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TN Senate Dems Call Out Haslam for Not Expanding Medicaid With End of CoverTN

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; November 27, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today’s announcement that 15,400 Tennesseans will lose their health insurance follows three missed opportunities by Gov. Bill Haslam to avoid it.

“Governor Haslam has had three opportunities to make the new health law work for the benefit of Tennessee families,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said. “Instead, he neglected his responsibility, and thousands of Tennesseans will lose their health insurance after Christmas.”

Gov. Haslam decided last year that Tennessee would not participate in defining the minimum coverage offered by health insurance policies known as “essential health benefits.” He left it to the federal government. He then opted not to establish a state-run exchange, defaulting to healthcare.gov for the purchase of private health insurance policies. More recently, the Governor has declined to accept federal dollars to expand Medicaid for working families, a program which would provide basic health care services to thousands of working people across the state. Instead, millions of dollars will go to other states.

What’s more, the Governor could decide to continue CoverTN for one year under the ruling from the Department of Commerce and Insurance that allows health care plans not meeting essential health benefits to be extended for one year.

“The Governor has been given multiple opportunities to influence a health care program for the benefit of small businesses and families across Tennessee,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney. “Unfortunately, inaction has only resulted in a loss of coverage, which will only lead to less health care, poorer health and higher premiums for Tennesseans.”

Finney cited a recent study by the RAND Corporation showing that states that did not expand Medicaid were expected to see premiums increase as much as 10 percent for remaining policyholders.

Finney Drafts Legislation With ‘Standard of Ethics’ for State Contracts

Press release from TN Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney; November 20, 2013:

NASHVILLE – State Sen. Lowe Finney has drafted legislation that will stop any state agency from entering a contract that allows a contractor to profit from its own recommendations.

“This bill stops companies from profiting from their own recommendations, as we’ve seen in the state’s building management contracts,” Sen. Finney said. “This bill sets a standard of ethics and protects taxpayers.”

The bill follows an audit by the state comptroller’s office that found flaws in the way the Department of General Services handled its contract with Jones Lang LaSalle for facility assessments, master planning and facility management services.

Auditors found that in two cases, the state’s contract with that company created organizational conflicts of interest where the contractor could profit from its own recommendations to the state.

The standards set forth in the legislation would put Tennessee in line with federal contract standards.

“The ideas of saving taxpayer dollars and having a standard of ethics on conflicts of interest are not mutually exclusive,” Sen. Finney said.

Finney Calls for Review of Job Tax Credits Program

Press release from the Office of State Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson; November 18, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Troubled by a recent audit that found state government can’t say whether companies are creating jobs in exchange for tax credits they’ve received, state Sen. Lowe Finney requested a review of state contracts to be presented during the 2014 legislative session.

“I brought ‘claw back’ legislation to protect taxpayers if promises of new jobs for tax credits are broken,” state Sen. Lowe Finney said. “According to this audit, the administration wouldn’t know when to ‘claw back’ taxpayers’ money.”

Sen. Finney sponsored SB 0605 during the last legislative session, which directs the Department of Economic and Community Development to include “claw back” provisions in all contracts to ensure the state has the authority to take back any incentives awarded to companies that don’t create jobs.

A recent audit by the comptroller’s office found that the Department of Revenue “could not provide evidence that companies audited complied with state law” for tax credits awarded to the 27 companies audited between Jan. 1, 2010 and June 30, 2012.

In a letter to Department of Revenue Commissioner Richard Roberts, Sen. Finney requested a thorough review of those contracts and the jobs created to be presented to the Senate Finance Committee during the 2014 legislative session.

Finney Requests Hearing on DCS Progress

Press release from the Office of State Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson; October 17, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jim Henry will appear before the Senate Health & Welfare Committee in December to provide an update on the department.

State Sen. Lowe Finney requested the committee meeting in a letter to the committee chairman in June. The legislature, which adjourned in April, is not scheduled to reconvene until January. The meeting will give lawmakers and the general public an update on any improvements that have taken place in the department, as well as any new issues that have arisen since the Commissioner last addressed the committee on March 26.

“I want to thank Commissioner Henry for his stewardship of the department and total transparency since becoming Commissioner in February,” Sen. Finney said. “We as lawmakers want to do everything we can to help him make DCS an effective state agency and safe and helpful caregiver to the children of Tennessee.

“The public is rightfully concerned about the children in state custody and how we can best address their needs, whether it be with improved technology for case managers or better tools for law enforcement. This update is critical to the legislature’s efforts to keep children safe and healthy.”

The hearing will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 19.

Fitzhugh on Finney Retirement

Statement from the Office of Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh; July 31, 2013:

NASHVILLE – House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) issued the following statement on the retirement of his State Senator Lowe Finney:

“I’ve had the privilege of knowing Lowe Finney as both my friend and my State Senator. He has worked tirelessly for the people of West Tennessee. Whether it was our joint work on the Megasite in Brownsville, our Tennessee Works Act or the ground breaking reforms we passed about meningitis vaccinations, Tennesseans are better off because of Lowe Finney’s service. Though I will miss working with him in Nashville, I wish both he and Tiffany the best in their future endeavors. Lowe is bright young man with an equally bright future. I doubt we’ve heard the last from him.”

