This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Marking a milestone in the economy’s recovery, states are now collectively boosting their cash reserves to the highest levels since 2008, giving lawmakers the rare luxury of arguing over how to use the cash. During the recession and subsequent years of sluggish growth, state governments raided their so-called rainy-day funds and slashed spending deeply to plug budget gaps caused by falling tax receipts…Some governors are proposing to raise reserves further as they prepare budgets for the next fiscal year.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday will pay tribute to Vietnam Veterans leading into the 40th anniversary of the withdrawal of troops. Haslam will be joined by Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder and Vietnam Veterans of America Tennessee State Council President Barry Rice. The proclamation and presentation event will be held at 2 p.m. on War Memorial Plaza in front of the Vietnam Veterans Monument in Nashville. Tennessee became the first state to observe Vietnam Veterans Day in 2008.
Tennessee’s Health Industry Pushes Move, but GOP Leaders Have Reservations Deciding whether to expand Tennessee’s Medicaid program as part of the federal health-care law should be easy for Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and the GOP leaders of the state legislature. All of them oppose the health law. They watched the state significantly extend eligibility in the 1990s for its Medicaid program, TennCare, only to see costs eat into the state budget and prompt lawmakers a decade later to kick several hundred thousand people off the rolls.
Loss of federal funding hurt TN finances Proponents of expanding Medicaid in Tennessee say the financial support from Washington is a deal too good to pass up — federal funding for 100 percent of the expansion costs for three years and at least a 90 percent match after that. But Tennessee is approaching the carrot warily partly because of its experience as a pioneer in expanding Medicaid to cover the uninsured in the 1990s. Federal funding for that expansion was cut after the White House and governorship changed hands.
Two nights a year, Tennessee holds a health care lottery of sorts, giving the medically desperate a chance to get help. State residents who have high medical bills but would not normally qualify for Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor, can call a state phone line and request an application. But the window is tight — the line shuts down after 2,500 calls, typically within an hour — and the demand is so high that it is difficult to get through. There are other hurdles, too. Applicants have to be elderly, blind, disabled or the “caretaker relative” of a child who qualifies for Medicaid, known here as TennCare.
It was an hour until nightfall and, at the bottom of the natural basin at the northwest end of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the air had a penetrating chill. The leaf buds were still tightly furled, and the early spring wildflowers wouldn’t be in bloom for at least another week. On this evening in mid-March, not much was stirring except for the bats, which already were starting to fly from the cave. A team of students from the University of Tennessee had hiked two miles through the park’s backcountry carrying their lab equipment and a mist net to get here.
TennCare and school vouchers. For two of the biggest issues facing the Tennessee legislature, the next few days may be decisive. Republican leaders are pushing for a quick close to this year’s legislative session, setting up what could turn out to be a make-or-break week for some of the biggest issues facing state lawmakers. The timetable may strengthen the hands of conservatives on some issues while weakening them on others. Democrats complain that Republicans are working at “lightning speed” to pass radical legislation.
Three of the Tennessee legislature’s most contentious issues of the year — school vouchers, TennCare expansion and municipal school districts — will likely come into clearer focus this week. What’s ahead as the 2013 legislative session enters its last month: Vouchers Voucher programs allow parents to use public school funding from taxpayers to pay private school tuition for their children, and 12 states and the District of Columbia have various forms of voucher programs.
A legislative proposal to exclude newer cars and trucks from annual emissions testing sounds good to vehicle owners and to state lawmakers, who whisked it through a Senate committee and House subcommittee last week. But state regulators and the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry are nearly choking over the potential impact on existing and future businesses in six affected counties including Hamilton County, home to Volkswagen’s assembly plant. In addition to Hamilton, Davidson, Rutherford, Sumner, Williamson and Wilson counties, and Memphis, require vehicles to pass annual emissions tests to get tags.
Student identification cards issued by public universities could not be used to vote under legislation scheduled to be heard on the House floor Monday evening. The measure was amended in a House committee last week to remove the use of student IDs. Less than a week before, the full Senate voted 21-8 to pass a bill to allow such IDs. Republican Rep. Susan Lynn of Mt. Juliet is the House sponsor of the measure, and Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro has the companion bill. Lynn said Ketron is agreeable to the change even though he defeated efforts to remove college IDs from the bill in the Senate.
The state Senate has approved legislation aimed at encouraging mental health professionals to report violence-prone individuals to law enforcement authorities, who would then put their names in a database used in background checks of people seeking a handgun carry permit or trying to buy a gun. The bill (SB789) also calls for quicker reporting of people involuntarily committed to mental treatment by judicial order. Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, the sponsor, said officials are now required to send the reports of commitments within a jurisdiction every three months.
Legislation setting the stage for election of school superintendents in some Tennessee counties faces key votes this week in both the state House and Senate with U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. among its supporters. “When the state went to appointed school superintendents, it did not take the politics out of the process,” Duncan wrote in a March 14 letter to state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains. “It simply put political control into a very small group of people.”
