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Fincher Supports U.S. Ex-Im Bank Reform Legislation

Press release from U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn. 08; January 28, 2015:

Reform Bill Will Support Job Growth, Minimize Risk,and Enhance Accountability

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Stephen Fincher (R-TN) today made the following statement regarding H.R. 597, The Reform Exports and Expand the American Economy Act, to reform the U.S. Export-Import Bank which was introduced and cosponsored by 58 Members of Congress.

“The U.S. Ex-Im Bank has been a job-creator since its inception, yet it is in dire need of major reforms to ensure its ability to continue creating jobs at no expense to the taxpayer. In reforming the Ex-Im Bank, we’ll make its practices more accountable and transparent than ever before. We’ll also enhance taxpayer protections by requiring the Bank to become more solvent and self-sufficient.”

“People in my District, and across the country, are demanding more economic opportunities and expansion of the job-market. We can meet their demands by taking action now and supporting reforms to the Ex-Im Bank that improve its ability to support jobs and growth in communities across the nation.”

Legislative reforms include:

  • Increased capital requirements for loan-loss reserves to protect taxpayers from future defaults;
  • Reduced taxpayer exposure from $140 billion to $130 billion;
  • Parallel GAAP reporting;
  • Making the EX-IM Bank the lender of last resort;
  • Increased risk sharing by private sector lenders and exporters;
  • Enhanced multilateral negotiations to reign in official export credit from OECD countries as well as non-OECD countries like China;
  • A clearly defined a role for the Chief Risk Officer and members of the Board of Directors that provides balance with the Bank’s Chairman;
  • Required independent audit of the Bank’s portfolio; and
  • Greater anti-corruption safeguards.

Cosponsors Include: Aderholt, Amodei, Barletta, Bost, Boustany, Bucshon, Calvert, Cole, Collins, Comstock, Costello, Cramer, Crawford, Crenshaw, Davis, Dold, Gibbs, Gibson, Graves, Hanna, Harper, Hartzler, Hultgren, Hunter, Johnson, Jolly, Joyce, Katko, Kelly, King, Kinzinger, LoBiondo, Long, Lucas, MacArthur, Marino, Meehan, Mica, Mullin, Newhouse, Pitts, Reed, Reichert, Rice, Rogers, Schock, Shimkus, Shuster, Stefanik, Stivers, Thompson, Tiberi, Turner, Valadao, Wagner, Walorski, and Wilson.

 

TN Senate Holds Hearings on Criminal Justice Reform

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; September 16, 2014: 

(NASHVILLE, TN), September 16, 2014 – Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) is presiding over hearings today on reforming the criminal justice system in Tennessee.

“We must keep the public safe and hold offenders accountable in a way that protects taxpayer dollars,” said Sen. Kelsey. “Tennessee has not comprehensively evaluated the criminal justice system in over twenty years. We can learn from other states that have successfully used data to reduce costs and increase safety.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Senator Kelsey, is currently conducting hearings on criminal justice reform during its annual summer study committee. The subjects of the session are: 1) How we got where we are in Tennessee, 2) What other states have done, and 3) Suggested changes for Tennessee. Expert witnesses and Tennessee participants are discussing such topics as truth in sentencing, pretrial release, reentry programs, probation and parole reform, community-based corrections, and reducing recidivism rates.

The scheduled participants for the hearings are as follows:

  • Sheriff Robert Arnold, Rutherford County
  • Beth Ashe, Executive Director, Tennessee Corrections Institute
  • Deputy Tennessee Attorney General Amy Tarkington
  • District Attorney General D. Michael Dunavant, 25th Judicial District, Fayette, Hardeman, Lauderdale, McNairy, and Tipton Counties
  • Paige Edwards, Tennessee Public Defender’s Conference
  • Rebecca Silber and Nancy Fishman, VERA Institute of Justice
  • Mayor Terry Frank, Anderson County, Tennessee
  • John Summers, Executive Director, Tennessee State Employees Association
  • Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Tennessee Department of Safety
  • James Musice, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Marc Levin, Director, Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • John G. Malcolm, Director, Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies
  • Richard Montgomery, Chairman, Tennessee Board of Parole
  • Justin Owen, President/CEO, Beacon Center of Tennessee
  • Chief David Rausch, Knoxville Police Department
  • David Raybin, Esq., criminal defense attorney
  • Justyna Scalpone, Tennessee Office of the Post-Conviction Defender
  • Commissioner Derrick D. Schofield, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • Christopher Slobogin, Professor, Vanderbilt College of Law; member, Tennessee Consultation on Criminal Justice
  • Thomas E. Tique, Chief Deputy Attorney, Tennessee General Assembly Office of Legal Services
  • Commissioner E. Douglas Varney, Tennessee Department of Mental Health
  • Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director, ACLU of Tennessee
  • Charles White, Director, Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents
  • Judge John Everett Williams, Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown. He is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Witnesses Announced for Mid-Sept Criminal Justice Reform Hearing

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; August 26, 2014:

(NASHVILLE, TN) August 26, 2014 – Senator Brian Kelsey today released the names of the witnesses scheduled to testify regarding proposed criminal justice reforms in Tennessee. The hearing will occur before the Senate Judiciary Committee September 15 – 16.

