Monday, February 26, 2018

Governors Association meeting addresses broadband, opioids, farming; guns not on agenda, but discussed

Ariz. Gov. Doug Ducey spoke during a panel at the NGA
2018 meeting. (Associated Press photo by Jose Magana)
Several issues of rural interest were on the agenda at the National Governors Association 2018 winter meeting this weekend, including agriculture, broadband, and the opioid crisis.

Guns: Firearms weren't on the official agenda, though President Trump said at the conference's opening night black-tie ball that the recent school shooting in Florida was the top issue he wanted to discuss with the governors, Darlene Superville reports for The Associated Press.

Republican governors were skeptical about the possibility of arming teachers, which Trump has said would help deter future attacks. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, the NGA chairman, met with Vice President Mike Pence Friday to discuss school shootings. Sandoval told reporters he supports Trump's proposal to ban bump stocks that make rifles automatic, but arming teachers "needs a lot more discussion. At first blush it concerns me . . . You've got to look and see what the other alternatives are. Perhaps we just need to secure the schools a little better," Gary Martin reports for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Outgoing Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told Politico, "I’m not certain I see arming teachers as being the answer because I think there’s a very small percentage of teachers who say 'Yes, I want to do that.'" And Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey told Politico that he prefers only resource officers to have guns in school so teachers can focus on teaching. "Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican in a relatively liberal state, pled with his legislature last week to fast-track a bill that would remove guns from people deemed a threat. He said he’s 'changed completely' on gun issues since the Parkland shooting," Politico reports. Florida Gov. Rick Scott is urging his legislature to raise the age on gun sales to 21, ban bump stocks, and spend at least $450 million on mental health and enhancing security in schools.

Broadband: Microsoft announced its first rural broadband partner, Packerland Broadband, to bring broadband internet to about 82,000 people living in rural northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the next four years. The initiative is part of a coalition between Microsoft and a host of rural broadband and tech groups called Connect Americans Now, aimed at eliminating the digital divide in rural America by using the "white spaces" between TV channels. During his NGA address, Microsoft President Brad Smith criticized the Federal Communications Commission's failure to generate reliable data on broadband availability.

Agriculture: Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, told the governors that the agricultural economy hinges on infrastructure, reports Eleanor Lamb of Transport Topics: "Roads, bridges, dams and locks are so important," Duvall said. "What sets us apart from the rest of the world is our infrastructure. Yes, it is crumbling, but we have a president who wants to rebuild it." Duvall also said preserving the North American Free Trade Agreement is necessary, though parts of it could be reworked. NAFTA negotiations are now in their sixth round.

Opioids: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at the meeting that the Food and Drug Administration plans to expand medication-assisted treatment by allowing pharmaceutical companies to sell medications that help curb cravings, even if they don't completely stop addiction. HHS will issue draft guidelines for the proposal in the next few weeks, Sheila Kaplan reports for The New York Times. Azar's remarks were "different from the tone struck by his predecessor Tom Price, who last year suggested he was skeptical of medication-assisted treatment," Politico Pulse notes.

Earlier this month, the NGA announced two projects aimed at the opioid epidemic. "Participating states will travel to Kentucky to learn about how that state is addressing the increased risk of infectious disease through public-health surveillance and community prevention efforts," said an NGA press release. "In the second, states will learn from Ohio’s efforts to better serve pregnant and post-natal women with opioid use disorder and improve health outcomes for their babies." 

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