Higher education bill progressing; two legislators praise potential

By RICK NORTON rick.norton@clevelandbanner.com
Posted 3/27/17

Two state representatives who comprise one-half of the Bradley County legislative delegation say they’re encouraged by several actions advancing through the House of Representatives.

One …

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Higher education bill progressing; two legislators praise potential

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Two state representatives who comprise one-half of the Bradley County legislative delegation say they’re encouraged by several actions advancing through the House of Representatives.

One includes last week’s positive nod by the House Government Operations Committee for improved higher education access to those who can least afford its cost.

State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland representing the 24th Legislative District, and state Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown representing the 22nd, agreed Friday that House Bill 531 — named the Tennessee Reconnect Act — stands to benefit a slew of deserving Tennesseans if lawmakers ultimately give it safe pas-sage.

“This bill would make Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all Tennessee adults without a degree access to community college tuition-free — and at no cost to taxpayers,” Brooks said.

Currently, Tennessee adults without a degree or certificate can already attend Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology tuition-free, and House Bill 531 would add community colleges into that same category, the Bradley County legislators explained.

“The legislation expands on a program launched in 2015 aimed at attracting approximately 900,000 Tennesseans who have earned some college credit, but not enough to earn a degree,” Howell said.

To be eligible for Tennessee Reconnect, a student must be a Tennessee resident for at least one year preceding the date of application and must not already have an associate or bachelor degree, according to a joint legislative update filed by Howell and Brooks which details the recent work of the state House.

“Other requirements for Tennessee Reconnect include completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid where the applicant is deemed an independent student, participation in an approved advising program, and enrollment in any of the state’s 13 public community college’s degree or certificate programs for six semester hours,” Brooks pointed out.

In order to maintain the Tennessee Reconnect grant, the student must enroll in classes leading to an associate’s degree or certificate continuously and maintain at least a 2.0 GPA, legislators advised.

Howell joined Brooks in projecting the bill appears to be gaining more and more momentum as House lawmakers get on board — not because it could be a national first, but because it affords greater opportunity for higher education among a population who could make a difference once employed in a field of their choice, or through job promotions made possible by education.

“Supporters of the legislation agree the new Reconnect program is a tremendous investment in the state’s economy, giving adults new opportunities for career growth while also providing employers with the skills and credentials they are seeking from the workforce,” Brooks said.

Upon approval, the program would begin with the 2018-19 school year.

Brooks and Howell also pointed to the significant work of the Legislative Task Force on Opioid Abuse, on which Brooks sits as a member. He was appointed by Speaker of the House Beth Harwell.

Last week, the task force held its second meeting. East Tennessee State University hosted the group which is not only investigating opioid use, but prescription drug abuse as well.

“House Speaker Harwell helped lead the discussion with stakeholders from across the state who attended the meeting to speak out about Tennessee’s growing drug epidemic,” Brooks stated.

Dr. Robert Pack, director of the ETSU Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment, addressed the current status of the drug-abuse issue locally. In the gathering, Pack pointed out ETSU and the school’s partners are looking to make an impact within the eight-county region that makes up Northeast Tennessee.

Pack added it was important to look at all options on the table in coming up with solutions to the opioid epidemic in Tennessee and that each individual looking for help is different. Needs vary and this affects the types of treatment that can range from abstinence programs to certain medications which help break the addiction itself, he told task force members.

Two years ago, 1,451 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses, the highest annual number in the state’s history, the task force learned. In addition, the number of babies born who have been chronically exposed to opioids is high, particularly in East Tennessee, it was also pointed out.

“The Tennessee Department of Health reports that from 2000 to 2012, the rate of babies born with exposure increased 15-fold,” Brooks said. “The Centers for Disease Control estimates that prescription opioid abuse has a total economic burden of $78.5 billion per year in the United States. There is an estimated $7.7 billion criminal justice cost across the country.”

Brooks acknowledged the information coming out of the task force’s work — in only two gatherings — is already alarming.

Though he is not a task force member, Howell said he is in full support of the group’s work and offered his help in any way possible to Brooks, and to the task force, in developing a strategy that can be effective in gaining control of the opioid and drug abuse phenomenon through treatment, and most importantly through prevention.

Howell and Brooks also addressed several other bills, and legislative actions, making their way through the House side of the 110th General Assembly aisle. Some involved work last week, with continued focus in the coming week’s committee and subcommittee sessions.

