December 6 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

21-year legal fight over developmental center over (Associated Press)

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed over conditions at the Arlington Developmental Center, ending the 21-year legal fight over the center for the developmentally disabled. U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton had previously announced an agreement outlining steps the state would take to help former patients of the center, located in the Memphis suburb of Arlington. The federal government filed legal action in 1992 over abuse and mistreatment of people confined there. The state closed the center in 2010. Gov. Bill Haslam’s office says U.S. District Judge Jon McCalla approved the plan and dismissed the lawsuit Wednesday.

Lawsuit over institution for intellectually disabled reaches end (TN/Wadhwani)

A decades-old lawsuit over conditions at a West Tennessee institution for people with intellectual disabilities has been dismissed after a federal judge found the state met court-ordered improvements. The 1992 lawsuit over conditions at the Arlington Development Center in Memphis was originally filed by the U.S. Department of Justice after investigators uncovered numerous problems, including failures to protect residents from abuse and neglect, to provide adequate medical care and to train staff properly. People First of Tennessee, a group run by and for people with disabilities, filed a separate lawsuit that was later linked to the Justice Department’s suit.

Litigation over Arlington Developmental Center ends after 21 years (CA/Locker)

Three years after the state’s Arlington Developmental Center closed, the Memphis federal district court has ended 21 years of litigation over the former home for intellectually disabled residents by finding the state has complied with settlement terms to help care for its former residents through home- and community-based services. U.S. Dist. Judge Jon McCalla filed a final judgment order Wednesday finding that the state has “complied with all material provisions” of an “exit plan” filed in January to end the case.

Arlington Development Center lawsuit ends (Memphis Business Journal)

A 21-year-old lawsuit over the Arlington Development Center has been dismissed. The lawsuit was filed in 1992 over poor conditions for residents at the facility, and has been ongoing despite the center closing in 2010. Residents were moved to different locations after the closure, and in January both sides of the case agreed to an exit plan that included the state enrolling some former residents in home and community-based service programs, while helping others transition from nursing homes to the community. Some residential cottages on the campus are scheduled for demolition.

Gov. Haslam proclaims Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (Leaf Chronicle)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder today announced December 7, 2013 as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. On December 7, 1941, 2,390 American military personnel were killed and another 1,178 were wounded in an unprovoked attack by the Air and Naval forces serving Japan. The United States Congress, by Public Law 103 308, as amended, has designated December 7 of each year as “National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day” to recognize and honor brave heroes who died and demonstrate deep gratitude and admiration for their sacrifice.

Governor: Expanding insurance for poor requires state’s caution (DNJ)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s failure to expand Medicaid coverage has unintended consequences, a Murfreesboro attorney said Tuesday at a luncheon with the governor Attorney Harold Parker challenged the governor’s choice to push for a “Tennessee plan” to expand health insurance for the poor as offered by the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Parker was one of the few to take advantage of an open question-and-answer period with Haslam at the lunch Tuesday afternoon, sponsored by Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, where the governor spoke about economic development in Tennessee. An attorney who specializes in Social Security disability claims, Parker said Haslam’s inability to make a decision or successfully negotiate a compromise with the federal government about expanding Medicaid hurts his clients.

Service remembers murder victims (WSMV-TV Nashville)

Tennessee honored the families of murder victims in a solemn ceremony meant to offer comfort and hope. Families hung ornaments with pictures or names of their loved ones on wreaths, as each name was called. Behind each name and face on an ornament is someone whose loss and grief runs deep. Antoine Covington’s family chose his graduation picture for his ornament. The teen died in June 2012. He was shot to death outside a “Sweet 16” party in Antioch. “I think it’s an honor for the city and state to remember loved ones that’s been murdered. Sometimes we get lost in the shuffle. We think about them every day, but everybody else doesn’t. They never leave our hearts,” said Talia Simmons, his mother.

Mississippi, Tennessee brace for winter storm (Associated Press/Sainz)

Emergency crews were at the ready Friday and residents have been stocking up on groceries, buying electricity generators and gassing up their cars in advance of a winter storm that forecasters predict will bring freezing rain and ice into northern Mississippi and West Tennessee. The National Weather Service said winter storm warnings and watches and an ice storm warning were in effect for northern Mississippi and West Tennessee on Friday. Forecasters were anticipating precipitation that could remain frozen on streets, highways and sidewalks due to temperatures in the 30s or below.