“These experts will help us learn from other states how to best protect the public while saving taxpayer dollars. Our committee is privileged to partner with such talented witnesses in the effort to improve the criminal justice system in Tennessee,” explained Senator Kelsey.

The witnesses will provide testimony on the following three subjects: 1) Criminal Justice Reform: How we got where we are in Tennessee, 2) Criminal Justice Reform: What other states have done, and 3) Criminal Justice Reform: Suggested changes for Tennessee.

The scheduled witnesses for the hearings are as follows:

  • Sheriff Robert Arnold, Rutherford County
  • Beth Ashe, Executive Director, Tennessee Corrections Institute
  • Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper
  • District Attorney General D. Michael Dunavant, 25th Judicial District, Fayette, Hardeman, Lauderdale, McNairy, and Tipton Counties
  • Paige Edwards, Tennessee Public Defender’s Conference
  • Rebecca Silber and Nancy Fishman, VERA Institute of Justice
  • Tommy Francis, Tennessee State Employees Association
  • Mayor Terry Frank, Anderson County, Tennessee
  • Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Tennessee Department of Safety
  • Mark Gwyn, Director, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • Marc Levin, Director, Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • Mayor Mark Luttrell, Shelby County, Tennessee
  • John G. Malcolm, Director, Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies
  • Richard Montgomery, Chairman, Tennessee Board of Parole
  • Justin Owen, President/CEO, Beacon Center of Tennessee
  • Chief David Rausch, Knoxville Police Department
  • David Raybin, Esq., criminal defense attorney
  • Justyna Scalpone, Tennessee Office of the Post-Conviction Defender
  • Commissioner Derrick D. Schofield, Tennessee Department of Correction
  • Chris Slobogin, Professor, Vanderbilt College of Law; member, Tennessee Consultation on Criminal Justice
  • District Attorney General Barry Staubus, 2nd Judicial District, Sullivan County, Tennessee
  • Thomas E. Tique, Chief Deputy Attorney, Tennessee General Assembly Office of Legal Services
  • Commissioner E. Douglas Varney, Tennessee Department of Mental Health
  • Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director, ACLU of Tennessee
  • Charlie White, Director, Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents
  • Judge John Everett Williams, Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals

Senator Kelsey represents Cordova, East Memphis, and Germantown. He is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

ACT Gains Demonstrate Teachers Working Hard, Reforms Working, says Guv

If you ask Bill Haslam to interpret the significance of recent Tennessee ACT scores that show the most impressive statewide gains in a decade, he’ll tell you it shows teachers are doing a great job.

That, and it’s more evidence much-resisted education reforms initiated and implemented by his administration are creating positive results. Despite difficult workplace transitions, Teachers are adapting adeptly, and deserve praise, he said Wednesday.

“I think it’s further verification that we have great teaching going on in Tennessee schools, and we’re seeing the results of that,” the governor said following an event at Antioch High School to promote a new state program offering free community college to any graduating senior in the state.

Tennessee saw a gain of three-tenths of a percentage point in its ACT composite scores for all the state’s public and private school students, according to a news release from the state Department of Education.

The governor noted Tennessee is one of only 12 states that require ACT testing for all students — meaning the sampling wasn’t biased toward college-bound students.

This year’s increase is also the biggest jump since Tennessee “began testing all students in 2010,” according to the department.

The ACT gains, coupled with Tennessee’s designation last fall as the country’s most improved state on the so-called “Nation’s Report Card,” have Haslam confident his reforms are working.

Results like that “don’t just happen,” he said.

The Department of Education’s news release indicated “gains correlate with recent academic growth in high school on the 2014 Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP.” It adds that while academic improvement was evident across socioeconomic lines, the results “point to the continued need to close achievement gaps” among minority student.

Skeptics of the Haslam administration’s emphasis on wide-scale standardized testing — and his reforms in general — aren’t buying that the results mean Tennessee is on a sustainably productive path in public education.

“It’s great to see an improvement. But we need to be cautious about placing too much emphasis on those test scores,” said Barbara Gray, president of the Tennessee Education Association.

