By RICK NORTON
Three weeks into the second half of Tennessee’s 110th General Assembly, two local legislators are encouraged by the progress made in two key areas: combatting the worsening opioid epidemic and …
Three weeks into the second half of Tennessee’s 110th General Assembly, two local legislators are encouraged by the progress made in two key areas: combatting the worsening opioid epidemic and welfare reform.
State Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland), representing the 24th Legislative District, and state Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown), representing the 22nd, agreed the state’s aggressive approach in tackling opioid abuse is among the nation’s leading strategies.
Specifically, eyes in the Volunteer State are watching Tennessee Together, a multi-faceted plan comprised of targeted legislation, $30 million in funding in Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed budget, and other actions.
In a joint legislative update to the Cleveland Daily Banner, Brooks and Howell pointed out the strategy incorporates an array of recommendations made by House of Representatives Speaker Beth Harwell’s Ad Hoc Task Force on Opioid Abuse.
Brooks served as a member of that task force.
“While the federal government has only just commenced conversation about the opioid epidemic, Tennessee leads the way in fighting the situation here at home,” Brooks said.
The pair of GOP lawmakers pointed to the importance of the launch of Tennessee Together, a strategy announced last week by the governor and legislative leaders who had a hand in developing the plan.
Not only will Tennessee Together tackle opioid abuse with specific legislation and state funding, it will launch other executive actions through three major components: prevention, treatment and law enforcement, Howell explained.
According to the legislative summary filed by Brooks and Howell, in 2016 there were more than 1,600 opioid-related overdose deaths in Tennessee.
“… This was one of the highest [death rates] in the nation, and statistics show the numbers are only increasing,” Howell said. “Each day in Tennessee, at least three people die from opoid-related overdoses — more than the daily number of traffic fatalities.”
Tennessee Together is not a generic approach, nor is it a mere band-aid intended to slow the bleeding, Brooks stressed. Instead, it pinpoints cause and will work to rectify the problem at its roots, he added.
“Potential legislative solutions through Tennessee Together include limiting the supply and dosage of opioid prescriptions, with reasonable exception and an emphasis on new patients, as well as education for elementary and secondary schools through revisions to the state’s health education academic standards,” Brooks cited.
Howell pointed to the importance of funding the cure.
“The plan also suggests investing almost $30 million for treatment and recovery services for individuals with opioid use disorder,” the Georgetown legislator advised. “These services will include an increase in peer-recovery specialists in targeted, high-need emergency departments to connect patients to treatment immediately.”
The legislative duo agreed another critical facet of the operation will be its legal approach with the involvement of law enforcement professionals.
“Tennessee Together increases state funding to attack the illicit sale and trafficking of opioids through additional law enforcement agencies and training, and includes updates to the controlled substance schedules in order to track, monitor and penalize the use and unlawful distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs — including fentanyl,” Brooks said.
Howell added, “… The plan provides every Tennessee state trooper with naloxone for the emergency treatment of opioid overdose prior to paramedic arrival.”
The legislators stressed state efforts so far are a good start, but they agreed in the joint statement, “… There is still much work to do on the opioid front.”
More details on Tennessee Together are expected to be included tonight in Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State Address in a joint session of the House of Representatives and Senate.
Although both Bradley County legislators support welfare reform in an attempt to tackle fraud, Howell has worked as a primary sponsor of legislation over the past couple years.
“Last fall, the Haslam administration announced an initiative to reinstate the work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents who rely on the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, for assistance,” Howell said.
He pointed to the specifics.
“By reinstating work requirements, approximately 58,000 able-bodied adults who are not currently meeting the work requirements, but still receive assistance, will now be able to capitalize on an overabundance of jobs in order to secure meaningful employment,” Howell said.
He added, “This will help move them along a path from dependency to independence and self-sufficiency.”
Howell said the restoration of these requirements “… will not impact residents who currently depend on these key benefits in 16 Tennessee counties still designated as distressed by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. They will also not apply to Tennessee’s senior citizens or disabled residents.”
Brooks described the new welfare reform initiative’s benefits as being, “… It encourages more Tennesseans to utilize their job skills by going back to work in order to become productive citizens.”
He added, “… It also strengthens the overall integrity of the SNAP program by reinstating work requirements. [We] want Tennessee residents to have meaningful employment so they can take care of their families and make contributions that enable communities to continue their economic development and prosperity.”
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