NASHVILLE, May 8, 2017– This is one of the last updates from Capitol Hill before Session ends for the year. Here are a few things of note that have happened lately.
BUDGET PASSES HOUSE AFTER DEBATE
After a day of often heated discussions, the House passed a 37 billion dollar balanced budget on May 5th. The budget will go to the Senate to adopt on May 8. Constitutionally, we are required to pass a balanced budget which the budget is. Tennessee is one of the best run states in the nation with the least debt per capita. When one looks across the United States and see other states with massive deficits, one can truly look at Tennessee’s surplus as proof of Tennessee being on solid footing. However, having a massive surplus doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to spend all of the surplus or start new spending programs.
With new fees and increased taxes associated with the gas tax proposal, as well as having a 2 billion dollar surplus, many Republicans, including myself, felt like the state had over-collected taxes on our citizens. Therefore, the right thing to do was to return some of the funds to the counties or at least not spend all the surplus revenue.
Aside from a huge spending increase, philosophically there were two issues I had with the budget. First, as I have previously stated, with a two billion dollar surplus, we shouldn’t increase taxes and start new programs. Secondly, the budget included taking 55 million from the General Fund to give to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) to jumpstart the IMPROVE Act/ gas tax hike.
Folks, all throughout the gas tax hike debate, proponents of raising the gas tax based their argument on gas and diesel tax being a user fee. They were adamant against using General Fund monies to support TDOT. With the monies previously raided from the transportation fund repaid in the budget, why then would one raid 55 million in non-user fee monies to give to TDOT?
A budget battle ensued, but in the end all sides agreed that the 55 million dollars should be returned to the counties and the county taxpayers. Ultimately, the money was returned for use on county roads with Rutherford County getting over 1 million returned to our county taxpayers. Everyone knew that we must have a balanced budget, and in negotiations, the question is always “What will get you to ‘Yes’ or ‘neutral’?” In principle, the Senate agreed, but they must now vote on the budget May 8th. Kudos to all for setting aside differences to come together for a solution.
EDUCATOR’S BILL OF RIGHTS, HEARING PROTECTION, AND SPORTS MEDICINE
On Monday May 1st, three bills that I co-sponsored passed on the House floor. First, was the Educator’s Bill of Rights(HB 174). One provision in the bill is that educators shall not be required to spend their own money to equip a classroom. Another provision is that educators have a right to defend themselves from violence. The bill passed unanimously.
The Hearing Protection Act, in simple terms, removes firearm suppressors from the list of banned weapons in Tennessee. From a Federal law standpoint, Tennesseans will still need to take the Federal steps necessary to obtain the suppressor. However, if and when Federal law on suppressors changes, Tennessee will be in a better position to support our 2nd Amendment rights.
Last, I sponsored the “Visiting Sports Team Act” which grants limited medical privileges to team doctors who are traveling with their sports team. The bill will allow team physicians who are traveling with a team that is part of a national organization like the NCAA or NFL to treat their players and coaches in a limited fashion without requiring a Tennessee license. If the player or coach required emergency or more extensive treatment, a Tennessee licensed physician with hospital privileges at a local hospital would then assume patient care.
INFANT PROTECTION, PHYSICIAN LICENSURE, AND 2nd AMENDMENT RIGHTS
On Wednesday, the House passed several bills that I co-sponsored including the Tennessee Infants Protection Act(HB 1189). The bill defined unborn infant viability at 24 weeks gestation and banned abortion after that point with some exceptions. In addition, it requires proof of non-viability prior to an abortion after 20 weeks gestation. Almost all abortions in Tennessee occur prior to 20 weeks and the bill mirrors an Ohio law that has never been challenged as being unconstitutional.
All rational Tennesseans agree that at some point during pregnancy, there is life. Even the courts have ruled that an event that results in the death of a woman and her unborn will be viewed as two deaths. For some, the point of life is at conception. While for others, it is later on in pregnancy. With current technology, the Tennessee Infant Protection Act is basically saying that Tennessee is going to protect the unborn at the point of viability. While many agree that infants should be protected at other points in pregnancy, constitutionally, this bill is a sound and positive step to saving the unborn.
I, also, co-sponsored the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact (HB 664) which passed unanimously on Wednesday. As of right now, many states allow reciprocity for medical license requirements. For example, I have a Tennessee medical license, and Georgia may accept our requirements. However, I would still have to go through the paperwork and fees associated with a Georgia license. In a compact, my active Tennessee license would now be active in other states in the compact. Where this helps Tennessee is that, due to physician shortages, we can utilize physicians who live in surround states who would like to work extra and decrease the wait times for Tennesseans.
HB 508 which helped protect our 2nd Amendment rights, also passed on Wednesday. Cities were abusing our 2nd Amendment rights and placing citizens at risk via a perceived loophole in the Guns in Parks law. The bill placed certain conditions and restrictions on municipalities if they did not allow firearms into certain locations and venues. In addition, it placed penalties on those municipalities if they did not protect citizens and damages occurred. While not a perfect bill, it was most definitely a step in the right direction for our 2nd Amendment rights.
EDUCATOR PROTECTION, OPIOID CRISIS, AND MEDICATION THERAPY MANAGEMENT
On Thursday, before the budget battle, three bills that I co-sponsored passed the House. HB 1186, the Tennessee Educator Protection Act, provides protection against meritless lawsuits during the course of their duties educating our students. It, also, ensures that educators can file civil charges against those who bring false accusations against educators or other causes with intent to harm.
With our opioid crisis, HB 1207 will grant the Health department the authority to identify high risk opioid prescribers who will then be required to comply with certain educational training standards, as well as provide information to their patients on the risks of opioid addiction. In addition, the managed care organizations in TennCare will be required to provide information on neonatal abstinence syndrome(NAS) which is caused by opioid addiction during pregnancy. The goal is to identify, treat, and help prevent opioid addiction and NAS in Tennessee.
HB 628 sets up a TennCare pilot program for Medication Therapy Management(MTM). MTM has been found useful as a cost saving measure in other states. MTM incorporates pharmacists in the medication management which should help optimize outcomes for patients; thus, leading to cost savings in the TennCare program.
As always, I’m honored and humbled to be the state representative for District 48.
Rep. Bryan Terry, MD