TNWPC Legislative Accomplishments
Mandatory Joint Custody/Equal Time – FAILS TO PASS (Opposed by TN-WPC). This perennial legislation, often filed multiple times in one session, has required heavy levels of time, energy, and member contacts, but, once again, the TNWPC membership was an integral part of a successful effort to stop it.
HB2916, by Rep. Mike Bell, was the primary vehicle this year for the “DADS” group that has historically pushed the bill. In a surprise move early in session, the bill was assigned to a different subcommittee of the Children and Family Affairs Committee, one that had never heard the bill before, and Rep. Bell was the subcommittee chairman in charge. After literally weeks of hearings and emotional discussion, there was significant opposition among subcommittee members to the original bill. An amendment that eliminated the equal time requirement, the bill’s central provision, was added over the sponsor’s objections, and he took the bill “off notice,” which is usually a sign that the bill will not be heard again and is dead. However, Rep. Bell later decided to revive the bill, and he agreed to keep the subcommittee amendment on the bill, if the full committee would pass it out. The committee approved the bill based on his commitment, but it quickly became apparent that the Senate bill might pass without such an amendment. The House Calendar and Rules Committee later voted the bill down because of that concern, led by Rep. Johnny Shaw, who happened to serve on both Calendar and Rules and the Children and Family Affairs Committee. The companion bill, SB2881 by Sen. DeWayne Bunch, appeared late in session on the Senate Judiciary Committee calendar, but it was never heard because of the ongoing controversy in the House.
Victim Tenant Lease Termination – FAILS TO PASS (Supported by TNWPC). HB323, by Rep. Sherry Jones, would have allowed a tenant, who is the victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking, to terminate a lease agreement, but it was not approved by the House Judiciary Committee. Despite an emotional hearing on the bill, it never generated adequate support because of vocal opposition by an organization representing landlords. The Senate bill, SB902 by Sen. Marrero, was never scheduled for the Senate Judiciary Committee because of the lack of support in the House subcommittee. The termination of a lease under the provisions of the bill would have required submitting one of the following: an order of protection; a written report from a law enforcement agency; a written report from a domestic violence or child abuse agency; or a written medical report. The bill was proposed by the Tennessee Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence and endorsed by the TNWPC.
Funding for Coordinated School Health and Governor’s Office of Child Care Coordination – APPROVED (Supported by NWPC). $15 million in continued funding for the critically important Coordinated School Health (CSH) program was retained in the budget despite early concerns that it might be reduced. The program provides for health coordinators in virtually every school district in the state and has had measurable results in terms of child health indicators such as Body Mass Index measures. The Governor’s Office of Child Care Coordination (GOCCC) became a target of budget cutters in the Senate during the last few weeks of the session, and the protection of its funding was added to the legislative priorities of the NWPC at that time. For a couple of weeks, GOCCC was slated to lose half of its funding for the next fiscal year and to close down completely at the end of next December. It’s full $9 million, which is mostly doled out in the form of grants related to infant mortality and child health, was fully restored. Both GOCCC and CSH are funded in the coming year with non-recurring dollars, which puts them at high risk for cuts again in 2011. (This is true for many worthy programs this year.)
Women’s Health and Reproductive Freedom Takes a Hit in 106th General AssemblyHB2681/SB2686, by Rep. Matt Hill and Sen. Diane Black, which sought to prohibit abortions of any kind from coverage in a future state health insurance exchange, was approved by both the House and Senate and is now Public Chapter 879. The House had a raucous discussion about whether the bill should be amended to ensure that it would not affect women who were the victims of rape or incest or who might endanger their health or lives by continuing a pregnancy. Rep. Jeanne Richardson of Memphis expressed concern that the broad language of the bill could inadvertently result in no health insurance coverage for some forms of birth control, including IUD’s and emergency contraception. The sponsors repeatedly argued that passage of the bill was the only way to ensure that taxpayer dollars were not spent on abortions and that women whose health was threatened would have other options. (They did not elaborate on what the other options were.) The legislation passed the House 70-23, with these NO votes: Armstrong, Borchert, Brown, Camper, L. DeBerry, Favors, Gilmore, Hardaway, Harmon, S. Jones, U. Jones, Kernell, Miller, Moore, Odom, Pruitt, Richardson, sontany, Stewart, Tidwell, Tindell, Towns, and J. Turner. The Senate bill passed even more overwhelmingly, with only three NO votes. They were by Senators Thelma Harper, Beverly Marrero, and Ophelia Ford.
