Bill Watch is a service of the Knoxville Bar Association Legislative Committee. During the legislative session, the KBA will provide 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.
Elderly Healthcare Consumers / Medical Device Fraud – Legislation aiming to protect Tennessee’s elderly from being scammed by companies looking to write a fraudulent prescription for medical devices advanced in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Bill 265 creates a Class D felony for any person who knowingly uses a phone or an electronic device to obtain information from an elderly person regarding their medical history or health, and then sends unsolicited medical supplies or prescriptions to them in order to file a claim. The bill will now be heard on the Senate floor.
Critical Funds to Support Hospitals – Members of the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee voted this week to continue the hospital assessment adopted since 2010 to prevent cuts to Tennessee hospitals. The hospitals asked the General Assembly to enact the coverage assessment for another year in order to raise $600 million in state funds, which in turn allows Tennessee to draw down $1.1 billion in federal matching funds. The action prevents more than $1.7 billion in TennCare cuts from taking effect on July 1, 2019.
Medicaid Block Grant Waiver – Legislation was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee this week calling for Tennessee’s Commissioner of Finance and Administration to request a block grant waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to serve recipients of the state’s TennCare program was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee this week. Senate Bill 1428 is designed to maximize flexibility in constructing an plan that serves the needs of Tennesseans, while ensuring the state continues to receive its share of federal Medicaid dollars. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for a final vote.
Vouchers - The Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 795, establishing a Pilot Education Savings Account (ESA) program to serve low-income students zoned to public schools in Metro Nashville, Shelby County, and the state’s Achievement School District (ASD). In addition to being zoned in qualifying districts, eligible students must have a household income at or below twice the federal guidance to be eligible for free and reduced lunch. Parents must certify eligibility by submitting pay stubs, W-2 forms, or other official documents showing evidence of income every three years. The students must also have been enrolled in a Tennessee school for the previous year or be entering kindergarten. The amount of the education savings account would vary by district but would be approximately $7,300 per student.
The program establishes controlled growth caps of 5,000 students in year one and 7,500 in year two. If the caps reach 75 percent of capacity in a year, then they would adjust upward by 2,500 students in the following year, with a total maximum cap for the program of 15,000. The savings account can be used at category one, two, and three non-public schools which are on the list approved by the Department of Education. Homeschooling is also allowed if the student participates in an umbrella program approved by the Department of Education which employs accountability standards. In addition, an annual report on the program’s progress will be generated and reported publicly for greater transparency.
Abortion - The full Senate voted 26 to 5 on Monday evening to approve the Human Life Protection Act. Senate Bill 1257 would proactively trigger the restoration of Tennessee’s abortion laws prior to the Roe v. Wade ruling, if the power to regulate abortion is returned to the states. Roe v. Wade rendered Tennessee’s strong abortion laws null and void, which prohibited abortion except when the life of the mother was at risk. Under this bill, the Attorney General and Reporter would be required to notify the Tennessee Code Commission in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned or a U.S. constitutional amendment is adopted. Then thirty days following either event, Tennessee’s abortion law would be restored to its 1972 statute.
Scooters – Legislation regulating the operation of motorized scooters passed the full Senate this week. Senate Bill 1107 defines electric scooters and regulates them. These regulations provide that persons operating a scooter must be of legal age to operate a motor vehicle; and operators must comply with the rules of the road, must ride close to the right-hand curb when on a roadway, and must use a front-lamp when driving in the dark. The legislation also states that scooters may be parked on a sidewalk if it does not impede the normal or reasonable movement of pedestrians or other traffic. This bill does nothing to inhibit or preempt local regulation regarding scooters or shared scooter services. The bill now waits to receive final approval from the House before going to the Governor for his signature.
Election Integrity – The Senate gave final approval to legislation which addresses those who intentionally turn in fraudulent or incomplete voter registration forms. The proposal comes after election officials in Davidson and Shelby counties experienced a last-minute surge in voter registration applications with faulty or grossly incomplete information. Senate Bill 971 would (1) require a person or organization conducting a supplemental voter registration drive of 100 people or more to be trained to properly complete applications and protect confidential information; (2) prohibit organizations from paying individuals based on the number of voter registration forms submitted; (3) require applications collected by designated people or organizations to be filed in a timely manner, within ten days of receiving the voter registration; and (4) permit the State Election Commission to assess a civil penalty to organizations paid to conduct voter registration that submit 100 or more deficient forms, excluding omission of Social Security numbers. This provision does not affect unpaid volunteers or organizations which use only unpaid volunteers to conduct voter registration such as the League of Women Voters, Boy Scouts, churches, and college Student Government Associations.