News from Nashville – February 26, 2016

On February 26, 2016, in News from Nashville 2016, by Mark Norris

February 26, 2016

Senator Norris and Governor Haslam with the members of Youth Leadership Tipton County

Senator Norris and Governor Haslam with the members of Youth Leadership Tipton County

Efficiency in Handgun Permitting Act overcomes first hurdle with approval by Senate Judiciary Committee

Among bills approved in Senate committees this week was the “Efficiency in Handgun Permitting Act” which aims to improve the process for gun owners and lowers the fee associated with obtaining a handgun carry permit. Senate Bill 2566, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), was given approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is part of a package of bills submitted to the legislature by Governor Bill Haslam. The legislation extends the current five-year handgun carry permit to eight years, lowers the initial handgun permit fee from $115 for five years to $100 for eight years and expands the renewal cycle from six months to eight years after the expiration of a permit before a person must reapply as a “new” applicant.

“This saves a tremendous amount of money for permit holders,” said Senator Niceley. “It cuts the price and the aggravation in half. Over the last few years we have been moving our driver’s license from four to eight years and this proposal takes the handgun carry permit to eight years as well.”

It was noted in committee that when the original handgun carry bill was passed in 1994, the fees associated with the permit were never intended to cost more than what was necessary to administer the program. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security manages the process for obtaining a handgun carry permit and uses permit fees to fund the cost of administering the program. Niceley said this legislation would finally make the program more revenue neutral.

Under the proposal, background checks will continue to be conducted at the time of initial issuance and at the time of renewal. Additionally, an internal background check will be conducted in the fourth year of the eight-year permit without charge. It also gives a member of the armed forces, whose permit does not expire while deployed until two months after their return to Tennessee, the same eight-year period after expiration that a civilian has to renew a permit before having to reapply as a new applicant.

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration before moving to the floor for a final vote.

Senate approves legislation addressing the growing problem of opioid abuse

Two bills which address the growing problem of opioid abuse were approved by the full Senate this week, including legislation to expand patient access to lifesaving opioid antagonists. Senate Bill 2403, sponsored by Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), would require the Tennessee Department of Health to draft a Collaborative Pharmacy Practice Agreement where standards and parameters are to be outlined for the dispensing of the medication by pharmacists.

An antagonist is a drug that blocks opioids by attaching to the opioid receptors without activating them. Opioid overdoses can be accidental from a legitimately obtained prescribed medication or as a result of the abuse of prescription opioids or heroin, and can result in death if not treated promptly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 44 people die as a result of prescription opioid overdose every day in the United States. Among people 25 to 64 years old, drug overdose caused more deaths than motor vehicles crashes.

Under the bill, a pharmacist must complete an opioid antagonist training program approved by the Department of Health within the previous two years to dispense the medication. It also establishes immunity from disciplinary or adverse administrative actions, as well as immunity from civil liability, if dispensed pursuant to a valid statewide collaborative pharmacy practice agreement.

At least 24 other states either have enacted legislation or introduced a bill to give pharmacists some level of authority to dispense opioid antagonists at their discretion.

The other bill approved by the Senate this week ensures that medical directors of pain clinics are highly qualified. Legislation tightening the requirements for medical directors and owners of pain management clinics was approved during the 2015 legislative session.

Opioid pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and hydromorpone are responsible for three-fourths of all prescription drug overdose deaths according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The 2015 law required the medical director or owner of a pain clinic be a licensed physician who holds the required continuing medical education and subspecialty certification in pain medicine.

Senate Bill 2057, sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), provides that a medical provider can qualify for state licensing as a pain management specialist by passing the two-part exam administered by the American Board of Interventional Pain Physicians (ABIPP). The physician must still be certified by the ABIPP. This allows for physicians that have been in practice for some time, an option that does not require a full-time fellowship which takes a year to complete.

Senator Norris addressing students from Collierville and Germantown outside the Senate Chamber

Senator Norris addressing students from Collierville and Germantown outside the Senate Chamber

TennCare Opt Out Resolution Passes Senate

Free market approach sought as pilot for Medicaid-eligible patients

The Tennessee Senate passed a resolution this week that encourages Governor Bill Haslam to seek an “appropriate waiver in order to implement the TennCare Opt Out program as a pilot program” based on consumer control and choice of healthcare spending within the Medicaid-eligible patient population. The pilot program, sponsored by Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), would enroll volunteer participants whose income qualifies them for temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) in the TennCare flexible savings account initiative.

