Norris News – January 26, 2018

On January 26, 2018, in News from Nashville 2018, by Mark Norris
Governor’s announcement regarding legislation to combat the opioid crisis.

Governor’s announcement regarding legislation to combat the opioid crisis.

Legislation aims to roll back the rising tide of opioid addiction in Tennessee

Tennessee’s opioid crisis was front and center this week as Governor Bill Haslam, Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), and other state leaders announced a comprehensive plan to tackle the problem. The plan, called TN Together, employs a three-legged stool of enforcement, treatment and prevention to stop the flow of these drugs 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. 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.

“Too many of us have seen up close the horrors of the opioid addiction crisis,” said Sen. Haile, a pharmacist who served on a working group which helped craft the legislation. “It is tearing families apart and straining the seams of towns and counties across Tennessee. This multi-faceted legislation attacks the problem from all angles to roll back the rising tide of addiction.”

Key components in the plan:

  • Limits the supply and the dosage of opioid prescriptions, with reasonable exceptions, and an emphasis on new patients, with an initial five day supply and daily dosage limits of 40 MME (morphine milligram equivalent);
  • Increases prevention education in grades K-12 through revisions to the state’s health education academic standards;
  • Establishes a special commission to formulate current, evidenced-based pain and addiction medicine competencies for adoption by the state’s medical and health care practitioner schools;
  • Identifies women of childbearing age who are chronic opioid users and provides targeted outreach about risks and treatment in order to aid in the prevention of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) births;
  • Invests more than $25 million for treatment and recovery services for individuals with opioid use disorder;
  • Improves the state’s data systems to better and more timely identify critical hot spots for targeting resources and increasing information about patient and community risks;
  • Provides additional resources to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) for rapid response teams;
  • Penalizes the use and unlawful distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs, including those 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; and,
  • Provides naloxone to every Tennessee state trooper for emergency treatment of opioid death

More details on the TN Together plan, including help for those suffering from addiction and other resources, can be found at


Infrastructure and Adoption Grants Will Support Deployment of Broadband in 13 Tennessee Counties

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe today announced $9.844 million in broadband accessibility grants that will help build new broadband infrastructure in parts of 13 Tennessee counties.

The grants are the result of the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, Haslam’s 2017 legislation to increase broadband to more Tennesseans and offset the capital expenses of deploying broadband in areas that currently lack access. The grants will provide broadband service to more than 5,000 locations in counties across the state.

Alongside digital literacy grants announced last week, the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act has already supported nearly $10 million in broadband investments across the state.

“In communities across Tennessee, broadband is an essential service that will increase economic investment and growth to help businesses, families and individuals thrive,” Haslam said. “With the assistance of these grants, underserved communities will now have access to broadband that will benefit not only the communities themselves, but the state as a whole. These grants are a step in the right direction for our state and will help Tennessee reach its full potential.”

TNECD received 71 applications requesting more than $66 million in funding. The nine grantees selected demonstrated a high need for grant funding, the ability to implement and sustain the project long term, strong community support and the economic impact of the infrastructure deployment. Grantees will provide more than $10 million in matching funds for a combined investment of more than $20 million across the state.

“One of our top priorities is creating an environment in Tennessee that promotes job growth and success in rural communities. With the leadership of Gov. Haslam and support of the Tennessee General Assembly, those rural communities will now have access to reliable internet and will be better equipped for success,” Rolfe said.

The grant recipients include:

  • Aeneas Communications: $190,000 to serve parts of Hardeman County
  • Ben Lomand Communications: $1,025,000 to serve the Pocahontas Community in Coffee County
  • Comcast: $850,000 to serve parts of Tipton County
  • DTC Communications: $1,725,000 to serve parts of Smith and Wilson counties
  • Gibson Electric Membership Corporation: $1,353,148.14 to serve parts of Lake and Obion counties
  • Scott County Telephone Cooperative: $1,900,000 to serve Surgoinsville in Hawkins County
  • Sunset Digital Communications: $1,375,000 to serve parts of Claiborne and Hancock counties
  • Tri-County Fiber Communications: $1,350,000 to serve parts of Sumner and Trousdale counties
  • Volunteer First Services: $76,714 to serve the Sunset Ridge Community in Cumberland County

In 2016, TNECD released a commissioned study assessing broadband in Tennessee that found that 13 percent of Tennessee residents do not have access to broadband at federally recognized standards. The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act provides $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses. The TBAA also permits private, nonprofit electrical cooperatives to begin providing retail broadband services to their members.

