New Laws Going into Effect January 1, 2024

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Photo from Tennessee House of Representatives Facebook

Every year a new set of laws goes into effect on January 1. This year there are laws affecting everything from higher penalties for distracted driving to updated rules related to child custody disputes to help for firefighters suffering from PTSD and more. Here are descriptions of many of the new laws. 

The Eddie Conrad Act addresses distracted driving. It will increase the number of points charged for distracted driving citations, including texting, videoing, talking on the phone or reading an electronic device while driving. It is expected to affect those between 16 and 30 the most. The law is named after a Tennessee businessman who was stopped at a light when a distracted driver hit him from behind pushing him out into oncoming traffic. He was killed in the accident. His wife and grandchildren, who were also in the car, survived. Building awareness about distracted driving has been his family’s focus since the accident.

To reduce the cost of firearm training courses, the Handgun Safety Voucher Act will allow new gun owners who take a handgun safety program to get a $100 handgun carry permit and processing fee reimbursement for obtaining the permit. The law will also require the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security to give information on approved handgun safety courses available to Tennesseans on its website. The goal is to get more people to take gun safety classes.

The court can’t remove a child from a parent in a custody dispute if that parent has shown to be competent, protective of the child, and not physically, sexually or mentally abusive according to the new Abrial’s Law. It also prohibits the parent in the custody battle from being penalized for making a “good faith complaint” about any domestic violence or child abuse. And in a proceeding where a parent has been alleged to have committed domestic violence or child abuse, the court is authorized to consider any evidence of past sexual or physical abuse committed by the accused parent.

 Judges involved in child custody proceedings will be required to complete at least two hours of training or continuing education courses on domestic violence or child abuse per year according to the new law. They can also receive ten hours of training per five years. Training topics can include child sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, coercive control, implicit bias, trauma, and the impact of domestic violence. 

GPS will be added to court-ordered ignition interlock devices for those who have been charged with drinking under the influence under another new law.  With the added technology, the devices will be able to geotag, however they will not be able to be used to track the car. An ignition interlock device is installed on a car’s ignition system, making it necessary for the driver to have to blow into a breathalyzer for the car to start.

Felons who are being released by the Tennessee Department of Correction will leave incarceration with documentation relevant to regain employment, including a photo identification, a birth certificate, and a social security card. It also includes a copy of the inmate’s vocational training record, a copy of the inmate’s work record, and notification to the inmate of whether they are eligible to apply for a license from a state entity charged with oversight of an occupational license or certification. It also authorizes TDC to use any funds the inmate may have available to pay for needed documentation.

The James ‘Dustin’ Samples Act will provide support and resources to firefighters diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The bill is named after a firefighter who worked for the Cleveland Fire Department for 21 years before committing suicide. 

This law establishes a grant program to mitigate the cost to an employer providing worker’s compensation for firefighters facing this diagnosis. PTSD can be caused by directly witnessing the death of a minor, or treating the injury of a minor, who subsequently died before or upon arrival at a hospital emergency department; directly witnessing an individual whose death involved a serious bodily injury of a “nature that shocks the conscience;” responding to an event where there was a victim with a serious bodily injury that “shocks the conscience;” or responding to an event where a responder, co-worker of a responder, or family member of a responder sustained a serious bodily injury or died. 

Any firefighter diagnosed with PTSD within a year of retirement will also fall under this new law. To qualify to receive funds from the grant created by the bill, employers must provide mental health resilience training as part of their continuing education program. 

Incarcerated children will be affected by another new law. It will ensure that children in a juvenile detention facility or youth development center have regular access to chaplain services. The new law also requires children who are 16 years old or older to be housed separately from younger children in residential facilities and youth development centers. However, it allows them to be housed together if DCS decides it’s necessary “for the safety and well-being of the children less than 16 or to comply with provisions of current law” focusing on seclusion. 

The Kevin Clauson Drug Donation Act was named to honor a pharmacist and Lipscomb University professor who was invested in helping his community and died September 2022 of cancer. It expands the types of drugs that can be donated. Current state law allows pharmacies and medical facilities to accept and dispense prescriptions and supplies that were donated by others. It prevents much needed medications from going to waste. This law broadens donor requirements; defines those who can receive the drugs as those who have an income below 600% of the federal poverty level; expands the list of acceptable donations, including inhalers, patches, injectables, over-the-counter medications and specialty medications; and changes regulations for accepting and dispensing donated prescription drugs and supplies. 

Beginning on January 1, Tennessee will be enforcing new food safety rules at public farmers markets across the state. Vendors who will be preparing food onsite at a market will now be required to purchase a food unit permit. This does not apply for those offering samples, fresh produce or food prepared off-site.   

Significant changes to the tax law was signed off on by Governor Bill Lee. One of the most direct changes will be a new apportionment formula and specific changes to the numbers and factors used to calculate taxes.