Bill Watch is a service of the Knoxville Bar Association Legislative Committee. During each week of the legislative session, the KBA will distribute an updated report, through the support of Stephanie D. Coleman of Owings, Wilson & Coleman. The report will indicate progress and recent actions taken on the bills of interest to KBA members.
You can also get information about the General Assembly, including the text of bills and floor and committee calendars, by accessing the legislative web site at www.capitol.tn.gov.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program - Senate Bill 751 was recommended by a group appointed to study possible changes to the program which currently has $710 million in reserves. The funds, which come from a federal block grant, provide support to struggling families such as childcare assistance, temporary cash assistance, transportation, job training, employment activities and other support services offered through the state’s Families First Program. The legislation creates a two-year pilot program which provides enhanced cash assistance to individuals who are actively pursuing educational opportunities. The legislation also increases the TANF allotment per family.
The proposal includes distribution of $180 million through a new Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Program. This would fund seven pilot programs, two in each grand division and one to be offered by the Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS), to create large-scale programs benefitting TANF recipients. The pilot programs established will be subject to third party, academic review to determine their effectiveness. Similarly, the bill creates the Families First Community Grants to infuse $50 million in TANF reserves funds into the community through grants to organizations providing services to low income families. This more traditional grant program will offer smaller non-profits, who are unable to be selected for large scale pilots, the ability to utilize TANF funding in their communities to improve outcomes and opportunities for parents and children.
On fraud, the legislation increases civil penalties for individuals using false identities to secure benefits. It also provides for confidential reporting of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and TANF fraud.
Prescription Drugs/ PBMs - Legislation to make certain reforms to how Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) operate in Tennessee was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee this week. Senate Bill 1617 would ensure patients can use the pharmacies they choose rather than being forced by their insurance companies to use specialty pharmacies. PBMs are companies that manage prescription drug benefits on behalf of health insurers, Medicare Part D drug plans, large employers and others. They are owned by insurance companies and often own pharmacies as well.
The bill would ensure price reductions negotiated by the PBMs pass through the pharmacy directly to the consumer and that pharmacies are not paid below their acquisition cost. In addition, the bill seeks to prohibit PBMs from discriminating against 340B facilities. Currently, PBMs can amend a 340B entity’s contract and reimburse at a lower rate than negotiated, essentially withholding money from indigent care facilities. The bill now moves to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration.
Senior Citizens/ Silver Alert Program - The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week creating a statewide Silver Alert Program to strengthen local efforts to safely recover seniors and vulnerable adults with disabilities who are missing in Tennessee. Senate Bill 102 puts implementation and oversight for the program under the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Currently, local law enforcement agencies are responsible for issuance of a Care Alert.
The Silver Alert legislation defines a missing person as an individual age 60 or older, whose whereabouts is unknown and who is believed to be in danger because of age, health, mental health conditions or physical disability. The alert would be issued when the missing person is believed to be unable to return to safety without assistance and it can be in combination with certain weather or environmental conditions. In addition, the alert would apply to a person who suffers from a documented case of dementia, intellectual, developmental or physical disability.
The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for consideration of the bills’ fiscal impact.
Tennessee Food Freedom Act - State Senators gave final approval to Senate Bill 693 this week, which would allow for the sale of homemade food items to entities other than a direct consumer, such as a retail vendor. The production and sale of these goods would no longer be subjected to the licensing, permitting, inspecting, packaging, and labeling laws of this state, except when the Department of Agriculture is investigating a possible foodborne illness.
Child Abuse Prevention Month - Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted this week to designate April 2021 as “Child Abuse Prevention Month.” Senate Joint Resolution 209 calls on the General Assembly to pause and “recognize the intense problem of child abuse and the lasting effects it has on Tennessee’s most precious resource—our children.” The resolution is in response to the increasing number of children suffering from physical, sexual and emotional abuse, as well as physical neglect.
Sex Offender Treatment Programs - Legislation that would require the sex offender treatment board to create a list of approved sex offender evaluation providers and sex offender treatment providers was given final Senate approval on Monday. Under Senate Bill 731, only board-approved providers would be allowed to practice. Those who practice without approval would be subject to disciplinary actions from their professional licensing authority. The board would take into consideration the provider’s training, experience, and professional licensure.
Juveniles/ Courts - The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Senate Bill 766, which would standardize information collected by juvenile courts across the state. It was recommended by the Governor’s Juvenile Justice Reform Implementation Council.
Juvenile Justice Facilities / Seclusion - Legislation that would prevent solitary confinement in Tennessee’s juvenile detention centers advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 383 changes a law that allowed juveniles to be placed in a segregated confined setting for extended periods of time. It was not considered seclusion under current law if they could hear and see others. The legislation defines and clarifies seclusion so that it cannot be used for any other reason than an up to two-hour temporary response to behavior that threatens immediate harm to others. It applies to Tennessee’s Juvenile Detention Centers, Youth Development Centers or any other facility where children are taken into custody prior or after a court ruling.
Organ Transplants / Individuals with Disabilities - Legislation prohibiting health care providers or other entities from discriminating against individual with disabilities for the purpose of organ transplantations was approved this week by the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Senate Bill 488 calls for health care providers responsible for matching anatomical gifts and organ donations to make reasonable changes to their policies and practices to allow individuals with disabilities access to transplantation-related treatment. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee is set to further consider the bill.
Governor’s Emergency Powers / Legislative Oversight - Senate Bill 1603 passed through the Senate Government Operations Committee this week, addressing the emergency powers of the governor. The bill would provide legislative oversight by requiring the Government Operations Joint Evaluation Committee on Judiciary and Government to review any entity of state government that is created through the governor’s emergency powers. The committee is solely expected to report to the General Assembly on whether the entity and its functions should be continued or discontinued within five days of the entity’s review. Furthermore, all public purchases and goods and services contracts made by an executive agency will be subject to public purchasing laws as of July 1, 2021. The bill now moves forward to the Senate State and Local Committee with a positive recommendation.
Boating - The Senate approved legislation introduced in response to complaints regarding excessive noise on waterways near residential areas. Senate Bill 209 allows the Fish and Wildlife Commission of the Tennessee Wildlife and Resources Agency to declare certain areas of a waterway as quiet zones enforceable by rules established under the proposed statute.
Registry of Election Finance - The Senate approved legislation this week that would allow the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance (TREF) to hire outside counsel to collect outstanding fines for violation of the state’s campaign finance laws. TREF is an independent agency responsible for enforcement of the state’s Campaign Financial Disclosure Act and the Campaign Contribution Limits Act, including levying fines for non-compliance. Under current law, the State Attorney General retains the sole responsibility to collect fines issued by TREF. Senate Bill 626 will allow TREF to hire counsel from private firms that specialize in collections.
Education - The Tennessee Accommodations for All Children Act was approved by the Senate Education Committee this week. Senate Bill 1367 requires a public school to provide a reasonable accommodation to a person who has conveyed through a written request that they are unwilling or unable to use multi-occupancy restrooms or changing facilities designated for the person’s sex.