Under Senate Joint Resolution 88, enrollees would receive an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card funded by premiums paid by TennCare to purchase primary care services and medications on an annual basis. Electronic payment is made immediately to treating physicians which reduces administrative costs and encourages provider participation. Patients in the demonstration program with funds remaining in the health savings account at the year’s end keep those dollars as a reward for their healthier choices that have maintained wellness and their effective budgeting of spending.

In 2011 a study done on similar programs found a decrease in the consumption of healthcare by eleven percent. Should this pilot program achieve similar savings, the dollars made available would allow expanding coverage to hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans who currently are without healthcare.

Visiting with the third grade classes at the Campus School in Memphis

Visiting with the third grade classes at the Campus School in Memphis

In Brief

Drones — State Senators unanimously passed legislation this week to restrict the use of unmanned aircrafts, or drones, within 250 feet of any critical infrastructure facility for the purpose of conducting surveillance, gathering information or recording data about the facility. To knowingly do so, would classify as a Class C misdemeanor. Under Senate Bill 2106, sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Brentwood), a critical infrastructure facility includes electrical power plants, oil refineries, combustible chemical storage or manufacturing facilities, water and waste water facilities and natural gas pipelines. Drone flyers with specific authority from the Federal Aviation Administration, such as Google or Amazon, are exempt from this legislation.

Fantasy Sports — The Senate Government Operations Committee approved legislation this week to create a commission to oversee the new and exploding industry of online fantasy sports. Senate Bill 2109 creates a regulatory framework for the brand new market to protect consumers. It is estimated that one million of Tennessee’s 6.5 million citizens engage in fantasy sports. Under the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act, online fantasy sports are considered a game of skill, not chance, and is therefore, not considered gambling. The proposed committee would consist of five members: one chosen by the governor, and the respective speakers of each chamber electing two. The bill passed unanimously and will next be heard in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. It is sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin).

Physical Education / Schools — The Senate Education Committee approved a bill this week which creates the Governor’s Three Star Physical Education (PE) and Literacy Pilot Program for students in grades three to five. The purpose of the pilot is to determine whether increasing PE and literacy courses in a student’s schedule for 30-45 minutes, four days a week, will increase growth in motor skills for the students as well as boost achievement and decrease behavioral incidents. Under Senate Bill 2001, 18 elementary schools will be chosen, divided into two groups of nine schools. One group will participate in the pilot and the other group will be the control group. The schools will be chosen with priority given to schools with a large concentration of students with a high body mass index (BMI), identified as low performing schools, or without a PE program. Tennessee is the 47th worst state in the nation in obesity and is 49th for inactivity. The bill is sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro).

Domestic Assault / Pre-trial Diversion — Domestic assault and child abuse, neglect and endangerment would be added to the list of offenses in Tennessee for which pretrial diversion is not permitted under legislation which was approved by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Pre-trial diversion is the process in which the prosecutor halts the case against a defendant if he or she meets certain conditions like probation, counseling and community service, among others. Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), sponsor of Senate Bill 1564, said he brought the bill to the legislature after hearing high profile cases in Knox and Davidson Counties where defendants who were charged with domestic assault “walked out of the courtroom because of pre-trial diversion” despite the nature of these serious crimes. “I don’t think we should give a pass to a perpetrator of these serious crimes, who are often in a position of authority over the victim,” he said. The bill has the support of the District Attorneys General Conference.

Presidential Primary / Record Turnout –Tennessee voters came out in record early voting numbers for the March 1st Presidential Preference Primary according to statistics posted by Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett. Preliminary vote totals show 257,209 Republicans and 128,374 Democrats voted during the early voting period which ended on February 23, for a total of 385,653 Tennesseans. In 2008, Tennessee became a part of what has been dubbed the SEC primary due to the number of participating states that represent the U.S. collegiate Southeastern conference. The March 1 election day is also called “Super Tuesday” because more delegates are awarded this day than any other during the presidential primary calendar.

Child Safety / Athletic Events — Referees or officials of interscholastic athletic events must submit to a criminal background check in order to ensure the safety of students under legislation which was approved by members of the Senate Education Committee this week. The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) already requires a background check under their rules for referees or officials. Senate Bill 2118, sponsored by Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville), simply puts those rules in statute to help ensure child safety.

