Capitol Hill Week: Legislation aims to roll back the rising tide of opioid addiction in Tennessee

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), January 25, 2018 –  Tennessee’s opioid crisis was front and center this week as Governor Bill Haslam, members of the General Assembly, 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.

The 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 tn.gov/opioids.

Senate Judiciary Committee approves resolution to let voters decide if they want their elected representatives to choose Tennessee’s AG

A resolution that would allow Tennessee voters to decide if they want their elected representatives to select the state’s attorney general (AG), rather than the current system of allowing five appointed Supreme Court justices to make that choice, was approved 7 to 2 this week by the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Senate Joint Resolution 88 begins the process of amending the State Constitution, which if approved by voters, calls for the AG to be selected by the Tennessee General Assembly beginning March 2023.

Unlike any other state, Tennessee’s AG is appointed by justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court for a term of eight years.  Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor and stand for a retention vote.

The resolution calls for the AG to be elected to a four-year term.  It also provides that the AG be 30 years of age or older, a citizen of the United States, an attorney duly licensed in Tennessee and a resident of the state for at least seven years preceding the election.  Under the measure, appointment would be made by joint vote of both houses of the General Assembly.

The amendment process requires a simple majority by the 110th General Assembly currently in session, and a two-thirds majority in the 111th General Assembly which is elected in 2018, before going to voters in a statewide referendum in 2022.  In order to be adopted, a proposed constitutional amendment must receive one more vote than half the number of votes cast in the gubernatorial election.

The bill now moves to the Senate floor for final consideration.

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.

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.

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.

Senate Education Committee hears work-based learning experiences from high school teens

Hamilton County teens enrolled in innovative work-based learning programs spoke to Senate Education Committee members this week about their experiences combining in-school and off-campus work.  While the students take classes in an approved program of study or area of elective focus, they bank post-secondary credits and earn industry certifications that align with the courses they take.

The high schoolers were joined by their counselor who heralded the success of the program and the hard work being performed by the students.  Industry partners, Volkswagen and Gestamp, were also praised for creating an optimal learning environment that instills students with the habits, knowledge and skills needed to be post-secondary and career ready.

Advanced manufacturing companies in Tennessee are seeking employees with more in-demand, specialized training, ranging from specific industry certifications to two-year associate degrees. The industry is changing, requiring employees to equip themselves with relevant, real-world experience and postsecondary credentials.

Similarly, school officials and students at Lebanon High School’s Biotechnology Program testified about the success their Career Technical Education (CTE) dual-enrollment program has had in preparing students for high-skill STEM careers. The school partners with Volunteer State Community College.  This program allows students to practice how to apply what they learn in class to a real-world laboratory environment. In these courses, they study molecular biology and DNA finger-printing.  A new addition to their curriculum is a study of breast cancer cell cultures. The program was designed to fill the demand Belmont University had for high quality biotech students.

The Tennessee Department of Labor has reported that in 2012 there were 252,000 STEM jobs in the state, with an additional 43,000 anticipated by 2022. CTE students outperformed their classmates in their chemistry classes.

The General Assembly will be looking at legislation during the 2018 legislative session to expand work-based learning programs in Tennessee high schools.

Issues in Brief

Child Feeding Programs — The Senate Finance Committee’s Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee met Tuesday to review reforms made by the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS) to ensure the integrity of their child feeding programs. DHS has created an Inspector General office which is dedicated to monitoring the program and have partnered with the State Comptroller’s office to carry out unannounced visits to program sponsor sites in order to identify bad actors.  They have also implemented background checks and an online monitoring system through the Tennessee Information Payment System (TIPS) to better track current and prior sponsors.  The action comes after audits and investigations by Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson identified financial mismanagement and fraud within some of the federal child feeding programs administered by DHS.  The General Assembly passed legislation in 2016 to address the problem.  The Senate Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee has been instrumental in examining problems associated with the program and corrective measures being taken to curb fraud and abuse.

Heart Health — The State Senate unanimously approved a resolution this week 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 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.

Hunting and Fishing — The Government Operations Committee heard testimony from Ed Carter, the Director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), about the success of the fishing and wildlife industry in the state. Carter was there in support of Senate Bill 1561 to extend the agency until 2022.  According to the U.S. Fishing and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Census, Tennessee brings in $2.5 billion a year from boating and $2.2 billion from hunting and fishing. TWRA has been working on a way to incentivize commercial fishermen to help reduce the population of Asian carp.  The bill now moves to the Senate floor for consideration.

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:  http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/.

Honoring the memory of former Senator Ray Albright — The Tennessee Senate unanimously approved Senate Resolution 144 this week honoring the memory of former Senator Ray Albright (R-Chattanooga) who died in August. Sen. Albright served in the Tennessee General Assembly for 26 years, winning election to the House of Representatives in 1968 and the Senate in 1970.  Albright was championed as a staunch advocate for public education.  During his term of office, he played a vital role in passage of the Education Improvement Act which established the Basic Education Program funding formula, value-added testing and comprehensive education regulation reform.  He also sponsored legislation that established Chattanooga State Technical College, which changed the school from an area vocational high school to a technical community college.  In addition to serving as Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, he also served as Chairman of the Senate Environment Committee.  Albright was 83 years old.

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Posted in Weekly Review

Leadership