March 23, 2009
Judiciary Committee passes Senator Yager’s legislation
to protect Community Action Agencies
(NASHVILLE, TN), March 23, 2009 — The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman) this week to add Community Action Agencies to the definition of a governmental entity under the Tennessee’s Governmental Tort Liability Act. The measure would recognize Community Action Agencies in the same way it does Human Resources Agencies, which are also a quasi-governmental agency that performs the same type of function but do receive tort protection under Tennessee law.
“These agencies that carryout many important functions in our community in assisting people who are otherwise disadvantaged,” said Senator Yager. “They provide a safety net for people in need of services in every one of the counties of this state. This bill gives our Community Action Agencies the same benefits and protections that are provided to its sister agencies, our Human Resource Agencies.
There are 20 community action agencies and six non-profits organizations in Tennessee which administer the Community Service Block Grant Programs and the Head Start Programs in Tennessee. This includes area agencies like Fentress County’s LBJ & C Corporation (Head Start), Morgan, Scott and Campbell County’s Mountain Valley Economic Opportunity Association, and the Mideast Community Action Agency in Roane County.
Community Action Agencies statewide served 23,000 families, or 300,000 individuals, last year. The organizations are chartered as quasi-governmental agencies to serve senior citizens, the disabled, economically disadvantaged Tennesseans and children. To carry out these programs, they receive and administer grants from the Department of Human Services Community Services Block Grant Program.
“Community Action Agencies are deemed public bodies under the Public Meeting and Open Records Law,” added Yager. “They are subject to the audit requirements under the State Comptroller’s office. Many of the agencies participate in other benefit programs provided by the state. However, they have never received protection under the Governmental Tort Liability Act.”
Yager said Community Action Agencies have experienced reductions of approximately 60 percent of their program monies over the last ten years even though the number of citizens receiving services has increased. The bill, SB 1327, will help agencies purchase insurance at a lower cost. The legislation applies to causes of action accruing after the enactment date.
“We don’t realize what a struggle these agencies are having to keep the doors open,” added Yager. “Many vulnerable citizens would be in need of services if they cannot provide these services. I am hopeful that we will pass this legislation provide these folks some protection under our Tort Liability Act.”
The bill now goes to the full Senate for final consideration as early as Thursday.