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