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TN Senate Dems Criticize Deferment of Medical Marijuana Bill to Summer Study

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; March 24, 2015:

Any progress is welcome, but very sick Tennesseans will be denied relief

NASHVILLE – Medical marijuana has been proven to be an effective treatment, and Republican efforts to restrict it to only a few patients are cruel and out of step with the majority of Tennesseans, Democrats said.

“There is a mountain of scientific evidence demonstrating that medical marijuana is an effective treatment for a variety of debilitating ailments,” state Rep. Sherry Jones said. “To block treatment for everyone is an insult to the sick and undermines the decisions doctors are qualified to make.”

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Jones, The Medical Cannabis Access Act (HB 561), was sent to summer study. Following polls of Republican primary voters showing majority support, Republicans have filed their own restrictive version.

“Democrats have led the way on this issue,” said state Sen. Sara Kyle, Senate sponsor of the Medical Cannabis Act. “Any progress is welcome, but there are very sick Tennesseans who aren’t getting relief from available medicines. They won’t get help with half measures.”

Alexander, Black Release Statements on 5-Year Anniversary of Obamacare

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; March 23, 2015:

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2015 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate health committee, today released the following statement on the 5th anniversary of Obamacare being signed into law:

“Five years ago this week, President Obama signed into law a piece of legislation Republicans said would be an historic mistake. Since this law passed, we have seen health care costs increase for the American people, many have lost their health care plans and their choice of doctors, and freedom and flexibility in health care choices have been severely limited. Republicans have been and are still ready to head step by step in a different direction – one that emphasizes more freedom, more choices, and lower costs.”

Press release from U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn. 06; March 23, 2015:

Washington, D.C. – Today Congressman Diane Black (R-TN-06), a nurse for more than forty years and member of the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, released the following statement on the fifth anniversary of Obamacare being signed into law:

“Five years after Obamacare was signed into law, the broken promises are many and the hurt is real. Just ask the 16,000 Tennesseans who lost their  affordable health insurance plans through CoverTN despite the President’s pledge that ‘if you like your health care plan, you can keep it’ or the 31 million Americans expected to remain uninsured even after this law is fully implemented. Obamacare is such a disaster that the Obama Administration itself has allowed more than 40 changes to the law so far and many of the politicians responsible for this train wreck – from Kathleen Sebelius to Marilyn Tavenner – are now out of a job. As a nurse for more than 40 years, I understand the need for health care reform, but this top-down rewrite of one-sixth of our economy was never the way to do it. On this unhappy anniversary, the results are in: Obamacare was a mistake that harms the very people it pretends to help. Today, our case for repealing and replacing this law couldn’t be stronger,” said Congressman Diane Black.

TNGOP: Gov. Jindal Visit Thrusts Memphis into National Spotlight

Press release from the Tennessee Republican Party; March 20, 2015:

Potential Presidential Candidate Touts Success as a Leader, Vision for the Country at TNGOP Event

MEMPHIS, Tenn.—The Tennessee Republican Party today welcomed Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to the Bluff City for the TNGOP Leadership Series Event. The Governor comes to the Volunteer State riding a wave of conservative enthusiasm after an impressive performance at last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

Tonight’s event features special guest Congressman Stephen Fincher and the Shelby County Republican Party is serving as an honorary host for the Leadership Series event.

Jindal is a potential Republican presidential candidate known for his intellectual prowess and commitment to conservative principles.

TNGOP Chairman Chris Devaney remarked, “We’re proud to welcome a reformer in chief of the caliber of Governor Jindal to Tennessee. As the 2016 election approaches, Americans are looking for a leader who has a track record of enacting conservative reforms and will lead based on Republican principles. Gov. Jindal certainly fits that mold and we’re anxious to hear what he has to say at tonight’s Leadership Series event.”

Gov. Jindal stated, “Thank you Chairman Devaney and the Tennessee Republican Party for having me here today. I’ve been to Tennessee several times, and it’s always great to come to a state that has been a true success story for conservative reform. Tonight, I’ll talk about preserving the American Dream and how Conservative leadership can pave the way forward for our nation and return us to a path of prosperity and security.”

Devaney added, “Tennessee is going to play an important role in determining the next Republican nominee and, I suspect, Gov. Jindal will figure prominently in that discussion.”

‘Intractable Pain Act’ Repeal Goes to Guv

Both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly have voted to do away with the state’s “Intractable Pain Act,” which has been in existence for 14 years.