Finney, Kyle Release Statements on Passing of State Rep. Lois DeBerry

Statement from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; July 28, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Senate Democratic leaders issued the following statement on the passing of Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry:

“Lois DeBerry was a peerless leader for her community, her city and for all women” state Sen. Jim Kyle said. “It’s a uniquely American story – a woman who became frustrated with the conditions in her community and dedicated her life to making it better, rising to heights that no African American woman had seen before in Tennessee. We are deeply saddened by her passing.”

“Before I ever ran for office, I was motivated and inspired by the leadership of Lois DeBerry,” state Sen. Lowe Finney said. “She intentionally focused on tough issues, daring others to join her, and by her words could inspire people to take action and get involved. Tennessee has lost a great leader today.”

General Assembly Dems Urge Restoration of DCS Funding

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; April 10, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House and Senate Democrats on Wednesday urged Gov. Haslam to restore funding to the Department of Childrens Services for core functions in managing its caseload.

“We have confidence in Commissioner Henry, but he needs the funding and staff to keep DCS moving in the right direction,” state Sen. Lowe Finney said. “Restoring that funding is the right thing to do when the department has had so many problems.”

Gov. Haslam’s budget proposal slashes funding to core services within DCS by more than $1.6 million. The department has come under intense scrutiny after officials admitted it mishandled the investigation of child deaths, and a computer system failed to track children in its care.

“We know that children are dying because of the mismanagement of cases at DCS,” state Rep. Sherry Jones said. “You can’t put a price on those lives, and restoring this funding will prevent needless deaths.

The cuts come at a time when state revenues are exceeding projections. On Friday, state officials reported that $33.1 million in excess tax revenues were collected in March.

“It would be unfair to take away resources while Commissioner Jim Henry works to turn DCS around,” state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh said. “We know our state has the money to restore these cuts. This is a bipartisan issue, and children’s lives are at stake.”

Senate Dems: Haslam Plan ‘No Solution’ for Uninsured, Rural Hospitals

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; March 27, 2013:

‘Tennessee Plan’ leaves uninsured, rural hospitals with no solution

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Gov. Bill Halsam promised a decision on expanding Medicaid today, but instead delivered a “no” dressed up as a year of delayed action and indecision.

“We expected clarity today on Medicaid, but all we got was confusion,” Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Sen. Lowe Finney said. “Our rural hospitals and the uninsured will be the ones to suffer.”

The governor gave a definitive “no” on expanding Medicaid. He instead pitched a so-called “Tennessee plan,” but it’s unclear whether the plan will work. Meanwhile, federal payments to hospitals for uncompensated care will end Jan. 1.

“This is a time when the people of Tennessee need clear, precise and bold leadership, and Governor Haslam offered none of that today,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said. “It’s a failure of our moral obligation to protect the health and welfare of the most vulnerable among us. It’s a failure that will be paid with the lives of the working poor in our state – this is quite simply shameful.”

According to the Tennessee Hospital Association, the projected statewide job loss without the Medicaid expansion will be 90,000 jobs. In addition, they estimate that there will be an economic loss to the state of nearly $13 billion.

“I truly believed that the governor was going to use this opportunity to show real leadership,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said. “Instead we’ve seen more of the hand-wringing and delayed action that we’ve become accustomed to. Lives will be lost while we wait for a real decision.”

Hospital administrators, health care advocates, chambers of commerce, mayors of cities both big and small, and many others have implored the governor over the past year to expand Medicaid.

“The governor made this decision in a vacuum without consulting leaders from either party,” Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle said. “We’ve heard from a broad coalition of groups who will suffer if we don’t expand Medicaid, and apparently their concerns fell on deaf ears.

“It matters who governs.”

Scenic Vistas Protection Act Dies in Senate Committee

Press release from the Tennessee Democratic Party; March 20, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) pledged to carry on her fight to protect Tennessee’s mountaintops and the state’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry despite this year’s special interest setback in the state legislature.

Rep. Johnson’s companion bill — the Scenic Vistas Act, a measure that would prohibit mountain top removal above 2,000 feet in Tennessee — died Wednesday in the Senate Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Committee.

“It’s clear that big special interests control too many politicians in legislature,” Johnson said. “If we do nothing to protect our mountaintops, we will be left with nothing. Our irreplaceable mountains will be destroyed, the economic benefits will be shipped to China, and our multi-billion dollar tourism industry will be left in shambles.”

According to MarketWatch, Guizhou Guochuang Energy Holding Company, based in Guiyang, Guizhou China, is the “first Chinese company to invest in coal in America,” The Chinese corporation now owns 30,000 acres of East Tennessee ridgelines.

The Scenic Vistas Act would protect East Tennessee mountain ranges from the destructive practice of mountaintop removal employed by coal companies, including Guizhou Guochauang Energy Holding’s Tennessee-based operations.

