Follow Me On Twitter

Follow Me On Facebook

Norris News – April 20, 2018

The Sons of the American Revolution were the color guard for the opening of session on Patriots Day, April 16.

The Color Guard of the Tennessee Sons of the American Revolution opened session in recognition of the 243rd Anniversary of the American Revolution this week.”

State budget emphasizes four E’s – Education, Employment, Economic Opportunity and Enforcement of the Law

The Tennessee Senate passed several key bills this week, including the state budget and major legislation to curb opioid abuse, as the 2018 session of the Tennessee General Assembly draws to a close. The $37.5 billion “no growth” budget proposes state government spending for the next fiscal year that begins July 1, 2018 and extends to June 30, 2019.

The balanced budget, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), addresses opioid abuse, school safety, teacher funding, rural economic development and job growth, while allocating additional funds for the care of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens. Norris said the bill focuses on the four “e’s” of Tennessee: employment, education, economic opportunity and enforcement of the law.

“We are increasing our commitment to children, to the elderly, the disabled, and to the future of this state,” said Norris. “This appropriations act will keep Tennessee safe and strong into the future.”

Fiscal Responsibility – The budget assumes a 3.2 percent rate of growth, well within the growth of Tennessee’s economy. During the past eight years under Republican leadership, the state spending on average has grown no more than two percent, compared to an average of seven percent in prior administrations. The bill also maintains Tennessee’s sound fiscal practices by increasing the Rainy Day Fund, the state’s savings account for emergencies, to the highest level in state history at $861 million. Adequate savings, along with Tennessee having the third best funded pension plan in the nation, have resulted in the state receiving a triple-A bond rating from the three major credit rating agencies and being ranked among the best financially managed states in the nation.

Tax Relief — On tax relief, the appropriations bill continues the General Assembly’s ongoing efforts to provide widespread tax relief to Tennesseans. Over the past eight years, the legislature has cut $400 million in taxes, with those reductions amounting to $572 million in the 2018-19 budget year. Tennessee has reduced the sales tax on food by nearly 30 percent; implemented a complete phase out of the Hall tax; eliminated the gift tax; cut business taxes on manufacturing; and phased out the inheritance tax. Tennessee has the lowest taxes in the nation as a percentage of personal income.

In order to help provide for tax reductions and spending priorities, the budget includes reductions in appropriations of $216.6 million, including the elimination of 335 positions. Over the past 8 years, the state has realized base budget reductions of $846.9 million, including the elimination of 2,759 positions.

“This is how we live within our means,” Sen. Norris said. “This is how we reallocate revenues to meet contemporary priorities to make sure that our constituents, the Tennessee taxpayers, get a fair return on their investment. Because, it is their money, not ours; it is the taxpayers’.”

Protecting Tennessee’s Most Vulnerable Citizens — On protecting Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens, the budget as amended by the Senate provides $11 million to raise the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) hourly rate of reimbursement paid by the state for professionals providing care to Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens. DIDD professionals provide care for those who have intellectual, developmental and age-related disabilities.

“If you want to know about what our priorities are, you look at where we spend our money,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson (R-Hixson). “This budget invests more in people, and less in programs. It also sets the stage on how the legislature engages in conversation about how to take care of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens moving forward, especially when the burden of caregiving falls on aged caregivers.”

Similarly, the bill provides $136 million in additional funds for TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. This includes $7.3 million for the state’s CHOICES program, which serves developmentally and intellectually disabled Tennesseans.

In addition, the Senate-amended budget restores $1.4 million for the state’s early child in-home visitation program for a total $5 million. The evidence-based program has proven to be a very effective early-intervention strategy to improve the health and well-being of at-risk children in the state. The bill also provides additional funds for the federally qualified health centers and certain dental services and vision screening for some of Tennessee’s most needy citizens.

Improving healthcare services is also the impetus behind a pilot program funded in the budget to help struggling rural hospitals develop economic plans to ensure they are financially viable and continue to provide needed services. The program uses their economic standing in the community as a way of providing consulting assistance to distressed hospitals which need to change their operational models so they can be financially successful in an ever-evolving healthcare marketplace.

“The Senate’s signature is on this budget more than any of which I have been a part,” Watson continued. “It will have a positive impact on the lives of many citizens for years to come.”

Dedication of the new Plaza next to the Cordell Hull Building, the new home of the General Assembly.

Dedication of the new Plaza next to the Cordell Hull Building, the new home of the General Assembly.

State budget emphasizes four E’s – Education, Employment, Economic Opportunity, and Enforcement of the Law

The four “e’s,” education, employment, economic opportunity, and enforcement of the law, are the underlying drivers of Tennessee’s 2018-2019 state budget adopted by the General Assembly this week. The budget continues Tennessee’s strong commitment to education by providing an additional $247 million to fund K-12 education in Tennessee, including $105 million for teachers and $66.8 million for enrollment growth. It also provides $30.2 million for school safety and $13.3 million for the Response for Intervention Program which identifies the needs of struggling students to get them the help they need to succeed. The General Assembly has provided $1.5 billion in new funding over the last eight years for K-12 education, including $500 million more for increased teacher salaries.

