Capitol Hill Week State budget, school safety and juvenile justice headline Capitol Hill Week

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), March 22, 2018 –  School safety and the state budget headlined action on Capitol Hill this week as Governor Bill Haslam presented an amendment to his fiscal year 2018-2019 spending plan.  The new proposal includes $25 million in nonrecurring and $5.2 million in recurring school safety grants to protect students.  The action comes as members of a School Safety Working Group, appointed earlier this month to review school safety plans in Tennessee, are finalizing recommendations to enhance security for students.

The supplemental appropriations amendment is customarily introduced by the governor in the final weeks of the legislative session to make adjustments to the budget he submitted earlier in the year.  The new amendment, which includes $74 million in nonrecurring funds and $9.8 million in recurring funds, also provides:

  • $4.5 million in recurring dollars to fund juvenile justice reform legislation;
  • $3 million in nonrecurring funds for grants to help school districts purchase school buses equipped with seat belts;
  • $1.2 million in recurring funds and $420,000 in non-recurring funds for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) research to help children with chronic trauma;
  • An additional $5 million in nonrecurring funds for broadband accessibility grants for a total of $15 million in the 2018-19 fiscal year;
  • $9 million in nonrecurring funds to purchase equipment at the 27 Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology for improving and modernizing workforce development programs;
  • $3.2 million in recurring funds to adjust the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) provider rate for those who care for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens;
  • An additional $1 million in recurring funds to provide mental health treatment and recovery services as part of TN Together to curb the opioid crisis in Tennessee;
  • $2 million in nonrecurring funds for an addiction services research program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in support of TN Together; and,
  • $10 million in nonrecurring funds for the Aeronautics Development Fund to create jobs and investment opportunities in Tennessee’s aviation industry.

The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee’s Appropriation Subcommittee began the hard work of looking at recommendations for changes to the state budget on Thursday.  The committee is studying 282 appropriation amendments, filed by state senators on a wide variety of requests, which they will review alongside the governor’s supplemental budget amendment.

The legislature is looking to adjourn mid-April.


Legislation calling for juvenile justice reform in Tennessee is approved in Senate Judiciary Committee

Legislation to enact juvenile justice reform in Tennessee was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.  Senate Bill 2261 aims to begin needed reforms to strengthen families and communities in Tennessee, while promoting public safety and ensuring responsible and more effective use of the state’s limited resources.

Action on the legislation comes after the Joint Ad-hoc Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice did an in-depth study of the matter.  The report showed that there are some inequalities based on where a child might live.  Some courts, particularly in rural communities, may not have much choice in what to do with an unruly youth.  It also showed that across all stages of the juvenile justice system, African American youth have a greater representation when compared to the general youth population.  The legislation tries to address those disparities.

Due to a lack of community-based services, many youth in Tennessee are being confined for minor offenses or conduct that would not be crimes for adults.  In addition, minor violations of supervision conditions have resulted in youth returning to the juvenile justice system.  Misdemeanor offenses, unruly offenses and technical violations make up nearly half of youth in costly out-of-home placements.

Studies have shown that taking these juveniles out of their homes for minor offenses increases their risk for recidivism and the likelihood that they will enter into the adult criminal justice system.  It also diverts the state’s limited resources away from youth who pose a risk to the community.

The bill sets a presumptive maximum length for sentencing, which can be rebutted, of six months custody, unless the child needs more time to complete treatment or commits a new offense.  It also sets a maximum term of probation of six months with extension permitted for treatment completion. Research demonstrates that shorter intensive custody more effectively reduces reoffending.

The legislation is boosted by the supplemental appropriation submitted by Governor Bill Haslam on Tuesday which funds the proposal.  It now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee where it is scheduled for consideration on Tuesday.


Rural Hospital Transformation Act advances in Tennessee General Assembly to support the financial viability of the state’s rural hospitals

Legislation to support Tennessee’s rural hospitals so they can continue to foster greater quality of care in the state’s rural communities is advancing in the General Assembly.  The Tennessee Rural Hospital Transformation Act of 2018 would help struggling hospitals develop economic plans to ensure they are financially viable and continue to provide needed healthcare services.

