Disability Advocacy Day is in

2.17.23 TDC Weekly Public Policy Update

Tennessee State Capitol Building

Things are starting to happen my friends. The Governor’s administration’s priority bills have reached or are about to reach the respective chamber floors, we’re seeing some bills fall off the table, and, of course, the most important happening is that our ABLE bill passed its first (small) hurdles! I’ll get into it more in the following section, but the General Assembly is officially full speed ahead. And when they get up a head of steam like this, we need to get truckin’ ourselves, lest we get left behind. I mean, I hear they’re considering closing committee calendars in less than a month, meaning if a bill doesn’t get on the list, you won’t see it until next January. The urgency is real, but don’t let that get to you dear reader – we are an advocacy family and together, we always rise to meet the challenge. So grit those teeth, email your Senator and lets keep our momentum moving downhill!

TDC Priority Bills

  • ABLE Estate Recovery – 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
    • As previously noted, this guy cleared its first pair of hurdles
    • Things went absolutely swimmingly in the House Insurance Subcommittee, where the bill passed without discussion
    • It went even rosier in the Senate Health and Welfare committee, where our marvelous sponsor, Senator Massey, gave a plea so impassioned that literally everyone in the room fell to their knees and wept
      • Or so it seemed, she told a good story on the bill, Senator Reeves said the program was fantastic, and it passed unanimously 
    • Some have speculated that it could be on the Senate consent calendar as early as next week, meaning that the chamber will vote on a package of heretofore un-objected bills together for passage
    • Next up:
  • Right to Repair pt. 1 (R2R1) – this bill would prohibit insurance companies from requiring a prior authorization for the repair of power wheelchairs and some durable medical equipment
    • We’ve got the language worked out, and it looks pretty, pretty good
    • Get your engines running on this one, I’m not anticipating it will go as sparkly-happy-rainbows as the ABLE bill
      • That’s not to say it’s in trouble, it’s to say that there exist people and entities that will likely object to this bill, which has not been the case with the ABLE bill
      • That is to say we’re gonna need the GRASSROOTS on this one
    • Next up:
  • 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
    • Our beneficent sponsor has given the thumbs up on our language for this one
    • I’d expect to see things get moving on this one too
    • This one, in my estimation, might be the
    • of the year for us
      • But this is why you’ve been lifting those advocacy weights, running those promotion sprints and leaning hard into those advancement lunges (not a lot of synonyms for advocacy)
      • Further limiting the use of corporal punishment is the right thing to do, and that’s why we’re doing it
    • Next up:
  • 3rd Grade Retention – the Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act of 2021 (LLRSAA21, "llll-ers-ahhh 21") requires that 3rd grade students score “proficient” in the state TCAP test or be retained a grade (with some exemptions and appeals options).
    • The suite of LLRSAA21 “fixes” is about to careen down the mountain
    • Next Wednesday, February 22nd, ALL of the retention bills will be laid on the table for discussion in the Education Administration Committee 
      • Department of Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn and her team will be there, so you know it’ll be poppin’
    • Beyond the administration’s extension of summer learning loss camps and the tutoring program, I really don’t know which of these horses has the best shot at crossing the finish line
      • But we’ll learn a lot next Wednesday about how the GA, Schwinn and the Gov feel about the field
    • Here’s some reading material from our good friends at the Ed Trust for next week:
    • Next up:
  • 5th TDC Priority Bill
    • I promise I will choose before the General Assembly ends the session
    • Next up:


