1.26.24 TDC Weekly Public Policy Update

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

Well, we thawed out and life at Cordell Hull began anew. After missing a week, it was a sort of frenzied environment down there, in part, because the bill filing deadline is already next week. This means that after January 31st on the House side, and February 1st on the Senate side, no more bills may be filed. Now, a lot of legislators and advocates will use caption bills to get their bills in under the wire, which may lead to some unknowns yet, but we’ll have a pretty good view of the whole playing field by this time next Friday. Quick reminder: caption bills are placeholders that permit a legislator to make changes to certain parts of the code with bill language in the future, but don’t contain the substance of what that change will be yet. But we’re back moving again, so buckle up!


2024 TDC Priority Bills

  • TennCare for Working Adults – this bill would create an option for working adults with disabilities to pay a premium to access TennCare services (like HCBS), while having income and assets above the current Medicaid eligibility threshold
    • I noted last week that I think this will be the most difficult bill in our hand to pass this year
    • Again, to absolutely toot this horn, this is a VGB
      • About 2/3rds of program enrollees are in Medicaid programs anyway
        • And it costs the state 30% less when they transition to programs like this, which is primarily what they care about
      • And, as a proud Employment First State, we ostensibly want people with disabilities (who desire to) to go to work and to have good jobs
        • This clearly contributes to that end
    • Again, good vibes, let’s keep it rolling through bill filing deadline
    • Next up:
      • Getting these things filed
  • Paid Family Caregiving Resolution – this resolution would urge the state (and TennCare) to work with community stakeholders in developing a comprehensive statewide paid family caregiving policy and program
  • Right to Repair pt. 2 – this bill would require suppliers of power and manual wheelchairs to offer twice-annual preventative maintenance and to repair malfunctions, and creates a pathway for independent repair persons to do some types of repair. 
    • We’ve sat around the negotiating table, we’ve struck some deals and shaken (shook?) some hands
      • So, of course, now we send it to legal, who will make it lawyerly and pretty
    • Thus, I believe we’ve got a caption on our hands to begin with as legal works its way through the mountain of requests backlogged from the week of ice and snow
      • The caption will probably/hopefully be one of the many filed on Manic Monday next week
    • I think (pending legal), what we came up with is pretty good, and it’s something we can pass
      • (however not without a bit of GRASSROOTS, of course)
    • Next up:
  • TCA Placard Cleanup – this bill would update language related to disability placards found in the Tennessee Code that refers to people who use wheelchairs as “confined to a wheelchair”; this bill would modernize that language
    • Our lovely, brilliant sponsors – Senator Massey and Representative Hale – got this one filed this week
      • I think we move this one soon and fast to get it (knock on wood) across the finish line before it gets swamped with this year’s Big Bills
    • Next up:
      • Committee assignments
  • 5th priority bill placeholder 
    • Let’s see what comes of Manic Monday, then maybe we can pick a 5th to highlight
    • Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve got a big one in my back pocket that I think you’re really going to dig
      • Just waiting on some fresh ink


Other stuff:

  • HB620/SB673 – this bill requires health insurance plans to cover prosthetic devices equal to benefits provided under Medicare
    • I like this one – it’s been on our radar for a few years now and this sounds like the year we get to see it move forward
    • This one comes from the Jordan Thomas Foundation (as well as Jordan himself), and is a fantastic example of the idea-action-change dynamic of policymaking
      • This is how we make change, and this is how it should be made in a democracy
    • Seriously, check out his story and try to tell me you’re not inspired
      • And if you’re inspired, I dare you to look at Tennessee and say, “hey, you know what? It would be a little better if…”
        • I promise you, it works
    • Anyway, VGB here, let’s put some GRASSROOTS on this one when the time comes
    • Next up:
      • Committee assignment
  • HB368/SB322 – this bill would prohibit suspension of students in grade 2 or younger, unless for an act that threatens the safety of themselves or others
    • This one was around last year, but didn’t really get much traction
    • However, there is an important disability perspective here
      • Very often, children with disabilities do not have IEP’s (or the protections that come with them) this early in grade school, unless they came with them from pre-k
        • Which means that often behaviors are manifestations of an undiagnosed disability to which the school is not providing intervention or support (yet)
      • Special ed evaluations just take time – usually 3-6 months or more
        • And given the shortage of school psychologists (and BCBA’s and social workers and nurses and teachers and counselors), it can take a long time
        • And this is especially true for kids from low-income and low-resource backgrounds
    • And we know that suspensions (and other exclusionary discipline), does not improve behavior or school safety
      • And in the case of disability, we know that it sometimes makes behaviors worse
    • So instead of suspending, maybe we should try something else!
    • Next up:
      • Calendar