The legislation requires the Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) to establish and manage a rural hospital transformation program to assess viability, identify new delivery models, develop strategic partnerships, and implement operational changes.  It also requires ECD to identify contractors to provide consultations to “target hospitals” for the creation of transformation plans. A transformation plan is a strategic plan developed by contractors in close collaboration with target hospitals and community stakeholders to provide recommendations and actionable steps for preserving healthcare services.

Each transformation plan will include:

  • Focused strategies for transitioning the hospital into a sustainable business model in order to avoid or prevent closure;
  • Recommendations for utilizing transformation funding to offset transition costs;
  • Recommendations for funding remaining transition costs with hospital or community resources;
  • Recommendations for ensuring that appropriate and viable services are provided in the target hospital community, serving the best interests of the patients and caregivers;
  • Recommendations for strategic partnerships and alliances where practical; and,
  • Where partnerships are not practical, recommendations for coordination with the surrounding healthcare community including safety-net providers and tertiary hospitals.

The legislation aims to provide ECD and the Hospital Association with a tool to work with those hospitals in order to help them create an economic plan that would make them viable in the communities in which they exist.  According to the Tennessee Hospital Association, there are 66 acute-care, rural hospitals in Tennessee. Approximately, 20 of these will receive a consultation with a contractor from ECD in order to develop a transformation plan.

Senate Bill 2646 is currently pending action in both the Senate and House Finance, Ways and Means Committees after approval by the General Assembly’s health committees.


Senate State and Local Government Committee votes to strengthen Tennessee’s law banning sanctuary cities

Legislation strengthening Tennessee’s law prohibiting sanctuary cities was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week.  Senate Bill 2332 ensures that state and local government entities are prohibited from adopting or enacting sanctuary policies, whether they are in written form or not, which shield illegal aliens from state and federal immigration laws.

A sanctuary city is a term given to a city in the United States that follows certain practices that protect illegal aliens.  The term generally applies to cities that do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to cooperate with federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about an individual’s immigration status.

Legislation was passed in 2009 making sanctuary cities illegal in Tennessee.  However, the law defined a sanctuary city as one which has written or stated policies, leaving a loophole for those which quietly don’t cooperate with state and federal laws.

This legislation expands the definition of what a sanctuary city is beyond a written policy.  It also creates a reporting mechanism for residents to make a complaint.  In addition, the proposal puts teeth in the law by cutting off economic and community grant money to any Tennessee city that adopts policies which are in violation.

The State and Local Government Committee also approved legislation prohibiting state and local government officials or employees from accepting consular identification cards and other similar documents which are not authorized by the General Assembly for use for identification purposes, determining a person’s identity or residency.  Senate Bill 2333 is a preemptive measure to ensure that abuses seen in other cities in the U.S. to issue government identification cards to illegal aliens are not implemented in Tennessee.  Matricula consular cards were prohibited as a source of identification for receiving a driver’s license under a law adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2003 after widespread abuse was reported.

Both bills now go to the Senate floor for final consideration.


Legislation supports work-based learning apprenticeships for students

Legislation was approved by the Senate Education Committee this week to support students who are involved in work-based learning apprenticeships. Senate Bill 1649 incentivizes employers to hire secondary education students in work-based learning programs by granting employers immunity from liability for actions relating to the students unless the employer acted willfully or with gross negligence.

Under this bill, employers may elect to provide worker’s compensation insurance, and the student’s local education agency would be required to maintain liability insurance to compensate the student for any injury not covered by the employer. It also authorizes employers to claim a $500 tax credit against franchise and excise tax liability.

Passed into law in 2013, the state’s Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) created a statewide, comprehensive structure enabling students in Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) and community colleges to participate in technical training developed with input from area employers. The program was designed to ensure colleges are producing graduates with the skills and credentials Tennessee employers actually need.

Now in its second iteration, the LEAP program continues this effort by encouraging and facilitating the alignment of local workforce and education partners through a $10 million competitive grant process led by the Governor’s Workforce Subcabinet. These funds are available to local collaboratives through a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) process.

