The Tennessee General Assembly
House of Representatives
CAPITOL HILL REVIEW
A weekly wrap-up of legislative news
Civil Asset Forfeiture Bill Defeated; Numerous Bills on Notice as this Week Marks the High Point of Session
Last Wednesday, after a 4.5 hour hearing, House Bill 421 was defeated in the original form that I submitted on a 2-3-1 vote. As drafted, the Bill would have essentially required a conviction on the underlying criminal charge as a condition of forfeiture of assets to the state. Civil asset seizure
and forfeiture has become big “business” for states and the federal government, and the law enforcement agencies that benefit from receipt of the funds fight hard to maintain the status quo. Remarkably, a total of approximately $30,000,000 was forfeited to Tennessee law enforcement agencies in 2016, along with more than 3,600 vehicles. The average size of a forfeiture in 2016 was only $2,200 – hardly drug cartel money.
The Civil Justice Subcommittee adopted an amendment offered by Chairman Mike Carter. I appreciate his initiative, but the amendment would do little to refocus the potentially distorted priorities of law enforcement and to eliminate the abuses that we too often see. We’ll continue the fight by bringing instances of wrong and abuse to the attention of Tennesseans. Hopefully, soon, the U.S. Supreme Court will hold that this practice is unconstitutional.
The busiest time for this legislative session has officially arrived. In the upcoming week, I have placed numerous bills on notice. The content of these bills varies, ranging from guaranteed right to an attorney for higher education students who face the possibility of substantial discipline to administrative and criminal procedures and court fees. Court fees and taxes, unreliable sources of funding for the intended recipients, have simply gotten out of hand. They are burdening those who can least afford to pay them, and can trigger suspension of driver licenses which, in turn, can prevent one from working. I am hopeful that the legislature will finally take action to put the brakes on these fees.
If you wish to watch live coverage of any of the hearings for these bills, you can find it on the Tennessee General Assembly website at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/
Infrastructure Funding Bill is Approved in Transportation Committee; Budget Amendments Requests Filed
On Wednesday, the House Transportation Committee approved the “IMPROVE Act” in substantially the form that is moving in the Senate. That action brightened the outlook for clarity on the budget, which has bbeen delayed pending resolution of big budget items. The IMPROVE Act must still maneuver through at least 3 more committees, and with more amendment proposals expected in the committees ahead, administration officials are far from ready to finalize the budget. The legislative session could stretch into May for the first time since 2012, when adjournment came May 1.
I filed two budget amendment requests prior to the deadline of last Thursday. First, I filed a request seeking an increase in Tenncare reimbursement for persons who care for our mentally disabled Tennesseans. Currently, these persons, and organizations that employ them, only receive reimbursement and earn a salary of $8.73 per hour. This is hard work, and the disabled persons being served certainly are in need of good care. Higher wages are needed to provide the care they need. The budget amendment, requesting funding to pay these good people $1.00 more per hour for the next year, is for a total of $20,000,000. I am very proud to make this request, and over 70 other representatives(including all Knox County representatives) have signed on as co-sponsors of this bill.
The other budget amendment request was in the amount of $750,000 to be used to fund an educational and historical plaza at lakeshore Park(formerly the East Tennessee Mental Hospital). Representative Eddie Smith is co-sponsoring this bill.
Legislation To Help Adults Without A Degree Access Higher Education Moves Forward In House
Legislation spearheaded by House Republicans to help adults without a degree access higher education moved forward this week after getting a positive nod from the House Government Operations Committee.
House Bill 531, named the Tennessee Reconnect Act, would make Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all Tennessee adults without a degree access to community college tuition-free – and at no cost to taxpayers.
Currently, Tennessee adults without a degree or certificate can already attend Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) tuition-free, and House Bill 531 would add community colleges into that same category. The legislation expands on a program launched in 2015 aimed at attracting approximately 900,000 Tennesseans who have earned some college credit, but not enough to earn a degree
To be eligible for Tennessee Reconnect, a student must be a Tennessee resident for at least one year preceding the date of application and must not already have an associate or bachelor degree. Other requirements include completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) where the applicant is deemed an independent student, participation in an approved advising program, and enrollment in any of the state’s 13 public community college’s degree or certificate programs for six semester hours. In order to maintain the Tennessee Reconnect grant, the student must enroll in classes leading to an associate’s degree or certificate continuously and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA.
Supporters of the legislation agree the new Reconnect program is a tremendous investment in the state’s economy, giving adults new opportunities for career growth while also providing employers with the skills and credentials they are seeking from the workforce.
The program will begin with the 2018-19 school year upon approval.
Second Meeting Of Legislative Task Force On Opioid Abuse Kicks Off At East Tennessee State University
This week, the legislative task force on opioid and prescription drug abuse met at East Tennessee State University. House Speaker Beth Harwell helped lead the discussion with stakeholders from across the state who attended the meeting to speak out about Tennessee’s growing drug epidemic.
