast, opens up this language to also allow an individual to provide proof of insurance in an electronic format using a smart phone, laptop or other electronic device.
n Home School Students: The House of Representatives passed legislation this year authorizing home-schooled students to participate in interscholastic athletics at the public school in which they are zoned. House Bill 222 gives home-schooled students an opportunity to try out for local school sports teams if they meet the same health, academic and conduct standards required of other participants. The bill was fueled by the success of NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who was a home-schooled student. The legislation is not in conflict with Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association standards as that state organization has opted to leave the decision about participation of home-schooled students to local boards of education.
And now in closing, having completed its business for the year, the first session of the 108th General Assembly is finished. One General Assembly is comprised of two sessions with the next meeting of the body beginning Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, at noon.
Though legislators are now in recess, don’t hesitate to contact any member of the Bradley County delegation. In order to best serve you, we must first hear from you.
Thank you for your support, and for your questions and suggestions in the past. I look forward to your continued interest in the work of the Tennessee Legislature and your belief in the future of Tennessee.