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Norris News – February 17, 2017

Madison Bowles is Vice-President of Competitive Events with Tennessee Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

Madison Bowles is Vice-President of Competitive Events with Tennessee Family, Career and Community Leaders of America.

Norris to Chair Senate Veterans Subcommittee

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) has been reappointed chairman of the Senate Veterans Subcommittee. The subcommittee, which is a subdivision of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, hears all legislation pertaining to the more than 503,000 veterans living in Tennessee.

The appointment was made by Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston) at a meeting of the Senate State and Local Government Committee Tuesday.

Senator Norris has sponsored numerous laws during his legislative tenure helping veterans, including the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act which provides in-state tuition to veterans and incentivizes “vets-friendly” college campuses, and the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, which helps deployed parents deal with custody issues. He was instrumental in obtaining state funding for site evaluation and acquisition of land for the state veterans home in West Tennessee. This year Norris is sponsoring the Governor’s STRONG Act, which establishes a pilot program to ensure members of the Tennessee National Guard will receive adequate tuition funding toward a first time bachelor degree.

The Collierville Republican has received numerous awards for his efforts on behalf of veterans, including the AMVETS Silver Bayonet Award and special recognition by the U.S. Department of Defense for his “leadership on public policy changes positively impacting the quality of life of Service members and their families.”

Norris is the son of a B-24 pilot. He represents District 32 including Shelby and Tipton Counties and has served as Senate Majority Leader since 2007.

Canadian Consul General, Louise Blais, was introduced by Senator Norris and addressed the full Senate this week.

Canadian Consul General, Louise Blais, was introduced by Senator Norris and addressed the full Senate this week.

Efforts Continue to Combat Tennessee’s Opioid Epidemic

Members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee heard testimony this week from Tennessee’s largest health insurance carrier, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBS), about efforts to combat the state’s opioid epidemic. Over the last several years, Tennessee has passed legislation to prevent abuse by “pill mills” and strengthen the state’s drug monitoring database. Even so, opiate abuse continues to have a death grip on Tennessee, making it a critical health concern.

In 2012, prescription opioid drugs surpassed alcohol as the most abused substances in Tennessee, with the state having the second highest rate of prescriptions per person in the nation. More Tennesseans died in 2015 and 2014 because of drug overdoses than in motor vehicle accidents. Tennessee is not alone. The U.S. Surgeon General has declared opioid addiction is a public health crisis nationwide.

As a result, BCBS has taken steps to address opioid abuse, including new guidelines on prescribing, a data system which identifies providers who prescribe painkillers at higher rates, and an education program called “Count It! Lock It! Drop it!” BCBS partnered with the Coffee County Anti-Drug Coalition to launch the program to educate patients about the need to count the number of pills in a container to spot shortfalls, to lock up opioids from potential abusers, and to drop off leftover medications in a designated location for proper disposal.

Approximately 55 percent of people who abuse painkillers get them from a friend or family member. Another 16 percent of abusers steal them from a friend or family member.

“This problem is so big that if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re part of the problem,” Dr. Andrea Willis, Chief Medical Officer for BCBS told committee members. “That’s why we are here today – to tell you about our multi-faceted approach to being a part of the public health solution.”

Opioid abusers are not the only persons harmed by the epidemic. Other victims include children in state custody and infants born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) due to their mother’s dependency on painkillers. NAS is a condition in which the newborn suffers withdrawal from drugs including tremors, weight loss, stiff muscles, seizures, inconsolable crying, gastrointestinal disorders and poor nervous system irritability. Almost 1,000 babies were born with NAS in Tennessee in 2016.

About half of children in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services are there due to parental drug abuse. These young victims are in addition to other family members, friends and communities who are harmed as a result of prescription drug abuse, not to mention those persons who suffer from opioid-related crimes.

The financial cost is another major side effect of prescription opioid abuse in Tennessee. Approximately $155.2 million is lost in productivity due to abuse, while $27.9 million is spent in health care costs for prescription opioid poisoning and $45.6 million in state-funded treatment is spent for people at or below the poverty level seeking rehabilitation.

The Tennessee Department of Public Health has developed an approach to fight the opioid abuse epidemic by furthering primary prevention, enhancing monitoring and surveillance of prescriptions, strengthening regulation and enforcement, increasing utilization of treatment and improving access to appropriate pain management. In his State of the State address, Governor Bill Haslam said Tennessee would be expanding substance abuse and crisis intervention treatment services and supports during the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

Lawmakers will continue to talk about opioid abuse in the coming weeks as a variety of bills tackling the problem comes before the General Assembly.