According to the Department of Education, the number of students enrolled in work-based learning program in fiscal year 2016-17 totaled 10,501. Under present law, students in colleges of applied technology may participate in work-based learning, which provides credit for work experiences such as internships, practicums, or clinicals.  Work-based learning is incorporated into coursework or related to a specific field of study.

This bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for consideration.


In Brief…

Tennessee Attorney General / Selection — A resolution that would allow voters to decide if they want their elected representatives to select the state’s attorney general (AG), rather than the current system of allowing five appointed Supreme Court justices to make that choice, was approved on final consideration on Monday.  Senate Joint Resolution 88 begins the process of amending the State Constitution, which if approved by voters, calls for the AG to be selected by the Tennessee General Assembly beginning March 2023.  The resolution calls for the AG to be elected to a four-year term.  It also provides that the AG be 30 years of age or older, a citizen of the United States, an attorney duly licensed in Tennessee and a resident of the state for at least seven years preceding the election.  Under the measure, appointment would be made by joint vote of both houses of the General Assembly.  The amendment process requires a simple majority by the 110th General Assembly currently in session, and a two-thirds majority in the 111th General Assembly which is elected in 2018, before going to voters in a statewide referendum in 2022.

Welfare Reform — A bill strengthening the integrity of Tennessee’s temporary assistance programs for needy families by reducing fraud and abuse, incentivizing work, and encouraging self-sufficiency passed the Senate this week on final consideration.  Senate Bill 2247 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.

UT Board / FOCUS Act — Legislation empowering the University of Tennessee (UT) Board of Trustees to operate more efficiently and effectively like the state’s other four-year universities was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.  Senate Bill 2260 would reconstitute the board from 27 members to 11 who would serve staggered terms.  The board members would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the General Assembly.  An amendment added to the bill calls for at least five of the members to be UT alumni and that the governor should strive to appoint those members from different University of Tennessee institutions.  The legislation also creates seven-member advisory boards at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, University of Tennessee at Martin, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and UT Health Science Center.  The advisory boards would submit recommendations regarding operating budgets, tuition and fees, strategic plans, campus life, academic programs and other matters related to the institution.

Child Sexual Abuse / Admissibility of Non-testimonial Statements — The full Senate approved legislation on Thursday to create an exception to the hearsay rule in criminal proceedings regarding statements made by young children relative to sexual and physical abuse.  Senate Bill 1593 applies to non-testimonial statements made by children under the age of 12.  The hearsay rule is a basic rule that testimony or documents which quote a person not in court are not admissible.  Under the legislation, the admissibility of a non-testimonial statement must be made by the judge in a separate hearing outside the presence of the jury.  The bill also sets the stipulations to guide the judge in making the decision as to whether the out-of-court statement is trustworthy.  For example, the judge would consider spontaneity or consistency of the statement, the mental state of the child, the motive or lack thereof, and the terminology used, before deciding whether the statement could be used in court.  The bill is modeled after an Ohio law which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alzheimer’s Disease — The Senate passed a resolution this week seeking to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease and its impact on Tennesseans.  Senate Joint Resolution 619 urges the Department of Health to designate Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias as a public health issue.  One in eight Tennesseans, aged forty-five and older, reported an increase in confusion or worsening memory loss and almost half of them (46.1 percent) had not discussed these cognitive concerns with a healthcare provider.  While there are promising prevention interventions, including physical exercise, dietary considerations, cognitive exercise, and social engagement, there are currently no known definitive interventions to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.  It is the sixth leading cause of death in adults aged eighteen or older in the United States of America and Tennessee.

School Leadership / Principals —  Governor Bill Haslam announced a comprehensive initiative this week to transform the leadership of Tennessee’s schools by improving the preparation, retention, and development of school principals.  The Transforming School Leadership initiative leverages both state and private dollars to improve school leader preparation programs, reward and retain individuals effectively leading the state’s lowest performing schools, and provide networking opportunities and support for principals in rural communities.  The 2018-19 budget proposal calls for $3.5 million in funds to advance this work. Additionally, the Ayers Foundation, Scarlett Family Foundation, and the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) have invested a combined $600,000 to advance leader preparation.  Each year, the state hires approximately 270 new principals across 1,819 public schools.

