A change in state law on school transportation services that takes effect Jan. 1 is a consequence of the tragic bus crash of November 2016 that took the lives of six Woodmore Elementary students and injured dozens.

Prosecutors have said bus driver Johnthony Walker, 25, was speeding and talking on the phone when his bus overturned on Talley Road in Brainerd. Walker, a driver contractedby transportation company Durham School Services, faces six counts of vehicular homicide, seven counts of assault and 18 counts of reckless aggravated assault.

In response, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation requiring public and charter schools to establish school transportation supervisor programs to oversee transportation services. The bill sets a minimum age of 25 for drivers and requires they complete a training program and receive a bus driver license endorsement before they can transport children.

The bill is among a raft of legislation that goes into effect with the new year. Many of the most significant laws — including the first boost in the state's fuel taxes in decades; a 20 percent reduction in sales taxes on food, and regulations allowing people to pack firearms in more public places — took effect July 1.

Speaking of firearms, one new measure says people with small arms or combat pistol training from military can skip firing range qualification when they apply for a handgun carry permit.


Another bill cracks down on distracted driving. It's now a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a $50 fine, to talk on a hand-held mobile phone while driving in a flashing-light zone for schools. And the same fine applies to anyone under age 18 caught using a mobile phone while driving, even if it's a hands-free device.

In a year when college campuses were riven by debates and protests over speakers of all political stripes, Tennessee lawmakers passed the "Campus Free Speech Protection Act."

The law affirms students' "fundamental constitutional right to free speech" and says it is "not the proper role of an institution to attempt to shield individuals from free speech, including ideas and opinions they find offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical, or wrong-headed "

It says institutions must be committed to giving students "the broadest possible latitude" to speak, write and discuss any issue. Institutions may implement measures that don't violate the U.S. or state constitutions such as "time, place, and manner restrictions or reasonable and viewpoint-neutral restrictions in nonpublic forums " but does not grant students a right to disrupt scheduled activities in a public forum nor require the institution to pay for costs associated with student speech or expression.

Some people facing driver's license revocation for unpaid litigation taxes, court costs and fines will be able to get a break. The new law recognizes that some people genuinely can't pay those costs and that revoking their licenses would just make matters worse by taking away their means of getting to work. It also allows people to set up payment plans to settle those debts.

Also related to courts, The Tennessee Zero to Three Court creates five more zero-to-three court programs in the Department of Children's Services to ensure early evaluation and services for very young children from troubled homes. The program is funded from $2 million in federal Title IV-E waiver funds for child welfare reform.

A consumer-protection measure that passed the General Assembly this year requires used-car dealers to obtain a recall database report no more than 48 hours before a vehicle sale. If the report shows the vehicle is subject to a do-not-drive or stop sale order, the sale stops until repair is made.

Another will allow adults with disabilities the right to have paid personal aides, rather than licensed health professionals, to perform health maintenance tasks for them, such as glucometer tests, administering eye and ear drops, nebulizer treatment and ostomy care, among other services.

And, finally, Senate Bill 0032 now allows barbers to make house calls. The bill amended a statute saying barbers could only go to someone's home and cut hair if the customer was too ill to get out; now they can provide home services to anyone as long as they have a residential barber certificate.