Legislation toughening laws on welfare fraud and Tennessee lawmakers’ nod to Sunday liquor sales by package stores and grocers may have dominated the headlines from Nashville last week, but two …
Legislation toughening laws on welfare fraud and Tennessee lawmakers’ nod to Sunday liquor sales by package stores and grocers may have dominated the headlines from Nashville last week, but two members of Bradley County’s delegation agree on the significance of a few others.
Among them are legislative actions to help combat the opioid epidemic, changes in adoption regulations, and stronger defenses for veterans against identity theft.
Legislators also joined Gov. Bill Haslam in confirming more than 10,000 adults have applied for Tennessee Reconnect, the state’s new program for adult learners to earn an associate degree or technical certificate tuition-free.
In another action, state lawmakers passed a measure that promotes high-paying jobs in Tennessee. House Bill 1917 continues the Go Build Tennessee Program through 2024.
State Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland), who represents the 24th Legislative District, and state Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown), who represents District 22, stressed the significance of legislative action involving the opioid epidemic, adoption and Tennessee veterans who are falling victim to identity thieves.
epidemic in state
“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 in a weekly legislative update filed jointly with Howell.
Called Tennessee Together, the initiative is a multifaceted plan made up of specific legislation, $30 million in funds through the proposed 2018-19 budget and other executive actions to battle opioids.
Howell pointed out the effort will tackle the drug-abuse strategy through three primary components: Prevention, treatment and law enforcement. Much of the strategy incorporated recommendations from the state House’s Ad Hoc Task Force on Opioid Abuse established earlier by House Speaker Beth Harwell.
“Legislative solutions in 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,” Howell noted.
Brooks added, “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 better track, monitor and penalize the use and unlawful distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs … including fentanyl.”
The legislative plan also provides every Tennessee state trooper with naloxone for the emergency treatment of opioid overdose prior to paramedic arrival, Howell noted.
In 2016, Tennessee saw more than 1,600 opioid-related overdose deaths which legislators described as “one of the highest in the nation, and statistics show the numbers are only increasing.”
Additional work on the state’s opioid-abuse strategy is expected this week.
Legislators unanimously passed House Bill 1856 that streamlines the adoption process in Tennessee.
“It adds updates to the law that are desperately needed to serve children and families across the state better,” Howell said. “The bill simplifies the surrender form — which was previously very complicated — and updates the language to reflect what the courts have ruled on the issue.”
The bill also clarifies parental abandonment, makes the law consistent with U.S. Supreme Court cases on absentee fathers, and protects biological fathers attempting to assert parental rights, Brooks explained.
“It eliminates the six-month prior residency requirement for adoption petitioners, and expands the opportunity for active-duty military personnel to use Tennessee as their legal state of residence to adopt children here,” the Cleveland-based legislator cited.
Howell said the bill “makes big changes to current law, but most importantly, it streamlines the process and makes it easier to understand.”
This is important, Howell continued, “… because it allows them to be in a more stable environment in a much timelier manner.”
House Bill 1856 now awaits passage in the state Senate.
in state House
House members not only approved it, they passed it unanimously.
House Bill 2130, also known as the Tennessee Stolen Valor Act, is designed to safeguard the identities of Tennessee veterans who serve the state and nation by cracking down on stances of theft and fraud involving those who attempt to imitate them, Brooks advised.
The measure creates a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to 11 months and 29 days in jail, as well as imposing a fine of up to $2,500, for anyone found guilty of impersonating a veteran or individuals who “… fraudulently represent their service with the intent of obtaining money, property, services or any other tangible benefits,” Howell cited.
Legislators took the action based on real-life experiences.
“This comes after a recent case in Northeast Tennessee involving a con artist who lied about his military service to steal from veterans,” Brooks said. “This initiative is the latest in a series of measures designed to honor Tennessee veterans and their service.”
draws some big
As of April 10, almost 10,500 applications were submitted by Tennessee adults for this kind of education assistance.
Tennessee Reconnect is described as a “groundbreaking program” that covers tuition and mandatory fees at a Tennessee community or technical college for eligible adults who do not yet have a college degree.
Howell pointed to some numbers.
“Among those who have applied for the scholarship, more than two-thirds have previously enrolled in college and just more than half of all applicants have attended college in the past five years,” he said. “The average age of applicants is 34, and nearly 90 percent of those who applied plan to work while enrolled through Tennessee Reconnect.”
This program is part of the broader Drive to 55 project that is a push to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2055.
“Studies show that by 2025, at least half the jobs in Tennessee will require a college degree or certificate,” Brooks said.
‘Go Build’ program
to grow awareness
of high-paying jobs
House Bill 1917 keeps this ongoing initiative alive through 2024 in order to raise awareness “… about an abundance of high-paying jobs available in communities across the state,” Howell said.
He added, “The measure strengthens existing partnerships so that students who are interested in the trade industry can utilize Tennessee College of Applied Technology campuses to learn the skills they need in order to pursue these high-paying careers.”
Since “Go Build” began in Tennessee, some 74 percent of students in the state say they were more likely to pursue a career in the trades, Brooks said.
“Construction and trade jobs are some of the highest paying in Tennessee with an average salary well above median household incomes in most communities,” he pointed out. “The overall goal of this initiative is to address a shortage of qualified applicants for current vacancies.”
House Bill 1917 awaits the governor’s signature.
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