Sen. Rusty Crowe reports on legislative happenings

Published 10:03 am Wednesday, March 21, 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 Committee 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 amendment that changed the bill for final passage reflected input from a variety of stakeholders, including the Tennessee Medical Association and the Tennessee Pharmacists Association.
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 2258 which 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.
Investment in 5G technology deployment
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.
The bill now goes to the Senate Finance, Ways, and Means Committee for consideration.
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.
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, sponsored by Senator Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), 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.
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.
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, cosponsored by Senator Crowe (R-Johnson City), 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.
Thanks for hometown support
To the editor:
I just wanted to say a big thank you for the many kind words of support for the great things happening to try to make our town an even better place to live and raise a family. The Elizabethton Star has been a crucial component of the many volunteer efforts striving to improve our beloved Betsy. Thank you so much for your unwavering support.

Jeff Treadway

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