If the Haslam administration believes higher ACT and NAEP scores tell a complete story, many teachers “would disagree with that,” said Gray. Test scores don’t necessarily mean a better-educated student, she said.

“We know the students are being tested all year long, and they’re becoming better test takers because they’re being tested,” Gray said. “So, it’s important to me that we look at multiple measures of students’ achievement, to determine if the students really are achieving at a higher level.”

TN Education Reforms Hailed in New U.S. Chamber Report

Changes in the state’s Department of Education since the Tennessee General Assembly voted to adopt the Common Core standards for education a few years ago are being highlighted in the summer issue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce quarterly magazine, Free Enterprise.

According to the magazine, the USCoC recently completed a follow-up to their 2007 report, Leaders & Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on K-12 Educational Effectiveness, which indicates a “growing problem” of a less-than-sufficiently educated and skill-prepared labor force.

But Free Enterprise notes that Tennessee has been lauded by experts for its willingness to tackle the problem, most notably by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who has praised state politicians and elected leaders for sticking to their “controversial but common sense decisions” in the face of pushback against reforms.

Cheryl Oldham, vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber, said in the article that the commitment to reform policies under both Gov. Bill Haslam and his predecessor, Phil Bredesen, have given Tennessee’s students “the promise of opportunity and success beyond high school.”

Interviewed for the article, Bredesen told Free Enterprise, “Education reform has got to be about picking a course of action and sticking with it over a long period of time, not just letting it flow back and forth when you get a new governor.”

Changes in the way Tennessee teaches kids in public school and measures their performance  has more and more become an area of political controversy. In particular, the nationwide effort to implement the Common Core Standards in Tennessee has over the past year created some odd bedfellows among those who’re becoming reform-weary.

The Obama administration are big fans of Common Core, as are big-name Tennessee political figures like Gov. Haslam, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and former U.S. Senator and GOP majority leader Bill Frist

On the other hand, skeptics and out-and-out opponents include both conservatives and liberals, teachers’ unions and anti-tax activists. There’s even a stand-up comedian working criticism of Common Core into his schtick. Conservatives fear that the standards complicate the ability to learn and will lead to liberally biased textbooks. On the left, there’s a worry that the curriculum and standardized evaluations will add to classroom pressures on both teachers and students, which isn’t conducive to enhancing a productive learning environment.

The Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a national non-profit conservative political advocacy group is big in to the battle here in Tennessee. The state’s AFP arm announced this week  it’d spent about $500,000 in the past six weeks “bringing the issues with Common Core to light.” AFP claims its illumination of the issues impacted outcomes in several state primary elections last week.

In its 2014 legislative session, the General Assembly passed a bill, signed by Haslam, to halt implementation of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers testing, and do some price-comparisons on others in the meantime. The Volunteer state will continue to use the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program — or TCAP — until the 2015-16 school year.

The state’s largest labor group that represents teachers, the Tennessee Education Association, has claimed it’s lobbying efforts this past session resulted in lawmakers delaying the testing program, which is affiliated with Common Core. The Washington Post called the TEA’s effort’s “instrumental” in passing the delay.

Rep. Glen Casada is a vocal opponent of Common Core whose positions usually don’t line up with the wishes of teachers’ unions. He, too, has claimed responsibility for putting PARCC on the back-burner, and he also hopes that in the interim lawmakers will decide to scrap it altogether.

Casada sought to play up the downsides of Common Core up as much as possible in his Williamson County district’s primary race against a local school board member, Cherie Hammond, who was generally regarded as more politically centrist than the veteran House Republican caucus chairman. Casada won handily.

Casada told TNReport this week he’s not entirely convinced the gains the state’s posted in student performance of late can be attributed in any significant way to anything having to do with Common Core. For example, given that Common Core is still more-or-less in a rollout phase, it’d be a stretch to suggest last year’s big nationwide testing gains for Tennessee touted by both Gov. Haslam and Education Secretary Duncan had a whole lot to do with it, Casada said.

The Franklin lawmaker, who isn’t facing a general election opponent, said the state’s teachers and students posted testing gains that actually appeared to have emerged during a two-year “interim period” when Tennessee public schools got out from under No Child Left Behind and before Common Core Standards were being pushed in earnest.

Casada interprets that to mean, “When no large bureaucracy was guiding what teachers do, we excelled.”

TN Higher Ed Leaders Join Call for Immigration Reform

Press release from Tennesseans for Immigration Reform; June 6, 2013:

NASHVILLE, TN – Twenty-one chancellors and presidents of Tennessee’s top higher education institutions have sent a joint letter to Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Bob Corker urging their swift action and support for comprehensive immigration reform.

The letter urges the senators to support a bipartisan solution that would ensure international students educated in American universities will have a clear path to contribute to the American economy and create jobs in the U.S. after they graduate.