On Monday the House of Representatives voted 93-0 to eliminate a provision in the law — dubbed the “Pain Patient’s Bill of Rights” — granting people “the option to choose opiate medications to relieve severe chronic intractable pain without first having to submit to an invasive medical procedure.”

There was no discussion on the repeal bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville. Last month the Senate approved the repeal as well – one of the first bills to pass the upper chamber this year.

Sponsor Janice Bowling of Tullahoma said the 2001 “Pain Patient’s Bill of Rights” was partly responsible for Tennessee becoming known as one of the states along the “Hillbilly Heroin Trail.” She said that the Act negatively impacted the criminal justice system and state’s economy and has resulted in babies being born with addictive drugs in their system.

Under the statute the Legislature is seeking to repeal, doctors who refused to prescribe effective pain medication are required to inform patients of others who will. Advocates of eliminating that mandate say it has compounded the problems of pain-pill abuse and “doctor shopping” in Tennessee.

In August 2014, the Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services issued a press release indicating as of July 2012 pills had replaced alcohol as Tennessee’s favorite drug to abuse.

There are those, though, who don’t necessarily believe making pain medications harder to obtain legally is going to put much of a dent in the overall problem of addiction.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon who is CNN’s chief medical correspondent, has noted that when pills are unavailable to pain medication addicts, they frequently turn to heroin, which is often cheaper.

And in Tennessee, the state’s top public safety officials have recently fretted about a surge in heroin use across the state.

In November and December of last year, during a series of budget hearings for the next fiscal year, both Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Dir. Mark Gwyn, and Department of Safety & Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons, informed Gov. Bill Haslam that heroin was on the rise.

The news website Vox.com recently noted a rise in heroin overdoses, and suggested drug-abusing populations are being driven from pills to heroin as pills become harder to obtain, as well as by a generational shift in drug culture.

The bill now goes to Haslam’s desk awaiting his signature.

Contact Alex Harris at alex@tnreport.com.

TN Supreme Court Overturns Home Forfeiture, Rules State Must Provide Evidence of Compliance with Legal Requirements

Press release from the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts; March 9, 2015:

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled today that, in actions under Tennessee’s civil forfeiture statutes, the State must present evidence that it complied with both the procedural and the substantive requirements in the law.

Under Tennessee’s civil forfeiture statutes, the State may obtain forfeiture of both real property, such as land and homes, and personal property, such as cars, cash or computers, if it is shown that the property is used in the commission of a crime. Forfeiture proceedings are civil in nature and are separate from any related criminal proceedings. Tennessee law permits courts to grant the State forfeiture of private property even if the property owner is not convicted of any crime.

In this case, Charles D. Sprunger brought his desktop home computer to a technician for repairs. The computer technician discovered many images of child pornography on the computer and reported it to law enforcement. Mr. Sprunger eventually was convicted of possession of child pornography and sentenced to eight years in prison.

The State secured a forfeiture warrant on Mr. Sprunger’s home and filed a lien on the property pending the outcome of the forfeiture proceedings. The home was sold in foreclosure, and the State filed a lawsuit for forfeiture of the excess proceeds from the foreclosure sale of the home. Unable to access the proceeds from the sale of his home, Mr. Sprunger lacked the funds to hire an attorney. In the forfeiture proceedings, he represented himself from prison by writing letters to the trial court and participating in the trial by telephone.

The trial court found that the State had met the procedural requirements in the forfeiture statutes and that Mr. Sprunger had “used” his home in the commission of his crime. Accordingly, the trial court granted the State’s request for forfeiture. Mr. Sprunger appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court granted Mr. Sprunger permission to appeal.

On appeal, the Supreme Court noted that forfeiture is disfavored under Tennessee’s constitution, meaning that Tennessee forfeiture statutes must be strictly interpreted.

In this case, the Court observed that civil forfeiture typically deprives property owners of funds to hire an attorney, so most, like Mr. Sprunger, must represent themselves in the forfeiture proceedings. Taking into account the Tennessee constitution’s disfavor toward forfeiture, the Supreme Court heldthat, in civil forfeiture proceedings, the State must come forward with affirmative proof that it complied with the procedural requirements in Tennessee’s statutes. The Court emphasized that courts must strictly construe allprovisions of the forfeiture statutes, both procedural and substantive.

In Mr. Sprunger’s case, the State failed to present affirmative proof it complied with the procedural requirements outlined in the civil forfeiture statutes. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s decision and vacated the forfeiture of excess proceeds from the sale of Mr. Sprunger’s home.

Read the opinion in State of Tennessee v. Charles D. Sprunger, authored by Justice Holly Kirby.