Public Benefits / Food Stamps – The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) recently welcomed its 19th law enforcement partner in an ongoing initiative to fight abuse of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps).  SNAP provides nutritional assistance benefits to nearly a million people in Tennessee. The program helps supplement the monthly food budgets of families with low-income to buy the food they need, maintain good health and allow them to use more of their income for essential living expenses. These State Law Enforcement Bureau (SLEB) agreements between the TDHS and agencies give investigators more tools to catch business owners who are fraudulently using another person’s SNAP EBT card for profit or SNAP recipients who are selling their own cards.  Under the agreements, investigators have access to purchasing information and actual EBT cards to conduct undercover selling operations.  DHS officials are continuing to reach out to other law enforcement agencies with the goal of increasing the number of partnerships across the state.

Adult Family Caregivers – On Monday, the full Senate adopted a House amendment and sent to the governor legislation to allow religious organizations or institutions to provide limited respite services for primary in-home caregivers of elderly or vulnerable adult family members.  The programs for these caregivers are similar to “mother’s day out” programs for young children.  Research has shown that caregivers need these breaks for a variety of reasons.  It also provides socialization and different activities for those elderly or vulnerable adults participating.  Senate Bill 1487 would limit the program to no more than six hours per day or 12 hours per week.  It also calls for registration of the program with the Department of Human Services.  It is estimated that Tennessee will go from 970,000 elderly citizens to over 1.4 million in the next 15 years.

February Unemployment Rate / Record Lows —  Tennessee’s unemployment rate remained near historic low levels in February with the preliminary rate at 3.4 percent.  February’s rate is up just 0.1 of a percentage point from January’s revised rate of 3.3 percent. Over the past 12 months, Tennessee’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased a full percentage point from 4.4 percent to 3.4 percent and remains less than the national average of 4.1 percent.  Tennesseans can access the latest job openings across the state, as well as job interview preparation information, on the state’s workforce website.

Ag Day on the Hill — State leaders and citizens celebrated agriculture in Tennessee on Tuesday with “Ag Day on the Hill,” an annual event that brings a little bit of country life to the state’s capitol. The event coincides with National Ag Day and recognizes the farmers and forestland owners who are dedicated to building, feeding, clothing, and fueling our world.  This year’s annual competition spotlighted the role of forestry in Tennessee as lawmakers from the Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives tested their skills on the crosscut saw in a wood-cutting competition. The fastest time earned the House of Representatives a commemorative award and bragging rights. Agriculture is one of the top industries in Tennessee, contributing more than $82 billion a year to the state’s economy and employing more than 173,000 citizens. The state has more than 66,000 farms representing 10.8 million acres.

Research / Cannabidiol Oil — This week, legislation passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee that seeks to give universities the ability to research hemp plants in order to help support Tennessee’s industrial hemp industry and those diagnosed with intractable seizures. Senate Bill 1915 as amended exempts cannabis oil that is less than 0.6% THC from the definition of “marijuana,” when manufactured, processed, transferred, dispensed, or possessed by a four-year public institution of higher education as part of a clinical research study on intractable seizures, cancer, or other diseases. It also exempts oil containing the substance cannabidiol that is less than 0.9% THC, if the bottle containing the oil is labeled by the manufacturer as containing cannabidiol in an amount less than 0.9% of THC, and the person possessing the oil retains proof of the legal order from the issuing state and proof that the person or the person’s immediate family member has been diagnosed with intractable seizures by a medical doctor licenses to practice in Tennessee. In addition, it removes the requirement that four-year higher education institutions conducting clinical research on these substances be certified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  Finally, the bill removes a sunset provision on a law passed last year that allows epilepsy patients and their families to purchase cannabidiol from other states as prescribed by their doctor.

National Guard License Plates — On Thursday, the Senate approved and sent to the Governor legislation designed to support Tennessee’s military families.  Senate Bill 1900 allows a surviving spouse of a National Guard member to be issued a National Guard license plate until he or she remarries.  The surviving spouse would be required to show adequate proof of service by providing the appropriate forms and the plate would be distinguished by a surviving spouse decal.  There are currently three other military plates which are similar to this.  The bill is the latest in a series of initiatives designed to ensure that those who defend our state and our country are not forgotten.


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