“As leaders of the higher education institutions that are preparing the creators of tomorrow’s scientific breakthroughs, we call on you to address a critical threat to America’s preeminence as a global center of innovation and prosperity—our inability under current U.S. immigration policy to retain and benefit from many of the top minds educated at our universities.”

To help protect America’s lead in innovation and new job creation, the university leaders’ letter calls for swift action on the issue, stating “we simply cannot afford to wait any longer to fix our broken immigration system.”

“The important role immigrants play in American innovation must not be discounted or diminished; their contributions and inventions lead to new companies and new jobs for American workers, and are an enormous boon to our economy.”

Among those signing the letter are: Jimmy Cheek, Chancellor of The University of Tennessee in Knoxville; John Morgan, Chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents system; Nick Zeppos, Chancellor of Vanderbilt University; Shirley Raines, President of the University of Memphis; and Brian Noland, President of East Tennessee State University.

Other signatories include: Dr. Robert Fisher, Belmont University; Dr. John Smarrelli, Christian Brothers University; Dr. Harvill Eaton, Cumberland University; Dr. James Williams, Fisk University; Dr. Greg Jordan, King College; Dr. Gary Weedman, Johnson University; Dr. James Dawson, Lincoln Memorial University; Dr. Randy Lowry, Lipscomb University; Dr. Kenneth Schwab, Middle Tennessee School for Anesthesia; Dr. Bill Greer, Milligan College; Dr. Gordon Bietz, Southern Adventist University; Dr. Richard Phillips, Southern College of Optometry; Dr. Glenda Glover, Tennessee State University; Dr. Philip Oldham, Tennessee Tech University; Dr. Dan Boone, Trevecca Nazarene University; and Dr. Nancy Moody, Tusculum College.

A copy of the complete letter follows:

Tennesseans for Immigration Reform

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Senator Lamar Alexander
455 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Senator Bob Corker
425 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Alexander and Senator Corker:

Thank you for your continued strong support of our colleges and universities here in Tennessee. We are grateful for your focus and leadership for expanded student access, achievement, completion and research success throughout our great state.

That’s why we are writing to seek your help and support on one of the most important national issues directly impacting our institutions—and Tennessee’s future economy—comprehensive immigration reform.

As you know, Tennessee has witnessed significant growth in the number of foreign-born contributors to our society. In fact, more than eight times as many Tennesseans today are foreign born than was the case 50 years ago. We continue to see a growing international presence throughout the Tennessee economy as well.

As leaders of the higher education institutions that are preparing the creators of tomorrow’s scientific breakthroughs, we call on you to address a critical threat to America’s preeminence as a global center of innovation and prosperity—our inability under current U.S. immigration policy to retain and benefit from many of the top minds educated at our universities.

The United States has historically been the world leader in innovation, invention and creation of ideas that drive economic prosperity. Research shows that in 2011, foreign-born inventors were credited contributors on more than 75 percent of patents issued to the top 10 patent-producing universities in the U.S.

It is in our universities, however, where we educate and train the next generation of researchers, innovators and leaders, and we are proud that the United States remains a top magnet for the world’s brightest and most driven students.

Across the U.S., in 2009, students on temporary visas represented 45 percent of all graduate students in engineering, math, computer science and physical sciences—earning 43 percent of all master’s degrees and 52 percent of all Ph.Ds.

The important role immigrants play in American innovation must not be discounted or diminished; their contributions and inventions lead to new companies and new jobs for American workers, and are an enormous boon to our economy.

However, after we have trained and educated these future job creators, our antiquated immigration laws too often turn them away to work for our competitors in other countries.

Limited numbers of visas force American-educated immigrants to leave the country or face untenable delays for a permanent visa. Top American-educated engineers from India and China face wait times of up to 9 years to get a permanent visa, and new applicants from these countries may face considerably longer waits.

Yet, while we turn away American-educated, trained and funded scientists and engineers, there is a growing skills gap across America’s industries. One quarter of U.S. science and engineering firms report difficulty in hiring, and the problem will only worsen as the U.S. is projected to face a shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree workers in scientific and technical fields by 2018.

While we are sending away highly skilled workers trained at American universities, competing economies are welcoming these scientists and engineers with streamlined visa applications and creating dedicated visas to ensure that the foreign students who graduate from their own universities can stay and contribute to the local economy.

We simply cannot afford to wait any longer to fix our broken immigration system.

We hope you will work together with your colleagues in the Senate on a comprehensive and bipartisan immigration reform solution that ensures our top international graduates have a clear path to stay here to help us create more American jobs and to ensure that America is the world’s leading home for innovators and innovation.