The Tipton County Youth Leadership Group and Representative Debra Moody with Senator Norris.

The Tipton County Youth Leadership Group and Representative Debra Moody with Senator Norris.

Resolution Urging President Trump and Congress to Block Grant Federal Transportation Funds to States is Approved by Full Senate

A resolution urging President Donald Trump and the United States Congress to enact legislation to establish a transportation block grant funding program for distribution to the states was approved 30 to 2 by the full Senate on Thursday. Senate Joint Resolution 59 also urges the enactment of legislation to repeal all federal mandates, either by statute, rule, or policy, that dictate the expenditure of federal transportation funding.

Federal transportation dollars are primarily funded by motorists and truckers who pay a series of user taxes. The resolution maintains that federal transportation policy has lost its focus as to the use of the federal highway trust fund by diverting money for non-road purposes. This is done through federally-legislated mandates and earmarks that dictate how states can expend the funding. Additionally, states are required to enact or adopt specific statutes and rules to qualify for federal monies or maintain eligibility for federal funding of highway programs.

The resolution expresses Tennessee’s growing dissatisfaction with federal transportation policy and mismanagement of the federal highway trust fund that has encouraged many in Congress and state governments nationwide to seek ways to overhaul the system. It also suggests that a remedy would be the development of a block grant distribution plan whereby each state would receive a block grant from the federal highway trust fund equal to the federal fuel tax revenues raised within its borders. States would be entitled to spend such grants on transportation priorities of their own choosing

The resolution calls for a copy to be delivered to the President Trump, the Speaker and the Clerk of the United States House of Representatives, the President and the Secretary of the United States Senate, and to each member of Tennessee’s Congressional delegation.

Members of the Memphis Chamber met with Senator Norris on Wednesday.

Members of the Memphis Chamber met with Senator Norris on Wednesday.

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Norris News – February 10, 2017

Had the pleasure to meet with Barry Wilmore, one of Governor Haslam's appointees to the Board of Trustees for Tennessee Technological University. Barry is a NASA astronaut and US Navy test pilot who has had two spaceflights and spent 6 months on the International Space Station.

Had the pleasure to meet with Barry Wilmore, one of Governor Haslam’s appointees to the Board of Trustees for Tennessee Technological University. Barry is a NASA astronaut and US Navy test pilot who has had two spaceflights and spent 6 months on the International Space Station.

The Senate Getting to Work

This week saw the Senate begin its work for the year. The committee system is the foundation of the good work the General Assembly does. Bills and department budgets began being presented in earnest this week. Also the full Senate approved the appointments to the University of Memphis Board of Trustees. This is a major step forward for the University and University community.

Senator Norris and his wife Chris with their two grandchildren, Field and Louise at their farm.

Senator Norris and his wife Chris with their two grandchildren, Field and Louise at their farm.

Country Music Legend Randy Travis appears before Health Committee to promote Stroke Prevention and Awareness

Health issues highlighted this week’s action on Capitol Hill as members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee heard a report from Tennessee’s new Stroke Registry Task Force about how to ensure the rapid identification, diagnosis, and treatment of strokes. The committee also heard from country music legend Randy Travis, who suffered a massive stroke in 2013, and his wife Mary, who came to support the Task Force’s efforts to implement a robust system of care to treat patients and reduce the risk of preventable complications and death.

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in Tennessee. It is the leading cause of acquired adult disability which has a significant physical, emotional, and economic impact on patients, their family caregivers and the state’s health care system at large. To address the high incidence, the General Assembly approved legislation sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson (R-Hixson) last year forming the task force.

“Tennessee needs a robust stroke system of care in place to treat these patients that starts at the community level with stroke risk factor recognition by our citizens and appropriate management,” said Dr. Brian Wiseman, a physician at the University of Tennessee Medical Center who chairs the task force. “It also means that EMS (emergency medical services) need standardized protocols working with a network of stroke center hospitals that can deliver the most appropriate timely treatment for the best possible outcome of these patients. It also means post-acute care and rehabilitation.”

The task force’s recommendations include:

  • A Stroke Advisory Task Force made up of experts and key stakeholders to develop and recommend rules and regulations and report to health care facilities and emergency medical services boards to improve health outcomes;
  • Mandatory submission of data to the Stroke Registry housed at East Tennessee State University’s (ETSU) College of Public Health to analyze further the disease and best practices of care;
  • State-sanctioned designation of stroke centers denoting their readiness to accept and treat acute care patients, including a level one algorithm for comprehensive stroke centers, level two for primary stroke centers and level 3 for acute stroke-ready hospitals; and
  • Standardized destination guidelines for EMS personnel when transporting and identifying stroke patients in the field.

