This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Legislation to keep Tennesseans safe from criminal gang activity is on its way to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature. Representative Barrett Rich (R—Somerville) was given the responsibility of guiding two of Haslam’s top anti-crime priorities through the House of Representatives because of his deep understanding and professional experience in law enforcement matters. The key bills passed the House unanimously Monday evening. The first bill, House Bill 2390, establishes enhanced punishment for crimes of force or violence committed while acting in concert with two or more other persons.
Two key elements of Gov. Bill Haslam’s anti-crime package are headed to his desk after the House took final action on the measures Monday night. The House voted 91-0 to boost penalties for violent crimes committed by groups of three or more people. The other bill increases penalties for gun possession by people with previous felony convictions. It was approved on a 95-0 vote with no debate. Both bills are intended to combat violent crime and, in particular, criminal gangs.
Legislation to keep Tennesseans safe from criminal gang activity is on its way to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature. Representative Barrett Rich (R—Somerville) was given the responsibility of guiding two of Haslam’s top anti-crime priorities through the House of Representatives because of his deep understanding and professional experience in law enforcement matters. The key bills passed the House unanimously Monday evening.
Tennessee schools still have work to do but are well along in making needed changes, according to an official with of an education reform group Sharon Roberts of SCORE (State Collaborative On Reforming Education) spoke Tuesday to educators and public officials from the five counties — Bradley, Polk, McMinn, Meigs and Monroe — in Cleveland State Community College’s service area. “No, we are not where we need to be, but that’s why SCORE exists,” Roberts said before the annual luncheon of the Hiwassee-Ocoee Regional P-16 Council.
Gallatin artist Dr. Joel Knapp of Gallatin, retired dentist and 40-year oil painter, was recently commissioned to paint the seasons of Tennessee to hang in the ballroom of the Governor’s Mansion. The 4-by-5-foot paintings depict various places in Tennessee, including a scene of Bugg Hollow Road in Sumner County. Gov. Bill Haslam held a reception for Knapp in the ballroom on March 15.
A coal company is being fined for illegally dumping more than a million gallons of “black water” into an Anderson County river that’s home to a fish and a plant on the federal list of threatened species. The fines from the state’s Department of Environment and Conservation could total $196,000 unless Premium Coal Inc. begins quickly taking steps to upgrade its coal-washing operations in the remote Devonia community. Regardless, the company must pay a base civil penalty of $50,000, according to TDEC’s order. Premium officials could not be reached.
A Clarksville woman was one of two Tennesseans charged in separate cases with TennCare fraud, both involving prescription drugs. The Office of Inspector General today announced the arrests of 54-year old Debra D. Cothran of Clarksville and Leslie Larome Howard, 22, of Franklin. The arrests were assisted by Williamson, Stewart and Montgomery counties’ Sheriff’s offices, according to a news release from state finance and administration spokeswoman Lola Potter.
The battle over reforming Tennessee’s civil service laws entered its final stages Tuesday after a last-ditch lobbying effort by state workers. A Senate committee sent Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to overhaul Tennessee’s civil service system to the floor, and its counterpart in the state House of Representatives said it would do the same next week, despite criticism from the Tennessee State Employees Association. The moves came after about 150 state workers rallied near the Capitol to oppose Haslam’s plan, the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management Act, or TEAM Act, which would represent a dramatic change in the state’s process for hiring, firing and laying off workers.
Governor Bill Haslam’s proposed civil-service overhaul gained some ground in the state legislature Tuesday. But the state workers’ union is trying to make its opposition known. More than a hundred members of the Tennessee State Employees Association rallied yesterday near the state capitol. Union officials worry the governor’s proposal will usher in unfair hiring practices and cronyism. Betty Davis works at a state mental health institute in West Tennessee. Davis worries the move also marks a slide toward privatization, driving out experienced workers.
A proposal that would prevent students from being discriminated against for expressing their religious beliefs is headed for a House floor vote after passing a key House committee on Tuesday. The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden was approved by the House Education Committee on a voice vote. The companion bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Holt said he proposed the legislation after talking with a concerned school board member in his district.