Thank you again for your outstanding leadership—and for your consideration on this important issue.

Sincerely,

Robert C. Fisher
President
Belmont University

John Smarrelli, Jr.
President
Christian Brothers University

Harvill C. Eaton
President
Cumberland University

Brian Noland
President
East Tennessee State University

H. James Williams
President
Fisk University

Gregory D. Jordan
President
King College

Gary E. Weedman
President
Johnson University

B. James Dawson
President
Lincoln Memorial University

Randy Lowry
President
Lipscomb University

Kenneth L. Schwab
President
Middle Tennessee School for Anesthesia

Bill Greer
President
Milligan College

Gordon Bietz
President
Southern Adventist University

Richard W. Phillips
President
Southern College of Optometry

John Morgan
Chancellor
Tennessee Board of Regents

Glenda B. Glover
President
Tennessee State University

Philip B. Oldham
President
Tennessee Tech University

Dan Boone
President
Trevecca Nazarene University

Nancy B. Moody
President
Tusculum College

Nicholas S. Zeppos
Chancellor
Vanderbilt University

Shirley C. Raines
President
University of Memphis

Jimmy G. Cheek
Chancellor
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

TCA: House Should Say ‘Not Now’ to Haslam Workers Comp Request

Press release from Tennessee Citizen Action; April 9, 2013:

Nashville, Tenn. (April 9, 2013) – Tennessee Citizen Action issued the following statement calling on the State House of Representatives to delay the Governor’s push for changes to Workers’ Comp this week:

“The Governor’s assertion in the Tennessean today* that his proposed changes to workers’ comp law and the mismanagement within the Department of Labor and Workforce Development are unrelated is bizarre. The Governor is in charge of both administrative appointments as well as the effective use of taxpayer dollars. It was his choice for administrator of the Department of Labor that led directly to the mismanagement and waste of taxpayer dollars within the department. Now he wants the State House of Representatives to give him the sole authority to appoint an administrator to handle all workers’ comp claims and put that administrator under the Department of Labor?

In light of what we have learned, The Tennessee House of Representatives’ response on Thursday to the Governor’s request to give him the sole authority over the workers’ comp administrative decisions this year should be “Not now, Governor.”

Background:

Findings of the State Comptroller’s Single Audit Report detailing mismanagement, fraud and abuse within the Department of Labor and Workforce Development have surfaced. The Reports states: “The Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s management has threatened the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance Program by failing to provide sufficient internal controls and oversight.” Among the findings include overpayment of $73 million in jobless benefits, administrative delays that left employees bereft of an appeals process, and employers getting charged too much in unemployment premiums paid to the state.

Governor Bill Haslam is pushing changes that will take workers’ comp claims out of the impartial court system and put them directly under the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (HB194 & SB200), beginning in 2014.

Sources:

Haslam Proposes ‘Tennessee Plan’ to Reform Health Care

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; March 27, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today unveiled his plan to pursue real health care reform in the state.

Haslam announced that he will not expand TennCare rolls under the Affordable Care Act but instead is working to leverage the available federal dollars to purchase private health insurance for Tennesseans who would not otherwise have access to coverage.“Tennessee has shown the nation how to produce true reform in education, based on students’ results and educational outcome. We’re beginning to do the same thing with reforming government service – again by measuring outcome and results rather than just years of service as a state employee,” Haslam said. “I believe Tennessee can also be a model for what true health care reform looks like; reform that will take significant steps to save the state and the nation from the unsustainable path we are on now.”

Haslam’s plan would take on the critical issue of aligning incentives among users, payers and providers of health care. The plan would:

  • Leverage available federal dollars to purchase private health insurance for Tennesseans up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level who don’t have access to health insurance, which would translate to 175,000 more insured Tennesseans;
  • Allow co-pays for those who can afford to pay something;
  • Include a definitive circuit-breaker or sunset of the plan that could only be renewed with the General Assembly’s approval;
  • And reform the payment structure for providers so they are compensated for health outcomes, not just based on services performed.

“Hospitals and medical providers have put a lot of sincere effort into working with us toward payment reform,” Haslam said. “I cannot emphasize enough how much I’ve been impressed with our hospitals’ willingness to work with us. To succeed, we also need cooperation from the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS), and we can’t get the same assurances from them at this point. Until we get those assurances, I cannot recommend that we move forward on this plan.

“All we’re asking from Washington is to allow us to use the federal funds to provide coverage on the health care exchange in the same way many other Tennesseans will access coverage regardless of whether or not we expand. It’s a reasonable ask,” Haslam continued.

But as a result of the lack of clarity from HHS, the governor will not ask the General Assembly for approval to accept the Medicaid expansion federal funds as he continues to work for the flexibility needed to implement his plan.

