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Press Releases

Bill Introduced in U.S. Senate to Roll Back Federal Hemp Restrictions

Press release from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.; January 8, 2015:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., today introduced legislation that would allow American farmers to grow and profit from industrial hemp.

The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015 would remove federal restrictions on the domestic cultivation of industrial hemp. The bill would remove hemp from the Schedule I controlled substance list under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and would define it as a non-drug so long as it contained less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Oregon and Kentucky are among twenty states that have already defined industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana and removed barriers to production. However, under current federal law, farmers in states that allow industrial hemp research and pilot programs must still seek a waiver from the Drug Enforcement Administration or risk raids and seizures by federal agents.

The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of hemp, but it remains the only major industrialized country that bans farming the product.

“The U.S. ban on hemp farming is an outrageous restriction on free enterprise and does nothing but hurt economic growth and job creation,” Wyden said. “Our bipartisan, commonsense bill is pro-environment, pro-business, and pro-farmer. Congress must act to empower farmers and boost economic activity across the country. As I’ve always said, if you can buy it in Oregon, you should be able to grow it in Oregon.”

“My vision for the farmers and manufacturers of Kentucky is to see us start growing hemp, creating jobs and leading the nation in this industry again,” Paul said. “Allowing farmers throughout our nation to cultivate industrial hemp and benefit from its many uses will boost our economy and bring much-needed jobs to the agriculture industry.”

“Industrial hemp has the potential to fuel jobs and research here in Oregon, and the federal government shouldn’t be standing in the way,” Merkley said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also cosponsored the bill.

The bill text is available here.

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Health Care NewsTracker

TennCare Computer System’s Completion Date Still Unknown

Although he won’t speculate as to when the state’s new TennCare computer system will be completed, Darin Gordon, the program’s director, told members of the General Assembly he hopes a planned third-party audit will provide that answer.

Gordon gave testimony Tuesday to the Joint Fiscal Review Committee on the progress, or lack thereof, of the Northrop Grumman Corporation in developing the new “Tennessee Eligibility Determination System” for TennCare.

Tennessee has so far paid Northrop about $4.7 million of the $35.7 million it committed to the cybersecurity contractor in December of 2012, when they signed a three-year contract to develop the new system made necessary by the Affordable Care Act, Gordon said.

TEDS was supposed to go live in October 2013, and Northrop was last paid in January, Gordon added.

There are four “different tools” for the agency to ensure contractors comply with contract stipulations: penalties, liquidated damages, withholds and non-payment, in order of weakest to strongest. “We’re using the biggest tool that we have at this point to make sure that everybody is properly motivated to getting to where we want to be,” Gordon said.

Gordon said that Northrop, one of five firms to bid on the contract, made the lowest bid to produce the system. The next lowest was for $58 million, with the highest bid coming in at $109 million.

Wyoming, one of the other states to use Northrop to produce their system, is also “having challenges,” Gordon said.

Gordon told the committee that he had no idea as to when the system would be completed, because he’s “lost confidence in people’s ability to accurately predict” a timeline for completion.

Northrop is currently 99 percent done with its systems integration testing, the second phase of its five phases of implementation — but that doesn’t mean that phase is nearly done, Gordon said, because when issues with testing arise, developmental changes need to be made and the phase “can be at 99 percent for a longer period of time.”

The company is also about 80 percent complete with its third phase — user integration testing, but can’t start on the last two phases until the others are completed, Gordon explained.

“These are complex systems, there’s a lot of working in a very tight time-frame, and we want to make sure that what we do turn on, works,” Gordon said.

On Aug. 18, TennCare signed a no-bid contract with KPMG, an audit and advisory services firm, to run a 14-week audit of Northrop’s progress at a cost to the state of $1.2 million, Gordon told the committee. That report is expected to be ready sometime in late November or early December.

Following Gordon’s testimony, the committee also approved an extension of a contract with Policy Studies, Inc., the contractor who provides eligibility determination and processes application for the state’s children health insurance program. The contract, which is being extended through Dec. 2015 as a result of the delay in implementing TEDS. The contract extension is eligible for a 75 percent federal match.

The total cost to the state of the delay in getting the computer system on-line is not currently known, Gordon said.

The failure in bringing the new system online is one reason that TennCare is facing a lawsuit from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Health Law Program and the Tennessee Justice Center on behalf of several Tennesseans who have allegedly been denied coverage, though they claim eligibility.

“These system failures have serious impact on vulnerable Tennesseans and the health care infrastructure we all reply upon. It’s time for the state to spend less time blaming others and more time managing problems that have devastating consequences for our state,” said Michele Johnson, executive director for the TJC, in an e-mail.  Tennessee’s “lack” of a TennCare enrollment process “makes us unique in the nation,” she added.

