Legislative update

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Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey announces he will not seek re-election  

4ad2a0a2-a61f-4cad-8c77-10cb2dbbceeaThe announcement that Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey will not seek re-election after 24 years of service in the legislature headlined a busy week on Capitol Hill. Ramsey spent four years in the House of Representatives before being elected to the Senate, where he led the charge to gain a Republican majority, then super majority. He was elected as Lieutenant Governor / Speaker of the Senate in 2007 as the first Republican to serve in the position in 140 years.

During his tenure of conservative leadership, sweeping reforms have been passed by the legislature including record tax cuts, a constitutional amendment to prohibit a state income tax, legislation preparing students for the 21st century marketplace, job creation initiatives to ease unnecessary regulation and red tape on businesses, comprehensive tort reform, and fiscal responsibility measures to help restore the state’s AAA credit rating, to name a few.

Ramsey will continue to serve as Lieutenant Governor until a new one is elected by the Senate in January 2017.

Epinephrine / Law Enforcement Officers — Legislation allowing law enforcement officers to administer epinephrine in emergency situations was approved by State Senators. Epinephrine injection is used along with emergency medical treatment to treat life-threatening allergic reactions caused by insect bites or stings, foods, medications, latex and other causes.  Senate Bill 1767 is permissible legislation that authorizes use of epinephrine if the officer’s law enforcement agency has adopted a protocol governing its administration. The bill also authorizes physicians to prescribe epinephrine to law enforcement agencies and provides immunity from civil liability for the law enforcement officer or agency, physician and pharmacist, unless they act in reckless disregard for safety.      

Schools / Bullying– – Final approval was given to a bill which aims to improve Tennessee’s bullying law. Senate Bill 2002 requires that school policy include a procedure for referral of appropriate counseling and support services for students involved in bullying when deemed necessary. The measure also requires that investigations of incidences reported must be prompt and immediate, with principals or their designees initiating an investigation within 20 school days unless more time is needed to appropriately document it. The principal must then inform parents or legal guardians of the incident and the availability of intervention services for the student. In addition, the bill expands current reporting requirements of bullying incidents to the Tennessee Department of Education. Presently, the report only includes the number of incidents. The proposal adds to that report where an investigation supported a finding and the type of bullying identified, as well as the manner in which it was resolved. Finally, the bill encourages each local education agency to review their policy prohibiting harassment, intimidation, bullying or cyberbullying at least once every three years and transmit any changes made to the Commissioner of Education in a timely manner.

Defibrillators / Schools — Legislation received final approval for Senate Bill 2088 which expands the “Tanner Lee Jameson Act” by requiring schools which have automatic external defibrillators (AED) to include training in the lifesaving device as part of those school’s previously scheduled staff meetings or in-service days on an annual basis.  It also requires the instruction be included in the school’s curriculum for juniors and seniors in high school. The Tanner Lee Jameson Act, which was passed in 2010, required that schools must place an AED in the gym, and if there is no gym, it must be in a readily accessible location. Jameson died on June 26, 2009 when he collapsed during his middle school basketball game.  According the American Heart Association when CPR is performed correctly and an AED is used, survival chances almost triple compared to those who do not receive CPR or an AED.   

Prescription Safety Act — Legislation which makes permanent the comprehensive prescription reform set forth in Tennessee’s Prescription Safety Act of 2012 has been approved. That law ensured that healthcare professionals tap into the state’s Controlled Substance Monitoring System when prescribing certain scheduled drugs. Senate Bill 2552 is in response to both the Governor’s Prescription for Success, a multi-year strategic plan to curb opiate abuse, and the 2015 comptroller’s audit of the state’s controlled substance monitoring database and prescription safety laws. In both documents, it was determined that while the state is making great strides in combating the prescription drug epidemic gripping the nation, more can be done. This proposal removes the sunset put in the 2012 public chapter and would seek to remove exemptions from reporting and checking of the controlled substance monitoring database recognized by the comptroller as potential loopholes. Further it increases the state’s ability to partner with federal agencies and other states to share de-identified information to stop prescription leakage from Tennessee’s borders, while still protecting patient records. This proposal makes bold but reasonable strides in cutting back the prescription opioids flooding Tennessee streets, while not overburdening healthcare practitioner’s care.

