Norris News – February 24, 2017

On February 24, 2017, in News from Nashville 2017, by Mark Norris

Broadband…Better Access, Not Bigger Government!

I am excited to sponsor SB1215, the Broadband Accessibility Act, this year. 34% of rural Tennessee is unserved. That’s 725,000 Tennesseans without adequate access!

The Accessibility Act aims to deregulate Tennessee Electric Co-ops, provide incentives and education to stimulate deployment, access and adoption across our great state. More on this later.

City of Selmer Mayor John Smith with Congressman Marsha Blackburn and Senator Norris

City of Selmer Mayor John Smith with Congressman Marsha Blackburn and Senator Norris

Providers are also working under a variety of federal programs to expand in Tennessee. Congressman Marsha Blackburn chairs the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. She hosted an extremely informative Rural Broadband Conference I was privileged to address at Columbia State Community College in Maury County today. My colleagues, Senator Joey Hensley (R – Hohenwald) and Rep. David Byrd (R – Waynesboro) also attended.

Her special guest was Ajit V. Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Panelists included Levoy Knowles, Executive Director Tennessee Telecommunications Assn., Bruce Motern, Mgr. State Govt. Affairs, TDS Telecommunications, Jessie Wallace, Mayor of Humphreys County, and Rusty Robertson, V.P. Cable ONE.

Ajit V. Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission with Senator Norris

Ajit V. Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission with Senator Norris

A number of West Tennessee mayors also participated including Dan Hughes of Henderson County, Barrett Stevens of Bolivar, John Smith of Selmer and Mike Creasy of Decatur County.

Thank you, Congressman Blackburn!

State Senators hear testimony on the changing national landscape of healthcare

Senate Committees worked at “full steam” this week as state senators examined the budgets of 11 agencies and departments of state government and approved a number of important bills. The budget hearings, which will continue through March 16, are part of the process of reviewing how taxpayer dollars are spent to examine whether taxpayer money is being used efficiently and effectively to meet the state’s goals. They also provide lawmakers with an opportunity to talk with state officials about a wide variety of important state issues.

Among agencies appearing before Senate committees this week were the Tennessee Division of Health Care Finance and Administration, which administers the state’s TennCare program, and the Department of Commerce and Insurance, which regulates the state’s health insurance industry. Both agencies talked about the changing national landscape as Congress and President Donald Trump consider measures to revise, repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which is also known as Obamacare.

The federal government has steadily increased requirements on states in regard to populations and services that must be covered by TennCare, which serves the state’s Medicaid population. These federal regulations block or severely limit a state’s ability to innovate and make changes designed to control costs or promote personal responsibility.

Tennessee Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak told members of the Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee that Congress should return as much flexibility as possible to the states to address their respective marketplace needs as they consider revisions to the ACA. In the meantime, she stressed the need to stabilize the state’s individual markets by focusing on key areas that can provide immediate assistance like rating factors, essential health benefits, special enrollment periods and grace periods.

As President-elect of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, McPeak could weigh in on proposals pending in Congress as she recently testified before the U.S. Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions.

McPeak also stressed the need for Congress to remain transparent and to engage stakeholders to minimize surprises in the regulatory system. She said markets need clarity so that carriers do not exit markets in mass because they do not have an idea of what to expect in terms of regulation over the next several years.

Tennessee has seen rates steadily increase since Obamacare was implemented. Approved rate increases ranged from seven to 19 percent in 2015, up to 36 percent in 2016 and have increased substantially for 2017. In addition, a co-op that provided coverage from 2014 to 2015 had to be placed in receivership due to its instability to provide health coverage to enrollees.

Even with rate increases, Tennessee’s individual insurance market continues to struggle, McPeak said. Presently, the state has three insurance carriers, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, Cigna, and Humana, offering policies on our Federally Facilitated Marketplace (FFM). However, the future of Humana is in question after the insurer announced last week that it plans to stop selling insurance on the FFM in 2018. The move particularly impacts the greater Knoxville area where no other insurers are present on the exchange. McPeak said she is continuing talks with Humana in an effort to get the company to continue coverage.

In 73 of Tennessee’s 95 counties, particularly the more rural areas of the State, Tennesseans only have one insurer option. This is down from 2016 when the state had two carriers offering policies in all Tennessee counties.

Senator Norris and Chip Hobek filming the Tennessee Report for PBS. The Report airs this Sunday on your local PBS channel.

Senator Norris and Chip Hobek filming the Tennessee Report for PBS. The Report airs this Sunday on your local PBS channel.

Senate Transportation Committee approves vertical driver’s license for drivers under age 21

The Senate Transportation and Safety Committee approved legislation this week requiring all new drivers’ licenses issued to persons under the age of 21 in Tennessee be printed in a vertical format to help businesses easily identify those who cannot drink alcohol. Senate Bill 384 would give drivers the option to change their license to horizontal upon turning age 21 for the reduced cost of a duplicate license.

Presently, a tiny red bar along the side of the photo on the license indicates a person is under the age of 21.

In 2016, there were 28 traffic fatalities in Tennessee with youth aged 15 to 20 years old measuring a blood alcohol level greater than .01 percent. Reports also indicate that the percentage of young Tennesseans ages 12 to 20 who consumed alcohol in the past month was almost 17 percent.

It is unlawful to serve, sell or permit the furnishing of alcohol to anyone under the age of 21 in the state. Tennessee made national headlines in 2007 when it became the first state to make store clerks card everyone who bought carry-out beer. The carding requirement for off-premise consumption was expanded in 2014 to include liquor and wine as part of the wine-in-grocery-stores law.

More than two-thirds of the states across the nation have vertical licenses for drivers under the age of 21.

FFA students from Munford and Covington visited in Nashville this week.

FFA students from Munford and Covington visited in Nashville this week.

In Brief

Domestic Violence — The Senate Judiciary Committee heard heart-wrenching testimony this week from Danny Hensley, father of Leigh Ann Hensley, who was murdered 15 years ago in an act of domestic violence by her former boyfriend. Hensley was joined by Judge Mike Hinson and Police Chief Sam Livingston in support of Senate Bill 1149 which would strengthen the state’s laws regarding orders of protection. Hensley and Hinson told committee members that many cases of domestic violence could be avoided if stronger penalties for a knowing violation of an order of protection are put into place. Hinson called for an automatic injunction until the violator appears in court. He also advocated no contact orders should be given for victims, as well as their perpetrator, to reduce the opportunity for violence. Tennessee is ranked among the 10 worst states for domestic violence. Action of the bill, which is sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), was deferred for two weeks while amendatory language to the proposal is drafted.

Medical Licensure Compact — Legislation which would enact an “Interstate Medical Licensure Compact” to facilitate the expedited licensure of physicians in multiple participating states advanced through the Senate Government Operations Committee this week. Senate Bill 595, sponsored by Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson), follows the passage of similar compacts, including those involving nurses and physical therapists, which increase easier access to care. One of the reasons for the development of the compact includes telehealth and its expanding technologies which cross state boundary lines. Telehealth is particularly important to rural areas where there is a shortage of physicians. The legislation could also address physician recruitment to reduce shortages by enabling physicians to work across state lines.

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