Efforts to curb Opioid Abuse – Members of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee heard testimony this week from Tennessee’s largest health insurance carrier, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee (BCBS), about efforts to combat the state’s opioid epidemic. Over the last several years, Tennessee has passed legislation to prevent abuse by “pill mills” and strengthen the state’s drug monitoring database. Even so, opiate abuse continues to have a death grip on Tennessee, making it a critical health concern.
In 2012, prescription opioid drugs surpassed alcohol as the most abused substances in Tennessee, with the state having the second highest rate of prescriptions per person in the nation. More Tennesseans died in 2015 and 2014 because of drug overdoses than in motor vehicle accidents. Tennessee is not alone. The U.S. Surgeon General has declared opioid addiction is a public health crisis nationwide. In his State of the State address, Governor Bill Haslam said Tennessee would be expanding substance abuse and crisis intervention treatment services and supports during the 2017-2018 fiscal year. I look forward to hearing more about his plan as his budget comes before us in the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.
It will take all of us working together to roll back the tide of this epidemic. Expect the legislature to continue to talk about opioid abuse in the coming weeks as a variety of bills tackling the problem comes before the General Assembly.
TBI / Human Trafficking — The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) this week who came before them to present their 2017-2018 budget proposal. TBI Director Mark Gwyn discussed the unique approach Tennessee has taken to address human trafficking by attempting to change the culture which surrounds it. The new approach includes treating the young women involved as victims as opposed to prostitutes. This allows TBI to target the solicitors of the victims and aid the victims in finding a path to a better life. I have worked with the TBI on human trafficking legislation for the past several years and have seen firsthand the great work they are doing to curb this horrible crime. I have sponsored several bills in the Tennessee General Assembly this year to attack this problem which I will be reporting on in the coming weeks, including Senate Bill 551, Senate Bill 552, Senate Bill 553 and Senate Bill 942.
Lottery Subcommittee – I have been appointed Chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee’s Lottery Subcommittee. The subcommittee hears legislation assigned to the State and Local Government Committee regarding the state’s 13-year-old Tennessee Education Lottery, which has raised over $4 billion for education during its existence. Lottery-funded programs have grown to include 12 different scholarships and grants, multiple after-school programs, an energy-efficient schools program, and the Tennessee Promise initiative.
Resolution asks Congress to block grant transportation funds — A resolution urging President Donald Trump and the United States Congress to enact legislation to establish a transportation block grant funding program for distribution to the states was approved 30 to 2 by the full Senate on Thursday. I supported Senate Joint Resolution 59 which also urges the enactment of legislation to repeal all federal mandates, either by statute, rule, or policy, that dictate the expenditure of federal transportation funding.
The resolution expresses Tennessee’s growing dissatisfaction with federal transportation policy and mismanagement of the federal highway trust fund that has encouraged many in Congress and state governments nationwide to seek ways to overhaul the system.
Next Week — The General Assembly will have an abbreviated week next week as we will observe President’s Day on Monday. Beginning Tuesday morning, you can view the Senate at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/ live. All citizens can view legislative proceedings live on the Internet or on our local PBS TV channel. Our General Assembly has received several prestigious awards for promoting openness and transparency in government through our website. You can view our schedules on our website and see what issues you want to follow. If you miss the live streaming, don’t worry. You can easily find a video in our archives or you can click on the bill number and simply watch the legislative proceedings on those issues which matter most to you. If you choose the PBS option, you can find our Tennessee Capitol Report on WNPT on Sunday at 9:00 AM CST. You can also watch us on WNPT-DT on broadcast channel 8.2 or on 241 on Comcast.
Please remember to call, email or write me when I can help you or when you want to express your views about the issues we face in the legislature. My phone number is (615) 741-6853, email is [email protected] and my address is 5 Legislative Plaza, Nashville, TN 37243. I look forward to hearing from you!