New Tennessee laws include hand-held phone ban while driving
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Drivers in Tennessee could face fines if they’re caught using hand-held cellphones behind the wheel starting Monday, when that law and more than 140 others take effect.
A slew of new laws kick in each year on July 1. This year’s batch will affect groups ranging from death row inmates to couples planning weddings.
The new distracted driving law makes it illegal to drive while holding or supporting a cellphone or mobile device with their bodies, with hands-free devices allowed. The law also bans reaching for a mobile device by getting out of a seated driving position or not correctly wearing a seatbelt.
A violation will be a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a $50 fine for a first offense, $100 for a third or higher offense or for causing a wreck, or $200 in active work or school zones. Drivers could still use hand-held devices if they are legally stopped or parked, or left their cars standing.
Tennessee joins 18 other states with hand-held cellphone use bans for drivers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The issue was fiercely contested in the Republican-led Legislature, with supporters calling the ban an important safety push and opponents calling it government overreach.
Starting Monday, Tennessee will also begin to bar ministers ordained online from performing marriages. The change has already drawn a federal lawsuit. The Universal Life Church Monastery Storehouse, which offers online ordinations, is seeking to block the new law.
Another group that offers online ordination, Seattle-based American Marriage Ministries, has aimed to get around the ban. The group has offered in-person ordination training in Tennessee, media outlets have reported.
A new law that restricts the rights of sex offenders was supposed to kick in Monday, but a judge has temporarily blocked it.
The law, which is being challenged in a federal lawsuit, bars people convicted of a sex offense against a child younger than 12 years old from living with, visiting overnight or being alone with their own minor children. Lawmakers passed the change this year without any “no” votes.
Tennessee is also set to remove a layer of court review before death row inmates are executed.
Starting Monday, death penalty cases will no longer be reviewed by Tennessee’s Court of Criminal Appeals and will automatically be sent to the state Supreme Court.
Lawmakers say the change offers a quicker path for victim justice, though death penalty reviews by the Court of Criminal Appeals had been taking under a year. Federal courts account for most of the time it takes for death penalty cases to wend through the appeals process, sometimes three decades.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee will also see several of his priorities enacted. An amusement tax on gym memberships is set to disappear; the governor’s office of faith-based and community initiatives will be established; and the $180 fee will be dropped for people looking to have certain criminal offenses expunged from their records.
A law to legalize online sports betting in Tennessee is also taking effect. But don’t expect any bets to be placed on Monday.
The state still must create rules for the program and members must be appointed to a new regulatory board. There has been no clear indication when the state will be ready for companies to start up their betting apps.
Other top policies that passed during this year’s legislative session included a voucher-like education proposal and a plan to draft a waiver asking the federal government for permission to fund Tennessee’s Medicaid program through a block grant.
Both of these laws went into immediate effect when Lee signed them earlier this year. Like the sports betting law, however, the state is still working on implementing the laws. The voucher-style program is set to kick in with the student funding by the 2021-2022 school year.