NASHVILLE – Health care highlighted a very busy week on Capitol Hill, with Gov. Bill Haslam’s announcement that he will not expand TennCare rolls under the federal Affordable Care Act. The governor, instead, said he is working on a “Tennessee Plan” to reform health care that leverages federal dollars to purchase private health insurance for Tennesseans without access to coverage.
“I believe Tennessee can be a model for what true health care reform looks like; reform that will take significant steps to save the state and the nation from the unsustainable path we are on now,” Haslam said.
Haslam’s plan, which takes on the critical issue of aligning incentives among users, payers and health care providers, would:
- Leverage available federal dollars to purchase private health insurance for Tennesseans up to 138% of the federal poverty level who don’t have access to health insurance, which would translate to 175,000 more insured Tennesseans
- Allow co-pays for those who can afford to pay something
- Include a definitive circuit-breaker or sunset of the plan that could only be renewed with the General Assembly’s approval
- Reform the payment structure for providers so they are compensated for health outcomes, not just based on services performed
To move forward with this plan, we need cooperation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but we haven’t gotten those assurances from them at this point. The governor will not ask the General Assembly for approval to accept the Medicaid expansion federal funds as he continues to work for the flexibility to pursue real reform in Tennessee.
I was pleased to sponsor several pieces of legislation that were passed in the Senate recently.
State senators voted to approve the Tennessee Alternative Diploma Act this week. There are more than 930,000 individuals over 18 that do not have a high school diploma or a GED. Senate Bill 105 provides an alternative to the current GED diploma, which has an increased cost for the test and a new mandatory format. The bill is a result of work done by a task force consisting of the Department of Education, the Department of Labor and Work Force Development, the state Board of Education, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the Board of Regents. The group came up with a viable alternative that meets current requirements but is “portable, affordable and accessible.” I was pleased to sponsor this important piece of legislation that will provide a means to improve economic development to have as many adults as possible qualify to pursue better employment opportunities.
I also was able to pass legislation that designates the University of Tennessee as the official state botanical garden. The UT Gardens are located in the three grand divisions of the state (Knoxville, Crossville and Jackson), are celebrating their 30-year anniversary this year, have over 100,000 visitors a year and function as a research center for plants for both private enjoyment and related industries. Senate Bill 71 is waiting for passage by the House.
Legislation of Interest
Increasing College Graduates
Senate Bill 194 passed the full Senate to increase the number of post-secondary graduates in Tennessee. This bill requires the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation to administer a need-based grant program funded through an endowment for Tennessee citizens seeking an associate degree from the state’s public colleges or technology centers. This program will broaden scholarship opportunities for students and increase the state’s graduation rate.
The full Senate also approved Senate Bill 195, which will provide affordable access to quality post-secondary programs for working adults. This bill enables the state to partner with Western Governors University to create an online, competency-based university that is geared to the 800,000 adult Tennesseans that have some college credit but didn’t graduate with an associate or four-year degree. The governor has set the goal of increasing the percentage of Tennesseans with a post-secondary credential from 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025. WGU Tennessee fills a critical gap in the state’s post-secondary landscape to help achieve that goal.
A resolution seeking to amend Tennessee’s Constitution to allow 501(c)(19) charitable veterans groups to raise funds, in the same manner as other 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, has received final Senate approval. Veterans groups were left out of the Constitutional Amendment approved by voters in 2002 that allowed charitable groups to conduct an annual fundraising event like a duck race, cake walk, raffles or other games of chance. Senate Joint Resolution 60 requires that any funds raised by the games go to purposes that benefit the community, veterans or retired veterans. Upon passage in the House of Representatives, it then goes to voters in a statewide referendum in November 2014, where it must receive a simple plurality of votes cast in the race for governor.
Cutting the Size of State Government
Legislation aimed at cutting the size of Tennessee government has been approved by the full Senate. Senate Bill 595 establishes the Office of the Repealer with the sole responsibility of making recommendations to the Legislature in areas of government waste, duplication and out-of date regulations that should be removed from the law books. The office would be a one-time, four-year position funded by existing resources and will be housed under the Secretary of State.
State senators voted Wednesday to define “volunteer firefighter” to make sure that all volunteer firefighters are able to be covered fully by both workers’ compensation insurance and medical benefits. Senate Bill 1174
Senate Bill 264 received final approval this week. This bill requires principals to suspend or expel students who cause bodily injury to a teacher, bus driver or other school personnel. This bill also authorizes school administrators to suspend a student from school for using threatening, vulgar or obscene language toward a principal, teacher, school bus driver or other personnel when on school property. It also applies when such conduct is exhibited off school property, if it includes a threat of bodily harm to the school personnel.
DUI Law Restructuring
Final Senate approval has been given to legislation rewriting Tennessee’s DUI laws to make them more understandable by prosecutors, defense lawyers and citizens. The present laws have received so many additions (58 pages) over the years that they have become very complicated and are in need of streamlining. Many of the current provisions are duplicative and overlap other requirements, making it difficult to determine the consequences. Senate Bill 186
Senate Bill 922 passed and will allow the Department of Children’s Services to conduct an emergency review upon inquiry from a local education agency to find out if an individual is an immediate threat to children. The bill would also prohibit the Department of Education, the state Board of Education, local boards of education and local education agencies from hiring or retaining any individual whom the Department of Children’s Services has found to have committed any form of child abuse.