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Capitol Hill Week: State budget emphasizes four E’s – Education, Employment, Economic Opportunity and Enforcement of the Law

Capitol Hill Week

State budget emphasizes four E’s – Education, Employment, Economic Opportunity and Enforcement of the Law

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), April 19, 2018 – The Tennessee Senate passed several key bills this week, including the state budget and major legislation to curb opioid abuse, as the 2018 session of the Tennessee General Assembly draws to a close. The $37.5 billion “no growth” budget proposes state government spending for the next fiscal year that begins July 1, 2018 and extends to June 30, 2019.

The balanced budget addresses opioid abuse, school safety, teacher funding, rural economic development and job growth, while allocating additional funds for the care of Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens. The bill focuses on the four “e’s” of Tennessee: employment, education, economic opportunity and enforcement of the law.

Fiscal Responsibility - The budget assumes a 3.2 percent rate of growth, well within the growth of Tennessee’s economy. During the past eight years under Republican leadership, the state spending on average has grown no more than two percent, compared to an average of seven percent in prior administrations. The bill also maintains Tennessee’s sound fiscal practices by increasing the Rainy Day Fund, the state’s savings account for emergencies, to the highest level in state history at $861 million. Adequate savings, along with Tennessee having the third best funded pension plan in the nation, have resulted in the state receiving a triple-A bond rating from the three major credit rating agencies and being ranked among the best financially managed states in the nation.

Tax Relief -- On tax relief, the appropriations bill continues the General Assembly’s ongoing efforts to provide widespread tax relief to Tennesseans. Over the past eight years, the legislature has cut $400 million in taxes, with those reductions amounting to $572 million in the 2018-19 budget year. Tennessee has reduced the sales tax on food by nearly 30 percent; implemented a complete phase out of the Hall tax; eliminated the gift tax; cut business taxes on manufacturing; and phased out the inheritance tax. Tennessee has the lowest taxes in the nation as a percentage of personal income.

In order to help provide for tax reductions and spending priorities, the budget includes reductions in appropriations of $216.6 million, including the elimination of 335 positions. Over the past 8 years, the state has realized base budget reductions of $846.9 million, including the elimination of 2,759 positions.

Protecting Tennessee’s Most Vulnerable Citizens -- On protecting Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens, the budget as amended by the Senate provides $11 million to raise the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) hourly rate of reimbursement paid by the state for professionals providing care to Tennessee’s most vulnerable citizens. DIDD professionals provide care for those who have intellectual, developmental and age-related disabilities.

Similarly, the bill provides $136 million in additional funds for TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. This includes $7.3 million for the state’s CHOICES program, which serves developmentally and intellectually disabled Tennesseans.

In addition, the Senate-amended budget restores $1.4 million for the state’s early child in-home visitation program for a total $5 million. The evidence-based program has proven to be a very effective early-intervention strategy to improve the health and well-being of at-risk children in the state. The bill also provides additional funds for the federally qualified health centers and certain dental services and vision screening for some of Tennessee’s most needy citizens.

Improving healthcare services is also the impetus behind a pilot program funded in the budget to help struggling rural hospitals develop economic plans to ensure they are financially viable and continue to provide needed services. The program uses their economic standing in the community as a way of providing consulting assistance to distressed hospitals which need to change their operational models so they can be financially successful in an ever-evolving healthcare marketplace.

State budget emphasizes four E’s – Education, Employment, Economic Opportunity, and Enforcement of the Law

The four “e’s,” education, employment, economic opportunity, and enforcement of the law, are the underlying drivers of Tennessee’s 2018-2019 state budget adopted by the General Assembly this week. The budget continues Tennessee’s strong commitment to education by providing an additional $247 million to fund K-12 education in Tennessee, including $105 million for teachers and $66.8 million for enrollment growth. It also provides $30.2 million for school safety and $13.3 million for the Response for Intervention Program which identifies the needs of struggling students to get them the help they need to succeed. The General Assembly has provided $1.5 billion in new funding over the last eight years for K-12 education, including $500 million more for increased teacher salaries.

As a result of these efforts, Tennessee students are posting the largest gains in the country and the highest high school graduation rates the state has ever seen. The state’s average ACT score reached 20.1, which is the highest recorded for Tennessee.

The budget also continues several important higher education initiatives. The bill provides $119 million in additional funding for higher education, including $10 million for Student Assistance Awards Financial Aid, $9 million for new equipment at Tennessee’s Colleges of Applied Technology, $1.5 million for a Mechatronics Program, $3 million for the engineering program at Tennessee Tech and $7.1 million for the Drive to 55 Initiative. The Drive to 55 Initiative challenges the state with the mission of getting 55 percent of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025. Presently, the state is on pace to meet the Drive to 55 goal two years early.

On employment and economic opportunity, the budget adds $133 million to aid job growth. This includes $71 million in infrastructure and job training assistance, $14.5 million for rural development initiatives, and $15 million to expand broadband access. Tennessee has seen strong rural job growth with a 31.7 percent increase in new job commitments over that of five years ago, as unemployment statewide is at record lows.

On enforcement of the law, the budget includes $2.4 million for law enforcement to fight Tennessee’s opioid epidemic. Crimes like robbery, theft, fraud and murder are committed in large part due to the influence of drugs. The act provides a total of $16.5 million to address opioid addiction which includes money for prevention, research, treatment and recovery. In addition, $91,500 is included to address the use of gift cards obtained through retail theft which has been heavily linked to the purchase of opiates.

Additional money is expended, under the bill, for safeguarding the rule of law. This includes increased funding for elder abuse and $4.5 million for juvenile justice reforms. It also provides $1 million for courtroom security grants.

Other notable budget highlights in Senate Bill 2552 include:
• $460 million for capital maintenance and construction;
• $27.6 million for corrections;
• $20 million for the Aeronautics Economic Development Fund;
• $4 million for tourism;
• $213 million to address state employee compensation;
• $57.6 million for the Tennessee Library and Archives;
• $899,400 for new trial courts in the 16th, 19th and 21st judicial districts;
• $100,000 for the Safe at Home Address Confidentiality Program to help domestic violence victims; and
• $1 million for an innovative pilot program to provide grants to local sheriffs or probation departments that are successful in reducing recidivism.

Senate approves major legislation to address Tennessee’s Opioid Crisis

Major legislation addressing Tennessee’s opioid crisis was approved by the full Senate this week. Senate Bill 2258 and Senate Bill 2257 would implement the TN Together Plan which employs a three-legged stool of enforcement, treatment and prevention to stop the flow of opiates 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. Since 1999, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths nationwide, including prescription opioids and heroin, have quadrupled. 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 first bill addresses the law enforcement and treatment components of the three-pronged plan by revising 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. The legislation, as amended, also makes it an offense to knowingly produce, manufacture, sell or possess any capsule, pill, or other product composed of or containing any amount of Kratom.

The legislation provides incentives for offenders in correctional facilities to complete an 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.

The second bill aims to prevent opioid addiction and ultimately, misuse and abuse by limiting the supply and dosage of opioid prescriptions with emphasis on new patients. The legislation is meant to address higher dosages of opioids which have been associated with increased risk of overdose and death, while including exceptions for individuals undergoing extreme pain for illnesses like cancer or sickle cell anemia, or patients with severe burns.

The purpose behind the prevention legislation is to place more speed bumps on the road that leads to addiction between healthcare practitioners and patients to prevent Tennesseans from misusing or abusing prescription pain medicine. As of 2016, 318,000 individuals in Tennessee were either using opioids in a risky way or diagnosed as having opioid use disorder.

In other action to prevent opioid abuse this week, the Senate approved key legislation to cut off the flow of funds used in the purchase of illegal drugs. Senate Bill 1717 addresses the use of gift cards obtained through retail theft which has been heavily linked to the purchase of opiates. The proposal follows a new law passed by the General Assembly last year defining organized retail crime and creating two new theft offenses for the purpose of prosecuting individuals who return stolen merchandise to receive gift cards, money or store credit.

It is estimated that Tennessee loses over $14 million in sales tax dollars and retailers lose over $200 million each year related to return fraud. The National Retail Federation estimates the loss at $12 to $15 billion nationwide, with almost all being related to illicit drug trade.

Finally, the Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 1227 which directs TennCare to promulgate permanent rules to promote safe and responsible coverage for enrollees of the program. The rules, at a minimum, must address prior authorization requirements to reduce the development of opioid dependency and addiction.

Ninety-two percent of all Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) babies are born to mothers who are TennCare recipients.

Legislation holding teachers and students harmless in TNReady Assessments approved by General Assembly

The State Senate passed legislation this week to hold teachers and students harmless in the TNReady testing assessments conducted for the 2017-2018 school year. The measure was adopted in an amendment and as part of a Senate/House Conference Committee Report to Senate Bill 1623.

Presently, state law requires the test to count within the range of 15 to 25 percent of a student’s grade. The legislation gives local boards of education the option to choose not to count the test at all, or to count it up to 15 percent of a student’s grade for this spring semester. The bill stipulates that no TNReady test scores from this school year can be used for teacher employment termination or compensation decisions.

The bill also prevents student performance and student growth data from the TNReady assessments from being used to identify a school as a priority school or to assign a school to an Achievement School District (ASD). It further provides that the assessments administered this school year cannot be used to assign a letter grade to a school.

The legislation comes after students in many Tennessee counties experienced problems with TNReady online testing this week, including a suspected cyber attack on Tuesday. Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced on Wednesday that she has asked the Davidson County District Attorney General to formally engage the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the State Office of Homeland Security in an investigation of the cyber attack. She also announced that she has engaged a third party with cyber security expertise to analyze Questar’s response to the attack.

Commissioner McQueen has stated that there continues to be no evidence that any student information or data was compromised in the incident.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1806 placing a two-year moratorium on any additional statewide testing in Tennessee’s K-12 schools. This legislation prevents any additional assessments from being implemented until the current system is operating correctly. That new law became effective on April 12.

Bills in Brief…

TennCare Waiver / Work Requirements -- Legislation that seeks to encourage self-sufficiency for those receiving TennCare, Tennessee’s Medicaid program, passed the full Senate this week. Senate Bill 1728 directs TennCare to apply for a Medicaid waiver from the federal government to require TennCare enrollees who are able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 64 and don’t have children under the age of 6 to work, volunteer, or further their education. The bill does not set policy; rather it directs TennCare to negotiate with the federal government. In fiscal year 2017-2018, almost 27 percent of Tennessee taxpayer dollars went towards funding TennCare. The bill must meet the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services guidelines which means that it would not apply to individuals with disabilities, elderly beneficiaries, children and pregnant women, as well as those who are caregivers or are undergoing job training or education, among other categories. The Trump administration has shown openness to allowing states’ autonomy to innovate their Medicaid programs. So far three states – Arkansas, Kentucky, and Indiana – have received approval from the administration to require able-bodied adults receiving Medicaid to work, and at least twelve other states have waivers pending approval.

Palliative Care -- The Senate Finance Committee approved legislation this week establishing the State Palliative Care and Quality of Life Council to advise the Executive Director of the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability (TCAD) regarding issues experienced by patients, including barriers to care. Palliative care is an approach used when treating patients facing chronic life-threatening illnesses. The treatment seeks to improve the quality of life for patients and their families through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and assessment. Senate Bill 2561 follows a recommendation from the Palliative Care and Quality of Life Task Force that was created last year. It requires the director of the TCAD to appoint up to 11 members to serve on the council, after consulting with various associations named in the bill which deal regularly with palliative care patients. Beginning in 2020, the council will submit an annual report to the General Assembly addressing barriers to palliative care access, analyzing service utilization data, and providing recommendations and best practices to cover gaps in service.

Stolen Valor Act – Final approval was given this week to legislation designed to safeguard the identities of Tennessee veterans who serve the state and nation by cracking down on instances of theft and fraud involving those who attempt to imitate them. The Tennessee Stolen Valor Act creates a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, as well as a fine of up to $2,500, for anyone who impersonates a veteran or individuals who fraudulently represent their service with the intent of obtaining money, property, services, or any other tangible benefits. Senate Bill 2030 now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Parental Notice / Student Mental Health Screenings – Legislation requiring Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to notify parents or legal guardians prior to any student participation in mental health screenings passed the Senate on final consideration. The legislation requires notice to the parents regarding the “who, what, when and why” of such an evaluation so the student’s parents are fully informed.

Display of the U.S. Flag -- The Senate State and Local Government Committee voted this week to prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing regulations that ban or restrict the display of a flag on a property owner's property except when necessary to promote public health and safety. Senate Bill 2117 also includes the Tennessee flag or a flag of any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces or the POW/MIA flag.

Unemployment Rate Remains at Record Lows -- The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development announced this week that the state’s unemployment rate in March remained near historic lows and matched the revised rate from the previous month. The preliminary, seasonally adjusted rate for March was 3.4 percent, which mirrored the revised rate for February and was nearly one percentage point less than the March 2017 rate of 4.2 percent. Tennessee’s statewide unemployment rate has remained below 4.0 percent since last May, hitting an all-time low of 3.3 percent last September. Tennessee added 4,900 new nonfarm jobs between February and March. Over the past 12 months, employers across the state created an estimated 49,000 new jobs.

Ending Emissions Testing – Legislation that would end mandatory emissions tests for vehicles in Tennessee met final Senate approval this week. Senate Bill 2656 would apply to Hamilton, Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson Counties where the test is still required prior to vehicle registration or renewal. The 1990 Federal Clean Air Act required the State of Tennessee to develop more restrictive regulations to control air pollution from mobile sources in counties which were not meeting the federal standards for air quality. In August, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation announced that the entire State of Tennessee meets federal air quality health standards.

Mental Health / Firearms Verification Process -- The full Senate passed legislation this week requiring acute care hospitals to report involuntary commitments in their psychiatric units to law enforcement so that they can be a part of the record used in the verification process for the purchase of firearms. One of the disqualifying conditions is whether or not an individual has ever been involuntarily committed. Senate Bill 2362 closes the gap in current law, which already requires mental health hospitals to report these commitments.

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Senator Ketron announces new trial court judge for Rutherford County is funded under the budget adopted by the Senate today

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), April 18, 2018 –  Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) said today that Rutherford and Cannon Counties will receive a new trial court judge under a budget amendment approved by the full Senate today.  The amendment adds $800,000 recurring and $99,400 non-recurring to fund judges in the 16th, 19th and 21st Judicial Districts, as well as calling for a study on judicial redistricting.  Rutherford and Cannon Counties comprise the 16th District.

Ketron, who is a member of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee, has been in negotiations with Governor Haslam and other leaders in the General Assembly to help secure the funds.

“I am very pleased that we will be getting a new judge to help alleviate the flow of cases coming into our court system in Rutherford County,” said Senator Ketron.  “This will be a huge help to address a backlog of cases so justice can be administered in a more expedient manner.”

The most recent study by Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson showed that District 16 is in need of 1.56 additional judges.  The five state trial judges in the district hear approximately 11,000 civil or criminal cases per year.  Rutherford County has the fastest growing population in Tennessee which has caused growth in litigation and criminal charges.

Although the funding for the new judge is in the budget, the matter will not be final until the enacting legislation, Senate Bill 5, is passed on final consideration.  This is expected to occur before the General Assembly adjourns next week.

 

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SENATOR BOWLING EARNS NATIONAL AWARD FOR WORK TO EXPAND ACCESS TO BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE IN TENNESSEE

NASHVILLE, (April 17, 2018) — State Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) is set to receive a national award from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) for her efforts to  accelerate the deployment of advanced communications networks throughout Tennessee.  Bowling has been chosen to receive the group’s “2018 State Champion Award.”

“Through your outstanding and tireless work on behalf of the communities, businesses, institutions, and residents of Tennessee, you have richly earned our award and the honor and respect that goes with it,” said CLIC Project Director Catharine Rice in a letter to Bowling.  “More specifically, we selected you for this award in recognition of your singular and exemplary leadership at the state level in seeking to advance local Internet choice and accelerate the deployment of advanced communications networks throughout Tennessee.  Your courageous pursuit of state legislation that would bring access to modern broadband infrastructure to all of Tennessee, rural and urban, stands out as a model for all state legislators that local Internet choice is not a partisan issue, it is an infrastructure issue.”

CLIC established the award to honor individuals and organizations for extraordinary contributions to the preservation and protection of local decision-making in critical broadband infrastructure matters.  The group has invited Bowling to attend their annual CLIC Day in Austin, Texas on April 30 where the award will be presented.

“I am very honored to receive this award,” said Sen. Bowling.  “I will continue working on behalf of Tennesseans in pursuit of regulatory freedom for high speed broadband, the essential infrastructure of the 21st Century.”

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STATEMENT FROM SENATOR PAUL BAILEY REGARDING THE ANNOUNCEMENT THAT COLOROBBIA USA, INC. WILL CREATE 30 NEW JOBS IN COOKEVILLE

NASHVILLE , (April 17, 2018) -- “I am very excited that these new jobs are coming to Cookeville as a result of Colorobbia USA’s investment in a facility here,” said Sen. Bailey.   “Governor Haslam and our legislature have worked diligently to attract investment and break down barriers to job growth and it is producing great results.  I congratulate Colorobbia and all who were involved in bringing these jobs to our area.  This job investment is also testament to the great people who make up our local workforce.  I look forward to seeing how these new jobs will provide many citizens in our district with new and better opportunities for the future.”

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Please find a copy of the release below:

 COLOROBBIA USA, INC. TO ESTABLISH FACILITY IN COOKEVILLE

Ceramics supplier to invest $5 million, create approximately 30 jobs

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe and Colorobbia USA, Inc. officials announced today that the ceramics supplier will invest $5 million to establish operations in Cookeville.

Colorobbia USA plans to build a 50,000-square-foot facility that includes distribution functions and a technical assistance laboratory. The Putnam County facility is expected to be operational in January 2019, creating approximately 30 jobs over the next five years.

“I’d like to welcome Colorobbia USA to Tennessee and thank the company for its investment in Putnam County,” Rolfe said. “Over the last few years, the ceramic industry in Tennessee has experienced considerable growth. We are encouraged to see Colorobbia USA join the growing ranks of ceramic companies that call Tennessee home.”

Colorobbia USA is part of Gruppo Colorobbia, an Italian company and global leader in the ceramic and glass industries. Established in 1921, Gruppo Colorobbia is a family-owned company headquartered in the province of Vinci, Italy. It has more than 2,000 employees and operates in 18 different countries.

Gruppo Colorobbia’s products include glazes, frits, pigments and ceramic inks for the ceramic tile and glass industries. The company also produces precious metals and a line of products for artistic ceramics.

“Our growth expectations and job creation plan are directly linked to the ceramic industry growth,” Arturo Salazar, president of Colorobbia USA, said. “We expect to start operations with the first stage of the project in the beginning of 2019. The increase of porcelain tile production in Tennessee through new production plants has opened the opportunity for our company to the possibility of this project. This plant will allow us to offer world-class technical service to clients.

“Being close to our clients is a fundamental rock of Gruppo Colorobbia’s philosophy. With this investment, we will be able to offer quality products and technical assistance services to the North American market,” Salazar added. “Cookeville offers.

 

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Senator Kelsey’s bipartisan proposal to prohibit judges from incentivizing sterilization passes House of Representatives in 70-23 vote

(NASHVILLE), April 17, 2018 – A proposal by State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and State Representative Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) to prohibit Tennessee judges from offering defendants reduced jail time in exchange for sterilization passed the State House of Representatives by a vote of 70-23 this morning. The legislation now awaits the Governor’s signature.

Senate Bill 2133 prohibits a sentencing court from making a sentencing determination based on defendant’s consent or refusal to any form of temporary or permanent birth control, sterilization, or family planning services, regardless of whether the defendant’s consent is voluntarily given.

“Having children is one of the most important decisions an individual will ever make in his or her life,” Sen. Kelsey said. “The decision to have children should be left out of the courtroom.”

Sen. Kelsey and Rep. Akbari filed the bill in response to a White County judge offering reduced jail time to defendants who volunteered for sterilization. Judge Sam Benningfield said his goal was to break a “vicious cycle” of repeat drug offenders with children. The Tennessee Board of Judicial Conduct found that Benningfield violated rules regarding judicial independence, integrity, and propriety.

“The offer of undergoing permanent sterilization or using long-acting contraceptives to reduce a judicial sentence is unconscionable,” Rep. Raumesh Akbari said. “After reading about a White County judge who’d issued a standing order offering a 30-day reduction to inmates that received either a vasectomy or birth control implant, I knew the legislature needed to act to ensure that this type of offer never occurred again.  I’m proud of the bi-partisan effort to work on this legislation and I look forward to working towards passing this bill in the House.”

The bill in no way prohibits defendants from seeking sterilization services if they so choose. It simply prohibits judges from incentivizing sterilization with reduced jail time.

“Reproduction is a fundamental right,” Sen. Kelsey said. “In Tennessee, we respect life and we respect reproductive rights.”

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown.  He serves as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

 

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Capitol Hill Week: Legislation preparing Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology headlines Capitol Hill Week

Capitol Hill Week

Legislation prepares Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology

 (NASHVILLE, Tenn.), April 12, 2018 – This week’s action on Capitol Hill was highlighted by passage of a number of important initiatives as lawmakers continue discussions on the state’s budget.  This includes legislation which accelerates investment in mobile broadband infrastructure and prepares Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology.

Senate Bill 2504 creates a uniform, statewide and predictable application and deployment process for small cell wireless broadband providers no matter what community is being served.  Once implemented, it would enhance existing networks and encourage wireless broadband providers to invest in the latest small cell technology.  When installed, these small cells will increase capacity to handle a huge amount of data with up to one hundred times faster connectivity than current 4G networks.

The legislation, called the Competitive Wireless Broadband Investment, Deployment, and Safety Act of 2018, creates a predictable “how to manual” for providers and local governments to work together to manage the right-of-ways and to get investment deployed as soon as possible.  While the legislation calls for a statewide application process to reduce local hurdles, it affirms that local governments retain their nondiscriminatory authority to:

  • manage placement of utility poles and facilities in the right of way;
  • establish aesthetic plans that govern facilities in the right of way;
  • protect historic districts;
  • manage and protect areas with underground utilities;
  • require damage repair in the right of way;
  • manage and reject any deployment based on public safety concerns; and,
  • apply right of way permitting and fees.

Studies show that deployment of 5G alone will create more than 16,000 new jobs in Tennessee.  It would also lead to more than $1 billion in investment and grow the state GDP by nearly $3 billion.

Presently 14 other states have passed legislation to make investment easier, with 19 considering similar legislation this year.

The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Legislation aims to curb opiate abuse among TennCare enrollees

Two bills addressing opiate abuse among Tennessee’s TennCare enrollees were approved by state senators this week.  This includes Senate Bill 1227 which directs TennCare to promulgate permanent rules to promote safe and responsible coverage for enrollees of the program.  The rules, at a minimum, must address prior authorization requirements to reduce the development of opioid dependency and addiction.

The legislation is part of the legislature’s overall effort to reduce dependency on opioids.  Although it could impact chronic opioid users, the more basic purpose is to curb opiate abuse among women of child-bearing age.  It seeks to ensure there is prior criteria supporting screening for substance abuse and counseling on effects of opioids should they become pregnant.

The bill was approved by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee and now heads to the Senate floor for a final vote.

The second bill, Senate Bill 2155, ensures providers are not penalized for the increase in health care costs associated with opioid-prescribing restrictions as it pertains to TennCare payment reform, more commonly referred to as “episodes of care.”  Episode-based payment seeks to align provider incentives with successfully achieving desired outcomes during an “episode of care,” which is acute or specialist-driven health care delivered during a specified time period to treat a clinical condition.  The legislation provides a pathway to address and appeal the episodes of care’s risk-sharing payment that may be assessed if a provider uses a more costly non-opioid modality like physical therapy or chiropractic services.

This bill seeks to address disincentives associated with other treatment modalities because of the episodes of care payment system to curb opioid abuse among TennCare enrollees.

The legislation was approved by the full Senate and now heads to Governor Bill Haslam’s desk for his signature.

Tennessee Reconnect Scholarship Program draws 10,000 adult applicants

More than 10,000 adults have applied for Tennessee Reconnect, the state’s program for adult learners to earn an associate degree or technical certificate tuition-free, since applications opened mid-February. The groundbreaking program covers tuition and mandatory fees at a Tennessee community or technical college for eligible adults that do not yet have a college degree.  It was implemented as a result of Senate Bill 1218 that was approved last year.  It is also part of Governor Bill Haslam’s initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025.

Among those who have applied for the scholarship, more than two-thirds have previously enrolled in college and just more than half of all applicants have attended college in the past five years. The average age of applicants is 34 years old and nearly 90 percent of those who applied plan to work while enrolled through Reconnect.

The Tennessee Reconnect application will remain open year-round; adults hoping to enroll in community or technical college in fall 2018 are encouraged to apply by April 15 to ensure time to complete all enrollment steps. The application for Reconnect requires four simple steps:

  • Complete the application at gov;
  • Apply to a local community college or eligible Tennessee Reconnect institution;
  • File the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at ed.gov; and
  • Enroll in a degree or certificate program at least part-time.

Tennessee is the first state in the nation to offer all citizens, both high school graduates and adults, the chance to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate tuition-free.

Senate approves legislation protecting landowners by allowing local governments to regulate the wind industry in Tennessee

The State Senate unanimously approved legislation this week protecting landowners by allowing local governments to regulate the wind energy industry in Tennessee.  Senate Bill 1793 comes after legislation was passed last year requiring a study be conducted regarding wind turbines and their impact on Tennessee communities and surrounding property owners.

The legislation, which follows the recommendations of the joint legislative study committee, provides reasonable regulations of the wind industry.  It protects the property rights of non-participating landowners, while setting uniform minimum requirements for the construction, operation, or redevelopment of wind energy facilities in the state.  The bill was developed with input from the wind energy industry, the Cumberland Mountain Preservation Coalition, and other key stakeholders.

Local governments would have the authority to go beyond the minimum standards set by the bill.  The requirement of an environmental impact and a wildlife impact assessment will allow an opportunity for public hearings and public involvement.  The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) would have the ability to review the wildlife impact assessment and approve, grant conditional approval or deny the permit.

Finally, the legislation calls for local governments to report annually on activity regarding legislation adopted, the number of approved permits, environmental impact assessments and data of any decommissioned facilities.

The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

General Assembly approves Primacy and Reclamation Act allowing Tennessee to reclaim control over state’s surface mining coal industry

Legislation allowing Tennessee to reclaim control of the state’s surface coal mining industry is on its way to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature after the Senate approved a minor House amendment.  The Primacy and Reclamation Act brings direct oversight to the state through a system of issuing permits and enforcing regulations by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

The Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement (OSM) within the U.S. Department of the Interior was given the authority to control surface mining in Tennessee 34 years ago.

Tennessee is the only actively producing coal state that does not regulate itself and instead is regulated by the Office of Surface Mining in the federal government.  By bringing direct oversight to the state through TDEC, Tennessee’s coal mining industry will gain permit predictability, benefit from local regulation and enforcement, and be on a level playing field with other states across the nation.  The Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee maintains stringent environmental control over coal mining, while providing an opportunity for the state to control its own destiny, stimulate investment and create jobs.

The legislation makes clear that all funding for primacy will come from the federal government and the surface coal mining industry.  Bill sponsors have worked with members of the Haslam and Trump administrations and Tennessee’s congressional delegation to identify potential sources of funding.  Once the program is up and running, the legislation provides that ongoing costs will be split evenly between the federal government and fees assessed on the industry.  If the federal funding does not come through, then the state will not be obligated to implement or run the primacy program.

