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1.13.23 TDC Weekly Public Policy Update

The Tennessee State Capitol building lit up at night and behind a set of ascending stairs


And we’re back! Already, somehow! It’s the time of year that brings joy to the hearts of policy nerds (such as myself) and the GRASSROOTS (that’s a wide net), and casts a deep, dark fear into the hearts of anybody who dare stand in our way. That’s right, it’s the beginning of the 113th Tennessee General Assembly session, where we begin our mission anew to make Tennessee the best place in the world to live with a disability. Last year, we saw some great highs, from adult changing tables to the Alzheimer’s respite pilot program to the good parts of TISA. We also saw some things that weren’t so great, like the unlicensed group home bill (now law). But that’s last year – this year is a whole new game, I hope you’re ready to pull on that jersey and take the field with me!


2023 Session Info 

  • This is the first year of a new, 2-year General Assembly session. This means that, for the most part, every piece of legislation will be “fresh” (or recycled in a new form from previous years)
  • There’s an early bill filing deadline this year (last opportunity to file new legislation), which tells me that they want to wrap this up before May
  • It’s early, but as of this writing, there are 193 bills that have been proposed in the House, and 174 in the Senate – I’d guess there will be at least 1000 more in each respective chamber before all is said and done (on 1-31/2-2)
  • The state of Tennessee is still overflowing its coffers with cash, and it seems like they have some ways that they want to spend it. Early, somewhat-informed guesses:
  • Important dates:
    • January 10th – 113th General Assembly Session Convenes
    • January 21st – Governor Bill Lee Inauguration 
    • January 31st – Bill filing deadline in the House
    • February 2nd – Bill filing deadline in the Senate
    • February 6th – Governor’s State of the State Address
    • End of April-Early May – Session ends (maybe, probably, maybe)


TDC Priority Bills (so far)

  • *Disclaimer: this is the earliest of early preliminary lists, this list will grow exponentially as January rolls on and we reach the February filing deadline
  • ABLE Estate Recovery Prohibition – this bill would prohibit the state from seeking estate recovery (clawback) of funds in an ABLE account following the death of a beneficiary beyond what is required by federal law
    • This one is coming from us, and we’re bringing it because we heard from you all on this issue
    • Hopefully, this mitigates some of the concerns of folks holding out on opening an ABLE account because of the clawback 
    • You should see the bill filed early next week
  • Right to Repair pt. 1 (R2R1) – this bill would prohibit insurance companies from requiring a prior authorization for the repair of a wheelchair
    • This one is also coming from us and, as you can see, represents part 1 of a bigger effort
      • Next year, we will be running a Right to Repair pt. 2 bill (R2R2), which would require wheelchair manufacturers and providers to make available tools, parts and software to any repair person, not just those “authorized” by the manufacturer/provider
    • It’s important to pave the way for R2R2 by eliminating prior auth, because leaving it in place would allow insurance companies to circumvent the spirit of R2R2 by holding up or denying approval for “non-preferred” repair persons
      • Plus, reestablishing the medical necessity of a power wheelchair for the purpose of prior authorization each time it needs a repair seems to lack an appropriate degree of logic
      • And slows things down
    • I have lots to say about this one, and I’m happy to share with any or all of you good people – I’ll keep running through the idea week to week and, as always, please feel free to reach out. 
    • Meanwhile, read about Colorado's R2R effort here


Other legislation to keep an eye on (so far)

  • HB127/SB141 – Mechanical Restraint for Students with Disabilities (Rep. Martin/Sen. Watson)
    • This bill would permit school resource officers (SRO’s) who have been “properly trained” to use mechanical restraints, like handcuffs or zip ties, on students with disabilities in “emergency situations”
    • This is a Very Bad Bill (VRB) – our community fought hard for restraint and seclusion protections in the past decade and this rolls them back
    • What’s an appropriate training for triggering this bill? What is an emergency situation? Why does the bill provide immunity for SRO’s? Has anybody demonstrated that handcuffing kids with disabilities is an efficacious intervention? (no)
  • HB67 – this bill allows intermediate care facilities (ICF) to increase their bed limits from 668 to 804 beds (Rep. Lamberth)
    • Keep an eye on this one – it appears it’s coming from the Governor’s administration (Lamberth/Johnson sponsorships are the tell in these cases)
    • Some folks benefit from an ICF setting, others don’t – we don’t want any legislation interfering in a person-centered decision-making process
  • 3rd Grade Retention Fix – there are a couple here, and I would guess these two won’t be the last of them
    • The 3rd grade retention policy, a product of a special session bill passed in early 2021, requires 3rd grade students who score below “proficient” in the TCAP standardized exam participate in remedial instruction and achieve “proficiency” or be “held back” in 3rd grade
      • Same goes for 4th grade
    • A couple things:
    • For students with IEP’s, this MUST be an IEP team decision, and this law shouldn’t override that protection
      • But who knows how it will be implemented school to school and student to student?
    • “Proficient” is an arbitrary distinction, established (in this case) by a single test score from a single day by a single standardized test – hardly captures the whole student’s abilities, don’t cha think?
    • The research on retention is (sort of) mixed, with most research showing negative effects of the practice and some others showing more neutral effects – very few (closing in on zero) show any positive impacts of retention
      • That said, it can work for some students, but that also said, I say it shouldn’t be dictated by a single test score
    • Here’s what’s been proposed so far:
      • HB93 (Rep. Hawk) – changes authority to determine “adequate growth” from the DOE to the local district
      • HB107 (Rep. Travis) – requires districts to construct retention policies rather than requiring them to retain students per the law
    • Keep an eye on these!


Federal Update

  • The IRS recently increased the annual contribution limits to an ABLE account, form $15k/year to $16k
  • Speaking of which, the funding bill that was just signed by President Biden did a couple nice things, including increasing ABLE eligibility age from 26 to 46, starting in 2026 – that’s big
    • Now let’s get that ABLE estate recovery prohibition (see above) passed!


Advocacy Update

  • ***I want to try adding an advocacy update this year – I don’t know what that will necessarily look like, but I’ve got something for you this week:
  • Informal removal/off-books-suspensions: this is when a school calls a parent to come pick up their child but does not record the removal as a suspension
    • Read the National Disability Rights Network report here
    • We’ve heard from a lot of parents this fall about this issue – it’s a long-standing problem that is prevalent everywhere, but I think it is far past time we address it here in Tennessee
    • Informal removal is harmful because it denies a student access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), which is their right
      • Students would often miss the same end-of-day classes every day
      • It denies a student with an IEP their due process protection of a manifestation determination meeting after 10 removals
      • It doesn’t fix anything – just kicks the can down the road
      • Removal should really be a team decision between the parents, administration and case managers, not a first resort intervention
    • I’ll go into more detail another time – just wanted to get this on your radar and see if it rings any bells for you. Reading material:
      • EdPost - How ‘Informal Removal’ Hurts Kids with Disabilities Most
      • FAAMS – Informal Removals from School for Students with Disabilities
      • Durbin/Duckworth - Durbin, Duckworth Urge Department of Education to Strengthen Regulations Against Informal Removal of Students form Class as a Form of Discipline
    • Feel free to reach out to me on this issue!!! (or anything, whatever)


Media Highlights

That’s all I’ve got for you dear reader. It’s of course very early, but I think this session is shaping up to be a huge one, so put on your GRASSROOTS boots, have an extra cup of coffee and let’s go to work. So glad to be back, catch you next time.