Dr. Robert Pack, director of the ETSU Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment, addressed the current status of the situation locally and stated that ETSU and their partners are looking to make an impact within the eight-county region that makes up northeast Tennessee.
Pack added it was important to look at all options on the table in coming up with solutions to the opioid epidemic in Tennessee and that each individual looking for help is different – needing varying treatment ranging from abstinence programs to certain medication which help break the addiction itself.
In 2015, 1,451 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses, the highest annual number in the state’s history. In addition, the number of babies born who have been chronically exposed to opioids is high, particularly in East Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Health reports that from 2000 to 2012, the rate of babies born with exposure increased 15 fold.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that prescription opioid abuse has a total economic burden of $78.5 billion per year in the United States. There is an estimated $7.7 billion criminal justice cost across the country.
New Law Will Allow School Personnel To Assist Students During Adrenal Crisis
This week, lawmakers passed legislation to give school personnel the ability to administer lifesaving medical treatment to Tennessee students suffering from adrenal insufficiency caused by conditions like Addison’s disease.
House Bill 121 permits any properly trained school employee to administer a lifesaving injection as a form of medical treatment to students who are suffering from adrenal insufficiency and are experiencing an adrenal crisis on campus.
Addison’s disease is a life-threatening illness that prevents a person’s body from creating hormones that help it respond to stress. An adrenal crisis can be triggered by an injury, surgery, infection, or even emotional stress. Death may occur without immediate treatment.
One notable individual who suffered from Addison’s disease was President John F. Kennedy. The 35th President of the United States collapsed twice in public because of adrenal insufficiency: once at the end of a parade during an election campaign and once on a congressional visit to Britain.
When children experience a medical emergency like an adrenal crisis and need treatment, every second counts. The passage of this bill paves the way for quicker response times during emergencies by allowing a properly trained staff member to perform a heroic act that will save a life.
The full text of House Bill 121 can be accessed by visiting the Tennessee General Assembly website at: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/110/Bill/HB0121.pdf .
House Republicans Honor Fallen TBI Special Agent With Passage Of House Bill 482
A bill sponsored by House Republicanshonoring fallen Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Special Agent De’Greaun Reshun Frazier unanimously passed in the House Chamber this week.
House Bill 482designates the future home of the TBI Crime Lab & Consolidated Headquarters in Madison County to be named the ‘Special Agent De’Greaun ReShun Frazier TBI Crime Lab & Regional Headquarters’.
Special Agent Frazier was shot and killed during an undercover drug operation in Jackson on Aug. 9, 2016. He is the first and only TBI agent ever to be killed in the line of duty. Frazier’s name will now be immortalized in the bureau’s history and serve as a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice he made.
Before joining the TBI, Frazier also served as a member of the local Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force for the Millington Police Department, as well as a reserve deputy for the Shelby County Sherriff’s Department. He was also a police officer for the University of Memphis and for Southwest Tennessee Community College.
House Leaders Advance Legislation Establishing Long-Term Care For Those With Autism Spectrum Disorder
This week, members of the House Health Committee advanced legislation thatthat would establish a long-term system of care for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and their families.
House Bill 384 establishes the Tennessee Council on Autism Spectrum Disorder. This 16-person advisory council would make recommendations and provide leadership in program development regarding matters concerning all levels of ASD services in health care, education, and other adult, adolescent, and children’s services.
Specifically, the Council will be charged with seven tasks:
Assessing the current and future impact of Autism Spectrum Disorder on Tennesseans;
Assessing the availability of programs and services currently provided for early screening diagnosis and treatment of ASD;
Seeking additional input and recommendations from stakeholders that include providers, clinicians, institutions of higher education, and those concerned with the health and quality of life for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder;
Developing a comprehensive statewide plan for an integrated system of training, treatment, and services for individuals of all ages with ASD;
Ensuring interagency collaboration as the comprehensive statewide system of care for Autism Spectrum Disorder is developed and implemented;
Coordinating available resources related to developing and implementing a system of care for autism spectrum disorder;
Coordinating state budget requests related to systems of care for individuals with autism spectrum disorders based on the studies and recommendations of the council.
The Tennessee Council on Autism Spectrum Disorder would consist of the Commissioner of Health, the Executive Director of the Commission on Children & Youth, the Commissioner of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, the Commissioner of Education, the Commissioner of Human Services, the Commissioner of Commerce & Insurance, the Deputy Commissioner of TennCare, the Commissioner of Mental Health & Substance Abuse, one representative of the council on developmental disabilities, and nine adult individuals who have a diagnosis of ASD or that are either family members or primary caregivers of individuals with ASD.
Autism’s most-obvious signs tend to appear between 2 and 3 years of age. In some cases, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. The Autism Society currently estimates that about one percent of the world population has ASD, affecting over 3.5 million Americans, and one in every sixty-eight children. The organization also notes that Autism Spectrum Disorder is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States.
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