Also passed was HB3301/SB3812, by Rep. Susan Lynn and Sen. Jack Johnson, which requires “anti-coercion” signage prominently placed in any clinic that performs abortions. The measure is Public Chapter 3812. Supporters of the bill said it was to prevent women from making a decision about an abortion while under pressure from a partner or family member, but the legislation is clearly aimed at clinics and includes fines of $2500 per day if the signs are not properly posted in waiting areas and in individual patient exam or counseling rooms. The language of the sign must be in bold, 40 point type and must read exactly as follows: “It is against the law for anyone, regardless of the person’s relationship to you, to coerce you into having or to force you to have an abortion. By law, we cannot perform an abortion on you unless we have your freely given and voluntary consent. It is against the law to perform an abortion on you against your will. You have the right to contact any local or state law enforcement agency to receive protection from any actual or threatened criminal offense to coerce an abortion.
Teen Pregnancy and Infant Mortality House Study Committee – Proposed and helped pass study committee resolution to jumpstart bipartisan dialogue on important issues and on the need for access to accurate information and birth control for teens. By the end of 2009, the study committee had already met four times and heard from a number of experts on the subjects.
Handgun surrender – Helped pass bill so that persons subject to an order of protection or convicted of domestic violence will now be required to surrender all firearms to law enforcement. (Bill proposed by Tn Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Rape and Sexual Abuse.)
Ban on physical restraints for pregnant women – Helped pass bill which restricts the use of such restraints on women who are pregnant or post-partum when incarcerated. (Bill proposed by Tennessee ACLU.)
Mandatory Joint Custody – Worked against three nearly identical bills, all of which were either defeated or deferred to 2010 due to a lack of support in a key subcommittee. All sought to establish a rebuttable presumption that “equal parenting” is in the best interest of a child of divorcing parents. The bills would have eliminated judicial ability to decide contested cases on an individual basis based on the best interests of the child or children involved. State law currently requires judges to consider joint custody whenever possible.
Paternity Testing and Medical Records – Opposed bills on both subjects, which were not approved. Multiple mandatory paternity testing bills were also opposed by Dept. of Human Services and various health care organizations. The medical records bill would have required health care providers to share every aspect of a minor child’s medical records with parents or guardians, eliminating the discretion currently allowed for providers to have confidential discussions with teens about such sensitive subjects as sexual activity, birth control, and drug or alcohol use.
Federal Family Planning Funds for Planned Parenthood – Helped defeat an effort to divert federal funds administered by state Dept. of Health by requiring them to go only to local health departments, rather than to non-profit Planned Parenthood clinics, despite evidence that state health departments are at capacity for the provision of family planning services in major urban communities. The Planned Parenthood clinics serve 20,000 Tennessee women each year utilizing the funding.
Constitutional Protection of Right to Privacy – Unsuccessfully opposed passage of SJR127, which had been proposed but not passed during the past three General Assembly terms. Newly constituted House subcommittees and committees were designed to allow passage of the resolution, which seeks to amend a privacy provision in the state constitution to state that it does not apply to abortion. The resolution, which required a simple majority vote upon this initial passage, must next be approved by a two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate during the 107th General Assembly before it may be placed on the statewide ballot for a popular vote in 2014.
Lottery Scholarships for Non-traditional Students – A priority issue for the Caucus in 2007 and 2008, less restrictive lottery scholarship requirements for non-traditional students, won approval in an “omnibus” lottery scholarship bill approved during the final days of the 2008 legislative session.
Protected Trust Exception for Child Support – Supported legislation which is designed to eliminate a potential problem related to “spendthrift” trusts. The trusts, which have recently become available in Tennessee after passage of a bill last year, allow the protection of personal assets from any creditor after a four-year waiting period. This year’s bill inserts an exception for child support orders as is the case in several other states.
Resource Mapping of Funds for Children – Required the Tennessee Commission on children and Youth to design and oversee a resource mapping of all federal and state funding sources that support the health, safety, permanence, growth, and development of children in the state. The Caucus supported the bill.
Mandatory Joint Custody – Worked Successfully to defeat legislation that would take away the discretion of judges to make child custody decisions based on the best interest of each individual child.
Child Custody and Support – Worked successfully to help pass legislation that would prohibit courts from determining that a parent who is partially or completely unemployed in order to care for a child under six years of age is willfully or voluntarily unemployed or underemployed for the purpose of determining child support. Determination of the income of that parent shall not be attributed any income other than income the parent actually earned during the time period being considered by the court in determining the income of each parent. Full bill is expected to be passed into law in 2008.