The standardized guidelines for EMS providers will help ensure that acute stroke patients are transported to centers that have endovascular clot retrieval capability which has proven most effective in treating patients with ischemic strokes caused by an emergent large vessel occlusion (ELVO). Tennessee currently has 34 stroke centers. There are six comprehensive stroke centers, 27 primary stroke centers and one acute stroke-ready hospital across the state.

Randy and Mary Travis also spoke about the need for stroke awareness and expedient care. “Expediting care is a vital aspect to caring for stroke patients and preventing permanent damage,” said Ms. Travis. “Randy stared death in the face and death blinked. That’s why we are here today.”

The country music star was given only a one to two percent chance of survival after his stroke.

“You’ve brought so much joy to people with your music, but what you are doing right now saves lives,” said Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), who is a thoracic and cardiac surgeon. “You can do more than all of us science and medical people by bringing awareness to this, and I want to thank you, but I think the song you’re singing now may be your greatest hit.”

Met with guests from The Arc Mid-South advocating for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Met with guests from The Arc Mid-South advocating for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

In Brief…

Autism Spectrum Disorder — On Wednesday, the Senate Government Operations Committee approved a bill designed to help those affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Senate Bill 199 creates the Tennessee Council on Autism Spectrum Disorder – a dedicated committee that will focus solely on aiding those with special needs and their families. Along with establishing a long-term plan for a system of care for individuals with ASD, the Council will also make recommendations and provide leadership in program development regarding matters concerning all levels of ASD services in health care, education, and other adult and adolescent need areas. The Autism Society currently estimates that about one percent of the world population has ASD, affecting over 3.5 million Americans. The organization also notes that Autism Spectrum Disorder is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States.

Treasurer Report / Tennessee’s Consolidated Retirement System — The Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System (TCRS) is in a stronger financial position than most state pension plans according to State Treasurer David H. Lillard, Jr. who appeared before the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee this week. The TCRS, which is recognized for fully funding the actuarially determined contribution, has been rated as one of the top five pension plans in the nation by credit agencies. Treasurer Lillard outlined some of the challenges to the state’s pension plan which include a low earnings environment during the last two fiscal years and a greater life expectancy for retirees. Tennessee has taken a conservative approach to financing pension costs utilizing a conservative investment strategy as opposed to states who have taken more risks in their portfolios.

Gatlinburg Wildfires — Legislation was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week authorizing local governing bodies, by a two-thirds vote, to prorate real and personal property damaged by the November wildfires. Senate Bill 114 is modeled after similar legislation which granted tax relief to victims of the 2010 floods in Nashville. It is the first piece of legislation to be heard by lawmakers to help wildfire victims. The legislation calls for prorating the 2016 tax assessment for a homeowner’s real property or business owner’s personal property, if the property was damaged as a result of a FEMA certified disaster between September 1, 2016, and December 31, 2016. It would not become effective until approved by a two-third vote of the local governing body of the county and/or city in which the property is located. If the tax computed for the 2016 tax year has been paid prior to the proration, the victim would receive a refund under the bill. The legislation is retroactive to January 1, 2016.

Honoring Tennessee Veterans — The full Senate heard Senate Joint Resolution 76 on the Senate floor on Wednesday to honor and celebrate the sacrifices made by Tennessee’s veterans for their state and country. The resolution coincided with “Veteran’s Day on the Hill” in which veterans from across the state come to the Capitol to meet with lawmakers and view the legislative proceedings. The resolution expresses the State of Tennessee’s lasting debt of gratitude to all of these heroic Tennessee Veterans who have sacrificed so much to defend the lives and liberty of their fellow citizens.

State Supreme Court — Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Jeffrey S. Bivins spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee this week regarding the successful state of our judiciary branch. He opened by commenting on how fortunate the State of Tennessee is to have three branches that can work in harmony with one another despite differences in opinion. He discussed the priorities of the court, which includes their efforts to be more transparent and available to the public. Tennessee is currently ranked ninth in the nation for accessibility to the court to citizens in the state. Other accomplishments of the court include their award-winning SCALES program which has given 32,000 students the firsthand opportunity to see how the courts work. Chief Justice Bivins also spoke on the court’s volunteer program which aids victims of the Gatlinburg fires, as well as the new online tool that provides free legal advice to those who might not otherwise be able to afford it. This tool serves as a model for 30 other states. Tennessee’s Recovery Courts served as another area of emphasis by Bivins. These courts offer intensive supervision, substance abuse treatment services, and other incentives to address the unique needs of drug-addicted, non-violent offenders. A number of these courts also serve veterans and people with mental health issues.

