This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
When Gov. Bill Haslam strode into the chamber for a joint session of the state legislature Wednesday morning, few in the room knew how he planned to resolve perhaps the biggest dilemma he has faced since being sworn into office in 2011. More than halfway through his speech, many still weren’t sure. As the governor darted and bobbed through the arguments over whether to expand TennCare, Democrats shifted anxiously in their chairs. They had planned to walk out of the chamber if Haslam announced he would reject expansion and the federal money that went with it. Republicans sat back with arms folded, seemingly unimpressed with his arguments.
Both sides of the debate over Medicaid expansion, said Gov. Bill Haslam, have characterized resolving the matter as “the biggest no-brainer of all time,” while his administration has devoted months to developing a complex, multifaceted, long-term solution. But that solution, which he calls “the Tennessee plan,” has the same effect at least temporarily as simply rejecting Medicaid expansion, something he did not want to do. “It never felt right to me just to totally say no, forget it, we’re not going to do this,” he told reporters, basically describing the complete rejection many conservative Republican legislators advocated.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has gotten some of the “clarity” he wants from the Obama administration on his plan to use federal Medicaid dollars to provide insurance for an estimated 181,000 low-income Tennesseans. He probably won’t like some of what they’re telling him. That’s because the guidance, issued Friday, says no to several provisions Haslam included in the “Tennessee Plan” he unveiled Wednesday to state lawmakers. Haslam told lawmakers he’d decided not to pursue an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, called TennCare, this year because U.S. Health and Human Services’ officials couldn’t provide clear answers on key aspects of his plan.
An effort to seal Tennessee’s handgun carry permit records from public scrutiny would create an exception for political operatives and lobbying groups to still obtain the entire set of names and addresses. Republican Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin told the Senate Judiciary Committee this week that his bill is an effort to block the publication of handgun carry permit records on newspaper websites. “We’re not trying to keep it where it’s not usable, but we want to keep it from being published,” he said.
A bill to ban United Nations observers went down in defeat last week. The measure’s troubles began when Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper issued a formal opinion saying House Bill 589 would violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution because it would amount to the state setting foreign policy. The attorney general also pointed out that U.N. officials would be immune from prosecution. The ruling didn’t deter the measure’s sponsor, state Rep. Micah Van Huss. The Jonesborough Republican pressed for the bill to be taken up by the House Civil Justice subcommittee, which did on Tuesday.
Tea party groups protested the Fairness in Ticketing Act, a bill that would limit the resale of tickets to concerts, games and other events. In a letter signed by tea party organizers Ben Cunningham and Ken Marrero, the Nashville Tea Party and Tennessee ConserVoliance said they are joining the Consumer Federation of America, the National Consumers League, the American Conservative Union and the Institute for Liberty in opposing the measure, SB 609/HB 1000. “
Late-night comedian Stephen Colbert had a good time Wednesday with the new low-to-the-floor mop sink at the Capitol that some Tennessee lawmakers thought might be a Muslim foot sink. “What is a mop sink other than a Muslim mop bath?” Colbert joked. “Think about it: A mop is nothing but a beard on a stick.” Muslims are required to wash their feet before praying.
State legislators voted last week to kill a proposed change to state law that would have collected more taxes from online travel companies like Expedia or Priceline. The bill’s supporters claim it would have closed a years-old loophole that essentially allows online travel companies to pay less in taxes than brick-and-mortar hotels. But opponents call the proposal a new tax increase that would have hurt Tennessee’s tourism industry. The vote came after an aggressive campaign by Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group headed by Grover Norquist in Washington, D.C., that urges lawmakers to “oppose all tax increases as a matter of principal,” according to its website.
Lawmakers continue to debate opposing proposals on how to deal with the rising number of Tennessee children born addicted to drugs. Doctors and health advocates have been steadily advancing the “Safe Harbor Act,” which would put drug-addicted pregnant women at the front of the line for treatment programs while preventing the Department of Children’s Services from taking away their infants solely for prescription drug abuse. The opposite approach — to allow prosecutions of women whose drug use harms their newborns — is backed mostly by law enforcement and has faced more resistance and delays.
Tennessee women who take illegal drugs during their pregnancy cannot be arrested for the harm they do to their babies. But some ended up in jail anyway. That’s because some police and prosecutors — unaware state law changed last year — pursued criminal charges thinking they had the authority to do that. They did not realize lawmakers eliminated their ability to charge women with assault or homicide against their unborn children. Even the state attorney general overlooked the change when he issued a written opinion Jan. 7 about whether women could be prosecuted. A lawmaker had asked for clarity on the issue.
Starting Monday, Tennessee doctors prescribing painkillers like hydrocodone, oxycodone and other controlled substances will be required to check their patients’ prescription history in an online database before signing the prescription slip. The new requirement — which was signed into law last year — is the state’s latest effort to clamp down on Tennessee’s prescription drug abuse epidemic. But doctors are concerned that it will add a significant burden in an era of growing medical paperwork.
Veterans groups are rallying to fight any proposal to change disability payments as the federal government attempts to cut spending. They say they’ve sacrificed already. Government benefits are adjusted according to inflation, and President Barack Obama has endorsed using a slightly different measure of inflation to calculate Social Security benefits. Benefits would still grow but at a slower rate. Advocates for the nation’s 22 million veterans fear that the alternative inflation measure would also apply to disability payments to nearly 4 million veterans as well as pension payments for an additional 500,000 low-income veterans and surviving families.