In Brief… 

James K. Polk / Tomb Relocation -- Legislation which supports the relocation of President James K. Polk’s tomb from the State Capitol grounds to the President James K. Polk Home and Museum State Historic Site in Columbia, Tennessee received final approval in the Senate this week after adoption of a House amendment.  Senate Joint Resolution 141 aims to bring better recognition to the 11th President of the U.S. who was one of only three Tennesseans ever to hold the nation’s highest office.  The action to move the tomb to the state-owned site in Columbia is supported by the James K. Polk Memorial Association.  Both of Tennessee’s other presidents, President Andrew Johnson and President Andrew Jackson, are buried on land they owned.  Polk had requested burial at his home, Polk Place, which no longer stands.  The James K. Polk Home and Museum State Historic Site in Columbia was Polk’s only other residence, besides his residency at the White House.  The resolution is part of a multi-step process, before relocation can occur with the next steps being approval by the Tennessee’s Historical Commission and Capitol Commission, before going to Chancery Court where Polk’s descendants would have an opportunity to weigh in on the matter. The resolution now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Seven-day sales of wine – Final approval was given this week to legislation that permits retail food stores to sell wine and retail package stores to sell alcoholic beverages seven days a week. Senate Bill 2518 puts retailers on par with restaurants, hotels, convention centers, tourist resorts and other businesses in Tennessee which are already allowed to sell wine and spirits any day of the week under state law.  As amended, the measure allows Sunday sales to take place between the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.  The bill prohibits sales on Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.  The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.  The bill will become effective for liquor sales upon the governor’s signature, and for grocery stores, it will take effect on January 1, 2019.

Resolution Urging Action on President Trump’s Proposed Border Wall -- The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee approved a resolution this week urging the U.S. Congress to immediately take action to fund the construction of a secure border wall across the nation’s southern border as proposed by President Donald Trump.  House Joint Resolution 741 states “the members of this General Assembly have consistently taken steps to address illegal immigration within the borders of our great state and now wish to urge the United States Congress to address illegal immigration by supporting President Trump's border wall proposal.”  Upon final approval, the resolution will be sent to President Trump, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Governor Haslam, and to both houses of Congress.  The bill now goes to the floor of the Tennessee Senate for a final vote.

Knox County / Veterans Memorial Mile – Legislation designating a segment of State Route 62 in Knox County from the Solway Bridge to State Route 162 as the “Veterans Memorial Mile” was approved this week in the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee.  Under Senate Bill 1882, the state would put up road markers along this mile acknowledging each branch of the United States Armed Forces. This would allow members of these branches of the armed forces to work with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to donate money, trees, shrubs, and flowers for beautification purposes.

Charles Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center -- The full Senate approved legislation this week to aid the Charles H. Coolidge Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga.  The Medal of Honor, which was created by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861, is our nation’s highest and rarest military decoration. It is bestowed by the President of the United States, in the name of Congress, upon members of the United States Armed Forces who distinguish themselves through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against the enemy of the United States.”  Approximately 3,500 individuals have received the Medal, many of which were posthumously awarded.  The center teaches about the six character traits all Medal of Honor recipients share, which are courage, commitment, sacrifice, patriotism, integrity, and citizenship. Senate Bill 2346 exempts from property taxes all tangible personal property owned and used by a nonprofit organization that has a historic sole purpose for the provision of educational programs about recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor.  The museum plans to open in February of 2020.

Appointments / UT Board of Trustees -- Members of the Senate Education Committee heard testimony from Governor Bill Haslam’s nominees to the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees this week.  The board was restructured under legislation passed by the General Assembly earlier this month to improve governance of the system.  The new law  calls for legislative confirmation of the appointees.  The 10-member UT board will oversee the multiple campuses that comprise the UT system, including the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, University of Tennessee at Martin, and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.  Education Committee members confirmed John Compton, former President of PepsiCo and current partner with Clayton Dubilier & Rice; Kara Lawson, former Lady Vol and current basketball television analyst for ESPN and the Washington Wizards; Donnie Smith, former President and Chief Executive Officer of Tyson Foods; Kim White, President and Chief Executive Officer of River City Company; and Bill Rhodes, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of AutoZone.  Those nominees now move to the full Senate for approval.  The appointments are effective July 1, 2018.

Welfare Check / Endangered Children -- Legislation received final Senate approval this week calling for law enforcement agencies to determine if an arrested person is the parent or legal custodian of any children who would be unattended or endangered due to their absence after the arrest. Senate Bill 1512 authorizes law enforcement agencies to develop policies and procedures for conducting welfare checks on any children identified by the arrested person that are determined to be endangered. Child welfare checks are currently conducted by local law enforcement agencies as part of their authorized duties.  The bill seeks to ensure the safety of children by having law enforcement booking agencies inquire of arrested persons whether that person has children and the status of the children in the home to make sure they are not alone and vulnerable.

Smoking / Vehicles with Children – The Senate Transportation Committee approved legislation this week which prohibits an individual from smoking cigarettes, pipes or cigars in an enclosed vehicle when a child age 14 and under is restrained within it. Senate Bill 1759 would require the Tennessee Department of Transportation to use electronic overhead informational displays to provide messages to the public about the law upon enactment.  Violators on first offense would be issued a warning citation, while a second offense would be punishable as a Class C misdemeanor carrying a $20.00 fine.  Third and subsequent offenses would be punishable by a fine of $50.00.

Ambulances -- Legislation enabling Tennessee to continue to draw needed federal funds to help local ambulance services transport patients advanced through the Senate Finance Committee this week. Senate Bill 1823 continues the Ambulance Service Provider Assessment Act, a law passed last year that allows the state to receive additional Medicaid funds to be redistributed to the local private and public ambulance services for transporting patients covered by the program. It is expected to bring in approximately $19.7 million in federal funds for ambulance services through the state’s TennCare Program.  The legislation is modeled after the successful Hospital Assessment Act which has prevented catastrophic TennCare cuts over the last seven years.  The bill is supported by the State Ambulance Service Association.

Court-Ordered Learning Centers / BEP Dollars – The full Senate approved legislation that allows Basic Education Program (BEP) funds to “follow the child” to a learning center when a youth has been ordered by a juvenile court to attend a non-public school.  Currently, there are only two caveats for BEP dollars going to non-Local Education Agency (LEA) settings:  children for whose education the state is directly responsible and those in residential mental health facilities. Senate Bill 1803 adds a third caveat for youth who are court ordered to attend a Tennessee Department of Education-approved non-public school in order to prevent children from entering state custody. There are presently four Teen Learning Centers in Tennessee funded with the Department of Children’s Service’s Custody Prevention Funds.  All youth served in these centers come through their respective county juvenile court orders and have a variety of status and juvenile offenses that put them at serious risk of entering state custody.  Approximately 90 percent of students discharged from the centers remain out of juvenile court.

Henry’s Law – Drug dealers or others who unlawfully distribute Schedule I or II drugs to minors will be facing more jail time when it results in a death under legislation unanimously on final Senate consideration this week.  Senate Bill 1875 is named Henry’s Law for a Knoxville teenager, Henry Granju, who died due to a lethal opiate overdose.  The killing of a minor in Tennessee when the drug is a proximate cause of death is second degree murder, which is a Class A felony.  Under the state’s current sentencing guidelines, a standard Range I offender for a Class A felony can receive 15 to 25 years in jail, but the 30 percent requirement places the actual sentence at 4.5 to 7.5 years. The bill proposes to make that same Class A felony a Range II offense, carrying a 25 to 40 years sentence at a 35 percent requirement.  This means offenders would serve a minimum of 8.8 to 14 years behind bars.  Schedule I drugs include heroin and other psychedelics, while Schedule II drugs include opiates, cocaine, methadone, methamphetamines and amphetamines.  Approximately 70 to 80 juveniles die each year in the state of Tennessee due to opioid overdose.

Statute of Limitations / Sexual Offenses -- Senate Bill 2538 was approved by the full Senate this week instructing the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) to conduct a study and report back next year on the effectiveness of the state’s statutes of limitations, including crimes involving sexual offenses against children.  According to the National Center for Victims Rights, most states have a basic suspension of the statute of limitations for civil actions while a person is a minor.  Many states have also adopted additional extensions, specifically for cases involving sexual abuse of children and a handful of states have removed the statute of limitation completely for child sex crimes.

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Major legislation to accelerate investment in 5G technology deployment in Tennessee receives final approval

NASHVILLE – The Senate approved legislation today to accelerate investment in mobile broadband infrastructure and prepare the State of Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology.  Senate Bill 2504, sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), creates a uniform, statewide and predictable application and deployment process for small cell wireless broadband providers no matter what community is being served.  Once implemented, it would enhance existing networks and encourage wireless broadband providers to invest in the latest small cell technology.

“When installed, these small cells will increase capacity to handle a huge amount of data,” Senator Ketron said. “There could be anywhere from ten to one hundred times faster connectivity than what we currently have with 4G. Over six million Tennessee wireless consumers want this technology, local governments want this technology, and the providers want to deliver it.  This bill will help accomplish this for communities across the state.”

The legislation creates a predictable “how to manual” for providers and local governments to work together to manage the right-of-ways and to get investment deployed as soon as possible.  While the legislation calls for a statewide application process to reduce local hurdles, it affirms that local governments retain their nondiscriminatory authority to:

  • manage placement of utility poles and facilities in the right of way;
  • establish aesthetic plans that govern facilities in the right of way;
  • protect historic districts;
  • manage and protect areas with underground utilities;
  • require damage repair in the right of way;
  • manage and reject any deployment based on public safety concerns; and,
  • apply right of way permitting and fees.

“The world is operating at a much faster pace,” added Ketron.  “This bill will change our world as we currently know it on many activities from telemedicine to texting, and from documentation to autonomous vehicles, because of the connectivity speed through the bandwidth that 5G brings.”

Studies show that deployment of 5G alone will create more than 16,000 new jobs in Tennessee.  It would also lead to more than $1 billion in investment and grow the state GDP by nearly $3 billion.

Presently 14 other states have passed legislation to make investment easier, with 19 considering similar legislation this year.

The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

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Capitol Hill Week State Senate acts on wide variety of bills as General Assembly enters final stretch of 2018 legislative session

Capitol Hill Week

State Senate acts on wide variety of bills as General Assembly enters final stretch of 2018 legislative session

Senate passes legislation benefiting health care consumers

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), April 5, 2018 –  The Senate acted on a wide variety of legislation as the 110th General Assembly enters the final stretch of the 2018 legislative session, including several bills aiding health care consumers.   This includes a mental health parity bill which helps ensure that state and federal laws are followed in Tennessee when insurers pay for mental health services.  The legislation seeks to ensure behavioral and drug treatment benefits are being designed and applied fairly and that insurance carriers are accountable to consumers and small business owners.

In 2008, President George Bush signed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act to see that mental health diagnoses are handled like any other medical diagnoses.  That law does not require health insurers to cover mental health and addiction services, but if carriers do offer this coverage they must design their cost benefits comparable to other medical and surgical benefits.

Senate Bill 2165 provides insurance carriers and the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance with guidance as to how they can demonstrate compliance with mental health parity.  It also calls for the Department of Commerce and Insurance to review and send a report to the legislature every year to see that the federal law is being obeyed and that the insurance companies are treating mental health conditions like all the other medical conditions.

The legislation was approved by the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee and now goes to the full Senate for a final vote.

The Senate also approved legislation this week allowing state employees diagnosed with cancer to receive hypofractionated proton therapy if their radiation oncologist believes that it would be more beneficial to their treatment plan.  Senate Bill 367 would equate the cost of the proton therapy to that of traditional radiation (IMRT) when it is the paid-for method.  It follows an increased body of literature and medical research that shows that proton therapy is as effective in many types of cancer with a significant decrease in side effects.

Another bill affecting health consumers which passed this week calls for more effective notification when a mammogram detects extremely dense breast tissue.  Although this condition is common, it can hide cancer findings or could be associated with breast cancer.  Senate Bill 2704 enhances the current law requiring notification of their mammogram by alerting patients that additional screening may be warranted in consultation with their physician.  Approximately 12.3 percent to 15 percent of women with dense breast tissue are prone to have cancer.

In addition, the full Senate approved a key health care consumer bill calling for transparency in medical charges by hospitals.  Senate Bill 1869 requires a hospital to provide an estimate to patients regarding out-of-network charges.  The legislation came from a constituent of the sponsor of the proposal who received a bill for $40,000 after receiving routine tests in the hospital because he was out of network and had not been notified.

In other health care news, the Senate passed two separate bills which aim to provide more information and awareness regarding Down Syndrome and Williams Syndrome.  Senate Bill 2008 requires the Department of Health to make available up-to-date evidence-based information about Down Syndrome on their website.  The online information would include first call programs, links to organizations providing information and resources, and other educational and support programs.  It would also make it available to health care providers rendering pre-natal and post-natal care or genetic counseling to those receiving a pre-natal diagnosis of Down Syndrome.

Senate Joint Resolution 727 designates May 2018 as “Williams Syndrome Awareness Month.”  Williams syndrome is a rare genetic condition that is present at birth which affects as many as 30,000 individuals in the United States.  It is characterized by medical and cognitive problems, including cardiovascular disease, developmental delays, and learning disabilities.  The resolution brings awareness to the need for more research, programs and initiatives to help those with the condition.

Juvenile justice bills advance as legislature prepares to adjourn

A key juvenile justice reform bill recommended by the Joint Ad-hoc Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice  and the Juvenile Justice Realignment Taskforce advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee this week as the legislature prepares to adjourn.  Senate Bill 1821 prohibits a juvenile court from issuing a valid court order upon an unruly child or a child whose only offense is a status offense.

Status offenders are juveniles charged with or adjudicated for conduct that would not under the law of Tennessee be a crime if committed by an adult. Typical examples are chronic or persistent truancy, running away from home, violating curfews, alcohol or tobacco possession, and the like.  Twenty-eight states have eliminated valid court orders in juvenile courts for status offenses.

In other action, the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee voted to allow Basic Education Program (BEP) funds to “follow the child” to a learning center when a youth has been ordered by a juvenile court to attend a non-public school.  Currently, there are only two caveats for BEP dollars going to non-Local Education Agency (LEA) settings:  children for whose education the state is directly responsible and those in residential mental health facilities.  Senate Bill 1803 would add a third caveat for youth who are court ordered to attend a Tennessee Department of Education-approved non-public school in order to prevent children from entering state custody.

There are presently four Teen Learning Centers in Tennessee funded with the Department of Children’s Service’s Custody Prevention Funds.  All youth served in these centers come through their respective county juvenile court orders and have a variety of status and juvenile offenses that put them at serious risk of entering state custody.  The vast majority of youth served by these prevention and early intervention programs have either been removed from their local school system due to zero-tolerance offenses or have chronic truancy issues.  Approximately 90 percent of students discharged from the centers remain out of juvenile court.