As a result of these efforts, Tennessee students are posting the largest gains in the country and the highest high school graduation rates the state has ever seen. The state’s average ACT score reached 20.1, which is the highest recorded for Tennessee.

The budget also continues several important higher education initiatives. The bill provides $119 million in additional funding for higher education, including $10 million for Student Assistance Awards Financial Aid, $9 million for new equipment at Tennessee’s Colleges of Applied Technology, $1.5 million for a Mechatronics Program, $3 million for the engineering program at Tennessee Tech and $7.1 million for the Drive to 55 Initiative. The Drive to 55 Initiative challenges the state with the mission of getting 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025. Presently, the state is on pace to meet the Drive to 55 goal two years early.

On employment and economic opportunity, the budget adds $133 million to aid job growth. This includes $71 million in infrastructure and job training assistance, $14.5 million for rural development initiatives, and $15 million to expand broadband access. Tennessee has seen strong rural job growth with a 31.7 percent increase in new job commitments over that of five years ago, as unemployment statewide is at record lows.

On enforcement of the law, the budget includes $2.4 million for law enforcement to fight Tennessee’s opioid epidemic. Crimes like robbery, theft, fraud and murder are committed in large part due to the influence of drugs. The act provides a total of $16.5 million to address opioid addiction which includes money for prevention, research, treatment and recovery. In addition, $91,500 is included to address the use of gift cards obtained through retail theft which has been heavily linked to the purchase of opiates.

Additional money is expended, under the bill, for safeguarding the rule of law. This includes increased funding for elder abuse and $4.5 million for juvenile justice reforms. It also provides $1 million for courtroom security grants.

Other notable budget highlights in Senate Bill 2552 include:

  • $460 million for capital maintenance and construction;
  • $27.6 million for corrections;
  • $20 million for the Aeronautics Economic Development Fund;
  • $4 million for tourism;
  • $213 million to address state employee compensation;
  • $57.6 million for the Tennessee Library and Archives;
  • $899,400 for new trial courts in the 16th, 19th and 21st judicial districts;
  • $100,000 for the Safe at Home Address Confidentiality Program to help domestic violence victims; and
  • $1 million for an innovative pilot program to provide grants to local sheriffs or probation departments that are successful in reducing recidivism.
Negotiations with House members on Thursday regarding the TN Ready testing amendments.

Negotiations with House members on Thursday regarding the TN Ready testing amendments.

Senate approves major legislation to address Tennessee’s Opioid Crisis

Major legislation addressing Tennessee’s opioid crisis was approved by the full Senate this week. Senate Bill 2258, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), and Senate Bill 2257, sponsored by Norris and Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), would implement the TN Together Plan which employs a three-legged stool of enforcement, treatment and prevention to stop the flow of opiates in the state, help those who are addicted, and prevent citizens from becoming drug-dependent.

Tennessee Department of Health data shows 1,631 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses in 2016, while there were 13,034 nonfatal overdoses reported. Since 1999, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths nationwide, including prescription opioids and heroin, have quadrupled. This is despite the fact that over the last several years Tennessee has passed legislation to help prevent abuse by “pill mills” and to strengthen the state’s drug monitoring database.

The first bill addresses the law enforcement and treatment components of the three-pronged plan by revising various provisions of the law regarding the scheduling of controlled substances and their analogues and derivatives, including updated identifications of drugs categorized in Schedules I-V. The updated schedule of controlled substances would allow law enforcement to better track, monitor and penalize the use and unlawful distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs, including substances that mimic the effects of fentanyl, a drug that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and is linked to an alarming number of overdose deaths. The legislation, as amended, also makes it an offense to knowingly produce, manufacture, sell or possess any capsule, pill, or other product composed of or containing any amount of Kratom.

“Fentanyl has come into this state and has become a very serious drug,” said Senator Yager. “It has contributed to many deaths. Sometimes it is used to cut other drugs and is mixed with them, which has led to the deaths of users who are not aware of its potency.”

The legislation provides incentives for offenders in correctional facilities to complete an intensive substance use treatment program while incarcerated. An increasing number of offenders suffer from substance use disorders. These evidence-based programs are proven to reduce recidivism and improve lives while saving taxpayer dollars.

The second bill aims to prevent opioid addiction and ultimately, misuse and abuse by limiting the supply and dosage of opioid prescriptions with emphasis on new patients. The legislation is meant to address higher dosages of opioids which have been associated with increased risk of overdose and death, while including exceptions for individuals undergoing extreme pain for illnesses like cancer or sickle cell anemia, or patients with severe burns.

“The purpose behind the prevention legislation is to place more speed bumps on the road that leads to addiction between healthcare practitioners and patients to prevent Tennesseans from misusing or abusing prescription pain medicine,” said Senator Haile, a pharmacist who served on Governor Bill Haslam’s Opioid Abuse Task Force. “We must slow or stop the pipeline, especially on opioid naïve patients to prevent addiction.”

As of 2016, 318,000 individuals in Tennessee were either using opioids in a risky way or diagnosed as having opioid use disorder.

In other action to prevent opioid abuse this week, the Senate approved key legislation to cut off the flow of funds used in the purchase of illegal drugs. Senate Bill 1717, sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), addresses the use of gift cards obtained through retail theft which has been heavily linked to the purchase of opiates. The proposal follows a new law passed by the General Assembly last year defining organized retail crime and creating two new theft offenses for the purpose of prosecuting individuals who return stolen merchandise to receive gift cards, money or store credit.

“You have one team that will go into a store and shoplift the goods,” said Sen. Briggs. “A second team will take them back without a receipt and get the value of the goods on a store gift card, with the sales tax that was never collected added. The cards are then taken to various pawn shops or gift card retailers where they can be sold at a discount. The money is then used to buy drugs illegally.”

It is estimated that Tennessee loses over $14 million in sales tax dollars and retailers lose over $200 million each year related to return fraud. The National Retail Federation estimates the loss at $12 to $15 billion nationwide, with almost all being related to illicit drug trade.

Finally, the Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 1227, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), which directs TennCare to promulgate permanent rules to promote safe and responsible coverage for enrollees of the program. The rules, at a minimum, must address prior authorization requirements to reduce the development of opioid dependency and addiction.

“This legislation is part of our overall effort to reduce dependency on opioids,” said Senator Massey. “Some of the TennCare rules could impact chronic opioid users. The more basic purpose is to curb opiate abuse among women of child-bearing age by making sure there is prior criteria supporting screening for pregnancy and contraception use and counseling on the effects of opioids should they become pregnant.”

Ninety-two percent of all Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) babies are born to mothers who are TennCare recipients.

Bidding our colleague, Senator Bill Ketron, farewell upon his retirement from the Senate this year.

Bidding our colleague, Senator Bill Ketron, farewell upon his retirement from the Senate this year.

Legislation holding teachers and students harmless in TNReady Assessments approved by General Assembly

The State Senate passed legislation this week to hold teachers and students harmless in the TNReady testing assessments conducted for the 2017-2018 school year. The measure was adopted in an amendment and as part of a Senate/House Conference Committee Report to Senate Bill 1623, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville).

“This bill acknowledges student achievement and protects teachers from untoward personnel actions as a result of recent events in testing,” said Senator Gresham.

Presently, state law requires the test to count within the range of 15 to 25 percent of a student’s grade. The legislation gives local boards of education the option to choose not to count the test at all, or to count it up to 15 percent of a student’s grade for this spring semester. The bill stipulates that no TNReady test scores from this school year can be used for teacher employment termination or compensation decisions.

The bill also prevents student performance and student growth data from the TNReady assessments from being used to identify a school as a priority school or to assign a school to an Achievement School District (ASD). It further provides that the assessments administered this school year cannot be used to assign a letter grade to a school.

The legislation comes after students in many Tennessee counties experienced problems with TNReady online testing this week, including a suspected cyber attack on Tuesday. Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced on Wednesday that she has asked the Davidson County District Attorney General to formally engage the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the State Office of Homeland Security in an investigation of the cyber attack. She also announced that she has engaged a third party with cyber security expertise to analyze Questar’s response to the attack.

Commissioner McQueen has stated that there continues to be no evidence that any student information or data was compromised in the incident.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1806, sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), placing a two-year moratorium on any additional statewide testing in Tennessee’s K-12 schools. This legislation prevents any additional assessments from being implemented until the current system is operating correctly. That new law became effective on April 12.

###

Norris News – April 13, 2018

On Thursday we honored retiring state Senator Thelma Harper of Nashville. Senator Harper has served in the Legislature since 1990. She is the first African-American female to be elected to the Senate, and the longest-serving female in the history of the General Assembly. During her legislative career she has focused her efforts on the most vulnerable children and the elderly.

On Thursday we honored retiring state Senator Thelma Harper of Nashville. Senator Harper has served in the Legislature since 1990. She is the first African-American female to be elected to the Senate, and the longest-serving female in the history of the General Assembly. During her legislative career she has focused her efforts on the most vulnerable children and the elderly.

Legislation preparing Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology headlines Capitol Hill Week

This week’s action on Capitol Hill was highlighted by passage of a number of important initiatives as lawmakers continue discussions on the state’s budget. This includes legislation which accelerates investment in mobile broadband infrastructure and prepares Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology.

