State Senator Mae Beavers’ Legislative Update


Senator Mae Beavers

Senator Mae Beavers

Final Report on the 106th General Assembly (Part 1 of 3)

NASHVILLE-The 106th Tennessee General Assembly adjourned on June 18, 2009 to become a part of Tennessee history.  Even with the many struggles dealing with budget issues, the legislature was able to pass significant bills before gaveling the 2009 session to a close, including several job growth initiatives, legislation to restore Tennesseans’ Second Amendment rights, a resolution giving voters a say in commonsense protections on abortion, a major charter schools bill, numerous bills strengthening Tennessee’s child abuse laws and new laws cracking down on violent crime, to name a few.

The following is part one of the final year-end wrap highlighting issues acted upon during the 2009 legislative year:

Property Rights / Animals / Agriculture

Trespassing – Two bills dealing with landowners and their responsibility when trespassers come onto their property were approved this legislative session.  One bill (SB 679) amends Tennessee’s criminal trespass law to shift the burden from individual property owners to the alleged trespassers.  Before, Tennessee law required extensive posting and signage, putting the burden on the landowner.  This bill shifts that burden to the individual who will be required to know if he/she has permission to be on the land.  Farmland can prove to be especially difficult to post, and this bill will protect farmers to ensure that trespassers are held accountable for their actions.

The second bill (SB 2102) addresses problems experienced by landowners and farmers where ATV riders or others have trespassed on private property.  Before, if a trespasser was harmed by a dangerous condition created by a force of nature, like a ditch produced by heavy rainfall, the landowner could be responsible regardless of whether or not the person harmed was invited. 

Farmers / Limited Liability – On farm legislation approved this year, the General Assembly voted to give limited immunity to farmers who participate in “agritourism.”  The legislation (SB 2164) applies limited liability immunity for events like a “pumpkin patch” or “corn mazing” that farmers may want to have on their property.  The measure requires the farmer to post and maintain a sign that warns persons of this bill’s limitation on liability. 

Raw milk – Another bill (SB 1114) that passed this year impacting farmers is one that allows owners’ use of raw milk for personal consumption.

Roads and Rules of the Road

Tennessee Transportation Infrastructure Fund – Legislation that provides a vehicle for local governments to finance and complete local transportation projects was approved this year.  The bill (SB 2120) gives local governments the option of applying for a low interest loan for eligible infrastructure projects with flexible repayment terms. 

Rules of the Road – Senator Beavers sponsored and passed legislation (SB 289) adding two dangerous traffic violations to the list of current violations which are penalized under Class A and Class B misdemeanors.  The violations include crossing a double yellow line to hit another vehicle head-on and cutting off a vehicle while passing.  The penalty is a Class A misdemeanor if another person is killed and a Class B misdemeanor if they are seriously injured. 

Crime / DUI

Selling to intoxicated persons – The State Senate approved legislation during the 2009 legislative session clarifying Tennessee law to make it easier for District Attorneys in the state to prosecute irresponsible businesses that serve alcohol to a person who is “visibly” intoxicated.  The new law (SB 1939) will also make it easier for a person who is injured by a drunk driver to recover damages.

Similarly, adults who knowingly allow youths aged 18 to 21 to drink alcoholic beverages could be prosecuted under a law that was approved by State Senators in the 2009 legislative session.  The bill (SB 38) closes a loophole in the current law regarding underage drinking by applying it to all youths banned from consuming alcohol under Tennessee law.

DUI – Legislation was approved this year that requires the testing of a driver’s blood alcohol content level in cases where there is serious bodily injury to a victim or death.  The legislation (SB 534) calls for the test to be performed whether or not the driver consents.  Presently, only drivers where a death is involved are required to be tested.  This legislation extends that requirement in cases where a victim is seriously injured and the law enforcement official has probable cause to believe that the driver has committed the offense of vehicular assault. The test results may be offered into evidence, subject to the rules of evidence. 


Abortion Resolution – The Senate voted 24 to 8 and the House voted 77 to 21 this year to give Tennesseans the opportunity to restore their voice in determining what state law should be regarding commonsense protections for abortions.  The measure addresses a State Supreme Court decision in 2000 that struck down provisions in Tennessee law allowing women to receive “informed consent” information about the surgery and to wait 48 hours before they receive an abortion. The court also ruled against a state requirement that all abortions after the first trimester be performed in a hospital. That ruling made Tennessee more liberal than the U.S. Supreme Court required in Roe v. Wade and made the right to abortion a “fundamental right” in Tennessee.

The resolution (SJR 127) would allow citizens to amend Tennessee’s Constitution to say that the right to an abortion is only protected under the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.  It would give the people the right, through their elected state representatives and senators, to decide within the bounds of federal decisions what protections can be put into place.  The resolution must be approved again by a two-thirds majority in the next General Assembly before citizens could expect to see the resolution on the ballot in November 2014.

Funds / Planned Parenthood – Legislation was also approved this year to ensure that family planning funds go to public women’s health service providers before private applicants are considered.  The bill (SB 470) comes after a video was released showing violation of state law by Planned Parenthood of Memphis, a private provider that receives public funds for family planning services.  The video showed a girl claiming to be 14 years old being advised by a Planned Parenthood employee to lie to court authorities regarding the alleged father of her child who the youth said was 31.  

Approximately $1.1 million in Title 10 funds are provided to Planned Parenthood for women’s health-related services like family planning, birth control, and exams.  Although current law bans the use of the money for abortion, the Title 10 funds supplement the organization’s operations, with Planned Parenthood being named in state law as a beneficiary, even though it is a private provider.  The legislation says you must exhaust other avenues in the public sector, like health departments, before moving to private providers for dispensing family planning money. 

Second Amendment Rights

This year, the General Assembly passed several bills that uphold the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right to bear arms.  Second amendment rights advocates, including Senator Beavers, have worked for the past two decades for restoration of those rights.   Tennessee’s Constitution also guarantees that “the citizens of this State have a right to keep and to bear arms.”  Following are some of the bills passed this year restoring the rights of law-abiding citizens to own and carry firearms.

Tenth Amendment – The Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act was passed this year stating that all firearms sold and contained in Tennessee are not subject to federal regulations.  This bill (SB1610) addresses the increasing threats to state sovereignty by the federal government through attempts to regulate intra-state commerce.  Senator Beavers garnered national attention including an appearance on FoxNews to promote this bill aimed at keeping the federal government out of state business.

Parks – Senator Beavers also sponsored and passed legislation this session which will allows legal gun carry permit holders to possess a firearm in state or federal parks in Tennessee.  The bill (SB 976) also allows local government bodies to maintain control of concealed carry within local parks.  According to a report from the U.S. Department of Interior, there were 8 murders, 43 forcible rapes, 57 robberies and 274 instances of aggravated assault in parks nationwide in 2007.  In January, the federal government lifted a regulation that banned guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.  Similarly, the legislature approved a bill (SB 1519) extending those privileges to carry into wildlife refuges, public hunting areas, wildlife management areas or national forest land. 

Right to Carry / Restaurants – State lawmakers approved a bill (SB 1127), and reaffirmed that vote by overriding the governor’s veto, to allow law-abiding handgun permit holders to “carry” into restaurants serving alcohol as long as the owners of the premises have not posted notification that they are banned.  Those who are in possession of a handgun are already prohibited from consuming alcohol or face a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a $2,000 fine and up to 11 months and 29 days in jail.  There are 220,000 gun carry permit holders in Tennessee.  Thirty-seven states allow legal permit holders to carry into locations that serve alcohol.