Finally, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation authorizing certain courts to establish pilot regional juvenile drug court treatment programs.  Senate Bill 1848 would allow parents to opt their children into supervision by regional juvenile drug courts in order to get structured treatment to aid in recovery from addiction.

Presently, the only way to get at-risk youth into treatment is for the child to be in the criminal court system or under the Department of Children’s Services. This legislation allows parents, through a pilot program of 500 individuals, to put their children under the care of a judge and allows the judge to be the quarterback of their care.”

This pilot program would begin July 1, 2018 and end June 30, 2023.  The legislation now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration.

Legislation benefitting schools serving special needs students receives final Senate approval

Legislation was approved by the full Senate this week to ensure equitable access to the state’s special education excess cost reimbursement program. Senate Bill 1901 requires school districts and special education services associations to include all excess-costs students within their jurisdiction when they apply for reimbursement funds.  It also allows public charter schools to join or form special education services associations in order to increase capacity so they are equipped to serve these special needs children.

The special education excess cost reimbursement program at present is designed to provide funding reimbursement for districts and schools serving high cost special education students. Currently, school districts or special education services associations must submit a reimbursement application to the state documenting special education students with costs exceeding the amount of funding they have received. However, current state law does not require districts to include all excess-cost students in their reimbursement applications.

This bill is a part of the General Assembly’s ongoing efforts to ensure all students are able to receive a quality education, have their needs met, and be treated with dignity and respect.

This bill now goes to the Governor’s desk for final approval.

Senate Judiciary Committee approves legislation continuing General Assembly’s efforts to protect elderly and vulnerable adults

Legislation increasing penalties for exploitation or abuse of an elderly or vulnerable adult was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, continuing the General Assembly’s ongoing efforts to protect Tennessee’s senior citizens. Senate Bill 2621 enacts the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act of 2018.

The legislation follows enactment of a series of bills passed over the last two years protecting Tennesseans who are elderly or have diminished capacity from physical abuse and various forms of financial exploitation.

The proposed act is designed to streamline and complete the organization of existing code provisions addressed in legislation passed by the General Assembly last year and to close a loophole which exist in Tennessee’s elder abuse law.  The legislation defines certain crimes more broadly; thereby, ensuring that certain criminal activities don’t fall through the cracks because they don’t fit neatly into some of the existing definitions set out in current law.

The legislation draws distinctions between types of physical abuse of the elderly, increasing penalties for certain types of aggravated abuse including rape and murder. It creates a Class E felony offense for a person to knowingly abuse, neglect, or sexually exploit an elderly person, and Class D felony offense for doing the same to a vulnerable adult.  It also increases fines for elder physical abuse and sexual exploitation.

The bill now heads to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for consideration.

In Brief…

Statute of Limitations / Sexual Offenses -- Senate Bill 2538 was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week instructing the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) to conduct a study and report back next year on the effectiveness of the state’s statutes of limitations, including crimes involving sexual offenses against children.  According to the National Center for Victims Rights, most states have a basic suspension of the statute of limitations for civil actions while a person is a minor.  Many states have also adopted additional extensions, specifically for cases involving sexual abuse of children and a handful of states have removed the statute of limitation completely for child sex crimes.

Adoption -- The full Senate gave final approval to legislation which aims to improve adoption in Tennessee.  Senate Bill 1851 extends from 30 to 35 days the period of advance notice that licensed child-placing agencies and licensed clinical social workers must provide to the Department of Children’s Services before changing the fees charged for services provided to adoptive parents.  “We are working with a group called Family Match, which is a website that deals with compatibility matching technology for families in state care.  It will inspire even greater confidence in prospective resource families, opening the door for more families to become foster and adoptive families.” In addition, the state has been offered access to Family Match’s network services created exclusively for state workers to match adoptive families, foster families, and foster to adopt families with children in state care.

Controlled Substances / Medication Assisted Treatment – Legislation seeking to update Tennessee law to keep up with changing pharmacology regarding treatment options for patients with substance abuse disorders passed the full Senate this week. There are two medications generally used to treat substance abuse disorders: the mono-product, buprenorphine, and the combination product, buprenorphine and naloxone. Current law provides that only in specific circumstances can patients be prescribed the mono-product to treat substance abuse disorders due to its desirability on the street and potential for abuse. In all other circumstances, a patient is prescribed the combination product which counters a potential overdose.  However, a new injectable version of the mono-product that must be administered by a healthcare professional is now on the market.  Senate Bill 2099 allows for the new injectable mono-product to be used for people with substance abuse disorder, while also maintaining that only the same specific subset of patients are allowed to receive the mono-product in forms other than the injectable version. 

Pre-K Growth Portfolio Assessment Model – Legislation addressing concerns in the Department of Education’s new Pre-K Growth Portfolio Model received final Senate approval this week.  The model was put into place during the current school year to measure yearly academic growth for Pre-K and kindergarten students; however, the program experienced several early implementation problems.  These problems included a lack of appropriate training for teachers, computer system issues and difficulties with the way the portfolio’s standards were clustered together.  Senate Bill 1854 directs the Department of Education to increase training and to reevaluate the program with significant input from teachers to make needed improvements.  Under the bill, the Pre-K Growth Portfolio essentially would become a pilot program, meaning the results could not be used against a teacher in employment evaluations.

Boards and Commissions / Freedom of Speech -- The Senate passed and sent Governor Bill Haslam legislation prohibiting boards or commissions from issuing policies, codes, or statements that infringe on a member’s First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, including any member’s right to express an opinion regarding matters pertaining to the government entity.  Senate Bill 1929 counters the problem of a board or commission which attempts to prevent its members from commenting on matters concerning issues affecting it or its operations.  This includes criticism of matters dealt with by that board or commission.  It comes after an incident last year when a board issued an internal policy prohibiting its members from speaking to the media without approval of the board.  The bill does not apply to confidential matters as set out in the Public Records Act and gives the General Assembly’s Government Operations Committee the ability to sunset an entity for violation.

Food Deserts / Low-Income and Underserved Tennesseans -- Legislation was given final Senate approval directing the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) to conduct a study examining the overall effects of creating a grant or loan program for food relief enterprises who sell fresh food in low-income and underserved areas of Tennessee. Senate Bill 2634 calls for TACIR to weigh the benefits of creating the Fresh Food Financing Fund within the Department of Economic and Community Development in order to assist these efforts.

DUI Offenses / Alcohol Sales – The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill this week that strengthens penalties for DUI offenses so that a person convicted of the crime would forfeit the privilege to purchase alcohol in Tennessee for a period of time based on the number of offenses.  The legislation also establishes a new driver license format for this scenario. Under Senate Bill 1784, a first-time offender would forfeit the ability to purchase alcohol for one year, and a second-time offender would forfeit that privilege for two years.  Then, third- and fourth-time offenders would forfeit the ability to purchase alcohol for six and eight years respectively. Additionally, the bill makes the purchase of alcohol by a person who has forfeited the right to purchase alcohol a Class C misdemeanor.

Volunteer Firefighters / Vehicle Registration Fees – State Senators approved legislation that would exempt volunteer firefighters or rescue squad members from having to pay the regular registration fee for their license plate.  Funding for this legislation, Senate Bill 270 is included in Governor Haslam’s appropriation amendment submitted to the legislature last month.

TDOT / Three-Year Transportation Program -- The Tennessee Department of Transportation released their annual three-year transportation program this week, featuring approximately $2.6 billion in infrastructure investments for 143 individual project phases on 116 projects. The program also places a high emphasis on the repair and replacement of bridges, with activities beginning on 80 structures. Ten of those bridges are on the state highway system, with the other 70 on local roads.  The comprehensive program continues to build on the progress of the IMPROVE Act, which provides for infrastructure investments in all 95 counties. This year’s program budgets dollars for 195 of the 962 projects listed as part of the 2017 legislation.  A complete list of projects and programs funded through the 2019-2021 three-year multimodal program can be viewed on the department’s website.   For an interactive map view of the 962 IMPROVE Act projects, please visit https://www.tdot.tn.gov/projectneeds/spot#/.

Small Cell / 5G Technology -- Major legislation passed the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee this week to accelerate investment in mobile broadband infrastructure and prepare the State of Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology.  Senate Bill 2504 creates a uniform, statewide and predictable application and deployment process for small cell wireless broadband providers no matter what community is being served.  Once implemented, it would enhance existing networks and encourage wireless broadband providers to invest in the latest small cell technology.  Studies show that deployment of 5G alone will create more than 16,000 new jobs in Tennessee.  It would also lead to more than $1 billion in investment and grow the state GDP by nearly $3 billion.  The legislation now goes to the full Senate for final consideration.

Seven-Day Sales -- The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee approved legislation on Tuesday permitting retail food stores to sell wine and retail package stores to sell alcoholic beverages seven days a week.  Senate Bill 2518 would put retailers on par with restaurants, hotels, convention centers, tourist resorts and other businesses in Tennessee which are already allowed to sell wine and spirits any day of the week under state law.  Forty states allow for seven-day sales by retailers, including five which border Tennessee.  The legislation now heads to the floor of the Senate for a final vote.

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Capitol Hill Week Senate Judiciary Committee approves legislation strengthening penalties for trafficking substances combined with fentanyl

Capitol Hill Week

Senate Judiciary Committee approves legislation strengthening penalties for trafficking substances combined with fentanyl

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), March 29, 2018 –  State senators tackled a wide variety of issues this week as three more of the Senate’s nine standing committees closed for the 2018 session, leaving only the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Finance, Ways and Means Committee open.  Many important issues still remain on the General Assembly’s agenda before adjourning next month, including the state’s budget, which will move front and center in the remaining weeks.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation this week strengthening penalties for the distribution and trafficking of any substance that is the combination of fentanyl, carfentanil, sufentanil, remifentanil, or any analogue.  Senate Bill 1999 requires all convictions relating to controlled substances containing fentanyl be punished one classification higher.

The legislation is one of a series of bills sponsored this year to deal with Tennessee’s opioid crisis.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.  It is used before surgery as an adjunct to anesthesia and in some cases for acute pain, like advanced cancer.  The most commonly known substances to be laced with fentanyl are heroin, cocaine and counterfeit prescription opioids.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health (DOH), fentanyl, when mixed with heroin or other drugs, is a leading cause of opioid deaths in Tennessee.  Reports show 1,631 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses in 2016. This is an increase of 12 percent from the 1,451 overdose deaths recorded in 2015.

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for consideration.

In other action to fight opioid abuse, the full Senate voted to authorize pharmacists to dispense less than the full prescription for opioids and other Schedule II drugs.   Opiate abuse often results from unused prescriptions remaining in the household medicine cabinet by a patient who does not take the full amount prescribed.  Under current law, pharmacists are not allowed to partially dispense a Schedule II prescription.  Senate Bill 2025 would allow a pharmacist to partially fill a prescription if requested by the patient or directed by the physician.

The legislation does not require the patient to go back to the doctor for the remainder of that prescription.  The physician would be notified that a partial fill has taken place and only the portion filled is reported in the database.

State senators also approved a bill requiring the Department of health to set up a toll-free telephone and web-based hotline to hear reports of opioid abuse or diversion.  Senate Bill 2022 calls for entities that prescribe, dispense, or handle opioids to display a sign or to notify employees in writing about the hotline.  This bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

Senate approves Fresh Start Act reducing licensing barriers for offenders who want to become productive taxpaying citizens after prison

Legislation which helps ensure Tennessee’s occupational licensing does not keep offenders who have served their time in prison from obtaining employment and getting a fresh start in life unanimously passed the Senate on final consideration on Wednesday.  The Fresh Start Act reduces barriers to entering a profession by only allowing a state licensing board to deny licenses for past crimes that are directly related to the job sought, excluding certain felonies.

Each year, about 5,000 Tennesseans leave Tennessee prisons after serving time for crimes that they’ve committed.

The state requires a license for about 110 different jobs, many of which impact “blue collar” workers. Most of the state’s licensing boards can deny a license to do a job based on a past criminal record, including low level misdemeanor crimes.

The legislation requires that before a licensing board denies a license to an applicant for a past crime, they must consider the nature and the seriousness of the crime, the passage of time since the crime was committed, and the relationship between the crime and the license sought.  It also calls for an appeal process for an applicant who is denied a license to ensure their right to earn a living is not unfairly restricted.

In addition, the bill allows the license applicant to petition a state licensing board in advance to determine if a past crime would disqualify them.  This clarity is important before the applicant spends money and time to meet state requirements to enter or remain in a profession in which they will not be licensed. It also makes clear these rights are not available for individuals who commit certain class felonies in particular professions in order to protect the public.

School Safety Working Group Releases Recommendations

A School Safety Working Group appointed by Governor Bill Haslam to recommend changes to protect students released their report this week.  The report includes immediate steps that can be taken to reduce risks.  The group identified three priorities including:

  • A review and risk assessment of all school facilities to identify vulnerabilities;
  • An increase in resources to help secure school resource officers (SROs); and
  • A statewide technology application for anonymous reporting of security threats.

After endorsing the plan, Governor Haslam asked the Department of Safety (DOS) and Homeland Security to work with the Department of Education and local officials  to immediately begin development and implementation of a statewide risk assessment of every public K-12 school in Tennessee.   The risk assessment will be based on model security standards identified by the DOS, with assessment training provided by state homeland security officials to local school district personnel and first responders. The assessments will be completed before students return to school for the 2018-19 school year.

Following the school security assessments, and on an annual basis thereafter, each school’s emergency operations plan must ensure specific facility risks are identified and updated and that state school safety resources, including the additional $30 million proposed in the governor’s Fiscal Year 2019 Budget, are utilized to address the identified risks.  The governor’s proposed budget and school safety plan doubles the amount of recurring school safety grant funding for schools, which can be used toward SROs or other facility security measures. And, to address immediate needs while further state, local and federal conversations around school security and budgeting take place, total state school safety grant funding would increase by more than 500 percent for the upcoming fiscal year.

The third immediate priority of the working group is for the state to provide a statewide technology application for the anonymous reporting of threats or suspicious activity by students, faculty, staff and others. This would provide for direct communication among and between the individual reporting the threat or activity and the state, local law enforcement officials and local school districts.