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Norris News – February 3, 2017

Press availability following session this week.

Press availability following session this week.

Addressing the Memphis Area Association of Realtors today.

Addressing the Memphis Area Association of Realtors today.

Governor Unveils Legislative Agenda In Annual State of the State Budget Address

Governor Bill Haslam presented his State of the State / Budget Address to lawmakers on Monday night as he and the General Assembly continue a multi-year focus on improving education and recruiting new and better-paying jobs to Tennessee. The governor unveiled major legislation to make Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all adults without a degree tuition-free access to community college. The Tennessee Reconnect Act would establish a last-dollar scholarship for adults living in the state which would allow them to attend a community college tuition-free.

In addition, the governor announced his proposed Tennessee STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act that would create a pilot program to provide eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard tuition funding toward a first-time bachelor degree through a tuition reimbursement program.

Both proposals build on the Tennessee Promise scholarship program which has provided tuition-free assistance to approximately 33,000 high school graduates since it was implemented in 2015.

The purpose of the legislation is to build and sustain the state’s robust economic growth and to make Tennessee’s workforce more competitive. In 2013, Tennessee launched its Drive to 55 goal of equipping 55 percent of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate by 2025. Tennessee needs 871,000 degrees to reach the state’s Drive to 55 goal, but only 645,000 high school students are expected to graduate between 2014 and 2022.

“We’ve made great strides in helping Tennesseans from all three grand divisions find meaningful opportunities with relevant training and education. The Reconnect Act and STRONG Act take those efforts even further. I’m proud to serve as the Governor’s sponsor and shepherd the legislation through the General Assembly,” said Norris about the initiatives.

The Reconnect Act, which is an expansion of a grant program launched in 2015, especially aims to attract approximately 900,000 Tennesseans who have earned some college credit but no degree. Adults without a certificate can already attend Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) tuition-free under the current Reconnect program. This proposal would expand that program’s access to community colleges and relieves some of the previous requirements to receive assistance. The Reconnect expansion would be funded out of lottery reserves at no cost to taxpayers.

Likewise, the STRONG Act would provide an opportunity for those who protect and serve their state and country to receive their bachelor degree, a move that would give Tennessee’s National Guard a competitive edge in recruitment. All but four states nationwide, and all states adjacent to Tennessee, already offer 100 percent state tuition assistance for those who are serving in the Guard.

Other highlights of the budget include:

  • $77 million for state employee pay increases and market rate adjustments targeting high-turnover positions in state government;
  • $655 million in state dollars for maintenance and new buildings across general government and higher education;
  • $135 million transferred from the General Fund to pay back the Highway Fund;
  • $78 million for higher education and the Complete College Act;
  • $15 million for career and technology education equipment;
  • $21 million to fund recommendations from the Rural Task Force;
  • $11.6 million to fund more than 700 additional slots in the Employment and Community First CHOICES program; and
  • $9.5 million combined to expand substance abuse and crisis intervention treatment services and supports.

For more information, please click here.

With appointees to the University of Memphis Board of Trustees and President David Rudd.

With appointees to the University of Memphis Board of Trustees and President David Rudd.

Three New State University Boards Gain Initial Approval in Senate Education Committee

The Senate Education Committee adopted three resolutions this week confirming appointments to the University of Memphis Board, Middle Tennessee State University Board and East Tennessee State University Board. Passage of Senate Joint Resolutions 29, 30 and 32, all sponsored by Senator Norris, follows implementation of the Focus on College and University Success (FOCUS) Act adopted last year.

The purpose of the act was to better align the state’s postsecondary education by providing a sharpened focus on the governance of Tennessee’s 13 community colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology (TCATs), while granting four-year state universities additional autonomy to empower each institution to be successful in this new environment.

The new law, sponsored by Senator Norris, prescribed local boards for Austin Peay State University, East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University and the University of Memphis.

“When I first came to the Senate in 2001, folks told me about the importance of the University of Memphis having its own independent board. I’m glad we’re finally seeing that through. The Board members that Governor Haslam has appointed are impressive members of the University community. They are well positioned through their own personal experiences to lead the University into a bright and prosperous future,” said Norris.

Appointees to the Board include Doug Edwards, David North, Carol Roberts, Marvin Ellison, Cato Johnson, Susan Springfield, Alan Graf and Brad Martin. The Boards’ confirmations will go before the entire Senate Monday evening.