Senators angry after blocking bid to put Brown on board Angering Tennessee’s two Republican senators, President Barack Obama again wants Senate consideration of energy-efficiency expert Marilyn Brown for a full term on the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors. The nomination, sent to Capitol Hill on Thursday night, comes more than two months after Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker used Senate procedures to block Obama’s previous attempt to appoint her to a six-year term.
It was a little past 10 o’clock on a November morning when Ronald Reagan walked into the White House’s Roosevelt Room and prepared to sign into law the most comprehensive immigration reforms the country had seen in 3½ decades. In a short speech before he put ink to paper, Reagan paused to reflect on what the new law would mean. “Future generations of Americans will be thankful,” he said, “for our efforts to humanely regain control of our borders and thereby preserve the value of one of the most sacred possessions of our people: American citizenship.”
Neither rain, nor sleet nor windy weather could keep Tennessee letter carriers from protesting the proposed end of Saturday mail delivery. About 150 USPS employees and their loved ones showed up on Sunday afternoon at the Shallowford Road Post Office. “We want to do it six days a week,” said Joseph Ralph, a letter carrier who drove three hours from Kinsgport, Tenn., to join the rally. Sporting matching blue T-shirts, megaphones and picket signs, the group rallied against the United States Postal Service’s proposed cutbacks in delivery.
Federal regulators are pressing the Supreme Court to stop big pharmaceutical corporations from paying competitors to delay releasing generic versions of brand-name drugs. The Obama administration says these so-called “pay for delay” deals harm consumers by adding $3.5 billion annually to their drug bills. Pharmaceutical companies counter that they need to preserve revenue from their brand-name products in order to recover the billions of dollars they spend developing new drugs.
The Tennessee Valley Authority is teaming up with state and local officials and other federal agencies to begin springtime prescribed burning on public lands. The 2013 prescribed burn management program began this month and will continue through May. Burns are planned for Rhea, Hamilton, Franklin and Coffee counties in Southeast Tennessee. “Prescribed burning is a recognized natural resource management tool,” Bruch Schofield, vice president of TVA property and natural resources, said in a news release.
Erlanger Health System’s new, $1.8 million emergency room in Dunlap will bring full-time medical care to the central Sequatchie Valley as soon as late summer The facility will be in the publicly owned North Valley Medical Center building on the north end of town, Sequatchie County Executive Keith Cartwright said Thursday. “We’re excited over here,” Cartwright said. The county is putting up a $500,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant to help pay for some equipment and retooling, he said.
A charter schools organization says it plans to create four new schools in Memphis. The Tennessee Charter Schools Incubator says it will create the schools through its Education Entrepreneurs Fellowship with a $1 million investment from the Walton Family Foundation. Through a two-year fellowship, participants will join an individualized leadership development program that includes customized training, support and mentorship from regional and national education experts.
Folks with comments or questions about the proposed merger of Sullivan North and Sullivan South high schools have another chance to attend a community meeting. Monday night’s community meeting on the proposed merger of the schools is set to start at 7 p.m. in the North gymnasium. It will be streamed live by the Kingsport Times-News from a link at www.timesnews.net, the same process used on a Sullivan County Board of Education work session that drew about 500 to Northeast State Community College on March 14.
For Randy Newport, finding a meth lab was as easy as a walk in the woods. He ran across one last month on a walk through Lone Mountain State Forest. There were coffee filters scattered around a burned-out fire pit. “I figured they were making meth,” he said. “I saw this bottle of green stuff and said, ‘That’s not good.’ ” Located on the eastern edge of the Cumberland Plateau, Morgan County is a beautiful rural county of mountains, streams and open country. Parts of Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and Obed Wild and Scenic River are in the county.
As Gov. Bill Haslam gets closer to making a decision on expanding Tennessee’s Medicaid program, TennCare, he is faced with near irrational opposition by a few state lawmakers. With billions of dollars, jobs, hospital solvency and health insurance coverage for as many as 180,000 Tennesseans at stake, Haslam deserves some breathing room from state lawmakers. Both Republicans and Democrats are holding poison pill bills, either of which, if passed, would doom TennCare expansion. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, have a bill which would block TennCare expansion, taking the matter out of Haslam’s hands.
Prescription drug abuse is rampant throughout the country, and Tennessee is no exception. A bill wending its way through committees in the state Legislature would tighten the rules for pain management clinics. While some pain management clinics provide legitimate care for patients, those under shady management dispense addictive drugs with abandon. The bill is one slice of the legislative agenda being pushed by the Tennessee Public Safety Coalition, an umbrella group comprising the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association, the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference and the Tennessee Association of Police Chiefs.
The Davidson County Election Commission did the right thing, underlining once again that — despite the efforts of a few — Nashville is a welcoming city. And if the commissioners’ motivation was legal rather than moral, well, so be it. It’s better than letting it stand. The commission in February passed a measure asking the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security to review the citizenship status of every foreign-born voter who registered after March 1. Democratic Commissioner A.J. Starling said that was “actually profiling” immigrants, and “it didn’t pass the smell test.” He was spot-on. Not only that, Metro attorneys quickly advised the commissioners it would violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the National Voter Registration Act.