NASHVILLE — A law limiting the purchase of cold and allergy medicines used to make illegal methamphetamine is among those taking effect Tuesday, as are statutes that require more disclosure from the Tennessee Department of Children's Services and allow use of the electric chair to execute death row inmates.
The anti-meth law requires a prescription to obtain more than 28.8 grams of pseudoephedrine per year, which is the equivalent of about five months' worth of the maximum dosage of medicines like Sudafed.
Gov. Bill Haslam and the Senate had earlier supported a version of the bill that would have set a 14.4-gram annual limit but ultimately agreed to the House plan featuring the looser restrictions.
According to the governor's office, 268 children were removed from their homes last year because of meth-related incidents and nearly 1,700 meth labs were seized.
"It's tough to estimate to what degree, but we firmly believe the new law will have a positive impact on Tennessee's meth epidemic," said Mark Gwyn, director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
In the case of the DCS legislation, when the department investigates a child fatality for abuse or neglect, it has to release within five business days of the death: the child's age; his or her gender; and whether the department has had history with the child.
The department has been heavily criticized for problems that include not knowing how many of the children it was supposed to be helping had died. Following public outcry over the problems, Jim Henry took over last year as the new DCS commissioner.
DCS has been under federal supervision since 2001, when the court found serious problems with its treatment of foster care children.
However, an expert panel tasked with monitoring DCS said in a report last month that the department has made several improvements under the new leadership, though some challenges remain.
"The big contention was there was no transparency ... and even some deaths that were not being properly reported," said Rep. John DeBerry, a Memphis Democrat who sponsored the legislation. "I hope the result of the legislation will be a continuing of the positive direction the agency is going in providing information to the media."
Under the new execution law, the state will be allowed to electrocute death row inmates in the event prisons are unable to obtain lethal injection drugs, which have become more and more scarce following a European-led boycott of drug sales for executions.
Tennessee is the first state to enact a law to reintroduce the electric chair without giving prisoners an option, said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that opposes executions and tracks the issue.
"There are states that allow inmates to choose, but it is a very different matter for a state to impose a method like electrocution," he said. "No other state has gone so far."
Also taking effect Tuesday is part of a measure that grants authority to cities and counties that have package stores or liquor-by-the-drink sales to hold referendums on whether to allow wine sales in supermarkets.
Under the law, the earliest wine can be sold in supermarkets and convenience stores is the summer of 2016. However, package stores — which are currently limited to the sale of alcohol — will be permitted to sell other items like mixers, glasses, corkscrews, food, beer and cigarettes beginning July 1.