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LEGISLATIVE OUTLOOK: Williamson senator taking an air of patience before filing his bills

LEGISLATIVE OUTLOOK: Williamson senator taking an air of patience before filing his bills

By EMILY WEST

Jack Johnson, Williamson County’s only senator, is taking a wait and see approach before diving into the 110th session of the state legislature.

Senators have an unlimited amount of bills they can file. For Johnson, a Franklin resident, it’s not uncommon to have anywhere between 50 to 60 bills. While that’s the case in the past, Johnson has only filed two for this session.

His biggest so far is one dealing with the code of ethics mental health counselors should follow when treating patients. Filed in December, Johnson received backlash over proposing an overhaul of the American Counseling Association code of ethics. Some labeled it as anti-LGBT legislation, but he said he disagrees with that line of thinking.

So why does he think some are taking that position?

I don’t know,” he said. “I really don’t. As often the case with the left – when they can’t win an argument or debate – they resort to name-calling and that’s what they have done with this bill. They create mass hysteria unnecessarily, so someone like me came along and challenged their authority.”

Johnson said his legislation has already been mischaracterized, which resulted in him fielding angry phone calls from constituents and counselors statewide. But once he finally has a conversation with those concerned, he said he’s able to turn the corner with their line of thinking.

“Around 90 percent of the folks I’ve talked to call objecting to my bill,” he said. “But once I have explained it to them, they are OK.” 

The bill is calling for what could become a complete overhaul. It’s simply something Johnson said he felt needed addressing, but said he hopes it is better understood once session really begins.

“This is the most egregious instance where I’ve seen it misreported,” he said of the legisltion. “No matter how many times I try to explain it. It gives the board of counseling one year to come up with the code of ethics. That’s a pretty long time. There’s nothing in the legislation that said they can’t take pieces or parts from another state or the ACA in whole or in part, if that’s what we decide we want to do.”

Here is what he wants changed:

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 63-22-102(1), is amended by deleting the subdivision in its entirety and substituting instead the following: (A) Promulgate rules in accordance with the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act, compiled in title 4, chapter 5, as are necessary to carry out and make effective this part; and (B) In addition to the rules promulgated pursuant to subdivision (1)(A), promulgate rules in accordance with title 4, chapter 5, and § 63-22-110(d) that adopt ethical standards or a code of ethics; provided, however, such rules shall not require a counselor or therapist to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held beliefs of the counselor or therapist; provided, that the counselor or therapist coordinates a referral of the client to another counselor or therapist who will provide the counseling or therapy, and the individual seeking or undergoing counseling or therapy is not in imminent danger of harming themselves or others; SECTION 2. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 63-22-110(b)(3), is amended by deleting the subdivision in its entirety and substituting instead the following: (3) Violating a rule adopted by the board if the rule is consistent with the requirements set out in subsection

Here is what he wants added: 

(d) The board shall not promulgate any rule that incorporates by reference a national association’s code of ethics, including, but not limited to, the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics. SECTION 4. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 63-22-302(a), is amended by deleting the language “principles” and substituting instead the language “beliefs.”

What else is on Johnson’s mind?

Other than his filing on the ACA bill, Johnson said he hoped voters would realize he has a much larger focus, one dealing with transportation and education. He’s already filed one bill that handles the ACT and SAT, allowing school systems to administer either. This is bill that could appear in the House of Representatives, as Johnson and other legislators talked with the Williamson school board on Saturday.

Johnson said he will also work with Rep. Glen Casada to strengthen the current medical malpractice law. The specifics of that have yet to be worked out.

He would also like to cut down a portion of the business tax, considering the state surplus. Johnson said some of that one-time money should go back to the taxpayers, and he thought this could be a solution to do that.

“I am a small business owner,” he said. “And for that small business owner that employs 10 or 20 people, we should see if we can reduce that tax burden, so they can put it back in their business. I do think reducing taxes will spur something.”

He said from a 30,000-feet level, he and the rest of the legislature will also have to wait and see what President-elect Donald Trump’s administration will do alongside Congress.

“There’s going to be a lot of things that are given back to the state,” Johnson said. “President-elect Trump is talking about block granting Medicare. We could do such a better job with TennCare if the federal government would leave us alone. That’s not a done deal. If that does happen, that will create additional workforce in a good way. There’s a number of things there that could take the powers out of Washington. That will create additional issues we need to address. In summary, depending on what the Trump administration and U.S. Congress does, it could yield a good a bit of opportunity.”

The Tennessee General Assembly convened for the first time on Tuesday.

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