Gov. Haslam Prepared Remarks:

“I appreciate the opportunity to speak this morning. I’m well aware this is an extremely busy time, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to come before you today. It is the first time I’ve asked to do this outside of the State of the State, but I asked for this opportunity because…

There is no more important issue, or more complex issue facing our country and our state today than healthcare, and I wanted to update you about where we are regarding Medicaid expansion.

This may look like a simple decision. On one side, people think how could we not accept federal money to expand Medicaid to cover more Tennesseans and on the other, why in the world would we accept funds tied to ObamaCare knowing the federal government can’t pay for it? But it isn’t that easy.

Let me start by saying there are two basic reasons I don’t like ObamaCare.

The first is cost. Regardless of whether we decide to cover any additional people through the Act, Obamacare will cost the state of Tennessee almost two billion dollars over the next eight years.

I want to be clear – That is our additional cost regardless of whether or not we cover any new enrollees.

Secondly, and maybe even more important than not addressing cost, it doesn’t address the real issues of health
reform – users and payers not being aligned and providers and payers not being in alignment.

When you go to the grocery store, there is a shopper, a product and the store. The shopper knows what the store charges for each item and pays for those items.

With health care, shoppers go to the store, pick out whatever they like – sometimes with a representative of the store suggesting additional items – and then going to check out knowing that someone else will pay the bill. Governor Bredesen made this comparison in his book, Fresh Medicine.

The shopper also rarely knows what the store is charging. Only in health care do we buy something without first knowing the cost.

On the provider side, providers are paid based on a fee for each service or product, not on the outcome of care.

Market tension is what controls cost and promotes quality. There is no market tension when you buy or sell health care goods and services.

To me, the scandal of the Affordable Care Act is that it doesn’t significantly address cost or alignment reform.

And that’s what Washington does – it looks at a complex problem, realizes that some people aren’t going to like the changes, and as a solution, decides to spend more money.

So, many of us are tempted to say, “That’s right, Washington created the problem. They can fix it,” but it’s not just their problem, it’s ours.

  1. We all know that in Tennessee, we have serious problems with health care.
  2. We’re doing a better job than the rest of the country in controlling costs of Medicaid growth, but they’re still taking a larger and larger percentage of our budget.
  3. We’ve all met people across this state who don’t have healthcare coverage and whose families are in incredibly difficult positions that we agree should have coverage. A lot of us in this room have a real concern for those the Bible refers to as “the least of these.”
  4. Our hospitals – and I know it is harder to identify with the image of a struggling hospital than a struggling Tennessean – but they’ve been put in a very difficult position by the Affordable Care Act.
    They are losing many of the funds which they received to provide healthcare for our state’s indigent. While many hospitals can survive this, I am convinced that several of our hospitals will be left in an impossible situation and will not survive this transition. Some of our communities – rural and urban – could very well lose their community hospital.
  5. Tennessee businesses could also pay a steep price. In addition to the myriad of taxes and fees associated with the Affordable Care Act, our businesses stand to lose 50 to 70 million dollars a year.
  6. Finally, there is at least 20 million dollars a year at stake for our local governments who currently take responsibility for indigent care in their communities.

Let me read you a quote: “Soaring health care costs make our current course unsustainable…And the ever-increasing cost of Medicare and Medicaid are among the main drivers of enormous budget deficits that are threatening our economic future. In short, the status quo is broken, and pouring money into a broken system only perpetuates its inefficiencies.”

Do you know who said that? President Obama in 2009.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s plan was reform in name only and is costing us a lot of money. That’s why a lot of us in this room don’t like the plan.

But I believe it is our job as leaders to pursue real health care reform here in Tennessee. It is our job to say what we’re for in terms of addressing the biggest issue facing us.

For the last several months, I’ve been working toward a “Tennessee Plan” for health reform to change the way health care coverage looks in Tennessee.

I understand those who don’t think it makes sense for us to just say that Tennessee isn’t going to accept the federal dollars because we don’t like ObamaCare.

But this state also has nearly 20 years of experience providing health care coverage through a Medicaid managed care program, and we are all too familiar with all of the federal rules and restrictions that prevent us from operating the program as efficiently as possible.

A pure expansion of Medicaid – expanding a broken system – doesn’t make sense for Tennessee either.

That’s why I’ve been working toward a third option: to leverage the federal dollars available to our state to transform health care in Tennessee without expanding our TennCare rolls.

I’d like to put in place a program to buy private health insurance for Tennesseans that have no other way to get it by using the federal money.

I fundamentally believe that people having health care coverage is better for our citizens and state than people not having coverage.

