House lawmakers preparing for budget amendment work
by Kevin Brooks and Eric Watson
Apr 06, 2014 | 593 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gov. Bill Haslam updated House lawmakers last week on the details of his proposed amendment to the 2014-15 Tennessee state budget. The amendment identifies approximately $160 million in reductions due to a shortfall in projected tax revenue collections for the year.

While the budget amendment includes reductions, it keeps funding increases intact for key areas such as the Department of Children’s Services and the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. The amendment proposal also preserves funding for the state’s Basic Education Program’s equity fund.

The revenue shortfall for the year reflects a dip in sales tax collections following a modest holiday sales season.

In addition, the state’s franchise and excise taxes, which can fluctuate greatly from year to year, are down $215 million due to overpayments by businesses last year that are now resulting in credits and refunds.

Revisions to the governor’s budget proposal include:

- Savings from automating TennCare’s eligibility system, $6.5 million;

- Contract reductions to Families First vendors, $4.75 million;

- TennCare provider rate reduction, $18.5 million;

- Reducing next year’s funding for higher education to the current funding level, eliminating proposed increase, $12.9 million; and

n Reducing proposed funding for the Rainy Day Fund by $4.8 million, while still preserving an investment of $35.5 million and bringing the state’s savings account total to $491.5 million.

The governor’s amendment eliminates a proposed increase to health insurance premiums for state employees and teachers to provide them some compensation.

Haslam presented his original budget proposal to the House on Feb. 3. It was based on revenue collections from November 2013 and was put together in mid-December when Tennessee budgets are historically done.

Over the next several weeks, House lawmakers will continue working with the governor’s office to pass a conservative, lean budget that preserves and protects those services Tennesseans depend on across the state.

Unemployment insurance

reform bill moves forward

in Tennessee House

House Bill 1386, legislation designed to help attract new businesses to the state and save tens of thousands of dollars once businesses relocate here, passed the full House of Representatives last week with overwhelming support from state lawmakers.

The bill currently awaits action by the state Senate before heading to the governor for final signature.

Under present law, workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own are provided weekly unemployment insurance payments. These payments are funded by employers who pay taxes on the wages paid to employees. The tax rate that employers must pay is based on whether they are a new employer or an experience-rated employer. New companies locating to the state must currently pay a higher rate because they have no prior experience in Tennessee.

House Bill 1386 allows new companies coming to Tennessee to base their unemployment insurance premiums on the past history of the state they are relocating from, saving thousands of dollars for the company. Proponents of the legislation believe this change in the unemployment insurance law will help recruit an additional five manufacturers to the state each year.

Legislation forever ending

forced annexations

in state passes House

Landmark legislation designed to reform Tennessee’s outdated annexation laws passed the Tennessee House of Representatives last Monday on an 85-4 vote.

As passed, the bill ends a 60-year-old law which allows municipalities across Tennessee the ability to annex private property without the consent of the property owners themselves.

Having already passed in the state Senate, the bill now travels to the desk of the governor to be signed into law. Once signed, future annexations in the state can only occur through a referendum vote by the property owners who would be affected by the annexation proposal.

For years, legislators have been trying to change Tennessee’s abusive and antiquated annexation laws. With the passage of House Bill 2371, this year’s legislators become the first lawmakers in decades to achieve substantial annexation reform for the state.

Anti-Meth legislation wins

approval in House group

Legislation aimed at combating the illegal manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine in Tennessee has moved forward after receiving a positive nod from the House Health Committee.

House Bill 1574, the Tennessee Anti-Meth Production Act, cuts the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be bought in Tennessee from the current limit of 9 grams a month to 5.76 grams, which is equivalent to 24 days of self-medicating treatment, in a month’s time. The legislation also sets an annual limit on pseudoephedrine purchases of 28.8 grams without a doctor’s prescription.

In addition, the bill targets the activities of “smurfers” who buy pseudoephedrine from a variety of stores in small quantities and in turn supply illegal meth manufacturers with enough product to create the drug.

Currently, Tennessee ranks second in the nation, behind Indiana, in meth lab seizures last year. In 2013 alone, 266 children were removed by the Department of Children’s Services from homes due to meth-related incidents at an estimated cost of more than $7 million. Additionally, the state spends approximately $2 million annually on meth lab clean-up, and in 2013, 1,691 labs were seized in Tennessee. This is in addition to tens of millions of dollars in TennCare costs associated with meth lab burns.

The legislation is set to be heard by the full House of Representatives later this week.

Healthcare Consumer Bill

for more transparency

of insurance authorization

receives approval In House

Legislation providing consumers with greater transparency regarding insurance preauthorization requests passed the full House of Representatives last week.

As many across the state have experienced, dealing with an injury or illness is stressful for the patient as well as the family. When an insurance carrier denies payment for a medical procedure or therapy that has been requested to be performed by the treating physician, it places additional stress and can even precipitate a crisis situation.

To aid such situations, House Bill 926 establishes a set of evidence-based rules based on nationally recognized protocol standards so everyone understands what is required when a procedure is recommended.

The bill amends the state’s “Utilization Review Act” by requiring that healthcare insurers, or third-party payers, publish or post on the Internet the non-proprietary portion of the standards so physicians can know the rules of the game beforehand. In addition, it ensures that the utilization review is done by a physician knowledgeable about the procedure, rather than an insurance administrator who does not have medical training or expertise in the procedure that has been requested.

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(Editor’s Note: This legislative update has been provided by state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland who represents the 24th Legislative District, and state Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland who represents the 22nd Legislative District.)