The TJC filed the lawsuit because despite having met with TennCare officials since October of last year, “at some point it became clear that their willingness to problem-solve was not there,” and the Tennesseans they represent “couldn’t wait any longer,” Johnson told TNReport Wednesday.

Gordon was questioned by state Rep. Brenda Gilmore, a Nashville Democrat, about whether anything was being done to help hospitals cope with financial problems stemming from the inability to process emergency Medicaid applications because of the delay in TEDS implementation.

Gordon told Gilmore that because of the pending litigation the only information he could give was already included in his response to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or in the briefs filed in the lawsuit.

However, the Gordon assured Gilmore that TennCare is in contact with the Tennessee Hospital Association “pretty much every week.”

Johnson told TNReport that she “thought it was interesting” the administration continued to say they couldn’t comment on anything related to the lawsuit because government agencies are required to “answer questions that the legislature has for their constituents.”

The next hearing in the federal case is scheduled for Friday.

Gordon noted to the committee that although TennCare has appeared before the legislature in the past, it wasn’t a result of computer system problems.

“Every state in the country all started from different starting points,” Gordon said. “Some had some modern technology already in place, and only had to adapt that technology to the new requirements. Other states, such as ourselves, had to start from scratch because our system was an old legacy system not capable of handling the changes that would be necessary to comply with the ACA.”

Additionally, the changes required by Obamacare have been “some of the most complicated” for the system since it began, Gordon explained.

Several other states — such as California’s backlog of hundreds of thousands of enrollees, or Oregon’s broken website and over-taxed Medicaid rolls — have had their own problems in developing a working system, Gordon said.

“These are complex systems, and are being implemented on a very quick runway, and so I think, if you look across the country, a lot of folks have had challenges with these,” Gordon said.

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Press Releases

Comptroller Report on TN Meth Production Questions Effectiveness of Pseudoephedrine Tracking, Prescriptions

Press release from Office of the Comptroller; January 10, 2013:

The illicit production of methamphetamine remains a serious public health, safety and fiscal issue in Tennessee, yet two of the most popular methods aimed at curbing meth production have shown inconclusive results. These are among the key findings of an updated study of meth production released today by the Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability (OREA).

The study updates a report issued by OREA last year. (Click here for 2013 Comptroller Report.)

Meth is a highly addictive recreational drug that can be illegally produced from household ingredients and certain types of cold and allergy medicines – primarily pseudoephedrine. Federal and state laws limit the amount of these medications, referred to as “precursors,” that individuals can purchase.

One method for limiting meth production is electronic tracking of purchases of cold medicines commonly used to produce meth. Tennessee and 28 other states have adopted the National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx), a real-time electronic tracking system. However, the study shows that the number of meth lab incidents reported by law enforcement has not decreased substantially since Tennessee began using NPLEx in 2012.

In two states, Mississippi and Oregon, individuals must have a prescription to purchase precursors. The number of reported meth lab incidents declined in these two states following passage of a prescription-only law, but some other nearby states without such laws have followed similar trends.

OREA is an agency within the Comptroller’s Office that is charged with providing accurate and objective policy research and analysis for the Tennessee General Assembly and the public.

To view the report online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/OREA/

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Press Releases

Oregon Senate Increases Grants to Job-training Programs

Press release from the Oregon State Senate Majority Caucus; July 3, 2013:

SB 498A authorizes grants for students to participate in skills training programs that could lead to careers

SALEM—Today the Oregon Senate voted to authorize additional funding for grants to job skills training programs that help students chart a path to good-paying jobs. Senate Bill 498A approves $7.5 million to the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Revitalization Grant Program, and it passed the Senate on a vote of 30-0.

“These workforce development and skills training programs give students a hands-on learning experience. They open the door to a world of job opportunities by introducing students to pathways that can lead to lifelong careers,” said Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum (D-Portland). “We need more career and technical education programs to strengthen Oregon’s workforce and meet the needs of the 21st Century economy.”

The CTE Revitalization Grant Program leverages innovative partnerships with local businesses and labor organizations to provide classes for high school students to gain workforce training opportunities. During the last budget cycle, 21 schools received CTE grants to offer new or improved vocational programs that partner with employers in the community.

“Having these key programs in our schools is essential to preparing students for success in life and developing a career,” said Rosenbaum. “Schools like Sabin-Schellenberg High School in my district offer lots of programs for students to learn technical skills. It’s an example of the type of opportunities every community should have.”

The goal of CTE programs is to meet the very real and immediate challenges of economic development, student achievement, and global competitiveness. Students who concentrate coursework in CTE programs are more likely to go on to higher education and get a four-year degree.

Taken together with an appropriation to the Oregon Department of Education, Oregon will have $9.4 million available for CTE grants in the coming biennium.

“Career and Technical Education is essential to growing Oregon’s economy, supporting the middle class, and getting people back to work,” said Senator Rod Monroe (D-Portland)

Senate Bill 498A now goes to the Oregon House of Representatives for a vote.