Tennessee editorial roundup

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Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

Jan. 19

The Tennessean, Nashville, Tenn., on state's handling of its disability population lacks accountability:

There is an undercurrent to the court-ordered annual reviews of how well the state of Tennessee takes care of people with intellectual disabilities, and it can be summed up in one word: disrespect.

Not by the agency whose job it is, but by those elected officials who, by their lack of respect, make it impossible to do that job.

When adults with an IQ of 70 or less are placed under state care, that does not make them any less of a person. It certainly does not make their family and friends less concerned about their welfare. So for the state not to conduct independent reviews when someone in its care dies unexpectedly is a failure of leadership, of stewardship and of basic humanity.

A Tennessean series on the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities begins today by noting that deaths in group homes nearly doubled, from 19 to 34, from 2009 to 2013.

As for the thousands living in the state's group homes, we have to be worried about their continued safety. According to an annual review filed last month in U.S. District Court, staffers in some group homes have failed to report when a patient falls, fearing retaliation; defects in equipment have caused injuries to patients; staff have been found sleeping on the job; and physicians have not been developing medication plans for patients and have been improperly administering psychotropic drugs.

After having been pushed for years on the point, DIDD last week agreed to submit death investigations to an independent overseer, along with making autopsy results and other materials available. The department also was urged to follow its own policy and conduct a trend analysis of care provided to those who died and follow up with recommendations on how to prevent repeating dangerous mistakes.

To get to the root of the problem, we must look beyond DIDD itself, to the decisions made in the 1990s to relocate state patients from large "warehouse" institutions to small group homes.

It seems that the only definitive state action taken after the transition was to cut funding to DIDD or the departments that preceded it. Year after year, the General Assembly slashes the budget for intellectual or developmental disability programs, despite having ordered that care into law.

There may be some lawmakers and members of the administration who care about the patients in DIDD's care and their families, but you wouldn't know it from their stated agendas as the General Assembly convened last week.

When will they realize that the state's most vulnerable adults and children should come first?

Online:

http://www.tennessean.com

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Jan. 20

The Paris (Tenn.) Post-Intelligencer on meth battle gets Gov. Haslam's attention:

At last, Tennessee's methamphetamine problem is coming to the front burner.

State legislators have been diddling over the issue for months, but now Gov. Bill Haslam has entered the discussion. The governor's personal involvement suggests that the Republican-led legislature will take notice.

The governor called last week for tighter restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine, a drug which is contained in common decongestants but which also is a key component of meth.

He didn't go all out, stopping short of calling for a prescription requirement for all pseudoephedrine purchases. His suggestion amounts to a compromise: He proposed a prescription requirement for buying more than a 10-day supply of medicines containing the drug.

A 10-day supply is 20 pills, a common form of packaging. Haslam suggested allowing a pharmacist to sell a second 20-tablet box within a month, at his discretion, but additional purchases would require a prescription.

There's a huge debate over the effectiveness of this kind of restriction. Each side in the debate can roll out statistics to support its viewpoint.

Obviously, we must do more to stem the epidemic. The current bulwark is a computer system that tracks pseudoephedrine sales to assure that one person's purchases are limited. But meth makers simply hire others — an "army," one law enforcement officer said — to make purchases for them.

That tactic would seem likely to defeat the governor's plan, too. How do you keep an army of people from buying a legal product?

The important point here is that Tennessee's meth epidemic is coming to the attention of top state leaders. The solution may have to be action more drastic than we've considered.

Online:

www.parispi.net

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Jan. 21

News Sentinel, Knoxville, Ky., on legislature should nix bills aiming to control curricula:

The Tennessee Constitution requires that the General Assembly establish and maintain a free public school system as it sees fit.

This year it is apparent that the Legislature sees fit to micro-manage standards and curricula in the state's K-12 schools.

Such delving into classroom matters is not unusual for the Legislature, nor is there anything inherently wrong with it. But lawmakers should place more confidence in the state Department of Education, which deserves credit — along with local school boards, teachers and students — for improved academic performance statewide.

The Senate already has passed a bill requiring schools to devote more teaching time to American and Tennessee history. Its sponsor, state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, asserts many students lack even basic knowledge of governmental history and that current requirements are lacking.

Niceley is correct, but the problem is not confined to Tennessee's schools. One of his colleagues, state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, is under the mistaken impression that state legislatures have the authority to nullify federal laws and has proposed legislation to do just that.

The Haslam administration rightly has protested the move, arguing that the responsibility of establishing standards and curricula belongs to the state and local school boards.

The House Education Subcommittee is scheduled to take up the bill , and its members — which include Knoxville Republicans Harry Brooks and Roger Kane — should heed the administration's objections.

The Common Core State Standards also are coming under fire. Adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, Common Core establishes benchmarks for English and math. Common Core was developed at the urging of governors and state school chiefs, but some incorrectly view them as a federal government mandate.

State Sen. Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, has introduced legislation that prevents the state from joining efforts to adopt common standards in science and social studies, and requires the state to adopt standards in those subjects "that reflect the values of the state."

Neither of these bills is necessary, and both needlessly dictate education policy. The Legislature should see fit to get out of the way and let the Department of Education and local school systems do their jobs.

Online:

http://www.knoxnews.com

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