Senate Bill 2504, sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), creates a uniform, statewide and predictable application and deployment process for small cell wireless broadband providers no matter what community is being served. Once implemented, it would enhance existing networks and encourage wireless broadband providers to invest in the latest small cell technology.

“When installed, these small cells will increase capacity to handle a huge amount of data,” Senator Ketron said. “There could be anywhere from ten to one hundred times faster connectivity than what we currently have with 4G. Over six million Tennessee wireless consumers want this technology, local governments want this technology, and providers want to deliver it. This bill will help accomplish this for communities across the state.”

The legislation, called the Competitive Wireless Broadband Investment, Deployment, and Safety Act of 2018, creates a predictable “how to manual” for providers and local governments to work together to manage the right-of-ways and to get investment deployed as soon as possible. While the legislation calls for a statewide application process to reduce local hurdles, it affirms that local governments retain their nondiscriminatory authority to:

  • manage placement of utility poles and facilities in the right of way;
  • establish aesthetic plans that govern facilities in the right of way;
  • protect historic districts;
  • manage and protect areas with underground utilities;
  • require damage repair in the right of way;
  • manage and reject any deployment based on public safety concerns; and,
  • apply right of way permitting and fees.

“The world is operating at a much faster pace,” added Ketron. “This bill will change our world as we currently know it on many activities from telemedicine to texting, and from documentation to autonomous vehicles because of the connectivity speed through the bandwidth that 5G brings.

Studies show that deployment of 5G alone will create more than 16,000 new jobs in Tennessee. It would also lead to more than $1 billion in investment and grow the state GDP by nearly $3 billion.

Presently 14 other states have passed legislation to make investment easier, with 19 considering similar legislation this year.

The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Also on Thursday the Senate recognized the career of Jess Hale, a legislative attorney with the Office of Legal Services. Jess has been the principle attorney for the Health and Welfare committee for numerous years. He is pictured here with Senator Rusty Crowe, the Chairman of the Senate Health Committee.

Also on Thursday the Senate recognized the career of Jess Hale, a legislative attorney with the Office of Legal Services. Jess has been the principle attorney for the Health and Welfare committee for numerous years. He is pictured here with Senator Rusty Crowe, the Chairman of the Senate Health Committee.

Tennessee Reconnect Scholarship Program draws 10,000 adult applicants

More than 10,000 adults have applied for Tennessee Reconnect, the state’s program for adult learners to earn an associate degree or technical certificate tuition-free, since applications opened mid-February. The groundbreaking program covers tuition and mandatory fees at a Tennessee community or technical college for eligible adults that do not yet have a college degree. It was implemented as a result of Senate Bill 1218, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) that was approved last year. It is also part of Governor Bill Haslam’s initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025.

Among those who have applied for the scholarship, more than two-thirds have previously enrolled in college and just more than half of all applicants have attended college in the past five years. The average age of applicants is 34 years old and nearly 90 percent of those who applied plan to work while enrolled through Reconnect.

“Tennessee Reconnect, like Tennessee Promise, is an immediate game-changer for our communities and we are very pleased with the number of applications that have already been submitted. It directly aligns with our goals to increase the number of Tennessee residents with some form of postsecondary education or training – and to connect more Tennesseans with the high demand jobs moving into our state,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) sponsor of the legislation.

The Tennessee Reconnect application will remain open year-round; adults hoping to enroll in community or technical college in fall 2018 are encouraged to apply by April 15 to ensure time to complete all enrollment steps. The application for Reconnect requires four simple steps:

  • Complete the application at TNReconnect.gov;
  • Apply to a local community college or eligible Tennessee Reconnect institution;
  • File the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at FAFSA.ed.gov; and
  • Enroll in a degree or certificate program at least part-time.

Tennessee is the first state in the nation to offer all citizens, both high school graduates and adults, the chance to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate tuition-free.

The YMCA Youth in Government program is happening this weekend at the Capitol. On Wednesday afternoon I was visited by three of my counterparts (Majority Leaders) for the program. They are Luis Sanchez (Franklin HS) Jackson McNabb (Brentwood HS) Joseph Azevedo (E. Hamilton HS).

The YMCA Youth in Government program is happening this weekend at the Capitol. On Wednesday afternoon I was visited by three of my counterparts (Majority Leaders) for the program. They are Luis Sanchez (Franklin HS) Jackson McNabb (Brentwood HS) Joseph Azevedo (E. Hamilton HS).

In Brief

Seven-day sales of wine – Final approval was given this week to legislation that permits retail food stores to sell wine and retail package stores to sell alcoholic beverages seven days a week. Senate Bill 2518, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), puts retailers on par with restaurants, hotels, convention centers, tourist resorts and other businesses in Tennessee which are already allowed to sell wine and spirits any day of the week under state law. As amended, the measure allows Sunday sales to take place between the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. The bill prohibits sales on Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving. The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature. The bill will become effective for liquor sales upon the governor’s signature, and for grocery stores, it will take effect on January 1, 2019.

