- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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Oct. 25

The Commercial Appeal calls for national leadership of the opioid crisis:

After months of delay, President Donald Trump has promised to declare America’s opioid abuse epidemic a national emergency, offering a brief and faint glimmer of hope that something might at last be done about the crisis.

The White House’s attention is long overdue. The epidemic claimed the lives of at least 64,000 people in 2016, including 1,631 in Tennessee, which ranks second in the country in opioid prescriptions per capita and ninth in drug-related deaths per 100,000 people.

Unfortunately, what appeared to be progress on the opioid front was tempered by a report by the Washington Post and CBS’ “60 Minutes” that Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pennsylvania), Trump’s nominee to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy, had been instrumental in pushing through the drug industry-backed Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act.

Sponsors of the legislation, which stripped the Drug Enforcement Agency of the ability to freeze shipments of opioids to doctors and pharmacies believed to be fueling the addiction problem, included U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who got $172,000 in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry in 2016.

Marino quickly withdrew his name from any consideration as the drug czar. Blackburn, who has declared her candidacy for retiring Sen. Bob Corker’s seat in 2018, conceded that the bill might have had “unintended consequences.”

Still, at least for the moment, it appears that Trump’s presidential campaign promise to solve the opioid crisis might finally have been moved up on the president’s priority list. But the president’s commitment must go beyond lip service.

If opioid abuse is a national emergency, why has the administration proposed budget cuts for federal agencies and programs that could be brought to bear on the crisis, including Medicaid, which pays for about one-fourth of all substance-abuse treatment?

How to justify the president’s petulant attempts to allow or force Obamacare to “implode,” which would take insurance coverage away from millions of Americans with substance abuse disorders?

In Congress, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington), are working on a bipartisan agreement that could delay Obamacare’s demise by providing critical subsidies to health insurers that Trump has threatened to cut off.

A hearing by Alexander’s Senate Health Committee focused on the opioid epidemic, which, the senators said, is “tearing our communities apart, tearing families apart, and posing an enormous challenge to health providers and law enforcement officials.”

Credit the law enforcement community with approaching the opioid crisis from a new angle: Bringing murder charges against the people suspected of supplying a deadly dose of drugs.

“They need to know if you sell something and somebody dies, you can be held accountable,” Metro Nashville Police Lt. Carlos Lara told the USA TODAY NETWORK -Tennessee.

Meanwhile, three East Tennessee prosecutors are suing three opioid drugmakers, labeling them as drug dealers and accusing them of lying about the addictive properties of opiates and aggressively pushing the drugs as miracle cures for all manner of pain. Shelby County is considering a similar lawsuit.

Much more needs to be done in such areas as the over-prescription of opioids by medical practitioners, insufficient treatment programs for addicts, and alternative methods of controlling pain. Police officers need to be supplied with the anti-overdose remedy naloxone.

The opioid epidemic is, indeed, a national emergency. It is a health care crisis that is deadlier than any hurricane, fire or terrorist attack. This national crisis must be addressed by strong, committed and consistent national leadership that goes beyond formal declarations and the recitation of grim statistics.

Online: https://www.commercialappeal.com/

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Oct. 20

The Tennessean on a proposed Nashville transit plan:

“Nashville area wants big, bold transit, so build it.”

The headline of The Tennessean’s Aug. 21, 2016, editorial presented the case for a massive investment in the region’s transit infrastructure along with a dedicated source of funding to pay for it.

Nearly 14 months later, Tuesday to be exact, Metro Nashville Davidson County Mayor Megan Barry presented a bold plan that does just that.

The $5.2 billion plan for Davidson would build a system that improves bus service and frequency, creates light rail in five major corridors, better connects the city, and provides access, especially to those who rely on the Metropolitan Transit Authority as their primary or only option.

The four modest tax increases - on sales, businesses, rental cars and hotel/motel rooms - provide that dedicated stream necessary to build and maintain the system.

