The first of our weekly policy updates during legislative session 2021, check out information on our policy priorities, impressions about the goings on at the Capitol and the newest information about our grassroots initiatives.
The 2021 Session
- This year’s session will be one like no other – access to the chambers will be extremely limited (aka, we’re watching virtually) for TDC and other advocacy groups. There has been no talk about when this could or might change, so we’ll make do in these trying times and continue to enact our mission.
- There have been few shakeups in the General Assembly leadership – Lt. Governor Randy McNally will once again be the Speaker of the Senate, and Representative Cameron Sexton will retain the gavel in the House. Representative William Lamberth will begin his second session as the House Majority Leader and Representative Karen Camper will lead the House Democrats. On the Senate side, Senator Jack Johnson will continue as Senate Majority Leader and Senator Jeff Yarbro will likewise continue as Senate Minority Leader.
- Governor Lee’s State of the State address is Monday, February 8th. During his speech, Governor Lee will share his 2021 budget and unveil his top policy priorities for the upcoming year.
- The bill filing deadline for the Senate has been set for February 11th, and February 17th for the House of Representatives. This means that all proposed legislation will be on the table at that date, which should give us a clear picture about what we’re facing this year
- Only about half as many bills as would be expected have been filed thus far, so we should see a deluge of new proposed legislation in the next few days.
- Based on the budget hearings this year, we shouldn’t expect significant cuts in the 2021 budget unless Governor Lee has some surprises for us.
- Fears about budget shortfalls as a result of the pandemic economy have not borne out – in fact, Tennessee raised about $730 million in tax revenue above and beyond their expected collection amount that the 2020 budget was based on.
- It is expected, based on Governor Lee’s special session and the bills that have been introduced thus far, that the session will lean heavily toward education-related issues. This makes sense given the extreme disruption in student learning this year.
- There are a few bills we’re following that are Special Education-specific, but we will need to continue to put students with disabilities in the conversation about how we address the issues with educational recovery.
- Likewise, there are quite a few public health bills related to the power to make public health decisions and rules about vaccine mandates. Some of the bills introduced thus far are redundant or very similar to each other, so we will keep an eye on which ones move forward.
- It’s also expected that this session will move very quickly. There has been talk, given the pandemic accommodations and the supermajority in both chambers, that there may be less debate and more behind the scenes work. Again, something we will keep an eye on.
TDC Priority Bills for 2021
These will be the bills that we’re are spending most of our time on, supporting through our member organizations and watching very closely. It is early yet, and we have questions about some aspects of these bills, but we think that our membership should know about them because they are impactful and could feasibly be passed into law. We will keep you in the loop as other bills are filed - priorities may change as things pop up.
- As introduced, requires the emergency communication board to develop a statewide plan for text-to-911 service; requires, by January 1, 2023, all emergency communications districts to enact a system to allow text-to-911 services. - Amends TCA Title 7, Chapter 86.
- Executing persons with intellectual disabilities
- As introduced, allows a defendant who has been sentenced to the death penalty and whose conviction is final to petition the trial court for a determination of whether the defendant is ineligible for the death penalty due to intellectual disability. - Amends TCA Title 39 and Title 40.
- Teacher Discipline Act
- As introduced, enacts the "Teacher's Discipline Act"; establishes a process for a teacher to request the removal of a student from the teacher's classroom if the student's behavior violates the LEA's or school's student discipline policy or code of conduct and repeatedly or substantially disrupts the class. - Amends TCA Title 49. *We are very concerned about the implications of this legislation for students with disabilities
- Balance Billing
- As introduced, establishes independent dispute resolution procedures for emergency services and balance bills. - Amends TCA Title 33; Title 56; Title 63 and Title 68.
- DSP Wages
- As introduced, requires the department to increase over a three-year period the wage for direct care professionals employed by contracted agencies of the department to $15 per hour; requires annual increases in the hourly wage thereafter. - Amends TCA Title 33.
- Pharmacy Benefit Reform (not yet filed)
- This legislation would attempt to end 340B and specialty pharmacy discrimination, as well as address some of the problematic incentives for pharmacy benefit managers to falsely steer patients, spread pricing and retain rebates meant for patients.
- Universal Changing Tables (not yet filed)
- Would require that public buildings renovated after 2022 or newly constructed after 2025 include universal changing tables in bathrooms
- Step Therapy Reform (not yet filed)
- This bill would reform step therapy protocols in order to protect patients’ ability to receive the best medication for their needs. This is a similar bill to that proposed in the 2020 session.
Bills We are Watching
Check out the complete list of bills filed that we are watching here
Thanks for reading! Check back weekly for policy updates from the TDC policy team. Check in on Monday during the State of the State address for live Tweet updates – follow @tndisability to get in on the fun! For more frequent updates, follow me on Twitter @jeff_TDC Have a great weekend!