Charles Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center — The full Senate approved legislation this week to aid the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga. The Medal of Honor, which was created by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861, is our nation’s highest and rarest military decoration. It is bestowed by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against the enemy of the United States.” Approximately 3,500 individuals have received the Medal, many of which were posthumously awarded. The center teaches about the six character traits all Medal of Honor recipients share, which are courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity, and citizenship. Senate Bill 2346, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), exempts from property taxes all tangible personal property owned and used by a nonprofit organization that has a historic sole purpose for the provision of educational programs about recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The museum plans to open in February of 2020.

Henry’s Law – Drug dealers or others who unlawfully distribute Schedule I or II drugs to minors will be facing more jail time when it results in a death under legislation unanimously on final Senate consideration this week. Senate Bill 1875, sponsored by Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), is named Henry’s Law for a Knoxville teenager, Henry Granju, who died due to a lethal opiate overdose. The killing of a minor in Tennessee when the drug is a proximate cause of death is second degree murder, which is a Class A felony. Under the state’s current sentencing guidelines, a standard Range I offender for a Class A felony can receive 15 to 25 years in jail, but the 30 percent requirement places the actual sentence at 4.5 to 7.5 years. The bill proposes to make that same Class A felony a Range II offense, carrying a 25 to 40 years sentence at a 35 percent requirement. This means offenders would serve a minimum of 8.8 to 14 years behind bars. Schedule I drugs include heroin and other psychedelics, while Schedule II drugs include opiates, cocaine, methadone, methamphetamines and amphetamines. Approximately 70 to 80 juveniles die each year in the state of Tennessee due to opioid overdose.

###

Norris News – April 6, 2018

Designed and cast by William Kaye at the Kaye Foundry in Louisville, the bell was housed in the bell tower’s spire until 1924 when it was moved to the bell tower itself. It was recovered from the tower in 2016 for protection and restoration.

Designed and cast by William Kaye at the Kaye Foundry in Louisville, the bell was housed in the bell tower’s spire until 1924 when it was moved to the bell tower itself. It was recovered from the tower in 2016 for protection and restoration.

I photographed this bell during a visit to Clayborn Temple in February. This week, on April 4 at 6:01 PM (the time of his assassination), it was rung 39 times during the Martin Luther King memorial service I attended at the National Civil Rights Museum this week. Dr. King was only 39 years of age when he was assassinated. We are working to support the restoration of Clayborn Temple, a National Historic Landmark.

Lawmakers Remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Senate observed the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Wednesday morning at the beginning of the legislative session. Afterward, the General Assembly adjourned so that members could travel to Memphis for the ‘Day of Remembrance’ program. Below are excerpts from the Senate’s proceedings.

Terri Freeman, President of the National Civil Rights Museum and Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel and Board Member of the Museum, presiding at the Day of Remembrance on Wednesday.

Terri Freeman, President of the National Civil Rights Museum and Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel and Board Member of the Museum, presiding at the Day of Remembrance on Wednesday.

Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, (D-Memphis), “Today marks the 50th anniversary of that fateful day when Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. Dr. King was one of our country’s most famous proponents of equality. Dr. King was a person willing to stand up and ultimately die for what his conscience demanded.”

MLK50 105 HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) Legacy Voices. The choir performed multiple times throughout the Day of Remembrance.

MLK50 105 HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) Legacy Voices. The choir performed multiple times throughout the Day of Remembrance.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) remarked, “I noticed the flags are appropriately at half-staff here in the capitol, and we appreciate that. Too often, I think people feel that this is a Memphis thing. Obviously we know that is not the case. It’s an international thing. But, folks should appreciate the fact that many parts of this state were active participants in the civil rights movement and in making history along that trail. In fact, we now have a civil rights trail across the state in cooperation with the federal government who designated 10 spots across the state. I was interested to learn that more of them are here in Middle Tennessee than anywhere else in the state and I would commend that to your attention. Yesterday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, we took a big step towards creating a new office within the existing Office of Minority Affairs a new center to study civil rights crimes information, research, and reconciliation. And reconciliation is a big part of the business we should all be about. We give thanks today for the life and the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who gave his life 50 years ago today. And we give thanks for the lessons he taught in which his legacy continues today. Quoting him, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter. The time is always right to do what is right. And in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” So, as we turn in prayer to celebrate the life that Dr. King gave, remember he was firm in his conviction that the day would come when people would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. And, as he said, we must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.”

Juvenile justice bills advance as legislature prepares to adjourn

A key juvenile justice reform bill recommended by the Joint Ad-hoc Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice and the Juvenile Justice Realignment Taskforce advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee this week as the legislature prepares to adjourn. Senate Bill 1821, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R–Collierville), prohibits a juvenile court from issuing a valid court order upon an unruly child or a child whose only offense is a status offense.

