February 23 TN News Digest

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

Haslam says Congress could remedy loss of health subsidies (USA Today)

If the Supreme Court forces the federal government to stop subsidizing the cost of health insurance in Tennessee and other states, Congress should step in to fix the problem, Gov. Bill Haslam said Sunday. About 200,000 Tennessee residents are expected to qualify for income-based subsidies when they buy insurance this year through the online marketplace created under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But the court will hear arguments next week in a case that could threaten those subsidies in about 30 states — including Tennessee — that use the federal government’s marketplace, HealthCare.gov. Haslam said he’s worried about the potential impact not only on people who would lose their subsidies but on everyone else who buys insurance through the marketplace.

If Obamacare subsidies go, governors short on answers (Politico)

The Supreme Court this June could cut off millions of Americans from affordable Obamacare coverage. The response from the nation’s governors gathering in Washington this week was an assortment of shrugs. POLITICO interviewed more than a dozen governors, from both parties, this weekend at the National Governors Association winter meeting. Most said they’re in a wait-and-see zone. The Supreme Court will hear arguments next week, the decision is likely in late June and no one can foretell how the court will rule on its second major case that could strike at the heart of the president’s signature health law. For some Republican governors it was a shrug of indifference. They say the onus falls on President Barack Obama and Congress to figure out what to do if the Supreme Court invalidates Affordable Care Act subsidies in their states. And if Obamacare falls apart, well, they say, good riddance… The potential fallout from a decision for the plaintiffs has “been probably the most frequent topic of conversation” among the governors, said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who is also chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

Haslam to speak at events in Nashville, Knoxville this week (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam will wrap up a trip to Washington on Monday then return to Tennessee for events this week in Nashville and Knoxville. The governor is attending the National Governors Association/Republican Governors Association meetings, which began Saturday. On Tuesday, he is scheduled to speak at the Tennessee Economic Development Council Day on the Hill luncheon. And on Friday, Haslam will be in East Tennessee for the Knoxville Chamber annual breakfast with the governor.

4-year schools competing for Tennessee Promise students (Associated Press)

Many people know Tennessee Promise offers free tuition to the state’s community colleges. But the money can also be used at four-year schools that offer associate degrees. WPLN-FM reports (http://bit.ly/1AYCdUI) those schools are now trying hard to recruit Tennessee Promise students. Ted Brown is the president of Martin Methodist College in Pulaski. He said they fight tooth and nail to recruit students and it is hard to compete with free. But graduating high school seniors who enroll in the college’s associate degree programs are eligible for Tennessee Promise money.

Storms, freezing temps cause 22 deaths in Tennessee (Associated Press)

State officials say the storms and freezing temperatures this past week in Tennessee caused 22 deaths. Gov. Bill Haslam elevated Tennessee on Saturday to a higher level state of emergency, meaning hard-hit areas may be eligible for state and federal assistance. Forecasters say the heavy precipitation has gone, but most of the state will see low temperatures in the teens to mid-20s the rest of the week. Parts of the state could get about a half-inch of snow Sunday night, with some freezing rain and sleet in parts of West Tennessee. However, the remainder of the week is expected to be cloudy and partly sunny.

Winter storm’s death toll rises to 22 (Tennessean/Cowan)

State officials announced another weather-related fatality on Sunday, bringing the storm’s toll to 22. Most of those deaths were the results of hypothermia, a Tennessee Emergency Management Agency list said, and have taken place in counties around Tennessee since Feb. 16. The majority of the remainder died in car crashes, though a 67-year-old Hickman County man died after he was unable to get dialysis treatment and three people in Knox County were fire victims. Crews around the state continued to clear debris and repair power outages Sunday. On Saturday, Gov. Bill Haslam declared a major disaster, raising the state of emergency level to 2.

State death toll continues to climb after storm (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Tennessee remains under a heightened state of emergency as the number of weather-related deaths continued to climb over the weekend. Twenty-two deaths across the state have been attributed to the major winter storm since it struck Feb. 16, plunging much of the state into single-digit temperatures and widespread power outages, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. Those victims included a 70-year-old woman and her adult son, who were discovered Friday night in their home near Sevierville. Officials have yet to release causes of death, pending the results of autopsies. A slight chance of scattered snow showers lingers through this week’s forecast, although no major storm events are anticipated.

SmartWay traffic app benefiting motorists (Associated Press)

Department of Transportation has come in handy this winter. According to The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/1Lhi13s ), the department debuted the improved SmartWay traffic Web app in December. With the recent harsh winter weather, it has helped provide motorists with fast information about icy highways, crashes and even recent interstate closures. The new technology now allows live streaming video from cameras along interstates in Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga and Knoxville. Additionally, it shows crashes, construction, as well as a driver’s location.