Local school boards would be required to let select students voluntarily express their “religious viewpoints,” be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Wiccan or atheist, at football games, school assemblies and graduation ceremonies under a bill moving in the House. The “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act” passed on the House Education Committee on Tuesday on a voice vote after a motion to put it in summer study was tabled. Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, the bill’s sponsor, said his legislation is needed to protect students. If anyone has issues with the bill, Holt said, “then you’re expressing your problem with the First Amendment and not with my bill.”
A proposal to let some Tennessee students make religious speeches at school is on its way to a floor vote in the state House of Representatives, despite fears it could have unintended consequences. The bill aims to give Christians more opportunities to express their beliefs, says sponsor Andy Holt – a Republican from Dresden. But the measure might not work as advertised, according to Chuck Cagle, a lawyer for the state Organization of School Superintendents. Cagle spoke Tuesday to the House Education Committee.
A House subcommittee Tuesday killed a bill seeking to ban mountaintop removal coal mining in Tennessee. The House Conservation Subcommittee voted 6-4 to send the measure sponsored by Rep. Mike McDonald to a study committee after the Legislature adjourns for the year. Republican Rep. Richard Floyd of Chattanooga made the motion to put off a vote on the bill because he said the panel needed more information about the measure. McDonald, a Portland Democrat who is retiring from the Legislature this year, noted that versions of the bill have been before Tennessee lawmakers since 2008, and that opposing views have had ample opportunity to be heard.
State lawmakers sent a bill that would ban mining at high elevations in Tennessee to summer study, likely killing the measure for the year. A subcommittee of the House Conservation and Environment Committee voted 6-4 Tuesday to set aside the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, which would ban mining practice known as “mountaintop removal.” Tennessee lawmakers have repeatedly turned down such a ban in recent years. Lawmakers said they have heard intense arguments from the coal mining industry and environmentalists since a ban on mining above 2,000 feet was first proposed in 2008.
A proposal to ban blowing up mountaintops to mine coal in Tennessee died Tuesday in the state legislature. The Scenic Vistas Protection Act would have made it illegal to cut away ridgelines above 2000 feet. Portland Democrat Mike McDonald says without mountains Tennessee wouldn’t be the same state. He argues the bill would protect ecosystems, people’s health – and jobs. That was disputed by coal-company workers. Dozens wearing hard hats and shirts with slogans like ‘Legalize Coal’ picketed the legislature, saying the proposed ban would cost jobs.
Legislature won’t consider Scenic Vistas Protection Act this year MTSU junior Kayla Connelly says she will continue the battle to save Tennessee’s mountain ridges despite a legislative setback Tuesday that killed a measure to stop mountaintop removal coal mining. “As long as there are mountains in Tennessee, I’ll still be fighting for them,” Connelly, 21, a studio art major, said Tuesday afternoon. Dubbed the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, the bill would have prohibited mining that changes ridge lines more than 2,000 feet above sea level.
A measure to eliminate the rights of businesses, schools and universities to bar employees from storing firearms in parked vehicles is headed for a full Senate vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 6-1 on Tuesday to advance the bill after Chairwoman Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, refused a request to hear from representatives of FedEx Corp. or other large employers that oppose the bill. “I don’t know that any more testimony is going to change anybody’s mind,” Beavers said.
The Tennessee Legislature is currently exploring two bills that could potentially eliminate the exchange or sale of event tickets throughout the state. The bills are dubbed the Fairness in Ticketing Act of 2012. They include provisions that say Ticketmaster , which has control over most concert and event ticket sales in Tennessee, would be able to take away purchasers’ tickets without cause and without a refund. Those provisions were filed as bill amendments this week.
A consumer group is criticizing proposed state legislation governing ticket sales to concerts and sporting events, saying it could prevent or limit ticket-buyers from reselling or giving them away. The “Fairness in Ticketing Act” would give brokers such as TicketMaster unprecendented power to control the secondary ticket market in violation of consumer-protection laws, the Fan Freedom Project contends. The advocacy group, based in Washington D.C., has scheduled a 2 p.m. press conference at Legislative Plaza today to air its concerns about the bill.
A proposal that would make cutting some students’ lottery scholarships in half contingent on revenues is headed for a floor vote in the Senate after a legislative committee approved the measure 9-2 on Tuesday. The legislation sponsored by Republican Sen. Dolores Gresham passed the Senate Finance Committee. The companion bill was delayed until next week in the House Education Committee. An original proposal sought to reduce by 50 percent the award for students who do not meet both standardized testing and high school grade requirements.
