February 3 TN News Digest

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

Haslam to give 4th State of State speech on Monday (Associated Press)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is giving his fourth State of the State address on Monday evening. The governor will unveil details of his annual state spending proposal and lay out some of his top legislative priorities for the year. Haslam has warned that flagging state revenues combined with growing health care costs will put the squeeze on other programs the state would like to spend money on. State lawmakers expect the governor to emphasize his goal of improving Tennessee’s graduate rates from colleges and universities from the current 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025. Haslam calls the initiative “Drive to 55.”

Tennessee governor’s State of the State and budget address is Monday (CA/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam will deliver his fourth annual State of the State address and his budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1 to the state legislature and a statewide public television audience at 6 p.m. Monday. The speech will be aired live in Memphis on WKNO-TV, Channel 10, and streamed live on the state’s website, tn.gov, where it will also be archived for viewing anytime. The governor has said that the fiscal year 2014-15 budget that he will unveil Monday evening is the most difficult of his tenure in office. State revenue collections for the first half of the current fiscal year, July through December, were $170 million below what the budget is based on — meaning the governor will likely recommend spending cuts.

Six issues for Haslam’s State of the State address (Tennessean)

Gov. Bill Haslam will release his budget proposal for 2014-2015 this evening and deliver his last State of the State address before facing re-election in November. The Republican governor has described the upcoming budget as the most difficult of his tenure. Tennessee has collected $176 million less in taxes than it expected this year, leaving a gap that will need to be filled before the new budget year starts in July and forcing adjustments to next year’s spending plans. On top of that, the governor faces demands from lawmakers, activists and even President Barack Obama.

Bill would repeal teacher licensing policy (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

A bill to repeal the state Board of Education’s new policy on teacher licensing has been filed by state Rep. Matthew Hill with 60 of his House colleagues signing on as co-sponsors. The policy, adopted last August by the board at the urging of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman and the support of Gov. Bill Haslam, ties the granting and renewal of teacher licenses to student test scores. It has drawn widespread criticism from teachers and school administrators. The Jonesborough Republican’s bill to reject the board’s policy (HB2263) is titled “the Educator Respect and Accountability Act of 2014” and is sponsored by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, in the Senate.

Common Core divides Republican money, votes (Knox News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

On at least one front, things have changed dramatically in the Legislature this year for the collective business lobby, which has grown accustomed to a Republican supermajority eager to rapidly grant most any of its wishes. The business lobby — when united about policy and not involved in turf battles — has rarely had to play defense in recent legislative sessions. Instead, it’s pretty much been on the offense, repealing laws passed when Democratic legislators were dominant and creating new ones to limit lawsuits against business, stifle union activities, cut the cost of workers’ compensation insurance, etc. But this year is different.

Good year for Tennessee hunters: More than 168K deer harvested (AP)

More than 168,000 deer were harvested in Tennessee during the recent 2013-14 seasons, which began with archery season on Sept. 28 and ran through a final youth hunt on Jan. 11-12. According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the numbers reflect the stability of the state’s deer population. In the 2012-13 seasons, hunters harvested more than 176,600 deer. Giles County saw the most deer harvested this time with 5,396. Fayette County was second, with 4,727. Other counties with at least 3,000 deer harvested were Lincoln, Henry, Hardeman, Maury, Franklin, Montgomery, Carroll, Madison, Weakley, Hickman and Hardin.

TN bill proposes to pay digital performance royalties for older songs (Tenn/Rau)

State lawmakers have filed a bill they say would close a loophole in copyright law and establish digital performance royalties for recordings that were made before 1972. Under current copyright law, songs recorded prior to Feb. 15, 1972, do not pay a performance royalty to the artist and musicians, but songs recorded after that date do. That means, for example, that Luke Bryan gets paid when his single “Drink a Beer” is played on an Internet or satellite radio station, but Loretta Lynn is not paid for plays of “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Advocates hope the legislation spurs Congress to notice and take action on the issue of royalty reform.

Local activist hopeful Tennessee approves medical marijuana (Herald-Courier)

For local medical-marijuana activist Seth Green, the ability to fill his lungs with a full breath of air — without wincing in pain — outweighs the risk of landing in jail. “I know what the consequences are from it,” he said of smoking the weed, which is illegal in Tennessee. “I’d rather not have 60 to 80 seizures in a week’s time.” For the last year, the 23-year-old has passed around petitions and spread the word of rallies for his cause in the hopes that Tennessee might one day green-light the weed’s use as a medicine. Now, he’s looking to a bill winding its way through the state’s General Assembly as a possible answer to his prayers. 