Met with the Steve Anderson, President of the TN Cattlemen's Association, and Tracy Brunner, President of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in advance of their national conference hosted here in Nashville.

Met with the Steve Anderson, President of the TN Cattlemen’s Association, and Tracy Brunner, President of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association in advance of their national conference hosted here in Nashville.

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Norris News – January 28, 2017

Reelected Chairman of TACIR Announces Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) has been reelected Chairman of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR). The election took place during a two-day meeting of the group in Nashville on January 26 and 27 where members discussed the proposed Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act. Introduction of the Act comes after an extensive study on the matter by TACIR which Governor Bill Haslam credited as significantly contributing to the proposal.

“I appreciate the confidence that the members have placed in me to continue to lead this commission.” said Senator Norris. “I look forward to continuing to build strong relationships between state, municipal and county governments and to work on solutions to the many issues that we face together in Tennessee.”

The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act calls for providing $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses. In addition, the plan will permit Tennessee’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service and make grant funding available to the state’s local libraries to help residents improve their digital literacy skills and maximize the benefits of broadband.

Announcing the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act with Governor Haslam at Cane Ridge High School in Nashville

Announcing the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act with Governor Haslam at Cane Ridge High School in Nashville

Norris said, “We need better access not bigger government. Internet access, and the broadband we need to provide it, is critical to commerce and quality of life, especially in our rural communities. In addition to the general public’s need for reliable access, broadband is essential to the state’s education and economic development efforts. We are pleased that this study has helped in providing a clear path forward to increase reliable access statewide.”

TACIR began in 1978 after legislative findings indicated the need for a permanent, intergovernmental body to study and take action on questions of organizational patterns, powers, functions, and relationships among federal, state, and local governments. The 25-member group is made up of public officials from state and local governments and private citizens. Many specific duties and functions are assigned to TACIR through legislation, including education financing, government modernization, public infrastructure needs, growth policy, local government tort liability, emergency communications, property assessment, and fiscal federalism.

Statewide LEAP Tour continues

I visited Bradley and Knox Counties last week to see the Labor and Education Alignment Program (LEAP) in action at schools in both Cleveland and Knoxville. These impressive programs provide relevant education and job training through dual enrollment programs so students graduate certified or well on their way to earning credentials for advancement and employment. LEAP now funds programs reaching 67 Tennessee counties. With increased funding in the upcoming budget, we hope to extend LEAP to students in all 95 counties.

Seeing the robotics program at Cleveland High School with Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland. This program is funded by LEAP.

Seeing the robotics program at Cleveland High School with Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland. This program is funded by LEAP.

With Representative Dan Howell, far left, at Walker Valley High School in Bradley County

With Representative Dan Howell, far left, at Walker Valley High School in Bradley County

Career Forward Task Force

On Thursday I had the opportunity to participate in a statewide education event focused on student pathways for success. The event was hosted by the Department of Education at Cane Ridge High School in Nashville. It brought together teachers, counselors, administrators and superintendents from all across the state. I had the privilege to discuss the Career Forward Task Force on which I participated. More about it can be found HERE.

While in Cleveland, Mayor Rowland introduced me to some of his friends.

While in Cleveland, Mayor Rowland introduced me to some of his friends.

And Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett invited all his Twitter followers to join us for lunch at Vol Market.

And Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett invited all his Twitter followers to join us for lunch at Vol Market.

Just like old times when Mayor Burchett was Senator Burchett working together with me in the General Assembly

Just like old times when Mayor Burchett was Senator Burchett working together with me in the General Assembly

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Norris News – January 20, 2017

Congratulations to President Trump!

President Trump's Official Portrait

President Trump’s Official Portrait

Today we saw the best of America: not just the peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another or from one President to the next, but from Washington back to the people.

I’m excited to work with President Trump facing the challenges of the future. As President Trump said today in his inaugural address, “Time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action. Do not allow anyone to tell you that it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.”

I firmly believe that Tennessee is “America at its best.”

I know there is great work to be done, and working together, the best is yet to come!

Proud to welcome Congressman David Kustoff back to Tipton County this week.

Proud to welcome Congressman David Kustoff back to Tipton County this week.

Addressing the Southwest Tennessee Development District Legislative Luncheon in Madison County today.

Addressing the Southwest Tennessee Development District Legislative Luncheon in Madison County today.

Talking about the upcoming legislative session with Brandon Artiles on Local 24 this week.

Talking about the upcoming legislative session with Brandon Artiles on Local 24 this week.

 


Senator Mark Norris - Proudly Endorsed by the National Rifle Association

 

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