Lawmakers introduced a number of pieces of legislation this session to bolster laws against synthetic drugs in Tennessee after some in local law enforcement expressed concerns that current laws allowed room for the bad guys to duck the state code. Until state and federal laws enacted over the last year or so cut into availability, convenience stores and “head shops” across the state openly sold synthetic marijuana under names such as Spice, JH/Kush and K2. Synthetic cocaine and ecstasy also were sold as “bath salts” under names such as Ivory Wave, Cloud 9, White Lightning and Molly’s Plant Food.
Legislation to repeal Tennessee’s 14-year-old ban on new municipal school districts is set for a key House committee vote today, and even its opponents say it’s likely to pass. The bill plays a role in the push by Shelby County’s suburbs to create their own school districts and avoid the Memphis and Shelby County school systems merger set to go into effect for the 2013-14 school year. But it may not restore the May 10 referendums in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown and Lakeland.
Teachers may have option to criticize accepted theory Science teachers in Tennessee may soon be free to criticize scientific thinking on evolution, global warming and human cloning, based on a bill that passed the House late Monday. Scientists, including a world-renown influenza expert at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and leaders of the National Center for Science Education, are pushing Gov. Bill Haslam for a veto, saying the bill will take Tennessee back to the laughingstock days of the Scopes trial. Haslam spokesman David Smith expects Haslam will sign it.
A proposal to legalize medical marijuana is advancing in the state House. The House Health Subcommittee approved the measure on a voice vote on Tuesday after similar measures had quickly failed in previous years. Democratic Rep. Jeanne Richardson of Memphis, the bill’s main sponsor, said the measure would create the toughest access standards among the states that have enacted similar laws. In Richardson’s words: “Medical cannabis is no longer a radical idea – this is not Cheech and Chong with a bong.”
A proposal to repeal Tennessee’s new voter ID law has stalled in the Legislature after being killed by a Senate panel on Tuesday. Members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee voted 3-6 against the measure sponsored by Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson. The companion bill was to be heard in a similar committee later in the House. The law requires a photo ID in order to vote. Supporters say it’s needed to protect the ballot box from fraudulent voting. “Our world has changed … since 9/11″, said Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, a member of the committee and sponsor of the new law.
Legislation would recognize Sumner’s Vietnam War fallen State Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville) announced on Saturday legislation that would place a sign along Vietnam Veterans Boulevard for every soldier from Sumner County who died during the Vietnam War. Maggart, a co-sponsor of the bill, said she fully expects the bill to pass with ease. “It will show that the people of Sumner County honor and respect their servicemen, and that we appreciate what they gave for our country,” she said.
Mike Carter, a local businessman and Hamilton County Republican with a history in public service, has announced his candidacy for state representative in the newly drawn District 29. “It is not enough to run as a Republican, we must govern as Republicans, reassert the American dream and make it available to all citizens,” Carter said in a prepared statement. A portion of the previous District 29 ended up in the predominately black District 28 after redistricting. The newly drawn District 29 is predominately Republican and 15 to 20 percent black.
Blountville businessman Timothy Hill announced his is seeking the Republican nomination for State Representative in district three. Hill last ran for the seat in 2010, where he lost to representative Scotty Campbell. Campbell announced last week that is not seeking re-election. Since launching his campaign, Hill has raised more than $25,000. District three represents portions of Sullivan, Carter, and all of Johnson County.
For the first time in his career, 4th District Rep. Kent Williams will be campaigning outside of Carter County when he seeks a fourth term in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Williams has announced he will be a candidate, but he will once again be required to run as an independent after being elected as a Republican during his first two terms. Williams is a member of the Commerce Committee and the State and Local Government Committee. He served as speaker of the house in 2009-10.
Tennessee is among the nation’s top five states for adding government jobs through the recession. Twenty states and D.C. currently have more federal, state and local government workers than they did at the beginning of 2008, according to a new analysis by On Numbers, a Memphis Business Journal affiliate. Tennessee ranks fifth among them, adding 11,700 positions in the four-year period, an increase of 2.75 percent. Tennessee registered 437,200 total government jobs in January 2012. On Numbers used raw data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to compare government employment in January 2008 with the same month this year.
