As the 108th General Assembly wraps up this week, here’s a quick rundown on new laws affecting government meetings and open records in Tennessee:
Sexual assault victims: The names of sexual assault victims can now be redacted from public records under new legislation that makes their identity confidential. This only applies after a conviction or guilty plea, and sentencing has occurred. In addition to the name, any images that depict the victim (video or photo) are also confidential, as is the victim’s address and phone number. The victim has a right to waive confidentiality. Sen. Becky Massey, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson sponsored the bills. Note that the name of the victim is still an open record in police files and in court prior to any conviction and sentencing. An earlier version of the bill closed all identity information from the initial report on. The bill was a priority for the Tennessee Association of Chiefs of Police.
Disclosure regarding job creation by FastTrack recipients: Requires recipients of FastTrack grants or loans to report annually to the Department of Economic and Community Development the number of net new jobs produced, the cumulative amount of net new jobs during the entire grant period and amount of the grant. ECD must publish the information on the state website within 90 days of receipt. Requirements that companies disclose whether the jobs are full-time, part-time or temporary, and by wage group, was stripped from the final bill. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, and Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley. Fitzhugh told the House that this is a followup to a “clawback bill” passed last year on certain ECD projects. “We give money to companies. They promise so many jobs. We want to make sure they get those jobs. This sets a baseline for how many jobs it’s supposed to be and then later comes in with a second letter to see how they are doing with those jobs.”
School safety plans (records and meetings): Any records related to district-wide or building-specific school safety plans are exempted from disclosure. Also, the new legislation allows school boards to go into a closed meeting to discuss school security. The law provides that the school board must provide notice that it is going into a closed meeting for that purpose, and no other topic can be discussed. Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, and Rep. Terry Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, carried the bills. It was pushed by the Tennessee School Boards Association on behalf of Sumner County.
Charter school board meetings: The governing boards for charter schools will now be able to participate in meetings by teleconference, videoconference or other electronic meetings and still comply with the Tennessee Open Meetings Act. The law already allowed for some state agencies and boards to hold meetings with some members participating electronically, but it required a quorum of the governing body to be present at a single location. The boards for charter schools will not be held to the requirement of a quorum in a single location. The boards must still comply with other provisions of the sunshine laws, including giving proper notice of the meetings, including notice that some members will participate electronically, and making the meeting accessible and audible to the public. Sen. Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville, and Rep. Andrew Farmer, R-Sevierville, sponsored the legislation.
Alcoholic Beverage Commission investigative files: The investigative files and records of the ABC will not be available for public inspection until after a court has entered an order concluding proceedings and appeals have been exhausted. Also, commercial or financial information submitted to the ABC by businesses will also be confidential. Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, and Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, carried the bills.
Disclosures by Department of Children’s Services on child fatalities: Requires DCS to release within five days of investigating a child’s death for child abuse or neglect, the age, gender and whether the department had a history with the child. After the department’s investigation is finished, DCS must release the full case file and whether the case meets the requirement for a child death review. An amendment on the bill removed from immediate disclosure a brief summary of the death.
Inspections by Tennessee Department of Health: Makes annual inspections reports of health care facilities and pharmacy surveys open records subject to public inspection. (The Division of Health Care Facilities says it wants to eventually post to its website reports from all the facilities it inspects.) This would cover state inspection reports of assisted living centers and compounding pharmacies, and all other types of health facilities the state inspects. The legislation was carried by Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga. It was a Health Department bill.
Lottery winner names: A bill that would have made the winners of the Tennessee lottery confidential. Sponsored by Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma and Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville.
Streaming Video Act: A bill that would have required all state boards, commissions and agencies subject to the Open Meetings laws to stream their meetings online and keep archived video of their meetings on a website. The bill was hampered by a high cost attached to it. Sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston.
Definition of newspaper for notices: Would have allowed local governing bodies to define a newspaper of general circulation, affecting what would meet the legal requirement for carrying government notices. The bill was modified to give the Attorney General general responsibility for designating a newspaper of general circulation. Sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro and Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mount Juliet.
Anti-paparazzi: A bill that would have created a civil cause of action for taking a photograph or other visual image of someone engaging in a personal or family activity that they expect to be private, regardless of whether there was a physical trespass. Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville.
Tricor performance reviews: A provision to make the performance evaluations of TRICOR employees confidential was removed from a bill that governed pay plans and other personnel issues. TRICOR is the state’s rehabilitative program for prisoners. Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville and Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin.