Legislation to aid children suffering from trauma

Tenn. Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville)

Sen. Mark Norris

Last week’s action on Capitol Hill was highlighted by passage of a number of important initiatives as lawmakers continue discussions on the state’s budget. One such bill approved last week would establish a new pilot program to help children from troubled homes avoid chronic adverse childhood experiences. Senate Bill 887, sponsored by Deputy Speaker Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) and me would establish the “Zero to Three Initiative Courts” within either a Juvenile Court or General Sessions Court, similar to Tennessee’s Drug Courts.

Chronic childhood trauma, or what experts call adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), can disrupt a child’s brain-building process. Studies document the impact on brain development these chronic experiences — like emotional abuse, physical abuse, neglect, growing up in a home with domestic violence or substance abuse — have on children. Left unaddressed, ACEs and their effects make it more difficult for a child to succeed in school, live a healthy life and contribute to the state’s future prosperity — our communities, workforce, and civic life.

Leaders from state government, the business world, advocates, insurers, academia and nonprofit foundations are organized as public and private sector steering groups to guide implementation and provide leadership at the state, regional and community levels.

Haile said that a similar program in North Miami, Fla., has been in operation for over four years with great success. “Of the children in state custody that had their families surrounded and supported, more than half never went back into state custody. The remaining 40 percent were willingly allowed by the birth parents to proceed to adoption, many times with the birth parents collaborating with adoptive parents. It is my wish that this initiative, similarly, would lead to happy, healthy lives for children in Tennessee.”

News in brief

Community Paramedicine: Legislation that ensures rule-making authority is provided to allow for the practice of “community paramedicine” and “mobile integrated healthcare” has been approved on final Senate consideration. Senate Bill 1270, which I sponsored, implements an act previously adopted by the General Assembly to allow paramedics to operate in expanded roles to provide routine health care services to underserved populations. These are both emerging healthcare professions, and they are particularly important in rural parts of the state and even in some urban areas that are underserved.

Farm Property / Inequitable Taxation: Legislators approved and sent to the governor legislation that ensures agricultural property is not reclassified as commercial for the purpose of property tax assessment. Article 2, Section 28 of the Tennessee Constitution requires farm property to be assessed at 25 percent of its value. The legislation comes after reports of agricultural properties being reclassified as commercial real property, which is assessed at 40 percent of its value. Senate Bill 904, sponsored by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), ensures that both the letter and spirit of Tennessee law and the State Constitution are followed to protect farmers from inequitable taxation.

Abortion / Tennessee Infants Protection Act: Senate bill 1180, sponsored by Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald), that would enact the “Tennessee Infants Protection Act” was approved on final Senate consideration to protect a viable fetus 24 weeks gestational age and older. The legislation calls for the doctor to test viability before an abortion when the woman is at least 20 weeks past the gestational age, and there will be a rebuttable presumption that an unborn child of at least 24 weeks is viable. The bill provides health exceptions in the cases for abortions to be performed after the 20-week time frame, including those in which the mother is in imminent danger of death or where there is a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.

MARK NORRIS is a state senator (R-Collierville) for Tennessee and Senate Majority Leader. He chairs the Senate Rules Committee and serves as second vice-chair for the Senate Calendar Committee. He is also a member of the Senate Ethics Committee; Finance, Ways and Means Committee; State and Local Government Committee; and Joint Pensions and Insurance Committee. He may be reached at (615) 741-1967 or via email to sen.mark.norris@capitol.tn.gov.