Legislative Update from State Senator Joey Hensley March 17, 2021

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   Senate Health and Welfare Committee approves legislation to help the reopening of rural hospitals in Tennessee

   Legislation which aims to get bureaucracy out of the way in the reopening of hospitals in Tennessee’s distressed rural counties overcame its first hurdle during the week of March 8th with approval by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. Senate Bill 255 would permit the reestablishment of a hospital, without first obtaining a Certificate of Need (CON), in distressed counties designated by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development as tier two, three, or four. 

   CON is a legal document required in some states, including Tennessee, before proposed acquisitions, expansions or creations of healthcare facilities are allowed. In short, if a hospital or healthcare facility wishes to locate or expand its capacity, whether that is the number of hospital beds it makes available or the types of imaging it can conduct, the facility must apply to a state board for permission through the CON process. The legislation applies when the hospital was previously licensed or another hospital was previously licensed at the proposed location within the past 15 years. The party reestablishing a hospital must apply for a CON within 12 months of renewing its license with the Department of Health (DOH). 

   In other news…

   State Employees / Disciplinary Practices — The Senate State and Local Government Committee voted to pass legislation that I sponsor which would require a state agency in Tennessee to bear the burden of proof in determining, by a preponderance of evidence, whether a state law, rule, or policy was violated in an appeal proceeding against the suspension, termination, or disciplining of an employee. The legislative proposal comes after a 2017 State Supreme Court ruling which required the employee to prove the alleged violation, stating what portions of the TEAM (Tennessee Excellence Accountability and Management) Act have been violated. The high court ruling noted the 2012 TEAM Act did not explicitly state where the burden of proof lies, regardless of the law’s intent and the practice utilized by the state for three years after enactment. Senate Bill 361, approved unanimously by the committee, returns the burden of proof to the State of Tennessee to provide clarity and consistency regarding the disciplinary process used for state employees. It is supported by the Tennessee State Employees Association (TSEA).

   Ambulance Services – Legislation was also approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee that designates ambulance services as an essential service in Tennessee. Senate Bill 1597 would give the essential service designation to ambulances, like already provided to police and fire services. Under the proposal, ambulance services can be provided by a public, private or non-profit entity. The contract can be through interlocal agreement, an agreement with a hospital or health care facility, or through any structure suitable to provide at least one licensed ambulance service. The proposal further reiterates a county is not required to appropriate county revenues for this service and that it can be provided by other means. Finally, it codifies the existing relationship between counties and municipalities in regards to their abilities to provide this service with approval of their governing bodies.

  Emergency Rescue Workers/COVID-19 — The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee advanced Senate Bill 995 with a positive recommendation to aid emergency rescue workers. Under current law, there is a legal presumption that any full-time firefighter, paramedic, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) or Advanced EMT who is infected with either HIV or the hepatitis C was inflicted with the disease on the job. These public employees are specifically defined because they provide emergency medical aid to the public in the regular course of their employment without the protections available in a typical healthcare setting. In response to the COVID-19 epidemic, this bill would broaden the legal presumption to include infectious diseases for which the World Health Organization or federal Center of Disease Control has declared a pandemic and the governor has issued a state of emergency.

   Supporting Law Enforcement Officers – The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved legislation supporting the brave men and women who protect Tennesseans by offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of any individual responsible for the shooting of a law enforcement officer in the line of duty. Senate Bill 440 would provide a $10,000 reward to the individual providing the information if the law enforcement officer is injured, and a $20,000 reward if the officer is killed. The legislation shows support for law enforcement officers, as well as showing encouragement to bring justice to victims.