Other Legislation

  • Training Center for the Blind Resolution – this resolution urges the Governor and state government to develop a plan to constitute a comprehensive, facility-based vocational rehabilitation training center for Tennesseans who are blind
    • This is a Very Good Resolution (the rare VGR) from our good friends at the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee
    • It was on the Senate consent calendar for February 9th, which I think means that the good people of the Senate all concurred with the text of this resolution
      • You can read the text of the resolution here
    • Well done, my friends, well done
  • Youth Development Center ID Screening – this bill requires the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to determine if a minor has an intellectual disability prior to admittance to a hardware secure youth development center
    • So, this one will need some breaking down
      • Currently, it is DCS policy to limit intake of minors with intellectual disabilities to a “Hardware Secure Facility”
        • A “Hardware Secure Facility” is pretty much what it sounds like – it’s defined as a facility that uses locks and other “hardware” to restrict the movement of individuals within a facility
          • (it’s a jail)
      • Minors who are diagnosed with mild ID are not permitted into “hardware secure facilities” without a waiver
      • The issue here is that the DCS policy states that they should refer to education records to see if a kid has an IEP that says ID on it
        • As we all know, SPED child find is imperfect and not every kid with ID is going to have an IEP that says so
        • If the educational records aren’t clear about the presence of ID, only then are they subject to an ID screening
      • What this bill does: the bill defines ID in the code and requires DCS to affirmatively “determine whether any child who is placed in a youth development center has an intellectual disability”
        • This sort of fills in the gap to ensure that kids with ID aren’t slipping through the cracks and landing in jail
      • The bill is not perfect – there are already better, more empirical definitions of ID in the code that the sponsors could be using
        • And the bill is unclear about who must do the ID determination (licensed? trained? informed? random front desk guy at the jail?)
      • What I do know is that this bill, with the sponsors it has, won’t make it through the highly partisan General Assembly
        • So what is there to do? GRASSROOTS
        • We need the House Children and Family Affairs Subcommittee to calendar this bill and take it seriously – and we need to tell them to do so
      • Stay tuned for updates on this one – we can’t be letting Tennessee kids with ID end up in these jails
    • Next up:
  • CON Authorizations for Mental Health Admission – this bill would eliminate the requirement that a second licensed psychiatrist sign a certificate of need (CON) in order to admit and detain a person to a psychiatric treatment facility or hospital
    • Currently, if a person shows up at a jail or ER presenting a severe mental health crisis: 
      • 1) a licensed psychiatrist must sign a certificate of need (CON – necessary for transfer to a hospital and admission) to send that person to a mental health facility
      • 2) then another licensed psychiatrist at the accepting facility must sign the CON attesting to the need for inpatient psychiatric care
      • Essentially, two licensed psychiatrists have to agree that this person needs inpatient psychiatric care and qualifies for compelled admission under the Tennessee code
    • Why this matters:
      • The disability community, including the mental health community, has fought a long, difficult battle against this country’s practices of institutionalization of people with disabilities and mental health needs
      • The large-scale warehousing of individuals with disabilities led to horrific and pervasive patterns of neglect and abuse in squalid, inhumane conditions
      • This rolls that progress back in a shortsighted and unaccountable way
        • All it takes is one rogue psychiatrist with an urge to shake up the system to start involuntarily committing anybody they so choose to psychiatric facilities
      • It’s true that something needs to be done to help fix our broken mental health system, but this is a shortcut that reduces protections for individuals from forced care and perpetuates the practice of institutionalization
    • Next up:
  • Oh, and budget hearings were going on this week, but those are boring
    • And they said pretty much the same thing as they said to the Governor last November
    • When I watch them (ugh), I’ll let you know if there’s anything you absolutely need to know
  • Other stuff this week:


Federal Update



  • A short one since I’m (once again) running pretty long here
    • Prepping for DDH? Check out our YouTube page!
    • Wondering what’s going on at the General Assembly (that isn’t covered here)? Check out our “Big Net List” where we track every bill that we’ve found that could be possibly, even tangentially relevant to the disability community
    • Looking for some tips on becoming an empowered advocate? Check out this presentation!


Media Highlights

  • NY Times – the New York Times covers the painful experience of a parent trying to help their child with his mental health needs. This audio (and transcript if you’d prefer to read) tells the story of “Kimberly”, who is caught between wanting to protect her child’s safety and protect his civil rights and freedom in a broken health care system. 
  • Chalkbeat TN – shameless plug (I’m quoted in this one), but Marta Aldrich does a great deep dive on Speaker Sexton’s proposal to refuse federal funds and what that would tangibly mean for students in Tennessee. In case anybody asks you at a cool party, check out these one pagers (the downloadable fact sheets) about exactly what ESSA funds actually do and what “strings” are attached. 
  • Nashville Guru – if you’re going to be in Nashville this weekend/next Tuesday, it’s probably because you’ve donned your sparkly purple and gold, baked your king cake and packed your thermos of gumbo-laya and are planning to celebrate Mardi Gras in town. Nashville Guru has the lineup of events and food and, if I do so dare, could I suggest the new Spicy Boys (curbside) off McFerrin (pretty close to the hopefully-soon-to-be-reopened office!)?

You are awesome, you are powerful, you are important, you are necessary, you are GRASSROOTS, you are why we do what we do, you embody the mission, you can make Tennessee the best place in the world to live with a disability. Remember all that. See you next week.