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New laws taking effect Jan. 1 impact variety of items

By Brad Hicks

The rolling of the calendar to 2017 brought with it a number of new laws in the state of Tennessee.

New legislation that took effect Jan. 1 impacts everything from handgun permits to the alcohol content of beer that can be sold and manufactured in the state.

Several new state laws pertaining to handgun permits took effect on Jan. 1. One reduces the fee of a lifetime handgun carry permit from $500 to $200 for existing permit holders. First-time applicants will be required to pay a one-time fee of $315.

The legislation was signed into law by Gov. Bill Haslam in April 2016.

The age required for some seeking a handgun carry permit was reduced in a law that took effect on New Year’s Day. This law lowers the age for receiving a handgun carry permit from 21 years of age to 18 for persons having been honorably discharged or are retired veterans of the U.S. armed forces or service members on active duty status.

Another handgun permit law now in effect reduces the fee for a lifetime handgun carry permit for certain federal, state and local law enforcement officers. According to the law, the fee will be reduced to $100 for retired law enforcement officers who served at least 10 years prior to retirement and were Peace Officer Standards Training-certified or acquired the equivalent training and retired in good standing “as certified by the chief law enforcement officer of the organization from which the applicant retired.”

Per the law, the applicant must have been a resident of the state of Tennessee on the date of his or her retirement and a state resident on the date the permit application was submitted.

A new law now in effect affects the sentencing for those who commit vehicular homicide while under the influence. Per the law, if this crime involves the use of drugs or alcohol, the defendant will be ineligible for probation.

Under state law, a criminal defendant is generally eligible for probation if the sentence imposed is 10 years or less. However, there are certain offenses that render defendants ineligible for probation despite the sentence, such as aggravated sexual battery, certain drug offenses and aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor.

The new law added vehicle homicide caused by the driver’s intoxication to the list of offenses that render a defendant ineligible for probation.

Like most of the laws that took effect on Jan. 1, the new vehicular homicide legislation was signed by the governor in April 2016.

A law allowing for the sale of high-gravity beers in grocery stores throughout the state and eliminating the additional licensure requirement for the manufacture of higher alcohol beers by breweries in Tennessee also went into effect with the new year. This legislation essentially redefined “high content alcohol beer” as those having an alcoholic content of more than 5 percent by weight to an alcoholic content by weight of more than 8 percent.

This increased the state’s alcohol by volume limit from 6.2 percent to 10.1 percent. Higher gravity beers were available for purchase across the state prior to the law taking effect, but only at package stores and restaurants or bars with liquor licenses. Brewers previously had to obtain a distillery license to manufacture beverages more than the state’s 6.2 ABV limit. Breweries will also be allowed to sell the higher alcohol content beer they manufacture under the new law.

The legislation redefining beer actually passed in 2014 and was signed by the governor in May of that year.

Tennessee high school students will now be required to take a U.S. civics test before graduation, according to new legislation.

Per this new law, high school students will be required to take a U.S. civics test during their high school career. This test is to be prepared by the local education agency (LEA) and is to be composed of 25 to 50 questions from the 100 questions making up the civics test administered by the U.S. citizenship and immigration services to those seeking to become naturalized citizens.

Under the law, the LEA may prepare multiple versions of the test for use in different school and at different times. Students may be allowed to take the test as many times as necessary to pass, with a passing defined as the students answering at least 70 percent of the questions correctly.

The law as originally presented was signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in 2015 and it was initially set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2016. However, the legislation has undergone several amendments since it was originally proposed.

Initially, the test was to be composed of 100 questions and its passage would have been a requirement for graduation. Passage of the test was originally defined as a student answering 60 percent of questions correctly.

With the amendments, passage of the test will not be required for a student to graduate. A student with an individualized education program under which the civics test is determined to be “an inappropriate requirement for the student” shall not be required to take the test, according to the law.

If all students in a senior class required to take the civics test and receiving a regular diploma pass the test, that school will be recognized on the  Department of Education’s website as a “United States Civics All-Star School” for that school year.

Among other new state laws that took effect on Jan. 1 is eliminating the requirement that a person’s driver license be suspended for an additional period if he or she is convicted of driving on a suspended or revoked license.

Under previous law, those convicted of driving on a suspended license were subject to an extension of the original suspension period. Per the new law, the court will be given to issue a restricted driver license contingent on the person with a suspended or revoked license participating in a payment plan for fines and costs.

More stringent sentencing is now in place for those who rob pharmacies in order to obtain controlled substances. A new law creates a new sentencing factor for those who commit the offenses of robbery, aggravated robbery or especially aggravated robbery on the premises of a licensed pharmacy in order to obtain, sell, give or exchange a controlled substance, controlled substance analogue or other illegal drug.