Status offenders are juveniles charged with or adjudicated for conduct that would not under the law of Tennessee be a crime if committed by an adult. Typical examples are chronic or persistent truancy, running away from home, violating curfews, alcohol or tobacco possession, and the like. Twenty-eight states have eliminated valid court orders in juvenile courts for status offenses.

“Valid court orders have been addressed at the federal level in several different ways under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act back to 1974,” said Senator Norris. “A valid court order in too many instances is being used to bootstrap what is otherwise just a status offense into an offense that could be used for detention. A court might issue a direct order saying stop running away from home or make sure you go to school regularly, and, while intended to be an exception to the federal law, then that exception ends up swallowing the rule. It takes a status offense, protected from secured and locked detention, and converts it to a delinquent act that’s not entitled to the same protection. So, after a lot of testimony and presentations, the taskforce determined it best to eliminate the valid court order as has now been done in 28 states.”

In other action, the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee voted to allow Basic Education Program (BEP) funds to “follow the child” to a learning center when a youth has been ordered by a juvenile court to attend a non-public school. Currently, there are only two caveats for BEP dollars going to non-Local Education Agency (LEA) settings: children for whose education the state is directly responsible and those in residential mental health facilities. Senate Bill 1803, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), would add a third caveat for youth who are court ordered to attend a Tennessee Department of Education-approved non-public school in order to prevent children from entering state custody.

There are presently four Teen Learning Centers in Tennessee funded with the Department of Children’s Service’s Custody Prevention Funds. All youth served in these centers come through their respective county juvenile court orders and have a variety of status and juvenile offenses that put them at serious risk of entering state custody. The vast majority of youth served by these prevention and early intervention programs have either been removed from their local school system due to zero-tolerance offenses or have chronic truancy issues. Approximately 90 percent of students discharged from the centers remain out of juvenile court.

Finally, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation authorizing certain courts to establish pilot regional juvenile drug court treatment programs. Senate Bill 1848, sponsored by Senator Steven Dickerson (R-Nashville), would allow parents to opt their children into supervision by regional juvenile drug courts in order to get structured treatment to aid in recovery from addiction.

“In Tennessee right now, we obviously have a significant opiate problem, and one of the main concerns is how it affects our youth,” said Senator Dickerson. “Heretofore, the only way to get at-risk youth into treatment is for the child to be in the criminal court system or under the Department of Children’s Services. This legislation allows parents, through a pilot program of 500 individuals, to put their children under the care of a judge and allows the judge to be the quarterback of their care.”

This pilot program would begin July 1, 2018 and end June 30, 2023. The legislation now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration.

Senate Judiciary Committee approves legislation continuing General Assembly’s efforts to protect elderly and vulnerable adults

Legislation increasing penalties for exploitation or abuse of an elderly or vulnerable adult was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, continuing the General Assembly’s ongoing efforts to protect Tennessee’s senior citizens. Senate Bill 2621, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Norris (R-Collierville), enacts the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act of 2018.

The legislation follows enactment of a series of bills passed over the last two years protecting Tennesseans who are elderly or have diminished capacity from physical abuse and various forms of financial exploitation.

“This act is designed to streamline and complete the organization of existing code provisions that we addressed last year and close a loophole or two that exist in our elder abuse laws,” said Senator Norris. “We accomplish this by defining certain crimes more broadly; thereby, ensuring that certain criminal activities don’t fall through the cracks because they don’t fit neatly into some of the existing definitions set out in current law.”

The legislation draws distinctions between types of physical abuse of the elderly, increasing penalties for certain types of aggravated abuse including rape and murder. It creates a Class E felony offense for a person to knowingly abuse, neglect, or sexually exploit an elderly person, and Class D felony offense for doing the same to a vulnerable adult. It also increases fines for elder physical abuse and sexual exploitation.

The bill now heads to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for consideration.

Bills in Brief

Food Deserts / Low-Income and Underserved Tennesseans — Legislation was given final Senate approval directing the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) to conduct a study examining the overall effects of creating a grant or loan program for food relief enterprises who sell fresh food in low-income and underserved areas of Tennessee. Senate Bill 2634, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), calls for TACIR to weigh the benefits of creating the Fresh Food Financing Fund within the Department of Economic and Community Development in order to assist these efforts.

DUI Offenses / Alcohol Sales – The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill this week that strengthens penalties for DUI offenses so that a person convicted of the crime would forfeit the privilege to purchase alcohol in Tennessee for a period of time based on the number of offenses. The legislation also establishes a new driver license format for this scenario. Under Senate Bill 1784, a first-time offender would forfeit the ability to purchase alcohol for one year, and a second-time offender would forfeit that privilege for two years. Then, third- and fourth-time offenders would forfeit the ability to purchase alcohol for six and eight years respectively. Additionally, the bill makes the purchase of alcohol by a person who has forfeited the right to purchase alcohol a Class C misdemeanor. The legislation is sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains).

