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Feb 12th Weekly Policy Update

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Tennessee Representatives and Senators reconvened on Tuesday this week for the second session of the 111th General Assembly. With Governor Lee’s State of the State address on Monday the 8th and the House bill filing deadline on Thursday the 11th, it has been a whirlwind week of legislative merriment. As it stands on Friday morning, over 1,300 bills have been introduced in the House, and over 1,600 in the Senate. With the bill filing deadline in the Senate next Wednesday, the 17th, expect another electrifying rush of bill filings and civic enthusiasm up on the hill!

State of the State
Speaking of the Governor Lee’s State of the State address, Representatives and Senators gathered at War Memorial Auditorium to hear the Governor lay out his budget and legislative priorities for the 2021 session. The legislature had to pass a resolution in January that moved the address from the Capitol to the auditorium after some sleuthing by local journalists about the constitutionality of moving the speech. However, speaking did prevail. Here are some highlights of Governor Lee’s address:
Governor Lee plans to invest $900 million into capital maintenance and state infrastructure projects.

  • The Governor’s budget also makes big investments in education, including $120 million to raise teacher compensation and $70 million to fully fund the Basic Education Plan. This is on top of the investments in literacy and learning loss recovery laid out in the January special session.
  • The budget also drops some dollars into healthcare, including $6.6 million to extend postpartum healthcare for TennCare recipients out to a year, $2 million for the healthcare safety net and $6.5 million for the behavioral healthcare safety net.
  • Other highlights include permitting kids in the foster care system to retain their TennCare benefits until age 18 and using $9.7 million to raise DSP wages from $10 to $10.50
  • Some big news includes the Governor’s investment of $11 million to add 300 enrollees to the ECF CHOICES program. 

We loved some of the proposals, didn’t love some of the others, but you can read our response to Governor Lee’s State of the State Address here.

New Bills to Watch
With one bill filing deadline passed and another impending, we’ve seen a lot of bills of note dropped over the last week. Here are a few (though certainly not all of them):

  • HB1062/SB1349 - As introduced, redefines the term "intellectual disability" for purposes of determining eligibility for the death penalty; allows a defendant sentenced to death prior to the effective date of the act to petition the trial court for a determination as to whether the defendant is intellectually disabled. - Amends TCA Title 39 and Title 40.
    • This bill is TDC’s top priority bill this session. We think that this bill has a more appropriate definition of ID and provides an important pathway for individuals to have their ID status evaluated and considered in court.
  • HB0438/SB1059 - As introduced, directs the department to develop and administer a system of grants to LEAs to supplement funding LEAs receive through the BEP for special education. - Amends TCA Title 49.
    • We like this bill – it offers 130% of the current funding level for SPED – but it has a big “IF” in the form of the phrase “subject to appropriation”. It’s great if it passes, but it doesn’t do anything until the governor includes it in his budget.
  • SB1292 - As introduced, removes the subminimum wage exception for an employee whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by age, physical, or mental deficiency or injury. - Amends TCA Title 8 and Title 50.
    • Again, we like this bill with an “IF” – the intent is fantastic, we need to hear more about how we plan to implement the rule before we jump for joy.

Updates on Priority Bills

  • Text-to-911 – assigned to Departments and Agencies subcommittee – not yet on the calendar.
  • Teacher Discipline Act – passed K-12 subcommittee without much resistance. Rep. Cepicky emphasized, “This bill has nothing to do with disability”. The bill is being heard on Wednesday, 2/17, in both the House and Senate education committees. We continue to have major reservations about the negative impacts of this bill for students with IEP’s and those with disabilities who have not yet been identified in the evaluation process.
  • Universal Changing tables – bills in the House and Senate have now been filed. See the bill text in the link
  • Pharmacy Benefit Bills – 340B discrimination prohibition, benefit manager reform, and wholesale drug pricing.
  • We will keep an eye on these, but it appears that there are no house cosponsors, which may mean these guys are dead on the ground. Check back for updates.
  • Step Therapy – we have bills! See the Senate and House bill text here. 

Federal Updates

  • American Rescue Plan – the most recent iteration of COVID relief. Includes enhanced unemployment, stimulus payments, funding for school reopening, increased SNAP benefits, extends moratorium on evictions, funding for expanded testing and vaccine distribution, subsidizes COBRA and funding for mental health.
  • Medical Debt Relief Act – creates a one-year delay between when medical debt is accrued and when non-payment impacts credit score – allows for negotiation between individuals and providers to work out payment plans. 
  • Protecting Consumer Access to Generic Drugs of 2021 – prohibits brand name drug manufacturers from paying generic drug makers to delay product entry into the market.
  • Continuing Coverage of Preexisting Conditions Act of 2021 – should the ACA individual mandate be found illegal or unenforceable, this bill would continue the prohibition against discriminatory pricing based on preexisting condition or health status.

Media Highlights

  • WBIR - Fact-checking Governor Lee’s claim during his State of the State address that Tennessee is top ten for vaccine distribution – spoiler: we’re not.
  • The Tennessean – Governor Lee’s plan to push the state’s “rainy day fund” to $1.5 billion creates some controversy on both sides of the aisle – should we save for future calamities or spend on Tennesseans now?
  • Chattanooga Times Free Press – Finally, the important stuff: the proposal for a capitol hill Dolly Parton statue has passed its first legislative hurdle and is headed for committee. The house bill still needs a senate cosponsor for Dolly to ascend to her righteous place outside the capitol. 

Thanks for reading! Keep an eye out for Disability Day on the Hill updates on the TDC website and check back next week for some fresh content and hot takes!

Have a great weekend! 
- Jeff