Senator Mark Norris
9A Legislative Plaza,
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0232
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©2015 Mark Norris
April 10, 2015
Senate Passes Landmark Biosimilar Legislation
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) passed landmark legislation that will reduce healthcare costs for patients using prescription drugs. Coined “biosimilars,” these drugs have the same effectiveness as name-brand drugs but are biologically different. Because they are legally in a different category from chemical pharmaceuticals, they are not covered under the current generic substitution laws; so the law needed to be updated to include them. The bill does two things: provides for the substitution of interchangeable biological product for the name brand product and addresses the communication required by a pharmacist to the prescriber of what product was dispensed when there is an approved substitute the first time the medicine is dispensed.
Allowing for the substitution of FDA approved interchangeable products will significantly decrease the cost to consumers. While there are no currently FDA approved interchangeable products, the first biosimilar was approved on March 6th of this year, with four other applications pending. Furthermore, the FDA has reported there are two pending applications for interchangeability. So the time for legislation is now.
“This puts Tennessee in the forefront of states fighting to give constituents real access to affordable health care. By facilitating substitution of the most modern medications, we enhance more cost effective treatment which benefits providers and patients alike,” said Senator Norris of the measure.
The bill gained passage in the Senate by a vote of 31-0 and will be up for final approval in the House on Monday, March 20.
Bill Raises Awareness of Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Also on Monday, a bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), designed to raise awareness and prevent occurrences of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) in student athletes passed the Senate with a vote of 32-0.
SCA is the leading cause of death in student athletes both in youth, high school and collegiate sports. Episodes often occur because coaches are not trained to recognize the symptoms. One-third of those who die experienced one of the warning signs of SCA. From 2007 to 2013, there were five student athlete deaths in Tennessee due to the disease but health experts believe the numbers are underestimated since the report relied only on media articles for the count.
Sam Elkins, a senior at St. George’s Independent School where he plays lacrosse, had previously testified about the bill in the Senate Health Committee. Sam was joined in both House and Senate committees by Dr. Frank Fish and Dr. Alex Diamond of Vanderbilt. The doctors testified about needing to raise awareness of SCA among players and coaches and about the importance of early detection and screening as once symptoms are noticed it can be too late.
The bill is set for consideration in the House of Representatives on Monday, April 13th.
Senate Continues to Take Action on Bills Aiding Crime Victims as “Crime Victims’ Rights Week” Approaches
The State Senate continued to advance legislation aiding crime victims and their families this week, including approval of a major bill by the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow prosecutors to use pre-crime photographs of victims during their accused killers’ trials. The action comes as April 19-25 marks “Crime Victims’ Rights Week.”
Senate Bill 933, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), provides that in a prosecution of any criminal homicide, an appropriate photograph of the victim while alive shall be admissible evidence when offered by the district attorney general.
“In many Tennessee courtrooms, victims are only presented autopsy photos or those of the dark horrific crime scene,” said Senator Bowling. “Victims are not rightfully remembered for the person they were before their life was taken. This legislation would allow submission of an appropriate photograph by a loved one so the jury can see what the victim looked like before their life was taken away.”
Under current law and rules of evidence, a pre-crime photograph of a victim can be admitted into evidence if it is relevant and not overly prejudicial. Some courts, however, do not allow such photographs for fear that they will be reversed based on those instructions. This means that Tennessee courts can vary from one county to the next in this regard.
The legislation, which is modeled on an Oklahoma law, makes it uniform so there is no argument that the court can determine it is relevant to show the victim in a life photo. Under the bill, the judge has discretion regarding the appropriateness of the photograph.
The bill now goes to the Senate floor for a final vote.
Senate Judiciary Committee members also approved legislation that requires a person convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment to serve 100 percent of the sentence imposed, if the sentencing court finds that the murder involved torture beyond that necessary to inflict death. Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), the sponsor of Senate Bill 1327, said the bill would address crimes like those committed in the brutal murders of Chris Newsom and Channon Christian who were raped, tortured and murdered in Knoxville eight years ago. The bill would ensure that such murderers would not receive any “good time credits” that would enable them to be released from prison.
Legislation which enhances penalties against those who abuse the elderly advanced in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. Senate Bill 369, sponsored by Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), broadens the offense of aggravated stalking to include any stalking offense in which the victim is 65 years of age or older when the offender is five or more years younger. The move would raise penalties for the offense from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony and put them in line with laws regarding stalking of a victim under the age of 18.