School Bus/Texting — Legislation strengthening Tennessee’s law protecting children who are passengers on school buses has received final approval in the State Senate.  I was pleased to be sponsor, along with Rep. Eddie Smith, Senate Bill 1596, which toughens the penalty for using a mobile telephone, or another electronic device, while the school bus is in motion or stopped for the purpose of loading or unloading, when one or more children are on the bus. The proposed legislation enhances the penalty to a Class A misdemeanor requiring at least 30 days in jail and a fine of not less than $1,000. The bill also broadens the definition of mobile telephone to include any portable electronic device. In addition, the measure requires the permanent revocation of the school bus endorsement held by the driver for violation of the law.  The legislation comes after the Knox County crash of two school buses in December 2014 when two children and a teacher’s assistant were tragically killed. Following an extensive investigation, authorities determined that the at-fault bus driver was using his mobile telephone to text in the moments leading up to the crash.

Direct Primary Healthcare — The full Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 2443 to provide Tennesseans with an affordable free-market option to contract directly with their physician for primary healthcare services. The “Health Care Empowerment Act” removes roadblocks in state law to the growing Direct Primary Care (DPC) healthcare model by ensuring that it is not considered an HMO or insurance company for purposes of regulation in Tennessee. 

Under the DPC model, patients pay their doctors a monthly fee in return for agreed-upon primary care services. In order to be Obamacare-compliant, a patient may supplement a DPC membership with a high-deductible “catastrophic” insurance policy. The combined cost of monthly membership fees and insurance premiums is anticipated to be substantially lower than a traditional health insurance plan with co-pays, deductibles, and premiums. Presently, 14 states have passed enabling DPC legislation.   

Free Clinics / Physicians – The full Senate has passed Senate Bill 2027 that allows charitable clinics to directly employ physicians, optometrists and ophthalmologists, dentists, and psychologists to continue to allow the organizations to provide access to comprehensive health care services to the most vulnerable citizens of the state. Currently, state law does not permit charitable organizations or clinics to hire physicians directly. Many clinics have to contract with the doctors as a means of de facto hiring. This has caused issues with charitable organizations and the IRS. 

Pre-K Programs — The full Senate approved legislation to make improvements to the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten programs. Currently, Local Education Agencies (LEAs) may apply to the Tennessee Department of Education for funding and approval of one or more pre-kindergarten programs. Senate Bill 1899 would require an LEA to include as a part of its application: a plan for ensuring coordination between voluntary pre-kindergarten classrooms and elementary schools within the LEA, a plan for engaging parents and families of students throughout the school year and a plan for delivering relevant and meaningful professional development to teachers. The Voluntary Pre-K for Tennessee Initiative was implemented to close the achievement gap for at-risk four-year-olds by providing an opportunity to develop school readiness skills.  Studies have shown, however, that gains made by enrollees in the program fade, with most students scoring at or below their peers by the third grade. The legislation seeks to see if improvements can be made to the program to benefit these students and ensure that best practices are replicated.

Missing Persons Alert — This week, the full Senate unanimously approved legislation to expand the Amber Alert system to cover those citizens suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Senate Bill 2049 would allow the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to develop and distribute an activation card for law enforcement agencies and individuals to use in connection with the Missing Citizen Alert Program to help locate missing citizens who are missing due to dementia or physical impairment. Six in ten people with dementia will wander off or get lost and 11 percent of Tennessee senior citizens have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Similarly, the State Senate concurred with a House amendment and sent to the governor legislation creating a “Care Alert” system to promote the safe recovery of a missing person over the age of 18 with an intellectual, developmental or physical disability. Senate Bill 1485 would enable local law enforcement agencies to enter a report to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and alert media outlets.