Local school workers are wondering why two area programs designed to help children succeed in school are in danger of being lost. Three million dollars in grant funds generally earmarked for Tennessee’s 103 Family Resource Centers are not included in the state’s 2012-13 budget as proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam. This cut would probably mean the end of two local programs — the Henry County School System’s Family Resource Center (FRC) and the Paris Special School District’s Family Enrichment Center (FEC) — if approved by the General Assembly this spring.
Ike Plemons’ higher education road has taken many turns and traveled through four different schools since he graduated from high school in 1996. At the end of the 15-year journey, the Cleveland, Tenn., native finds himself still without a college degree, holding more than 140 college credit hours and owing $50,000 in student loans. But despite all the challenges, getting a bachelor’s degree is still a very important goal, he said. “If given a choice, people would choose a career over a job because you have applicable skills you can take from employer to employer,” said the 34-year-old who works selling fireworks.
Bill would increase zone around hospitals A pending Metro Council bill could snuff out smoking on all hospital grounds and the public property surrounding them. The legislation would prohibit smoking within 50 feet of hospital entrances and the public right of way, including sidewalks. Several local hospitals — Baptist, Saint Thomas and Vanderbilt, including Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital — want an even stricter limit and have asked the Metro Council to ban smoking within 200 feet of their entrances. The specific locations where the hospitals are seeking an additional buffer of 150 feet are built into the ordinance.
A multi-county disaster drill Wednesday in Nashville will evaluate the ability to respond to a catastrophic event. Organizers say the event at LP Field may be the largest local disaster drill since 2006. Representatives from Davidson, Sumner, Wilson, Williamson and Rutherford counties will participate, along with several others from local, state and federal government agencies. Dozens of volunteers will act as injured patients. Organizers said the exercise will demand a unified emergency response from police, fire, emergency medical services and other specialty responders.
Nashville’s congressman is officially wading into the debate over the federal budget and the nation’s deficit. U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat, has introduced a “Simpson-Bowles Budget” alongside Rep. Steve LaTourette, an Ohio Republican, and others. The budget draws on recommendations by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, co-chaired by former Sen. Alan Simpson, an Ohio Republican, and Erskine Bowles, a Democrat “The budget debate so far has been completely partisan, and our proposal is the only one with support from both parties,” Cooper said in a statement.
Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville has filed a bipartisan budget plan that would cut the national debt by $4 trillion over the next 10 years — the amount many economists say is needed to begin to curb the country’s $15 trillion debt. The budget, an alternative to those released by House Republicans and President Barack Obama, is based on recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson Commission, the debt-reduction panel appointed by Obama in 2010. It could get a House vote as early as today, according to Cooper and the five other congressmen who filed the proposal.
Despite warnings that less government oversight might mean more investment scams, Congress on Tuesday sent President Barack Obama legislation he endorsed making it easier for startups to raise capital without running afoul of federal regulations. The legislation, backed by Silicon Valley and the high-tech industry, is on course to be one of the few achievements this year for a Congress mired in partisan divisions and primed for the fall elections.
The two Democrats vying for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s job say their chances are realistic. “I don’t think this is a Republican district,” Chattanooga businessman Bill Taylor told a roomful of students Tuesday at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “I’m in it to win it, and I think it can be done.” Taylor described Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District as “very winnable” despite the past two decades of reality — nine straight Republican triumphs, including Fleischmann’s 2010 win. The last Democratic victory came in 1992 when former U.S. Rep. Marilyn Lloyd of Chattanooga won her 10th and final term.
On March 22, the Hamilton County Republican Party passed a policy that allows qualified candidates to use party resources to promote campaign events. Four days later, Weston Wamp requested help. Staffers for Wamp, son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, used the county GOP’s computer servers and master list of 2,700 email addresses to publicize an open fundraiser held Monday night in honor of the congressional candidate’s 25th birthday. The younger Wamp’s opponents say the county Republican Party — publicly neutral in a contested primary — told them nothing about the new policy or how they could benefit from it.
As the guy leading work on Tennessee’s health insurance exchange, Brian Haile is watching intently as U.S. Supreme Court legal arguments wrap up today to determine whether the federal health reform law is constitutional. Haile says he’s fascinated by the legal debate, but he also considers the case a distraction to state planning efforts that eventually will determine whether Tennessee sets up an exchange of its own to offer insurance — or allows the federal government to operate the one planned here.
The U.S Courts System is not considering closing the Ed Jones Federal Building or the U.S District Courthouse in Jackson. The federal agency is considering closing only certain areas within the Ed Jones Federal Building but no offices or courtrooms within the newer courthouse — the U.S. District Courthouse/Western District of Tennessee/Eastern Division, which is 50 feet away from the Ed Jones building. The Ed Jones Federal Building appeared last week on a list of 60 courthouses or federal buildings across the nation that are being surveyed by the Judicial Conference Committee of the United States to see if it can close all or portions of its offices in those buildings in an effort to reduce annual costs.
The organizations behind the SAT and ACT college-entrance exams said Tuesday they are imposing stricter security measures for test-takers nationwide in response to a cheating scandal that erupted in New York. In one of the most significant changes, students registering for college-admissions tests that take place in the 2012-13 school year will have to upload or mail photos of themselves that will be printed on tickets. The tickets will then be checked against a photo identification on the day the test is given. The College Board and ACT also have eliminated a standby option for taking exams.
In the morning, the court will hear 90 minutes of oral arguments on the question of whether all or parts of the health law must be struck down if the requirement that almost everyone purchase health insurance is found unconstitutional. In the afternoon, attorneys will have one hour to present arguments on the question of whether Congress exceeded its power by “coercing” states to substantially expand Medicaid coverage. Severability The sprawling Affordable Care Act includes many provisions that have little or nothing to do with the individual mandate.
Republican state legislators are struggling to pass laws this year that would give local police more powers to crack down on illegal immigrants. After Arizona passed its landmark illegal immigration bill in 2010, legislators in Utah, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Indiana followed and passed similar laws last year. But portions of all those laws have been blocked by federal courts and will face costly legal challenges, which could ultimately be decided when the Supreme Court reviews Arizona’s law next month.
One lesson learned from the region’s tornadoes over the past year is resulting in a sirens upgrade for all three TVA nuclear plants, beginning with Browns Ferry near Athens, Ala. “The severe weather in this area over the last year is a reminder of the importance of the sirens to the safety of the community,” said Browns Ferry site Vice President Keith Polson in a prepared statement. The new sirens run on conventional electrical service, but feature a battery backup designed to keep them operating for up to seven days if power is interrupted, as it was for several days after last April’s tornadoes.
Knoxville is recovering from the Great Recession faster than most other cities, but weak housing prices continue to be a drag on the local economy, according to a Brookings Institution report released today. Metropolitan Knoxville’s overall economic performance since the recession ended places it among what Brookings describes as the second-strongest 20 local economies in the nation, according to the MetroMonitor report. Twenty other cities, including Nashville, are in what the report labels the strongest metros.
A scandal over lavish executive compensation made for bad publicity, but it apparently hasn’t hurt the recruiting effort for Knoxville’s top tourism organization. At a Tuesday meeting of the Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corp. board, board member Chris Protzman said he has been “getting deluged with resumes” to fill the vacancy left by ousted president and CEO Gloria Ray. KTSC is searching for a new leader after the departure of Ray, who retired in the face of intense criticism over a compensation package that exceeded $400,000, including bonuses.
Hamilton County Schools officials are proposing a total budget of $383 million for the next fiscal year — about $15 million more in spending than the current budget year. School leaders laid out their proposal Tuesday evening to the school board’s finance committee. While they expect some revenues to increase next year, the budget would require cuts in some areas because of impending spending increases in other areas. Christie Jordan, the school system’s director of accounting and budgeting, said about $12 million in cost increases were “unavoidable.”
Consultant says to ignore cynicism of plan There’s a lot of uncertainty about starting a municipal school district, but an education consultant told Millington residents Tuesday night that they can still do it, if they want to. “Folks, it’s OK to be skeptical,” Jim Mitchell, with Southern Educational Strategies, told a crowd of about 70 at the Millington Civic Center. “But don’t listen to the cynics.” Mitchell, a former Shelby County Schools superintendent and former principal of Millington Central High School, told residents the law is clear that they can create a municipal district, although it isn’t so clear when they can do it.
