Norris News – February 9, 2018

On February 9, 2018, in News from Nashville 2018, by Mark Norris
Robert "Percy" Person was recognized by members of the General Assembly this week. He celebrated his 80th birthday in July, and he continues to operate Percy's Shine Service in the Nashville Arcade where he has been located for 25 years. He started work at age 11 in 1948. Rep. Kelly Keisling, Rep. William Lamberth and I presented Percy a special Proclamation this week.

Robert “Percy” Person was recognized by members of the General Assembly this week. He celebrated his 80th birthday in July, and he continues to operate Percy’s Shine Service in the Nashville Arcade where he has been located for 25 years. He started work at age 11 in 1948. Rep. Kelly Keisling, Rep. William Lamberth and I presented Percy a special Proclamation this week.

Resolution seeks to address public safety threat posed by cell phone use behind prison walls

The pace quickened on Capitol Hill this week as state senators examined the budgets of ten agencies or departments of state government and approved a number of important bills. This includes a resolution unanimously adopted by the Senate State and Local Government Committee which seeks to address the public safety threat posed by contraband cell phone use by prison inmates.

Senate Joint Resolution 492, sponsored by Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), asks the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), major cellular providers, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) “to take a proactive and collaborative approach, in conjunction with correctional officials nationwide, to effectively disrupt the use of contraband wireless communication devices obtained by inmates.”

There were over 1,500 incidents with cell phones in Tennessee prisons last year.

Speaking in favor of the bill was Department of Correction Commissioner Tony Parker, who told committee members that murders have been arranged and carried out on Tennessee correctional officers, criminal enterprises continue to thrive, victims have been stalked, witnesses have been threatened, escapes have been arranged and prison riots have been orchestrated all from within prison cells using contraband cellphones. He said these events are becoming common instances as more cellphones illegally infiltrate state correctional facilities.

“In years past, I never would have considered the issue of cell phones being a major problem in our prisons,” said Parker. “But, I will have to say that in the last 15 years it has become one of the most significant security threats that we have in our facilities.”

Parker recounted a 2005 case in Roane County when inmate George Hyatte shot Correctional Officer Wayne “Cotton” Morgan in an escape attempt. He said Hyatte and his accomplice coordinated the escape using a smuggled cell phone.

“This was an unconscionable and tragic act which I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Sen. Yager, who arrived at the Roane County Courthouse soon after that crime was committed. “Despite the efforts of our outstanding corrections officials, we need some help from the Federal Communications Commission to give us the tools we need to eradicate the use of cell phones by inmates in prisons.”

Parker said the department is committed to tackling this problem, including working with the state’s congressional leaders in asking federal officials to stop the flow of contraband.

“I am very pleased that our correction officials are tackling this public safety issue,” added Sen. Ed Jackson (R-Jackson), Chairman of the State and Local Government’s Corrections Subcommittee which oversees prisons. “These cellphones have even been used for gang activity and present safety issues for not only the correctional officers, but also the citizens they have contact with outside of those prison walls. We must aggressively address this threat.”

Introducing contraband into a correctional facility is a Class C felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

The resolution now goes to the House of Representatives for their approval.

I was honored to address the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) members for their “Day on the Hill” in Nashville this week. The NFIB is America's leading small business association, promoting and protecting the right of members to own, operate and grow their businesses.

I was honored to address the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) members for their “Day on the Hill” in Nashville this week. The NFIB is America’s leading small business association, promoting and protecting the right of members to own, operate and grow their businesses.

Senate Education Committee approves bill to give students who suffer dependency on alcohol or drugs greater opportunities to succeed

The Senate Education Committee approved major legislation this week which authorizes Local Education Agencies (LEA) to create recovery high schools for certain students with alcohol or drug abuse dependency like Substance Use Disorder (SUD) or Major Depressive Episode (MDE). Senate Bill 1626, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), authorizes LEAs that open recovery schools to enroll eligible students, including those who are in another county.

“The staff of recovery high schools most often includes administrative staff, teachers, substance abuse counselors, and mental health professionals, with each playing a critical role in supporting their students,” said Sen. Gresham. “This bill will help students keep up with their studies, while having the best supports possible to help them recover.”

The bill authorizes the State Board of Education to promulgate additional rules and policies in consultation with the Department of Education, the Department of Health, and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to ensure best practices are employed as schools are authorized. It will also allow LEAs to collaborate with other school districts to establish a school to serve their students.