Victim’s Rights – Payment of Forensic Sexual Assault Examinations – Worked successfully to pass legislation that authorizes payment of costs for forensic sexual assault examinations (for the purpose of gathering evidence of sexual assault) from the Victim’s Compensation Fund for sexual assault victims and establishes a “Sexual Assault Examination Fund” to reimburse victims for these expenses that are not compensable under the victim’s compensation fund.
Mandatory Joint Custody – Worked successfully to defeat two separate pieces of legislation filed for mandatory joint custody. This legislation would take away the discretion of judges to make child custody decisions based on the best interest of each individual child. This legislation would presume that all children of divorce should automatically be placed in a mandatory joint custody situation. We fully believe that each case of child custody should be looked at separately and a ruling made which will be most beneficial to that child. We expect this issue to be back again next year.
Mandatory Joint Custody—Worked successfully to defeat this legislation in the House which would have required courts to divide physical and legal custody equally between parents. It would have taken discretion away from judges where the well-being of children were concerned. Expect this issue to be back again next year.
Health Insurance Continuance—Passed legislation which will require a covered spouse to give a 30 day notice to a dependent spouse before insurance coverage can be cancelled. Included authority for the judge in a divorce case to penalize the spouse, who dropped coverage without notice, by requiring that spouse to provide a health care policy for the non-insured spouse.
Breastfeeding Bill-Worked successfully to pass legislation giving women the legal right to breastfeed an infant in any place, public or private.
Constitutional Protection-Continued to play a major role in defeating legislation that would have taken away the privacy rights of women under our state constitution.
Child Support Study Committee– Drafted and obtained passage of legislation requiring Department of Human Services to have study committee formulate child support guidelines which are fair to both parents, simple to apply, and which provide adequate support for children.
Spousal Rape– Worked successfully in concert with Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence to obtain funding for and passage of legislation to make the penalty for rape of a spouse the same as for rape of a nonspouse.
Custody–Worked successfully to keep legislation which would have required courts to divide physical and legal custody of children equally between both parents in most cases from advancing in the House. This will continue to be an issue in 2006.
Mandatory Joint Custody – Played a major role in defeating proposed legislation which would have created a presumption of equal physical and legal custody of children. As a result, courts continue to retain discretion to order parenting arrangements in the best interests of children.
Constitutional Protection – Played a major role in defeating a resolution which would have reduced the privacy protection of women under our state constitution.
Lottery Funds for Early Childhood Education – Advocated for earmarking excess lottery funds for early childhood education.
Spousal Rape – Continued to work for funding of spousal rape legislation.
Continuation of Health Insurance — Continued to work in coalition with other groups on legislation for continuation of health insurance for spouses after divorce, or death of a spouse.
Fairness in Alimony – Drafted and obtained passage of legislation stating that it is the public policy of
Tennessee to support and encourage marriage and to consider economic detriment a spouse suffers for the
benefit of the marriage as a factor in determining alimony at the time of a divorce. Further, the court is
directed to consider the standard of living during the marriage in setting alimony.
Spousal Rape – Continued to work for funding of spousal rape legislation
Constitutional Protection — Continued to work in coalition with other groups to prevent progress of a
Resolution which reduces the privacy protection of women under our state constitution.
Continuation of Health Insurance — Continued to work in coalition with other groups on legislation for
Continuation of health insurance for spouses after divorce, or death of a spouse.
Spousal Rape — Continued to work for funding of spousal rape legislation.
Constitutional Protections — worked in coalition with other groups to prevent progress in the House of a resolution which reduces the privacy protection of women under our state constitution.
Continuation of Health Insurance – worked in coalition with other groups on legislation to obtain continued health insurance for spouses after divorce.
Custody – Helped defeat an effort to remove judicial discretion in custody cases.
Home and Community Based Healthcare Services – Successfully passed funding for services.
Home and Community Based Healthcare – Actively worked and passed legislation creating Home and Community Based Healthcare Services.
Spousal Rape – Drafted and lobbied through judiciary committees a bill to bring spouses under the protection of the general rape law.
Economic Coalition for Children – Put together a coalition of organizations from across the state, interested in the economic well-being of children, to alert and activate them concerning numerous pieces of legislation detrimental to children’s economic interest.
Victims’ Protection Act – Drafted and passed legislation that provides for an individual with a court order of protection regarding domestic violence to request that public utilities and government agencies keep records pertaining to their residence and location confidential.
