The following is an update from State Representative Terri Lynn Weaver.
Greetings, Folks of the Fortieth! We continued our examination of the budget this week, amid reports that revenues continue to slide. The state has seen revenues decline for 20 straight months, a new record. Despite the dismal numbers, we are focused on our goal of a balanced budget that keeps priorities in place and view the current budget situation as an opportunity to return government to the basics.
Based on tentative numbers, the total budget will shrink this fiscal year by roughly $1.5 billion. Analysts say that the state’s sales tax revenue—the primary source of revenue—has dropped sharply over the last 20 months.
“Clawback Payment” could save millions
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that Tennessee could keep some of the “clawback payments” associated with prescription drug coverage. The temporary change means the state could save roughly $120 million, going a long way in softening the blow of the Governor’s call for $200 million in reductions from TennCare.
Some Tennesseans that are a Medicaid-waiver enrollee are also enrolled in Medicare. The federal government requires the state to contribute some of its TennCare funds in lieu of paying twice for the benefits that both programs cover, called “clawback payments.” Temporarily, the federal government will be forgiving those payments, thus saving the $120 million.
Tennessee joined several other states in asking the federal government to suspend the payments, because the federal stimulus aid for Medicaid meant the state would have paid less for prescription drugs in the next two budgets. At the end of last week the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services agreed, leading them to temporarily suspend the payments.
Subcommittee approves ‘Pass the bottle’ legislation
The ‘Pass the Bottle’ legislation appeared before the House Local Government Subcommittee on Wednesday, eventually winning the approval of the committee. The bill passed with a 5-3 vote. House Bill 2744 would ban open containers in the passenger areas of vehicles, and make a violation a misdemeanor, subjecting a guilty party to a fine. Currently, no driver may consume an alcoholic beverage or possess an open container of such while operating a motor vehicle, but passengers may consume alcohol. The sponsor argued this policy invites drivers to drink as long as there is a passenger to which they can “pass the bottle.”
The bill was filed last year and experienced resistance in subcommittees then. Opponents expressed concern over the ability of sober drivers to take friends home who are drinking, and also regarding sporting events, such as University of Tennessee football games. Despite these objections, the sponsor said the state must reform its drunk driving laws.
In 2008, an estimated 11,773 people died in drunk driving related crashes. Alcohol-related crashes in the United States cost the public an estimated $114.3 billion in 2000, including $51.1 billion in monetary costs and an estimated $63.2 billion in quality of life losses. People other than the drinking driver paid $71.6 billion of the alcohol-related crash bill, which is 63 percent of the total cost of these crashes. Having won approval from the Local Government Subcommittee, the bill now faces the full House State and Local Government Committee and is scheduled to be heard on March 2nd.
Lawmakers continue to study traffic cameras; Attorney General opinion released
The controversy over traffic cameras continues, and legislation that would place a two-year moratorium on the cameras is being held in the Transportation Committee until April 1st. The bill would prohibit city and county governments from signing new contracts for a two-year period, giving us time to study the issue further.
The state’s Attorney General also released an opinion this week that said the cameras are constitutional. A fellow lawmaker asked the Attorney General to decide whether or not the cameras violate the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause, which allows the accused to confront any witnesses against them. The AG opinion stated, in response, “The confrontation clause embraces testimonial statements. Photographs are not testimonial statements.”
Although the opinion did not directly address many of the issues we are examining, it indicated there are certain areas that could be open to scrutiny. The opinion also stated that certain restrictions we are considering placing on the cameras would be constitutional, as long as the restrictions were “reasonable.”
The City of Gallatin in Sumner County was the first to implement the cameras in 2006, and has since added additional cameras. City officials say the cameras have significantly reduced T-bone crashes at major intersections. Currently, sixteen Tennessee cities utilize the cameras for traffic enforcement, including red light and speed cameras.
House Bill 270, requiring citizenship status to be proven prior to registration to vote was passed out of the House State and Local Government Committee this week.
The week ahead
Next week bills will shift focus to several areas of importance. House Bill 2904 decreases from five to three years the length of time a small employer must purchase coverage through a health group cooperative. Next is House Bill 1357 which allows municipalities to take special census at their own expense any time between regular decennial federal censuses. Then, there is House Bill 2506 which creates a new criminal offense prohibiting a felon from possessing a radio capable of receiving emergency voice transmissions; prohibits a person from using information from the radio to facilitate a felony or interfere with emergency transmissions. Also, House Bill 2936 clarifies that tuition credits or refunds during military service are to be given to students called to active duty while attending Tennessee technology centers as well as state universities and community colleges. And finally, following along the theme of education is House Bill 3745 which authorizes h ome schooled students to participate in extracurricular athletic activities of a public school in which they are eligible to attend.
In closing, I would like to say what a treat it was to have the Future Farmers of America (FFA) here in the halls of the legislature. These young men and women are some of the finest Tennessee has to offer. It was an honor to have them as guests in Agriculture Committee as well as have them speak to House members on the Floor. They are truly remarkable leaders of tomorrow. May we truly embrace their charge “Lead out loud.” Again, it is a pleasure to serve you the Folks of the Fortieth.