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2017 Legislative Session

2017 Legislative Session Impact on Tennesseans with Disabilities
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The 2017 session of the Tennessee General Assembly concluded on May 10th after nearly five months at Legislative Plaza. This represented a longer session than recent years during which our elected officials accomplished much. Discussion on education initiatives, medical marijuana proposals, health care access and the Governor's gas tax dominated amidst an active backdrop in federal politics.

Governor Haslam's IMPROVE Act passed by the General Assembly included both tax increases (fuel) and decreases (sales tax on certain items). The primary goal of this legislation was to increase the gas tax to support infrastructure costs. This will impact Tennesseans with disabilities for whom transportation often presents a significant challenge. Increased cost of gas will take more out of pocket of those with their own vehicles and may cause a rate increase for transportation services. However, creating additional funding to support infrastructure means that those costs will not fall to the general budget and threaten future budget allocations for critical services that support Tennesseans with disabilities. Importantly, both chambers adopted language in the Governor’s IMPROVE Act which will provide property tax relief for some low-income elderly/disabled homeowners. 

Fortunately, there were positive outcomes on most of the bills introduced that directly impact the lives of Tennesseans with disabilities. Legislation to create the Tennessee Council on Autism Spectrum Disorder passed both houses and was signed by Governor Haslam. As was the bill to allow a person or caregiver to direct and supervise a paid personal aide to perform health maintenance tasks if the person's treating health care provider determines it is safe to do so and trains the aide. 

Special kudos to member organization, the Mid-Tennessee Council of the Blind, on the passage of the low-vision assistance bill to paint yellow markings on the edge of steps of public buildings built after July 1st, 2017. These stalwart advocates were influential, through years of education efforts at the Plaza, in the success of this legislation. CONGRATULATIONS!

Legislation recognizing and adding to present law regarding exploitation and abuse of elderly and vulnerable adults and creates a no solicitation list passed both houses and was signed by the Governor on May 12th, 2017. This was known as the "Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act" and had bipartisan support at the legislature.

Excitingly, legislation that will require the State Board of Education to adopt and implement books and curriculum for American Sign Language courses to satisfy foreign language requirements was passed this session. We are excited about this new opportunity for Tennessee students and larger impact on disability awareness in our state.

A bill that expanded eligibility for up to an estimated 13,000 students to qualify for Individualized Education Accounts was also passed by both houses. As these accounts became available only at the start of 2017, we will be watching the impact of this legislation closely. For more information about these accounts visit: http://www.tennessee.gov/education/section/iea

Legislation introduced to ensure that consumers can count on the pharmacy benefits they are sold was unsuccessful. However, if you would like to learn more about this effort, a fact sheet developed by the Tennessee Patient Stability Coalition is available at: http://tndisability.org/sites/default/files/Non-Medical%20Switching-%20Pharmacy%20Benefits%20Changes.docx

This year was also the first in many wherein no action was taken on legislation to allow motorcyclists to ride without a helmet. In past years, the brain injury community, in particular, was active in opposing this legislation.

The most notable item in the Governor's supplemental budget for the disability community was an additional $8 million state dollars (recurring) which will be matched to provide a total of $22 million to adjust direct support professional (DSP) rates. This represents a 4.8% increase in the rate used by the state to reimburse DSP wages.  While this is an important and positive development, it is less than we all hoped for. It does not necessarily mean a significant wage increase for direct support professionals. This rate increase will also not impact rates for the Employment and Community First CHOICES professional rates. See our fact sheet for more information at: http://tndisability.org/sites/default/files/Quick%20Facts-%20Provider%20Workforce%20Crisis_0.docx

The Governor also included a $2 million dollar (recurring) amendment for Mental Health prevention and treatment.

We encourage advocates to make an effort to meet with their state representatives at their home offices this summer. These relationships can make a big impact! The 110th Tennessee General Assembly will reconvene at 12pm CST on January 8th, 2018.

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Tennessee Disability Coalition

The Coalition is an alliance of organizations and individuals who have joined to promote the full and equal participation of men, women and children with disabilities in all aspects of life. We work together to advocate for public policy that ensures self-determination, independence, empowerment, and inclusion for people with disabilities in areas such as accessibility, education, healthcare, housing, and voting rights.

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Office Address
Tennessee Disability Coalition
955 Woodland Street
Nashville, TN 37206

Nashville: (615) 383-9442Toll-free: (888) 643-7811Email: coalition@tndisability.org