The working group also recommended the promotion of positive behavioral health for all students. The governor directed the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services assist schools expand training areas, including training on strategies to increase awareness and responsiveness to signs and symptoms of student behavioral health and mental health needs.  To view the full report go to: http://www.tngopsenate.com/governors-school-safety-working-group-recommendations-for-consideration/

Legislation directs TennCare to seek federal waiver to prevent abortion providers from receiving taxpayer funds

Legislation directing TennCare officials to seek a Medicaid waiver to exclude facilities in Tennessee that perform elective abortions from receiving taxpayer money received final approval in the Tennessee Senate on Thursday.  Senate Bill 2148 also declares that it is the policy of the State of Tennessee to avoid the direct or indirect use of state funds to promote or support elective abortions.

President Donald Trump’s administration has opened the door for such waivers to be approved.  The bill calls for the waiver to be implemented within 20 days of approval.

The funds for other women’s health services, such as breast exams, cancer screenings and birth control, would not be affected by the proposal.  The money would be redirected from elective abortion clinics to other health care providers so women will continue to receive care.  All of Tennessee’s 95 counties have identified community health centers and other providers, aside from those who perform elective abortions, who meet criteria to receive taxpayer funding for other women’s health services.

The bill now goes to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

Bills in Brief

Moratorium on New Statewide Assessments for Students -- Legislation placing a two-year moratorium on any new statewide assessments for students in grades K-12 is headed to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature after passage in the State Senate on Monday night.  Senate Bill 1806 prohibits the Department of Education and the State Board of Education from mandating new statewide assessments for grades and subjects beyond those assessments required as of the 2016-2017 school year until the 2020-2021 school year.  The bill also requires the Tennessee Department of Education to report the actions and procedures that have been implemented to ensure all data associated with the assessments is accurate and timely.

Mental Health Issues / Firearm Purchases -- The full Senate approved legislation this week to create greater cooperation between the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) and local authorities in order to prevent those with mental health issues from purchasing firearms. Senate Bill 834 requires the TBI to notify local law enforcement within 24 hours when they properly identify that an individual identified as having a mental disorder in the NICS ‘Mental Defectives’ Database has attempted to purchase a firearm.  The bill also adds new identifying information to the reporting requirements of sheriffs, court clerks, and hospitals to ensure individuals who are adjudicated mentally defective are readily identified.  It requires sex, race and social security numbers, along with the name and date of birth already required by law.  The bill follows passage of Senate Bill 2362 earlier this year requiring acute care hospitals to report involuntary commitments in their psychiatric units to law enforcement so that they can be a part of the record used in the verification process for the purchase of firearms.

Illegal Aliens / Driver License -- The full Senate voted this week to require any applicant presenting a driver’s license from a state that issues them to illegal aliens, to establish proof of United States citizenship or legal residency when applying for one in Tennessee. Senate Bill 272 affects applicants from twelve states which issue a driver’s license to illegal aliens, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.  Tennessee prohibits issuance of a driver’s licenses to an illegal alien.

Veterans / University and College Systems -- Legislation calling on the governor to appoint at least one veteran to the boards of Tennessee’s university and community college systems has been approved by the Senate Education Committee.  Tennessee law currently asks the governor to strive to select board members who are diverse in gender, race, perspective and experience.  Senate Bill 2036 would add a person who is an honorably discharged military veteran in order to ensure that the approximately 500,000 veterans are being served as effectively as possible.  The state has numerous veteran programs including the Tennessee Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Program which allocates resources for veterans’ successful transition from military service to college enrollment.

Marketplace Contractors -- The Senate approved a House amendment and sent the Governor legislation this week which provides clarity in Tennessee law that independent marketplace contractors who enter into an agreement with a marketplace platform are not the platform’s employees.  A marketplace contractor is an individual that enters into an agreement with a marketplace platform, like Handy, TAKL or TaskRabbit to use the platform’s online application or website to be connected with individuals seeking their services.  Such platform services have been called the “want ads” of the Internet.  Tennessee has been a leader in the support of innovative technology within business.  Senate Bill 1967 continues that effort, by keeping state law up to date with the growth of the gigabyte economy.

Suicide Prevention Act -- The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee approved legislation this week establishing a Tennessee Suicide Mortality Data Review and Prevention Team in the Department of Health to address the growing number of adult suicides in Tennessee.  The Suicide Prevention Act of 2018 calls for the team to gather suicide data identifying causes and factors in order to direct limited prevention resources in the most effective way possible.  Under the bill, the Suicide Mortality Data Review and Prevention Team will be appointed by the Commissioner of Health and will collect, review, and report existing suicide data and data gaps.  Additionally the team will identify suicide prevention resources.  There were 1,110 suicide deaths in 2016, which is the highest number recorded in Tennessee in over 35 years of record-keeping.  This is compared to 945 deaths in 2014 and 1,065 deaths in 2015.

Suicide Prevention / College Students -- The Senate Education Committee approved a resolution on Wednesday encouraging the Tennessee Higher Education Task Force and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (DMHSAS) to develop and implement higher education specific protocols to prevent suicide among Tennessee's college populations.  Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college and university students in the United States and is the third-leading cause of death for Tennesseans aged eighteen to twenty-four.  Senate Joint Resolution 726 calls for implementation of specific protocols that are based on national best practices, as well as innovative approaches that address suicide prevention, intervention, and post-intervention strategies.  The measure is also designed to advise students and staff on suicide prevention programs available on and off campus.

UT Board / FOCUS Act -- Legislation empowering the University of Tennessee (UT) Board of Trustees to operate more efficiently and effectively like the state’s other four-year universities was approved by the full Senate this week.  Senate Bill 2260 would reconstitute the board from 27 members to 11 who would serve staggered terms. The board members would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the General Assembly. An amendment added to the bill calls for at least five of the members to be UT alumni and that the governor should strive to appoint those members from different University of Tennessee institutions. The legislation also creates seven-member advisory boards at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, University of Tennessee at Martin, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and UT Health Science Center. The advisory boards would submit recommendations regarding operating budgets, tuition and fees, strategic plans, campus life, academic programs and other matters related to the institution.

Occupational Licenses / Animal Massage Therapists -- Legislation which repeals a license requirement for those engaged in animal massage has been approved by the full Senate.   Senate Bill 2466 addresses a rising tide of government licensing requirements. In 1950, just one in 20 American workers were required to have a license or certificate in order to obtain a job, as compared to 30 percent who need it to earn a living today.  The legislation comes after the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners passed a regulation that defined animal massage as a form of veterinary medicine.  The bill permanently eliminates the veterinary board’s rule and allows Tennesseans looking to enter the profession to practice with minimal regulations and without a government license after posting or obtaining a $25,000 insurance policy.  It also creates a voluntary certification program for those who choose to complete at least 50 hours of training, 50 hours of supervised in-class hands-on work and who pass an examination by the National Board of Certification for Animal Acupressure and Massage.

Child Sex Offenders -- The full Senate approved a House amendment and sent the governor legislation ensuring sex offenders convicted of continuous sexual abuse of a child are listed on the state’s Sex Offender Registry.   In 2014, the General Assembly passed a bill creating the offense of continuous sexual abuse of a child.  The statute allows prosecutors to try several counts of sexual offenses committed against a child victim in one trial and this prevents the child from having to testify about their victimization multiple times to several juries.  However, when the law was passed, this new crime was not added to the state’s Sex Offender Registry.  Senate Bill 1944 would add the offense of continuous sexual abuse of a child to the Sex Offender Registry as a violent offender.   The amendment from the House of Representatives adds language to the bill to clarify that any conviction punishable under the statute shall be punished within the full range for which the defendant was convicted, regardless of the range for which they would otherwise qualify.

State Forest / Downed Trees -- Action on the Senate floor this week included passage of legislation that creates a “free-use area” in state forests where Tennessee residents are allowed to remove downed and dead timber without cost.  The free-use would only apply if the wood is used for the resident’s personal use, such as firewood, home heating and cooking.  Senate Bill 1914 would not apply to those who remove it and offer it for sale. The state forester must designate these areas and publish them on the department’s website.

POW / MIAs -- Legislation which requires a POW/MIA Chair of Honor Memorial to be placed on Tennessee’s Capitol campus has received final Senate approval.  Senate Bill 2159 allows the State Capitol to select a suitable location if the costs are provided by private funds. A Chair of Honor is a very simple yet powerful memorial.  Generally, they include a single back chair with the POW/MIA logo on it which is then flanked by the American Flag and the POW/MIA Flag. Over 91,000 servicemen nationwide remain unaccounted for since World War II.

Governor / Duties - A resolution that would allow voters to decide if they want to amend the State Constitution to provide for the exercise of powers and duties of the Governor,  if he or she is unable to perform them, was approved by the Senate on final consideration.  Currently, the State Constitution is silent on the process.  Senate Joint Resolution 521 calls for the Senate Speaker to discharge the duties until the Governor is able to return. The proposed amendment is modeled after the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For the Senate Speaker to take over the Governor’s duties, the Governor or a majority of the Secretary of State, the State Treasurer, the Comptroller of the Treasury, and three commissioners of administrative departments would need to transmit a written declaration to both the House and Senate speakers. If the Senate Speaker’s office is unoccupied, then the Governor’s duties would be transmitted to the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

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Senate approves Sen. Roberts’ Fresh Start Act reducing occupational licensing barriers for offenders who want to become productive taxpaying citizens after jail

NASHVILLE (March 29, 2018) -- Legislation which helps ensure Tennessee’s occupational licensing does not keep offenders who have served their time in jail from obtaining employment and getting a fresh start in life unanimously passed the Senate on final consideration on Wednesday.  The Fresh Start Act, sponsored by Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), reduces barriers to entering a profession by only allowing a state licensing board to deny licenses for past crimes that are directly related to the job sought, excluding certain felonies.

“Each year, about 5,000 Tennesseans leave our prisons after serving time for crimes that they’ve committed,” said Senator Roberts.  “We can either reduce barriers that prevent them from becoming productive taxpaying citizens, or we can leave those barriers up and risk them turning back to a life of crime.  This bill would give those who committed a crime unrelated to the profession that they wish to join a fresh start.”

The state requires a license for about 110 different jobs, many of which impact “blue collar” workers. Most of the state’s licensing boards can deny a license to do a job based on a past criminal record, including low level misdemeanor crimes.

The legislation requires that before a licensing board denies a license to an applicant for a past crime, they must consider the nature and the seriousness of the crime, the passage of time since the crime was committed, and the relationship between the crime and the license sought.  It also calls for an appeal process for an applicant who is denied a license to ensure their right to earn a living is not unfairly restricted.

“In short, if a person has a series of breaking and entering felonies over the past few years, they can be denied to be a locksmith or an alarm installer. However, if the applicant has a DUI from 10 years ago, he or she can’t be denied a license to be a barber,” Roberts continued.

In addition, the bill allows the license applicant to petition a state licensing board in advance to determine if a past crime would disqualify them.  This clarity is important before the applicant spends money and time to meet state requirements to enter or remain in a profession in which they will not be licensed. It also makes clear these rights are not available for individuals who commit certain class felonies in particular professions, in order to protect the public.

“When the prison doors open and it is time for those who served their time to be returned to our communities, one of the most critical factors to keep them from reoffending is an opportunity to make a living,” added Roberts.  “This legislation reduces recidivism and gives those men and women who come out of jail and want to turn their life around an opportunity to make a living.  I appreciate all the people who worked on this bill from both sides of the aisle and am pleased it received such overwhelming, bi-partisan support in the Senate.”

The bill is pending final action on the House floor, where a vote could come as soon as next week.  Upon approval there, it will head to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature.

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Governor’s School Safety Working Group Recommendations for Consideration

The Governor’s School Safety Working Group prepared recommendations for
consideration using the following guiding principles that emerged throughout the
process:
 Students and educators fundamentally deserve to feel safe in schools.
 School safety and emergency operations planning must be approached
comprehensively with attention to safety planning, preparation, and prevention.
 School climate planning and assessment strategies must be integrated into the
school safety planning process.
 Districts, schools, and local communities must prioritize placing trained law
enforcement officers in schools.
 State funding for school safety should be allocated and distributed as fairly and
equitably as possible with attention to the areas of greatest need based on a
standardized assessment of security risks.
 The state should support and encourage maximum utilization of technology to
support school safety.

Based on these guiding principles, the working group submits the following immediate
priorities and recommendations for consideration:

I. Immediate Priorities
1. Review and assess all school facilities to identify vulnerabilities and determine
the most appropriate use of resources to address those vulnerabilities.
2. Provide funding for school resource officers with an initial focus on schools with
lesser capacity to fund through local resources.
3. Develop or secure a statewide technology application for the anonymous
reporting of threats and critical concerns.

II. Further Recommendations and Detail

1. Facility Security and Planning
 Every school in Tennessee should be assessed for safety and security
measures and rated using a standardized tool to identify strengths and areas
of risk. State funding should be prioritized for local needs as determined by
this assessment. Each school emergency operations plan should be reviewed
and assessed annually.
 The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (TN DOS)
should develop statewide physical security model standards for schools and
establish statewide physical assessment training and protocols to enable
local school districts and first responders to identify and address
vulnerabilities.
 The Tennessee Department of Education (TN DOE) should require individual
school emergency operations plans (EOPs) to be reviewed by relevant local
subject matter experts on an annual basis and ensure specific facility risks
and hazards are identified and addressed.

2. School Safety Personnel
 The state should prioritize the use of school resource officers (SROs) for
school security personnel and provide guidance to local school districts, local
law enforcement, and local funding bodies relative to available state and
federal funding.

3. Training and Drills
 The TN DOE should ensure required school safety drills and exercises
address current risks and hazards at the local sites as identified by the
security assessment and that such risks and hazards are reviewed annually
for the purpose of updating and revising corresponding training.
 Local school districts should expand required safety drills and exercises to
include scenario-based discussions, simulations, and post-drill reviews under
the leadership of local first responders.
 TN DOE, TN DOS, and the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and
Substance Abuse Services (TN DMHSAS) should create a model and roll out
supporting resources (tools/training) for establishment of a student threat
reporting, assessment and response system in every district.

