This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam said he plans to come up with a decision on whether the state should expand its Medicaid program before lawmakers go home for the year. The move could further stifle plans by Republicans in the legislature who are already lining up to legally ban the governor from expanding to the program, an option left open under the federal Affordable Care Act. “Some people feel really strongly like we shouldn’t expand Medicaid and so they would like to go ahead and pass that. I personally think we’re better off to do our homework first,” Haslam told reporters after speaking at a Tennessee Press Association luncheon downtown Thursday.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he wants to decide during this legislative session if the state should expand Medicaid to an estimated 181,000 low-income Tennesseans under the federal Affordable Care Act. “Any decision we make, I promise you, we’re going to get the Legislature to approve,” the Republican governor said after speaking at a Tennessee Press Association and The Associated Press luncheon. “We’d love to decide that prior to their leaving. It just makes it neater.”
The state’s hospitals are playing out the “what if’s” as lawmakers consider whether to expand Medicaid as part of the federal health care overhaul. Their study says 90,000 Tennessee jobs could be lost if the expansion does not occur. Without expanding who is covered by Medicaid – known as TennCare in Tennessee – hospitals say there could be a “recessionary impact.” Hospitals agreed to cuts that total billions of dollars, believing they would see fewer uninsured.
A new study from the Tennessee Hospital Association projects that Medicare cuts will have a $13.3 billion economic impact on Tennessee over the next ten years, a figure that hospital officials hope will convince Gov. Bill Haslam and the Republican led Legislature to expand Medicaid. The study looks at the impact of the $5.6 billion in Medicare cuts to state hospitals from reform and upcoming sequestration, and other potential cuts being mulled in Washington, and estimates that the state could lose more than 90,000 jobs over the next decade.
Gov. Bill Haslam suggested his administration would not back away from its $55,000 tab to produce records from the Department of Children’s Services, even after the agency’s new leader said the estimate seemed “a little high.” Haslam said during and after a luncheon appearance Thursday before the Tennessee Press Association that news organizations brought the issue on themselves by refusing to drop their suit calling for disclosure of the case files of children who have died after being brought to the attention of child welfare workers.
Gov. Bill Haslam denies the state lost a case in which the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services must provide the public records of children who died or nearly died after the agency investigated reports they had been abused or neglected. The Republican governor told reporters after an annual meeting of The Associated Press and Tennessee Press Association on Thursday that the state is simply adhering to a Nashville judge’s ruling that it provide the records. Chancellor Carol McCoy ruled last month the agency had to redact and release the documents, calling the state’s argument that it needed more time “unpersuasive.”
In his first extensive comments on Tennessee’s most controversial congressman, Gov. Bill Haslam stopped short of endorsing Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais for re-election in 2014. The governor’s careful statements came last week during an interview at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Pressed repeatedly, Haslam declined to say whether he’ll support DesJarlais if the Jasper physician runs for a third term. “I think everybody’s kind of clear what the issue is there,” Haslam told editors and reporters, “and I think he’ll have a good bunch of … competition.”
Gov. Bill Haslam won’t have to face a court deposition as part of a lawsuit filed by Occupy Nashville following a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Joe B. Brown on Thursday afternoon. But amid the state’s defense against Haslam being deposed, Assistant Attorney General Dawn Jordan told Brown that Haslam had provided incorrect information to the media about the Office of the Attorney General’s involvement prior to the Occupy arrests.
When it comes to Obamacare, a decision that initially seemed a no-brainer looked different on closer inspection, according to Tennessee’s top finance official. Mark Emkes, commissioner of the state Department of Finance and Administration, was the featured speaker on Thursday at a breakfast meeting of the Knoxville Economics Forum. Emkes, the former CEO of Bridgestone Americas, discussed a wide range of topics, including the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
A Tracy City, Tenn., group was awarded funds for training by the state Department of Economic and Community Development as it seeks to establish attractions downtown that would draw tourism dollars to the southern Grundy County town. The group is a five-member steering committee formed to meet requirements for admission to the state’s Tennessee Downtowns program, City Recorder Roxanne Fults said.
