Abortion waiting period, other new state laws, take effect today

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A mandate for a 48-hour waiting period before an abortion is one of many new Tennessee laws taking effect Wednesday.

The abortion measure affects all seven of the state’s abortion clinics. Another law will require abortion facilities performing more than 50 abortions a year be held to the same health and safety standards as other outpatient surgical facilities.

The 48-hour requirement would be waived if there’s a medical emergency.

Both measures aim to restore abortion laws that were struck down by a state Supreme Court decision in 2000.

In that ruling, the justices threw out the waiting period, along with requirements that clinics provide detailed information about the procedure and that all but first-term abortions be performed in hospitals.

The latest abortion measures came after voters approved a constitutional amendment in November giving state lawmakers more power to regulate abortions.

“Tennesseans have spoken in favor of protections for abortion-vulnerable women, girls and unborn children,” said Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life. “Tennesseans rightly expect that commonsense provisions such as informed consent and waiting periods will be enforced in our state.”

Last week, a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order to two abortion clinics after they said they wouldn’t be able to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers before July 1.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, said her group opposes the abortion laws because “they interfere with a woman’s ability to make personal, private health care decisions.” She said the requirements interfere with the doctor-patient relationship, are burdensome for women and interfere with women’s health and safety.

Another new law boosts the state’s efforts to combat human trafficking. The Legislature has approved multiple bills over the past several years addressing the problem after a 2011 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation report showed 73 of the state’s 95 counties have reported the crime within their borders.

The new law gives authorities more training to identify, investigate and prosecute human trafficking. The TBI has hired four new agents to help train local law enforcement on how to recognize human trafficking.

“The large part of human trafficking is changing the culture from a law enforcement perspective to understand that these are not prostitutes on the street corner trying to make money,” said TBI Director Mark Gwyn. “These are many times young girls who have pimps somewhere that’s abusing them, that’s giving them drugs, that’s coercing them, and they’re being forced to do this. That’s trafficking and we need to stop it.”

Two other new laws pushed by Gov. Bill Haslam aim to encourage Tennesseans to get a postsecondary education.

Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect were launched as part of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative, which aims to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate beyond high school, help improve overall job qualifications and attract employers to the state.

Of the state’s 74,000 high school graduates, as many as 18,000 are expected to utilize Tennessee Promise in the fall, according to Mike Krause, who oversees Tennessee Promise. The program offers free tuition at any of the state’s 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology.

“Previously, a lot of students said because we don’t make very much money I’m not going to be able to attend college,” Krause said. “Tennessee promise has changed that conversation.”

Tennessee Reconnect allows adults to attend one of the state’s 27 colleges of applied technology for free by paying tuition and fees not covered by existing grants and scholarships. So far, nearly 11,000 Tennesseans have applied to the program.

Other new laws taking effect July 1 will:

— Allow employees to sue an employer if he or she is fired for having a gun stored in their vehicle at work.

— Create a $500 lifetime handgun carry permit.

— Give homeowner associations, neighborhood watch groups or other similar organizations the ability to petition a court to get a restraining order against repeat offenders who have committed crimes within their boundaries.

— Require correctional officers convicted of having sexual contact with prisoners to register as sex offenders.

— Add to the residential and work restrictions for sexual offenders to prohibit them from being alone with a minor in addition to being prohibited from residing with a minor.

— Strengthen penalties against spectators attending animal fights.

— Require parents whose children have been removed from their care due to drug abuse to demonstrate a commitment to responsible parenting before regaining custody.

— Prohibit the release eligibility for those convicted of vehicular homicide until the offenders have served at least 60 percent of their sentence. The legislation is named after Ben Woodruff and Mike Locke, both of whom were struck and killed by drunken drivers.

— Ban most speed cameras after current contracts expire.