Capitol Hill Week
By Kim Swindell Wood | April 12, 2019 8:32 am
(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), April 8, 2019 – Senate Committees worked diligently last week, holding 10 more budget hearings and moving a number of important bills out of committee and to the Senate floor for final action. In a sign that the 2019 legislative session is beginning to wind down, the Senate Energy Committee has completed their business for the year, while several other committees have set final calendars for next week. Budget hearings will also conclude next week. Senate committees have successfully completed hearings on 52 of the 59 individual budgets of all departments and agencies of state government. The budget will be a key area of focus for the General Assembly during the remaining weeks of legislative action.
First, I want to note how very pleased I am to report that legislation is on the way to Governor Bill Lee’s desk that will help provide a School Resource Officer (SRO) in every Tennessee school. As a member of Governor Bill Haslam’s Task Force on School Safety, this was one of our goals. SROs are extremely important in keeping our students safe. Senate Bill 803 doubles funds in the state’s School Safety Grant Program and accommodates underserved counties working to secure schools and fill SRO positions by adjusting the match requirements to be proportional with districts’ fiscal capacity. The legislation allows schools that currently have an SRO to use the grants to fund other school safety priorities, including implementation of building security measures or developing youth violence prevention programs. These efforts do not end here. School safety is an ongoing effort and we must continually look for ways to protect Tennessee’s most precious resource – our students.
Among key bills advancing through the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, which I chair, is legislation strengthening penalties for “spoofed” robocalls or texts that use fraudulent caller identification information to disguise the caller’s true identity. Spoofing technology is associated with many crimes involving consumer theft and fraud. Spoofing technology has advanced over the last several years and continues to grow at a rapid pace. As a result, imposter scams and identity thefts have increased.
Senate Bill 754 increases the penalty for caller identification spoofing from $10,000 to $30,000. It also asks providers of phone services to implement an effective framework by 2020 for authenticating calls to better enable them to identify and stop calls before they reach the consumer. In addition, the legislation asks the state’s Attorney General to contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding the creation of new rules at the federal level that allow telephone carriers to block more illegal robocalls being made to consumers in this state and across the country.
Consumers/Electronic Financial Exploitation of the Elderly
A separate consumer bill, which was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, aims to protect elderly and vulnerable adults who are victimized through telephone calls or electronic means. Senate Bill 534 broadens the offense of financial exploitation of an elderly or vulnerable person to include use of a telephone or other electronic communication device to obtain money, property or anything of value. It would enhance penalties for the crime from a Class E to a Class C felony, carrying an average of 2.34 additional years of jail time for convicted offenders.
Healthcare Consumers/ Pharmacy
Another bill passing our Senate Commerce Committee will provide support to healthcare consumers in Tennessee and the pharmacies that provide care to them. Senate Bill 650 establishes certain rights for pharmacies regarding fair contracts with Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), including the protection of a pharmacist’s professional judgement when determining when to dispense a drug or another product to a patient.
PBMs are third-party administrators of prescription drug programs for commercial health plans, self-insured employer plans, and government employee plans. While originally created to process prescription drug claims and create a pharmacy network, PBMs have significantly grown in their size and influence over the past few decades. Currently, only three PBMs control approximately 80 percent of the prescription drug marketplace, giving them influence over patient access to prescription drugs.
In an effort to establish a fair playing field between PBMs and pharmacies, other provisions of the bill include protections for pharmacists regarding audits and recoupments of prescription claims. It also increases transparency and disclosure of all fees charged to pharmacies by PBMs at the time of claims processing and requires 30 days advance notification to the pharmacy of any network changes.
In other news, the Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) presented their budget to members of our Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, reporting that 20,600 new jobs were created in Tennessee during 2018. The 2018 ECD report card shows 127 projects with capital expenditures of $4.3 billion. It also reflects a healthy $1.6 billion in foreign direct investment, resulting in 6,400 new job commitments in 37 projects.
The department reiterated their commitment to improving job development in rural communities. Seventy site development grants, representing $26 million in funding, were awarded to 48 counties in Tennessee. Twenty-two Broadband Accessibility Grants were also awarded to 27 Tennessee counties to improve connectivity. This year’s budget provides funds to continue our efforts to locate high quality jobs and broadband services in our rural communities. I look forward to supporting those efforts.