I hope you’re all taking advantage of Tennessee’s sales tax holiday on food, a move by Legislators aimed at helping families and the long-suffering restaurant industry. If not, you can still buy food ingredients and food at restaurants tax-free through Thursday, August 5.

This is provided in addition to last weekend’s sales tax holiday, an annual break Tennesseans receive on the purchase of school supplies, clothing, and computers. Lawmakers are also giving us a year-long sales tax exemption on gun safes and gun locking devices.

From January 12 through May 5, State Representatives and Senators made decisions that resulted in a budget, laws, and policies that will affect all our lives. I’m focusing my column this week and next on some of the changes that took effect July 1.

Lawmakers focused on education, health care, job development, and broadband expansion and made historic investments in the specific areas of literacy, mental health, and safety. My review found much-needed attention paid to children, senior citizens, and other vulnerable residents:

* A statewide Silver Alert Program was created to help recover seniors who are missing.

* A requirement was made for healthcare professionals to receive more education about preventative measures and care for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients.

* The Precious Cargo Act updates the Tennessee Vehicle Title and Registration System database so a license plate check tells officers that a driver may need help expressing themselves or exiting their vehicle.

* Additional funds were provided for senior citizen centers, Big Brothers and Big Sisters organizations, and Child Advocacy Centers. Pay raises are being given to Direct Support Personnel, who work with residents with mental and developmental disabilities; and to case managers at the Department of Children’s Services.

*”Eli’s Law” allows DCS to investigate the conditions a newborn is entering when siblings have been removed from that home. Another measure expands the factors a court can consider when determining or terminating parental rights.

*A new Tennessee Child Care Task Force was created to address the challenges of providing and accessing high-quality, affordable child care. Another bill passed this year revised the state’s Child Care Quality Rating Improvement System, and will make it easier for parents to navigate.

Next week we’ll explore more that happened during the 2021 Legislative session.