State of Emergency declared in approach of storm (Commercial Appeal)

Bracing for a winter storm that threatens to sheathe Greater Memphis in a paralyzing cover of ice, authorities issued emergency declarations Thursday as schools and businesses began announcing closings and some Christmas parades were canceled or rescheduled. Shelby County Schools, including all offices, will be closed Friday. All after-school, evening and weekend events are also canceled. Officials said staff should not report to work. Across the region, local and state governments prepared to deal with slick roads, and utility crews were put on standby in the event of power outages.

TN lawmakers belong to influential, conservative GOP strategy group (TN/Barton)

Most U.S. House members from Tennessee belong to an increasingly influential behind-the-scenes group that prides itself on staking out the most conservative of conservative positions. Once a week, six of the seven Republican representatives from the state come to a meeting on the ground floor of the Capitol that starts with a prayer and then launches into a robust discussion of how to accomplish conservative legislative goals. It’s known as the Republican Study Committee, and it has become so big — 175 of the chamber’s 232 Republican members belong — that the Republican leadership cannot afford to ignore it, even when its positions put the party at risk of falling out of step with the public at large, experts on Congress say.

Patients may get stuck with lab bills after reimbursements cut (TN/Wilemon)

Patients may be writing multiple checks and paying more for a visit with their doctor as insurers slash reimbursements to physicians for blood work. After a similar move by its competitors, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has notified doctors that it will cut payments for lab tests in half. The trend puts the pinch on physician practices that do their own lab work as well as those that can make money by outsourcing the service. The scenario sets the stage for consumers to be billed directly by lab companies, said Dr. Sally Burbank, a Nashville internist. Health care consumers could end up with multiple invoices for a doctor’s visit just as they do with a hospital stay. One bill would come from the practice for the time spent with a physician.

Small TN employers renew plans early to stay ahead of reform costs (TFP/Flessner)

Most small employers in Tennessee have opted to renew their existing health insurance plans for another year this fall to stay ahead of potentially costly changes coming from the requirements of the new health care reform law in January. But those that have not and are looking for continued health insurance in 2014 are often facing record high premium increases, employers and insurance brokers said Thursday. “For groups with fewer than 50 employees who didn’t take an early renewal of their plans, we’re seeing a significant increase in their premiums and at the same time less covered benefits,” Russ Blakely, a health insurance broker in Chattanooga for the past 35 years, told business leaders Thursday at the Downtown Chamber of Commerce Council meeting.

Obama tells feds to boost renewable power 20 percent (AP, Times Free-Press)

President Barack Obama is ordering the federal government to nearly triple its use of renewable sources for electricity by 2020. Obama says the government should lead by example. The president says the plan to use renewables for 20 percent of electricity needs will help reduce pollution that causes global warming, promote American energy independence and boost domestic energy sources such as solar and wind power that provide thousands of jobs. Obama announced the plan Thursday as part of a wide-ranging, second-term drive to fight climate change and prepare for its effects. The directive on renewable energy applies to all federal agencies — civilian and military.

Literacy Focus (Memphis Daily News)

For Shelby County Schools officials, there hasn’t been much time to wonder about the second part of the historic reformation of public education in Shelby County. As members of the six suburban school boards were sworn in this month and agreements for school buildings and funding and settling the federal lawsuit were approved, Shelby County Schools board members were hearing the first details of what a new emphasis on literacy could look like in the 2014-2015 school year for the post-merger school system. The school board set the goal earlier this year of every third-grader in the system reading at grade level.

Some commissioners support teachers, hope for dialogue with board (N-S/Witt)

Hearing teachers speak out about increased testing, evaluations, reduced teaching time and other issues pleased some Knox County commissioners. But commissioners differ on what to do with the passionate feedback teachers gave the Board of Education Wednesday night at its regular meeting. “I’m glad that they finally did speak up,” Commissioner Mike Brown, whose wife and sister are both educators, told the News Sentinel. “This was almost a revolt level, it seems like.” Teacher after teacher spoke frankly and forcefully before the board Wednesday. Some called for firing Superintendent Jim McIntyre. Under his tenure, testing standards have increased, as have the frequency of those tests under national, state and local regulations, among other changes.

 

OPINION 

Times Editorial: Malpractice tort reform is decoy for real gougers (TFP)

Tort reform in Tennessee was supposed to lower exorbitant medical malpractice insurance rates for doctors and hospitals — and therefore runaway medical costs. The 2007 legislation did lower insurance costs for health providers, but has anyone noticed lower health insurance premiums or hospital bills? Apparently, all that we ordinary mortals got out of medical tort reform wasn’t help; it was a roadblock to hold negligent health care providers accountable. “What people in Tennessee don’t understand is there has been an effort to take away their rights to access the courthouse,” said Bryan Smith, president of the Tennessee Association for Justice, a plaintiffs’ lawyers group.