Brandon Whitt of Rutherford County works 1,700 acres of hogs and row crops side by side with his father-in-law, sixth generation farmer John L. Batey. If the Tennessee legislature doesn’t repeal the state’s estate tax, their way of life will not make it into the hands of Batey’s three children and eventually, Whitt’s three children. Paying the so-called “death tax” would probably wipe them out. “We’re highly in support of eliminating it,” Whitt said. “It’s the way of life you want to protect, and the heritage. I couldn’t do anything else. You go into farming because you have a passion, not because it’s the best moneymaker.”
Teachers’ innovation, not uniformity, is key In a Feb. 20 New York Times article entitled, “States Try to Fix Quirks in Teacher Evaluations,” Tennessee’s new teacher evaluations figured prominently. The Times reporter traveled across Tennessee, interviewing state leaders, principals, teachers — all who described the promise, pitfalls and potential to improve teacher quality with an evaluation framework. Daniel Weisberg, executive vice president at The New Teacher Project, noted, “If you don’t solve the problem of teacher quality, you will continue to have an achievement gap.”
Yesterday, Tennessee lawmakers punted on legislation they should have passed that would have made Tennessee the first state in the nation to ban the destruction of its state’s scenic mountain vistas by coal mining. The Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, banning mountaintop-removal mining of any peak higher than 2,000 feet, deserved broad bipartisan support. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike McDonald, D-Portland, moved the bill to a summer study committee, effectively delaying for at least one more year the effort to prevent the destruction of some of Tennessee’s most beautiful mountains.
Tennessee’s Republican-dominated Legislature should be deeply embarrassed and ashamed by its unbridled rush to soak up PAC and corporate cash — money that typically comes laden with the obligation of awarding legislative favors and bills designed by and for special interest lobbies. It has just gotten a C-minus in lobbying disclosure, a C-minus in political financing and a D-minus in ethics enforcement in a comprehensive new report issued by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, which grades the performance of state governments.
Our Tennessee Legislature unfortunately, and unnecessarily, has been involved — again — in an unproductive controversy about the theory of evolution. The state House of Representatives Monday night voted 72 to 23 for a bill apparently designed to protect teachers who discuss the subject of evolution. The bill now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam. The bill apparently bars the Tennessee Board of Education and local education officials from prohibiting teachers in public schools from “helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.”
After Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s union workers last week approved a three-year contract extension, ORNL Deputy Director Thomas Zacharia praised the hourly employees for their cooperation and commitment to the lab. The agreement to extend the contract included some cost-cutting measures, including changes in some benefits and a reduction in this year’s scheduled 4 percent pay raise. Some of the changes are similar to those already enacted among salaried employees as the lab attempts to deal with tight budgets and rising pension costs.
The fallacy of criticism about the health care reform act is we all pay for medical care for uninsured individuals. The heated and at times hyperbolic rhetoric over the evils of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act clouds over these facts: While America’s health care system may not be totally broken, it is in need of major repair. As long as the status quo continues, Americans will continue to pay a stiff price through rising health insurance premiums and higher deductibles.
The industry’s role comes with risks—namely congressional underfunding—but stop calling it insurance. Insurers were never the enemy of ObamaCare that it suited President Obama to pretend. That much is clear from their stance in this week’s Supreme Court case. In a brief filed by America’s Health Insurance Plans, the industry’s main trade group, along with the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, insurers conspicuously fail to take issue with the individual mandate or any feature of ObamaCare. Their sole concern is a question that will animate Wednesday morning’s oral argument—”severability,” or whether the individual mandate can be struck down without invalidating the rest of the law.
In ruling on the constitutionality of requiring most Americans to obtain health insurance, the Supreme Court faces a central test: whether it will recognize limits on its own authority to overturn well-founded acts of Congress. The skepticism in the questions from the conservative justices suggests that they have adopted the language and approach of the insurance mandate’s challengers. But the arguments against the mandate, the core of the health care reform law, willfully reject both the reality of the national health care market and established constitutional principles that have been upheld for generations.