State senate works to expand state healthcare options

From the desk of Sen. Steve Southerland (R- Morristown):

Conserving Tennessee’s natural resources

(NASHVILLE) February 16, 2023 — The Senate is in full swing. Lawmakers are passing legislation on the Senate floor and advancing many bills through committees to ensure Tennessee remains a great place to live, work and raise a family. This week, Senate committees completed their first of five weeks of budget hearings and heard budget proposals from 18 different agencies.

Proposal to establish grants and tax incentives for brownfield site cleanup clears committee

The Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee advanced legislation to fast-track remediation and redevelopment of brownfield properties across rural Tennessee. Brownfield sites are properties that are unusable due to the presence of hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants. Many of these sites have the potential to be repurposed, but often require major initial investments to clean up the properties.

Senate Bill 271 would create the Tennessee Brownfield Redevelopment Area Grant (BRAG) program to provide $5 million in annual grants to communities to investigate and clean up brownfield properties and return the sites to marketable use. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) has identified at least 175 known brownfield sites in 36 different counties across Tennessee.

Additionally, the legislation would amend the Brownfield Franchise and Excise Tax Credit law to

provide rural and smaller communities a targeted incentive to clean up properties. It would also grant communities more flexibility when the credit amount can be claimed.

Finally, the measure expands eligibility for the Brownfield Tax Increment Financing (TIF) law by removing urban and low-income geographic requirements and increasing qualifying project costs to ensure all Tennessee communities have the opportunity for more economic growth.

Alleviating the teacher shortage — Passed by the Education Committee this week, Senate Bill 556 supports Tennessee teachers by creating a fund and process to reimburse them for the cost of a licensure assessment after earning a passing score.

Increasing Access to Providers in Tennessee – The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved legislation this week to expand access to healthcare providers in Tennessee.  Senate Bill 680 allows telehealth providers that have an address in another state to provide services to people in Tennessee. The current law states that any vendor through TennCare has to have a physical address in Tennessee, but this bill removes that requirement, allowing greater healthcare access to people on TennCare.

Safeguarding citizens from government overreach regarding COVID-19 – The Senate made permanent several laws passed during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect citizens from government overreach and provide businesses and health care providers with liability protections from health-related claims. By making these laws permanent, lawmakers ensure that state and local governments cannot require COVID-19 vaccine mandates and that statewide standards are met before local governments can issue mask mandates in public and in schools. Among other things, it also guarantees a person hospitalized can be accompanied by a family member during their stay. Senate Bill 11 removes the July 1, 2023 termination date on these provisions.

Unclaimed Funds Letters

The Unclaimed Property Division in the Treasury Department receives cash from various types of accounts and securities from companies for owners that the company is unable to locate. This division then attempts to locate and return the lost property to the rightful owner. Many rightful owners are no longer living and their heirs are entitled to claim the property. Each year, I request a list of these individuals for my senate district and I mail these property owners information about how to claim their funds. If you see a letter from me in the mail about your unclaimed funds, please follow the instructions in the letter to claim them.

Thank you for reading this column. Please contact my office to share your thoughts about any legislation. My office can be reached by phone at: (800) 449-8366, extension: 13851 or by e-mail at: Thank you for the honor to serve you in state government and God bless!