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‘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.

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Business and Economy Featured NewsTracker

Bowling Looking to Ease Expansion Limits on Government-Owned ISPs

Calling high-speed internet “an essential utility for the 21st Century,” Sen. Janice Bowling wants to ensure rural Tennesseans have access to it.

Sponsored by Bowling and Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, SB1134/HB1303 would allow municipal broadband providers to expand if they “obtain the written consent” of electric co-ops serving the affected areas.

A Republican from Tullahoma, Bowling is pushing to repeal a 1999 state law that restricts municipal electric providers from offering Internet service beyond their designated boundaries.

The Federal Communications Commission also voted Thursday to override those state laws.

However, Bowling told TNReport she wasn’t sure when the ruling would take effect, and would prefer to “go ahead and do what we need to do in Tennessee.”

According to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the federal body’s action cuts away the “bureaucratic red tape” put on municipal broadband networks by states, and fulfills their congressional mandate to expand broadband service. “It is a well established principle that state laws that inhibit the exercise of federal policy may be subject to preemption in appropriate circumstances,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler called the decision “pro-competition,” and said consumers shouldn’t be restricted to “second-rate broadband.”

The Electric Power Board of Chattanooga and other municipal providers want the leeway to provide their government-funded high-speed broadband to areas beyond their electric system’s borders.

However, Tennessee’s private sector broadband providers argue many rural residents do have access to broadband, and the high speeds touted by municipal providers, while fashionable, are unnecessary and shouldn’t be subsidized by local tax dollars.

Tennessee Telecommunications Association Executive Director Levoy Knowles told TNReport Thursday his organization is opposed to the federal government “taking that authority away from the states.” TTA opposes Bowling’s legislation as well.

“We don’t feel like it’s fair to be competing against government-owned facilities in these same areas that we’ve spent millions of dollars in to put forth a modern network and provide our customers high speed internet service,” Knowles said.

TTA is composed of 21 small Tennessee telephone and broadband companies that serve “approximately 30 percent” of rural Tennessee. Nearly all their customers “already have broadband capability available to them” and the Internet service packages they offer often include “the same speeds and services and products that you can get in the metropolitan areas,” said Knowles.

Bowling argues, however, that her measure removes “the regulatory restriction” government has imposed. She believes consumers should have choices of providers “so that the people, locally, can be self-determined.” Those choices should include the opportunity for a publicly funded “municipal electric provider to come in and negotiate a deal,” she said.

While she understands businesses have “a bottom line” to meet, Bowling posits that rural communities shouldn’t be “held hostage” by limited private-market choices. Furthermore, even if the Internet services that are currently available are sufficient, they often aren’t for commercial uses. “It doesn’t work for doctors and it doesn’t work for bankers, it doesn’t work for a lot of the commercial uses of fiber,” she said.

High-speed internet “is to the 21st century what electricity was to the 20th century,” Bowling said. She compared providing broadband service to rural communities to “what the 1937 Rural Electric Administration bill did nationally, to allow these co-operatives.”

“So essentially what I’m asking for is the ability to form these high-speed broadband cooperatives in areas that are under-served or un-served,” Bowling said.

The Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association, which represents the state’s 60 municipal electric providers, favors Bowling’s bill.

In a recent press release, Jeremy Elrod, TMEPA’s director of government relations likened the issue to a city’s decision on how to best provide power and water and called Internet service “the next utility of the 21st century.”

“Municipal electric broadband should be allowed to be an option for more communities across Tennessee,” Elrod said.

But opponents of Bowling’s legislation contend if the goal is high-speed internet blanketing the state, government officials should get out of the way and facilitate free-market competition between existing providers by reducing regulations.

In December, Knowles said while he understands the desire to extend service to unserved areas, his organization is “opposed to allowing the expansion when there is already service available.”

“Because when my members compete with the municipals, then we’re also on their pole attachments and we’re paying taxes — ad valorem taxes and sales tax and other local taxes — and governmental agencies many times are exempt from those type of taxes,” Knowles said.

However, Bowling called that a “strawman” argument.

“There’s no advantage to being in the same utility group that owns the pole, because their business plan that is approved and checked by the comptroller has to show that that has been paid for,” Bowling said.

But while state-level Republicans seek to strike down the restriction, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. 07, has introduced legislation to block the FCC decision at the federal level. Blackburn also criticized the FCC’s vote in support of regulating the internet as a “1930s era public utility” under “net neutrality.”

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Press Releases

Bowling Appointed to Joint Transportation Coordination Committee

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; May 15, 2013:

(May 14, 2013, NASHVILLE) – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) today appointed Senator Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) to the Transportation Coordination Committee. The special joint committee is charged with creating a strategic transportation coordination plan for Tennessee.

“In order for our economy to grow, it is crucial that transportation barriers be removed so that people and goods can travel freely and easily,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “Senator Bowling is a dedicated public servant who distinguished herself on many issues in her first year in the Senate. I look forward to seeing her contributions to this committee.”

“I’m grateful to be appointed to this important committee,” said Senator Bowling. “I look forward to helping form a transportation plan for Tennessee that encourages commerce and economic growth in the state.”

The Transportation Coordination Committee is a special committee created to study the improvement of the methods of delivery and coordination of transportation services by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, as well as other State departments and agencies.

The group makes recommendations about the effectiveness of existing services; improvements in the effective use of existing funding; reduction of barriers to the effective funding of transportation services; identification of new sources of transportation funding; and improvement of universal mobility for Tennessee citizens and visitors.

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NewsTracker

Ramsey: Signs Pointing Toward GOP Supermajority in Senate

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDTYwGvWGVE[/youtube]


Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey
says that come Election Day, Republicans will enjoy a supermajority in the Tennessee Senate — meaning that the GOP will not need any Democratic support to pass legislation.

“I do think we’re going to have the supermajority,” Ramsey told TNReport. “There are six seats we’re playing in, and none of us as incumbent Republicans have serious opposition. This is the first time I’ve ever run without an opponent.”

Republicans need to win two more seats to snag the supermajority, or 22 of the 33 seats.

And if money talks, Ramsey may be right. GOP candidates for state Senate have a massive financial lead going into the final days of their campaigns, according to campaign finance reports released by the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance.

The reports released this week show Republican Senate candidates with a more than 2-to-1 lead in terms of cash on hand. And when you add up the total amount of money raised in contested races, Republicans have outraised Democrats $1.8 million to $861,000 since Jan. 1, records show.

You can search all of the filings by clicking here.

Perhaps more telling is the amount of money spent in the past two months, which is what the most recent campaign finance reports show.

Of the six key races that Ramsey spoke of, Republicans have spent $384,041 and Democrats have spent $253,451, according to those filings.

That’s money that goes for newspaper and radio ads, campaign workers, mailings, food and gas to fill up the gas tank.

In only one of those races did the Democrat outspend his opponent. That was the race in Senate District 24, a West Tennessee district that spans from Obion County to Benton County.

In that race, Democrat Brad Thompson spent $111,372 over the past two months. His Republican opponent John Stevens spent $62,932 over that same period.

Most of the six races, though, more closely resemble the contest in Senate District 20, a district that surrounds downtown Nashville like a letter “C” spanning from Belle Meade to Goodlettsville. Republican Steve Dickerson plowed $54,941 into the race over the past two months. His opponent, Democrat Phillip North, spent $28,028 over that same period.

“I do think there will be significant gains,” Ramsey said. “Somewhere between two (Senate seats) to five or six.”

This is not the first time that Ramsey has been talking about a possible supermajority. Check out what he told the Nashville Scene and Nooga.com.

Other Senate seats identified as being in play include: