Capitol Hill Week
By Kim Swindell Wood | March 27, 2017 6:46 am
By Senator Paul Bailey
The State Senate tackled a wide variety of issues this week as committees prepare to close for the 2017 legislative session. The Transportation and Safety Committee, which I chair, has issued our final calendar. We will hear several key bills including legislation addressing distracted driving, autonomous vehicles and traffic enforcement cameras, to name a few. Many important issues still remain on the General Assembly’s agenda before adjourning next month, including the state’s budget, which will move front and center in the remaining weeks.
Welfare Fraud — Legislation designed to combat welfare fraud in Tennessee was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week. Senate Bill 365 requires agencies within state government to communicate with each other to identify people who are receiving benefits for which they are not eligible.
Studies estimate Tennessee loses approximately $123 million per year in fraudulent payments to people who are not actually qualified to receive benefits.
Called the Program Integrity Act of 2017, the legislation creates a new system of enhanced verification in Tennessee, requiring the Department of Human Services (DHS) to conduct quarterly data matches against information databases to help eliminate fraudulent payments that are being made. It also authorizes DHS to join a multistate cooperative for identifying individuals who currently receive Tennessee benefits but who live in other states. In addition, the Bureau of TennCare would be required to verify wage and income information, immigration status, and vital records information for each applicant or enrollee once their new automated electronic eligibility system is operational. The state has been continuing development of the Tennessee Eligibility Determination System (TEDS) to help detect those who misuse the welfare system.
In addition to the new enhanced verification system, the legislation also requires the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation to make a monthly report to DHS of all individuals who collect a prize of more than $5,000 to ensure that those who exceed income requirements do not continue to collect taxpayer-supported payments. While federal rules require recipients to self-report this income, this change simply adds an extra layer of security to the process by requiring the Lottery Corporation to report these winnings so that it can be crosschecked through the system.
Task Force / Recreation on State Waters — The full Senate voted on Thursday to create a six-member task force to study issues surrounding the use of non-motorized vessels, such as canoes and kayaks, on state waters. The purpose of Senate Bill 1335, which I am sponsoring, is to find solutions that allow outfitters and adventurers to enjoy navigating the waters, while protecting and preserving the state’s natural resources, as well as being respectful to property owners. The groups will report their findings by July 2018.
Medicaid / Block Grants — State Senators on Thursday gave approval to a resolution calling on the federal government to give states Medicaid funding in the form of block grants, or similar models, providing them with the ability to make decisions best suited to the unique needs of their citizens. Senate Joint Resolution 77 further expresses support for grants that allow for patient-centered reforms that increase access to affordable, high-quality private health insurance.
Ambulance Services — Legislation advanced in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee on Wednesday to aid local ambulance services in Tennessee by implementing a quarterly coverage assessment similar to the assessment that has prevented catastrophic cuts in hospitals in Tennessee. Senate Bill 704 would place the assessment in a fund, allowing the state to receive additional federal dollars from Medicaid to be redistributed to the local private and public ambulance services for transporting patients covered by program. Called the Ground Ambulance Service Provider Assessment Act, the bill is expected to generate approximately $19.6 million in additional federal funds. The legislation has received support from the State Ambulance Service Association and was passed unanimously in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. It now travels to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee before going to the Senate floor for a final vote.
Consumers / Spoofing — State Senators gave final approval this week to legislation that creates a consumer protection violation for someone who employs caller identification (ID) spoofing technology with the intent to defraud or cause harm to another person, or to wrongfully obtain anything of value. Spoofing technology allows a person, when making a call or sending a text message, to change the number so that it appears on the recipient’s caller ID that it is different from the one that is actually being used. It is often used as part of an attempt to trick someone into giving away valuable personal information so it can be used in fraudulent activity or sold illegally. Senate Bill 511 creates a Class A misdemeanor for spoofing, as well as allowing for spoofing victims and the state’s Attorney General to pursue civil actions against offenders.