By RICK NORTON
Strengthening protections for human trafficking victims, honoring blind veterans while also advancing legislation that commemorates the courage of America’s POWs and MIAs, and opening the door for …
Strengthening protections for human trafficking victims, honoring blind veterans while also advancing legislation that commemorates the courage of America’s POWs and MIAs, and opening the door for Tennessee Reconnect enrollees ranked high on a weekly summary by two Bradley County legislators.
State Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown), who represents the 22nd Legislative District, and state Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland), who handles District 24, joined Gov. Bill Haslam last week in launching the Tennessee Reconnect application process.
Tennessee Reconnect, which is state lawmakers’ latest tool for achieving the goals of “Drive to 55,” is now open for adults to enroll tuition-free this fall at a community or technical college.
This includes eligible Cleveland and Bradley County residents, and the surrounding region, who might have an interest in enrolling at Cleveland State Community College.
“Tennessee Reconnect builds off the groundbreaking Tennessee Promise program — which provides high school graduates two years of tuition-free community or technical college — by establishing a last-dollar scholarship for adults to earn an associate degree or technical certificate free of tuition or mandatory fees,” Brooks explained.
In the joint legislative summary, Howell described Tennessee Reconnect and Tennessee Promise as initiatives that are vital to Haslam’s “Drive to 55” vision. “Drive to 55” is a program designed to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025.
“Studies show that by 2025, at least half the jobs in Tennessee will require a college degree or certificate,” Brooks stressed.
Since its inception, Tennessee Promise is making a difference in the educational achievements of state residents, the Cleveland legislator — who is ending a 12-year stint in state government after this session of the General Assembly — explained.
“Early results of the Tennessee Promise program show that students participating in this initiative are succeeding at higher rates than their peers,” Brooks said. “Tennessee is the first state in the nation to offer all citizens — both high school graduates and adults — the chance to earn a postsecondary degree or certificate tuition-free.”
The local lawmakers, who comprise one-half of the Bradley County legislative delegation with state Sens. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) and Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), pointed to the application process for Tennessee Reconnect. They described it as being “four simple steps.”
• Complete the application at TNReconnect.gov;
• Apply to a local community college or eligible Tennessee Reconnect institution;
• File the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) at http://FAFSA.ed.gov; and
• Enroll in a degree or certificate program at least part time.
To be eligible for Tennessee Reconnect, a student must not already hold an associate or bachelor’s degree, must be a Tennessee resident for at least one year, and be determined to be an independent student on the FAFSA.
“Legislators on the House floor came together to honor Tennessee’s blind veterans, as well as pay tribute to all of the men and women who sacrifice themselves for the freedom Americans are able to enjoy on a daily basis during an official ceremony and presentation,” Howell explained.
The ceremony included a presentation of the braille American flag.
Staff Sgt. Walt Peters, a veteran who served 20 years in the U.S. Army including three tours of duty in Vietnam, led the ceremony.
“Sgt. Peters lost his sight 15 years ago as a result of exposure to the chemical Agent Orange while serving in Southeast Asia,” Brooks said.
Howell added, “This proud American soldier first got involved with the braille American flag in 2014, when he was presented with a durable paper replica of the bronze-cast braille flag.”
Howell said further of the military presenter, “… Sgt. Peters, who only sees faint silhouettes, said that gift meant a lot to him and it pushed him to set out on a mission to have a bronze braille flag placed in every veterans’ hospital in the country; that’s more than 150.”
According to the legislators’ summary, Peters’ mission led him to meeting Randolph Cabral, founder of the Kansas Braille Transcription Institute, who designed the braille flag to honor his father, Jesus Sanchez Cabral.
Legislators described Cabral as a decorated U.S. Army Air Corps veteran who served the United States during World War II. Glaucoma took his sight 10 years before his death.
“Glaucoma also hampered [Cabral’s] ability to post and fly the American flag on his front porch, a duty he cherished as a patriotic veteran,” Brooks said.
He explained the significance of the braille American flag.
“It serves as a valuable teaching and learning aid for instructing blind students about its place in American history,” Brooks cited.
The flag is composed of braille figures in the upper left corner that represent the stars of the 50 states, the legislator described. They are arranged in nine rows of alternating clusters. The long, smooth horizontal lines represent the red stripes. Each red stripe is lined with the appropriate braille dots to indicate the stripe’s color. The long raised textured areas on the flag represent the white stripes. They are also lined with the appropriate braille dots to indicate the stripe’s color.
Howell described the American braille flag as “… a powerful symbol for more than 30 million blind and low-vision Americans.”
According to the summary, the United States Congress in 2008 authorized its placement at Arlington National Cemetery as a tribute to blind veterans.
“It is displayed by thousands of sighted and blind civilians, veterans, hospitals, memorial parks, elected officials, schools for the blind, and many other places,” Brooks noted.
House Bill 1849 continues legislators’ efforts to combat this growing menace “… by protecting the records of trafficking victims who seek treatment from service providers during their recovery process,” Howell said. “While records are currently confidential for patients who are treated in hospitals, this initiative protects those who are treated at domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers, as well as human trafficking service providers.”
Legislators pointed out an estimated 94 teenagers in Tennessee fall victim to human trafficking each month.
“However, the state has some of the toughest laws against this type of crime in the entire country,” Brooks said.
The Cleveland lawmaker added, “According to Shared Hope International, our state ranks first among all 50 states for legislation that combats human trafficking. Much of that success can be traced to the steady work of lawmakers who have fought to give a voice to human trafficking victims.”
The state General Assembly built momentum against this new crime wave in 2017 by allocating $550,000 for organizations like End Slavery Tennessee, Second Life and Restore Corps. Their mission is to help end human trafficking in Tennessee, legislators pointed out.
The state impetus to fight human trafficking was reinforced by the creation of the Human Trafficking Advisory Council by House Speaker Beth Harwell, and multiple pieces of legislation that have been passed to combat trafficking occurrences, Howell advised.
“Human trafficking victims suffer an extraordinary amount of physical abuse, emotional trauma and psychological pain,” Howell said. “House Bill 1849 seeks to protect victims from further harm and aims at supporting recovery efforts so that they can restore some sense of normalcy in their daily lives.”
Howell and Brooks reported this proposed legislation will be heard this week by members of the House Civil Justice Subcommittee.
Chair of Honor
in committee process
An initiative sponsored within the House of Representatives that honors America’s Prisoners of War (POWs) and those Missing in Action (MIAs) is advancing through the General Assembly’s committee process, the legislative tandem reported.
Last Wednesday, members of the House State Government Subcommittee unanimously voted to send House Bill 2138 to the full State Government Committee.
“The measure expands the POW-MIA Chair of Honor program to include placement of an unoccupied chair containing the POW/MIA insignia at the Capitol campus in Nashville at no cost to taxpayers,” Brooks explained.
Howell added, “The POW/MIA Chair of Honor program is designed to serve as a solemn reminder of soldiers who are still waiting to be brought home. According to data from the Defense Department’s POW/MIA Accounting Agency, more than 80,000 service members are still listed as Missing in Action decades after they served in conflicts like World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.”
Brooks described House Bill 2138 as “… the latest in a series of initiatives supported by House lawmakers in order to call attention to the selfless sacrifices of American service members and their families.”
The Chair of Honor is no stranger to the families and loved ones of POWs and MIAs.
“A chair containing the POW/MIA insignia is already displayed at various government buildings, including the Capitol in Washington, and other public locations in cities and towns across the country,” Howell said.
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