A few include:

Authorizing school

personnel to assist

in adrenal crises

Last week, House lawmakers passed legislation to give school personnel the ability to administer lifesaving medical treatment to Tennessee students suffering from adrenal insufficiency caused by conditions like Addison’s disease.

“House Bill 121 permits any properly trained school employee to administer a lifesaving injection as a form of medical treatment to students who are suffering from adrenal insufficiency and are experiencing an adrenal crisis on campus,” Brooks said.

Addison’s disease is a life-threatening illness that prevents a person’s body from creating hormones that help it respond to stress. An adrenal crisis can be triggered by an injury, surgery, infection or even emotional stress, Howell pointed out.

“Death may occur without immediate treatment,” District 22 representative added.

One of the most famous Americans who struggled with Addison’s disease was John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, according to legislative reports.

“When children experience a medical emergency like an adrenal crisis and need treatment, every second counts,” Howell noted. “The passage of this bill paves the way for quicker response times during emergencies by allowing a properly trained staff member to perform a heroic act that will save a life.”

TBI Special Agent

De’Greaun Reshun Frazier

honored by House

House members last week unanimously passed a bill honoring fallen Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Special Agent De’Greaun Reshun Frazier.

Brooks and Howell, who are longstanding supporters of law enforcement at both the state level, as well as in their own Cleveland and Bradley County community, agreed the day-to-day dangers faced by emergency response professionals are unprecedented.

House Bill 482 designates the future home of the TBI Crime Lab & Consolidated Headquarters in Madison County to be named the Special Agent De’Greaun ReShun Frazier TBI Crime Lab & Regional Headquarters.

“Special Agent Frazier was shot and killed during an undercover drug operation in Jackson on Aug. 9, 2016,” Brooks reminisced in the legislative update. “He is the first and only TBI agent ever to be killed in the line of duty. Special Agent Frazier’s name will now be immortalized in the bureau’s history and serve as a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice he made.”

Before joining the TBI, Frazier also served as a member of the local Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force for the Millington Police Department, as well as a reserve deputy for the Shelby County Sherriff’s Department. He was also a police officer for the University of Memphis and for Southwest Tennessee Community College.

Legislation advances

for longterm care

of those with ASD

Members of the House Health Committee last week advanced a proposed bill that would establish a longterm system of care for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and their families.

“House Bill 384 establishes the Tennessee Council on Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Howell explained. “This 16-person advisory council would make recommendations and provide leadership in program development regarding matters concerning all levels of ASD services in health care, education and other adult, adolescent and children’s services.”

Specifically, the council will be charged with seven tasks:

n Assessing the current and future impact of Autism Spectrum Disorder on Tennesseans.

n Assessing the availability of programs and services currently provided for early screening diagnosis and treatment of ASD.

n Seeking additional input and recommendations from stakeholders that include providers, clinicians, institutions of higher education, and those concerned with the health and quality of life for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

n Developing a comprehensive statewide plan for an integrated system of training, treatment and services for individuals of all ages with ASD.

n Ensuring interagency collaboration as the comprehensive statewide system of care for Autism Spectrum Disorder is developed and implemented.

n Coordinating available resources related to developing and implementing a system of care for autism spectrum disorder.

n Coordinating state budget requests related to systems of care for individuals with autism spectrum disorders based on the studies and recommendations of the council.

Brooks and Howell described the makeup of the council, as proposed. It would consist of the commissioner of Health, the executive director of the Commission on Children & Youth, the commissioner of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, the commissioner of Education, the commissioner of Human Services, the commissioner of Commerce & Insurance, the deputy commissioner of TennCare, the commissioner of Mental Health & Substance Abuse, one representative of the council on developmental disabilities, and nine adult individuals who have a diagnosis of ASD or were are either family members or primary caregivers of individuals with ASD.

Brooks pointed out, “Autism’s most-obvious signs tend to appear between 2 and 3 years of age. In some cases, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months.”

Howell said it’s an illness whose impact is global.

“The Autism Society currently estimates that about 1 percent of the world population has ASD, affecting over 3.5 million Americans, and one in every 68 children,” Howell advised. “The organization also notes that Autism Spectrum Disorder is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States.”

The Tennessee House of Representatives and state Senate resume their work in Nashville today.

Senators representing portions of Bradley County include state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville who represents the 9th Senatorial District, and Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga who represents the 10th Senatorial District.

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