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Roger Page Confirmed — In a unanimous vote during a joint convention of the House and Senate, Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Roger Page was confirmed Monday night by the 109th Tennessee General Assembly. The confirmation is the first of its kind in Tennessee, brought about by a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that granted the Legislature confirmation powers for all appellate court appointees. After being confirmed, Justice Page was sworn in by fellow Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Bivins. Justice Page previously served on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals and was a circuit court judge for the 26th Judicial District of Tennessee. Prior to his experience on the bench, Page was assistant attorney general in Jackson from 1991-1998, was in private practice and served as a law clerk for former U.S. District Court Judge Julia Smith Gibbons from 1984-1985. Page received his law degree with honors in 1984 from the University of Memphis, where he ranked 4th in his class.

Conservators / Wards — The full Senate voted this week to restrict the ability of a conservator to isolate their ward from visitation by family members or loved ones without just cause. A conservator is a legally appointed guardian of a disabled person. Under current law, a conservator can restrict visitation and communication with a ward in Tennessee without going to court, even when it involves communication or visits by a family member. Senate Bill 2190, sponsored by Senator Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), provides the ward has a right to visit, communicate or interact with family and loved ones and that a conservator shall not restrict it unless specifically authorized by a court order. It also provides a process by which the conservator can petition the court to place restrictions upon communication or interaction by showing good cause. Some of the factors the court can consider are previous protective orders, whether the ward expresses the wish to visit and past preferences. In addition, the bill provides that a conservator shall use best efforts to promptly notify the ward’s closest relatives upon a change of residence, admission to a nursing home, life threatening emergency care, acute care or death. The bill was brought to the legislature as a result of the growing number of divorces where there is conflict between the children of an incapacitated adult whose spouse has been named the conservator. This is in addition to the increasing number of cases of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other disabilities which call for a conservator to be appointed.

Federal Refugee Program — Legislation urging Tennessee’s Attorney General to commence legal action in response to the federal government forcing Tennessee to spend state dollars for the Refugee Resettlement Program was approved by the full Senate this week. Senate Joint Resolution 467, which is sponsored by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), addresses a program in which Tennessee no longer participates. In 2007, Governor Phil Bredesen withdrew the State of Tennessee from the program. The federal government then selected a non-governmental volunteer organization which contracts with them to resettle refugees in Tennessee. The resolution aims to get legal clarity regarding the expenditure of state money on the program and other state operated social service programs since the program is operated by an entity outside state government. The resolution also references the federal requirement under the Refugee Act of 1980 to consult with states regarding the placement of refugees before those refugees are placed within its borders. Governor Bill Haslam wrote a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last fall asking for more information from the federal government regarding those plans as it affects Tennessee. However, Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons told members of the Finance Committee last week that to his knowledge no reply has been received from the U.S. State Department in response to that request. If the Attorney General does not commence civil action, the resolution gives the General Assembly the authority to hire outside counsel for this purpose.

Suicide Prevention — The full Senate passed legislation this week that addresses the issue of suicide among young people by requiring all employees of the Local Education Association (LEA) to attend the suicide prevention training that already takes place for teachers and principals. Senate Bill 1992, sponsored by Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), would strengthen Jason’s Act passed in 2007 by including bus drivers, cafeteria workers and any other employees as these relationships with students can be influential in the student’s life. It also requires an LEA to develop a policy on suicide prevention awareness and it requires the state Department of Education to establish a model policy that the LEAs may choose to adopt. Urging the importance of the issue, Senator Roberts said, “This bill is such an important bill because the numbers of suicides are rising each and every year among our young people. It is a terrible tragedy that, despite past efforts, continues to grow and it is now the third leading cause of death of young people between the ages of 10 and 19.”

Consumer Protection – Deceptive Advertising — This week, the State Senate unanimously passed a bill to investigate and fine companies and individuals who use deceptive advertising methods. Senate Bill 1928, sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), prohibits advertisements that look like a summons or a judicial process notification. It also prohibits advertising that looks like a government document, whether it is through the use of language, seals and logos or if it implies an unauthorized endorsement by a government entity. The bill prescribes a fine of up to $100 per advertisement for violation of the proposed law.

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