Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley March 18, 2020

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   Governor Lee declares state of emergency to marshal state and federal resources to combat COVID-19

   Governor Bill Lee issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in Tennessee in order to facilitate the medical response needed to combat the spread of COVID-19, which is also known as coronavirus. The order will also help Tennessee access federal funding to provide more resources to respond to citizens’ needs. 

  The executive order listed 13 provisions to more effectively mobilize resources inside and outside of the state to fight the virus strain which was declared a global pandemic. Among other action, the order permits health care professionals licensed in other states to provide health care services in Tennessee related to COVID-19; allows pharmacists to dispense an extra 30-day supply of maintenance prescriptions as needed in response to COVID-19; allows health care professionals to provide localized treatment to patients in temporary residences; expands testing sites for COVID-19; allows the construction of temporary health care structures in response to COVID-19; implements price gouging protections on medical and emergency supplies.

  “Today’s action will move us into a position to utilize additional emergency funds as needed and relax provisions of certain laws to provide the flexibility needed to respond to this disease,” said Gov. Lee. “While the risk to the general public remains low, we encourage all Tennesseans to exercise caution and maintain good hygiene practices as there are serious risks to our vulnerable populations.”

   Lt. Governor Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton issued a statement following Governor Lee’s emergency declaration urging vigilance during proceedings on Capitol Hill to protect visitors and staff. 

   “The General Assembly is encouraging groups who have planned non-essential events and activities in and around the Cordell Hull Building and Capitol to consider rescheduling or postponing,” they said. “We will continue with the business for which we have been elected and for which we are constitutionally bound. But we will do so with extreme caution and in the public health’s best interest. We will continue to monitor the spread of the virus and keep in consultation with Governor Lee and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Our website will remain online and meetings will continue to be streamed and televised. The people of Tennessee will still have access to the work they have elected us to do. We will continue to take additional action as needed.”

   In Other News…

   Revenue Subcommittee votes to reduce Tennessee’s professional privilege tax — The Senate Revenue Subcommittee, which I Chair, voted to recommend legislation to the full Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee to further reduce Tennessee’s professional privilege tax. During the 2019 legislative session, the General Assembly eliminated the professional privilege tax for 15 of 22 professions which were covered. Senate Bill 2201 provides further tax relief by decreasing it from $400 to $200 across the board for the remaining professions. Those professions are attorneys, security agents, broker-dealers, investment advisors, lobbyists, osteopathic physicians and physicians. The funds for the tax cut were included in Governor Lee’s budget proposal submitted to the General Assembly in February. Under Republican leadership, the General Assembly has cut $845 million in taxes since 2011, while increasing the number of jobs and providing record investments in education. This includes reducing the sales tax on food by nearly 30 percent and eliminating gift and inheritance taxes.

    Legislation to incentivize creation of cures for diseases passes Senate committee with favorable recommendation – Members of the Senate Government Operations Committee approved legislation, that I sponsor, forming a multi-state compact that sets up a procedure to incentivize companies, private individuals, and others to invent cures for certain diseases.  Speaker Pro Tempore Jim Butler of the Ohio State House of Representatives passed the “Cure Bill” in his state in 2017. He attended the Government Operations committee to testify on behalf of this legislation.

   The compact’s board would designate those diseases included under this legislation. The compact will become effective and binding upon legislative enactment by six compacting states. Fourteen other states have introduced similar legislation. Senate Bill 2039 advanced to the Health and Welfare Committee for consideration.