TDOT / Three-Year Transportation Program — The Tennessee Department of Transportation released their annual three-year transportation program this week, featuring approximately $2.6 billion in infrastructure investments for 143 individual project phases on 116 projects. The program also places a high emphasis on the repair and replacement of bridges, with activities beginning on 80 structures. Ten of those bridges are on the state highway system, with the other 70 on local roads. The comprehensive program continues to build on the progress of the IMPROVE Act, which provides for infrastructure investments in all 95 counties. This year’s program budgets dollars for 195 of the 962 projects listed as part of the 2017 legislation. A complete list of projects and programs funded through the 2019-2021 three-year multimodal program can be viewed on the department’s website. For an interactive map view of the 962 IMPROVE Act projects, please visit https://www.tdot.tn.gov/projectneeds/spot#/.

Seven-Day Sales — The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee approved legislation on Tuesday permitting retail food stores to sell wine and retail package stores to sell alcoholic beverages seven days a week. Senate Bill 2518, sponsored by Senator Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), would put retailers on par with restaurants, hotels, convention centers, tourist resorts and other businesses in Tennessee which are already allowed to sell wine and spirits any day of the week under state law. Forty states allow for seven-day sales by retailers, including five which border Tennessee. The legislation now heads to the floor of the Senate for a final vote.

###

Norris News – March 29, 2018

In honor of Vietnam War Veterans Day, March 29th, we recognize the service of Mr. Ken Chorice of Bartlett. He served the country in the Vietnam War from 1969-1970. During his service, Ken served as a driver for Lt. Col Norman Schwarzkopf, better known as “Stormin’ Norman.” Ken continues to serve the community as a volunteer for the Bartlett Police Department through the VIPS program. We thank Ken for his honorable service to the country and the community.

In honor of Vietnam War Veterans Day, March 29th, we recognize the service of Mr. Ken Chorice of Bartlett. He served the country in the Vietnam War from 1969-1970. During his service, Ken served as a driver for Lt. Col Norman Schwarzkopf, better known as “Stormin’ Norman.” Ken continues to serve the community as a volunteer for the Bartlett Police Department through the VIPS program. We thank Ken for his honorable service to the country and the community.

Senate Judiciary Committee approves legislation strengthening penalties for trafficking substances combined with fentanyl

State senators tackled a wide variety of issues this week as three more of the Senate’s nine standing committees closed for the 2018 session, leaving only the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Finance, Ways and Means Committee open. Many important issues still remain on the General Assembly’s agenda before adjourning next month, including the state’s budget, which will move front and center in the remaining weeks.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week strengthening penalties for the distribution and trafficking of any substance that is the combination of fentanyl, carfentanil, sufentanil, remifentanil, or any analogue. Senate Bill 1999, sponsored by Senator Art Swann (R-Maryville), requires all convictions relating to controlled substances containing fentanyl be punished one classification higher.

The legislation is one of a series of bills sponsored this year to deal with Tennessee’s opioid crisis.

“There has been a spike in fentanyl-related deaths in Tennessee,” said Senator Swann. “It is an incredibly powerful drug. As we continue to address our state’s opioid epidemic, we must address the growing illegal use of this deadly combination of drugs on our streets.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. It is used before surgery as an adjunct to anesthesia and in some cases for acute pain, like advanced cancer. The most commonly known substances to be laced with fentanyl are heroin, cocaine and counterfeit prescription opioids.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health (DOH), fentanyl, when mixed with heroin or other drugs, is a leading cause of opioid deaths in Tennessee. Reports show 1,631 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses in 2016. This is an increase of 12 percent from the 1,451 overdose deaths recorded in 2015.

In other action to fight opioid abuse, the full Senate voted to authorize pharmacists to dispense less than the full prescription for opioids and other Schedule II drugs. Opiate abuse often results from unused prescriptions remaining in the household medicine cabinet by a patient who does not take the full amount prescribed. Under current law, pharmacists are not allowed to partially dispense a Schedule II prescription. Senate Bill 2025, sponsored by Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), would allow a pharmacist to partially fill a prescription if requested by the patient or directed by the physician.

The legislation does not require the patient to go back to the doctor for the remainder of that prescription. The physician would be notified that a partial fill has taken place and only the portion filled is reported in the database.

State senators also approved a bill requiring the Department of health to set up a toll-free telephone and web-based hotline to hear reports of opioid abuse or diversion. Senate Bill 2022 calls for entities that prescribe, dispense, or handle opioids to display a sign or to notify employees in writing about the hotline. This bill is sponsored by Senator Haile and now goes to the governor for his signature.