Tennessee Economic Council on Women — Drafted and passed legislation to establish the Tennessee Economic Council on Women. The council will address the economic concerns and needs of women, including but not limited to, employment policies and practices, educational needs and opportunities, childcare, property rights, healthcare, domestic relations, and the impact of federal and state laws.
Domestic Abuse Victims Protection Act-– Drafted and passed bill broadening the protection offered by Orders of Protection to include minors in the definition of victim, and to provide protection for adults or minors who are dating or who have dated or who have or have had a sexual relationship.
Domestic Violence Victims Health Insurance Protection Act – Drafted and passed bill prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage or refusing to pay benefits to victims of domestic violence if the denial is based on the applicant’s status as an abuse victim.
Domestic Violence Act – Drafted and passed bill creating Domestic Violence State Coordinating Council for the purpose of designing a domestic violence training course and curriculum for law enforcement and judicial personnel. The law requires continuing education in dealing with domestic violence cases.
Fairness in Appointments Act – Drafted and passed bill providing for alternating appointments of women to the Tennessee Board of Education, Board of Regents, UT Board Trustees and Tennessee Higher Education Commission until membership on these board reflects the proportion of men and women in the population generally.
Reproductive Freedom – Continued annual effort in concert with other organizations to resist further restriction on reproductive rights.
Sexual Harassment Act – Passed bill defining sexual harassment and requiring that notice of the law be mailed to all employers in the state. The law also provides that workshops to prevent sexual harassment be made available to all state employees. Further, it creates workplace policies governing employee conduct on the issue.
Open Appointments Act – Drafted and passed bill requiring Secretary of State to publish annually a directory of board and commissions and to publish monthly a listing of vacancies.
Homemaker Protection Act – Drafted and passed bill to insure that during the course of divorce, homemaker’s contribution would be considered equally with contribution of wage earner in division of marital assets.
Appointments to Boards and Commissions – Drafted and passed a resolution calling for gender and racial balance in future appointments to state boards and commissions.
Reproductive Freedom – Joined with other organizations to support protection of reproductive rights for all women.
Dropout Prevention Act – Drafted and passed bill in cooperation with League of Women Voters and obtained $600,000 in funding to establish school based child care centers for teen parents in the ten counties with the highest teen pregnancy rates.
Tennessee Child Care Facilities Loan Guarantee Corp – Drafted and passed bill to establish Tennessee Child Care Facilities Loan Guarantee Corp. Obtained $1,000,000 in funding to guarantee loans for the startup and expansion of child care facilities.
Maternity Leave – Drafted and passed bill to preserve the law by making it apply to pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing an infant, when applicable.
Homemaker Protection Marital Property Act – Drafted and passed bill to reverse a law which created a presumption against equal division of marital property.
Marital Property – Drafted and passed bill to insure that the marital estate includes property acquired up to the divorce hearing date and is not cut off as of the separation or filing date, and to make parties accountable for property dissipated in anticipation of filing or between filing and the hearing date.
Alimony – Defeated a bill which would have made the rehabilitation alimony law apply retroactively to every divorce decree ever rendered.
Child Custody – Defeated the amendment of a bill that appeared to instruct judges to order mothers and fathers to contribute equally to a child’s support regardless of disparity in earnings.
Maternity Leave – Drafted and passed bill to give women up to four months unpaid maternity leave and allow them to return to their jobs without loss of benefits or seniority.
Child Custody – Successfully amended unacceptable bill resulting in acceptable legislation.
Shelter Services – Drafted and passed bill to provide shelter services to unmarried victims and their children.
Family Life Curriculum – Helped persuade the State Board of Education to drop requirement for public hearings before implementation of the Family Life Curriculum.
Health Insurance – Drafted and passed bill to improve availability of health insurance for divorced and widowed spouses and dependent children of group policyholders.
Protective Orders – Drafted and passed bill to clarify court jurisdiction to issue protective orders.
Child Sexual Abuse – Joined with others to successfully lobby passage of comprehensive child abuse legislation.
Child Support Enforcement – Worked with sponsors to draft, amend and successfully pass vital legislation to help insure the payment of child support.
Shelter Funding – Played large role in achieving legislation to fund shelter services for child abuse and domestic violence victims.
Standard of Need – Helped secure increased medical and other benefits for poor women, children and families through support of AFDC Standard of Need Legislation.
Family Law Act – Drafted and passed comprehensive family law legislation which provided for economic recognition of homemaker’s role as contribution to acquisition of assets of marriage, recognition of pension benefits as marital property, and more equitable distribution of property, alimony and child support.
Equality Legislation – Drafted and passed bill to revise discriminatory laws to make them apply equally to both genders.