Across the country, education reformers and their allies in both parties have revamped the way teachers are graded, abandoning methods under which nearly everyone was deemed satisfactory, even when students were falling behind. More than half the states now require new teacher evaluation systems and, thanks to a deal announced last week in Albany, New York City will soon have one, too. The changes, already under way in some cities and states, are intended to provide meaningful feedback and, critically, to weed out weak performers.
More than 85 percent of the eighth-graders at Westside Achievement Middle School say they want to be in an Achievement District high school next year. But the state-run ASD, which took over Westside Middle and two city elementary schools in Frayser last year, doesn’t have a high school. So ASD officials have decided to open a freshman academy this fall inside Westside, and probably add sophomores in 2014. Enrollment is open to the 130 eighth-graders at Westside, as well those at Georgian Hills and Grandview middle schools, also in Frayser. “We have got enough space to grow out to freshmen and sophomore years,” said Jeremy Jones, ASD spokesman.
Without the Bridge Academy, Myia Clarke says she could have been in high school for two extra years. A transfer student from Portland, Ore., Clarke missed 69 days of school last year because she didn’t like going to class. “For me, high school was horrible,” said Clarke, 16. “If I wasn’t fighting with other students, I was fighting with one of the teachers or the principal.” Instead of going to school, Clarke spent her days roaming a shopping area, barely eating and waiting until school was dismissed. “My grades were horrible — I had all D’s and F’s,” Clarke said. “I liked biology, but I didn’t go enough and fell behind. I didn’t have a plan.”
Haslam pursues viable compromise to expand coverage Caught between a rock and the legislature, Gov. Bill Haslam’s bid to provide health coverage to 180,000 uninsured Tennesseans without adopting the federal Medicaid expansion is going to require a grand compromise. It has the potential to be the defining moment of Haslam’s administration. When the governor announced his decision to a joint session of the General Assembly on Wednesday, it seemed to come as a surprise to the lawmakers, most of whom have been dead set against the Medicaid expansion, on grounds of opposing federal “overreach,” objecting to the eventual portion of the cost to the state, or both.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam thinks he has a better plan to eventually provide health care coverage to 350,000 poor Tennesseans who lack health insurance. He said Wednesday that is why he is not recommending expansion of the state’s Medicaid program under guidelines in the federal Affordable Care Act. The governor made his decision on the hot-potato issue despite studies showing that Tennessee’s economy and its hospitals, especially those in rural areas, would suffer if Haslam and the Republican-controlled legislature refused to expand the TennCare program that provides health care coverage for the poor.
Gov. Bill Haslam missed an opportunity to show strong leadership last week when he rejected federal funds to expand Medicaid coverage to low-income Tennesseans as allowed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In a speech to a joint session of the Legislature, Haslam outlined a plan to expand coverage through subsidies for purchasing private health insurance policies, then pulled the rug out from under it. His fellow Republicans in the Legislature cheered the move, which will cost jobs, harm hospitals and leave up to 175,000 Tennesseans with no health insurance options. Haslam appears to have looked for a way to expand coverage that would appease the right wing of his party, which reviles President Barack Obama’s health care reform law.
Another troubling headline this week in The Tennessean about a state government department gone awry: “State botches jobless benefits.” This time it was a problem in how the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (LWD) mismanaged the unemployment insurance system, which resulted in, among other problems, more than $73 million “in overpayments due to fraud during the past six years and overpayments due to error for the past three years.” The problems were uncovered during the state comptroller’s annual audit of how Tennessee is performing its job of managing the payment of federal funds, which totaled $15.9 billion in 2012.
When we see a utility pole, most of us don’t give it much thought. However, those big pine poles are an essential part of our sophisticated communications network and, increasingly, our broadband infrastructure. Poles carry the necessary fiber-optic cables that allow us to connect to vital information and services as well as our loved ones, here or around the world. Those poles are essential to our present-day networks but, more importantly, are critical to the next wave of innovation and investment in our state — not just from cable, telecom and utility providers, but also for every home, school and business in Tennessee.
Last August, Times Free Press reporter Judy Walton wrote an extensive, multipart series detailing the apparently corrupt, incompetent and inappropriate behavior of 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Bebb. Walton’s investigative reporting found a number of examples of abuse of power and violation of the public trust by Bebb, as well as evidence of wrongdoing by employees under his supervision. Among the more startling revelations were that Bebb: • Refused to charge police officers for conduct that would have landed civilians in jail, including apparent theft and a shooting incident that led to a standoff between an off-duty officer and Bradley sheriff’s and SWAT officials.
When my wife and I started our business fresh out of law school times were tough. As hard as times were, we understood the need for balancing our books. The only way we were going to succeed in the future was to not spend more than we took in. It was a lesson we learned early, and it’s a lesson I preach every day in Washington. This past week, in fact, I took to the House floor on this very issue. I took a minute to remind the people in Washington exactly what a budget is. Webster’s defines it most simply as: a plan for the coordination of resources and expenditures. That’s fairly straightforward.
If this community wants an effective school board that will put children first, the County Commission’s plan to enlarge the board to 13 members when the Memphis and Shelby County school districts merge this summer is not the answer. In fact, I believe it will have the exact opposite effect. The county’s unified school board has asked court-appointed Special Master Rick Masson to appeal to U.S. District Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays to delay the enlargement of the board until the 2014 school year, when additional members could be elected rather than appointed to serve just one year.