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1.20.23 TDC Weekly Public Policy Update

Members of the Tennessee General Assembly standing in chamber with gold and green carpet, wooden desks and red chairs

If you’ve got a pickup truck, a sturdy back and that inability to say “no” when that same friend again asks you to help them move, you might find yourself right at home at Cordell Hull this week. After committee assignments were announced last week, legislators (actually their legislative assistants) are moving offices, refiling their papers, rearranging knickknacks and preparing for the much-too-soon bill filing deadline in a week and a half. Though anybody who has moved recently might protest, the battle over dollies and carts at Cordell Hull is more calm than storm (I believe there is an idiom about this), because once they’re in, it’s gonna get pretty tempestuous up on the hill. But that’s ok – we’ve read the weather report, sandbagged the beach house, ordered a chic new slicker and are ready to ride the storm. Not hunkered down of course but more like in Forrest Gump when Lieutenant Dan yells at the storm after he joins Forrest’s shrimpin’ bidness. Well anyway, grab your umbrella and let’s make some waves of our own!


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
    • Sorry, no updates here, but that’s no problem – we’ve got sponsors and text, just waiting for it to get to that clerk’s desk
    • Interested in learning more about ABLE accounts? Have a read here!
  • Right to Repair pt. 1 (R2R1) – this bill would prohibit insurance companies from requiring a prior authorization for the repair of a wheelchair
  • Corporal Punishment prohibition – this bill would put protections in place to screen students for a disability prior to eligibility for the use of corporal punishment in schools
    • This one is a work in progress, but there’s a back story behind this one:
    • In theory, this legislation would expand the prohibition to all students until it is demonstrated that the student does not have a disability
      • Again, in theory, then a parental “opt-in” would trigger some sort of disability screening to be determined in the future.
    • There is a lot of research that highlights the detrimental effects of corporal punishment for children
      • We should probably just stop, right?
    • Keep a close eye on this one as it evolves and moves forward


Other legislation (so far)

  • Assault against a health care professional – this bill increases legal penalties for aggravated assault of a health care professional
    • First and foremost – assault against anybody is bad, assault against health care professionals is bad, we must protect people from harm
    • That said, assaultive outbursts can be a manifestation of a disability or mental health crisis, meaning that this bill would disproportionately target these vulnerable populations
      • This is an after-the-fact penalty rather than a preventative measure – we’re not protecting anybody, we’re just punishing offenders
    • To be reiterated, assault is bad and we should develop policies to begin reducing its prevalence to zero, but I don’t believe that this would prevent assault or protect health care workers
  • Busing of kids with disabilities – this bill is broadly captioned, meaning that it is a placeholder that opens several parts of the Tennessee code to amendment
    • This is one of those types of bills that puts me on low-level alert – there are a lot of issues getting kids with disabilities to and from school safely and efficiently
      • We’ve heard about enormous bus delays, no-shows and complete absences of busing availability
      • But we’ve also heard concerns about behavior, bad bus monitors/drivers and major bus driver turnover
      • Regardless of the issue, the busing of kids with disabilities to school has lots of room to improve
    • Since this bill is a caption bill, we don’t know which of these issues the bill is trying to address nor how – thus, this is one to just keep an eye on at this point
  • Special Education Scholarship Act – this bill would provide up to $750 per semester to current non-licensed school employees in order to pursue a special education degree. Recipients agree to teach SPED for 3 years in Tennessee
    • First – we need more special education teachers, hard stop.
    • Second – “grow your own” programs, in which districts can incentivize current non-licensed employees to pursue a teaching license and then employ them, has promise, but its relative newness leaves it short of empirical evidence of efficacy  
    • Third – this is only $750 per semester. UT-Knoxville costs $13,244/year. It costs $9,472/year to get your education degree from MTSU. $750 is hardly a dent, and hardly incentivizing (in my opinion). 
    • All that said, something is better than nothing (so long as this isn’t the extent of the something)


Federal Update

  • The Supreme Court is hearing an interesting case – Luna Perez, who is now 27, is suing his former school district under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for failing to adequately accommodate his disability.
    • According to the case, Perez is deaf and his school district failed to consistently provide an ASL interpreter during his time in the district, causing ongoing emotional distress and economic harm
      • Perez settled his Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) claim and was granted 4 additional years at the Michigan School for the Deaf to account for the denial of FAPE
    • One of the legal questions here is “did Perez exhaust all remedies available through IDEA?”
      • The law requires an individual to exhaust all administrative remedies in IDEA before appealing for relief/settlement via the ADA – since Perez settled his IDEA claim, does he have the right to sue for the same denial of FAPE via the ADA (which allows for monetary relief)
        • This is the central question – standing.
    • I think the important thing here is that ruling on the side of Perez allows students with disabilities and their families to sue their school districts for denial of FAPE in pursuit of monetary relief
      • For clarity – IDEA claims are settled with comp ed/additional services, ADA claims can be settled for money
      • The question would be then (for me): how would schools change their special education policies and practices if they knew they could be subject to a lawsuit and potential financial loss?


Advocacy Update

  • Did you know the biggest disability advocacy day of the year is only 47 days away (as of today)?
    • That’s right! It’s Disability Day on the Hill 2023 – (mostly) IN-PERSON (see the schedule)
    • I’ve never done DDH in person – I am very excited, and I think the team has some great things planned leading up to the big day, on the big day itself and then on Disability Advocacy Day
    • Things you could talk to your legislator about, a non-comprehensive tome: 
      • Your dog, 3rd grade student retention law, R2R1, improving transportation for Tennesseans with disabilities, your vacation to Punta Gorda, big trucks, ABLE estate recovery, mechanical restraint, access to HCBS, the Tennessee Volunteers, which color is better – blue or green, your experience as a person with a disability, your experience as a person who loves a person with a disability, corporal punishment, TennCare, traffic from Clarkesville, voting rights, etc.


Media Highlights

  • University of Michigan – a new report shows that over 50% of adults over the age of 50 provide care to adults age 65 or older. It’s far past time we take a look and comprehensively addressing the needs of caregivers. Tennessee ranks 49th in caregiver support, according to AARP. We can do much better.
  • Commercial Appeal – Tennessee is walking away from a CDC grant that has been funding HIV prevention, detection and treatment programs around the state. It’s unclear why the TN Department of Health is making this choice, but it’s clear that fewer resources won’t improve the state’s bottom 15 HIV rate (2019)
  • The Tennessean – for those who were wondering when nightly departures gate closures would cease at Nashville International Airport (somehow abbreviated BNA), it might be getting close – the airport unveiled its brand-new lobby this week, replete with dangly chandeliers and marveling socialites. Now, just add in a Bearded Iris counter by the Delta concourse and I’m set for a departure delay. 

And with that, I bid you adieu, which Wordle is trying to tell me is the best, most efficient opening word to use in a game. I think this is cheating – you gotta use a different word each time, it’s part of the fun. It would be like using words that you know have incorrect letters in them to suss out the vowels. You just can’t do that, it’s cheating and if there is one thing I won’t tolerate, it’s Wordle shortcuts. Or if it’s two things, messing with my TDC family too. Or in the case of three things, messing with the Tennessee disability community as a whole. And I know you don’t either. So with that, I actually bid you adieu – see you next week.