Rep. Bill Dunn and Sen. Richard Briggs speak at the Knoxville Chamber’s first Capitol Connections of the 2018 legislative session.


Legislation that aims to end the opioid epidemic through prevention, treatment and law enforcement was top of mind for two Knoxville state legislators during the Knoxville Chamber’s first Capitol Connections event of 2018.

Sen. Richard Briggs and Rep. Bill Dunn both agreed that treatment options for addicts must be expanded to provide more long-term options, but it’s equally important to focus on prevention and other measures – such as limiting the amount of opioids physicians can prescribe – to prevent people from becoming addicted, they said.

Briggs has continued this year to attack what he characterized as organized crime trafficking in gift cards, which obtained by shoplifters returning stolen merchandise to stores. Knoxville, he said, has the highest shoplifting rate per capita, and much of it is tied to buying and selling of gift cards, which provides cash to fuel the drug trade.

Briggs, and law enforcement that he’s worked with on the legislation, estimate the economic impact to retailers at $200 million statewide and the impact to the state in lost sales taxes at up to $20 million.

Calls have been coming in from attorneys general in other states inquiring about the legislation’s impact. “We think this can be a real game changer,” the senator said.

Dunn will carry part of the Governor’s opioid legislation in the House.

The two also touched on other topics including:

  • Legislation that would tie incentive funding to state universities based on the institution’s teacher training program outcomes. Dunn is sponsoring the measure along with Sen. Delores Gresham, chairman of Senate Education Committee.
  • The University of Tennessee’s Board of Trustees, which the governor would like to reduce from 27 members to 11. The governor’s bill would also create advisory boards for each UT campus. Both Briggs and Dunn said they support the measure, although they acknowledge that lawmakers may want to make some changes.

Dunn said Haslam discussed the idea with the Knox County delegation in December. “I have served with the governor for eight years now and I trust that he has thought this through and it’s a good idea.”

  • The Metropolitan Planning Commission’s vote this past year to require sidewalks in all new residential development in Knox County. Briggs is sponsoring legislation that would require all planning commission regulations to be approved by its respective legislative bodies, in this case the Knox County Commission.

Additional Capitol Connections events are scheduled for March 9 and April 13. Lawmakers will give an inside view of what’s happening on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill during a panel discussion moderated by Susan Richardson Williams, chairman of the Chamber’s Government Relations & Public Policy Committee.

Did you miss the Chamber’s first Capitol Connections? Watch the discussion in its entirety here.