4.26.24 TDC Weekly Public Policy Update

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

Happy Sine Die, TDC Family!

We made it! The General Assembly members have concluded their work for the year (as have we) and they are blessedly headed home for the year (to campaign). All in all, dear reader, we had another pretty darn good year. We, of course, did not win every battle, but we won a lot of them and flexed some disability community muscle. To that end, I was and am so proud of the community for their work this year – from advocates that came to Cordell Hull, to those that testified in committee, to the *thousands* of emails that got sent this year, to those that shined a light on the needs of our community to their friends, neighbors and co-workers – the community was so evidently the engine that drove the car. So kudosThank youWell-done and onward, dear reader! The session may be over, but our work never stops! This one will be a bit short, just focused on our priority bills. But don’t fret, dear reader, I’ll be back with a full and comprehensive session wrap-up in the coming weeks. 


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
    • We passed! 
    • This is a big deal, and we should treat it as such
      • First, it’s going to help a whole bunch of people, and expands the horizon for many members of our community
      • Second, we secured almost $10M in recurring funds to support the program, making it the largest new recurring line item in this year’s budget
      • Third, it validates the playbook – advocates identify a need, we work together to develop a solution, advocates make the case to lawmakers, lawmakers agree
      • Fourth, it sort of expands Medicaid – at minimum, it’s a foot in the door to the big one
      • Fifth, it demonstrates the power of the disability community to build a better Tennessee, not just for us, but for every Tennessean
    • A big and sincere thank you to our advocates – Robby Barbieri and Bliss Welch
      • Without you, none of this happens
      • You both did spectacular work, and every ounce of effort you put in was the difference in getting this bill across the finish line
    • A big thanks and kudos to our sponsors, Representative Tim Hicks and Senator Bo Watson
      • And a big thanks to the rest of the GA, who recognized what a Very Good Bill this was
      • The entire Senate co-sponsored, along with 79 House members
    • And thank you, dear reader, we couldn’t have done it without your support
  • 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 passed too!
      • Not quite a clean sweep – had a few odd “nays” on the House floor, but to no detriment to us
    • Big thanks to our sponsors – Senator Becky Massey and Representative Robert Stevens
      • Both did phenomenal jobs in conveying the importance and urgency of supporting family caregivers
        • And, of course, securing the resolution’s passage
    • And now the real work begins – TennCare has been urged, will they be moved?
    • Stay tuned for ways to plug into this effort!
  • 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. 
    • Aaaand… this one passed as well!
      • Wednesday was a good day for us
      • This one was also unanimous
    • We didn’t quite get everything we wanted in this one, but I think the bill will benefit a pretty substantial chunk of wheelchair users in the state
      • And we can always come back for another bite at the private pay apple
    • Big thanks to our sponsors, Good Friend Senator Watson (dude’s on a roll) and Representative Michael Hale
      • And special thanks to Representative Timothy Hill, who stepped up and offered a hand when we and Rep Hale needed him
  • 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

Other stuff

  • I’ll wrap up the other stuff in the big wrap up
  • Other other stuff
    • House Subcommittee Calendar (nobody home)
    • House Committee Calendar (absent)
    • Senate Committee Calendar (gone fishin’)
    • TDC Big Net Calendar Report (for some closure)


Weekly Federal Update

  • Very briefly, there is an interesting (and concerning) case before the Supreme Court about EMTALA
    • EMTALA = the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act
      • Which says that any hospital that accepts Medicare funds has to stabilize a patient whose health or life is at risk before discharging them
      • It’s a way of ensuring that hospitals aren’t turning away certain groups of people, like those without health insurance, and thereby jeopardizing their health
    • In this case, the question is whether Idaho’s abortion laws, which permit abortion only to save a mother’s life, clashes with EMTALA
      • For example, if a pregnant woman came to a hospital in medical distress from a pregnancy-related complication, and the health crisis could be resolved by an abortion, would the hospital have to wait until that complication is life-threatening, even if it is presently harming the health of the woman, before performing the procedure?
    • So from the disability perspective, this isn’t exclusively about abortion
      • If the Idaho law were permitted to stand, what other sorts of state laws could prevent people from getting important care 
      • For example, could a state pass a law that would permit a hospital side-step EMTALA for people needing very expensive acute care (like breathing machines) if the patient isn’t at immediate risk of death?
    • The Justices are also considering other questions, like those around Federalism and whether DC should be allowed to condition federal funding, among others



  • This is your week for a victory lap, my you GRASSROOTS warriors, because this community was hugely impactful this year
    • So relax for now, but we’re going to start turning our eye toward next year, and we’re going to need you
      • As this session demonstrated, the power of policy is only as good as the advocates who can demonstrate the need and offer a solution
    • So keep an eye out for opportunities to work on things like:
      • Paid Family Caregiving
      • Special Education Issues
      • HCBS and LTSS Access Issues
      • Katie Beckett Issues
      • Housing Issues
      • Things I may hear about this summer that need to be addressed 
    • And if you know of any problems/issues/needs that need to be addressed, drop me a line:


Media Highlights

  • NYTimes – “Aging in place or stuck in place” is the headline for this one, asking whether home ownership among the aging crowd is providing the financial benefits that the residents thought that it would as they age. The answer? Not what I expected (not that I know anything about real estate)
  • The Tennessean – for those that want the full picture, the Tennessean has a nice recap of the session, including highlighting the fate of all sorts of legislation. Our stuff is not on the list, but we all know that our legislation was the best of the bunch.  
  • The Atlantic – this is sort of a short one, but it caught by eye as a good one to end the session with. The author Adam Hochschild gives several recommendations about books that he believes embodies activism and led to social change. One of my favorites of all time gets mentioned, The Power Broker by Robert Caro, which so deftly (and not briefly) lays out the dynamics of power, change and possibility in examining the life and work of Robert Moses.


It was another good session, dear reader. We passed some VGB’s and made out mostly well in stopping some bad stuff from coming to fruition. I’m already turning my eyes to next session and the things to accomplish, but I want to take just a short moment of gratitude and reflection. I am constantly amazed at the capacity of our community to make the world a better place, and I’m equally amazed by the people who make it their life’s work. In this role, I’ve met so many incredible people and have seen them do such important, brave and impactful things. This place just keeps getting better and better. That’s not to rest on any laurel, because we still have TONS of work to do, and the work that we collectively engage with doesn’t always extend equally to all parts of our community. But, so every one of you knows, we ARE on the right track, and that end goal, where people with disabilities have every option available to them to live and thrive in lives of their choosing, is still there and eminently attainable. And in watching you all work, I truly believe that someday we’ll get there. So onward, dear reader, we’ve done some good stuff, and there’s plenty more to come