NASHVILLE, March 17, 2017– The week of March 13th through 17 was a busy week as many exciting things occurred on and around the Hill. Unfortunately, I was unable to shoot a video update this week, but I’ve got some info on the week’s events. I plan to write up a separate update on President Trump’s visit.
On Monday, HB 960, the Reliable Care Act, was heard in Pensions and Insurance which is a joint House and Senate committee that hears bills that may have an impact on state employee pensions or insurance. It is my belief that the bill would have a positive impact, as employees on our state insurance would have reliable prescription coverage if HB 960 passes. The committee did not take any action on the bill, as we are still looking at potential amendments and my meeting with Insurance Commissioner McPeak had to be rescheduled until after the committee met. The Tennessee insurance commission is deferred on my bill which means they are neutral.
Additionally, on Monday, I worked with the Tennessee Education Association and the Department of Education to broker a deal on my teacher evaluation validity bill, HB 795. Last year, both agreed to work with me on the issue, but had yet been able to do so. This year, we are putting the plan to action. The Tennessee Code has a process in place for evaluation of teachers, but the manner, in my opinion, in which the evaluation process, rationale of action, and feedback from teachers is executed is incomplete which negatively effects the validity of the evaluations and the morale of teachers.
Currently, based on feedback from educators, there is a lot of miscommunication or poor communication from the Dept. of Education to our teachers and LEAs as it relates to evaluations. The TDOE does provide a very technical guide and report in a yearly basis, but the report just isn’t practical to any LEA, teacher, legislator, parent or student. Jointly, with the TDOE and the TEA, we are getting together a task force that will put together an executive summary on validity that will be more useful to teachers and LEAs than the current technical information the department puts out. We want the TDOE to present an easy to follow report on the evaluations that describes the past problems, current goals, and plans to improve the evaluations and testing. They will put this report together each year for LEAs, teachers, and legislators. Hopefully, teachers will find the report informative and be able to provide feedback to us and the department for future years. My teachers, parents and students know that I am dedicated to standing up for them on the testing and evaluation issue.
On Tuesday, HB 405 which allows health insurance credentialing of pharmacists, passed in the Insurance and Banking full committee. It, then passed through calendar and rules on Thursday and will be on the house floor next week. This bill does not expand the scope of practice for pharmacists, but will, finally, allow them to be credentialed with insurers in order to receive payment for some of the patient services they provide.
Perhaps the most action packed day was Wednesday March 15; otherwise known as the Ides of March. I had four bills in different committees that day. Three of the bills went through our Government Operations committee. HB 121, which allows administration of emergency medications for adrenal insufficiency in schools, passed Gov Ops on Wednesday and passed Calendar and Rules on Thursday. It will be heard on the House floor Monday of next week. HB 315, which I am carrying for the administration, also, passed Gov Ops and will go to Finance Ways and means.
A new bill that I am carrying is HB 815 which authorizes a bipartisan task force on government spending and accountability. The task force will be an independent, third party entity of Tennesseans that will look at investments, efficiency, and cost cutting measures for Tennessee. Our comptroller, Justin P Wilson, is very excited about the bill, as this task force has the potential to save our state millions. We are accountable to the people, and this is a perfect way to help our citizens have a voice. State Senator Steve Dickerson is the senate sponsor.
On Thursday, a simple, yet apparently contentious bill, HB 1111 by Chairman Farmer, was presented and passed on the House floor. In a nutshell, the bill basically says that unless a word is defined in our Tennessee code, the word is to have it’s natural meaning. I have referred to it as the “Is what is is bill” after former President Bill Clinton. We have a separation of powers. The legislative branch writes the law, and we either clearly define certain words or the words should have their natural meaning. The executive branch enforces the laws. The judicial branch interprets and applies the laws. Neither the judicial nor the executive branch have the authority to rewrite the laws nor change a law. The bill simply codifies existing state and federal case law.
I received several emails from both extremes on the bill, especially as the bill may impact various portions of our code. The correct course of action, if there is a particular section of the code that is in question, is that the judicial branch may strike down that section as unconstitutional or the legislative branch may either amend or rewrite that section of the code if that section of code becomes obsolete or incomplete. Circumventing the separation of powers is not the correct course of action, and that is what many extremists would like to do. I voted in the affirmative for no other reason than to enhance the separation of powers that has been upheld by existing case law.
On the gas tax front, the Senate amended the IMPROVE Act to decrease the gas and diesel taxes, phase them in, eliminate indexing, and increase the potential grocery tax cut. While those steps are improvements in the IMPROVE Act, the Senate proposal still isn’t pocketbook neutral to the average Tennessean and they have attempted to politicize the issue with target tax breaks.
In the House, the IMPROVE Act was rolled in committee due to the death of the father of Chairman Doss who is carrying the bill. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Chairman Doss during these tough times for his family.
As always, I’m humbled and honored to be the representative for District 48.
Dr. Bryan Terry