Tennessee General Assembly completes work for this fiscal year

Published 9:41 am Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Last week, both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly unanimously approved a fiscally responsible budget that builds upon recent, strategic Republican-led investments. This budget makes thoughtful investments across state government and preserves Tennessee’s AAA bond rating.
It invests approximately $239 million into the Rainy Day Fund — totaling roughly $1.1 billion. The budget also cuts more than $35.2 million in taxes and saves $15 million for additional tax cuts next year. These reductions include $22 million in the Professional Privilege Tax, and the elimination of the $6 million Gym Tax.
Additionally, the budget allocates $27.3 million to fully fund the Katie Beckett program, which provides lifesaving medical services through TennCare for Tennessee children with the most significant disabilities and highest medical needs, regardless of parental income levels.
It makes an $11.3 billion total investment in education — including $6.6 billion in K-12 funding. Approximately $71 million will fund teacher salaries, while $39.4 million will fully fund the state’s Basic Education Program to cover growth and inflation in the funding formula. The budget also invests $40 million to secure our schools, and $25 million to expand vocational and technical training opportunities for our future leaders.
Finally, the budget includes $222 million in new economic development funding, $45.1 million for corrections, $21.5 million to support mental health and substance abuse services, and additional investments to support our veterans, first responders, and elderly citizens who have all made lasting contributions to their communities and this state.
House Republicans are committed to prioritizing the needs of our citizens, and we will continue to serve as responsible stewards of Tennessee’s taxpayer dollars.
Members of the House approved the Tennessee Education Savings Account Pilot Program.
A small part of a much larger plan to build upon our recent improvements in education, House Bill 939 gives some of our poorest children a fighting chance at a high-quality education. The pilot is capped at 15,000 students and also applies to Davidson and Shelby counties.
Education is the cornerstone in the foundation of our future leaders, and maintaining the status quo is no longer acceptable; the combination of investment and innovation are necessary if we are truly going to prepare our next generation of leaders for successful futures. We must continue to pursue education reform until we change our state’s national ranking from the bottom third to the top third.
Legislation to ensure children who have long-term disabilities or complex medical needs are allowed to receive healthcare services at home with additional support unanimously passed this week.
House Bill 498 — commonly referred to as the Katie Beckett Waiver bill — directs the Commissioner of Finance & Administration to submit a waiver for the purpose of establishing a distinct Katie Beckett program. The measure requires the program to be designed in consultation with the Commissioner of the Department of Intellectual and Development Disabilities (DIDD) and be composed of two parts.
Part A, a traditional Katie Beckett program, is designed to provide a pathway to eligibility for Medicaid services and essential wraparound home and community-based services regardless of parental income levels, as well as resources for children under 18 who suffer from severe functional limitations.
Part B, which would be administered by DIDD, must be designed as a Medicaid diversion plan and offer a capped package of essential wraparound services and supports, as well as premium assistance on a sliding fee scale for children under 18 that meet the appropriate level of care criteria.
Additionally, House Bill 498 requires a joint report by TennCare and DIDD to be issued annually to the House TennCare Subcommittee and Senate Health Committee.
This life-saving legislation will ensure Tennessee children and their families receive access to critical care services.
Members of the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation designed to enhance Tennessee’s Statute of Limitations laws against child predators this week.
House Bill 565 removes the statute of limitations for all felony crimes committed against a child if the victim is under 13 years of age or if he or she is 13-17 years old and reports the crime to someone by their 23rd birthday.
If a victim is 13-17 and does not report the crime by their 23rd birthday, the statute of limitations is 25 years from their 18th birthday. After those 25 years, a case can also proceed if there is corroborating evidence of the allegations or similar acts by the defendant.
House Bill 565 now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
Republican leaders approved components of the CARE plan this week, designed to transform healthcare through Consumerism, increasing Access, improving Rural health systems, and Empowering patients to ensure individuals and families can make all medical decisions instead of insurance companies or the government.
House Bill 419 — also known as the Tennessee Right To Shop Bill — structures Tennessee’s health insurance market to include a customer member portal for the various health insurance plans that allows patients to shop for certain services coupled with an incentive program for enrollees to achieve a cost savings. This legislation will allow patients the ability to choose quality health services at the best price while participating in an incentive program that provides shared savings.
Additionally, House Bill 786, which reforms laws concerning pharmacy benefits managers (PBM), was also overwhelming approved. The bill prohibits errors identified from being the basis of a recoupment unless it results in an overpayment to the pharmacy or the wrong medication being dispensed to the patient. This legislation also requires 30 days’ notice from a PBM regarding any change to the PBM’s pharmacy contract and clarifies that this does not prohibit a PBM from taking action without notice against a pharmacist or pharmacy in its network for a fraudulent claim or service. The measure also allows for Direct and Indirect Remuneration (DIR) fees — which cover monies that a Medicare Part D/PBM may collect to offset member plans — to be used as incentives but not as disincentives.
Finally, both chambers reached an agreement on House Bill 1280. The measure calls on the Governor, acting through the Commissioner of Finance & Administration to submit a waiver to the federal centers for Medicare and Medicaid services to immediately provide assistance to the state’s TennCare population through the implementation of block grants. Block grants authorized through House Bill 1280 must convert the federal share of all medical assistance funding for Tennessee into an allotment that is tailored to meet Tennessee’s specific needs. All funding must be indexed to take into account both inflation and population growth.
This reform is desperately needed in Tennessee to transform our current healthcare model into a consumer-driven, patient-centered system that improves access and the quality of care patients receive, while ultimately driving down overall costs.
Last week, House lawmakers continued to reduce taxes for hardworking Tennesseans and their families.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly supported House Bill 1262, which repeals the professional privilege tax on accountants, architects, athlete agents, audiologists, chiropractors, dentists, engineers, landscape architects, optometrists, pharmacists, podiatrists, psychologists, real estate brokers, speech pathologists, and veterinarians. This equates to a $22 million reduction. House Republicans also approved House Bill 494 to repeal the ammunition tax imposed on shotgun shells and metallic cartridges for the law abiding citizens of this state.
Both measures now await the Governor’s signature.
The General Assembly also approved legislation that will continue to ensure student safety across Tennessee earlier this week.
House Bill 776 requires all public middle and elementary schools to place automated external defibrillators (AEDs) within their facilities. This will ensure all public schools have lifesaving equipment in close proximity, in the event it is needed to save lives.
The measure now awaits the Governor’s signature.
Having completed its business for the year, the first session of the 111th General Assembly is now complete. One General Assembly is comprised of two sessions, with the next meeting of the body set to begin on Tuesday, January 14, 2020, at high noon.
(John Holsclaw serves as Chairman of the House Employee Affairs Subcommittee. He is also a member of the House Consumer and Human Resource Committee, Commerce Committee and Banking and Investment Subcommittee. Holsclaw lives in Elizabethton and represents House District 4, which includes Unicoi and part of Carter counties. He can be reached by email at Rep.John.Holsclaw@capitol.tn.gov or by calling (615) 741-7450.)

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