Capitol Hill Week
By Kim Swindell Wood | February 12, 2018 6:40 am
Feb. 9, 2017 – The pace quickened on Capitol Hill this week as our Senate committees examined the budgets of ten agencies or departments of state government and approved a number of important bills. This includes a resolution unanimously adopted by the Senate State and Local Government Committee, in which I am a member, that seeks to address the public safety threat posed by contraband cell phone use by prison inmates.
Prisons — Senate Joint Resolution 492 asks the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), major cellular providers, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) “to take a proactive and collaborative approach, in conjunction with correctional officials nationwide, to effectively disrupt the use of contraband wireless communication devices obtained by inmates.”
There were over 1,500 incidents with cell phones in Tennessee prisons last year. This presents a serious public safety threat, not only to our correctional officers, but those outside the prison walls.
Speaking in favor of the bill was Department of Correction Commissioner Tony Parker, who told committee members that murders have been arranged and carried out on Tennessee correctional officers, criminal enterprises continue to thrive, victims have been stalked, witnesses have been threatened, escapes have been arranged and prison riots have been orchestrated all from within prison cells using contraband cellphones. He said these events are becoming common instances as more cellphones illegally infiltrate state correctional facilities. Parker said the department is committed to tackling this problem, including working with the state’s congressional leaders in asking federal officials to stop the flow of contraband.
Government Accountability — Another bill approved by our State and Local Government Committee is the Contract Accountability and Responsible Employment Act. The legislation attempts to bring more accountability to the state contracting process. Senate Bill 1047 would incorporate oversight costs in any decision to outsource, establish formal contract monitoring, and give legislators a different view on how contracts impact their district. The bill requires state agencies to release an economic impact statement to the Fiscal Review committee for oversight on all contracts above $2.5 million that result in the furlough of one or more state employees.
Education — In the Senate Education Committee this week, a bill was passed that establishes recovery schools in Tennessee for students with alcohol or drug abuse dependency like Substance Use Disorder (SUD) or Major Depressive Episode (MDE). Senate Bill 1626 authorizes Local Education Agencies (LEAs) to enroll eligible students on a voluntary basis, including those who are in another county or to collaborate with other school districts to serve these teens.
Research shows students who attend treatment and go back into their normal high school have about a 70 percent chance of relapse. That number drops to approximately 30 percent when the student attends a recovery school after treatment. In addition, a recovery school in Houston found that about 98 percent of the students who attended had planned to drop out of school due to their addiction. After attending a recovery school, 90 percent of the students graduated, and over 80 percent went on to seek a post-secondary degree.
Veterans – The State Senate stopped to honor Tennessee’s veterans on Wednesday as we observed Veterans’ Day on the Hill. The day was set aside for our legislators to speak to veterans about issues affecting them and to show appreciation for their sacrifices to this state and nation.
My colleagues and I wore a pin with the number 22 on it to honor, respect, and bring attention to the 22 veterans who commit suicide every day in America. Veterans in Tennessee are more than twice as likely to commit suicide than a non-veteran according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans between 35 and 54 and over age 75 have a higher suicide rate than other age groups.
Finally, I want to remind you to call, email or write me when I can be of assistance to you or when you want to express your opinions about the issues we face. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 615 741-3978. My address is 736 Cordell Hull Building, Nashville, TN 37243. I look forward to hearing from you.