4. Promoting Positive Behavioral Health for All Students
 TN DMHSAS in conjunction with TN DOE should expand training areas to
include:
o Early and periodic screening and identification of student behavioral
health needs;
o Strategies for creating, expanding, and sustaining school-based
behavioral health services;
o Strategies for promoting positive behavior and decision-making among
all students; and
o Strategies for increasing staff awareness and responsiveness to signs
and symptoms of student behavioral and mental health needs.
 The Basic Education Program (BEP) Review Committee, utilizing multiple
state and national sources, should conduct a review of current staffing of
student support professionals (school social workers, counselors, school
psychologists, etc.) and recommend model staffing to promote and enhance
school climate and healthy learning environments.

5. Technology
 The state should explore the utilization of an anonymous reporting system for
students, faculty, staff, and others to report suspicious activity and concerns
to law enforcement and school officials. Additionally, the state should explore
inclusion of mental health services as part of the technology development.
 The state should encourage the utilization of technology whereby school
districts can provide local law enforcement with EOPs, site maps, floor plans,
and other relevant facility information with first responders via a secure online
system.
 The TN DOS should identify model components of school safety response
and threat alert technology


Statement from Senator Ken Yager regarding City of Jellico

NASHVILLE – Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston) made the following statement after the announcement from State Comptroller Justin Wilson about the financial condition of the City of Jellico:

“Under the leadership of Mayor Forster Baird and the City Council, Jellico is once again on the right track, being governed with fiscal responsibility,” said Senator Yager. “I was happy to support their efforts.   Service in local office is sometimes the most thankless, but it also the most rewarding as it has a huge impact on the people of our communities.  I would like to thank our local leaders for their dedication to the values of service, stewardship and commitment during these difficult financial times and for contributing to the development of strategic actions to turn this city around.  I believe Jellico has a bright future.”

 

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Please find a copy of the Comptroller’s release below:

 City of Jellico Improves Financial Condition

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office is pleased to recognize the City of Jellico in Campbell County for the significant progress it has made in improving its financial condition.

When the Comptroller’s Office began working with the city in 2012, the city was experiencing declining revenues, excessive spending, and a former employee had stolen nearly $100,000.

In early 2014, Jellico issued a $850,000 funding bond and used the proceeds to pay off its delinquent obligations and restructure its outstanding debt; however, the city’s overspending continued.

In September 2013, the Comptroller’s Office took the unusual step of requiring Jellico to submit weekly spending requests to the Comptroller for approval. The Comptroller’s Office also worked with the city to develop a balanced budget.

In late 2014, Jellico residents elected a new Mayor and several new City Council members. Since that time, the city has taken substantial steps to control its spending and build cash reserves which can be used to provide services for its citizens.

Earlier this year, Jellico refinanced its funding bond with more favorable terms. This will save Jellico taxpayers more than $500,000 in interest expense and will shorten the city’s debt repayment schedule by five years.

“Jellico residents should be proud of the leadership and resolve that has been demonstrated in this situation,” said Comptroller Justin P. Wilson. “It wasn’t long ago that Jellico had one of the worst financial conditions in Tennessee. Now it can be used as an example of what can be achieved when people come together to fix problems and make tough decisions. Well done.”

Although Jellico is no longer subject to weekly monitoring by the Comptroller’s Office, it continues to have a working relationship with the office.

If you suspect fraud, waste or abuse of public money in Tennessee, call the Comptroller’s toll-free hotline at (800) 232-5454, or file a report online at: www.comptroller.tn.gov/hotline. Follow us on twitter: @TNCOT

Media contact: John Dunn, Public Information Officer, (615) 401-7755 or [email protected]


Legislation places moratorium on new statewide assessments in grade K-12 schools

NASHVILLE -- Legislation placing a two-year moratorium on any new statewide assessments for students in grades K-12 is headed to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature after passage in the State Senate on Monday night.  Senate Bill 1806, sponsored by Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), prohibits the Department of Education and the State Board of Education from mandating new statewide assessments for grades and subjects beyond those assessments required as of the 2016-2017 school year until the 2020-2021 school year.

“This is a two-year moratorium to stop and take a breath and let teachers, parents and students get use to the tests they are currently taking, rather than constantly having new ones added to an already rigorous testing schedule,” said Chairman Ketron.  “It is supported by many teachers and their concerns prompted me to bring this piece of legislation.”

Ketron added, “Tennessee has experienced many new assessment changes over the last several years.  We need to make sure there is time to address these changes.”

The bill also requires the Tennessee Department of Education to report the actions and procedures that have been implemented to ensure all data associated with the assessments is accurate and timely.

“This provision helps to ensure that the system is working properly,” Ketron added.  “We need to make sure we are getting it right with the assessments currently administered and that we are not over testing our students.”

The bill is sponsored by Representative Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) in the House of Representatives.  It will become effective upon the governor’s signature.

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Capitol Hill Week State budget, school safety and juvenile justice headline Capitol Hill Week

Capitol Hill Week

State budget, school safety and juvenile justice headline Capitol Hill Week

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), March 22, 2018 –  School safety and the state budget headlined action on Capitol Hill this week as Governor Bill Haslam presented an amendment to his fiscal year 2018-2019 spending plan.  The new proposal includes $25 million in nonrecurring and $5.2 million in recurring school safety grants to protect students.  The action comes as members of a School Safety Working Group, appointed earlier this month to review school safety plans in Tennessee, are finalizing recommendations to enhance security for students.

The supplemental appropriations amendment is customarily introduced by the governor in the final weeks of the legislative session to make adjustments to the budget he submitted earlier in the year.  The new amendment, which includes $74 million in nonrecurring funds and $9.8 million in recurring funds, also provides:

  • $4.5 million in recurring dollars to fund juvenile justice reform legislation;
  • $3 million in nonrecurring funds for grants to help school districts purchase school buses equipped with seat belts;
  • $1.2 million in recurring funds and $420,000 in non-recurring funds for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) research to help children with chronic trauma;
  • An additional $5 million in nonrecurring funds for broadband accessibility grants for a total of $15 million in the 2018-19 fiscal year;
  • $9 million in nonrecurring funds to purchase equipment at the 27 Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology for improving and modernizing workforce development programs;
  • $3.2 million in recurring funds to adjust the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (DIDD) provider rate for those who care for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens;
  • An additional $1 million in recurring funds to provide mental health treatment and recovery services as part of TN Together to curb the opioid crisis in Tennessee;
  • $2 million in nonrecurring funds for an addiction services research program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in support of TN Together; and,
  • $10 million in nonrecurring funds for the Aeronautics Development Fund to create jobs and investment opportunities in Tennessee’s aviation industry.

The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee’s Appropriation Subcommittee began the hard work of looking at recommendations for changes to the state budget on Thursday.  The committee is studying 282 appropriation amendments, filed by state senators on a wide variety of requests, which they will review alongside the governor’s supplemental budget amendment.

The legislature is looking to adjourn mid-April.

 

Legislation calling for juvenile justice reform in Tennessee is approved in Senate Judiciary Committee

Legislation to enact juvenile justice reform in Tennessee was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.  Senate Bill 2261 aims to begin needed reforms to strengthen families and communities in Tennessee, while promoting public safety and ensuring responsible and more effective use of the state’s limited resources.

Action on the legislation comes after the Joint Ad-hoc Blue Ribbon Task Force on Juvenile Justice did an in-depth study of the matter.  The report showed that there are some inequalities based on where a child might live.  Some courts, particularly in rural communities, may not have much choice in what to do with an unruly youth.  It also showed that across all stages of the juvenile justice system, African American youth have a greater representation when compared to the general youth population.  The legislation tries to address those disparities.

Due to a lack of community-based services, many youth in Tennessee are being confined for minor offenses or conduct that would not be crimes for adults.  In addition, minor violations of supervision conditions have resulted in youth returning to the juvenile justice system.  Misdemeanor offenses, unruly offenses and technical violations make up nearly half of youth in costly out-of-home placements.

Studies have shown that taking these juveniles out of their homes for minor offenses increases their risk for recidivism and the likelihood that they will enter into the adult criminal justice system.  It also diverts the state’s limited resources away from youth who pose a risk to the community.

The bill sets a presumptive maximum length for sentencing, which can be rebutted, of six months custody, unless the child needs more time to complete treatment or commits a new offense.  It also sets a maximum term of probation of six months with extension permitted for treatment completion. Research demonstrates that shorter intensive custody more effectively reduces reoffending.

The legislation is boosted by the supplemental appropriation submitted by Governor Bill Haslam on Tuesday which funds the proposal.  It now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee where it is scheduled for consideration on Tuesday.

 

Rural Hospital Transformation Act advances in Tennessee General Assembly to support the financial viability of the state’s rural hospitals

Legislation to support Tennessee’s rural hospitals so they can continue to foster greater quality of care in the state’s rural communities is advancing in the General Assembly.  The Tennessee Rural Hospital Transformation Act of 2018 would help struggling hospitals develop economic plans to ensure they are financially viable and continue to provide needed healthcare services.

The legislation requires the Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) to establish and manage a rural hospital transformation program to assess viability, identify new delivery models, develop strategic partnerships, and implement operational changes.  It also requires ECD to identify contractors to provide consultations to “target hospitals” for the creation of transformation plans. A transformation plan is a strategic plan developed by contractors in close collaboration with target hospitals and community stakeholders to provide recommendations and actionable steps for preserving healthcare services.

Each transformation plan will include:

  • Focused strategies for transitioning the hospital into a sustainable business model in order to avoid or prevent closure;
  • Recommendations for utilizing transformation funding to offset transition costs;
  • Recommendations for funding remaining transition costs with hospital or community resources;
  • Recommendations for ensuring that appropriate and viable services are provided in the target hospital community, serving the best interests of the patients and caregivers;
  • Recommendations for strategic partnerships and alliances where practical; and,
  • Where partnerships are not practical, recommendations for coordination with the surrounding healthcare community including safety-net providers and tertiary hospitals.

The legislation aims to provide ECD and the Hospital Association with a tool to work with those hospitals in order to help them create an economic plan that would make them viable in the communities in which they exist.  According to the Tennessee Hospital Association, there are 66 acute-care, rural hospitals in Tennessee. Approximately, 20 of these will receive a consultation with a contractor from ECD in order to develop a transformation plan.

Senate Bill 2646 is currently pending action in both the Senate and House Finance, Ways and Means Committees after approval by the General Assembly’s health committees.

 

Senate State and Local Government Committee votes to strengthen Tennessee’s law banning sanctuary cities

Legislation strengthening Tennessee’s law prohibiting sanctuary cities was approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week.  Senate Bill 2332 ensures that state and local government entities are prohibited from adopting or enacting sanctuary policies, whether they are in written form or not, which shield illegal aliens from state and federal immigration laws.

A sanctuary city is a term given to a city in the United States that follows certain practices that protect illegal aliens.  The term generally applies to cities that do not allow municipal funds or resources to be used to cooperate with federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about an individual’s immigration status.

Legislation was passed in 2009 making sanctuary cities illegal in Tennessee.  However, the law defined a sanctuary city as one which has written or stated policies, leaving a loophole for those which quietly don’t cooperate with state and federal laws.

This legislation expands the definition of what a sanctuary city is beyond a written policy.  It also creates a reporting mechanism for residents to make a complaint.  In addition, the proposal puts teeth in the law by cutting off economic and community grant money to any Tennessee city that adopts policies which are in violation.

The State and Local Government Committee also approved legislation prohibiting state and local government officials or employees from accepting consular identification cards and other similar documents which are not authorized by the General Assembly for use for identification purposes, determining a person’s identity or residency.  Senate Bill 2333 is a preemptive measure to ensure that abuses seen in other cities in the U.S. to issue government identification cards to illegal aliens are not implemented in Tennessee.  Matricula consular cards were prohibited as a source of identification for receiving a driver’s license under a law adopted by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2003 after widespread abuse was reported.

Both bills now go to the Senate floor for final consideration.

 

Legislation supports work-based learning apprenticeships for students

Legislation was approved by the Senate Education Committee this week to support students who are involved in work-based learning apprenticeships. Senate Bill 1649 incentivizes employers to hire secondary education students in work-based learning programs by granting employers immunity from liability for actions relating to the students unless the employer acted willfully or with gross negligence.

Under this bill, employers may elect to provide worker’s compensation insurance, and the student’s local education agency would be required to maintain liability insurance to compensate the student for any injury not covered by the employer. It also authorizes employers to claim a $500 tax credit against franchise and excise tax liability.

Passed into law in 2013, the state’s Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP) created a statewide, comprehensive structure enabling students in Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) and community colleges to participate in technical training developed with input from area employers. The program was designed to ensure colleges are producing graduates with the skills and credentials Tennessee employers actually need.

Now in its second iteration, the LEAP program continues this effort by encouraging and facilitating the alignment of local workforce and education partners through a $10 million competitive grant process led by the Governor’s Workforce Subcabinet. These funds are available to local collaboratives through a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) process.

According to the Department of Education, the number of students enrolled in work-based learning program in fiscal year 2016-17 totaled 10,501. Under present law, students in colleges of applied technology may participate in work-based learning, which provides credit for work experiences such as internships, practicums, or clinicals.  Work-based learning is incorporated into coursework or related to a specific field of study.

This bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for consideration.

 

In Brief...

Tennessee Attorney General / Selection -- A resolution that would allow 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 on final consideration on Monday.  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.  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.

Welfare Reform -- A bill strengthening the integrity of Tennessee’s temporary assistance programs for needy families by reducing fraud and abuse, incentivizing work, and encouraging self-sufficiency passed the Senate this week on final consideration.  Senate Bill 2247 seeks approval for Tennessee to join a multi-state cooperative to identify dual recipient participation in the state’s programs.  It also strengthens investigations of multiple Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card replacements, as well as providing other tools which will help the state investigate fraud and abuse.  EBT is a system for delivering Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, and Families First benefits to eligible Tennesseans.  In addition, the welfare reform legislation encourages family stabilization by linking the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) maximum benefit to the current standard of need in Tennessee.  The state has the second lowest TANF allotment in the U.S.  The boost in monthly payments for those enrolled in the program would be the first in 21 years.  Finally, the bill reduces the fiscal cliff for families meeting the TANF or Families First work requirements by providing a work incentive transitional benefit.

