An open letter to AARP Tennessee members and volunteers from Advocacy Director Shelley Courington:
Whew! At AARP Tennessee, we are just starting to catch our breath and recover from the fast-paced 2013 legislative session that was one of the shortest in decades. Moving at breakneck speed (in the legislative world), lawmakers dealt with a number of bills that impact older Tennesseans and approved a $32.8 billion budget before heading home.
That budget includes a number of provisions that will affect your wallets, like $43 million to reduce the sales tax on food, the Hall tax on interest and dividends, and the next phase of a plan ending the state’s inheritance tax.
The budget also includes $500,000 to help Tennessee food banks, thanks to the efforts of Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who knows all too well that one in six families in our state struggles with hunger – and that number is even higher for older Tennesseans.
Legislators gave final approval to a constitutional amendment prohibiting enactment of a state income tax. That issue will now be on the 2014 ballot for voters to decide.
Lawmakers also approved legislation that the late Ethel Percy Andrus – founder of AARP and the National Retired Teachers Association – would have loved. It lets children of retired teachers get a 25 percent discount at any public college or university.
And legislators approved a moratorium on annexation of residential or agricultural land until May 15, 2014, to give lawmakers a chance to study existing laws and policies, and then make recommendations on whether changes are needed.
AARP worked with the governor’s office, lawmakers and others on legislation protecting consumers from unfair utility rate hikes. One bill revised the way that the Tennessee Regulatory Authority regulates utilities, hoping to reduce the legal fees passed onto consumers from large rate hearing cases. The legislation gives the TRA the ability to evaluate utility companies’ expenses for capital improvement projects, such as new pipes for gas or water. The TRA maintains that large rate hearings involve millions of dollars in attorney’s fees and that this process will streamline and allow for efficiency in handling these requests.
AARP worked with open government advocates and lawmakers on legislation requiring that public notices be posted in print and on newspaper web sites. The legislation was an effort to prevent such notices from being posted only online, which would impact people who do not have access to computers.
The Legislature unanimously approved a resolution that AARP asked Sen. Doug Overbey and Rep. Bob Ramsey, both Maryville Republicans, to sponsor, encouraging lawmakers to work with state officials and others to help family caregivers. It notes that Tennesseans are providing more than 1 billion hours of care to adult relatives or friends, at an estimated value of $11 billion each year. There are resources and assistance for these caregivers, but often they don’t know where to turn for help. Over the next few years, AARP will be working with lawmakers, the governor’s office and others around the state to identify gaps in services and help connect caregivers with the resources they need and deserve.
In an effort to reduce the production of meth, lawmakers proposed legislation to require prescriptions for cold and allergy medications containing pseudoephedrine. AARP volunteers and staff wrote letters to lawmakers and newspapers expressing concerns that such legislation would make it harder for older Tennesseans to get the medication they need, would increase health care costs and wouldn’t address the root of the problem. We hope to work with lawmakers, law enforcement officials and others over the remainder of the year to come up with a solution.
Access to health care continues to be a concern. As the number of aging Tennesseans increases, finding doctors in rural Tennessee continues to be a challenge. AARP is working with the Tennessee Medical Association, the Tennessee Nurses Association and lawmakers to find a balance of doctor and advanced-practice nurses. We know that you must have easier access to the health care services you need, and believe that it would help to allow nurses to practice to the full extent of their licenses. A bill that would have made it more cumbersome to meet with an Advanced Practice Nurse has been delayed until next year so that all parties could have their say about the best way to make team based medicine work better for our state.
Although Gov. Bill Haslam decided against an opportunity to expand Medicaid rolls to cover hardworking families who make less than $32,000 (for a family of four), AARP is working with him and others to find a way to provide health insurance for people who cannot afford it. The federal government is in talks with the governor about his proposed “Tennessee Plan” and AARP is hopeful that a compromise can be reached that keeps our hospitals from closing our cutting services, provides access to affordable care for deserving citizens and helps our communities and state economy grow.
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And give yourself a pat on the back for all that you did this year to make sure lawmakers listened to their constituents about issues that matter. YOU ROCK!