By RICK NORTON
Legislative steps to honor and assist veterans, to build momentum for a push to fight opioid addiction and to tackle unique issues in education highlighted some the Tennessee General Assembly’s …
Legislative steps to honor and assist veterans, to build momentum for a push to fight opioid addiction and to tackle unique issues in education highlighted some the Tennessee General Assembly’s past week of work.
All are being addressed, and supported, by two members of Bradley County’s legislative delegation: state Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown) who represents the 22nd Legislative District, and state Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland) of the 24th Legislative District.
Another major talking point of the week came with the introduction of House Bill 2368, a move that would enact the National Motto in the Classroom Act, Howell and Brooks announced in a joint statement released to the Cleveland Daily Banner.
“This [Classroom Act] requires each local education agency across the state to display ‘In God We Trust’ in a prominent location within Tennessee’s schools,” Howell said.
The legislative duo pointed out “In God We Trust” has served as the official motto of the United States since 1956. It first appeared on the two-cent penny in 1864, and on paper currency in 1957, their statement reported.
“During his recent State of the Union Address in front of Congress, President Donald Trump reminded the nation’s lawmakers and all citizens that the foundation of American life is faith and family, not government and bureaucracy,” Brooks stressed. “President Trump also emphasized to the congressional and national audience that our country’s motto has been and still remains ‘In God We Trust.’”
The Bradley County pair agreed supporters of House Bill 2368 believe that “… the National Motto in the Classroom Act is an opportunity to help future generations of students better understand the importance of faith in the narrative of Tennessee and the nation.”
Quality of care
Known as the Stopping Addiction and Fostering Excellence Act, House Bill 1929 is part of the ongoing effort by Tennessee legislators to address the state’s opioid and drug crisis, the legislators said.
“It ensures that patients who utilize recovery houses receive high quality care that empowers them to end the cycle of addiction,” Brooks explained. “The SAFE Act enables providers at these facilities to focus their efforts on implementing more customized and targeted treatment plans for patients.”
Howell added, “House Bill 1929 also streamlines operations guidelines while strengthening partnerships between the facility and its local municipality.”
According to the legislators’ statement, Tennessee’s opioid epidemic claimed the lives of more than 1,600 Tennesseans in 2016.
“Every day in our state, at least three people die from opioid-related overdoses,” Brooks said. “This is more than Tennessee’s daily number of traffic fatalities.”
The Bradley County pair pointed out the federal government is only beginning to get started in its fight against opioid addiction. They agreed “… Tennessee is leading the way in fighting the situation here at home.”
In addition to House Bill 1929, the state House is moving forward with other pieces of opioid legislation “… to combat the state’s opioid problem head on, including the Tennessee Together plan,” Howell noted.
As previously introduced by Gov. Bill Haslam, Tennessee Together includes several facets: Specific legislation, a recommended appropriation of $30 million in funds through Haslam’s proposed budget for 2018-19, and other executive actions that will address the opioid epidemic through three primary components: Prevention, treatment and law enforcement.
The plan includes recommendations made by House Speaker Beth Harwell’s Ad Hoc Task Force on Opioid Abuse. Brooks served as a member of the task force.
Introduced as House Bill 1780, this proposed legislation “… introduces a measure aimed at giving Tennesseans a fresh start in life by utilizing the state’s available education opportunities,” Howell pointed out.
“… It permits an individual who has a Class E felony conviction to apply for a records expunction immediately after he or she earns a certificate or degree under the Tennessee Reconnect program,” Brooks explained.
Passed in 2017, Tennessee Reconnect offers all adults without a degree access to community college tuition-free and at no cost to state taxpayers, Howell cited.
“Currently, citizens who have paid their fines, court costs and restitution are eligible to apply for a Class E felony records expunction after a five-year waiting period,” Howell stated. “House Bill 1780 keeps current stipulations for Class E offenders in place, but reduces the required wait time to apply for records expunction to as little as 12 to 18 months in some instances.”
Brooks said this reduction provides a “fresh start” for residents. He added that it decreases recidivism and “… minimizes use of taxpayer funds to cover incarceration costs.”
Statistics from the Tennessee Department of Corrections indicate that recidivism has decreased by more than 3 percent statewide from 2010 to 2016.
“However, the state’s recent opioid crisis is leading to a larger number of drug-related arrests, as well as repeat offenders,” Howell said.
The legislators pointed out a survey conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice estimates the state spent $723,680,760 on prison expenditures in 2015.
“While we have worked to reduce recidivism in Tennessee, citizens still have to bear the high expenses of incarceration,” Brooks said. “This new initiative not only saves taxpayer money, but also encourages those who desire a fresh start to take advantage of the state’s many education opportunities so they can capitalize on a greater number of high-quality jobs currently available.”
House cuts taxes
for disabled vets
As passed, House Bill 15 exempts a new or used vehicle that is sold, given or donated to a disabled veteran or service members from the sales and use tax, Brooks and Howell explained.
Brooks said this bill is the latest legislation intended to help veterans and military families. Last year, he said, the House worked to reduce the amount of property tax owed by veterans, the elderly and disabled homeowners.
State lawmakers also introduced legislation that helped veterans to pursue education without fear of financial struggle, Howell noted. One piece of legislation is the Support, Training and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsman Act.
“The [STRONG] measures provides last dollar scholarships to our state’s service members who meet eligibility requirements,” Brooks said.
Howell described the action as House Bill 433 that he said “… assists veterans by determining how their military training can count as college credit at Tennessee’s colleges and universities.”
of America hosted
by state House
Also in last week’s sessions, the House hosted members of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Chapter 995 from Jackson.
During their visit to the House chamber, VVA members conducted the “13 Folds of the U.S. Flag Ceremony,” which is a ceremony performed at the funerals of American veterans. The group also provided the playing of “Taps,” a bugle call traditionally played at dusk during flag ceremonies, and at military funerals by members of the United States armed forces.
VVA was originally created to serve Vietnam veterans. The group now presides at any funeral service involving U.S. veterans.
Brooks and Howell reminded local residents the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is inviting Tennesseans to submit nominations for the 2018 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards.
These awards represent a variety of unique categories: Clean air, materials management, natural heritage, sustainable performance and lifetime achievement, among others.
“Any individual, business, organization, educational institution or agency is eligible, provided it is located in Tennessee and the project was completed during the 2017 calendar year,” Howell noted.
All nominees must have a minimum of three consecutive years of overall environmental compliance with TDEC, he said. Self-nominations are accepted, and encouraged, he added.
A panel of judges representing agricultural, conservation, forestry, environmental and academic professionals will select award recipients based on criteria that includes level of project or program completion, innovation and public education, Brooks explained.
Nomination deadline is March 30. Award recipients will be announced in May.
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