4.30.21 TDC Weekly Public Policy Update

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The birds, they are a-chirpin’ and church bells, they are a-ringin’ across the land! The cows, they are a-mooin', the babes they are a-dancin’ and the sun shines down upon us: the ID Death Penalty bill OVERWHELMINGLY passed the House and Senate on Tuesday, and Governor Lee’s office has said that he intends to sign it into law! This was an all-of-TDC-family effort, from Carol’s testimony before committee, to the incessant politicking of our lobbying team, to every one of you who sent an email to our legislators, who talked to their neighbor about the bill or who liked stuff on social media, this truly is a team victory. And it is indeed a HUGE deal. This bill ensures that Tennesseans with intellectual disabilities are not unconstitutionally executed by the state. It may well save the lives of people with intellectual disabilities who are on death row today. Finally, it sends the message that people with disabilities deserve, rather, are owed, their constitutional rights and protections, just like every other citizen of this country. Tennessee is a better place because of the passage of this bill. GIFs all around!

TDC Priority Bill Update

  • ID Death Penalty Bill – this bill modernizes the state’s definition of ID and provides a pathway for individuals sentenced to death to be evaluated for ID with this modern definition.
  • DSP Wage Increase – this bill would raise the reimbursement rates for provider agencies who operate under Medicaid 1915c waivers to provide their DSP’s with an average wage of 12.50
    • The good news here is that the bill made into the final budget.
    • As the bill was originally written, the wage increase would have been to $15/hr, but the cost and the politics of the wage increase necessitated a compromise, which is how we end up at $12.50/hr. 
      • The bill was previously placed behind the budget, and the Governor’s first amended budget proposal surprisingly (to us, anyway) did not include the wage increase to fund the bill.
      • A budget amendment from the bill’s sponsors, which changes the reimbursement rate from $15 to $12.50/hr., will be heard next week (5/3) in the respective Finance, Ways and Means committees
        • Given that the bill is in the final budget, this should face zero problems next week.
    • This is a good thing, but the compromise may dampen the impact quite a bit. $12.50 beats the national average (2019) by only about 14 cents – is that enough to impact our above average DSP yearly turnover rate of 53.8%?
  • Text-to-911 – this bill requires Tennessee to establish a statewide text-to-911 system
    • Last week, this bill got placed behind the Governor’s budget, which was weird, because there is no cost to the state, hence, no budget to be budgeted by the state.
      • What’s worse, this zero-cost-to-the-state is then not in the Governor’s final budget, meaning that this may be the (temporary) end of the line for this bill in 2021
    • Word is, local governments did not want to foot the bill for this one, saying that they already voluntarily participate in a 3-year plan to enact a text-to-911 service.
      • Well, I say bologna – the cost is negligible, you already plan to do it, why the hubbub? 
        • It’s frustrating that this bill, which is a Very Good Bill, has met this end this year
    • HOWEVER, the bill is not dead. It has not failed in committee (any of the many committees that it’s passed), so it should be on the calendar next January when the 2022 session kicks off.
      • Let’s get the GRASSROOTS to make this happen 2022
  • Pharmacy Benefit Manager Reform – this bill addresses a variety of practices used by Pharmacy Benefit Managers that have the effect of raising the costs of healthcare for consumers. 
    • This one made it into the Governor’s final amended budget and is set to be heard in the respective Finance, Ways and Means committees next week on Monday

Other stuff this week:

General 2021 Session Update

  • Next week is very likely the last week of the session – with the final budget out, there’s a lot more clarity for those bills with a price tag.
  • The only scheduled committees next week are the Judiciary and Finance, Ways and Means committees in the Senate, and the Government Operations, Education Administration and Finance, Ways and Means (sub and full) committees in the House
  • As a reminder, this is the first year of a two-year legislative session.
    • Bills that have not failed in committee, been referred to summer study, rolled to the first calendar of 2022 or taken off notice still have a shot at becoming law during the 2022 session.
    • Bills that have failed in committee are done, unless they are introduced as a “new” bill at the beginning of the 2022 session.
      • The 2022 session will not have an “organizing” session and subsequent recess as the 2021 session did, and will kick things off around the end of January. 
      • Bill filing for the 2022 session will likely begin in mid- to late-November and have a deadline some time in February.
      • The Governor may also call a special session whenever he so chooses, should he find a necessary and suitable subject for special legislation (probably not, but you never know!).

Federal Updates

Media Highlights

  • The Wilson Post – the legislature, who has the sole authority to pass a state budget, made a couple alterations to Governor Lee’s amended budget proposal in passing a final budget. Notably, the Governor’s two-week sales tax holiday for restaurants was trimmed to one, and investments in rural broadband cut in half to $100 million, among other changes.
  • Tennessee Lookout – a controversial bill that establishes a statewide chancery court received $2 million in the legislature’s final budget. The parameters of the court’s duties haven’t been officially set, but it’s likely that it would hear constitutional cases in which the state is the defendant (like past cases involving absentee ballot rules and private school voucher program), instead of the Davidson County Chancery Court, which has heard these kinds of cases in the past.
  • Knox News Sentinel – Knoxville is sending its finest to Lexington, Kentucky tomorrow, to compete in a tradition that dates back to 1875.  O Besos will run really fast in several circles, hoping to arrive at an arbitrary marker with a nose in front of the noses of the competition. Rein in your enthusiasm and hold your horses, O Besos only has 20-1 odds of winning the mane event. 

Thanks for reading, dear listener. It’s a good week to be a part of the TDC Family and I hope you feel the same way. The passage of the ID Death Penalty bill goes to show what a powerful force we are when we work together, and what a better place we can collectively make our state. Celebrate this weekend (responsibly, of course) and lets put our gloves back on for the next round. Have a great weekend.

- Jeff