Capitol Hill Week Senate Health and Welfare Committee approves welfare reform legislation

Capitol Hill Week

Senate Health and Welfare Committee approves welfare reform legislation

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), March 8, 2018 – The State Senate approved a wide variety of issues this week as committees worked at full steam.  This includes passage of a major bill in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee strengthening the integrity of Tennessee’s temporary assistance programs for needy families by reducing fraud and abuse, incentivizing work, and encouraging self-sufficiency.  Senate Bill 2247 is one of Governor Bill Haslam’s legislative priorities.

The proposal seeks approval for Tennessee to join a multi-state cooperative to identify dual recipient participation in the state’s programs.  It also strengthens investigations of multiple Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card replacements, as well as providing other tools which will help the state investigate fraud and abuse.  EBT is a system for delivering Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, and Families First benefits to eligible Tennesseans.

In addition, the welfare reform legislation encourages family stabilization by linking the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) maximum benefit to the current standard of need in Tennessee.  The state has the second lowest TANF allotment in the U.S.  The boost in monthly payments for those enrolled in the program would be the first in 21 years.

Finally, the bill reduces the fiscal cliff for families meeting the TANF or Families First work requirements by providing a work incentive transitional benefit.

The legislation follows action by Governor Bill Haslam in September to reestablish work requirements for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) receiving SNAP benefits in 70 counties beginning February 1.  The waiver, which was put into place during the 2008 recession, only remains in 16 counties designated as distressed.

Senate approves lifesaving legislation to foster better outcomes for stroke patients

Lifesaving legislation designed to get stroke patients in Tennessee to the best hospital with the best treatment capabilities to foster better outcomes was approved by the full Senate this week.  Senate Bill 2513 requires the Tennessee Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Board to create protocol guidelines from which local Emergency Medical Authorities (EMAs) will establish protocol plans for pre-hospital assessment, triage and transport of stroke patients.

A stroke is what occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked or stopped. It is the fifth leading cause of death in Tennessee.  Within a few minutes of a stroke, brain cells begin to die, meaning time is of the essence from the onset of symptoms to arrival at an emergency room capable of treating stroke patients.  The legislation aims to ensure stroke patients get to the best stroke center as quickly as possible and brings Tennessee one step closer to improving stroke care.

The bill was recommended by the Tennessee Stroke Task Force, which was established by law in 2016 to focus on stroke best practices and treatment guidelines.

The legislation also establishes that the Department of Health will recognize hospitals on its website which have received department-approved national certification for different levels of stroke care.  These levels include Comprehensive Stoke Center (CSC), Primary Stroke Center (PSC), Acute Stroke Ready Hospital (ASRH) or Thrombectomy-Capable Stroke Center (TSC).  By recognizing facilities certified by levels of stroke care, there can be better coordination between EMS, health professionals and treatment facilities to ensure stroke patients get to the medical centers with best capabilities to treat them as quickly as possible.

The legislation follows a bill passed last week setting up a statewide ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction (STEMI) system of care in Tennessee. A STEMI is a very serious type of heart attack during which one of the heart’s major arteries that supplies oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the heart muscle is blocked.  In order to treat a STEMI, it is vital that the patient gets to the hospital quickly and has a stent placed so blood flow can be restored.

Senate Bill 2071 requires the Department of Health to recognize hospitals that meet certain criteria as accredited or certified receiving centers and accredited or certified referring centers. Then emergency services and ambulances at hospitals shall develop pre-hospital protocols for transporting STEMI patients to the nearest receiving or referring hospital based on nationally recognized clinical practice guidelines.

The goal is to get the patient transported to the most appropriate center as rapidly as possible to save the heart muscle to save lives.  That bill is pending a final vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, which could come as early as next week.

Working group is appointed to review school safety in Tennessee

School safety headlined this week’s action on Capitol Hill as Governor Bill Haslam appointed a working group on Monday to review school safety in Tennessee.  The 17-member group is comprised of leaders from education, mental health and safety, as well as members of the General Assembly and the executive branch of government.

The Governor’s School Safety Working Group wasted no time in getting down to work, meeting on Thursday to start their review.  While all schools in Tennessee have safety plans in place, the Governor’s School Safety Working Group ise reviewing the policies, procedures and process of developing and implementing those plans, as well as other school safety measures.  The panel will collaborate with law enforcement, educators, mental health professionals and others in developing their recommendations.  The first recommendations from the group are expected to be delivered before the General Assembly adjourns in April.

The group is chaired by Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner David Purkey.

Senate Judiciary Committee approves resolution calling for an open selection process and legislative confirmation in selecting the state’s Attorney General

A resolution giving voters an opportunity to amend Tennessee’s Constitution to change the process by which the state’s Attorney General (AG) is selected was recommended for adoption by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.  Senate Joint Resolution 611 calls for an open nomination process by the Tennessee Supreme Court, followed by a confirmation vote of the nominee by a majority of both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Proponents maintain the legislation will provide for a more transparent process in the selection of nominees, while keeping intact a role for the judiciary and adding confirmation by the elected representatives of the people of Tennessee.  Since the state’s Supreme Court justices are selected by the governor, the people have no elected representatives currently involved in the process.

