Norris News – March 2, 2018

On March 2, 2018, in News from Nashville 2018, by Mark Norris
Flags are half-mast this week at the Capitol in honor of Rev. Billy Graham

Flags are half-mast this week at the Capitol in honor of Rev. Billy Graham

Legislation addressing Tennessee’ opioid crisis and protecting victims of crime headline Capitol Hill Week

The pace quickened this week on Capitol Hill as the State Senate approved major legislation addressing Tennessee’s opioid crisis and a number of bills protecting Tennessee’s most vulnerable victims of crime.

Major legislation addressing Tennessee’s opioid crisis overcame its first hurdle this week with passage in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senate Bill 2258, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), is one of two proposals in Governor Bill Haslam’s TN Together plan to combat opioid abuse. The legislation addresses the law enforcement and treatment components of the three-pronged plan, while the other component is prevention.

This bill revises various provisions of the law regarding the scheduling of controlled substances and their analogues and derivatives, including updated identifications of drugs categorized in Schedules I-V. The updated schedule of controlled substances would allow law enforcement to better track, monitor and penalize the use and unlawful distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs, including substances 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.

“Fentanyl has come into this state and has become a very serious drug,” said Senator Yager. “It has contributed to many deaths. Sometimes it is used to cut other drugs and is mixed with them, which has led to the deaths of users who are not aware of its potency.”

The legislation provides incentives for offenders in correctional facilities to complete intensive substance use treatment program while incarcerated. An increasing number of offenders suffer from substance use disorders. These evidence-based programs are proven to reduce recidivism and improve lives while saving taxpayer dollars.

“Many of the people coming to prison have drug addictions, and if we can’t fix that problem and we let them back on the street with a drug problem, we’re likely to see them again,” added Yager.

Each day in Tennessee, at least three people die from an opioid-related overdose, which is more than the number of daily traffic fatalities. Since 1999, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths nationwide, including prescription opioids and heroin, has quadrupled.

“Through this multifaceted approach, Tennessee can be successful in its continued fight against the opioid epidemic and reverse the addiction, overdose and illicit distribution trends that continue to plague the state and nation,” Yager concluded.

The prevention component of the TN Together Plan, Senate Bill 2257, sponsored by Norris and Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), is scheduled for consideration in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday.

The refurbished Cordell Hull Building is the new home of the Tennessee General Assembly

The refurbished Cordell Hull Building is the new home of the Tennessee General Assembly

Cordell Hull statute in the Capitol across from the Senate chamber.

Cordell Hull statute in the Capitol across from the Senate chamber.

Senate approves legislation designed to spur development of broadband services in Tennessee’s rural communities

Legislation designed to spur development of broadband services to Tennessee’s rural and unserved communities passed the State Senate unanimously this week. The bill, sponsored by Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston), amends the Rural Electric Community Services Cooperative Act to compliment the changes that were made by the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act last year. That law, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell (R-Riceville), set Tennessee on a responsible path to improve access to broadband through investment, deregulation, and education.

“Broadband is critical to commerce and the quality of life of every Tennessean and is essential for our current and future education and economic initiatives,” said Senator Yager. “The improved connectivity would also promote agriculture advancements and provide health care options like telemedicine, which are especially important to our rural communities.”

Senate Bill 1646 authorizes electric cooperatives (co-ops) to access existing property, right-of-ways or easements to supply broadband Internet services. The purpose is to make it clear that co-ops can use the property and easements they currently have for electric service to provide broadband Internet infrastructure in those same rights-of-ways. The proposal also clarifies that if an electric co-op enters into an agreement with a third party to provide telecommunications or broadband, they could only contract with parties that are otherwise permitted by law to provide those services.

Before passage of the Broadband Accessibility Act, co-ops were restricted from providing retail broadband or cable video services. The act also called for $45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses. On Tuesday, Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe told members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee that nine grants totaling $9.8 million have already been awarded as a result of the act, serving 5,200 locations in 13 counties. The act has also provided $109,000 in library grants to 52 libraries in Tennessee.

In 2016, a study addressing broadband in Tennessee found that 13 percent of Tennessee residents do not have access to broadband at federally recognized standards. While only two percent of the state’s urban citizens lack access, 34 percent of rural residents are without coverage at recognized minimum standards due to low population density and challenging geography.

Teacher Sexual Misconduct bills receive final approval

The State Senate gave final approval to four of a series of five bills designed to protect children from teacher sexual misconduct. The legislative package follows a comprehensive report from Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson which revealed deficiencies in hiring practices for school personnel that could allow predators to slip through the cracks. Bills meeting final approval include:

  • Senate Bill 2015, sponsored by Senator Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol), which prohibits a Local Education Agency (LEA) from entering into a non-disclosure agreement with a teacher that would prevent other school districts from knowing about sexual misconduct. It also allows districts to access information about the previous employment of a teacher with another school district;
  • Senate Bill 2013, sponsored by Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), which updates the state’s Teacher Code of Ethics regarding inappropriate teacher-student relationships, including engaging in sexual behavior with students or furnishing them alcohol or drugs;
  • Senate Bill 2011, sponsored by Senator Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), which grants the State Board of Education’s authority to reprimand school directors for not reporting instances of misconduct and clarifies the board’s authority to reprimand educators for violating the Teacher Code of Ethics; and,
  • Senate Bill 2012, sponsored by Senator Reginald Tate (D-Memphis), which calls for the State Board of Education to post all final teacher disciplinary action on its website to allow school districts, as well as out-of-state entities responsible for the licensing and hiring of Tennessee educators, to access information regarding the final disciplinary action of an individual’s license case. It also requires final licensure action be reported to the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) database for the same purpose.

The fifth bill, sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), is pending action in the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee. Senate Bill 2014 would ensure that background checks are conducted to identify sexual predators before a teacher license is issued and that reports are done on an ongoing basis for those who work with children.

In Brief

Tennessee joins coalition of states asking court to hold ACA unconstitutional — Attorney General Herbert Slatery announced this week that Tennessee has joined a coalition of 20 states asking a federal district court in Texas to hold the Affordable Care (ACA) unconstitutional and to enjoin the entire law. “The lawsuit explains that in 2012 in NFIB v. Sebelius, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld the core provision of the ACA, the individual mandate, because the Court viewed the ACA’s penalty for not complying with the individual mandate as a tax,” said Slatery. “But now, with the recent passage of its tax reform package, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Congress has repealed this tax, while leaving the mandate in place.” He said that since the Supreme Court has already held that Congress has no authority to impose the individual mandate on Americans without invoking its taxing authority, the repeal of the tax renders the individual mandate unconstitutional.

Tanning Beds / Youth — The full Senate voted this week to approve legislation that seeks to protect the health of young persons who utilize tanning beds. Currently, teenagers over age 14 can go to a tanning bed without permission from their parents. Senate Bill 1495, sponsored by Senator Ferrell Haile (R–Gallatin), requires that individuals 16 to 18 years old be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian in order to use a tanning bed for the first time. Those under the age of 16 would be prohibited. Melanoma is the second most prevalent kind of cancer in females ages 15 to 29. In 2009, the World Health Organization elevated the classification of tanning beds as a carcinogen to the same category as cigarettes.


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