Tennessee state Rep. Johnny Shaw D-Boliver and Sen. Katrina Robinson, D-Memphis, exchange views during the National Conference of State Legislatures in Nashville’s Music City Center. Courtesy photo

By Clint Confehr

NASHVILLE, TN — Four ZIP codes in Memphis have a very high rate of infant mortality, and a state senator wants to fix that.

Compassion and the sad statistic motivate Sen. Katrina Robinson, D-Memphis, a health care business founder and registered nurse.

“I’m talking about kids who come to the hospital … dying in the first six months of their lives,” Robinson said during the annual National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) summit Aug. 5-8.

Maternal mortality is also why she advocates better funding for Health and Education departments.

“It has a lot to do with education and support for mothers,” she said. “So my focus is going to be around creating programming that provides education for prenatal and postnatal phases of their lives.”

During NCSL meetings in the Music City Center, America was shocked by two mass shootings. In response, nearly 70 lawmakers gathered on the Tennessee Capitol steps advocating gun control reforms, the Associated Press reports. They were predominantly Democrats recommending background checks for nearly all gun sales and authorizing judges to restrict access to firearms by “people perceived as threats.”

Robinson said, “We had a shooting near Memphis in Southaven (Miss.) … at Walmart” July 30 when two people died. “We’ve got to do something about tighter gun laws.” Tennessee has an “enhanced carry law … which basically made it easier to get … a carry permit. I don’t think that’s wise. Carrying a gun requires adequate education.”

Education is also part of her remedy for prenatal and postnatal mortality.

“Going back to sex education in our schools, abstinence-based sex education has proven not to be effective,” Robinson said. “You can see that through high rates of [sexually transmitted diseases] … pregnancy rates and HIV rates. Just because we teach kids what not to do, does not mean they’re not going to do it.

“There’s an opportunity to impact how we teach kids in school, especially if they’re not getting it at home about what is a healthy relationship and sound sex education — medically accurate sex education.”

The 2020 census foreshadows reapportionment of state and federal legislative districts.

“That’s important for us in the legislature where we’re trying to operate with a supermajority of Republicans,” Robinson said. “Usually what happens is they draw the maps and the maps are all jacked up, and … we have to redraw the maps, and if they don’t meet the deadline, then the courts have to … do it.”

And, Robinson’s looking for ways to “transform our educational system to connect our youth to jobs even if they’re not going to college, but are going to trade school.”

Robinson foresaw a prospect for lawmakers’ discussion during the legislature’s special session this week on how Tennessee treats Planned Parenthood.

It “provides health care to a number of those same individuals who suffer from maternal and infant mortality issues,” she said. “It does cervical cancer screening, mammograms, prenatal care, well-woman exams, and I think they get pigeonholed into the abortion [issue] because they advocate to retain women’s rights to make decisions about their own health.”

Nearly 5,500 people attended the lawmakers national summit. Programs focused on school safety, criminal justice reform, capital punishment, transportation and other issues. NCSL is bipartisan.

The conference included hospitality rooms like one hosted by Rep. Antonio Parkinson D-Memphis for the Black Caucus at WKND Hang Suite.

Clint Confehr

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...