AP story on new TN laws, effective Jan. 1

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Motorists in Tennessee who don’t buckle up could face stiffer fines under one of many new Tennessee laws taking effect Friday.

The tougher seat belt law increases the fine for first-time offenders from $10 to $25 and from $20 to $50 for repeat offenders.

More than 300 people who were not wearing seat belts died on Tennessee roadways in 2015, according to the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security. State troopers issued more than 107,000 seat belt citations.

Law enforcement officials hope the new law will drastically reduce the number of citations in 2016 and beyond.

“What we hope is that as a result of this increase in seat belt fines, people will be encouraged to simply wear their seat belts,” said Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons.

Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott said law enforcement officials studied four states — Connecticut, Maine, North Carolina and Washington — that increased fines tied to seat belt laws.

“In each state, they saw a significant increase in their usage rate of seat belts, and a significant drop in their fatality rate,” Trott said.

Another new law requires law enforcement agencies to implement policies to prevent racial profiling. The measure calls for all law enforcement agencies in the state to adopt a written policy on the subject.

The measure defines racial profiling as the detention, interdiction, or other disparate treatment of an individual based solely on perceived race, color, ethnicity or national origin.

While racial profiling is not new, supporters say they felt a greater need for the measure amid the rash of white police officers killing unarmed black men. Last month, U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III announced that federal prosecutors were reviewing a white Memphis police officer’s fatal shooting of a black teenager in July.

The family of the 19-year-old asked federal prosecutors to step in after a local grand jury declined to indict the officer.

“We want to make sure that each officer knows how they’re supposed to respond, and that they respond accordingly,” said John DeBerry, a Memphis Democrat and sponsor of the legislation. “It’s just good policy, it’s good common sense.”

Also taking effect is a law to help raise awareness and prevent occurrences of sudden cardiac arrest, which proponents say is the leading cause of death in student athletes.

The new law promotes educating coaches, school administrators, youth athletes and their parents about the nature, risk and symptoms of SCA.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, a Collierville Republican who co-sponsored the legislation, said the measure was crafted after a high school lacrosse player with a heart abnormality visited his office and discussed his condition.

“I hope it saves young lives,” Norris said. “I hope it broadly spreads awareness of the underlying problem, so that everybody can be sensitive to it.”

Other new laws take aim at the use of tobacco vapor products by youth in Tennessee, allow parents of children with special needs the flexibility to customize their child’s education through an Individualized Education Account, and increase the time period a driver’s license is valid from five to eight years.

“Obviously if you go from five years to eight years that’s going to have a positive impact on wait time,” Gibbons said of the new driver’s license law. “So from that standpoint, we think it’s a good move.”