‘Racial Profile Prevention Act’ Protects Both Citizens and Cops: Kelsey

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; March 9, 2015:

NASHVILLE –The Tennessee Senate gave final approval on Monday to legislation sponsored by Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), requiring Tennessee law enforcement agencies to implement policies against racial profiling. The “Racial Profiling Prevention Act” defines the discriminatory practice and calls for all law enforcement agencies in the state to adopt a written policy on the subject by January 1, 2016.

“Racial profiling has no place in law enforcement in our state,” stated Kelsey.  “This bill will protect officers by providing them clear guidelines for appropriate action. That will make us all safer.”

Senate Bill 6 defines racial profiling as the detention, or interdiction of an individual in traffic contacts, field contacts, or asset seizure and forfeiture efforts, or other disparate treatment of an individual solely on the basis of the individual’s actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, or national origin.  The bill would apply to any law enforcement agency responsible for preventing and detecting crime and enforcing laws or local ordinances if their employees are authorized to make arrests for crimes.  It would also apply to officers employed by colleges and universities.

The legislation is still pending action in the House of Representatives.

TDVA Veteran’s Homes All Receive 5-Star Ratings from U.S. News & World Report

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs; March 6, 2015:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder joins the Tennessee State Veterans Homes (TSVH) Board in celebrating the announcement from U.S. News & World Report 2015 which names the Tennessee State Veterans Homes in Murfreesboro, Humboldt and Knoxville among the best in the country.

U.S. News and World Report rated more than 16,000 nursing homes using data research on nursing home safety, health inspection and staffing. The source of the data originates from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). In 2014, CMS issued five star ratings to the Tennessee State Veterans Home in Murfreesboro, the W.D. “Bill” Manning Tennessee State Veterans Home in Humboldt and the Senator Ben Atchley Tennessee State Veterans Home in Knoxville.

“Tennessee State Veterans Home residents are among some of the most fascinating and precious people I have ever met and they deserve the most compassionate and highly qualified care possible,” Grinder said. “I applaud the hard working and caring administrators and staff of each home for their commitment to excellence in care.”

“The federal rating system has been revamped to raise performance targets for care and I am proud that our staff not only makes the grade, but they make a difference,” TSVH Executive Director Ed Harries said. “Raising the bar on quality care is what our residents need and deserve and we are committed to continue this tradition.”

“Five stars will get these high quality homes noticed, but it is the residents and their stories of heroism that motivate the staff to offer nothing short of their best,” TSVH Board Chair Mayor Rogers C. Anderson said. “The warmth of these homes make them unique, memorable and worthy of national recognition.”

The future Brigadier General Wendell H. Gilbert Tennessee State Veterans Home at 250 Arrowood Drive in Clarksville is expected to open in the summer of 2015.

The waiting list for admissions has been opened and interested potential residents can contact Admissions Director Brittany Irvin at (615) 895-8850 ext. 1013. Eligibility requirements are listed on the Tennessee State Veterans Home website.

Applications for open positions at the new Clarksville location are now being accepted. Information regarding open positions will be listed on www.tsvh.org and will also be posted at the Tennessee Career Center at Clarksville at 523 Madison Street, Suite B.

Austin Peay to Host Inaugural Veteran Education Academy March 10

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs; March 6, 2015:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder in partnership with the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), Drive to 55, the Governor’s Veterans Education Task Force and Austin Peay State University will host the inaugural Veteran Education Academy.

Senior campus leaders, student affairs personnel and student veteran organization representatives from more than 50 higher education institutions will attend the event with the objective of learning to support student veterans success in Tennessee.  The one day event will include presentations from Student Veterans of America, the American Council on Education and discussions to create or improve action plans to recruit, retain and support student veterans through to graduation.

  • WHO: TDVA Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder,  Tennessee Promise Executive Director Mike Krause, Austin Peay State University President Alisa White and representatives from more than 50 higher education institutions
  • WHAT: Inaugural Veteran Education Academy
  • WHEN: Tuesday, March 10, 2015, 9:00 a.m.-3:45 p.m. (CDT)
  • WHERE: Austin Peay State University, Morgan University Center, 601 College Street, Clarksville

For more information, visit the department’s web site at www.tn.gov/veteran, facebook/myTDVA or twitter @TNDVA.

TennCare: Anthem Data Breach May Have Impacted Amerigroup Members

Press release from the Bureau of TennCare; March 6, 2015:

Members to be notified and offered identity theft protection services

NASHVILLE – TennCare members potentially impacted by the recent data breach of Anthem’s information technology system will begin receiving notification letters from Amerigroup on March 25, 2015.  Anthem owns Amerigroup which is one of the health plans operating within the TennCare Managed Care Organization network.