TEA takes battle against TVAAS linkage to teachers’ licenses on the road (T-N)

The Tennessee Education Association 2014 Road Trip came here Monday with a story about the state’s value-added test scores for a teacher in Middle Tennessee. It left with local stories from at least three Tri-Cities teachers about problems they see firsthand with TVAAS value-added scores. The state Board of Education Friday morning, after viewing and hearing “The Trouble with TVAAS” presentation that is being taken statewide by TEA in the Road Trip, rescinded a linkage it made last year between TVAAS scores and teacher licensure.

Vehicle inspections aren’t needed to ensure clean air, plan says (CA/Charlier)

Even though emissions from cars and trucks are likely to increase, the shutdown of Memphis’ vehicle-inspection program won’t add enough pollution to the air to violate federal smog rules, according to a plan proposed by Shelby County officials. The county is seeking public comments on an amended air-quality plan that reflects the demise last year of a program that annually tested the emissions of vehicles registered to Memphis residents. In halting the program, city officials said it was unfair that Memphians alone bore the cost and inconvenience of a process that benefited the entire county.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann starts season with $400,000 (Times Free-Press)

Incumbent 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann will start the campaign season with more than $400,000 in the bank, according to campaign finance reports filed Friday. The reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show Fleischmann went into the fourth quarter with a balance of $250,222. He raised $196,574 between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 and spent $41,162, leaving a balance of $405,634. Fleischmann, a Republican, is seeking a third term and faces a primary challenge from Weston Wamp, son of Fleischmann’s predecessor, Zach Wamp. It’s a rematch for the pair.

Federal health care act delivers for Chattanooga region moms (TFP/Harrison)

Even before the Affordable Care Act, maternity coverage long has been seen as a critical part of health insurance for women. Federal law has directed that it be included in employers’ group insurance plans. State Medicaid programs have created special safety nets for pregnant, uninsured women to get coverage for their labor and delivery. But thousands of people in the individual insurance market long have been in a maternity coverage gap — which made planning a family without breaking the bank a tricky balancing act. Before Jan. 1, no individual plans in Tennessee and just a few in Georgia included maternity care.

Battles Loom in Many States Over What to Do With Budget Surpluses (NY Times)

In a year when three dozen governors are up for election, unexpectedly robust revenues from taxes and other sources are filling most state coffers, creating surpluses not seen in years and prompting statehouse battles over what to do with the money. After so many years of sluggish revenues, layoffs and draconian service cuts, governors and legislators are eager to use the newfound money to cut taxes, restore spending or, in some cases, pay down debts or replenish rainy-day funds for future recessions. But though revenues are improving, lawmakers are likely to find that there is not enough to pay for everything they want to do, experts say.

 

OPINION 

Joe Hensley: Report: Tennessee is fiscally sound (Columbia Daily Herald)

The fiscal health of Tennessee state government is sound, according to a report released to lawmakers by comptroller of the Treasury Justin Wilson this week. State law directs the comptroller to make quarterly reports to the Fiscal Review Committee concerning the state’s financial affairs. Wilson attributed Tennessee’s good financial status to the state having a balanced budget amendment, low state debt, a sound retirement plan, manageable post-employment benefit obligations for state employees, and an appropriately funded unemployment benefit trust fund.

Lowe Finney: Time for Haslam to act on TN’s poverty (Tennessean)

Tonight, Gov. Bill Haslam will address the General Assembly and the residents of Tennessee with his annual State of the State address. It’s an occasion that in years past has set the tone for our state as the governor sets his agenda. But this year, we don’t need just a message. We need action. Will we hear plans to meet the challenges posed by crippling poverty that threaten to hold back Tennessee as the nation recovers? While we’ve seen national unemployment level off to pre-recession levels, it remains above 8 percent for Tennessee, and it’s above 10 percent in 24 counties.

Guest columnist: TN Senate unfairly targets consumer legal funding (Tennessean)

Last month, with little fanfare and even less public debate, the Tennessee Senate voted to shut down an industry and service that has successfully served Tennesseans without incident for over 13 years. The legislation would implement suffocating price controls onto my business of consumer legal funding. Not only will my small business be forced to shut its doors if this bill is enacted, my employees will lose their jobs, and the people of Tennessee will lose access to an important funding source. As the founder of a Nashville-based consumer legal funding company, I want to help policymakers understand exactly what our product is, whom it was created to help, and why Tennesseans should care.