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Haslam Calls Health Care Vote ‘Intolerable Expansion of Federal Power’

Press Release from Bill Haslam for Governor, March 21, 2010:

KNOXVILLE – Republican gubernatorial candidate and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam released the following statement regarding tonight’s Congressional vote on health care:

“The legislation that passed the House today is an intolerable expansion of federal power and a reminder of the incredible arrogance of Washington. The Obama Administration and Congress chose to defy the majority of Americans and the governors of most states, including our own.

“Not only has the Administration in Washington expanded federal government control into yet another area where we would prefer to trust individual decisions and free markets, this legislation usurps our 10th Amendment right to have a state government that reflects our own priorities.

“Today the federal government imposed an unbearable unfunded mandate that will explode costs in an area our state has worked hard to control. We can’t tolerate Washington making us pay for their bad ideas, and if elected governor, I will pursue every means necessary to protect our state’s interests.”

Bill Haslam is the two-term Mayor of Knoxville, re-elected in 2007 with 87% of the vote. A hardworking, conservative public servant, he led Knoxville to become one of the top ten metropolitan areas for business and expansion, while reducing the city’s debt, tripling the rainy day fund, and bringing property taxes to the lowest rate in 50 years.

An executive leader with a proven record of success, he helped grow his family’s small business from 800 employees into one of Tennessee’s largest companies with 14,000 employees. His combination of executive and public service experience makes him uniquely qualified to be Tennessee’s next Governor. Bill is the right person at the right time to lead Tennessee.

Bill and Crissy Haslam have two daughters, Annie and Leigh, and a son, Will, who resides in Knoxville with his wife, Hannah.

For more information on Bill Haslam, please visit www.BillHaslam.com.

Ramsey Wants House To Vote On Anti-Healthcare Mandate Bill

Press Release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, March 19, 2010:

Bill Would Protect Tennesseans From Federal Action

(Nashville) – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) today called on a House committee to approve Senate passed legislation which protects the freedom of Tennesseans to make their own health care choices. The Tennessee Health Freedom Act would protect a citizen’s right to participate or not in any healthcare system and would prohibit the federal government from imposing fines on that person’s decision. The move comes two days before a congressional vote on healthcare legislation which would punish those who choose not to purchase a government-approved health plan.

“No legislation should ever take from Americans their right to control their own medical affairs,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “The federal government is out of control and there is no greater example of this than the current healthcare debacle. The state House of Representatives must pass the Tennessee Health Freedom Act to protect our citizens from federal overreaching.”

The legislation would still allow individuals the option to participate in a federal program. The bill, set to be heard Wednesday in the House Industrial Impact subcommittee, acknowledges the right of Tennesseans to refuse to participate in a government-run health insurance program. It also calls on the state’s Attorney General to take action in the defense or prosecution of rights protected under the legislation.

On the web:

http://www.capitol.tn.gov/senate/members/s2.html

http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/106/Bill/SB3498.pdf

State Budget Gap Widening

The State of Tennessee has dug itself into a hole this budget year, and most indications are it’s only getting deeper.

For almost two years now, the state’s economic prognosticators and financial wizards have overestimated how the economy would perform. Those projections are used by Capitol Hill lawmakers to guess how much the state will collect in state revenues, which in turn is used to plan government’s spending.

Today the Tennessee State Funding Board will begin meeting to discuss the amount of revenue the state can expect in the next budget year that begins July 1.

The board, which includes the state treasurer, secretary of state, state comptroller, state finance director and the governor, will also consider again revising estimates it last revisited in December.

In the last 21 months, state revenue collections on taxes and fees have been lower than predicted.

Constitutionally, the state can’t really skip out on a payment and take care if it next year. Tennessee’s guiding document prohibits state government from carrying a deficit from one year to the next, which means lawmakers have to find a way to balance the books.

In an op-ed Gov. Phil Bredesen penned last month, he wrote: “My goal has been to remain true to the principle of the ‘family budget’ that I’ve talked about since first becoming governor. It’s nothing more than the common sense idea that we’re going to adjust expenses to match our income and be very careful about using money from our savings.

“It’s the way sensible families have to manage through these times, and while state government is much larger, the principle is the same,” he wrote.

Now, lawmakers who are already trying to figure out what cuts they can live with in next year’s budget may have to consider more reductions to government programs, pulling money out of the state’s rainy day reserves or increasing fees or taxes.

The State Funding Board, which reviews and adopts revenue estimates lawmakers base the budget on, originally predicted the state would collect $10.29 billion this fiscal year.

After months of revenues falling short of those monthly expectations, estimates were reduced to $10.12 billion when the board met again in December. That change reflected predictions of negative growth between negative 1.5 percent and negative .25 percent in total taxes.

But numbers continued to miss the new expectations. In February, the latest reporting period, revenues were $638.9 million — which is $47.1 million less than the state budgeted.

The board will meet through the end of the month to listen to a handful of economists who will predict revenues, including Dr. Arthur Laffer, the famous “supply-side” theorist who was a member of President Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board.

“The economy has been through some extraordinary changes over the last couple of years,” Comptroller Justin Wilson, a member of the board, said in a press release this week. “In light of that, I think it is appropriate to get some new perspectives on what we can expect for the year ahead.”

Members of the board will also hear from the same group of economists that helped developed the last round revenue estimates, including professionals from Tennessee universities and government offices, like Dr. William Fox, an economics professor from the University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research and Dr. Albert DePrince, who teaches economics and finance at Middle Tennessee State University.

Bredesen’s $12.4 billion FY2010-2011 budget plan released in February proposes spending reductions totaling $394 million from the current year’s budget.

Tennessee Names Acting State Medical Examiner

State of Tennessee Press Release, March 18, 2010:

Dr. Teresa Campbell to Assume Duties Immediately

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Health Commissioner Susan R. Cooper, MSN, RN, has named Teresa Campbell, MD, as acting state medical examiner. Campbell will assume the duties of the office immediately.

“Dr. Campbell brings stellar experience and knowledge to the position, and I have great confidence in her abilities to take on the responsibilities of the office during this interim period,” said Commissioner Cooper. “We will lend our full support to Dr. Campbell as she assumes this role to ensure the transition process is as seamless as possible.”

Campbell was previously a Tennessee deputy state medical examiner and currently serves as an associate professor and director of the division of forensic pathology at East Tennessee State University’s James H. Quillen College of Medicine. She is also a flight surgeon with the 164th Medical Squadron with the Tennessee Air National Guard. Among her previous positions is service as an assistant medical examiner in Shelby County.

“I look forward to serving the state of Tennessee as the acting state medical examiner,” said Campbell. “I am humbled by the confidence Commissioner Cooper has in me to serve in this capacity.”

Campbell received her undergraduate degree from Mars Hill College and her medical degree from Medical University of South Carolina. She completed pathology residencies at Medical University of South Carolina and University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Gibbons Tours Sharp Manufacturing Plant; Focuses On Jobs Of Future

Press Release from Bill Gibbons for Governor, March 17, 2010:

Memphis, TN – Shelby County District Attorney General Bill Gibbons today re-enforced his pledge to focus on job creation, once he is elected governor. Gibbons toured Sharp Manufacturing Plant in Memphis to learn more about this leader in the production of solar panels, and to get feedback on how the next governor can help secure new and existing industry in Tennessee.

“As governor, I’ll make creating jobs a top priority. I also want to focus on jobs of the future, such as those in the solar industry. Sharp Manufacturing is an outstanding example of a Tennessee business that leads the world in this field. In the last year, Sharp has tripled the number of solar panels it produces and has increased employment from approximately 500 workers to about 800. This is the kind of growth we need to see throughout Tennessee, ” Gibbons said.

General Gibbons also reiterated the need to properly market Tennessee as a place to do business.

“I believe that the keys to keeping and attracting businesses like Sharp are to keep taxes low, offer incentive packages on a cost/analysis basis and to make sure that we have a workforce in Tennessee trained to do the jobs local industry needs. I want to make sure these things happen,” Gibbons added.

Bill Gibbons, a Republican, is the Shelby County District Attorney General, serving as the top state law enforcement official in Tennessee’s largest jurisdiction. He entered the governor’s race on January 4, 2009. For more information on Bill Gibbons, visit his campaign website at www.Gibbons2010.com.

Bredesen Names Appointments To Boards, Commissions

Press Release from Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration, March 12, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Governor Phil Bredesen has appointed 43 men and women to serve on 17 state boards and commissions.

“I commend all those appointed for their readiness to serve the state through its boards and commissions,” Bredesen said. “Tennesseans have always been known to give of their time and talents to serve their fellow citizens, and I thank these men and women for sharing in this tradition. They will be valuable additions to the respective boards they have been appointed to represent.”