UT Board / FOCUS Act -- Legislation empowering the University of Tennessee (UT) Board of Trustees to operate more efficiently and effectively like the state’s other four-year universities was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.  Senate Bill 2260 would reconstitute the board from 27 members to 11 who would serve staggered terms.  The board members would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the General Assembly.  An amendment added to the bill calls for at least five of the members to be UT alumni and that the governor should strive to appoint those members from different University of Tennessee institutions.  The legislation also creates seven-member advisory boards at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, University of Tennessee at Martin, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and UT Health Science Center.  The advisory boards would submit recommendations regarding operating budgets, tuition and fees, strategic plans, campus life, academic programs and other matters related to the institution.

Child Sexual Abuse / Admissibility of Non-testimonial Statements -- The full Senate approved legislation on Thursday to create an exception to the hearsay rule in criminal proceedings regarding statements made by young children relative to sexual and physical abuse.  Senate Bill 1593 applies to non-testimonial statements made by children under the age of 12.  The hearsay rule is a basic rule that testimony or documents which quote a person not in court are not admissible.  Under the legislation, the admissibility of a non-testimonial statement must be made by the judge in a separate hearing outside the presence of the jury.  The bill also sets the stipulations to guide the judge in making the decision as to whether the out-of-court statement is trustworthy.  For example, the judge would consider spontaneity or consistency of the statement, the mental state of the child, the motive or lack thereof, and the terminology used, before deciding whether the statement could be used in court.  The bill is modeled after an Ohio law which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alzheimer’s Disease -- The Senate passed a resolution this week seeking to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease and its impact on Tennesseans.  Senate Joint Resolution 619 urges the Department of Health to designate Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias as a public health issue.  One in eight Tennesseans, aged forty-five and older, reported an increase in confusion or worsening memory loss and almost half of them (46.1 percent) had not discussed these cognitive concerns with a healthcare provider.  While there are promising prevention interventions, including physical exercise, dietary considerations, cognitive exercise, and social engagement, there are currently no known definitive interventions to prevent Alzheimer's disease.  It is the sixth leading cause of death in adults aged eighteen or older in the United States of America and Tennessee.

School Leadership / Principals --  Governor Bill Haslam announced a comprehensive initiative this week to transform the leadership of Tennessee’s schools by improving the preparation, retention, and development of school principals.  The Transforming School Leadership initiative leverages both state and private dollars to improve school leader preparation programs, reward and retain individuals effectively leading the state’s lowest performing schools, and provide networking opportunities and support for principals in rural communities.  The 2018-19 budget proposal calls for $3.5 million in funds to advance this work. Additionally, the Ayers Foundation, Scarlett Family Foundation, and the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) have invested a combined $600,000 to advance leader preparation.  Each year, the state hires approximately 270 new principals across 1,819 public schools.

Public Benefits / Food Stamps – The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) recently welcomed its 19th law enforcement partner in an ongoing initiative to fight abuse of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps).  SNAP provides nutritional assistance benefits to nearly a million people in Tennessee. The program helps supplement the monthly food budgets of families with low-income to buy the food they need, maintain good health and allow them to use more of their income for essential living expenses. These State Law Enforcement Bureau (SLEB) agreements between the TDHS and agencies give investigators more tools to catch business owners who are fraudulently using another person’s SNAP EBT card for profit or SNAP recipients who are selling their own cards.  Under the agreements, investigators have access to purchasing information and actual EBT cards to conduct undercover selling operations.  DHS officials are continuing to reach out to other law enforcement agencies with the goal of increasing the number of partnerships across the state.

Adult Family Caregivers – On Monday, the full Senate adopted a House amendment and sent to the governor legislation to allow religious organizations or institutions to provide limited respite services for primary in-home caregivers of elderly or vulnerable adult family members.  The programs for these caregivers are similar to “mother’s day out” programs for young children.  Research has shown that caregivers need these breaks for a variety of reasons.  It also provides socialization and different activities for those elderly or vulnerable adults participating.  Senate Bill 1487 would limit the program to no more than six hours per day or 12 hours per week.  It also calls for registration of the program with the Department of Human Services.  It is estimated that Tennessee will go from 970,000 elderly citizens to over 1.4 million in the next 15 years.

February Unemployment Rate / Record Lows --  Tennessee’s unemployment rate remained near historic low levels in February with the preliminary rate at 3.4 percent.  February’s rate is up just 0.1 of a percentage point from January’s revised rate of 3.3 percent. Over the past 12 months, Tennessee's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased a full percentage point from 4.4 percent to 3.4 percent and remains less than the national average of 4.1 percent.  Tennesseans can access the latest job openings across the state, as well as job interview preparation information, on the state’s workforce website.

Ag Day on the Hill -- State leaders and citizens celebrated agriculture in Tennessee on Tuesday with “Ag Day on the Hill,” an annual event that brings a little bit of country life to the state’s capitol. The event coincides with National Ag Day and recognizes the farmers and forestland owners who are dedicated to building, feeding, clothing, and fueling our world.  This year’s annual competition spotlighted the role of forestry in Tennessee as lawmakers from the Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives tested their skills on the crosscut saw in a wood-cutting competition. The fastest time earned the House of Representatives a commemorative award and bragging rights. Agriculture is one of the top industries in Tennessee, contributing more than $82 billion a year to the state’s economy and employing more than 173,000 citizens. The state has more than 66,000 farms representing 10.8 million acres.

Research / Cannabidiol Oil -- This week, legislation passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee that seeks to give universities the ability to research hemp plants in order to help support Tennessee’s industrial hemp industry and those diagnosed with intractable seizures. Senate Bill 1915 as amended exempts cannabis oil that is less than 0.6% THC from the definition of “marijuana,” when manufactured, processed, transferred, dispensed, or possessed by a four-year public institution of higher education as part of a clinical research study on intractable seizures, cancer, or other diseases. It also exempts oil containing the substance cannabidiol that is less than 0.9% THC, if the bottle containing the oil is labeled by the manufacturer as containing cannabidiol in an amount less than 0.9% of THC, and the person possessing the oil retains proof of the legal order from the issuing state and proof that the person or the person’s immediate family member has been diagnosed with intractable seizures by a medical doctor licenses to practice in Tennessee. In addition, it removes the requirement that four-year higher education institutions conducting clinical research on these substances be certified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).  Finally, the bill removes a sunset provision on a law passed last year that allows epilepsy patients and their families to purchase cannabidiol from other states as prescribed by their doctor.

National Guard License Plates -- On Thursday, the Senate approved and sent to the Governor legislation designed to support Tennessee’s military families.  Senate Bill 1900 allows a surviving spouse of a National Guard member to be issued a National Guard license plate until he or she remarries.  The surviving spouse would be required to show adequate proof of service by providing the appropriate forms and the plate would be distinguished by a surviving spouse decal.  There are currently three other military plates which are similar to this.  The bill is the latest in a series of initiatives designed to ensure that those who defend our state and our country are not forgotten.

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Sen. Roberts, Lt. Gov. McNally condemn deceptive “Middle of the Night” Phone Calls

NASHVILLE – State Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield) and Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) today strongly condemned the Tennessee Justice Center for placing robocalls in the middle of the night regarding legislation Roberts is sponsoring in the Tennessee General Assembly.  Roberts said the unethical calls were made by Justice Center with the “call back” number going to his legislative office.  The calls were made during the late hours of Thursday and the early hours of Friday morning.

“These robocalls are outrageous and the information disseminated is false and misleading,” said Sen. Roberts.  “They were conducted in the middle of night with the call back number, for those who thought that it might be a dire emergency due to the late hour, going to my legislative office which is completely deceptive.  The Justice Center also falsely listed a phone number on their Facebook which they represented as mine, so that calls were directed into their office and then transferred.  This practice of harassment and intimidation will not be tolerated.”

“These phone calls by the Tennessee Justice Center are beyond the pale. They are harassing and ultimately unproductive. It is intimidation, pure and simple,” stated Lt. Governor McNally. “The calls are coming at all hours of the night scaring and confusing many elderly citizens. The Center needs to make a public apology to Senator Roberts, his district and to the people of Tennessee. This is not how public advocacy is done. I am reaching out to law enforcement today to determine if any laws were broken in making these phone calls.”

The legislation targeted by the call directs TennCare to submit a waiver to the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to require able-bodied working age adults, without dependent children under the age of 6 to work for their benefits.  The bill must meet CMS guidelines which means that it would not apply to individuals with disabilities, elderly beneficiaries, children and pregnant women, as well as those who are caregivers or are undergoing job training or education, among other categories.

Roberts said he has asked law enforcement authorities, the Tennessee Public Utility Commission, the Consumer Division of the Department and Commerce and Insurance and the Attorney’s General’s Consumer Division to investigate the matter.

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Rural Hospital Transformation Act advances in Tennessee General Assembly to support state’s rural hospitals

 

NASHVILLE – Legislation to support Tennessee’s rural hospitals so they can continue to foster greater quality of care in the state’s rural communities is advancing in the General Assembly.  The Tennessee Rural Hospital Transformation Act of 2018, sponsored by Senator Bo Watson (R-Hixson) and Representative Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown), would help struggling hospitals develop economic plans to ensure they are financially viable and continue to provide needed healthcare services.

“While hospitals are certainly part of the healthcare continuum, they are also a critical part of the economic infrastructure of basically every community in which they exist,” said Senator Watson. “This bill seeks to use their economic standing in the community as a way of providing consulting assistance to those distressed hospitals which need to change their operational models so they can be financially successful in an ever-evolving healthcare marketplace.”

The legislation requires the Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) to establish and manage a rural hospital transformation program to assess viability, identify new delivery models, develop strategic partnerships, and implement operational changes.  It also requires ECD to identify contractors to provide consultations to “target hospitals” for the creation of transformation plans. A transformation plan is a strategic plan developed by contractors in close collaboration with target hospitals and community stakeholders to provide recommendations and actionable steps for preserving healthcare services.

“The individuals that work at rural hospitals work extremely hard, but are limited in their assets and ability to seek outside counsel about how best to navigate the complicated world that is healthcare,” said Sen. Watson. “This would provide the ECD and the Hospital Association with a tool to work with those hospitals in order to help them create an economic plan that would make them viable in the communities in which they exist.”

According to the Tennessee Hospital Association, there are 66 acute-care, rural hospitals in Tennessee. Approximately, 20 of these will receive a consultation with a contractor from ECD in order to develop a transformation plan.

Each transformation plan will include:

  • Focused strategies for transitioning the hospital into a sustainable business model in order to avoid or prevent closure;
  • Recommendations for utilizing transformation funding to offset transition costs;
  • Recommendations for funding remaining transition costs with hospital or community resources;
  • Recommendations for ensuring that appropriate and viable services are provided in the target hospital community, serving the best interests of the patients and caregivers;
  • Recommendations for strategic partnerships and alliances where practical; and,
  • Where partnerships are not practical, recommendations for coordination with the surrounding healthcare community including safety-net providers and tertiary hospitals.

Senate Bill 2646 is currently pending action in both the Senate and House Finance, Ways and Means Committees after approval by the General Assembly’s health committees.  Senate co-prime sponsors of this bill are Chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville) and Senator Ed Jackson (R-Jackson).

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SENATOR REEVES APPOINTED TO TWO KEY SENATE COMMITTEES

NASHVILLEState Senator Shane Reeves (R-Murfreesboro) has been appointed to two key committees in the Tennessee Senate.  Reeves was appointed by Lt. Governor Randy McNally to serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Government Operations Committee as the new senator completed his first full week.

“I was proud to appoint Senator Reeves to these important committees,” said Lt. Governor McNally. “Shane draws from a large reservoir of experience in the private sector which will benefit the Judiciary and the Government Operations Committees. I know his conservative values and business acumen will make him an excellent committee member.”

The Senate Government Operations Committee is generally perceived as one of the most powerful in the General Assembly as it oversees legislation to create, reauthorize, reorganize or sunset departments, commissions, boards, agencies or councils of state government.  The Committee also hears bills regarding licensing and certification of occupational and professional groups and reviews regulations promulgated by all Tennessee departments, commissions, boards or agencies.

"I appreciate the confidence Lt. Governor McNally has placed in me and will work hard to make good public policy decisions that not only helps Tennessee’s government and its agencies work in a more cost-efficient manner, but that also focuses on serving the people of this state more effectively,” said Sen. Reeves.

The Judiciary Committee is responsible for hearing all bills dealing with civil laws, criminal laws, judicial proceedings, apportionment of elected officials and governing bodies, and all matters relating to the courts, as well as law enforcement.

“I am very pleased with these appointments,” added Reeves.  “The Judiciary Committee has a number of important issues on their agenda during the remainder of this legislative session.  I look forward to working with my colleagues to find solutions to the many challenges we face.”

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Sen. Yager announces new appropriation amendment will provide funding to complete Henry / Stafford Agricultural Exposition Center at RSCC

NASHVILLE --  State Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston) said today that he is very pleased that funding he proposed for the Henry / Stafford Agricultural Exposition Center at Roane State Community College (RSCC) is in the proposed supplemental budget amendment submitted by Governor Bill Haslam today.  The amendment provides $300,000 to complete the center which plays host to a wide variety of livestock and agricultural-related events every year.

“This is great news,” said Sen. Yager, who filed an appropriations amendment in the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee asking for funds to be provided for this purpose.  “This will allow us to complete the center which is a tremendous asset to this region.”

Phase I of the 72,000 square foot main arena project was first constructed in 1988.  The building houses a 120’ x 240’ heated indoor show ring (complete with indoor holding area, roping chutes, cattle pens and return alley), a climate-controlled show office and conference room, concession stand, restrooms, and a large mezzanine area.  The proposed funds, which will complete the project, will be used for stadium seating and a covering for outdoor pens.

“Our farm communities are a vital part of this region of Tennessee,” Yager added.  “I appreciate Governor Haslam for including these funds in his supplemental appropriation and am thrilled this this project will be completed to the benefit of Roane State Community College, its programs and our students.”

 

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Senators Ken Yager and Paul Bailey announce inclusion of $600,000 in Governor Bill Haslam’s supplemental budget amendment to purchase property for Upper Cumberland Veterans Cemetery

(NASHVILLE) –Senate State and Local Government Committee Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston) and Senate Transportation and Safety Committee Chairman Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) today announced the inclusion of $600,000 in Governor Bill Haslam’s supplemental budget amendment to purchase property for the Upper Cumberland Veterans Cemetery. The amendment was recommended by the two lawmakers when Department of Veterans Affairs Many-Bears Grinder presented the department’s budget to the State and Local Government Committee for approval earlier this month.

