Disability Advocacy Day is in

2.3.23 TDC Weekly Public Policy Update

Nashville skyline with bridge lit up blue


What began as a barren, windswept dimensional plane has now become lush with sprouting, ambitious bills eager to grow into the flora that constitutes the Tennessee Code Annotated. As you certainly guessed from that description, that’s because this week saw the coming and passing of the House and Senate bill filing deadline. Our now-populated plane has become the playing field, and, with some exceptions, we can now see all the players. As of this writing, there are 1,523 unique bills filed in the Senate, and 1,534 in the House; toss in a cool 343 joint resolutions and 28 additional resolutions and, as you can see, the playing field is quite crowded. Don’t worry though, I got you. Though I can’t say so now, every bill will be read and analyzed and I will absolutely let you know where we should be directing our best game and together, we’ll get our GRASSROOTS on and win this match. Everybody in – 1, 2, 3 TEAM!


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
    • No updates here – we’re waiting until the sponsors are ready to get this one up on the calendar, most likely in Senate Health and Welfare to start
    • Despite the delay, don’t hesitate to reach out to your elected official about this! Stories are HUGE for this one – let them know what an ABLE account means to you!
      • Here are those talking points from last week again, just in case you wanted them
    • 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’re filed and in under the deadline! But it’s a caption at this point, meaning the language you see here is not the final language of the bill
    • We’re still in discussion with our sponsors trying to zero in on our scope – how much stuff do we want to cover with this one?
    • Quick reminder – the use of prior authorization for repairs is problematic because:
      • It slows down the process for getting vital repairs
      • It allows insurance companies and manufacturers/providers to dictate who is allowed to repair
      • It allows authorized repair persons to stock parts in right-on-time fashion, meaning they don’t keep the parts on hand and only order them once a prior auth has been approved (adding more delays to the repair itself)
    • 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
    • I’ve got another caption for you – it’s filed, but the language you see is just a placeholder
    • The plan is to get with partners and stakeholders in the upcoming week to finalize and file amendment language 
    • Next up:
  • 3rd Grade Retention – the Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act of 2021 (LLRSAA21, if you like that sort of thing) requires that 3rd grade students score “proficient” in the state TCAP test or be retained a grade (with some exemptions and appeals options).
    • Last week, I ran through what was on the table thus far (it was a lot), but this week I want to take a look at what I think the lead horse is thus far
    • HB68/SB249 is an administration bill that indefinitely extends the requirement that districts offer summer learning loss camps and after-school mini-camps, and expands priority eligibility to attend
      • This is impactful to the retention discourse because camp attendance is part of the exemption clause for retention in the LLRSAA21
      • Students who do not score “proficient” are subject to retention unless they:
        • Attend the summer learning loss bridge camp and a retest at the end of the camp shows “adequate growth” OR
        • Participate in TN All-Corps after-school tutoring and a retest shows “adequate growth” OR
        • Do both (if a student scores “below proficient” in the first TCAP)
        • Win an appeal
    • This is the Governor’s plan, so we can perhaps glean some insight into what is on the table for an actual fix. A couple thoughts:
      • The extension of learning loss camps indefinitely and expansion of eligibility to attend are good things – more free access to high-quality instruction is a good thing, for a wide variety of reasons
        • That said, it is still unclear to what extent these camps are accessible and beneficial to students with disabilities
      • It seems as though the Gov would like to maintain the 3rd grade retention policy going forward – this bill makes no effort to expand exemptions or return retention choices to districts, schools, teachers or parents
      • This is it for administration bills on amending LLRSAA21 – either the Gov is cool with only expanding access and doubling down on retention, or he’s looking to the General Assembly to address issues around retention themselves
        • That said, the Governor tends to have a heavy thumb when he so chooses to lay it down on the scale, it seems unlikely he’d let a contentious topic like this be addressed without his pollex in the mix
    • Next up: 
  • 5th TDC Priority Bill – as yet TBD


Other legislation:

  • Mechanical Restraint for Students with Disabilities – this bill would allow school security officers (SSO’s) to use mechanical restraints such as handcuffs or zip ties on students with disabilities
    • Reminder: currently, school resource officers (SRO’s), who are actual police officers contracted into the school, are allowed to use mechanical restraint in “emergency situations”
      • This bill extends that authority to school security officers (SSO’s), who are more comparable to mall cops and bouncers than state-certified police officers
      • We, as a society, extend police powers to trained and certified law enforcement officers in exchange for accountability for public safety – SSO’s have no training or public accountability for using police powers
    • This is a Very Bad Bill (VBB) folks – no getting around it
    • I’ve heard it through the yuzu vine that the next week will bring proponents of this bill down to Cordell Hull to try to sell committee members on this bill
      • Do with that what you will, but let's make sure that the disability community gets heard before this becomes a Very Bad Law (VBL)
  • Criminal Assault in Schools Reporting – this bill requires school administrators to report criminal assault committed by a student upon school personnel that results in injury to local law enforcement
    • To be very clear, assault on school personnel committed by students is bad and action should be taken to attempt to reduce its prevalence – nobody should be subject to violence or injury in their workplace
    • The purpose of this bill is to ensure that school personnel who are injured in the assault receive their full benefits and pay while they recover from injury
      • The change here is that in order to receive these benefits, the assault must be considered “criminal”, and this can only be done by alerting law enforcement
      • This benefit would be in addition to any worker’s compensation they would be entitled to 
    • The biggest issue here is that to get to the benefit, we have to embroil children in the criminal justice system, which has been shown over and over again to be bad for kids 
    • IMO, they should just strike the word criminal from the first sentence of the relevant code, which would allow teachers to receive this benefit without having to expose the offending child to the criminal justice system
    • Next up: 

Other stuff this week: (sorry, running low on time this week and I know you’re eagerly awaiting this humble dispatch)


Federal Update




Media Highlights

  • News Channel 9 – in a surprise to absolutely no one in the disability community, it’s hard to find affordable AND accessible housing in Tennessee. Some say it’s too expensive, I say it’s a lack of will. Here’s a quick presentation I put together on affordable, accessible housing that illustrates the shortage.
  • New York Times – staying on the housing train here, the NY Times has an expose on Marc Harrison, the architect who conceptualized Universal Design (UD) in architecture, and his ILZRO house. UD is a foundational tenet of disability policy – design for anybody to use and everybody wins – from housing to public accommodations to education to voting, it should permeate every public decision our elected officials make.
  • Tennessean – now is the time for my favorite type of debate – exactly how wrong is a publication’s “best of” list. The Tennessean published their “Best of Music City” list for 2022, and I tell you what, Nashville needs better sandwich options when the top of the list includes Firehouse Subs and Jersey Mike’s ahead of Mitchel Delicatessen and the un-honored Tower Deli and Bill’s Sandwich Palace


Oof, this was a long one, but there’s lots to talk about – as Carol always says, “it’s a target rich environment”. To be fair, this isn’t all I’ve got for you (see above 1,600 bills), but it’s what I’ve got to give today. And that’s all the mission asks of us, give what you’ve got today and fight again tomorrow. Have a great weekend.