Tennessee editorial roundup


Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

Jan. 18

Knoxville (Tenn.) News-Sentinel on the state's pseudoephedrine tracking system:

The state Comptroller's Office issued an inconclusive report recently on the efficacy of Tennessee's new pseudoephedrine tracking system aimed at stemming the rising tide of methamphetamine production.

The report states that meth lab incidents between January and September 2012 actually increased by 6 percent over the same period in 2011. The Comptroller's Office cautioned that it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from the report because of the short time frame and the limitations of drug use data.

One conclusion that should be clear is more must be done to combat meth production in Tennessee. Among the possible remedies offered by the Comptroller's Office report are lowering purchase limits for pseudoephedrine, residency requirements for purchase and requiring prescriptions for medicines containing pseudoephedrine.

The state Legislature, which requested the report, should continue to review the law and seek ways to reduce meth-making in Tennessee. Meth labs create environmental and safety hazards, and meth addiction destroys lives and families.

The 2011 anti-meth law mandates stiffer penalties for meth-related crimes, including charging those who make meth in the presence of children with a felony. "Smurfing," which is the practice of sending confederates from store to store to buy cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, garners fines starting at $1,000, with the money going toward meth lab cleanups.

The law also established a privately run tracking system for sales of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in manufacturing methamphetamine. That tracking system, used in 24 states, came under fire from members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, who want a federal inquiry into whether the system's operator is living up to its agreements with state governments or if it actually hinders police efforts and violates federal law by using data for marketing purposes.

Pseudoephedrine is a key ingredient in many over-the-counter cold medicines, and making it prescription-only would hurt legitimate consumers...

Some states that have made pseudoephedrine a prescription-only drug have seen declines in meth production. Oregon has seen "a significant decrease" in meth activity since it adopted a prescription-only law in 2006, but other Western states without prescription-only laws have seen similar declines. In many parts of the country, the meth trade is dominated by Mexican drug rings rather than home laboratories.

Lawmakers should use the report as a guide as they continue to look for ways to combat meth production in Tennessee.




Jan. 15

The Tennessean, Nashville, on the blocking of TVA's Marilyn Brown reappointment:

Marilyn Brown must have been quite the fly in the ointment on the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors.

But Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have seen to that by blocking her reappointment.

The Georgia Tech professor was the only person on the board of the giant federal utility with expertise in energy efficiency and sustainability. Think of that: the only director for a seven-state utility who would know the best practices for saving ratepayers' hard-earned money; yet Alexander and Corker deemed her unsuitable for the board of an agency that is going to need all the expertise in sustainability that it can get in coming decades.

Who is it exactly that Alexander and Corker work for? They owe it to the people of this state to explain why Marilyn Brown did not deserve reappointment. Their statements on the matter have thus far been less than forthcoming.

Brown had been appointed in 2010 to fill out the last two years of another director's vacated term, and had earned praise from conservation groups for her work; although, as she recently conceded, "I often was unable to convince some board members that energy efficiency was a good investment for TVA."

Come again? Is growth at any cost — "at any cost" being deemed OK when you are playing with ratepayers' money — the way TVA should be functioning?

This is not to diminish the intentions or the commitment of other board members. However, their backgrounds, with little exception, are not in power production or energy efficiency. The board, especially its newly chosen members, would benefit from Brown's expertise.

Even the nuclear-power program of which Alexander is so enamored conceivably would benefit from TVA placing a greater emphasis on efficiency. Money saved in hydroelectric or fossil fuel programs could be reallocated to nuclear or whatever programs that TVA feels are the best way forward.

So the question must be asked: What kind of agency does TVA want to be — one that only cares about boosting consumption or one that has at least a shred of concern about the impact of overconsumption on our environment and our supply of natural resources for the future?

TVA has made some moves toward getting rid of its oldest, dirtiest fossil plants, but the progress has not been nearly enough. And it will never catch up and be the modern utility that the Southeast needs if it continues to shed itself of people who know how to make that happen.




Jan. 20

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., on school voucher legislation:

What some are calling the last major piece of Tennessee's education reform initiatives could be in place by next fall.

Gov. Bill Haslam will include a bill authorizing school tuition vouchers in his legislative agenda this session, starting with students in the lowest-performing schools.

If it passes, it likely will be the last big piece of the education reform efforts of the past few years, which already have put into place charter schools, new rules on teacher tenure and evaluations, virtual schools and the Achievement School District, which runs Tennessee's lowest-performing schools.

Tuition vouchers would give students from low-income families or those who attend low-performing public schools a shot at a better education in a private school. No one can argue against that.

But over the long term, is there a danger of public schools being undermined by all the initiatives that are pulling students — and the taxpayer money that follows them — out of public school classrooms? ...

Questions also have been raised about whether taxpayer money should be used to support religious schools.

State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, pushed a voucher bill through the Senate in 2011 that would have impacted only low-income students in Tennessee's four urban counties. The House held off on the measure until a task force appointed by the governor could study the issue.

Kelsey's bill would have made vouchers worth $5,400, or half of the amount the state spent that year to educate one child. He now wants to see the vouchers valued at the full $9,200 a year the state spends per student. Haslam has not specified how much he thinks the vouchers should be worth.

Kelsey said recently that he thinks there is general agreement the vouchers should be available to low-income students statewide. ...

Those who question the impact vouchers, charters and virtual schools may have on traditional public schools also must keep in mind that these alternatives are being pushed because too many public schools are not getting the job done. Parents are taking advantage of these educational options because they want to do what is best for their children. ...

School districts with failing schools must embrace reform if they want to stay in the game. ...

Until low-performing schools improve, parents should be given every feasible opportunity to enroll their children in a good school, regardless of their income. Vouchers are one way to level the access to a quality education.



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