Mountaintop removal not only kills tourism jobs, but it eliminates coal-mining jobs, too, because it requires fewer employees to blow up a mountain, Johnson said.

“It’s past time the politicians who run the legislature put the interests of everyday Tennesseans above the concerns of corporate special interests,” Rep. Johnson said. “Regardless of today’s outcome, we will carry on this fight. As long as there are mountains in Tennessee, I will be standing beside the business owners and families who are working to protect our mountains for the future.”

BACKGROUND:

“We are what you might say a Chinese company.” “Triple H’s operations manager, Alex Housley, said in a telephone interview that the family owned company is being sold (to Guizhou Guochuang Energy Holding Company, based in Guiyang, Guizhou China). [Timesfreepress.com, 3/20/13]

Guizhou Guochuang Energy Holding raised $616 million to acquire and develop Triple H Coal, which operates in Jacksboro, Tenn. According to MarketWatch, “This is the first Chinese company to invest in coal in America.”

Chinese Company Owns 30,000 Acres of Tennessee Mountaintops. With this corporate acquisition, Guizhou Guochuang Energy Holding Company now owns 30,000 acres of mineral rights. [triplehcoal.com, accessed 3/20/13]

Conservative Group Backs Effort to Ban Mountaintop Mining

Legislation to protect Tennessee’s mountains has new, if somewhat unexpected, support: the Tennessee Conservative Union.

Citing the involvement of the “Red Chinese” in mountaintop removal mining, the conservative organization has launched a statewide media effort to ban the harvesting of coal by blowing the tops off Tennessee’s mountains.

“Tennessee has become the first state in our great nation to permit the Red Chinese to destroy our mountains and take our coal,” a gravelly, male voice warns in the ad released by the TCU, alluding to a Chinese company reportedly indicating an intention last year to invest in the Tennessee-based Triple H Coal Company.

According to the company’s website, Triple H is “one of the fastest growing coal mining operations in the Tennessee Coal Mining Reserve. We supply the increasing demand for clean coal energy to the U.S. domestic market as well as rapid expanding emerging markets such as China. Triple H’s Tennessee mines cover a surface area of over 30,000 mineral acres and consist of nine seams that are located throughout the Tennessee Coal Reserve.”

An email to the company asking for comment went unanswered.

The conservative Tennessee group joins environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices in pushing back against mountaintop removal.

Appalachian Voices is eager to work with “anyone who supports protecting Tennessee’s mountains,” said JW Randolph, director of the Tennessee branch of the environmental group.

“From my perspective, we don’t care if they’re from China or Chattanooga – they can be from anywhere. Blowing up mountains is a bad idea,” Randolph said. “The fact that everybody from the most liberal and progressive people in the state support protecting our mountains, and the most conservative people in our state support protecting our mountains, I think, gives me a lot of hope.”

The “Scenic Vistas Protection Act,” HB43/SB99, sponsored by Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, and Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, would seek to prevent mountaintop removal operations by prohibiting the issuance of water quality control permits for certain projects. The bill would affect projects altering ridgelines at an elevation higher than 2,000 feet above sea level.

That’s on the low end of the height range for the Great Smoky Mountains, which range from 875 feet to 6,643 feet – the elevation of Clingmans Dome.

According to the bill, previously issued permits for mountaintop removal activities could only be renewed by the original applicant. The measure doesn’t expand or change the allowed surface area of mining operations or previously allowed actions and is not otherwise against the law. The bill also does not allow permits to be transferred from one person to another.

Although both the bill’s primary sponsors are Democrats, it appears to have at least some bipartisan support. Two Republicans in the House have signed on as co-prime sponsors: Bill Dunn, of Knoxville, who has been honored as the TCU Legislator of the Year, and Bob Ramsey of Maryville.

Gloria JohnsonGloria Johnson

“I think that the citizens – the majority of citizens of Tennessee – are supportive of that bill and don’t want to see any more mountaintop removal,” Johnson said.

During the 2012 legislative session the bill was sent to a summer study panel, where no action was taken on it.

The bill, important because of its intent to “preserve” one of the state’s “greatest assets,” has been heard before the state Legislature in various forms over the last three years, said sponsor Sen. Lowe Finney, of Jackson.

“What you’re seeing is a lot of people realize that this is an issue that can be addressed, that should be addressed and people from all over the state are taking an interest in it,” said Finney, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Coal could be mined more responsibly, and it would benefit Tennesseans to not destroy and desecrate one of the powerful symbols of the state’s history, said Charles White, an active member of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club. He added that coal can be mined in other ways that would provide more jobs and be more “environmentally” cost-effective.

“It’s high time for our elected officials to give this legislation a chance to be discussed by the full House and Senate,” White said.

The Scenic Vistas Act is scheduled to be heard in both the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources committee and the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee Wednesday.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, also have a bill (HB0875/SB1139) that aims to stem water pollution from surface mining. The bill would prohibit the issuance of permits that allow mining waste within 100 feet of any stream’s high water mark. The bill has not been scheduled for a hearing.