The General Assembly passed a major initiative to implement drug tests for those individuals seeking certain public benefits, a move many view as one that will save valuable taxpayer dollars from being wasted.
The measure, brought by Rep. Julia Hurley, R-Lenoir City, requires applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program benefits to undergo a drug test before receiving such benefits. Under the bill, the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) must develop a plan to implement a program of suspicion-based drug testing for each applicant who is otherwise eligible for TANF benefits.
This measure is about restoring some measure of accountability for taxpayers and ensuring the proper fiscal management of our state’s limited financial resources. Tennesseans want to have confidence in the system. They want to know these benefits are helping those families who need assistance, not greedy individuals who are trying to get money for drugs. We need to help those individuals who need legitimate support, not those trying to milk the system.
Following an initial positive drug test, the applicant would undergo a confirmation test using the same urine sample from the initial positive test prior to determine TANF eligibility. The results of the confirmation test would be used to determine final eligibility of these benefits.
In these cases, "drug" shall mean marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine and opiates such as morphine. The DHS commissioner may add additional drugs by rule. No drug for which an applicant has a current valid prescription will be a basis for denial of TANF benefits under this amendment. The implementation would occur in phases over a two-year period.
Civil recourse for victims
of human trafficking
The effort to combat human trafficking received a major boost with passage of an important bill in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Under the law, victims of human trafficking offenses would have a civil right of action for actual damages, compensatory damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, any combination of these or any other appropriate relief.
Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, a strong advocate for the rights of victims, celebrated the passage of House Bill 2489 — a personal priority for Coley. The legislation passed with unanimous, bipartisan support.
This is a strong first step for what I expect will be several measures to battle human trafficking. I have laid out a robust agenda that focuses on ways to strengthen the hands of law enforcement and gives victims a better ability to prosecute those who would perpetrate such deplorable things.
Under the legislation, "trafficked person" is defined as a victim of a human trafficking offense which is the commission of any act that constitutes the criminal offense of:
1. Involuntary labor servitude;
2. Trafficking persons for forced labor or services;
3. Trafficking a person for sexual servitude; or
4. Promoting the prostitution of a minor.
The bill also extends to loved ones of the victim. A legal guardian, family member, representative of the trafficked person or court appointee may represent the trafficked person or the trafficked person's estate if deceased. If the trafficked person dies as a result of a human trafficking offense, a surviving spouse of the trafficked person is eligible for restitution.
for drunk drivers
The House agreed to tough new restrictions against irresponsible conduct behind the wheel that will save the lives of children. House Bill 2751, by Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Blountville, increases provisions of the law. Under his bill, a minimum incarceration of 30 days must be served consecutively with any sentence for convictions of DUI, vehicular assault, vehicular homicide or aggravated vehicular homicide.
“As a former emergency responder, I have seen too many careless individuals willing to risk the life of others,” Shipley said. “That must be stopped. This bill increases penalty for that type of violation. This bill is a personal priority of mine and I believe it will help save the lives of our most vulnerable citizens — our children.”
House lawmakers passed legislation, HB 2389, to require mandatory jail time for people with repeat domestic violence convictions. The bill was approved in strong bipartisan fashion, 98-1. Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, was given the responsibility of guiding the bill through the House by Majority Leader Gerald McCormick. With the passage of the bill, Tennessee will increase the reimbursement to local jails by $2 per day at a total annual price tag of about $4 million. The mandatory sentence for a second conviction will be 30 days. A third conviction of domestic violence brings a mandatory 90-day sentence.
Passage of this legislation shows we are serious about cracking down on domestic violence in Tennessee. We earn top rankings in a number of business friendly categories, but we are also near the top in domestic abuse rankings. We need to drop in those rankings immediately. I believe this legislation will help do just that.
Criminal gangs targeted
under new legislation
The Tennessee General Assembly this year passed legislation to keep Tennesseans safe from criminal gang activity. Rep. Barrett Rich, R-Somerville, was given the responsibility of guiding two top anti-crime priorities through the House of Representatives because of his deep understanding and professional experience in law enforcement matters. The key bills passed the House unanimously.
The first bill, House Bill 2390, establishes enhanced punishment for crimes of force or violence committed while acting in concert with two or more other persons. The second piece of legislation, House Bill 2388, takes a hard line against criminals with a felony history by increasing their punishment for unlawful possession of a firearm.
These bills are a vital addition to the crime-fighting tools law enforcement personnel use to keep our streets safe. In fact, I believe as a result of these changes, Tennesseans will be safer. We have a problem with gangs in this state and the General Assembly has taken a strong stand against criminal activity. I’m proud to have supported this legislation to move Tennessee forward.