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.
June 15, 2020
Budget - Senate amends budget to include accountability and oversight
State senators approved legislation amending the budget adopted by the legislature in March to reflect the downturn in the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, Governor Lee asked the legislature for a three-year approach in reducing the budget. The plan aims to avoid harsh cuts while making up for an estimated $500 million deficit in the current fiscal year and an anticipated $1 billion shortfall in the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
Similarly, the governor asked for greater latitude to transfer reserve funds currently sitting in certain departments and agencies of state government to close the budget gap in the current fiscal year that will end June 30. The Senate amendment ensures the legislature’s finance committees will be fully informed of these transfers beforehand. It also excludes the transfer of reserve funds which involve regulatory boards receiving licensing fees from Tennessee’s various professions.
The Senate also amended the governor’s state employee buy-out proposal to reduce Tennessee’s workforce over the next two years. The amendment ensures that the buyout initiative will at least consider employee years of service, an extended period of health benefits, and college tuition assistance for those who participate.
In addition, the amendment provides greater flexibility to cities and counties receiving Local Support Grants. In March, the General Assembly provided $200 million in grants to be distributed to every county and city government across Tennessee for one-time, local expenses based on their population. The grants, however, were limited to road projects, I.T. upgrades, capital maintenance, utility system upgrades, public safety projects, and expenses related to COVID-19. The new amendment allows local governments to spend the funds at their discretion.
Finally, the Senate plan provides that no pay raises will go to members of the General Assembly for the fiscal year 2020-2021. The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives for action.
COVID-19 - Senate passes Tennessee Recovery and Safe Harbor Act to provide reasonable liability protections against unsupported COVID-19 lawsuits
The full Senate approved the Tennessee Recovery and Safe Harbor Act which seeks to provide necessary and reasonable protections against unsupported legal claims.
Senate Bill 2381 provides civil liability protection from health emergency claims relative to the coronavirus for a wide array of covered entities in Tennessee if the entity complied with or reasonably attempted to comply with any public health guidance. Entities covered under the bill include for-profit and nonprofit businesses, health care providers, schools and educational institutions, childcare providers, religious organizations, local governments, and their employees or volunteers.
In addition, the bill protects state health care providers with liability concerns stemming from the delivery of essential medical care to coronavirus patients. It provides that covered entities will not be liable for damages, injury, or death in connection with a health emergency claim unless the claimant proves by clear and convincing evidence that it was caused by gross negligence, willful misconduct, or substantial non-compliance with public health guidance. The measure adopts a comprehensive definition of “public health guidance,” which includes all forms of governmental guidance and direction released throughout the progression of the pandemic.
The act applies to all causes of action accruing on or after the first confirmed coronavirus case reported by the Department of Health on March 5, 2020 and expires on July 1, 2022. The bill is pending final action in the House of Representatives where it is headed to the floor for a final vote.
Healthcare - Tennessee Senate approves reform to Certificate of Need program
The Senate approved legislation reforming Tennessee’s Certificate of Need (CON) program. Senate Bill 2312 makes various changes to the CON process for health care facilities and services. These changes are the second phase of a five-year process which began in 2016 to reform the CON process in Tennessee.
Tennessee’s CON program started in 1974 as a result of the passage of the federal “Health Planning and Resources Development Act” which made federal funding contingent on having a process in place. That requirement was lifted in 1987 and while 14 states discontinued their programs, Tennessee continued the CON process.
This new measure reduces paperwork required to file an application; eliminates the requirement for applicants to demonstrate “economic feasibility” of projects; consolidates CON functions to enable HSDA to expedite the process from approximately 135 days to 60 days; and empowers HSDA to reduce application fees by more than half by shifting revenue away from application fees.
Additionally, under the legislation economically distressed counties which do not currently have a hospital would be completely exempt from CON regulations. Non-pediatric MRI services, PET Scan services, and Outpatient Diagnostic Centers (ODCs) would also no longer be regulated by CON in counties with a population above 175,000. Mental health hospitals would no longer be subject to CON regulations as well.
Unemployment Insurance - Legislation ensures employers will not be penalized with higher premiums due to pandemic-related layoffs
The Senate approved an amendment to the Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act clarifying that an employer will not be penalized with higher unemployment insurance premiums due to layoffs that are no fault of their own during the pandemic. It ensures that the state of Tennessee will continue to cover the first week of unemployment, which is normally waived, through the end of the year in compliance with the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act.