Wrapup of 2021 State Legislature
This information is from State Rep. Clay Doggett, R-Pulaski, whose 70th District includes Giles and part of Lawrence counties,
May 5, the General Assembly adjourned after finishing legislative business for the year! It’s been an honor to serve you through another legislative session. Thank you, District 70!
General Assembly establishes a Medical Cannabis Commission
The General Assembly approved legislation creating the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Commission. The commission will serve as a nonpartisan, medically-focused entity that will study federal and state laws regarding legalization of medical marijuana.
House Bill 490 requires the commission to recommend to the General Assembly ways to implement an effective, patient-centered medical cannabis program upon reclassifying marijuana on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of Schedule I drugs. Classification of marijuana by the federal government makes it illegal to use the drug, even for medicinal purposes.
The bill adds patients who are legally allowed to bring .9 percent THC oil-only products into Tennessee for personal use. Currently those with epilepsy and seizures qualify. This legislation adds eight other qualifying conditions including cancer, ALS and Multiple Sclerosis. Patients must obtain a letter from their doctor showing evidence of their condition. The bill awaits Gov. Bill Lee’s signature.
Truth in Sentencing bill strengthens protections for victims, ensures criminals serve full sentences
Both chambers unanimously approved House Bill 1047 which requires ‘truth in sentencing’ for violent criminals and sex offenders.
The bill requires any person convicted of violent or sexual offenses that typically target women and children to serve their full sentencing term as assigned by a jury or judge.
It applies to offenses like rape, sexual battery, continuous sexual abuse of a child, sexual battery by an authority figure, incest, promoting prostitution, aggravated child abuse, domestic assault, aggravated sexual exploitation of a minor and trafficking for a commercial sex act.
While House Bill 1047 does not remove judicial discretion, it ensures that parole or probation are not options for those found guilty of crimes that fall into these categories of offenses. This legislation strengthens protections for victims and their families by ensuring offenders serve their full sentences.
Republicans ban teaching of systematic racism
The General Assembly banned the teaching of divisive concepts and systematic racism in Tennessee schools.
House Bill 580 ensures public schools do not violate the Civil Rights Act or the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by prohibiting instruction that teaches students the U.S. is innately racist or that an individual’s moral character is determined by race.
The measure rejects any curriculum that teaches children they are superior or guilty of prejudice simply because of their race or gender.
House Bill 580 encourages curriculum that teaches impartial instruction on historical oppression of certain groups, while maintaining a belief in the constitution and American democracy.
This legislation ensures that curriculum like Critical Race Theory, which teaches that racism is ingrained in U.S. institutions and that the history of the country is defined by power relationships based on race, is not taught in K-12 public Tennessee schools.
If local school districts are found to violate this law, state education funds will be withheld until the district is no longer teaching separatist and divisive concepts.
Tennessee patients gain greater access and control over prescriptions
House Bill 1398 brings integrity back to health care by addressing a lack of transparency among Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) and giving consumers greater access and choice in managing their health.
The Patient Access Choice and Transparency Act prioritizes patient-centered care by making reforms to how PBMs operate in Tennessee. It helps ensure patients may use pharmacies they choose and trust rather than being forced by their insurance companies to use specialty pharmacies that often don’t meet patients’ needs.
This is particularly important for patients with chronic, complex or rare diseases. PBMs are companies that manage prescription drug benefits on behalf of health insurers, Medicare Part D drug plans, large employers and others. They are owned by insurance companies and often own pharmacies as well. As a big industry in the U.S., the top three PBMs in America service 230 million patients.
This bill does five important things:
• Protects rural hospitals that use programs providing lifesaving medication to Tennessee’s most marginalized citizens
• Prohibits PBMs from steering patients away from their community pharmacies to PBM-owned pharmacies which is particularly important to patients with chronic, complex and rare diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, cancer, and ALS.
• Ensures pharmacies are at least paid their acquisition cost for medications and instructs PBMs to establish a process for pharmacies to appeal their reimbursements from PBMs if it is below the cost.
• Provides greater transparency to employers who want to gain a better understanding of how their pharmacy benefit expenses are impacted by spread pricing and rebate retention which ultimately impacts their premiums.
• Provides more transparency for patients in real time when they are in a physician’s office as to what medications cost and their formulary.
Bill strengthens Tennessee’s workforce by transforming unemployment insurance
Republicans transformed the state’s unemployment benefit insurance program. This measure provides more money for people who have lost their job through no fault of their own, while giving businesses greater opportunity to recruit and retain workers.
Effective December 2023, House Bill 1039 raises unemployment benefits up to $50 per week based on eligibility. It sets the number of weeks a person can receive them on a sliding scale based on the state’s unemployment rate.
The legislation limits the duration of benefits at 12 weeks if the state’s unemployment rate is 5.5 percent or less to promote transition back to work. The number of weeks benefits are available goes up one week per half percentage increase in the state’s unemployment rate until it reaches a 20-week maximum.
This action brings Tennessee in line with surrounding states in the benefit amount and the number of weeks a person is qualified to receive them. Several surrounding states have also indexed their programs based on their jobless rate to keep their unemployment trust funds solvent and make it less likely they will need to borrow from the federal government to pay for benefits.