As soon as Anthem officials became aware of the breach they began taking steps to determine the scope of the breach, notify members of the issue and offering all members with 24 months of free identity theft protection services.  Anthem estimates more than 246,000 TennCare Amerigroup members have been impacted by the data breach discovered on Jan. 29, 2015.The information affected may include names, dates of birth, social security numbers, healthcare identification numbers, addresses and employment information.   No credit card or banking information or medical information such as claims, diagnostics or test results are believed to have been affected.

TennCare and the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance encourage Amerigroup members to enroll in free identity theft repair and credit protection services to protect themselves from potential fraud and identity theft. Anthem is offering 24 months of free identity theft repair and credit monitoring services to current or former Tennessee members of an affected Anthem plan, dating back to 2004. Members do not have to wait to receive a notification letter to sign up for the services.  Members can sign up or obtain more information by visiting www.anthemfacts.com  or calling 1-877-263-7995.

While Anthem is coordinating with the FBI and taking other measures to investigate the breach, the Bureau of TennCare is working with Amerigroup to ensure all members’ personal information, including protected health information, is secure.  If members have questions regarding their Amerigroup membership status they can contact Amerigroup customer service at 1-877-263-7995.

Corker Seeking Veto-proof Majority as Bipartisan Iran Nuclear Agreement Bill Comes Up For Senate Consideration

Statement on upcoming Senate consideration of the legislation also released

Press release from U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; March 5, 2015:

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – With bipartisan momentum building in the Senate behind legislation to require congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran, U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued the following statement today regarding the effort to seek support from a supermajority of 67 senators to override a presidential veto of the bill, which the White House threatened last week.

“The strongest signal we can send to the U.S. negotiators is having a veto-proof majority in support of Congress weighing in on any final nuclear deal with Iran,” said Sen. Corker. “This week, our bipartisan legislation gained momentum with four additional Democrats offering their support for the bill. I greatly appreciate the Majority Leader’s commitment to getting the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act across the finish line by allowing the vote to occur at a time when we will more likely generate a veto-proof majority.”

In a letter yesterday, nine Democrats and one Independent pledged to support the Corker-Menendez bill after March 24. The legislation would then need only three additional Democratic votes for a veto-proof majority, assuming the backing of all 54 Republicans.

Last Friday, Senator Corker and Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. The legislation mandates the president submit the text of any agreement to Congress and prohibits the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement. The bill is also cosponsored by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Angus King (I-Maine), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 contains the following key provisions:

  • Congressional Review: Within five days of concluding a comprehensive agreement with Iran, the president must submit to Congress (1) the text of the agreement, (2) a verification assessment on Iranian compliance, and (3) a certification that the agreement meets U.S. non-proliferation objectives and does not jeopardize U.S. national security, including not allowing Iran to pursue nuclear-related military activities.
  • No Suspension of Congressional Sanctions for 60 Days: The president is prohibited from suspending, waiving or otherwise reducing congressional sanctions for 60 days. During this period, Congress may hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement. Passage of a joint resolution of approval, or no action, within the 60-day period would allow the President to move forward with congressional sanctions relief. Passage of a joint resolution of disapproval (overriding a presidential veto) within the 60-day period would block the president from implementing congressional sanctions relief under the agreement.
  • Congressional Oversight and Iranian Compliance: After the congressional review period, the president would be required to assess Iran’s compliance with the agreement every 90 days. In the event the president cannot certify compliance, or if the president determines there has been a material breach of the agreement, Congress could vote, on an expedited basis, to restore sanctions that had been waived or suspended under the agreement.

Full text of the bill is available here.

Press release from U.S. Sen. bob Corker, R-Tenn.; March 3, 2015:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he welcomed upcoming Senate consideration of his bipartisan bill requiring congressional review of any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced the legislation will be taken up on the Senate floor next week. Senator Corker indicated the Foreign Relations Committee could vote on the bill next Tuesday and the resulting legislation would be the version to be debated in the full Senate.

“I would think anybody who ran for the United States Senate and cares about the big issues facing our nation would want to support this piece of legislation,” said Corker. “I think everyone in America should want the House and the Senate to weigh in on this most important agreement that may be reached, and I’m glad we’re going to have the opportunity to do so.”

Last Friday, Senator Corker and Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) introduced The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. The legislation mandates the president submit the text of any agreement to Congress and prohibits the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement. The bill is also cosponsored by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Angus King (I-Maine).