Capitol Hill Week 

by State Senator Paul Bailey

Legislative committees worked diligently this week as we wrapped up budget hearings for various agencies and departments of state government and moved a number of important bills to the Senate floor for final action.

This includes legislation approved by the Judiciary Committee this week creating a statewide Silver Alert Program to strengthen local efforts to safely recover seniors and vulnerable adults with disabilities who are missing in Tennessee. Senate Bill 102 puts implementation and oversight for the program under the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which has been effective in overseeing the state’s Amber Alert Program to locate missing children.

Currently, local law enforcement agencies are responsible for issuance of a Care Alert.

This legislation aims to put more resources behind locating missing seniors and vulnerable adults like we do with our Amber Alert Program for missing children. It calls on local law enforcement agencies to notify the TBI of a missing vulnerable adult so they can work in tandem with the statewide media and transportation officials in alerting the public.

The Silver Alert legislation defines a missing person as an individual age 60 or older, whose whereabouts is unknown and who is believed to be in danger because of age, health, mental health conditions or physical disability. The alert would be issued when the missing person is believed to be unable to return to safety without assistance and it can be in combination with certain weather or environmental conditions. In addition, the alert would apply to a person who suffers from a documented case of dementia, intellectual, developmental or physical disability.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, six in 10 people with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia will wander away from their care settings. Disorientation begins in the early stage of dementia, causing people to get lost.

There is a critical 24-hour time period in which to locate missing seniors. The Silver Alert program is designed to quickly disseminate descriptive information about the missing person, so that citizens can be on the lookout for the endangered person and notify local law enforcement with any relevant information. This legislation will ensure the best opportunity for that information to be widely distributed so we can bring missing vulnerable adults home as quickly as possible.

In other action this week, I was very proud to participate in “Ag Day” celebrating agriculture in Tennessee. This is in recognition of the critical role that farmers and foresters play in putting food on our tables and in providing premium lumber products.

Ag Day events were held statewide to help cultivate the next generation of farmers and foresters, with universities and K-12 schools promoting the vast opportunities ag-related careers offer students. Due to the pandemic, the annual legislative event was celebrated virtually this year.

During Ag Week, the Senate Government Operations Committee approved legislation to create a Farm and Forestry Task Force in Tennessee. The group would be charged with developing a statewide strategy for agriculture innovation and entrepreneurship to position Tennessee as a leading hub for agri-tech and value-added agriculture.

Senate Bill 875 calls for the task force to hear testimony from persons with expertise in current agricultural practices and forecasting trends related to consumer purchasing patterns, product development, crop diversity, and agricultural technologies. The group will also look at the economic impact of agriculture on rural and urban areas of Tennessee.

State Senators also approved Senate Bill 693 this week, which would allow for the sale of homemade food items to entities other than a direct consumer, such as a retail vendor. The production and sale of these goods would no longer be subjected to the licensing, permitting, inspecting, packaging, and labeling laws of this state, except when the Department of Agriculture is investigating a possible foodborne illness.

Called the Tennessee Food Freedom Act, the bill aims to expand the market in a way that would support small-scale businesses and entrepreneurs by providing additional avenues by which they can market their product.

In other action this week, the Commerce and Labor Committee, which I chair, approved legislation prohibiting healthcare providers or other entities from discriminating against individuals with disabilities for the purpose of organ transplantations.

Senate Bill 488 calls for health care providers responsible for matching anatomical gifts and organ donations to make reasonable changes to their policies and practices to allow individuals with disabilities access to transplantation-related treatment. Furthermore, the bill would not allow health insurance companies to restrict transplantation coverage for the sole reason of a person’s disability.

Finally, Senate Bill 1603, which I am sponsoring, passed through the Senate Government Operations Committee this week, addressing the emergency powers of the governor. The bill would provide legislative oversight by requiring the Government Operations Joint Evaluation Committee on Judiciary and Government to review any entity of state government that is created through the governor’s emergency powers.

The committee is solely expected to report to the General Assembly on whether the entity and its functions should be continued or discontinued within five days of the entity’s review.

Furthermore, all public purchases and goods and services contracts made by an executive agency will be subject to public purchasing laws as of July 1, 2021.

Please remember I am always happy to hear from you on these or any other issues before the Tennessee General Assembly. Please call or write me to express your views or if you need help with a state government-related matter.