TDOT wants you to put your concerns on the map (Times-News)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation wants to hear from you about safety, maintenance and congestion issues on the roads and highways in Northeast Tennessee. TDOT is in the process of creating a new, 25-year long-range transportation plan that will provide the foundation for prioritizing transportation investments across the state. The plan is considered multi-modal and will look at issues facing vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, along with safety and maintenance concerns, congestion, freight and transit. According to TDOT, a major outcome of this two-year effort will be a mid-term, 10-year strategic investment program, which will capture the insights gained during the development of the 25-year plan.

UT trustees to hear funding plan from DiPietro (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Slabel)

University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro will soon reveal his next steps in fixing the “broken” university business model. DiPietro will speak on the issue when he addresses the UT board of trustees during it’s two-day meeting this week at the UT Health Science Center in Memphis. “Dr. DiPietro’s report to the full board will outline a model for campus and institute executives to use to manage their units for the next two budget cycles,” said Gina Stafford, UT system spokeswoman. “The president considers working to establish long-term, sustainable funding for the university his top priority.” Stafford said DiPietro will ask the board for its endorsement of his plan.

Tennessee’s Common Core review comes with uncommon costs (TFP/Sher)

A bill requiring Tennessee’s State Board of Education to drop Common Core education standards and develop new requirements has a math problem: It’s projected to cost $4.14 million over a three-year period. That’s how much money legislative analysts estimate will be needed for the state board to develop and implement new math and English language standards outlining what students need to know and when. The “fiscal note,” or cost analysis, was developed by the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee staff. It doesn’t necessarily kill the legislation. But with Republican Gov. Bill Haslam insisting on his own Common Core review process, it does make the bill harder to pass because budgetary considerations now come into play.

Bill would let businesses opt out of workers’ compensation (Tennessean/Fletcher)

A proposal to allow employers to opt out of the state’s workers’ compensation program and design individual plans that met minimum requirements has been filed by Sen. Mark Green and Rep. Jeremy Durham. The bill would make Tennessee the third state to give employers the option to set up individual workers’ compensation programs for employees who sustain injuries because of work. Texas and Oklahoma are the only two states that have opt-out programs. The bill, SB0721 in the Senate and HB0997 in the House, would cap benefits to 156 weeks or three years unless medical expenses hit $300,000. The current program allows for coverage for as long as treatment is needed.

Bill would make public schools pay for remedial college courses (TFP/Sher)

Last year, Tennessee two-year colleges spent an estimated $18.45 million on remedial classes in areas like math, reading and writing so unprepared students could start doing college-level work. Now state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, thinks he has a partial answer to a problem that state lawmakers have griped about for decades. He’s introduced Senate Bill 526, which would require Tennessee public school districts to reimburse the costs of recent high school graduates who have had to take a remedial course. Gardenhire cited the bill in a Times Free Press interview over the ongoing uproar on Tennessee’s Common Core standards and legislative efforts to come up with new standards for math and English language arts to replace them.

Bills would close public records (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

Bills filed in the Legislature this year propose to open more meetings of the state Supreme Court and public hospital boards while closing records on school athletics oversight and information on law enforcement officers’ driving records. Overall, more of the 23 bills filed to change the state’s Open Meetings Act and the Open Records Act call for secrecy than for openness. But several of the bills closing records might generate few objections from open government advocates since they protect personal Social Security numbers and information on credit card and banking accounts provided by residents in their dealings with government. Legislation filed by state Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, and state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, (HB1306), would require the Tennessee Supreme Court to meet in public when selecting the state’s attorney general.

Highway needs growing in Tennessee, Hamilton County (TFP/Brogdon)

Gov. Bill Haslam has said 2015 is not the year to tackle transportation funding. But as time passes, more transportation projects get added to the state’s to-do list, and the entire system continues to age. That makes for a long list with a high price tag. Meanwhile, The Associated Press reports that the money states get from the highway fund has declined 3.5 percent during the five-year period ending in 2013. And during that span, the amount of inflation-adjusted federal highway money dropped in all states but Alaska and New York. That means the situation in Tennessee is playing out across the country. According to the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, there are 145 needed transportation projects in Hamilton County alone.

OPINION 

Steve Dickerson: Tennessee can make strides on domestic violence (Tennessean)

This year our General Assembly has a chance to take a major step forward in protecting victims of domestic violence from repeated abuse. Protecting victims is just one part of ending domestic violence, but an important part. Domestic violence is a scourge in our community. On average, every 20 minutes, an act of domestic violence occurs in Davidson County, and Tennessee has one of the 10 worst records for domestic violence in the nation. In 2013, 26 percent of the homicides in Davidson County were a result of domestic violence and, according to data from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, 51 percent of the crimes against persons in Tennessee are a result of domestic violence. In the United States, more than 15 million children are exposed to domestic violence.