Appointment terms vary based on statutory recommendations or term limits specified by geographic or other qualifications. The appointments are as follows:

Advisory Council for Alternative Education

Marvene Fultz, White Bluff

Advisory Council for the Education of Students with Disabilities

Kathleen M. Airhart, Cookeville

Board of Examiners in Psychology

Patti Van Eys, Nashville

Board of Probation and Parole

Patsy Bruce, Nashville

Ronnie M. Cole, Dyersburg

Charles C. “Chuck” Taylor, Jr., Madison

Commission on Aging and Disability

Evelyn Jane Johnson, Clarksville

Conservation Commission

Winfred E. “Wimp” Shoopman, Clinton

Emergency Communications Board

Robert Hal Buttram, Athens

Star Quality Advisory Council

Tammy D. Hardison, Columbia

Cassandra Renee Hauge, Knoxville

Merlean J. Hill, Memphis

Patricia A. “Patty” Kelly, Clarksville

Forestene L. London, Memphis

Tina Marie Nicely, Selmer

Donald R. Parham, Nashville

Bobbie Jo Ruiz, Tazewell

Karen Stump, Greenbrier

Krista D. Turner, Bristol

Maggie Ruth Vann, Memphis

Harriet Lovely Wilson, Knoxville

Statewide Independent Living Council

Deana Claiborne, Nashville

Richard Gerald Davis, Jr., Hixson

Marianne Leonard, McKenzie

Michelle Priddy, Hendersonville

Dorothea Thompson, Murfreesboro

State Rehabilitation Council

Starr Ellen Cruise, Columbia

State Textbook Commission

Curtis L. Dillihunt, Bartlett

State Workforce Development Board

Zachariah N. Stansell, Knoxville

Raymond S. Marston, Lawrenceburg

Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission

Michael Bradley, Tullahoma

Lisa N. Oakley, Sevierville

Tennessee Community Services Agency Board of Directors

Helen M. Lane, Watauga

Vickie J. Moore, Parrottsville

Kenneth L. Rogers, Rock Island

Tracey Wilkes, Only

Tennessee Historical Commission

Clarence Edward Elkins, Smyrna

Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Board of Directors

Joan Cronan, Knoxville

Don MacLachlan, Brentwood

Wayne McCreight, Dresden

Mindy Odom, Cookeville

Trey Teague, Jackson

Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council

Frank R. Meeuwis, Madison

Senate Committee Approves Income Tax Ban

A measure aimed at guaranteeing Tennesseans never have to pay a state income tax is headed to the Senate floor soon, perhaps even later this week.

Senate Joint Resolution 763 cleared the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee on a 7-3 vote today. It passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 16.

Under the language of the measure, the Tennessee Constitution would be amended to ensure an income and payroll tax is “forever banned in Tennessee,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, the amendment’s sponsor.

The full text of the amendment, which would alter Article II, Section 28, reads, “The Legislature shall not levy any tax upon personal income or any tax measured by personal income, except that the Legislature may levy a tax upon incomes derived from stocks and bonds that are not taxed ad valorem. The Legislature shall not levy any tax upon payroll or any tax measured by payroll.”

It would replace this sentence: “The Legislature shall have power to levy a tax upon incomes derived from stocks and bonds that are not taxed ad valorem.”

The three “nay” votes came from Democrats, including the chamber’s party leader, Jim Kyle of Memphis, who recently dropped out of the race for governor. Sens. Joe Haynes and Douglas Henry, both from Nashville, also voted against the amendment. Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, voted “yes.”

Kelsey expects relatively smooth sailing on the Senate floor. Already 15 other senators have signed on to the bill besides him, so he only needs one more vote to pass it.

After that, it heads to the House of Representatives.

If both chambers approve of the constitutional amendment, the process will repeat next year — only lawmakers will need to approve it by a two-thirds vote in both houses. If that attempt is successful, the language will be posed to voters on the 2014 general election ballot.

Whether state lawmakers could, legally speaking, impose an income tax on Tennesseans at present is a matter of some debate.

Some, like Kyle, say the constitution already bans an income tax.

“Regardless of how the people vote, one way or the other, we’re still going to have an unconstitutional income tax. This is a political event. This is not a substantive event,” Kyle told committee members. “It’s always good politics to be against and income tax.”

But a 1999 Tennessee Attorney General opinion predicted that a carefully worded income tax proposal could be legal.

The group Tennesseans for Fair Taxation maintains that an income tax is indeed legal, and they advocate for the establishment of one.

The organization’s director, John Stewart, called Kelsey’s attempt to clarify the constitutionality of the issue “obnoxious.”

“They think they have all the answers,” he said of lawmakers who support banning an income tax. “But the truth is they’re not that smart. Nobody’s that smart.”

Two Memphis Democrats, Sen. Reginald Tate and Rep. Johnnie Turner, are proposing the creation of an income tax this year, but neither bill has received a committee hearing.

State Releases February Revenue Report

Press Release from the Department of Finance & Administration, March 9, 2010:

Nashville – State revenue collections once again fell short of budgeted estimates last month. Overall February revenues were $638.9 million, which is $47.1 million less than the state budgeted.

