March 30, 2013

Happy Easter!

Laura & Hailey Harrison of Lakeland visited our office this week

Municipal Schools Legislation Advances

After much anticipation, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) began moving SB 1353 lifting the ban on municipal school districts in Tennessee. In support, Norris cited a study by the Association of Independent and Municipal Schools which concludes that municipal, rather than consolidated schools, are better suited to academic achievement. Norris also cited last year’s Tennessee Report Card in which 88% of Tennessee’s existing municipal school exceeded the average on the ACT and the TCAP. The bill was approved unanimously and now heads to the Senate Finance Committee. Companion legislation is moving in the House.

Governor Haslam announces will not expand TennCare rolls under the Affordable Care Act

Healthcare highlighted a very busy week on Capitol Hill, with Governor Bill Haslam’s announcement that he will not expand TennCare rolls under the federal Affordable Care Act. The Governor, instead, said he is working on a “Tennessee Plan” to reform health care that leverages federal dollars to purchase private health insurance for Tennesseans without access to coverage.

“Tennessee has shown the nation how to produce true reform in education, based on students’ results and educational outcome. We’re beginning to do the same thing with reforming government service – again by measuring outcome and results rather than just years of service as a state employee,” Haslam said. “I believe Tennessee can also be a model for what true health care reform looks like; reform that will take significant steps to save the state and the nation from the unsustainable path we are on now.”

Haslam’s plan, which takes on the critical issue of aligning incentives among users, payers and healthcare providers, would:

  • Leverage available federal dollars to purchase private health insurance for Tennesseans up to 138% of the federal poverty level who don’t have access to health insurance, which would translate to 175,000 more insured Tennesseans;
  • Allow co-pays for those who can afford to pay something;
  • Include a definitive circuit-breaker or sunset of the plan that could only be renewed with the General Assembly’s approval; and
  • Reform the payment structure for providers so they are compensated for health outcomes, not just based on services performed.

The governor will not ask the General Assembly for approval to accept the Medicaid expansion federal funds as he continues to work for the flexibility needed to implement his plan.

Senate Tax Subcommittee approves legislation for small business tax holiday

The Senate Tax Subcommittee has approved legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) that gives Tennessee small businesses a “Business Tax Holiday.” Senate Bill 1293 would provide a refund for the total amount of state and local sales tax paid by small business owners to retailers for purchases made in conjunction with their operations during any one continuous 24-hour period between January 1, 2014, and June 30, 2014.

“This legislation is similar to the annual Sales Tax Holiday that is enjoyed by consumers in August on back-to-school items and clothing,” said Senator Tracy. “It simply gives much needed tax relief to our small businesses.”

To receive a refund under this bill, a Tennessee small business must file a single application with the Department of Revenue by August 31, 2014. The total amount of the refund may not exceed $5,000. No purchases made using cash would be eligible for refund.

The bill applies to small businesses located in the state with total annual gross receipts of no more than $2 million averaged over a three-year period and that employs no more than 10 persons on a full-time basis. Those businesses under three years old may receive the refund if they have total gross receipts of no more than $2 million in the year immediately preceding application. If a business has been in operation for less than one year, such business must have projected total gross receipts of no more than $2 million for the year in which the application is made.

“Many small businesses have suffered over the past several years. This legislation is a means to help them, while providing an economic incentive for them to invest in their business and the economic growth of our communities,” Tracy concluded.

Legislation offers scholarships to children of disabled veterans

Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville) pushed Senate Bill 254 through the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, creating a college scholarship program for the children and spouses of retired disabled veterans. The legislation becomes active for the upcoming 2013-2014 school year for the dependents of veterans who have suffered a service-related disability and were honorably discharged.

As part of the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship Program, the new scholarships will be made available in the same amounts offered to current HOPE recipients. Unlike traditional scholarship applicants though, dependents of retired disabled veterans will not have to meet usual academic standards necessary, specifically a 21 ACT or 980 SAT score and 3.0 grade point average. In the case of veterans’ children, they must both apply and enroll in a postsecondary institution prior to their 27th birthday, after which they become ineligible for HOPE funds. Students who receive the scholarship will still have to satisfy the usual academic requirements to keep funding.

“The State of Tennessee has an obligation to make sure veterans who suffer a disability in the line of duty are adequately taken care of, and that includes their families,” Sen. Green said. “Many of these veterans lose their ability to support their families completely, and this bill provides both an incentive for education and a means to success for veterans’ spouses and children.”

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for approval before being voted on in the State Senate.

