NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A total of 32 new state laws go into effect in Tennessee on July 1, including a first-of-its-kind law that requires businesses and government facilities to post signs if they let transgender people use multiperson public bathrooms or similar facilities of their choice.
A similar law, known as the Tennessee Accommodations for All Children Act, puts public schools and districts at risk of losing civil lawsuits if they let transgender students or employees use multi-person bathrooms that do not reflect their gender at birth. The law requires schools to try to offer a single-occupancy or employee facility for anyone who wants more privacy, but it specifically bars letting transgender people use multi-person facilities that don’t align with their sex at birth.
Another law targeting the LGBTQ community is the anti-trans athlete bill, which requires students who want to play a school sport to play on the team of their sex assigned at birth. Tennessee is the first state in the U.S. to require this.
"I signed the bill to preserve women's athletics and ensure fair competition," Gov. Bill Lee said. But LGBTQ rights groups including the ACLU of Tennessee said it would likely result in vulnerable students being marginalized.
Here’s a look at some of the other laws that went into effect on Thursday.
The “constitutional carry” law allows most Tennessee adults ages 21 and older and military members who are 18 to 20 years old to carry a handgun without a permit.
The law also changed punishments for certain gun crimes. Theft of a gun will not be a felony and will come with at least six months of jail time.
Criminal Justice Reform
The Tennessee General Assembly passed two criminal justice reform bills during this year's legislative session.
The Alternatives to Incarceration Act looks to build community-based alternatives to prison and the Reentry Success Act hopes to smooth the transition from prison back into the workforce.
The Re-entry Success Act creates a supervision program for people getting out of prison and reduces liability for employers who are hiring people with a criminal record.
Sales Tax Holiday
A separate bill, which implements the budget, was approved cutting $50 million in taxes by providing an additional sales tax holiday on the sale of food and food ingredients from July 30, 2021 through August 4, 2021.
It also cuts the taxes on the retail sale of prepared food for restaurants during the same time period. This is in addition to Tennessee’s annual sales tax holiday which allows consumers to purchase clothing, school supplies and computers tax-free.
Parents are now required to report their child's disappearance within 24 hours of determining the child is missing. Parents who do not report children missing to law enforcement within 24 hours could face a Class A misdemeanor charge. The law applies to children 12 years or younger.
The law is named in honor of Evelyn Boswell, a 15-month-old who was reported missing in February 2020 even though she hadn't been seen since December 2019.
This law allows the court system and Department of Children's Services to be more quickly involved in placing newborns in DCS custody if the parent previously had a child removed for dependency or neglect.
Tennessee has become the latest state to require certain medical providers to cremate or bury fetal remains from surgical abortions.
Enhancing Protection of Law Enforcement Officers
State lawmakers approved a handful of bills designed to increase protections of police officers and strengthen punishments for those convicted of violent crimes against officers.
The Spencer Bristol Act will increase the penalty for evading arrest if it causes serious injury or death of an officer. The law was named for Hendersonville Officer Spencer Bristol who was hit and killed in 2019 by a vehicle while chasing after a suspect.
Another law that was passed will increase the punishment for someone convicted of first-degree murder of a first responder to life in prison without parole or the death penalty. For attempted first degree murder of a first responder convictions, the sentence will be life in prison.
Protections for Victims of Rape, Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking
Several laws will go into effect to address rape, sexual assault and human trafficking.
The statute of limitations has been removed for the charge of trafficking a child for a commercial sex act. The new legislation also denotes anyone convicted of trafficking a person for a commercial
sex act will now be considered a child sexual predator under the law.
Legislation was approved to prevent minors who are victims of human trafficking from being prosecuted for prostitution. The law also requires law enforcement to contact the Department of Children's Services when a minor is taken into custody on prostitution charges so the child can be placed in a safe home.
Another law establishes considerations for the use of force by victims of human trafficking. The law allows human trafficking victims to use force that could result in serious bodily injury or death in situations where they are being trafficked. However, they must prove in court they are a victim of human trafficking. This is a change from the previous law, that allowed victims to use force only in response to reasonable belief of a threat of death or serious bodily injury.
If a parent is convicted of aggravated statutory rape, statutory rape or statutory rape by an authority figure, they will now lose all custody, visitation and inheritance rights to the child.
Truth in Sentencing
Tennessee lawmakers passed a "Truth in Sentencing" law that requires certain violent or sexual offenders to serve 100% of their sentence. The law affects offenses such as rape, sexual battery, continuous sexual abuse of a child, sexual battery by an authority figure, incest, promoting prostitution, aggravated child abuse, domestic assault, aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and trafficking for a commercial sex act.
Lifetime Order of Protection
A lifetime order of protection will be available for victims of stalking, domestic violence, assault, attempted homicide and kidnapping. Victims may file a petition for a lifetime order of protection against their convicted offender which will prohibit the offender from coming around or communicating with them.
Stealing a package from a mailbox or porch in Tennessee can get you charged with a felony. On the first offense, penalties will be based on the value of the item stolen. This legislation stipulates that after the first offense, any mail theft offenses thereafter must be charged as at least a Class E felony.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program
Lawmakers said this legislation is designed to "modernize" the state's Tennessee’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
The federal program is meant to help families find work by providing cash assistance, transportation and help with child care and job training.
Health Checks on Adopted Children
Adoptive parents who receive subsidies will now be required to provide the Department of Children's Services with medical or school enrollment records each year as a health check. The law was created in response to the deaths of two children in Roane County.
Through this law, DCS is now authorized to make a face-to-face visit if the adoptive parent fails to provide the documentation.