The resolution would require the votes of the Supreme Court justices to be held in open court, with recorded votes. The Tennessee Supreme Court’s votes regarding the attorney general nominees are not currently disclosed to the public.

Once the nomination is made, the legislature would have sixty days to go through the confirmation process. In the event that the candidate is rejected, then the Supreme Court would have another opportunity to make the nomination.

In addition, the measure would require that the attorney general be at least thirty years old, a citizen of the United States, an attorney duly licensed in this state and a resident of this state for at least five years immediately preceding nomination by the Supreme Court.  It would also decrease the term of the attorney general from eight years to six years.

Currently, Tennessee is the only state in which the state’s Supreme Court appoints the attorney general.  The attorney general is directly elected in 43 states, appointed by the governor in five states, and elected by the state legislature in one state.

Seven-day sales legislation overcomes first hurdle with passage in Senate State and Local Government Committee

The Senate State and Local Government Committee approved legislation on Tuesday permitting retail food stores to sell wine and retail package stores to sell alcoholic beverages seven days a week.  Senate Bill 2518 would put retailers on par with restaurants, hotels, convention centers, tourist resorts and other businesses in Tennessee which are already allowed to sell wine and spirits any day of the week under state law.

Presently, retailers can sell beer seven days a week in Tennessee, while the sale of wine and distilled spirits is limited to Monday through Saturday and is not allowed on certain holidays.  The legislation would allow retail businesses to open from 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m. on Sunday, including holidays.  Retail package stores would be allowed to choose whether or not to be open seven days a week upon the bill becoming law, while it would become effective for retail food stores on January 1, 2019.

Forty states allow for seven-day sales by retailers, including five which border Tennessee.

Issues in Brief

Voter Integrity — Legislation which aims to ensure only eligible Tennessee voters participate in Tennessee elections won final approval this week.  Under Senate Bill 1808, local election commissions will receive lists of people who are disqualified from jury duty because they have moved, are noncitizens, been convicted of a felony or have passed away.  Election officials would then use this information to determine if the person should still be an active, registered voter in that county.

SIDS EducationSenate Bill 2673  received approval in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week, requiring the Commissioner of Health to develop educational literature to inform the public of the risks and prevalence of sleep-related deaths and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  The literature would be made available on the Department of Health’s website, as well as any findings that may prevent SIDS and sleep-related deaths.  SIDS is a medical disorder that claims the lives of thousands of young children one week to one year of age. More children die of SIDS in a year than all children who die of cancer, heart disease, pneumonia, child abuse, AIDS, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy combined.

Family Planning Funds — Legislation making permanent the current practice for disbursing Title X federal family planning funds by the Department of Health has received final approval by the full Senate.  Senate Bill 2494 codifies the existing practice for future administrations that county and district health centers are to be fully funded relative to providing these services before any excess funds can be distributed.  Then nonpublic entities that provide family planning services, as well as comprehensive primary and preventative care services, would be eligible for the remaining excess funds.  The nonpublic providers of family planning services that don’t provide comprehensive primary care would continue to be the last to receive excess funds.

Financial Asset Management Companies / F&E Taxes — A bill which allows publicly traded financial asset management companies to use the single sales factor apportionment formula for Tennessee Franchise and Excise (F&E) taxes has passed final Senate consideration.  Senate Bill 2256 helps to keep Tennessee competitive with states offering similar accounting formulas. Manufacturers were afforded a similar tax option under the Tax Reduction Act of 2017 (IMPROVE Act) passed last year.

Newborns / NAS — Legislation passed out of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday calling for physicians who prescribe more than a five-day supply of opioids to women of child-bearing age to inform the patient about the risks it could have to a newborn, as well as cost-effective and appropriate forms of birth control.  Senate Bill 2674 aims to reduce the number of newborns with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS). The number of babies nationwide born drug dependent has increased 500 percent since 2000.  In addition to the pain these babies who are affected suffer, it costs approximately $62,000 per baby to treat this condition, with a total cost of $1 billion to Tennessee taxpayers annually. “We need to do everything we can to educate women who have been prescribed opioids to lower the risk that children are born with NAS.”

Refugees of Disasters / Pharmacy – Legislation which authorizes a pharmacist in Tennessee, in good faith, to dispense prescription medication for up to 20 days to a patient who is displaced by a declared disaster has passed on final approval.  Senate Bill 1670 allows prescription information to be obtained from a prescription label, verbal medical order, verbal prescription order, or any other means determined to be legitimate in the professional judgment of the pharmacist.  The bill would not apply to prescriptions for narcotics.

Impersonation of a Veteran — The full Senate voted this week to make it a Class A misdemeanor to criminally impersonate a member or veteran of uniformed service with the intent to obtain money, property, services, or other tangible benefits.  Senate Bill 2030 would require all imposed fine proceeds go to assist veterans homes in Tennessee.  The bill makes an exception for those who pretend to be veterans in a movie or play.