The plan would include co-pays for those that can afford to pay something, so the user has some skin in the game when it comes to health care incentives.

We would work with providers to lower the cost of care and to move from a model of paying for every service regardless of the result, to a payment method that is based on outcomes and quality care.

Our plan would have a definitive circuit-breaker or sunset that could only be renewed with the General Assembly’s approval based on when the amount of the federal funding decreases.

During that period when our costs are covered 100 percent by the federal government, we’d work with our medical care providers to implement true payment reform. I am confident that working together, we could truly reduce medical costs.

We’d have a one-time opportunity to encourage their cooperation because health care providers will know that for the next three years, a portion of the population which had previously been receiving services with no reimbursement to the hospitals or doctors, will now have insurance.

But those same providers would clearly know that coverage for that population will go away unless they can prove to us that at the end of three years, when we start paying a percentage of the costs of the new population our total costs would stay flat.

That is a high bar for our providers. But I’m convinced that they can do it, and my conviction is based on the fact that the hospitals and medical providers have put a lot of sincere effort into working with us toward payment reform. I cannot emphasize enough how much I’ve been impressed with our hospitals’ willingness to work with us.

To succeed, we also need cooperation from the Department of Health and Human Services, and we can’t get the same assurances from them at this point.

Until we get those assurances, I cannot recommend to you that we move forward on this plan. Our budget amendment will not include language to accept the federal funds.

There are a lot of federal requirements that come with Medicaid that make it difficult to provide quality care in the most cost-effective way possible. Instead of insuring more people through an inherently flawed system, we’d hoped to purchase private insurance to insure as many as 175,000 more Tennesseans.

To do that, HHS says we have to provide additional benefits, above and beyond what everyone else in the exchange will receive.

We’ll also have to follow certain Medicaid-driven guidelines when it comes to co-pays and the appeals process instead of allowing these individuals to be treated like everyone else in private insurance plans.

The end result is that these Tennesseans would be receiving services from both the private insurer and TennCare.

We have experience with such a scenario today in the form of dual eligibles – people who receive both Medicare and TennCare. It is dysfunctional and not in the state’s best interest to set up again.

The whole reason to accept these federal dollars would be to leverage them to shape and impact health care coverage in Tennessee.

All we’re asking from Washington is to allow us to use the funds to provide coverage on the health care exchange in the same way many other Tennesseans will access coverage whether or not we expand. It’s a reasonable ask.

In the past several years, Tennessee has shown the nation how to produce true reform in education, based on students’ results and educational outcome. We are beginning to do the same thing with reforming government service – again by measuring outcome and results rather than just years of service as a state employee.

I honestly feel that we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to do the same thing in healthcare: To have a healthcare system that is based on outcomes. To have a healthcare system that is based on a healthier Tennessee, which I think we can all agree is essential for our future.

Our plan can save Tennessee money, and if it does, it will also save the federal government at least three dollars for every one dollar we save and in some cases even more.

I believe that Tennessee can be a model for what true healthcare reform looks like – to cover more Tennesseans and to take significant steps to save Tennessee and the United States from the unsustainable path we are on now.

So here are my two promises: First, we commit to you that we have no intention of pursuing this path without your engagement, involvement and approval. Second, we’ll continue to pursue a vision for a healthier Tennessee with access to health care, but at a lower cost for our state and our country.

It’s my hope that we can provide quality healthcare for more Tennesseans while transforming the relationship among health care users, providers and payers. If Tennessee can do that, we all win.

Thank you for the privilege of being here and for the honor of working with you as your Governor.”

TNGOP: Turner ‘No Friend to Our Children or Minorities’

Press release from the Tennessee Republican Party; February 14, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn.— Never one to be bound by logic or facts, State Representative Mike Turner (D—Old Hickory) found yet another way to lodge his foot squarely in his mouth.

Speaker of the House Beth Harwell (R—Nashville) and many lawmakers are pushing for statewide charter school authorization. The bill removes government hurdles and allows for Tennessee to attract high-performing charter schools all across the state.

Turner, at a media availability, accused Speaker Harwell of supporting policies that will “lead to resegregation.”

Unfortunately all students are suffering. According to 2011 NAEP data, Tennessee’s public education system:

  • 49th in 4th Grade Math -Scale score 233 (7 points below National Average)
  • 41st in 4th Grade Reading -Scale score 215 (5 points below National Average)
  •  45th in 8th Grade Math -Scale score 274 (9 points below National Average)
  • 41st in 8th Grade Reading -Scale score 259 (5 points below National Average

The proficiency levels in the state are low. In 2011:

  • In 4th Grade Math – 71% of students are below proficient (30% proficient or advance)
  • In 4th Grade Reading – 75% of students are below proficient (26% proficient or advance)
  • In 8th Grade Math – 76% of students are below proficient (24% proficient or advance)
  • In 8th Grade Reading – 73% of students are below proficient (27% proficient or advance)

Chris Devaney, Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, stated, “Most legislators believe every child in Tennessee deserves the opportunity to receive a high-quality education. Apparently, Mike Turner disagrees with that principle.”