The specific projects and the fiscal impact on residents are laid out clearly in the plan.

Transparency is fundamental as Barry wants to place the plan - with the Metro Council’s consent - on a May 1 referendum before voters.

This is about making the city and overall region more competitive in attracting businesses, drawing more tourists and making it easier for residents to get around town for work, school or play.

City, business and community leaders have been laboring for more than two years to understand what the public wants in a transit system that presently only about 1.3 percent of the population uses.

They have done significant research, invited tens of thousands of residents to have their say and worked to get key bipartisan state legislation passed to prepare Nashville for this transformative evolution in mobility.

Most notably, the 2017 IMPROVE Act, which pays for a backlog of road projects in every Tennessee county, gives larger counties like Davidson the right to hold a referendum to pay for a transit system expansion.

There are naturally concerns about the dollar amount, the increase in taxes, the impact on congestion and whether the system will be obsolete by the time it is fully built out in 2032.

Here are some things to consider:

No doubt, $5.2 billion is a lot of money, but a major transportation infrastructure investment is long overdue - by decades.

The money will strengthen the bus system, which is the backbone of Nashville’s transit, but it also will add light rail connections to Nashville International Airport and along the northwest, Dickerson, Gallatin, Nolensville and Murfreesboro pike and road corridors.

Moreover, it will position Nashville to connect with potentially growing systems in other counties.

The referendums are only county by county, so Nashville cannot build a system in, say, neighboring Williamson, Wilson or Montgomery counties.

However, if Nashville rejects this opportunity, it is almost assured that neighboring counties will not move forward with bold plans.

How the system will be paid for:

-A half-cent sales tax increase starting in July, which graduates to a 1-cent increase in 2023

-A quarter-cent increase in the hotel/motel tax in the 2018-19 fiscal year, to rise to three-eighths of a cent in 2023

-A 20 percent surcharge on the local rental tax

-A 20 percent surcharge on the local business and excise tax

The most significant impact will be on the sales tax, which would eventually rise in Nashville from 9.25 percent to 10.25 percent.

That would tie Nashville with Chicago for having the highest sales tax rate in the nation.

If a Nashville household spent $10,000 a year on goods taxable at the new rate, they would pay $100 more a year.

Could Nashville, however, become like Chicago or Los Angeles in terms of taxation?

No. A major flaw in this argument is that California and Illinois have state taxes on earned income, whereas Tennessee’s earned income tax is zero.

The city is using the tools it has available to pay for the system.

According to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, nearly half of sales taxes in the city are paid for by out-of-county visitors, so residents will not be on the hook for the entire amount.

Online: http://www.tennessean.com/

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Oct. 25

Johnson City Press on fire prevention:

Autumn has finally brought a nip to the air, which means some homeowners are turning on their heat. But before you turn up the thermostat it’s important to make sure all heating devices are free of flammable obstructions that might ignite a fire.

Every fall there comes a story or two of a local family left homeless by fire started by an auxiliary heater located too close to a flammable object. Taking a few simple precautions - such as keeping these devices away from curtains and drapes - can spare your family from a tragedy.

Tennessee routinely ranks among the top five states in the nation when it comes to the number of residents killed in house fires. Many of those lives might have been saved by a fully functioning smoke detector.

October is National Fire Prevention Month, and this is a good time to remind our readers that the best investment they will ever make in home safety is to have a properly functioning smoke detector installed in every bedroom of their residence.

New technology - such as dual sensor smoke alarms that warn of both flame and smoke - has made these essential devices even more effective. Dual sensor alarms use both ionization and photoelectric technologies. An ionization smoke alarm warns of flaming fires, such as a cooking fire.

The photoelectric alarm is more responsive to a smoldering fire, such as that from overheated wiring.

Firefighters say having a properly functioning smoke detector in the home more than doubles a person’s chances of surviving a house fire. And a smoke detector that has had its battery drained or removed is of no use in alerting a family to a fire.

Online: http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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