Senator Mark Norris
9A Legislative Plaza,
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0232
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©2017 Mark Norris
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.
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:
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.”
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.