As part of a Disability Public Policy team, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities educates policymakers about the impact of potential legislation or policies. These efforts are coordinated in collaboration with agency partners that include Tennessee Disability Coalition, Disability Rights Tennessee, Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, and The Arc Tennessee. As a network, they work together and independently with their overall common goal being to inform policymakers about issues and potential legislation that affect the rights and access of people with disabilities. With Disability Day on the Hill coming up next month, we asked them what legislation is on their radar, and this is what they shared.
Text-to-911 (SB182/HB173): All partners are closely watching a bill that would require the communication board to create a statewide plan for all emergency communication districts to enact a system that allows a text-to-911 service by January 1, 2023. This would benefit individuals with hearing impairments and ensure them equal access to emergency services.
Universal Changing Tables (SB602/HB905): Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, The Arc Tennessee, and Tennessee Disability Coalition are closely following this bill that requires newly constructed or renovated buildings that are open to the public to contain at least one restroom containing a powered, height-adjustable, adult-sized changing table if constructed or renovated after a certain date.
Model Employer Program (SB100/HB112): Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities and Disability Rights Tennessee are monitoring this bill that establishes the state as a model employer program to ensure state agencies and departments implement the best policies for the recruitment, hiring, advancement, and retention of qualified individuals with disabilities.
Increased Wages for Direct Support Professionals (SB114/HB130): Tennessee Disability Coalition and Disability Rights Tennessee are tracking this bill that requires the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) to increase over a three-year period the hourly wage for direct care professionals employed by contracted agencies of DIDD for the home and community-based waiver programs to $15 per hour followed by annual increases in the hourly wage thereafter. The bill aims to reduce turnover and recognize the vital work of these practitioners.
Teacher’s Discipline Act (SB230/HB016): Protecting the interests of Tennessee students with disabilities has been a priority for Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) since their founding over 40 years ago. DRT believes students with disabilities deserve to be included in their classrooms in a just and equitable way. Through their work over the years, they have seen time and time again that appropriate behavior supports keep students in inclusive settings and greatly benefit their wellbeing. Therefore, DRT, along with The Arc Tennessee, is currently focusing efforts to educate legislators and Tennesseans about the negative impacts that could result from this bill allows teachers to request to have students who repetitively and consistently have disruptive behavior be permanently removed from their classroom. Particularly dangerous for students with disabilities, this proposed legislation violates federal law.
Other bills of interest for each public policy partner
Disability Rights Tennessee:
- Precious Cargo Act (SB110/HB40): Authorizes commissioner of revenue to adopt policies and procedures to update the Tennessee vehicle title and registration system database to account for persons who need assistance with expressive language or communicating needs to a first responder or law enforcement officers
- Coverage for Mental Health, Alcoholism, or Drug Dependency Services (SB151/HB360): Requires the department of commerce and insurance to issue a report and provide an educational presentation by January 31 each year concerning the methodologies and approaches used by the department to ensure health plans are complying with the federal Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008.
Tennessee Disability Coalition:
- Update Definition of Intellectual Disability for Capital Punishment Cases (SB1236/HB001): This bill updates the state’s definition of intellectual disabilities when considering capital punishment to match those outlined and repeatedly asserted by the Tennessee and US Supreme Courts. It assigns the state’s statutory definition to the latest updates to the DSM and creates a pathway for those previously assigned to death row to file an appeal to determine their status of intellectual disability.
- Dispute Resolution for Medical Billing (SB001/HB002): Creates an independent dispute resolution board and helps to protect individuals from unreasonable out-of-network emergency health care costs and aims to reduce excessively onerous medical bills.
- Reform Pharmacy Benefits (SB1403/HB145): Reduces the amount of time from 3 days to 2 days a pharmacy has to raise the expense to the highest cost allowed for a drug, product, or medical device for all network providers.
- Step Therapy Reform (SB1310/HB677): Requires insurer to follow certain guidelines for prescription drug coverage step therapy protocols and provide an exception process for step therapy protocols that meets certain criteria.
- Other policy issues: permitting paid family caregivers for persons with disabilities, revising the state’s maternity leave policy to require continuing health coverage for some new moms, and prohibiting Medicaid “Clawback” from ABLE accounts.
Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities:
The Council’s role is to inform and educate policymakers about the impact to people with disabilities; they do not support or oppose any specific legislation.
- Resolution: Approving the Medicaid Block Grant (HJR18/SJR25)
- Resolution: Naming and designating May 2021 Williams Syndrome Awareness Month (SJR57)
If any of these legislative bills or other issues interest you, we strongly encourage you to get involved. Each of these organizations provide public policy update emails, so click on their names here to subscribe: Disability Rights Tennessee, Tennessee Council on Developmental Disabilities, The Arc Tennessee, and Tennessee Disability Coalition. Participate in Disability Day on the Hill virtual activities. Most importantly, let your voice be heard by contacting legislators.