“This entire fiscal year has brought us negative growth in the sales tax, which is almost two-thirds of our revenue,” Finance and Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz said. “Moreover, the running total is now 21 consecutive months of negative growth in sales tax collections since January 2008, when the downward economic spiral began for us in Tennessee.”

“In spite of the budgetary challenges, we have laid out a plan for balancing the budget and we’re working with the Legislature to end this year and the next with a balanced budget, as our constitution requires.”

On an accrual basis, February is the seventh month in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

The general fund was under collected by $43.8 million and the four other funds were under collected by $3.3 million.

Sales tax collections were $38.4 million less than the estimate for February. The February growth rate was negative 6.67%. The year-to-date growth rate for seven months is negative 5.84%.

Franchise and excise taxes combined were $1.4 million above the budgeted estimate of $33.0 million. For seven months revenues are over collected by $7.4 million. The year-to-date growth rate for seven months is 8.32%.

Gasoline and motor fuel collections for February decreased by 3.86%, but were $180,000 above the budgeted estimate of $68.3 million. For seven months revenues are under collected by $13.9 million.

Tobacco tax collections were $4.0 million under the budgeted estimate of $23.1 million. For seven months revenues are over collected in the amount of $303,000.

Year-to-date collections for seven months were $232.4 million less than the budgeted estimate. The general fund was under collected by $196.3 million and the four other funds were under collected by $36.1 million.

The budgeted revenue estimates for 2009-2010 are based on the State Funding Board’s consensus recommendation adopted by the first session of the 106th General Assembly in May of 2009, and are available on the state’s Web site.

The State Funding Board met again on December 18, 2009 and adopted revised revenue ranges for 2009-2010. The revised ranges reflect growth rates ranging from negative 1.50% to negative 0.25% in total taxes, and negative 2.35% to negative 0.85% in general fund taxes.

Based on the funding board’s consensus recommendation, the official budgeted estimates for 2009-2010 were revised in late December. The revised estimates are reflected on pages A-70 and A-72 in the 2010-2011 Budget Document. The revised estimates assume an under collection in total taxes in the amount of $161.3 million, and an under collection of $153.2 million in the general fund.

Speaker Williams Appoints Olen G. Haynes Sr. To Judicial Nominating Commission

Press Release from House Speaker Kent Williams, March 9, 2010:

Speaker of the House Kent Williams (Carter County Republican – Elizabethton) has appointed Olen G. Haynes, Sr. of Washington County as a member of the Tennessee Judicial Nominating Commission.

“Olen brings a wealth of experience that will make him an asset to the Judicial Nominating Commission”, said Speaker Kent Williams. “He is well respected in our area and I am confident he will serve our state well”.

Mr. Haynes has been a leader in the community for over 60 years.  He attended East Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee College of Law.  He is currently a partner in the law firm of Arnold, Haynes & Sanders and has practiced law for over 40 years.  His areas of practice include personal injury, eminent domain, medical malpractice, product liability, aviation law, domestic relations and criminal law.  Haynes’ dedication to the community and knowledge of the judicial system will serve him well during his time on the Judicial Nominating Commission.

The purpose of the Judicial Nominating Commission is to assist Governor Bredesen in finding and appointing the best qualified persons for service on the appellate courts of the state, nominating for the trial courts, and to assist the electorate of the state in electing the best qualified persons to the courts.  The Judicial Nominating Commission is also responsible for making the courts less political and keeping political pressures away from the judicial system.

This appointment was made in accordance with T.C.A. Section 17-4-102.

Who Should Give Medications in Nursing Homes?

A proposal to expand the range of employees in long-term care facilities who can legally administer certain medicines to patients is running into opposition from some registered nurses.

The change is designed to lighten the heavy workloads often carried by nurses — or at least to possibly free up some of their time so they can use it on more challenging professional tasks, according to some lawmakers.

At issue is a measure to let a new class of nursing assistants give patients medications like commonplace pain relievers, topical creams and a limited number of prescription drugs. Lawmakers, including Gov. Phil Bredesen, OK’d that plan last year — but the Tennessee Board of Nursing shot it down.

The measure, which was up for debate Tuesday, will be heard again next week in a legislative sub-committee.

The nursing board — in what some lawmakers saw as open defiance of the legislature and the governor — adopted rules recently indicating that registered nurses be the only ones to decide which lower level workers will give medications to whom.

Lawmakers who passed the measure last year said the specific intent was for licensed practical nurses, who are a step below registered nurses, to also delegate that duty to certified medication aides.