Tennessee’s jobs website currently lists more than 250,000 available job openings and an unemployment rate of 5 percent. For current job openings visit, www.jobs4tn.gov.
General Assembly ensures Covid-19 vaccines remain voluntary
Legislation that aims to ensure Covid-19 vaccines remain voluntary passed in the House chamber and awaits Lee’s desk signature.
House Bill 575 will ensure that medical information reflecting the status of a person’s vaccination cannot be required by any state entities. The legislation prohibits a state or local governmental official, entity, department or agency from mandating a private business to require a “vaccine passport” or proof of a Covid-19 vaccine as a condition to enter their premises or using their services.
House Bill 575 also removes authority from county boards of health to enforce and adopt rules and regulations regarding Covid-19, preserving their role as an advisory body to the elected county mayor.
The bill defines quarantine in Tennessee law as the limitation of a person’s freedom of movement, isolation, or preventing or restricting access to premises upon which the person, cause or source of a disease may be found for time as necessary to confirm or establish a diagnosis, determine the cause or source of a disease or prevent the spread of a disease.
Tennessee’s CON process improves health care access and cost
Reforms to Tennessee’s Certificate of Need (CON) program were approved by both chambers of the General Assembly.
House Bill 948 seeks to eliminate bureaucratic red tape by making the CON process quicker, easier and less expensive to improve access and cost of health care services. It reduces CON regulation of certain facilities and services, eliminates protectionist aspects of the CON process and creates greater regulatory flexibility.
The reform legislation comes from a two-year collaboration from a joint House and Senate working group that focused on benefiting patients.
Hospitals and health care facilities that want to locate or expand capacity are required to obtain a legal document known as a CON.
Whether it is the number of hospital beds or the types of imaging conducted, the facility must apply to the state’s Health Services and Development Agency (HSDA) for permission through the CON process.
Certain CON regulations would be reduced or eliminated for facilities and services under House Bill 948.
Economically distressed counties without a hospital would be exempt from CON regulations, making it easier for health care companies to offer new health services in those counties.
Non-pediatric MRI services and PET Scan services would also no longer be regulated by CON in counties with a population above 175,000. Because of an increasing focus and need for mental health services in Tennessee, mental health hospitals would no longer be subject to CON regulations as well.
The legislation further eliminates protectionist aspects of CON by reducing the power competitors have over new applicants and holding CON-holders more accountable.
Bill aims to increase state’s physicians in rural communities
A bill to increase the number of primary care physicians in rural communities was approved by the General Assembly. Projections show Tennessee will experience a doctor shortage of 1,050 by 2025.
House Bill 443 aims to curb the shortage by establishing residency opportunities focusing on family practice, general pediatrics, internal medicine and psychiatry to provide medical and behavioral health services in underserved and distressed rural counties.
Residencies will be open to all graduates of University of Tennessee schools, Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Residents will be approved by the National Accreditation Agency for Graduate Medical Education (GME). The program requires opening residencies to all qualified candidates and filled through the matching process employed by the GME.
In addition, the bill establishes residencies through Lincoln Memorial University in Claiborne County which offers osteopathic medicine instruction. The recently approved 2021-22 fiscal year budget provides $5.5 million to fund residencies across the state. The Tennessee Department of Health and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) will oversee programs.
Legislation creates judicial panel for cases related to the state
House Bill 1130 creates parameters for a three-judge panel to hear challenges regarding the constitutionality of a state statute, an executive order or an administrative rule or regulation.
One existing trial court judge will be selected based on the jurisdiction where the case was filed, and the Tennessee Supreme Court will select two existing trial court judges from the other two grand divisions that are not yet represented to hear and decide the civil action.
The panel will sit in the State Supreme Court Building in either Jackson, Nashville or Knoxville depending where the civil action was filed, unless a location is otherwise designated by the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Republicans protect Tennesseans’ Second Amendment rights
House Republicans passed major legislation protecting Tennesseans’ Second Amendment rights.
Legislation making Tennessee a Second Amendment sanctuary state passed the House and Senate chambers.
House Bill 928, the ‘Tennessee Second Amendment Sanctuary Act,’ makes a law, treaty, executive order, rule or regulation of the government that the Tennessee or U.S. Supreme Court has found to violate the Second Amendment null, void and unenforceable.
The ‘Tennessee Firearm Protection Act’ has passed the General Assembly, barring any government entity from taking a firearm away from a citizen of Tennessee.
House Bill 446 prohibits the state or local government body from allocating personnel, public funds to regulate ownership, use, sale or possession of firearms, ammunition or firearm accessories.
A bipartisan measure making it less expensive for gun owners to safely store firearms passed the House.
House Bill 761 exempts the purchase of gun safes and gun locking devices from state retail sales tax, expanding gun-owners’ ability to safely store firearms in a more affordable manner.
The one-year tax exemption begins July 1 and ends June 30, 2022. House Republicans remain committed to preventing the federal government from infringing upon the Second Amendment rights of Tennesseans.
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