To find out more about the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, click here.

TDOT Chief Engineer Paul Degges updates Transportation Committee on progress being made on Tennessee’s roads and truck safety

Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) Chief Engineer Paul Degges gave members of the Senate Transportation Committee an update this week regarding the status of projects underway as a result of the Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy (IMPROVE) Act passed last year. The new law will deliver 962 road and bridge projects across all 95 Tennessee counties to alleviate a $10.5 billion backlog in transportation projects.

As of January 12, 295 distinct projects funded by the legislation are underway and 14 are already complete. December was the largest month in TDOT history for contract lettings with the exception of 2009 when one-time federal stimulus money was granted.

One of the key components of the IMPROVE Act was repair and replacement of unsafe bridges. TDOT found 526 bridges in the state were structurally deficient. Degges said 90 of those identified in the plan are under development right now. TDOT has also assisted counties in funding important resurfacing projects through its State Aid Road Grant Program as a result of dollars allocated for this purpose last year. The program makes it easier for counties to access needed state funds to upgrade, repair and improve local roads.

“There are lots of really great things happening in our rural districts,” said Degges. “Roads that have not seen hot mix in twenty-something years or longer are getting work done on them.”

Degges said they have beefed up their oversight of the program to ensure road money is being properly spent and that the projects are being constructed as quickly as possible. The Department has made efforts to make these projects more transparent to the public with their SPOT (Statewide Project Overview Tracker) website which provides an interactive tool to allow citizens to navigate priority projects across the State of Tennessee.

“Maintaining the safety of our residents on Tennessee roads is critical,” said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Paul Bailey (R-Sparta). “I am very pleased to see these projects up and running.”

Degges also addressed the issue of commercial truck parking in Tennessee. Commercial truckers must comply with the new federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule which mandates how many hours a truck driver can drive before resting. The rule increases the need for safe parking areas in Tennessee that are accessible to the interstates.

It is estimated that 60,000 to 80,000 trucks pass through Tennessee per day. There are 891commercial truck parking spaces on the interstate system in the state, with 109 new spaces identified by TDOT for future development through IMPROVE Act funding. Private facilities, like truck stops, offer truckers another 7,000 spaces for parking. The spaces, however, fall short of the number needed given the impact of the new rule.

TDOT has implemented a SmartPark Pilot Project in rest areas on I-75 to assist truckers in determining the availability of truck parking spaces. Those availabilities are reported to motor vehicle operators through on-route dynamic message boards and a smartphone application. The department is also considering construction of parking lots that could be operated by a commercial vendor.

Next week, a joint meeting of the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee and the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee will look at the effects of the ELD mandate on the agricultural industry.

Issues in Brief

Heart Health — The State Senate unanimously approved a resolution this week, sponsored by Senator Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), to recognize the American Heart Association’s annual National Wear Red Day on February 2. Senate Joint Resolution 483 applauds the effort put forth by this organization on behalf of women to raise awareness of heart disease and save lives. Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease or stroke, yet only one in five American women believe that heart disease is her greatest health threat. An estimated 44 million women in the U.S. are affected by cardiovascular diseases. For more information about the signs, symptoms and risks, contact the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women.”

Tennessee Tourism – Commissioner of Tourist Development Kevin Triplett testified before the Senate Government Operations Committee this week about Tennessee’s success in tourism and its ranking as a “top 10 travel state.” He was there in support of Senate Bill 1533, sponsored by Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville), to extend the department until 2022. The state had 110 million traveler visits last year. Tourism is the second largest industry in Tennessee, with a $19.3 billion impact to the state’s economy and generating $1.7 billion in state and local taxes. It affects approximately 300,000 Tennessee jobs, with 180,000 being directly created by the industry. The bill now moves to the full Senate for a final vote.

State of the State Address – The Senate and House will meet in a joint session on Monday night to hear Governor Bill Haslam’s State of the State / Budget Address. He is expected to outline his spending priorities and legislative proposals for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. This will be the eighth and final address for the governor. Under Tennessee’s Constitution, governors may serve no more than two four-year terms consecutively. A live stream link will be available at 6:00 on the General Assembly website at:


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