The 113th General Assembly has adjourned for 2024, and it was a very successful year. We have taken measures for Tennessee to be a better place to live, work and to raise a family. This is some of the legislation that was passed during this session.

Higher Education

Policies for AI in higher education – Legislation, which I sponsored, passed this session requiring the governing boards of public colleges and universities, public charter schools, and local boards of education to regulate the role and use of AI in each institution. This law tasks schools with determining how professors, teachers and students can and cannot use artificial intelligence. It aims to prevent abuse of AI in schools, encourage independent thinking from students and address the current and future disruptions of AI in the classroom. Under the new law, schools are required to craft a policy by the 2024-25 school year and submit it annually to the Tennessee Department of Education.Supreme Court Affirmative Action Ruling – A new law ensures that higher education institutions in Tennessee are complying with the Supreme Court’s decision to prohibit affirmative action admission practices. The law states that any audit of a higher education institution by the Tennessee Comptroller must ensure no Tennessee higher education institutions are using race as an admissions factor. This law is in response to the Supreme Court of the United States reversing the discriminatory practice of affirmative action, which allowed race to be used as a deciding factor in admission to a university.

Additional protections against divisive concepts advances – Senate Bill 2501, which I sponsored, will continue efforts to combat viewpoint discrimination in higher education, lawmakers passed legislation this year that requires public colleges and universities to investigate alleged violations of the state’s divisive concepts law and report the findings within 10 days. The divisive concepts law, passed in 2022, stipulates that students or employees at public higher education institutions cannot be penalized, discriminated against, or adversely treated due to the student’s or employee’s refusal to endorse divisive concepts. State lawmakers must also be notified if an institution receives more than 10 reports of violations during a single academic year.

Designating THEC to govern higher education boards in case of a sunset – Lawmakers passed legislation this year to ensure that state universities do not go without governance in the event that a state university board sunsets. The new law designates the Executive Director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to perform the duties of the university board if it should sunset. These duties include managing academic programs, capital projects, and budget requests. The duties would go to the Executive Director because it is a non-voting member of THEC, which helps prevent any conflict of interest for THEC.

Protecting financial aid eligibility for nursing students – To ensure license practical nursing (LPN) students can continue to qualify for federal financial aid, lawmakers passed legislation this year to raise the minimum number of training hours for LPN programs at public higher education institutions from 980 hours to 1,296 hours. Without this change, students enrolled in the Tennessee Board of Regents’ (TBR) LPN programs would lose their federal financial aid due to a new rule set by the federal government. The new rule stipulates that beginning July 1, colleges that offer LPN programs longer than the minimum set by state law or regulatory board will no longer qualify for federal financial aid. The TBR LPN programs currently exceed the previous minimum requirement of 980 hours.

LPNs are in high demand across the state, and this change will help keep LPN programs affordable, so Tennessee can continue to educate LPNs to meet the demands.

Election Integrity

Protecting against illegal-immigrant voter fraud – A new law that I sponsored, requires the coordinator of elections to compare the statewide voter registration database with the Department of Safety’s database to verify illegal aliens are not registered to vote.

Increased regulations for voter registration drives – Lawmakers approved legislation to prohibit a convicted felon from handling or collecting voter applications in a voter registration drive. The new law also ensures that a person involved in the voter registration drive cannot alter an application without the applicant’s consent. This change in law will bring more integrity to election registration and survive court scrutiny.

Shortened deadline to request mail-in ballots – Legislation passed this session that requires absentee ballots to be picked up further in advance of election day. The law shortens the deadline to request an absentee ballot from 7 to 10 days before an election. In Tennessee, all absentee ballots must be returned by mail. The three additional days are largely needed as a result of service standard changes made to the USPS in October 2021 that resulted in 1-2 day delivery delays for first-class mail.

Print Disability Absentee Voting Act – This new law directs the coordinator of elections to make absentee ballots accessible to voters who are blind and those with other print disabilities. Print disability is defined as a disability that interferes with a person’s ability to read, write, or use printed materials. The law will help those with print disabilities be able to vote in private and keep their vote confidential.

Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act – This year lawmakers passed the Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act which will require each elector or alternate to vote for the candidate they represent. This legislation clarifies that in cases where the person refuses to do so, they will be replaced.

Protecting against conflicts of interest for administrator of elections – This year, legislation passed that would require an administrator of elections to temporarily step down from their position if a family member qualifies as a candidate for public office. The administrator would have to step down at least 30 days before the election. This new law will help ensure all measures are taken for accurate elections in Tennessee.

Out-of-state conferences for election administrators – A new law that I sponsored, requires administrators of elections who attend an out-of-state educational event related to elections to report that event to the Tennessee Secretary of State within 15 days of the event.

State Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald (District 28)

State Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald (District 28)

Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, gives a weekly update in legislation in the 113th General Assembly.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Herald: Hensley update: General Assembly passes laws to help students, voters

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