NASHVILLE, April 10, 2017– The week ending April 7 was an up and down week for issues, bills, and concerns that I am looking to address. On the positive health care side, my bill HB 590 is a “clean up” bill that adds language to the code for osteopathic physicians practicing pain management. The bill ensures that they will be able to treat patients in need of their services. It passed my Health Subcommittee. Additionally, HB 603 by Chairman Ryan Williams passed the House floor. Labor and delivery of a baby is an emergency situation. The bill clarifies that physicians can treat minors in this situation. There was some confusion among members prior to the vote, but I spoke up about the medical reasoning and the bill passed overwhelmingly.
On the negative side, several pro-patient health care bills failed this past week. My bill, “The Reliable Coverage Act”, failed in the Senate. The bill would have ensured patients taking a prescription drug for 60 days and who signed a contract with a health insurer who placed the drug on their formulary could not have their benefits changed to cost the patient more money during the year contract. I had worked with several stakeholders to amend the original bill to the best plan possible, but the senate did not ever hear my amendment. Since the original bill failed in the Senate, I took the bill off notice.
The Oral Chemo Parity Bill failed in the Senate and the Right to Care Act which protected providers from abusive maintenance of certification practices by insurers and hospitals has been basically amended to a task force. Both bills would decrease costs for patients and would remove unnecessary abuses of power, but massive swamp monster lobbying efforts doomed these positive patient and provider bills.
On the transportation front, the gas tax proposal passed through the House Finance Subcommittee. During the process, though, the committee amended the name of the legislation from Governor Haslam’s IMPROVE Act to the Tax Cut Plan of 2017. The move, in my opinion, was very disingenuous as the proposal is a massive tax increase on the average Tennessean. Washington DC is known for giving a bill a name that sounds positive to distract voters from the actual content of the bill. For example, Obamacare was originally called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It neither protected patients nor was it affordable. To paraphrase The Princess Bride, they keep using words, but they do not mean what they think they mean. Besides, the Pavement Protection and Automobile Care Act sounds more appropriate.
On a positive transportation note, Speaker Harwell and other members of leadership are working on an alternative funding proposal for transportation that doesn’t involve raising gas or diesel taxes. As I have discussed before, Tennessee has significant revenue from auto sales taxes and sales tax collections from tourism. None of those revenues go towards our transportation funding. Tennessee could easily use a percentage of those revenues to help fund transportation, and it would be revenue neutral, as well as pocketbook neutral to everyday Tennesseans. I’m still waiting for the final proposal, but I’m encouraged that leadership is still looking for a way to address the issue with the pocketbooks of average Tennesseans in mind.
Believe it or not, in state tuition for illegal immigrants has, once again, been brought up in the Tennessee General Assembly, but this time it is in the form of two separate bills. Each bill is looking to address the issue in a similar, but separate manner. While many folks on both sides of this issue have not met any of these students, I have sat down on various occasions with some of these students and their advocates. I have heard their stories. I recognize that they are in an unenviable situation and are often victims of a broken immigration system. However, two wrongs do not make a right.
While out of state tuition is outrageous, in state tuition rates do not even come close to paying the actual cost for a university to provide the education. Taxpayers subsidize between 25-75% of the education depending upon the institution of higher learning. Tennessee taxpayers should not be on the hook for subsidizing the education of non-US citizens here illegally.
As I wrote about in a previous update, there are multiple avenues for these students to achieve a higher education degree. Governor Haslam has touted Wester Governor’s University-Tennessee as an affordable way to earn a degree. It’s even cheaper than in-state tuition at MTSU. Tennessee eCampus and the University of Central Florida, are, also, much less expensive viable alternatives.
The bottom line is that we know the actual cost of a university to provide an education, which for MTSU is $1800 for 3 credit hours. In state tuition is $800 and out of state is $2800 for those same credit hours. Knowing that there is an actual cost to provide the education, as well as knowing that there are affordable and viable alternatives, it is beyond comprehension that anyone would ask taxpayers to subsidize the tuition for a non-US citizen here illegally.
When government takes taxes away from citizens and spends it on services, infrastructure, etc, in effect government is supposedly taking a piece of someone’s property(money) in exchange for government providing, protecting, or expanding one’s liberty. I fail to see how taking hard earned money from Tennesseans to subsidize tuition for these individuals provides, protects, or expands the liberty of Tennesseans. In fact, I would argue that it lessens or abridges the rights and privileges of the people of Tennessee; thus, to vote for in state tuition for illegal immigrants would be a violation of our oath of office, in my opinion.
One final comment, the Tennessee General Assembly has been named the most conservative legislature two years in a row, and I keep hearing my colleagues tout that accomplishment. I’m going to make a prediction, though. If we raise taxes on everyday Tennesseans while sitting on a billion dollar recurring surplus and give in state tuition to illegal immigrants, there won’t be a three-peat. Heck, I’m not even sure we will get a participation trophy.
Rep. Bryan Terry, MD