Two Republicans introduced bills this year that would require both registered nurses and licensed practical nurses to delegate their medicine-giving authority. They would oversee the certified medication aides who could administer the drugs once they’d completed 75 hours of training.

Individuals can apply to become a certified medication aide only after working for at least year as a nursing assistant, which includes helping patients with tasks like getting out of bed, eating or using the bathroom.

There is a long list of medications the aides would not be allowed to give, leaving only oral drugs such as Tylonol, Advil, vitamins, laxatives, blood pressure and allergy medications or topical creams like Neosporin.

Sen. Diane Black, a registered nurse from Gallatin, led her bill to passage 27-1 last month in the Senate. Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis, was the only member to vote against it.

But the House bill is still in committee.

Sponsored by Rep. Debra Young Maggart of Hendersonville, House Bill 3368 was on hold last week in the Professional Occupations subcommittee after Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, and Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory expressed opposition.

Turner asked Maggart to hit the brakes for a week to give members more time to figure out their vote. Although Favors indicated there’s little likelihood she’ll be changing her mind anytime soon.

“If we pass this, we can come back in a couple years and call it the Euthanasia Bill,” Favors said during last week’s committee meeting.

The new class of nursing assistants, created by a state law approved last year, lacks the medical training necessary to understand if a patient is having an adverse reaction to a medication, she said. And requiring an additional 75 hours of training will not prevent the increased potential for deadly medicine mix-ups that the proposed legislation may inadvertently encourage, said Favors.

“It really is the dumbing-down of administering drugs, and that should not happen,” she told TNReport.

Favors opposed last year’s legislation. Despite her efforts to derail it in 2009, the measure passed by comfortable bipartisan margins in the House and Senate.

But the Tennessee Board of Nursing, which was charged with writing the rules to implement the new law, agreed with her and decided the plan wasn’t a good idea.

At the Jan. 21 board meeting, members voted on rules to keep registered nurses in charge of deciding who will give out medications to patients — essentially erasing any new authority licensed practical nurses, LPNs, would have to assign the new aides to  issue the pills or rub on medical ointments.

“We did not arbitrarily go against the will of the legislature,” said Cheryle Stegbauer who has chaired the nursing board since 2004. After listening to hours of archived legislative committee meetings discussing the measure, she said members of the board believed lawmakers were referring to registered nurses, not LPNs.

“I don’t think the board really saw that they had a mandate. If we thought we had a legislative mandate to open it to LPNs as well as RNs, we would have. We would have complied, but I don’t think that’s our understanding,” she told a committee of lawmakers Tuesday. “If you talk about intent of the legislature, you can look at the tapes and a lot of things said were not exactly what happened in the law.”

She said the board will keep an eye on the bill if it moves through the legislature and continue to do what it believes is safest for the public — but doesn’t plan to try to stop the bill.

The Tennessee Nurses Association is backing the board’s rule-making decision.

“We’re trying to make this as safe as possible for our frail and elderly who can’t advocate for themselves,” said Sharon Adkins, association executive director. “LPNs are trained to give medications. And let me tell you, their training is more than 75 hours.”

AARP Tennessee, which represents retired persons, hasn’t taken a side in the bill debate.

“We see it really as a stop gap. What we really need to see in Tennessee nursing homes is more staff,” said Karin Miller, the state’s AARP spokeswoman. “The state overall is facing a nursing shortage that is expected to get worse in coming years, and that issue is only exacerbated in some of our long-term care institutions.”

Tennessee nursing homes have the second largest shortage of registered nurses in the U.S., according to a 2009 report titled “Quality of Care and Litigation in Tennessee Nursing Homes,” commissioned by AARP.

Tennessee was also one of the 10 worst states for time RNs spend with each patient, which averaged 30 minutes a day, compared to 36 minutes nationally.

According to the study, Tennessee licensed practical nurses ranked above the national average. The LPNs logged in an average of 54 minutes per patient each day, compared to the national average of 48 minutes.

There are 22,000 nurses and caretakers to manage patients in the 37,850 nursing home beds, according to the Tennessee Health Care Association, which wants the new nursing aides to administer medications.

“Clearly we do not want to reduce the licensed nursing staff. It’s to use nursing staff more efficiently in the building,” said Deborah Heeney, THCA’s government relations director who predicted the nursing board will “fight us to the end.”

“It’s just because the nurses don’t believe anyone else should be able to give medication besides the nurses,” she said.

Maggart says she has the votes to push her bill through the House, but said she may consider officially asking the state attorney general to weigh in.

“There’s a lot of ways to skin a cat. There’s other ways we can go at this if, for some reason, it doesn’t pass,” said Maggart.