Now an alumnus of the Tennessee House of Representatives after closing out an exhausting 12-year tenure in state government, state Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland) has joined one of his lawmaking …
Now an alumnus of the Tennessee House of Representatives after closing out an exhausting 12-year tenure in state government, state Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland) has joined one of his lawmaking colleagues in pointing to recent bills that defined the final session of the 110th General Assembly.
A week after state Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown) of the 22nd Legislative District honed in on legislation tightening law enforcement’s grip on welfare fraud, Brooks pointed to legislators’ work that will protect the state’s elderly from financial abuse.
He also directed his attention to state budgets — past and present — that have brought major investments into the Cleveland and Bradley County community.
They include state road projects like Interstate 75 Exit 20 and the Spring Branch Industrial Park connector road interchange; the state’s $10 million commitment to the Bradley County Tennessee State Veterans Home; and the appropriation of $25.5 million in capital outlay funds for the construction of a new academic building, and the renovation of a second one, on the Cleveland State Community College campus.
“We’ve talked before about the huge investment that the Tennessee Department of Transportation, and Gov. Bill Haslam, have put into the 24th Legislative District in recent years, and as recently as the 110th General Assembly,” Brooks said. “Each is more than just an investment in today; all are investments in the future of our Cleveland and Bradley County community.”
Capital outlay has become a significant part of local government’s relationship with Nashville as of late, Brooks acknowledged. But he’s equally as proud about some of the legislation in which he has had a hand in the recently completed General Assembly.
First and foremost is an elderly abuse bill identified as the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Financial Exploitation Prevention Act.
Under the joint leadership of primary sponsors Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Brooks — representing the House side of the aisle — Senate Bill 1267 and House Bill 1064 were approved almost unanimously by both chambers.
“When those bills passed, almost without any opposition, it was a great day for our Greatest Generation here in Tennessee,” Brooks said. “I did it then, but I’d like to again today thank the Tennessee Bankers Association for trusting me to shepherd this important bill through the committees and the House in Nashville.”
He added, “Working together, we spoke for those who had no voice. Now, we have increased protections to those who are most vulnerable in our state. Today, Tennessee bankers have been given more tools to protect the elderly from financial fraud and potential criminal activity in our great state.”
The legislation gives banks the authority to take a series of actions when there is reasonable cause to suspect exploitation. Included in these steps are:
• Delay or refuse to conduct withdrawals from the account of an elderly customer or vulnerable adult;
• Establish a list of persons the customer would like to have contacted if the financial institution suspects the customer is a victim of financial exploitation or financial theft; and
• Refuse to accept an authorized power of attorney if they believe the agent is conducting financial exploitation or financial theft against the customer.
Tim Amos, executive vice president of the TBA, was especially grateful to Brooks for leading the charge in the House, and to Norris for doing the same in the Senate.
“Bankers are often on the front lines of witnessing attempted exploitation, and these tools will give them greater flexibility to protect vulnerable Tennesseans,” Amos stated. “This significant step gives bankers the ability to have a process to ensure that their customers receive the best, most appropriate care.”
Norris called elderly abuse a “silent crisis” whose crimes “… often go unreported, leaving its helpless victims to suffer silently.”
He added, “And, far too frequently, it happens at the hand of those whom they trust the most.”
Brooks agreed, and borrowed a thought used by Norris earlier in the General Assembly session on who will benefit from the legislation. It’s not just about elderly Tennesseans today, Brooks said. It’s also about those who are nearing retirement.
“This bill, in conjunction with other bills this year, will work to protect the ‘Silver Tsunami’ of Tennesseans reaching retirement age in the coming years,” Brooks said, but not before attributing the original text to Norris.
Brooks said he will never forget the irony of the day he and Norris announced the elderly abuse bill.
“On the same day that Sen. Norris and I announced this bill, and explained its intent, I received a phone call from an elderly constituent back home,” Brooks confirmed. “What she told me was indicative of the reality of this need. She had fallen victim to elder abuse.”
Another member of Bradley County’s legislative delegation also had a hand in this legislation. State Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), who represents the 10th Senatorial District, stood at Norris’ side when senators first introduced the bill.
Brooks said the numbers are staggering, and that’s another reason he understood the bill’s urgency.
“It is estimated that as many as one in 23 cases of elder abuse are unreported,” he said. “It has also been estimated that 41.4 percent of the offenses were committed by a family member and another 13.3 percent of victims were described by law enforcement as having close relationships with the perpetrator.”
Abortion legislation garnered its share of headlines during the 110th General Assembly. Brooks maintained a full stand on each.
“In recent years, House Republicans have fought to protect the state’s unborn children,” Brooks said. “During the 2017 legislative session, the Legislature passed the Tennessee Infants Protection Act to prohibit abortions after 24 weeks, except in the case of medical emergency. The legislation also holds physicians who perform late-term abortions accountable for their actions.”
Another piece of legislation involved outlawing TennCare reimbursements to abortion providers in the state.
“House Bill 2251 aimed at protecting the sanctity of life by eliminating taxpayer fun ding to facilities that perform elective abortions,” he said. “The legislation did not impact the availability of other critical health care services offered to Tennessee women.”
He pointed out some had already believed taxpayer dollars were not used for abortions. This, he said, was a misnomer.
“… Documents from the Tennessee Department of Finance & Administration showed providers across the state have received almost $1 million in funding from 2012 to 2017,” he said.
Brooks also pointed to a string of bills that strengthened protections for victims of human trafficking.
“Human trafficking victims suffer an extraordinary amount of physical abuse, emotional trauma and psychological pain,” he stated. “House Bill 1849 worked to protect victims from further harm and aimed at supporting recovery efforts so that they can restore some sense of normalcy in their daily lives.”
The now-retired legislator pointed to a number of other causes that he worked to support throughout the recent session: a string of five House bill aimed at making safety improvements in Tennessee schools; legislation to help lessen some of the burden from full-time caregivers who are providing 24/7 care to loved ones; and late-session action that protected Tennessee teachers, students and schools by “holding them harmless” in the wake of the latest problems facing the TNReady standardized testing assessments — most notably, a cyber-attack on the Tennessee Department of Education computer system.
by local legislator
Brooks praised the $37.5 billion proposed by Haslam, and eventually approved by lawmakers. Key parts of the budget included significant allocations toward the fight against opioids, school safety, education, juvenile justice, economic development and a series of additional appropriations.
Among those appropriations was the addition of another $3 million to the state’s ante for the Bradley County Tennessee State Veterans Home. This increased the state’s commitment to $10 million, and is felt by local government officials to have influenced a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to fund the federal portion for the new facility.
Federal funds of $26.2 million are now being added to the state’s $10 million, and those will work in partnership with $2 million each from the Cleveland City Council and Bradley County Commission, a $3 million anonymous donation, and a slew of smaller group and individual donations.
“Many, many people have worked long and hard on this veterans home,” Brooks said. “For me personally, confirmation of federal funding was like a dream-come-true. But that was only part of the funding puzzle. We also had tremendous support from Gov. Bill Haslam, the Cleveland City Council, the Bradley County Commission, a wonderfully generous anonymous donor and others.”
Brooks added, “If there was ever a successful team effort, it was this. We have advocated for years for this veterans home, and now it’s coming. I can hardly wait for the groundbreaking!”
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