Disability Advocacy Day is in

3.10.23 TDC Weekly Public Policy Update

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

Happy Friday TDC Family! And what a happy Friday it is – I’m feeling all sorts of filled up over here after seeing so many of you this week. I’m filled up with gratitude, filled up with optimism, filled up with love for this community, but I’m also filled up with some fire. The sight of so many of us filling up the corridors of Cordell Hull reminds me that there is so much work to be done in this state. It also reminds me that this is the community to do it – nothing has been handed to us over the years. We have crawled the steps of the US Capitol, we have occupied offices in San Francisco, we have built entire systems of support and services with our own hands: this community can do anything. And so I hope you’re feeling the feels (all of them), as I am and are feeling recharged and confident as we pursue the end of session. Thank you for DDH and thank you for living the mission every day. Onward!


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
    • This one is a certain person’s (whose full name is probably William) signature away from becoming law
    • Next up:
      • Putting pen to paper
  • 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
  • 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
    • After a couple bumps in the road, this one appears set to get movin’
    • It’s on the Senate calendar for next week, but it’s like 75th on the schedule
      • That said, Senate Ed is already at final calendar, so everybody and their Aunt put something on the schedule this week
      • That doesn’t mean it won’t get heard – not everybody, nor their Aunts, will be ready to move their bill forward
        • It’s just if you want to have the Senate consider your bill, your bill better be on that list, as of yesterday
    • Tough to say on our prospects on this one, we’ve had some great discussions that show how far the conversation on corporal punishment has come in this state
      • That said, nobody has led me to believe they are ready to do away with it entirely
        • Will a couple speedbumps in the process of spanking child represent a compromise in which we can all agree?
    • Next up:
  • 3rd Grade Retention – the Learning Loss Remediation and Student Acceleration Act of 2021 (LLRSAA21, for cutes) requires that 3rd grade students score “proficient” in the state TCAP test or be retained a grade (with some exemptions and appeals options).
    • Retention-athon 2.0 ™ was delayed – apparently, it’s tough to get all of the sponsors of each of the 19 bills to agree that their fix is not the perfect one and that they should all at once compromise on a different solution
      • Sounds like they’ll try again next week
      • Last I saw Rep. Kirk Haston, who, as K-12 sub chair, is responsible for consolidation, he was literally knee deep in retention bills
    • All that is to say, it may be for naught
      • There is rumor that the Senate is uninterested in a LLRSAA21 fix, and have no plans to take any of these bills up on that side
        • Which would mean that LLRSAA21 would go on as planned, starting next fall
          • Which, in my opinion, is setting the table for a big ol’ mess
    • Next up:
  • 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
    • Still a VBB
    • Rep. Martin stopped me at DDH to tell me that he’s planning on filing an amendment to his original bill this week
      • He promised he’d be incorporating some of my suggestions
        • I’d prefer all of my suggestions
      • I have not seen said amendment, but I’m less than optimistic about its sufficiency 
    • If there’s any more room on the knob, my GRASSROOTS friends, its time to crank it up to full blast
    • Next up:
      • Waiting on a House date
      • (it’s on the Senate Ed calendar, but remember it’s the last calendar and everybody’s aunt is on it – that doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere on that side just yet)


Other Legislation

  • Boarding Schools for “at-risk” Students – this bill would create charter “boarding schools” for kids who fall under the bill’s definition of “at-risk” (read the amended language here)
    • Somehow, since last week, this proposal has gotten worse
      • It’s expanded the definition of “at-risk” to include children who are chronically absent from school or those considered truant (which is 5 unexcused absences out of 180 school days), among a couple other expansions
      • The more this bill evolves, the clearer it’s becoming that this will be less about expanding school choice for the parent/guardians of vulnerable children and more of a cudgel for punishment
    • Some good news, however, is that the bill did not make it through House Ed Admin last week
      • Blessed angel Rep. Chris Hurt stepped in with about 15 minutes before the end of the committee to ask some questions on behalf of kids with disabilities
        • Rep. White seemed unprepared to answer questions on specifics
        • And I think Rep. Hurt’s line of questioning may have opened a few eyes to take a closer look at this thing
    • The line of questioning brought the committee to the end of its timeslot, which allowed for them to call for adjournment
      • Which means no vote on the bill, yea or nea, and it will be heard again the following week
    • This is still a VBB
      • We’re going to need the GRASSROOTS to come out and unequivocally say that our kids won’t go back to institutions
    • Next up:
  • Federal Education Funding Refusal – this bill would direct the state of Tennessee to refuse federal education funding to absolve the state of complying with federal requirements and protections associated with the funds
    • Whelp, he did it folks – we’ve moved from floating a bad idea in the media to actively pursuing it
    • There is not amendment language available yet – Speaker Sexton is likely playing this very close to the chest, so it’s impossible to know what this will do yet
      • But we can be sure of its basic premise: it will refuse federal education funding so that the state does not have to comply with the rules associated with the funding
    • There is also rumor out there that the bill will simply direct the state to “study” the refusal of federal funds and what that would mean for the state’s students 
    • Next up:
  • Other stuff this week:


Federal Update

  • I missed writing about it a bit ago, but North Carolina is set to become the 40th state to expand Medicaid after years of gridlock on the issue
    • Republicans (who have long fought the expansion) and Democrats (who have long sought the expansion) reached a deal to significantly reduce hospital regulations in exchange for expanding Medicaid
      • The bill eliminates some certificate of need regulations for new facilities, for additions of money-making MRI machines and other new gadgets and gizmos, etc.
      • The bill is now attached to the budget, which gives opponents more avenues to mess around with it, but it looks like a done deal
    • For those looking for a reminder, currently Medicaid eligibility requires a person to be at 100% or below the poverty line to qualify
      • Medicaid expansion raises that relation to the poverty line to 138% 
      • This closes the “Medicaid gap”, where those who make 101-137% of the Federal poverty line did not qualify for Medicaid or ACA marketplace subsidies to buy insurance
    • Tennessee steadfastly refuses to expand Medicaid, relegating about 300,000 Tennesseans to some tough choices on how they receive healthcare
      • It’s estimated that the state leaves $1.4 billion in federal funds on the table each year by refusing to expand
      • Expansion would create 15k jobs across the state
      • Expansion states have found that the federal funds, combined with savings from a more insured population, usually pays for the expansion within a decade
      • So, there are very few decent arguments against expansion
    • Is Tennessee next? I’m not sure we’ve got the same ingredients brewing here just yet
      • Whereas the Tennessee General Assembly is becoming more partisan, with Republicans expanding their supermajority, North Carolina’s legislature is trending back toward a balance
      • And we’re not seeing the same type of push from Democrats to get it done
        • (though Rep. Miller and Sen. Yarbro have introduced a bill this year to do so)
      • Legislation re: access to health care seems to also be trending toward increased restrictiveness, rather than expansion of access
      • But that is no excuse for us to stop beating the drum – things only change when the drumbeat gets too loud to ignore



  • Just the briefest of notes on lived experience and its role in advocacy
    • Ultimately, policy making is about modifying the experiences of people who will live under those policies
      • For example, if you passed a policy that required people drive on the left, rather than the right, the experience of driving would be fundamentally different
    • Policies intending to do something specific often have ripple effects that change proximal experiences as well
      • For example, in the above driving-on-the-left policy, you would change the experience of mail delivery persons, who would now have to sit on the other side of the truck
        • You would also change the experience of crossing the street as a pedestrian, the “no right turn on red” sign production industry, building a car as an automaker, going through fast food drive through windows, etc.
        • You might also have backlashes to these experiences – some could long for the good ol’ days when everybody drove on the right and nobody was trying to change things
    • Lawmakers often get the direct part right, in which a policy proposal would do exactly as intended in changing a specific experience
      • BUT, they often get how the policy will change proximal experiences wrong (or fail to think of it at all)
      • And this is where advocacy plays the role by telling lawmakers exactly how their policy’s ripples will make waves in your world
        • And it’s especially true for the disability community, who have been subject to everybody else’s waves forever 
    • So, your insight into how a policy will proximally affect your day to day experiences tells a powerful and persuasive story


Media Highlights

  • The Tennessean – Governor Bill Lee signed a bill passed by the General Assembly that would cut the Metro Council in half into law this past week. Some say this is retribution for the Metro Council’s decision not to approve plans to pursue the 2024 Republican National Convention. Nevertheless, people in Nashville will have a less representative Metro Council starting soon.
  • The Pacer – UT Martin student and current TDC board member Drake Box was interviewed by the school newspaper about his life, his podcast and the reasons behind his steadfast support of Ukraine. 
  • The Tennessean – for some warming of the heart, check out this story about a group who sews and stuffs “cuddle bears” for kids who have experienced a trauma. For all of the yucky stuff I ‘ve been writing about lately, it’s always heartening to know that there are still plenty of people out there who care for the wellbeing of others and go out of their way to help a total stranger feel better. 

That’s all I’ve got for you this week. We’re in the thick of it right now, dear reader, which means that DDH could not have come at a better time. We’ve got, at my best guess, 6 or 7 weeks to make this session a successful one for the disability community. So I hope you’re fired up from this week, because we’re going to need you. Have a great weekend friends.