In another effort to address domestic violence, the Senate gave final approval to legislation which removes the provision in state law that allows judges and magistrates to waive the 12-hour “cooling off” period during which a person charged with a domestic violence offense or an elder abuse offense cannot be released on bail. Under current law, individuals charged with domestic violence can be held for up to 12 hours to allow the victim adequate time to gather belongings and ensure his or her safety. However, a “magistrate or other official duly authorized” can release the accused earlier if they deem the risk to the victim has passed. Senate Bill 610, sponsored by Senator Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), still allows for judicial discretion based on the individual circumstances but requires judges to list in the record why a waiver was given while also making every effort to notify the victim before the waiver is approved.
It is estimated that domestic violence costs Tennessee $1 billion each year in law enforcement expenses, medical expenses and lost productivity.
Senate Passes Major Legislation to Provide Telehealth Services to Tennesseans
The Senate passed major legislation on Thursday to protect Tennesseans’ access to cost-effective healthcare by ensuring that telehealth services are readily available and consistently safe. Senate Bill 1223, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), also ensures that practitioners who offer telehealth services in the state will be held to the same high standard of professional practice as any other healthcare provider in a traditional healthcare setting.
Telemedicine is the delivery of health care services to patients in remote sites by using electronic information and telecommunications technology to connect providers to patients who need them. It is particularly important to people in rural communities who may have to drive long distances to receive healthcare services.
The legislation provides a definition of telehealth or telehealth medicine in Tennessee law so that all health care practitioners will be operating under the same professional standards. Telehealth physicians are licensed under current law. Further, it defines a provider-patient relationship and the consent required to initiate that relationship. In addition, it clarifies that a physician-patient relationship exists only when a telehealth provider undertakes to diagnose or treat a patient and not just when someone leaves a message.
Tennessee Drivers Licenses — The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee voted this week to increase the time period a driver’s license is valid from five to eight years. The proposal, sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains), would cut the wait time at the state’s driver’s license centers, as well as provide greater convenience to license holders. The move means the state would issue approximately 900,000 licenses per year, instead of the current level of 1.5 million.
Resolution Condemning Anti-Semitism Movements — State Senators voted unanimously to approve a resolution sponsored by Senator Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) which condemns the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and increasing incidents of anti-Semitism. In 1996, Gov. Don Sundquist signed the Tennessee-Israel Cooperation Agreement with the State of Israel, resulting in business, government, art, cultural, educational and university activities that strengthened the historic ties between Tennessee and Israel. Senate Joint Resolution 170 states, “the elected representatives of Tennessee recognize the importance of expressing their unabridged support for the Jewish people and the State of Israel’s right to exist and right of self-defense.” The resolution says the General Assembly considers the BDS movement, which seeks to undermine the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, unethical and damaging to the causes of peace, justice, equality, democracy and human rights for all peoples in the Middle East. Leaders of the BDS movement have stated their goal is to eliminate Israel as the home of the Jewish people and delegitimize the State of Israel.
Uninsured Motorists — A bill to implement an online verification program for uninsured motorists is one step closer to passage, as it received approval by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee. Senate Bill 648, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), would establish an online verification program to help ensure compliance with the Tennessee Financial Responsibility Law. The goal of this program is to reduce the state’s uninsured motorist rate, which is currently at 23-24 percent, and offer a real-time system of auto liability policy verification. The bill requires that notice procedure be provided to any driver found to be uninsured, allowing them 15 days to provide proof of insurance or exemption. Failure to comply will result in a $25 coverage failure fee. The bill also increases the fine for failure to provide proof of insurance from $100 to $300, and if a driver fails to provide proof of insurance to an officer, the officer may tow the vehicle as long as the officer’s agency has adopted a policy for such procedure.
Students in Foster Care / Graduation — The State Senate voted this week to prohibit a Local Education Agency (LEA) from requiring any student in the custody of the Department of Children’s Services and who is in the eleventh grade or higher to meet more than the minimum graduation requirements set out by the State Board of Education. Students in foster care are often transferred from one school to the next and may not have time to meet additional standards required by school boards for graduation when moved at that grade level. Senate Bill 537, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), will help these students receive their high school degree and move on to post-secondary education or the workplace.