4.5.21 TDC Public Policy Update

Blue background with white text that reads The Coalition's Weekly Policy Update

They say something about April showers, don’t they? I believe they portend good things, if I recall correctly. I think it’s an interesting colloquialism, because it’s inherently optimistic while exemplifying the two steps-forward-one-step-back nature of spring. Not to make my every opening paragraph into some sort of metaphor, but doesn’t that just fit? Not every policy ambition has gone the way we hoped, we’ve seen best-laid plans turned upside down in an instant and yet, we keep going because of the promise of those pretty May flowers. And we couldn’t keep going without our TDC family. I’d include some sort of additional convoluted metaphor about the ingredients of growing stuff, but, you get the idea. Thanks for reading, dear reader, and thanks for living the mission.

TDC Priority Bill Update

  • ID Death Penalty Bill – the definition modernization version (which we really, really like) modernizes the state’s definition of ID and provides a pathway for individuals on sentenced to death to be evaluated for ID with this modern definition
    • Remember those April showers? Well, this one has been wet. The nature of politicking has rolled this bill a few times in committees in both the House and Senate. 
      • This isn’t a bad thing – thinking about what those April showers beget – and we feel good about where we are with this bill and even better about what the bill means for folks with ID. 
    • We still need our GRASSROOTS ACTIVATED. This bill has been rolling for a while, so we need to keep the importance of the legislation it at the forefront of the committee members’ minds.
    • The bill will (probably) be heard in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee on Wednesday the 7th and in the Senate Judiciary on Tuesday the 6th. 
  • Child Custody Disability Anti-Discrimination – this bill prohibits judges from exclusively considering a parent’s disability as evidence in decisions of child custody and parental termination hearings. 
    • Representative Harris’ first bill makes it through the House last week without much a hitch. It was passed unanimously on the House floor, and the Senate version, carried by Senator Kyle, is set to be heard on the Senate floor this week.
      • The Senate version is on the consent calendar, which means that it should pass through with no discussion and no problem.
    • This bill is important for its tangible benefit to parents with disabilities, but also because it challenges the erroneous narrative that proximity to people with disability has negative effects on those around them, and that the presence of a disability negates all other qualities of the person. Good on Rep. Harris and Sen. Kyle for saying it out loud. 
  • Sub-Minimum Wage Prohibition – this bill prohibits the use of federal waivers that permits paying workers with disabilities below the federal minimum wage.
    • This one curiously failed in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this past week. It had been discussed the week prior, and then deferred for more research.
    • When it was introduced last week on Wednesday, it did not get a second, meaning there weren’t 2 people on the committee who believed the bill should be discussed. 
      • Without a second, the bill failed. 
    • There’s a growing national movement around this issue, there was genuine and fruitful discussion the week prior and there is still time in the session, it is just very curious and unfortunate that this failed so quickly and easily.

Other stuff this coming week:

Federal Updates

  • American Jobs Act – Act II of the Biden presidency presents a $3 trillion infrastructure plan that makes huge public investments in roads/bridges/pipes, energy and bolstering the care economy.
    • That last part is huge, because it comes with a $400 billion check for HCBS’s. And that’s on top of the $14 billion from the Biden administration’s Act I, aka the American Rescue Plan, which passed last month.
    • The funds are meant to improve pay and benefits for home healthcare workers and to bump folks from waiting lists into the service programs they need.
    • I can’t reiterate this enough, this is a huge deal. This legislation would address several current and impending crises:
      • The shortage of DSP’s and home healthcare workers – in Tennessee, 47% of DSP’s quit every year, and the vacancy rate stands at a staggering 18%
        • Increasing the Medicaid matching rate allows agencies to invest more heavily in hiring and retaining staff.
      • DSP wages and benefits – the average wage for DSP’s is $10.36/hr (2019) and less than 40% of DSP agencies offered paid sick leave to all of their employees.
        • Increasing wages and benefits for employees is bound to reduce the absurd turnover rate for DSP’s. Lowering that rate will lead to a more experienced and talented (and full) workforce. 
      • A rapidly aging population – the number of Tennesseans age 60+ is expected to increase by over 500,000 to 2.16 million by 2030 – 30% of those are expected to require some level of support for independent living.
        • As disability touches more and more lives in Tennessee, it is crucial that we are prepared to ensure that services are available to all people who need them.
      • Waiting lists – there are currently over 5,000 Tennesseans who qualify for services from TennCare who are stuck on the waitlist to receive them. 
        • Services only improve quality of life if you are able to receive them – this investment would ensure that people who need services are given the quality support they deserve.
    • All that said, there are some major speedbumps ahead for the American Jobs Plan, namely, achieving 60 votes in the Senate.

Media Highlights

Thanks everyone for reading and accommodating our out-of-office day at TDC on Friday (I’m sure everybody was breathlessly refreshing their email, desperate for their policy update). Check back this Friday for your latest policy news!