March 20th Public Policy Update

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Federal Action:

President Trump has signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, to take effect April 2, 2020. The Act expands the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employers with fewer than 500 employees will provide 12 weeks of potentially job-protected paid FMLA leave. The Act also contains provisions for restoring employees to positions, emergency sick leave and an employer tax credit. Read an overview at:

As Congress works on the COVID-19 economic stimulus package, they are considering a proposal to allow the Secretary of Education 30 days to provide a list of waivers needed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Tennessee children rely on these federal laws to access fundamental services and supports to succeed in their path to education alongside their peers. We have shared an action alert with our networks to contact our U.S. Senators and ask that they oppose waiving requirements under the IDEA and Rehabilitation Act of 1973. An easy way to email your Senators is online at:

State Action:
Executive Order
Yesterday, Governor Lee signed a sweeping executive order intended to minimize the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The order makes a number of changes to state law, including:

  • Allows a pharmacist to dispense a 90-day supply of maintenance prescriptions without proper authorization
  • Suspends rules and regulations to allow licensed health care professionals to provide localized treatment in temporary residences
  • Urges health insurance carriers to provide coverage via telemedicine
  • Extends current license, certification, and registration expiration dates for health care professionals and facilities
  • Allows health care professionals licensed in other states to practice in Tennessee
  • Allows hospitals to increase their number of licensed beds by waiving certain Certificate of Need provisions
  • Allows for the construction of temporary structures as directed by the commissioner of the health department
  • Suspends the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse required unannounced life safety and environmental inspections absent the death of a service recipient
  • Authorizes TennCare to create policies or modify existing policies to ensure TennCare and CoverKids recipients continue to receive necessary medical care
  • Suspends rules to allow admission to state owned and operated facilities
  • Allows the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities to extend medication administration certification for unlicensed personnel
  • Expedites the processing of unemployment benefits
  • Waives onsite assessments and licensing monitoring visits for child care
  • Delays expiration of valid motor vehicle registrations and all valid driver licenses and Class ID photo ID licenses
  • Prohibits price gouging 

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
On March 18, 2020, we joined the Tennessee Justice Center, National Association of Social Workers – Tennessee Chapter, United Ways of Tennessee, Tennessee After School Network, Urban Child Institute, and ACE Awareness Foundation in sending guiding principles for spending Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds to Governor Bill Lee and Commissioner Danielle Barnes. This comes in response to Governor Lee’s recent announcement that the Tennessee Department of Human Services has issued a new policy offering emergency cash assistance by utilizing TANF funds for families who qualify and have had a job loss as a result of COVID-19. See Letter at:

TN General Assembly Passed A Budget

The Tennessee State Legislature has adjourned until June 1, 2020. We can not yet know whether business will resume as normal, or only urgent legislation will be considered when the TN General Assembly reconvenes.

Before departing this week, the General Assembly passed a “barebones” state budget for FY2020-21.  Passing a budget is constitutionally required. The General Assembly needed to do this before recessing. This year Governor Lee had proposed a 3.1% growth rate for the budget and had included a number of expansions and initiatives in his original budget.  

The barebones budget reduces the growth rate in the current year budget from 3.45% to 2.5%, and the upcoming fiscal year budget to zero.

Pertinent to Tennesseans with disabilities, funds were included to expand the Employment and Community First CHOICES program to serve 1,000 individuals form the waiting list, down from the original proposal of 2,500.

Relative to the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD), the budget included:

  • $8.6 million in total funding to make the full average Direct Support Professional (DSP) hourly wage of $10 recurring
  • $3 million and 26 positions to establish regional crisis teams to provide treatment for people with co-occurring IDD and behavioral health needs
  • $12.2 million for the Tennessee Early Intervention System (TEIS) to reflect program growth among children from birth up to the age of three  

In Mental Health, a variety of planned program expansions were eliminated, e.g. mobile crisis services, Creating Jobs initiative, and System of Care.

Also eliminated was the Governor’s plan to establish a new $250 million mental health trust fund.
A 4% teacher raise was dialed back by half. 