In Brief….

College ScholarshipsSenate Bill 194 by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) passed the full Senate on final consideration on Wednesday to increase the number of post-secondary graduates in Tennessee. This bill requires the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) to administer a need-based grant program funded through an endowment for Tennessee citizens seeking an associate’s degree from the state’s public colleges or technology centers. It also gives the Treasury some additional investment vehicles to use for broadening scholarship opportunities for students. The bill enables TSAC to transfer at least $35 million out of the existing fund for those investment purposes to serve more students and increase the state’s graduation rate.

Tennessee Alternative Diploma Act – State Senators voted to approve the Tennessee Alternative Diploma Act on final consideration this week. There are over 930,000 individuals over age 18 that do not have a high school diploma or a GED. Senate Bill 105, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), provides an alternative to the current GED diploma due to increased cost for the test and the new mandatory online format. Massey said a Task Force consisting of the Department of Education, the Department of Labor and Work Force Development, the State Board of Education, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and the Board of Regents came up with a viable alternative that meets current requirements but is “portable, affordable and accessible.” The implementation of the Tennessee Alternative Diploma Act will provide a means to improve economic development to have as many adults as possible qualify to pursue better employment opportunities.

Increasing College Graduates — Graduating Legislation that would provide affordable access to quality post-secondary programs for working adults has been approved by the full Senate. According to the most recent data, 20.8% of Tennesseans age 25 and over have some college but no degree. Senate Bill 195, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), enables the state to partner with Western Governors University (WGU) to create an online, competency-based university that is geared to the 800,000 adult Tennesseans that have some college credit but didn’t graduate with an associate or four-year degree. After a one-time investment in WGU Tennessee, the University will provide an effective means to address workforce needs in Tennessee without any ongoing cost to the state. The Governor has set the goal of increasing the percentage of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential from 32% to 55% by 2025. WGU Tennessee fills a critical gap in the state’s postsecondary landscape to help achieve that goal.

Conservatorship – The State Senate gave final approval to legislation to tighten requirement on how emergency conservatorships are handled. Senate Bill 555, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), establishes an explicit emergency conservatorship procedure which has been missing from current law. Other needed protections in the bill include requiring notice of conservatorship within 48 hours and a review hearing within five days. It also outlines that an emergency conservatorship which only could be ordered when a judge finds that the ward would be harmed if the conservatorship was not ordered. In addition, the bill requires that more frequent financial reports are filed and that conservatorships be reviewed each year to determine if a ward still requires a conservator to handle their affairs.

Workers’ Compensation — Legislation to reform Tennessee’s workers’ compensation system is one step closer to passage after the Senate Finance Committee gave approval to the measure this week. Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), would make the state more attractive to job creation, while protecting injured employees. The bill aims to cut costs to businesses, create more predictability, improve the efficiency of claims management, simplify the physician selection process for injured employees and reduce benefit delays to workers.

Child Custody — Senator Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) also presented Senate Bill 749, which passed unanimously in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill updates the standards that Tennessee courts use to decide child custody in the case of a parent with a disability. The disability shall not create a presumption for or against awarding custody but may be a factor considered by the court.

Public Assistance / EducationSenate Bill 132 was approved in the Senate Health & Welfare Committee on Tuesday. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), would enable the state to garner the amount of Tennessee Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funding a family received by 30% if a child is underperforming in school. The legislation would not apply to mentally handicapped children or children with learning disabilities. An exemption would also be granted if the parent enters a parenting class or shows involvement in the child’s schooling such as, enrolling the child in a tutoring program or attending parent teacher conferences. Currently, the bill is waiting to be placed on the Senate’s floor calendar for final consideration.

HOPE Scholarship / Tennessee Students Overseas — The full Senate approved legislation to ensure that children of Tennessee citizens who are working overseas due to a transfer from a state headquartered business will have an opportunity to receive a HOPE scholarship. Senate Bill 719, sponsored by Senator Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), does require these students to meet all the usual criteria in order to be eligible for the scholarship funds.

Jails / Work ProgramSenate Bill 524 won passage in the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), requires any person convicted of a felony and sentenced to a local jail to be required to work in the jail’s work program. Currently, the inmates have the option of opting out of a jail’s work program. This legislation would incorporate participation in a work program into the violator’s sentencing. An inmate would be excluded from participating if the County Sheriff thanks he or she poses a security or escape risk, suffers from physical or mental health conditions, or if the county cannot afford to provide the security or transportation for the inmates sentenced to the work program.

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