February 20, 2015

State Senators Remember Storm Victims

The Tennessee General Assembly met in an abbreviated week of meetings as a severe winter storm created hazardous conditions across Tennessee. Lawmakers paused in prayer during the Wednesday morning session of the State Senate to remember victims of the storm.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP), Department of Transportation (TDOT) and Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) worked long hours during the Level III State of Emergency to help citizens fare the inclement weather. The state workers are in addition to local emergency personnel and volunteer agencies, which also provided aid to citizens and out-of-state travelers during times of urgent need.

Our state and local first responders and road crews have been phenomenal during the severe weather outbreak,” said Senate Transportation and Safety Committee Chairman Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville). “We also appreciate all of the volunteer organizations in our state that provide food and shelter to citizens who are suffering effects of the winter storm. Tennessee is truly the Volunteer State and our volunteer organizations are a vital part of providing assistance to those in need.”

Judge James Cotton author of “The Greatest Speech, Ever,  The Remarkable Story of Abraham Lincoln and His Gettysburg Address”  Speaking to the Senate on the occasion of Lincoln’s 206th Birthday

Judge James Cotton author of “The Greatest Speech, Ever,
The Remarkable Story of Abraham Lincoln and His Gettysburg Address”
Speaking to the Senate on the occasion of Lincoln’s 206th Birthday

State Funding for Rape Kits & DNA Processing

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris recognized the Haslam Administration for funding three new forensic scientists at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) in next year’s budget. The TBI processes forensic evidence at no charge to local law enforcement.

“These funds will expedite the processing of rape kits and other DNA testing by providing additional essential personnel. They will be trained in accessing and updating the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) which is part of the FBI’s network for tracking perpetrators of crime — a critical weapon in the fight against crime,” said Norris, who sponsors the budget in the Senate.

Norris enacted the law repealing the Tennessee statute of limitations in rape cases last year. He also led the effort to require all local law enforcement agencies to inventory back-logged inventories of rape kits across the state. Last September, the TBI reported 9,062 kits remained untested statewide.

“Progress is being made getting the old evidence tested, but this will help facilitate more timely testing of all DNA evidence,” said Norris.

The TBI has not received funding for new personnel for many years, even though the demand for more resources has increased dramatically.

According to City of Memphis officials, an initial backlog of 12,000 kits has now been reduced by nearly 5,000 kits since 2013 and has resulted in some 170 new investigations and 52 indictments including 19 rapists.

Legislation Aims to Reduce Opioid Abuse in Tennessee

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted unanimously to approve legislation on Wednesday which would repeal Tennessee’s Intractable Pain Treatment Act in an effort to reduce opioid abuse in Tennessee. Senate Bill 157 sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) is supported by the state’s districts attorney and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

The Intractable Pain Treatment Act was passed in 2001 and includes a “Pain Patient’s Bill of Rights” which gave patients a great amount of responsibility to choose opiate medications as a first line of treatment even through other modalities of pain relief exist. Under the law’s “Patient Bill of Rights,” physicians are required either to provide requested opiate medication or refer to physicians who will.

“This law was passed in 2001 based on intentional misinformation from a pharmaceutical company regarding a ‘wonder drug’ that was supposed to be non-addictive with no side effects or street value,” said Senator Bowling. “Two months after it was passed, the DA made them relabel the drug because we now know it was OxyContin which was obviously none of the above. Now, we have 14 years of evidence of the unintended consequences of what the General Assembly at the time believed was a well-intentioned piece of legislation.”

Since the passage of the 2001 law, Tennessee has experienced multiple negative consequences, including being ranked second in the nation for the rate of opioid pain relievers sold per 10,000 persons. Prescription opioids also rank as the worst abused drug among individuals receiving state-funded treatment services in Tennessee. The number of treatment admissions resulting from opiate abuse jumped from 5.5 percent to 28 percent in Tennessee from 2000-2010, compared to 1.5 percent to 8 percent elsewhere in the United States.

The bill, which is co-sponsored by Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson (R-Hixson), now goes to the Senate floor for final consideration.

DIDD Earns Network Accreditation
First-ever recognition for a state agency

Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) Commissioner Debra Payne recently announced official Person-Centered Excellence network accreditation on the department’s behalf from the Council on Quality and Leadership (CQL).

The Person-Centered Excellence accreditation process is designed to assess the quality of services and supports delivered by the department and its contracted providers. As a result of the accreditation process, DIDD better understands how people using their services define quality of life. The department will use that information to guide changes to improve quality of life system-wide.

DIDD and CQL worked toward this milestone for more than two years through interviews with people using services, focus groups of families, staff, and managers, provider assessments, and a self-assessment of DIDD policies and practices.

“What’s most important in this journey isn’t the ‘accreditation’ label,” Commissioner Payne said. “It is truly about ensuring what we do is what people we support really want, not just what we think they want.”

The process highlighted areas where DIDD excels and where there is room for growth:

DIDD has submitted a four-year plan to CQL to bring these factors into alignment, which includes increasing self-advocacy, assisting persons supported in learning about their rights, and refining the department’s Quality Assurance system to monitor compliance with CQL’s Basic Assurances®.

“As a department, we strive to be the most person-centered and cost effective service delivery network in the nation, and this accreditation process really helped us focus on providing support in the way people want it,” said Commissioner Payne.

Not only was DIDD the first state department in the country to receive network accreditation, it also was the first state service delivery network to pursue accreditation with CQL.

“It has been a tremendous experience to work with people who are so committed to improving quality in their supports and services on such a large scale,” said Cathy Ficker Terrill, President and CEO of CQL.

Bills in Brief

SARA / Higher Education – The Senate Education Committee approved a bill which authorizes the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to enter into the state authorization reciprocity agreement (SARA), to establish national standards for interstate offering of postsecondary distance education courses and programs. Senate Bill 299 is sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville). Once institutions join SARA, they are authorized to offer online courses in each state that is part of the agreement without having to get approval from each state individually. Nineteen states have passed legislation and 24 more states are considering the agreement. SARA is intended to make it easier for students to take online courses offered by postsecondary institutions based in another state.

Tennessee Promise / Soldiers — Legislation which aims to ensure that the Tennessee Promise scholarship is available to soldiers has cleared the Senate Education Committee. Senate Bill 56, sponsored by Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), cleans up language in the law to help high school students who train between their junior and senior year in the National Guard and/or go to their advanced individual training after their senior year. Green said currently these soldiers would not be eligible for Tennessee Promise. Soldiers are provided other scholarships which could cover them as Tennessee Promise is a “last dollar” scholarship. This legislation gives them an option to ensure they have access to Tennessee Promise just in case they don’t.


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