4.19.24 TDC Weekly Public Policy Update

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

The last Friday of the session????? Maybe – I thought we’d be out after this week too, but that is certainly not the case. And that’s just fine, we’ve still got some good things on the table to get some signatures on. We’ve gone into “flow-motion” at the legislature, which is a fancier (and more fun) way to say that all rules are out, all schedules are changeable and all predictions are rendered useless by the chaos. I’m hearing next Thursday might be it, but like I previously noted about predictions, who knows? So stick around for just one or two more turns of the merry-go-round and we’ll be basking in the Tennessee heat and humidity before you know it. Onward!


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
    • LOTS of good news to share on this bill since last week, so grab some sparklers and poppers and kazoos and get ready
    • So take a quick, tempered “wahoo”, but I don’t believe anything until it’s on dry ink and the General Assembly members go away for the year
      • In the meantime, my GRASSROOTS friends, let’s make our legislators feel as warm and fuzzy as they can about doing a good thing here
      • Pretty much, we should make as much hay out of this potential legislative victory
    • And then the work of outreach, education and implementation oversight begins, but that’s for another day
    • Next up:
  • 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
    • This one got oddly thrown back to the House Finance committee
      • In theory, should the state take the resolution seriously and begin to build and implement a program/policy, it would cost money
        • And the fiscal note says as much
      • But passage of the Resolution itself doesn’t cost money
    • This shouldn’t be a problem – our intrepid sponsor Rep. Robert Stevens is invested in getting this across the finish line
      • So we’ll need to get it calendared in Finance, then to the floor, in the next week or so
        • But a little urging and support wouldn’t hurt either
    • So my GRASSROOTS friends, feel free to reach out to Rep Stevens to show him so love, and maybe to the finance chair, Rep Hazlewood, and ask for this VGR to be calendared
    • Next up:
  • Right to Repair pt. 2 – this bill would require suppliers of power and manual wheelchairs to offer annual preventative maintenance, and creates a pathway for independent repair persons to do some types of simple, non-clinical repairs. 
  • 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
  • HB2497/SB2146 – IDD Residential Licensure Exemptions – this bill would establish a carve-out to the licensure requirements for residential facilities that serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, permitting the construction and operation of large scale, segregated and congregate facilities by two companies in the state

Other stuff

  • I’m gonna throw out a bunch here, because the budget finalization process and voting is sort of like that scene in Gladiator where Commodus gave a thumbs up to save the losing combatant or thumbs down to signal his demise, and we saw a lot of thumb positioning this week
  • HB2297/SB2864 – Slots for KB Part B – this bill would require DIDD to add an additional 1,000 Katie Beckett Part B slots to serve eligible children with disabilities 
    • Thumbs down for this one – was not included in the final budget
      • Which is a shame, because there is currently a 5-plus month waiting list for spots in part B
      • And it signals a disappointing lack of resolve to ensure good implementation of the Katie Beckett program
        • Which we’ll need to turn around for our efforts next year
    • Thus, the bill was taken off notice in the House, ending its chances at passage
  • HB1640/SB1769 – Jillian’s Law – this bill would allow for the involuntary commitment of people with IDD if found incompetent to stand trial for certain crimes
    • Thumbs up from Commodus (not me)
      • In the budget AND passed on both floors, headed to the Governor
    • The bill is still a VBB, attempting to address a very real issue, in harmful and counter-productive ways
      • It jeopardizes the civil rights of folks with IDD (and those with MH needs), and paints a picture of those folks as inherently dangerous and need of exclusion from our communities
      • And it does so with far too broad a brush, that makes all sorts of folks with IDD and MH needs collateral damage in its implementation
        • Not just those that would benefit from a temporary residential placement and an acute treatment facility 
    • Next up:
  • HB2404/SB2349 – "Dependent and Neglected" Definition – this bill expands the definition of “dependent and neglected” to include children with an “unmet” substance abuse or mental health need, making them eligible for state custody
    • Thumbs up, says Commodus 
      • Again, services for MH or SUDs are scant in the best places, nonexistent everywhere else
        • Especially ECF Groups 7 and 8
      • So I don’t know why they think that taking custody of those children changes that
    • This could also point to an uptick in parents who are left with ZERO choice in the face of ZERO services, and are relinquishing custody of their child with a disability to the state
      • Because they believe that’s the best way for them to receive services and ultimately, what’s best for the well-being of their child
        • Which is tragic and awful, and sounds an awful lot like the reasons many Tennesseans with disabilities were sent to institutions in the past
    • Oh, and no fiscal note, so I don’t know where they plan to find funds to pay for the care of these kids
    • Next up:
      • Headed to the Gov’s desk
  • HB2445/SB2419 – Emma’s Bill – this bill would require TennCare to consider a patient’s overall condition when determining medical necessity and funding of items, services, therapies and care

Weekly Federal Update


  • Stand pat, you GRASSROOTS warriors, we’re close to the end here
    • And when it arrives (aka, passage of the Pathways to TennCare/Medicaid Buy-In bill), I’m gonna need you to flood the zone with good vibes
      • TDC is putting together a thank you video for our sponsors and other yes-voting legislators to let them know they did a good thing (which you could share)
      • We’ll modify our Voter Voice to likewise thank them for support (which you could use to send a note)
      • We’ll look to do some media/press conferencing around its passage (which you could watch/share)
      • And if you feel so inclined, come on down next Wednesday or Thursday to the Capitol and watch the vote in person (which would be awesome)
      • Follow us on socials/text TEAMWORK to 72690 for urgent updates and timelines (so you know when to come to the Capitol)
    • And I’ll get you all those opportunities to your inbox, your messages, your socials and your brains (I’m trying telepathy as an advocacy tool, we’ll see)


Media Highlights

  • Hidden Brain – I generally love the Hidden Brain podcast from NPR, but was extra impressed with their episode on disability and the conception of difference, and what that means for people in and next to the disability community. A tough, but insightful listen, and the conclusions about disability and difference that the show’s dad comes to isn’t for everybody, but I thought it was a worthwhile conversation. 
  • NYTimes – the story highlights one of those gaps in the net we in the TN disability community know all too well, in Medicare’s denial of reimbursement for alternative and/or follow-up breast screenings. That leaves many who need it in that gap where one has to choose between financial and physical well-being. Rep. Alexander had a good bill pass about this issue last year.
  • Johnson City Press – last year, Governor Lee set aside a big chunk of money to make the TN state parks more accessible, including purchasing all-terrain power wheelchairs for use at several locations (like Warriors’ Path and Rocky Fork state parks, as noted here). I’m thinking I may take a little jaunt into the woods after session – who has a good suggestion for a state park and (very long) trail for me?


All the tea leaves, tarot cards and crystal balls are pointing to less than a week left in the 113th General Assembly session. We will have our full reflection (and deep breath) when it’s over, but just know that this, for me, was the best session yet. Not because of any successes or anything like that (those are cool though too), but because I really got to see what the Tennessee disability community can do at Cordell Hull. I saw calls for advocacy answered, advocates showing up and engaged and legislators cowering at our prowess, as well as seeing the beautiful complexities of our community. We didn’t win them all, and we didn’t always agree, but we are passionate, we’re effective and we’re not going away. That said, I’m going to go physically away from Cordell Hull for a while, but I and we will be back! Hang in there just a bit longer, TDC Family, we’re close to the end.