Two inmates spent nearly 24 hours this week 15 feet in the air atop an air conditioning unit at the Montgomery County Jail while making demands of the jail staff. The inmates climbed down about 8 a.m. Thursday, according to a news release from the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Lucian Buchholz and David Morse, both Tennessee Department of Correction inmates housed at the jail, climbed atop the AC unit around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and refused to come down, one demanding to go to the hospital and the other demanding transfer to a state-run facility.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says fellow Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey has agreed to delay consideration of a bill seeking to ban the state from participating in Medicaid expansion under the federal health care overhaul. Ramsey said at a legislative preview session hosted by The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association on Thursday that Kelsey agreed to take his bill off notice to give the governor more time to consider an expansion.
Vanderbilt panelist urges lawmakers to focus on goals, best use of money When deciding whether to support Gov. Bill Haslam’s school voucher proposal, state lawmakers will need to consider if ultimately allowing 20,000 students to take advantage of vouchers is really the best use of public money, a Vanderbilt University professor said Thursday. Voucher plans that allow public money to be spent on private school tuition usually create more questions than answers, professor Claire Smrekar said Thursday during a panel discussion sponsored by the League of Women Voters in collaboration with Vanderbilt’s Peabody College.
State Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, is rejecting Democrats’ assertions that politics are behind his legislation that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before proceeding with an abortion. Tracy, an announced candidate in the 4th Congressional District 2014 Republican primary, said, “Let me just tell you where I am. My record is 100 percent pro-life. It has been the whole eight years I’ve been in the Senate, and that’s what I believe. I believe that life begins at conception. And this is a life-changing decision a woman’s going to make.”
The state legislator sponsoring the bill that would ban renaming of historical parks and monuments across Tennessee said Thursday that he’s disappointed that the Memphis City Council hurriedly renamed three Confederate-themed parks, but he won’t try to force a reversal. But another lawmaker said word of the council’s action in heading off McDaniel’s bill spread rapidly through the state legislature and could help the Shelby County suburbs’ efforts to establish their own school systems.
State Sen. Mark Green on Thursday launched a social media initiative designed to connect unemployed Tennesseans with potential employers. The program, called Tennessee Job Seekers, calls on the state and local communities to lend support, experience and resources to Tennesseans who are either recently laid off, unemployed or under employed, according to a news release from Green’s office. This initiative is for networking, marketing and information sharing. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are among the first avenues in helping people find jobs.
Lt. Gov.: Bill balances rights of gun, property owners MTSU President Sidney McPhee said Thursday he is worried about legislation that could increase the number of guns on campus. The one thing that makes him uneasy at night is the possibility of “irrational behavior and violence,” McPhee said at a conference of The Associated Press and Tennessee Press Association. A bill is speeding through the General Assembly that would allow people to bring guns onto campuses and workplaces, as long as they hold a conceal-carry permit and the weapons are locked in vehicles.
Same issue. Same voting machines. For the second time, the Sevier County Election Commission has effectively decided to retain the current voting machines for a March 14 re-vote on the question of offering liquor by the drink in Pigeon Forge. Commissioner John Huff said Thursday he favors keeping the machines for two reasons. “The people who vote are already familiar with them, and our poll workers are familiar with them,” he said. The March 14 vote was set after a judge voided a Nov. 6 due to ballot errors.
The campaign to re-elect U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is continuing a strategy of covering its flank within the Republican Party and sending a message to anyone dreaming of taking down the plaid-clad one. Today, the team announced that all 13 living former Tennessee Republican Party chairs will serve as honorary co-chairmen of the Statewide Committee to Reelect Lamar Alexander. The announcement follows the campaign’s recent announcements of political and finance leadership.
Most Americans who draw a paycheck saw their tax bill go up last month when a payroll-tax holiday expired. The question is whether that is prompting consumers to curb spending, just as the economy is struggling to gain traction. Some early signs suggest they are tapping the brakes. Surveys show the majority of Americans who are aware of the tax increase say they plan to cut spending, and consumer confidence has wavered. Companies like Target Corp. and women’s clothier Cato Corp. say the tax increase has crimped sales. Sales figures last month were mixed.