Response to InterventionSenate Resolution 158 passed the Senate Education Committee this week to help identify students who are struggling and to provide the interventions necessary to help them succeed.   This resolution, which is funded in Governor Bill Haslam’s budget, approves changes to the Basic Education Program (BEP) formula to include $13.3 million in recurring funds for Response to Intervention positions. This funding will provide a framework for teaching and learning that includes regular screenings to identify student areas of need and a tiered model of intervention for those who need additional help. The resolution now moves to the Senate Finance Ways and Means Committee.

Council Members / Active Duty Veterans — The full Senate voted this week to allow a veteran who has been called up for active military service during their elected term of office on a city council, to continue as a council member for up to 13 months.  Senate Bill 1959 would apply as long as the council agrees by a two-thirds vote.  This bill would allow the active service members to attend and vote in sessions via a two-way electronic audio-video communication. The bill, which has passed the House of Representatives, now moves to Governor Bill Haslam’s desk for his signature.

Prisoners / Occupational LicensesThe Senate Commerce and Labor Committee advanced legislation this week which helps ensure Tennessee’s occupational licensing does not keep offenders who have served their time in jail from obtaining employment and getting a fresh start in life.  Senate Bill 2465 would reduce barriers to entering a profession by only allowing state licensing boards to deny licenses for past crimes that are directly related to the job sought excluding certain felonies. It provides that if a licensing board denies someone a license for a past crime, the board must consider the nature and seriousness of the crime, the passage of time since the crime was committed, and the relationship between the crime and the license sought, among other factors.  It also allows applicants for licenses to petition a state licensing board upfront to determine whether a past crime will disqualify them from obtaining a license. Tennessee requires a license for 110 different jobs, many impacting blue collar jobs.  Almost every state licensing board can deny a license to do a job based off a past criminal record, including low-level misdemeanor crimes.

Victims’ Rights / Electronic Notification — The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week giving crime victims a choice to receive notifications electronically.  Tennessee’s Victims’ Bill of Rights declares that victims and witnesses have the right to be notified by the Department of Correction of an offender’s parole hearing date and when that offender will be eligible for parole. Senate Bill 2235 permits victims or their victim representative to be notified by electronic means, provided they have registered with the state’s electronic notification service. It also allows for cancellation of this notification service electronically.

Moratorium on Additional Statewide Testing – The Senate Education Committee voted this week to put a two-year moratorium on any additional statewide testing in Tennessee’s K-12 schools.  This legislation prevents any additional assessments from being implemented until the current system is operating correctly. Further, Senate Bill 1806 ensures stability in the state tests because nothing new will be added.

Human Trafficking / Shelters — The full Senate voted this week to protect the records of trafficking victims who seek treatment from service providers during their recovery process.  Current law makes confidential the records of domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers.  Senate Bill 1656 adds human trafficking service providers to this list to aid recovery efforts for victims.

Child Sex Offenders — The full Senate approved legislation this week ensuring sex offenders convicted of continuous sexual abuse of a child are listed on the state’s Sex Offender Registry.   In 2014, the General Assembly passed a bill creating the offense of continuous sexual abuse of a child.  The statute allows prosecutors to try several counts of sexual offenses committed against a child victim in one trial and this prevents the child from having to testify about their victimization multiple times to several juries.  However, when the law was passed, this new crime was not added to the state’s Sex Offender Registry.  Senate Bill 1944 would add the offense of continuous sexual abuse of a child to the Sex Offender Registry as a violent offender.

Opioids / TN Together — Legislation addressing the law enforcement and treatment components of the three-pronged plan to fight Tennessee’s opioid epidemic was approved by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.  Senate Bill 2258 revises various provisions of the law regarding the scheduling of controlled substances and their analogues and derivatives, including updated identifications of drugs categorized in Schedules I-V.  The updated schedule of controlled substances would allow law enforcement to better track, monitor and penalize the use and unlawful distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs, including substances that mimic the effects of fentanyl, a drug that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and is linked to an alarming number of overdose deaths.  The legislation provides incentives for offenders in correctional facilities to complete an intensive substance use treatment program while incarcerated.  An increasing number of offenders suffer from substance use disorders.  These evidence-based programs are proven to reduce recidivism and improve lives while saving taxpayer dollars.

Human Trafficking / Intellectual Disability – In an ongoing effort to curb human trafficking in Tennessee, the full Senate voted this week to stiffen penalties for promoting prostitution when the victim has an intellectual disability.  Senate Bill 2517 makes promoting prostitution in such cases punishable as trafficking for a commercial sex act.  The action would allow prosecutors to charge a defendant with a Class D, instead of a Class E, felony crime.  The legislation follows a Department of Justice study which showed the rate of serious violent crime, including rape and sexual assault, for persons with disabilities was more than three times the rate of other victims.

In God We Trust — Legislation received final Senate approval that seeks to place the nation’s motto, “In God We Trust,” in all Tennessee schools.   Senate Bill 2661 calls for the motto to be displayed in a prominent location.  The establishment of this motto was signed into law in 1956 by President Eisenhower, but was imprinted on U.S. coins and currency long before that time.  The bill is now pending action on the floor of the House of Representatives.

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