Other other stuff:


Federal Update

  • Representative David Valadao of California introduced legislation recently to eliminate the “marriage penalty” for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who receive SSI
    • The marriage penalty has been a topic of much consternation for years now, and not just in the disability world
      • Just by way of its name, it seems like a bad idea
    • Generally, a marriage penalty is so-named because people/couples suffer a financial burden as a result of getting married
      • In the case of disability, it is a reduction in SSI payments
      • In other cases, it’s tax stuff
    • Should people, disability or not, be punished for marriage? Probably not
  • We were talking about this last year, but there was an important ADA-related case that was set to be seen before the Supreme Court – Laufer v Acheson
    • Quick recap: Laufer is/was an ADA tester who sued Acheson Hotels because they inadequately described their accommodations on their website
      • Laufer is a known “ADA-tester”, which is a person who surfs public accommodations to find ADA violations, and then sues that entity, often for the purpose of drawing financial compensation 
        • While we want companies/organizations to comply with the ADA, it diminishes support for and the effectiveness of the ADA if it is perceived to be utilized as a tool for self-enrichment rather than a tool for inclusion
    • Well, not so quick I guess, but the outcome of the case has been determined to be…….. moot
      • Because Laufer dropped the case
        • Some argue that it’s because Laufer was set to lose and didn’t want to cut off her income stream, others say that it’s because Acheson sold the hotel in question and their website was currently ADA compliant
      • However, Justice Clarence Thomas stated in a separate concurring opinion that he believed that Laufer lacked standing to sue, because they never intended to patronize the hotel
        • Which is begging for somebody else to bring them a similar ADA-tester case in the future
    • You can read the whole opinion here



  • TDC and the Tennessee Council on Disabilities hosted a legislative panel this week (starts at ~1:33) in the House Education Administration Committee to discuss behavior supports and programs available to schools to help them work with kids with behavior needs
    • This is part of a larger effort, one in which we’ll need the GRASSROOTS, meant to improve the educational opportunities for kids with behavior needs
  • Holy cowy’all, I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it yet, but…..
    • Keep an eye out for resources to help you make the most out of the big day!


Media Highlights

  • Chattanooga Times Free Press – here I am talking about TennCare III, three years in. What’s good, what’s bad, what the amended Medicaid program has meant to Tennesseans with disabilities. It’s just my opinion, but this seems like a good jumping off point to make your own.
  • Daily Montanan – as Tennessee gears up for its own voucher fight, the state of Montana was recently the object of a lawsuit by disability advocates alleging that a proposed state voucher program violated the state constitution and the rights of students with disabilities. Similar fight brewing here?
  • AP – in light of like 3 inches of snow ceasing life as we know it in the state of Tennessee for a full week, investments in snow and ice mitigation are top of mind for me. Maybe we’d win more support for snowplows if we gave them fun names, like they do in my home state of Minnesota. I’m personally rooting for Taylor Drift and Aaron Brrrr to win this year. 


That’s all, folks – it’s been a busy one down at Cordell Hull, with only a Manic Monday and the tides of session to follow. Stick with me over the next few months and we can see this one out together. I’ll be back every Friday with a full update – I hope I can count on you, dear reader, to stay tuned and step up when the need for GRASSROOTS so demands it. I’ll try to keep the jokes fresh and gifs modestly hilarious in return. Onward!