Dr. Jon McCullers, Chair, Dept. of Pediatrics, UT Health Science Center; Pediatrician in Chief, LeBonheur Children’s Hospital; Member, Dept. of Infectious Diseases, St. Jude

Dr. Jon McCullers, Chair, Dept. of Pediatrics, UT Health Science Center; Pediatrician in Chief, LeBonheur Children’s Hospital; Member, Dept. of Infectious Diseases, St. Jude

School Safety Working Group Releases Recommendations

A School Safety Working Group appointed by Governor Bill Haslam to recommend changes to protect students released their report this week. The report includes immediate steps that can be taken to reduce risks. The group identified three priorities including:

  • A review and risk assessment of all school facilities to identify vulnerabilities;
  • An increase in resources to help secure school resource officers (SROs); and
  • A statewide technology application for anonymous reporting of security threats.

After endorsing the plan, Governor Haslam asked the Department of Safety (DOS) and Homeland Security to work with the Department of Education and local officials to immediately begin development and implementation of a statewide risk assessment of every public K-12 school in Tennessee. The risk assessment will be based on model security standards identified by the DOS, with assessment training provided by state homeland security officials to local school district personnel and first responders. The assessments will be completed before students return to school for the 2018-19 school year.

Following the school security assessments, and on an annual basis thereafter, each school’s emergency operations plan must ensure specific facility risks are identified and updated and that state school safety resources, including the additional $30 million proposed in the governor’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget, are utilized to address the identified risks. The governor’s proposed budget and school safety plan doubles the amount of recurring school safety grant funding for schools, which can be used toward SROs or other facility security measures. And, to address immediate needs while further state, local and federal conversations around school security and budgeting take place, total state school safety grant funding would increase by more than 500 percent for the upcoming fiscal year.

The third immediate priority of the working group is for the state to provide a statewide technology application for the anonymous reporting of threats or suspicious activity by students, faculty, staff and others. This would provide for direct communication among and between the individual reporting the threat or activity and the state, local law enforcement officials and local school districts.

The working group also recommended the promotion of positive behavioral health for all students. The governor directed the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services assist schools expand training areas, including training on strategies to increase awareness and responsiveness to signs and symptoms of student behavioral health and mental health needs. To view the full report go to: http://www.tngopsenate.com/governors-school-safety-working-group-recommendations-for-consideration/

Frank Allen, Jr., Joseph Wilder and Pamela Pitts were in Nashville for Financial Planners Day on the Hill. They are all financial planners in Shelby County.

Frank Allen, Jr., Joseph Wilder and Pamela Pitts were in Nashville for Financial Planners Day on the Hill. They are all financial planners in Shelby County.

Bills in Brief

Mental Health Issues / Firearm Purchases — The full Senate approved legislation this week to create greater cooperation between the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and local authorities in order to prevent those with mental health issues from purchasing firearms. Senate Bill 834, sponsored by Senator Haile (R-Gallatin) and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), requires the TBI to notify local law enforcement within 24 hours when they properly identify that an individual identified as having a mental disorder in the NICS ‘Mental Defectives’ Database has attempted to purchase a firearm. The bill also adds new identifying information to the reporting requirements of sheriffs, court clerks, and hospitals to ensure individuals who are adjudicated mentally defective are readily identified. It requires sex, race and social security numbers, along with the name and date of birth already required by law. “What we’re trying to do is deal with a huge information gap that currently exists in the reporting of mental defective status,” Senator Haile said. “If we have better data going into the database on the front-end by requiring the social security number, sex, and race be reported, we can do better at identifying individuals trying to purchase firearms when they should not be able to do so.” The bill follows passage of Senate Bill 2362 earlier this month requiring acute care hospitals to report involuntary commitments in their psychiatric units to law enforcement so that they can be a part of the record used in the verification process for the purchase of firearms.

UT Board / FOCUS Act — Legislation empowering the University of Tennessee (UT) Board of Trustees to operate more efficiently and effectively like the state’s other four-year universities was approved by the full Senate this week. Senate Bill 2260, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), would reconstitute the board from 27 members to 11 who would serve staggered terms. The board members would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the General Assembly. An amendment added to the bill calls for at least five of the members to be UT alumni and that the governor should strive to appoint those members from different University of Tennessee institutions. The legislation also creates seven-member advisory boards at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, University of Tennessee at Martin, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and UT Health Science Center. The advisory boards would submit recommendations regarding operating budgets, tuition and fees, strategic plans, campus life, academic programs and other matters related to the institution.

State Forest / Downed Trees — Action on the Senate floor this week included passage of legislation that creates a “free-use area” in state forests where Tennessee residents are allowed to remove downed and dead timber without cost. The free-use would only apply if the wood is used for the resident’s personal use, such as firewood, home heating and cooking. Senate Bill 1914 would not apply to those who remove it and offer it for sale. The state forester must designate these areas and publish them on the department’s website.

###

 

Senator Mark Norris - Proudly Endorsed by the National Rifle Association

 

Comments are closed.