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Tennessee editorial roundup

February 6, 2019

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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Feb. 6

Johnson City Press on opioid’s effect on the workforce:

If you have any doubt about the effects of the country’s biggest health crisis, look no further than the University of Tennessee study Staff Writer Zach Vance wrote about in Monday’s edition.

These results should surprise no one: Opioids are a drain on the workforce. The UT researchers found correlation between opioid prescription rates and declining participation in the labor market.

“The effects are really large,” said Matt Harris, one of the study’s authors. “Prescription opioids may explain up to half of the decline in labor force participation since 2000.”

The study also compared labor markets with and without the heavy opioid prescribers and offered a sobering economic domino effect for the Volunteer State. The results suggest Tennessee could effectively boost income among residents by $800 million per year by reducing opioid usage by 10 percent.

As Dr. Jon Smith, director of East Tennessee State University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, told Vance, the UT results should catch everyone’s attention.

“We frequently think about this opioid epidemic in terms of lives shattered, which is, of course, the most important thing,” Smith said. “But, the impact this has on communities, especially rural communities like ours, it’s just horrific. It not only affects the people who are condemned by addiction, but it has a serious impact on the ability of our economy to produce wealth and make lives better.”

Anyone paying attention already knows the direct effects opioid addiction have on health care costs and more importantly human life. Tennessee’s opioid-related death rate is 36 percent higher than the national average. The state’s rate of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome births is more than twice that of the nation, representing a public health crisis that on its own carries grave, lasting effects.

But as the UT workforce study exemplifies, the effects reach far into aspects of society beyond the health concerns — child-rearing, education, social services, public safety, economic development and more. Some estimates place the total economic impact — when all direct expenditures and societal factors are included — at $500 billion annually for the nation.

That’s simply unsustainable.

At the federal, state and local levels, authorities everywhere are engaged in the fight against opioid addiction in legislation, health education, treatment, law enforcement and the courts. Both our federal and state governments have devoted new financial resources to reducing the level of addiction. Here in Northeast Tennessee, East Tennessee State University and Ballad Health have joined forces to take on the issue.

One cannot help but wonder whether the opioid war is winnable, though, if the United States continues to waste time squabbling around other political, less critical concerns. Every American’s quality of life is diminished by the opioid addiction crisis either directly or secondarily, and that’s especially true in Northeast Tennessee.

This fight should be atop the list of the nation’s priorities.

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

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Feb. 2

The Cleveland Daily Banner on Black History Month:

Barely into the start of Black History Month, we are reminded the 28-day observance in February is intended to recognize the contributions to society by the “African diaspora,” an admittedly unfamiliar term to many.

In its simplest format, it refers to “the dispersion of any people from their original homeland.” In this context, it applies to the indigenous populace of Africa who international slave traders kidnapped — for centuries — from their homeland and shipped across a vast ocean to be sold to wealthy landowners.

Over the course of American history, black men and black women not only contributed strong backs and forced free labor to an oppressive system, they also offered creative thought and innovative expression; hence, the purpose of Black History Month.

The monthlong celebration is not just an American value whose birth in this nation came in 1926 with the creation of its precursor, Negro History Week, it is also observed in Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands.

In this country, Black History Month was first proposed in February 1969, by black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University.

Seven years later, the monthlong observance gained acceptance when President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial. With the declaration, he urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”

In subsequent years, Black History Month — whose celebration is often preceded in communities by observances of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in mid-January — evolved into a heartfelt recognition of a people who endured the worst of times by lending a diversity of thought, culture and experience to new homelands whose own people benefited from the forced mix.

Whether American society’s new diversity has ever reached its best of times is a question long debated. In recent years, most would agree it has not. Too much modern-day turbulence has rocked our nation’s people — people of all shades, not just the black and not just the white — to such extremes that a common query among our neighbors truly suggests, “Have we learned nothing from our past?”

Such an answer lies with individual perspective, and most certainly with personal experience.

But we know this: To talk about it openly is a step toward reconciliation. To ignore it is to turn our backs — as well as our hearts and minds — on a moral conscience that reminds us all men, and all women, are created equal in the eyes of our Creator. And if such equality fills the heart of the One, then surely it can fill our own.

Yet, just as some are uncomfortable discussing a divine being, others are just as uneasy when facing matters of race and racism.

They should not be. It is a common ground among all people, regardless of individual views, or cultural or denominational difference.

This is why an ongoing series of community programs hosted by Lee University and the school’s Cultural Diversity Committee should serve as a breath of fresh air. Whether the initiatives are delivered as panels or lectures or exercises in faith, all are mindful of this fundamental: It is OK to talk about race. It is good to discuss racism.

Open debate can open minds. Open expression can heal unseen wounds. Open eyes will open ears.

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In spite of our nation’s pained history, racism still breathes in today’s America. It is not a white thing. It is not a black thing. It is not a new thing. It is a people thing.

And only people can right the wrong of its inhumane ways.

Online: http://clevelandbanner.com/

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Feb. 3

Johnson City Press on Gov. Bill Lee’s pledge to overhaul the state’s open records act:

Tennessee residents should be glad to hear that new Gov. Bill Lee has pledged to overhaul the state’s open records act to ensure better access.

For decades, the Tennessee legislature, state agencies and local governments have been undermining your right to know in a number of ways — legislative exemptions, access fees, unreasonable delays, red tape and technology that bury records.

Last year, a Tennessee Comptroller’s Office study found 538 exemptions to Tennessee’s public records law, about six times as many as there were three decades ago. When the law was enacted in 1957, it had just two. Even more exemptions were introduced last year, including two from the Northeast Tennessee legislative delegation.

As we stated in March, the exponential increase in access limits is a disturbing trend that should ring alarm bells.

We were glad to see the Legislature initiate a special committee to review the open records law last session. Our colleagues at the Tennessean recently reported that Lee plans to build on the committee’s work. Press Secretary Laine Arnold told the Nashville-based newspaper the governor favors implementing a sunset provision on each exemption — it would expire at some juncture unless the state acts to renew it.

Lee also pledged to take a look at the fees associated with public records requests. Aside from the physical costs of making copies, many government offices also charge residents access fees for labor in compiling copies. According to the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, some but not all offices have threshold amounts for any per-hour or per-page fees before you are charged.

Certainly, offices could be inundated with lengthy public records requests that would bog them down, preventing them from performing other duties. Kicking in a fee at a certain level makes sense to prevent abuse and offset real costs.

But in our view, providing open records is an essential function for all government offices. Our taxes already fund those offices. A threshold is reasonable. Blanket fees are not.

The governor’s spokeswoman reported that Lee planned to investigate the delays in fulfilling the public’s requests for open records. Speaking from experience, we know many law enforcement agencies will push requests to the backburner as long as they can — even employing legal maneuvers to avoid compliance.

Agencies also use technology, which should improve a person’s ability to find records, to do just the opposite. Having the sole public access computer behind a locked door in a room often tied up for other purposes is not accommodation. That’s just lip service. Some agencies do not even go that far — no paper records and no public computer.

Lee’s pledge included using technology to afford better access. That will require some rules on how that technology is applied.

Government employees often lose sight of who employs them and whose interests lie in the records they maintain. We hope the governor is successful in mitigating unreasonable barriers to the right to know in Tennessee. You should demand it.

Online: https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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