On Thursday, March 19, the Tennessee General Assembly recessed until June 1 amid the COVID-19 emergency. Since announcing on Friday, March 13, that only legislators, staff, and media would be allowed in the state’s legislative office building and Capitol, lawmakers have been busy implementing plans to prepare for the pandemic and keep the state operating as smoothly as possible.

Before recessing, the legislature passed an emergency budget, characterized by some members as “preliminary” or a “contingency,” as well as bills they deemed essential to the function of government. The legislature is scheduled to return on June 1 to conduct any new or remaining business before adjourning for the year. Meanwhile, Governor Bill Lee has been conducting daily press briefings on the status of COVID-19 in Tennessee and has issued Executive Orders to address the pandemic.

Highlights of the Budget

With the new fiscal year to begin July 1, the legislature approved a 2020-2021 spending plan late Thursday night. The $39.8 billion budget slashes $900 million from the governor’s original proposal, released earlier in the year, and now forecasts a 0% economic growth rate for the upcoming fiscal year.

Highlights of the spending plan include:

  • $150 million to fight the spread of COVID-19.
  • $30 million to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund to aid in tornado recovery.
  • $350 million in to the rainy day fund to build reserves for an expected economic downturn.
  • $200 million to cities and counties for infrastructure and COVID-19 response.
  • A 2% raise for teachers.
  • Fully funding the state’s basic education funding.
  • $38 million for the education savings account program.

Governor Signs Executive Order

Governor Lee issued a new Executive Order on Thursday to address the state’s response to COVID-19.  Executive Order 15 supersedes and builds upon previous Executive Orders aimed at the pandemic, temporarily suspending numerous statutes and regulations to facilitate the containment and treatment of the COVID-19 virus.

Highlights of Executive Order 15 include:

  • Allows healthcare professionals licensed in other states to practice in Tennessee.
  • Allows a pharmacist to dispense up to a 90-day supply of maintenance prescriptions.
  • Allows healthcare professionals who would otherwise be subject to licensing requirements to provide localized treatment of patients in temporary residences.
  • Loosens regulations on nurse practitioners and physician assistants.
  • Loosens regulations related to the renewal of licenses, certificates, or registrations for healthcare professionals and facilities.
  • Allows testing for COVID-19 at alternate testing sites without prior approval by the Medical Laboratory Board; provided, that laboratories shall notify the Medical Laboratory Board of any such alternate testing sites.
  • Allows pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to work from home.
  • Loosens certificate of need regulations to allow hospitals to temporarily increase their number of licensed hospital beds.
  • Strengthens consumer protections regarding price gouging.
  • Authorizes the payment of unemployment benefits to a claimant who is unemployed because the claimant left work after being asked to isolate or quarantine due to COVID-19, who intends to return to work, and who is otherwise eligible for benefits.
  • Suspends the one-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits following the loss of employment.
  • Delays the expiration of all valid motor vehicle registrations set to expire between March 12, 2020 and May 18, 2020, to June 15, 2020.
  • Loosens regulations related to telemedicine.
  • Provides the department of human services discretion to waive child care licensure requirements and removes certain child care restrictions including provisions concerning capacity.

Please contact the authors if you have any questions about the 111th General Assembly. We will continue to monitor our state government’s response to the COVID-19 virus.