Open Meetings Act Amendment for COVID-19 crisis

The legislature adjourned without passing a bill that would create a path for governing bodies to meet electronically and limit the physical presence of the public during the coronavirus epidemic. The Open Meetings Act requires that all meetings be open to the public and not be conducted in secret. The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government states that “Allowing members of local governing bodies to meet electronically, and limit the presence of the public, would be a major change in the law, even if temporary.”  More information at

Medicaid Expansion 
A bill to expand Medicaid in Tennessee under the Affordable Care Act sponsored by Representative Ron Travis (R-Dayton) did not have enough votes to pass the House TennCare Subcommittee this year. The bill was based on the Insure Tennessee proposal put forth by former Governor Bill Haslam in 2015. Many legislators believe that the block grant proposal submitted to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would allow coverage to Tennesseans currently uninsured. The legislature plans to have further discussions about this, possibly over the summer.  
Coalition staff began meeting with partners and other stakeholders from around the state in February to discuss how we each could organize in support of Travis’s effort and healthcare expansion in general. The name Insure Tennessee Works was chosen so that each group, organization, or individual could personalize it (e.g. Insure TN Works for Hotels, Nurses, Me.). The work group plans to continue strategizing and building partnerships as the need for coverage still exists regardless of HB 2529’s progress.. 

Disability-Related Bill Report

A comprehensive bill report with the status of all legislation the Coalition has been following this year is available here

Below we have highlighted the progress of the bills discussed at our Policy Retreat and semi-annual membership meeting:

  • SB 1892/ HB 1699 Telemedicine:
    • What is it?

      • Bill to expand access to telemedicine, providing health care by means of telecommunications technology

    • Where is it?
      • Two different versions of the bill passed in House and Senate. Will need to reconcile the legislation when the legislature returns.
SB 1935/ HB 1866 Step Therapy:

    • What is it?
Bill to reform step therapy protocols, which require patients to try and fail on one or more medications chosen by their insurer before they can access the optimal treatment recommended by their health care provider.

    • Where is it?

      • Passed the House Life & Health Insurance Subcommittee, action deferred in Senate Commerce & Labor Committee

      • Fiscal note was added, but may need revision
SB 1612/ HB 1596 Tennessee Accessible Transportation and Mobility Act of 2020
What is it?

      • Creates an Office for Accessible Transportation and Mobility within the Department of Transportation to provide resources and expertise 

    • Where is it?

      • Passed, sent to the Governor for signature

  • SB 1637/ HB 2407 Testing Accommodations

    • What is it?

      • A student whose individualized education program (IEP) or section 504 plan allows for testing accommodations shall be allowed to use the same testing accommodations while taking an assessment under the Tennessee comprehensive assessment program (TCAP) or an end-of-course assessment

    • Where is it?

      • Passed, sent to the Governor for signature
SB 1933/ HB 1661 Misrepresentation of a Service Animal

    • What is it?
Adds to language that made misrepresentation of a service animal as part of a request to enter a place of public accommodation, amusement or recreation a Class B Misdemeanor offense

    • Where is it?

      • Action deferred in Senate Health and Welfare Committee, placed on House Commerce Committee Calendar
  • SB 0867/ HB 0896 Conservatorship Training

    • What is it?
Bill requires conservators other than public guardians to complete educational training within 30 days of appointment.

    • Where is it?

      • Taken off notice in Senate Judiciary Committee 
Passed House Children and Family Subcommittee with amendment.

  • HB 1584 Special driver designation
What is it?

      • Bill to create special designation, upon request, for drivers with intellectual or developmental disabilities or a medical condition that may impact their encounter with first responders in the Tennessee Vehicle Title and Registration Database.

    • Where is it?

      • This bill has no Senate sponsor or companion bill and has not progressed in that chamber.

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Tennessee Disability Coalition

The Coalition is an alliance of organizations and individuals who have joined to promote the full and equal participation of men, women and children with disabilities in all aspects of life. We work together to advocate for public policy that ensures self-determination, independence, empowerment, and inclusion for people with disabilities in areas such as accessibility, education, healthcare, housing, and voting rights.

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