Introduction into a recovery high school would be voluntary under the bill. Students who graduate from the recovery school would receive a diploma from the high school they attended prior to enrollment to lessen the possibility of a stigma being attached. Grades earned would also be transferrable to other high schools.

Research shows students who attend treatment and go back into their normal high school have about a 70 percent chance of relapse. That number drops to approximately 30 percent when the student attends a recovery school after treatment. In addition, a recovery school in Houston found that about 98 percent of the students who attended had planned to drop out of school due to their addiction. After attending a recovery school, 90 percent of the students graduated, and over 80 percent went on to seek a post-secondary degree.

“Research on recovery schools show it is a game changer for kids that were headed towards a very dangerous path in life of dropping out of school and possibly ending up in jail down the road,” added Senator Gresham. “As we battle drug abuse in Tennessee, it is important that we apply every means possible to get these kids back on the right path so they have the best opportunity to be successful and addiction-free.”

The bill now goes to the full Senate for final consideration.

State Senate observes Veterans’ Day on the Hill

State Senators stopped to honor Tennessee’s veterans on Wednesday as they observed Veterans’ Day on the Hill. The day was set aside for lawmakers to speak to veterans about issues affecting them and to show appreciation for their sacrifices to this state and nation.

“Today is ‘Veterans’ Day on the Hill’ and it’s a time when we, as a body, as an assembly, celebrate the men and women who have been willing to write that blank check payable to the people of our great state and our great country,” said Senator Green (R-Clarksville), a former US Army Special Ops Flight Surgeon. “The United States of America has been at war for 16 years and we have produced thousands of combat veterans. Many of these were wounded or came home with the unseen scars of war.”

Each Senator wore a pin with the number 22 on it to honor, respect, and bring attention to the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day in America. Veterans in Tennessee are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than a non-veteran according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans between 35 and 54 and over age 75 have a higher suicide rate than other age groups.

“It’s an unconscionable number and one that is tragic,” Green continued.

The Senators had a luncheon where they got to meet and talk with a number of veterans.

Approximately 470,000 veterans live in Tennessee and Clarksville has the second highest concentration of veterans in the U.S.

Alvin C. York statue on the Capitol grounds. Also known as Sergeant York, he was one of the most decorated United States Army soldiers of World War I. He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking 35 machine guns, killing at least 25 enemy soldiers, and capturing 132. York's Medal of Honor action occurred during the United States-led portion of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France, which was intended to breach the Hindenburg line and force the Germans to surrender. Sgt. York was from Pall Mall, Tennessee. Veterans’ Day on the Hill was observed on Wednesday. Sgt. York’s son, George York, was memorialized by the General Assembly on the occasion of his passing. He was an ordained Nazarene minister, as well as a caseworker for abused and neglected children for the state.

Alvin C. York statue on the Capitol grounds. Also known as Sergeant York, he was one of the most decorated United States Army soldiers of World War I. He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking 35 machine guns, killing at least 25 enemy soldiers, and capturing 132. York’s Medal of Honor action occurred during the United States-led portion of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France, which was intended to breach the Hindenburg line and force the Germans to surrender. Sgt. York was from Pall Mall, Tennessee. Veterans’ Day on the Hill was observed on Wednesday. Sgt. York’s son, George York, was memorialized by the General Assembly on the occasion of his passing. He was an ordained Nazarene minister, as well as a caseworker for abused and neglected children for the state.

Issues in Brief

K-8 Scholars Guide – The full Senate approved legislation this week calling for students in grades K-8 to receive a “Scholar’s Summer Guide” prior to the last day of the school year. Senate Bill 730, sponsored by Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville), is designed to assist parents and students to better prepare for the next school year by providing them with a list of skills and materials that could be reviewed over the summer break. The student’s incoming and outgoing teachers would collaborate on requirements in formulating the guide so it is customized for each child. The bill would also allow teachers to customize this guide for students that they feel need work in specific areas prior to entering the following grade.

Tree plantings — The Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee approved a resolution on Thursday designating February 24th as “Tennessee Tree Day.” Senate Joint Resolution 482, sponsored by Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Steve Southerland (R-Morristown), aims to encourage Tennesseans to participate in tree-planting events in their communities. The Tennessee Environmental Council has been organizing large-scale, statewide tree-planting events that have grown from 5,000 trees in 2007 in a few Tennessee counties, to 100,000 trees in 2017 in all ninety-five counties. The Council hopes volunteers will plant 250,000 seedlings on Tennessee Tree Day. Tennessee is the most biologically diverse inland state in the United States.

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