He continued, “While Mike Turner spends time labeling Tennesseans ‘racist,’ he’s continually supporting policies that prop up the status quo and, more alarmingly, weigh down minorities and underprivileged children. Tennesseans want to know why he would continue to defend the current system which study after study shows is failing our students and robbing generation after generation of opportunity.”

According to Tennessee campaign finance data, Turner received:

  • $1,200 in the 2012 campaign cycle from the teacher’s union;
  • $2,500 in the 2010 campaign cycle from the teacher’s union.

“The facts prove Mike Turner is no friend to our children or minorities. Instead of standing with lawmakers who want to reform our poor education system by injecting opportunity and achievement into the equation, he’d rather pocket money from unions who put their own interests ahead of our children. It’s time to undo the mess in education that has been created after 150 years of bad policy, and that’s what our reform-minded legislators are doing now—raising standards and giving parents choices, and students the opportunity, for a better education,” concluded Devaney.

Ramsey: Education Choice ‘Valid, Valuable, Growing in Popularity’

Op-Ed from Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; August 6, 2012: 

Our Republican majority in the state legislature have reached many of our goals these past two years. I’m very proud of our accomplishments. But there is still much left to do. One example is education reform.

Some might find this surprising. After all, Tennessee won the federal government’s Race to the Top Grant because of our willingness to reform. And reform we have. Tennessee has made truly great strides in education in recent years. Not only have we reformed tenure, we removed the monopoly held by Tennessee’s government employee union over our school boards.

Most recently we have implemented a teacher evaluation system where teachers are reviewed, and thus rewarded, based on their excellence.

We have clearly stayed true to my goal of striving to put a great teacher in every classroom. But there is much more to do.

Earlier this month, I saw a public opinion poll which revealed nearly 60 percent of Tennessee voters support opportunity scholarships (or vouchers as they are sometimes called). These scholarships would allow children who were not blessed to be born wealthy to use the money allocated for their education at a school of their choice.

Governor Bill Haslam currently has a task force hard at work on this issue. They continue to deliberate on how opportunity scholarships can be best implemented in Tennessee. I am eager to review their findings and get to work passing a bill that benefits all of Tennessee.

I was proud when, under the leadership of Sen. Brian Kelsey, the Tennessee Senate passed an opportunity scholarship bill in 2011. Unfortunately, the measure failed in the state House. But whether the bill that ultimately passes both houses ends up looking exactly like the one we passed last year, the important thing to realize is that concept of choice is valid, valuable and growing in popularity.

Many of this state’s schools are failing. By the objective criteria we have at our disposal, we now know there are children in certain counties of our state who are not only not getting the education they deserve — they are getting little, if any, quality education at all.

This is a disturbing realization but it is not one we can easily ignore. As I said, one of my primary goals in public service is to make sure every Tennessee student has a great Tennessee teacher. We can spend all the money we want on grand new school buildings, new computers and the latest in educational software but, at the end of the day, it’s good teachers who make good students.

If children in our failing schools do not believe they have good teachers, who are we to stand in the way of their seeking instruction elsewhere? We cannot continue to make students prisoners of geography. We must apply to education those principles we know work in the economic sphere.

As Republicans, we believe in the free market. We know that competition drives excellence. I believe it is time to infuse those principles, if only in a limited way, into our education system.

Studies have shown opportunity scholarships are successful in boosting graduation rates without draining resources from the public schools. Giving parents a choice and improving public schools can be done simultaneously.

According to a study led by Dr. Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, the District of Columbia’s opportunity scholarship program increased the graduation rate of students who were merely offered vouchers by double-digits. The graduation rate of students that actually used vouchers grew 21%. These are impressive statistics. Coupled with the moral and economic rightness of allowing choice — this is a no brainer.

Tennessee has proved over the past few years that we are a state willing to think boldly when it comes to education reform.

And frankly, we don’t have much choice. Tennessee consistently ranks at the top of the nation’s states in numerous categories. Whatever the measure — be it our low tax rate, our high quality of life or our reputation as the best state in the nation to own and operate a business — Tennessee shines. Our rank among states in education stands in strong contrast. It must be remedied.

Opportunity scholarships would provide hope to the children of this state who most need it. We cannot continue to hover near the bottom of the pack in education. We have taken the first steps in reform — but there is still much left to do.