Calling it a “people’s public hearing,” the Sierra Club and other environmental groups Thursday night called on the Tennessee Valley Authority to end its reliance on coal as a source of power. More than 200 people attended the event at Nashville’s Looby Theater. It was aimed at gathering input about TVA’s plan to spend $1 billion upgrading the Gallatin Fossil Plant with new pollution controls. TVA did not hold a formal public hearing after it released a draft environmental report on the upgrades late last year.
An Oak Ridge-based research team has identified two genes in microorganisms that are responsible for an environmental process that converts mercury into its most toxic form — methylmercury. The discovery is being hailed by scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a long-awaited breakthrough and a possible step toward minimizing the global health hazards of mercury in the environment. The research results will be published in the prestigious journal Science.
More than 2,900 Warren County, Tenn., students missed school Thursday while local law enforcement agencies swept into every campus in the county after a threat of violence against the school system was posted on Facebook. On Wednesday evening, someone went on a memorial page set up for a local student who died in October and threatened gun violence at Warren County High School, said Director of Schools Bobby Cox. “We put in place a plan to have a high presence of law enforcement today,” said Cox.
It’s a scene played out countless times since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December: Anxious officials meeting to assess what security upgrades are needed at local schools. Anderson County’s version of the get-together, a joint meeting Thursday night of the Board of Education and County Commission, included a twist. Improvements to security in the county’s 17 schools started months before the deranged gunman shot and killed 26 children and adults at the Newtown, Conn., school and remain under way, said Joe Forgety, the system’s safety director.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell meets Friday, Feb. 8, with Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken to look over the still tentative budget plan for the consolidated school system that debuts in August. The meeting between Luttrell and Aitken caps a week that included two days of public hearings the school board held this week on tentative consolidation budget figures. The figures reflect $80 million to $90 million in new funding for the recommendations.
Gov. Bill Haslam has sponsored a bill to cap student enrollment in the Tennessee Virtual Academy. This is essentially a vote of “no confidence” by the governor for the program in particular and online primary and secondary schooling in general. Our state purchased a contract for the online curriculum from K12.com just over two years ago. What happened? As a parent of two children who are enrolled in TNVA, I see every day an important reason why we are in this mess. I found that Tennessee public schools could not meet my children’s needs. After ruling out private school, I looked into the for-profit K12 Corp. as an option to assist me in home-schooling my children.
At the urging of Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, the Knox County Republican Party passed a resolution at its organizational meeting Feb. 2 urging state legislators to change the law requiring that school superintendents be appointed. Returning to the past is no way to educate Tennessee’s children for the future. Legislators should focus not on hindering but on improving K-12 education. Tennessee used to have elected school superintendents, but the Education Improvement Act of 1992 included a mandate that superintendents be appointed by school boards. The idea behind the change was that appointed superintendents would be professional administrators who would run the day-to-day operations of school systems without the pitfalls that come with being a politician.
A proposal that would allow wine to be sold in Tennessee supermarkets and convenience stores appears to have its best chance ever to become law. The reason is, that unlike previous attempts to pass wine-in-supermarkets legislation, the bill being considered in this session of the General Assembly would leave the final decision in the hands of voters in the cities and counties that currently allow liquor sales. That is the way it should be. And that fact has drawn support for the bill from leaders in the state House and Senate. Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday that, while he is neutral on the issue, he would sign the bill if it passes. Haslam’s family owns a chain of gas stations/convenience stores. Proposals to allow wine sales in grocery stores have been a contentious issue over the years.
TENNESSEE HAS DECLARED WAR ON SHELBY COUNTY. We now have renamed three parks. Forrest Park to Health Sciences Park. Confederate Park to Memphis Park. Jefferson Davis Park to Mississippi River Park. The new names are uninspired and uninteresting – they might as well be Boring Park, Bland Park and Whatever Park – but what inspired them is what makes them interesting. They are the latest defense against yet another volley fired at Shelby County from Nashville. In what could have been an honest debate about how to deal with all of our history for all of our citizens instead of dividing them into opposing camps – about understanding the difference between recognition and honor, reality and romance, truth and myth – the City Council was forced instead to take hasty cover from incoming legislative fire.