“We are delighted that the amendment proposed by Chairman Yager and myself to provide funds for a veterans cemetery in the Upper Cumberland area was added to Governor Haslam’s supplemental budget appropriation,” said Sen. Bailey.  “This is a tremendous boost in getting this project off the ground to ensure our veterans have a proper resting place.”

“This is a very important issue that needed to be addressed,” added Chairman Yager. “The courageous men and women of the Upper Cumberland who have served our country so well deserve to have a dignified final resting place.  I am very pleased that Governor Haslam approved this amendment and placed it in his supplemental budget proposal.”

Veterans in the Upper Cumberland area of Tennessee have been working for several years to fund a veterans cemetery for this region.  If the state commits $600,000 towards the purchase of a veterans cemetery in the Upper Cumberland, local communities will be responsible for the remaining costs of the $1 million project.  Currently, Tennessee has four state veterans cemeteries – one in Nashville, one in Memphis, two in Knoxville, and one in Parkers Crossroads, the state’s first rural veterans cemetery.

The supplemental proposal will be voted on during the coming weeks as the budget is considered for passage by the Finance, Ways and Means Committees of the Senate and House of Representatives, and then the full General Assembly for a final vote.

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Capitol Hill Week: Legislation approved by Senate Health and Welfare Commitee focuses on prevention in efforts to curb state’s opioid crisis

Capitol Hill Week

March 15, 2018

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), March 15, 2018 – Senate Committees worked diligently this week, wrapping up budget hearings for various agencies and departments of state government and moving a number of important bills to the Senate floor for final action.  The budget will be a key area of focus for the General Assembly during the final weeks of legislative action, as Governor Bill Haslam is expected to deliver his supplemental appropriation amendment next Tuesday.  Many committees have also set their final calendars as legislative action will continue to shift from committees to the floor of the Senate during the remainder of the 2018 session.

Legislation approved by Senate Health and Welfare Commitee focuses on prevention in efforts to curb state’s opioid crisis

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved legislation this week which seeks to prevent opioid addiction, and ultimately, misuse and abuse by limiting the supply and dosage of opioid prescriptions with emphasis on new patients.  Senate Bill 2257 is meant to address higher dosages of opioids which have been associated with increased risk of overdose and death, while including exceptions for individuals undergoing extreme pain for illnesses like cancer or sickle cell anemia, or patients with severe burns.

The legislation is part of the TN Together plan which 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.  While this bill addresses the prevention component, Senate Bill 2258which focuses on law enforcement and treatment, is pending final action on the Senate floor.

Last year, 7.6 million opioid prescriptions were written in Tennessee, which is more than the number of people living in the state.  An estimated one million prescriptions were left over, ending up in family medicine cabinets where they are often abused according to studies.  The data shows 27 percent of those who are at the highest risk of overdose get opioids from their physician, while 26 percent receive them for free from their family or friends.  Another 23 percent buy them from family or friends, with 15 percent purchasing them from a drug dealer.  Up to 80 percent of teenagers that abuse drugs begin by taking them from the family medicine cabinet.

The legislation allows individuals to receive up to a 3-day supply of opioids at a total dosage of no more than 180 morphine milligram equivalents (MME) each day.  If a healthcare practitioner decides the patient needs more, they can issue up to a 10-day supply with a total dosage that does not exceed 500 MME as long as the healthcare practitioner follows certain guidelines, conducts a thorough evaluation, examines other plans of treatment and obtains informed consent from the patient.

In cases where a patient undergoes a procedure that is more than minimally invasive, like major surgery, the patient may receive up to a 20-day supply with a total dosage that does not exceed 850 MME as long as these provisions are followed.  Patients can receive up to a 30-day supply with a dosage that does not exceed 1,200 MME in rare cases where medical necessity and sound judgment deem it necessary as long as certain stipulations are met.

At least three people die each day in Tennessee from an opioid-related drug overdose.

Major legislation to accelerate investment in 5G technology deployment in Tennessee approved by Senate Commerce and Labor Committee

Major legislation passed the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week that would accelerate investment in mobile broadband infrastructure and prepare the State of Tennessee for the next wave of economic development in the digital economy via 5G technology.  Senate Bill 2504 creates a uniform, statewide and predictable application and deployment process for small cell wireless broadband providers no matter what community is being served.  Once implemented, it would enhance existing networks and encourage wireless broadband providers to invest in the latest small cell technology.

The bill creates a predictable “how to manual” for providers and local governments to work together to manage the right-of-ways and to get investment deployed as soon as possible.  While the legislation calls for a statewide application process to reduce local hurdles, it affirms that local governments retain their nondiscriminatory authority to:

  • manage placement of utility poles and facilities in the right of way;
  • establish aesthetic plans that govern facilities in the right of way;
  • protect historic districts;
  • manage and protect areas with underground utilities;
  • require damage repair in the right of way;
  • manage and reject any deployment based on public safety concerns; and,
  • apply right of way permitting and fees.

The bill also encourages the use of government infrastructure, like light posts, so as to avoid the need for new poles.  When installed, small cells will increase the capacity to handle huge amounts of data and do so with speeds 10 to 100 times faster than the current 4G networks.

Studies show that deployment of 5G alone will create more than 16,000 new jobs in Tennessee.  It would also lead to more than $1 billion in investment and grow the state GDP by nearly $3 billion.

Presently 14 other states have passed legislation to make investment easier, with 19 considering similar legislation this year.

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for consideration.

Senate Judiciary Committee approves JaJuan Latham Act strengthening penalties against those convicted of harming a minor during a drive-by shooting

Legislation strengthening penalties against those convicted of harming a minor during a drive-by shooting overcame its first hurdle with passage in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.  Senate Bill 1505 is named the JaJuan Latham Act, for a 12-year-old, Knoxville boy who was killed in a drive-by shooting while in the back of his father’s parked car.

JaJuan had just attended an anti-violence basketball game organized by former University of Tennessee basketball player Bobby Maze. The annual event was honoring the memory of JaJuan’s cousin, Zaevion Dobson, who was also killed in a drive-by shooting just months earlier, while shielding several girls from gunfire.

Specifically, the bill punishes certain aggravated assault offenses by raising the offense one classification higher if the crime was committed by discharging a firearm from within a motor vehicle and the victim was a minor at the time of the offense.  Offenses include intentional/knowing aggravated assault, reckless aggravated assault, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, and criminally negligent homicide.

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee for consideration before it moves to the floor for a final vote.

Tennessee receives high marks for its low tax, pro-growth status

Tennessee received high marks from two sources this week for its low tax, pro-growth status.  The financial website, Wallet-Hub, released a new study on Tuesday showing Tennessee has the lowest tax burden in the nation.  The study estimates a median income household in Tennessee paid only $3,667 in state and local taxes in Tennessee last year, which is over a third less than the average nationwide, and less than any other state in the country.

Under conservative leadership, Tennessee has cut taxes by $572 million annually, with policies in place to reduce them even more in years to come.  This includes reducing the sales tax on food by nearly 30 percent, phasing out of the Hall tax, cutting business taxes on manufacturing, and eliminating the gift tax and inheritance tax.

The other high mark received by Tennessee this week was from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics which reported that the state had the second biggest decline in the nation in unemployment rates.  Tennessee’s unemployment rate is down 1.2 percentage points, from 4.5 percent to 3.3 percent from January 2017 to January 2018.

The state is experiencing the lowest unemployment rates in Tennessee history, while the job growth rate is greater than 17 percent.  Over the past several years, Tennessee has passed tort reform and overhauled workers’ compensation to offer businesses more predictability, and was addressed broadband accessibility to help spur economic development in rural areas.

Tennessee ranks 7th in the nation for the number of net new manufacturing jobs created since 2012.  The state has also seen strong rural job growth with a 31.7 percent increase in new job commitments in 2017 over that of five years ago.

Issues in Brief

Involuntary Psychiatric Commitments / Reporting / Firearm Verification Process -- The Senate Health and Welfare Committee passed legislation on Wednesday requiring acute care hospitals to report involuntary commitments in their psychiatric units to law enforcement so that they can be a part of the record used in the verification process for the purchase of firearms.  Senate Bill 2362 closes the gap in current law, which already requires mental health hospitals to report these commitments.  Most involuntary commitments in Tennessee do not occur in the state’s Title 33 mental health hospitals.  They occur in the psychiatric unit of acute care hospitals licensed under Title 68.  The legislation would establish the same reporting requirements and verification process for all hospitals licensed by the Department of Health to ensure the most accurate information is considered in the firearm verification process.

Victims’ Rights / Electronic Notification -- The full Senate approved legislation this week giving crime victims a choice to receive notifications electronically.  Tennessee’s Victims’ Bill of Rights declares that victims and witnesses have the right to be notified by the Department of Correction of an offender’s parole hearing date and when that offender will be eligible for parole. Senate Bill 2235 permits victims or their victim representative to be notified by electronic means, provided they have registered with the state’s electronic notification service. It also allows for cancellation of this notification service electronically.

Ambulances -- Legislation enabling Tennessee to continue to draw needed federal funds to help local ambulance services transport patients advanced through the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee this week. Senate Bill 1823 continues the Ambulance Service Provider Assessment Act, a law passed last year that allows the state to receive additional Medicaid funds to be redistributed to the local private and public ambulance services for transporting patients covered by the program. It is expected to bring in approximately $19.7 million in federal funds for ambulance services through the state’s TennCare Program.  The legislation is modeled after the successful Hospital Assessment Act which has prevented catastrophic TennCare cuts over the last seven years.  The bill is supported by the State Ambulance Service Association.

Illegal Aliens / Driver License -- The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee voted this week to require any applicant presenting a driver’s license from a state that issues them to illegal aliens, to establish proof of United States citizenship or legal residency when applying for one in Tennessee. Senate Bill 272 affects applicants from twelve states which issue a driver’s license to illegal aliens, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.

Tri-Star License Plates -- Monday evening’s legislative session included approval of Senate Bill 1786 to redesign motor vehicle registration plates to feature the Tri-Star symbol of the Tennessee flag. The redesigned license plates would be issued at registration or renewal beginning in January 2020 after the existing inventory of plates are exhausted.  The three stars on the flag represent the three different land forms in Tennessee with the mountains in the east, highlands in the middle and lowlands in the west. On the flag these regions are bound together in an unbroken circle.

Clergy / Intimidation -- Legislation which aims to prevent harassment and intimidation of the clergy in Tennessee advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.  In 2015, the General Assembly passed a law prohibiting any government entity, other than a court, from seeking a subpoena for obtaining a clergy member’s sermon, including notes made in preparation of a sermon.  That bill followed action by a Houston, Texas mayor in October 2014 to subpoena all of the sermons and sermon notes on homosexuality and gender issues from pastors within that city’s jurisdiction in an effort to silence opposition against a referendum that she was pushing.  Senate Bill 2679  simply adds audio or video to that statute as a preventative measure in such cases.

Primacy and Reclamation Act -- The full Senate voted this week to authorize the state, under appropriate federal legislation, to reclaim the prerogative to control the surface coal mining industry through the issuance of permits.  Currently, the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement (OSM) within the U.S. Department of the Interior regulates surface coal mining and reclamation activities in the state.  Tennessee is the only coal mining state in the nation that does not exercise control over its own coal mining.  Senate Bill 686 addresses this inequity which has put the industry of the state at a competitive disadvantage.  The Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee maintains stringent environmental control over coal mining, while providing an opportunity for the state to control its own destiny, stimulate investment and create jobs.

Military /  STRONG Act --  Tennessee Adjutant General Max Haston told members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week that the state’s Department of Military continues to get more applications under the STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act passed by the General Assembly in 2017. The STRONG Act established a pilot program to provide eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard tuition funding toward a first time bachelor degree through a tuition reimbursement program. The purpose of the program is to provide educational opportunities for those who protect and serve our state and country, while supporting the Drive to 55 goal of equipping 55 percent of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate by 2025.

Driver Convenience / Vehicle Registration -- Legislation that authorizes drivers in Tennessee to display evidence of motor vehicle registration in electronic format was approved this week by the full Senate.  The Tennessee Department of Revenue (DOR) requires registration of all vehicles using Tennessee roads and highways through the Vehicle Services Division.   Senate Bill 727 allows for the convenience of providing that information on the driver’s phone or another electronic device if pulled over by law enforcement.  Tennessee law already allows drivers to use electronic devices to show proof of insurance

Abortion Clinics -- Legislation directing TennCare officials to seek a Medicaid waiver to exclude facilities in Tennessee that perform elective abortions from receiving taxpayer money was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.  Senate Bill 2148 calls for the current TennCare II waiver to be amended to exclude facilities which perform elective abortions.  The funds for other women’s health services, such as breast exams, cancer screenings and birth control, would not be affected by the proposal.  The money would be redirected from elective abortion clinics to other health care providers so women will continue to receive care.  All of Tennessee’s 95 counties have identified community health centers and other providers, aside from those who perform elective abortions, that meet criteria to receive taxpayer funding for women’s health services.

Sex Offenders / Playgrounds -- Legislation protecting children from sex offenders was approved on final consideration this week.  Under current law, a registered sex offender cannot live within 1,000 feet of a playground.  However, there is concern that the law could be interpreted to only apply to public playgrounds.  Many neighborhoods have Home Owner Association (HOA) or not-for-profit playgrounds which are not publicly owned.  Senate Bill 1920 includes non-profit and HOA playgrounds for the purposes of sexual offender restrictions to protect children in these neighborhoods.

Deceptive Practices / Entertainment Tickets -- Consumer protection legislation received final approval this week that addresses the growing problem of websites that use deceptive names and trademarks, posing as places of entertainment and entertainers, in order to confuse consumers into buying tickets at a considerably higher price than it could be purchased through the legitimate source.   Senate Bill 1640 classifies this behavior as a Class B misdemeanor and a deceptive business practice under the criminal code.  That action would give the Tennessee Attorney General the authority to prosecute violators. This bill is part of a continuing effort on behalf of the General Assembly to protect consumers in the entertainment industry. In past years, the General Assembly passed a bill addressing the issue of automated bots purchasing tickets en masse in order to turn around and sell them at a higher price.

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