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Norris: Haslam Budget Includes Funding for Additional TBI Forensic Scientists, Will ‘Expedite’ DNA Testing

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; February 12, 2015:

NASHVILLE –  Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) recognized the Haslam Administration for funding three new forensic scientists at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) in next year’s budget. The TBI processes forensic evidence at no charge to local law enforcement.

“These funds will expedite the processing of rape kits and other DNA testing by providing additional essential personnel. They will be trained in accessing and updating the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) which is part of the FBI’s network for tracking perpetrators of crime — a critical weapon in the fight against crime,” said Norris, who sponsors the budget in the Senate.

Norris enacted the law repealing the Tennessee statute of limitations in rape cases last year. He also led the effort to require all local law enforcement agencies to inventory back-logged inventories of rape kits across the state. Last September, the TBI reported 9,062 kits remained untested statewide.

“Progress is being made getting the old evidence tested, but this will help facilitate more timely testing of all DNA evidence,” said Norris.

The TBI has not received funding for new personnel for many years, even though the demand for more resources has increased dramatically.

According to City of Memphis officials, an initial backlog of 12,000 kits has now been reduced by nearly 5,000 kits since 2013 and has resulted in some 170 new investigations and 52 indictments including 19 rapists.

Green, Durham Introduce Bill to Create ‘Free-market Alternative’ to Worker’s Comp

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; February 12, 2015:

The Tennessee Option will help employees return to work, create economic development opportunities

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville), a physician and Vice-Chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, and Representative Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin), House Majority Whip, today introduced a bill to create the Tennessee Option, a free market alternative to state-mandated workers’ compensation insurance. Sen. Jack Johnson, Chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, is co-sponsoring the Senate bill. Rep. Glen Casada (R-Thompson Station), Chairman of the House Republican Caucus, is co-sponsoring the version in the House of Representatives.

 

“The core focus of the Tennessee Option is to help injured employees get back to work faster. Making that happen requires good benefits, strong communication, and will lead to higher employee satisfaction,” said Sen. Green. “An Option will also give job creators a way to save more than 50% on workers’ comp costs, so they can invest in growth and more employees.”

The Tennessee Option will create an alternative way for employers to provide traditional workers’ compensation benefits – medical, wage replacement, etc. – under an injury benefit plan. Sen. Green’s said the bill eliminates the need for volumes of statutes, paperwork, and litigated decisions, while still delivering employee protections and accountability. Employers using an Option in the two states that currently allow it – Texas and Oklahoma – see improved employee satisfaction following an injury and lower program costs, which creates economic development opportunities.

“We will cut red tape for Tennessee businesses with the Tennessee Option. That is reason alone to pass the legislation,” said Rep. Jeremy Durham. “If we want to make Tennessee a better place to work and live, we have to take bold steps like this to help employers while still protecting employees.”

Oklahoma passed Option legislation in 2013, and Texas has allowed alternative injury benefit programs for more than 100 years. Texas employers using the Option have saved billions of dollars while increasing employee satisfaction and return-to-work rates. The Tennessee Option will not replace workers’ comp; instead, it will act as a competitive pressure on the system to produce better outcomes for the true stakeholders – employees and their employers.

“We have the opportunity here to help Tennessee employees, Tennessee employers, and Tennessee economic development,” Green concluded. “I look at the Tennessee Option as a way to set our state apart when companies are looking to locate here and create hundreds or thousands of jobs, because that’s why I was elected – to get Tennessee back to work.”

Norris: Juvenile Justice Reforms Working Better than Incarceration, More Can Be Done

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; January 29, 2015:

Study Shows Community-Based Supervision, Not State-Run Incarceration, Leads to More Success

AUSTIN, TX—Jan. 29, 2014—A first-of-its-kind study comparing Texas youth with nearly identical characteristics shows that juveniles under community-based supervision are far less likely to reoffend than those incarcerated in state correctional facilities, the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, in partnership with Texas A&M University, announced today.

CLOSER TO HOME: An Analysis of the State and Local Impact of the Texas Juvenile Justice Reforms, which draws on an unprecedented dataset of 1.3 million individual case records spanning eight years, shows youth incarcerated in state-run facilities are 21 percent more likely to be rearrested than those that remain under supervision closer to home. When they do reoffend, youth released from state-secure facilities are three times more likely to commit a felony than youth under community supervision.

“The extraordinary data compiled for this study demonstrates convincingly how much better youth, who prior to the reforms would have been incarcerated, fare instead under community supervision,” said Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris,  Immediate Past Chair of the  Council of State Governments. “It also finds that, for those youth placed under community supervision, there is still considerable room for improvement.”

The study is expected to have significant implications on the operations of state juvenile justice systems across the country, including Tennessee, which experienced the fourth-largest decrease (more than 70 percent) in its incarcerated youth population in its state correctional facilities between 1997 and 2011. Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services Juvenile Justice Division is already working with the CSG Justice Center to pilot recommendations to improve its data collection.

“We’ve seen remarkable reductions in the number of youth confined to state-secure facilities,” Norris said,” but, as Texas has shown, it’s important for us to understand why the decrease occurred and what is happening to those kids who have gone into community-based supervision.”

Since 2000, when the number of juveniles incarcerated was at a record high, the number of detained or incarcerated youth has decreased by more than 40 percent nationwide, according to 2013 figures, with some state populations declining by as much as 80 percent. Texas has helped contribute to that national drop.

After a number of abuses involving youth incarcerated in state facilities were uncovered, Texas state leaders enacted a series of reforms between 2007 and 2013. Texas leaders argued that many youth were incarcerated unnecessarily, and that supervising and providing treatment to kids close to home, instead of shipping them to far-off correctional facilities, would produce better individual outcomes and save taxpayer money without compromising public safety.

The result has been a dramatic decrease in the state-secure population, with a 65-percent reduction between 2007 and 2012, according to the study, cutting hundreds of millions in state spending and reinvesting a large portion of those savings into county-administered juvenile probation departments. During the same time period, juvenile arrests also declined by 33 percent, a significant drop compared to the 2-percent decline over the four years prior to 2007 reforms.

“Texas has demonstrated it is possible to achieve reductions in crime while reducing the number of youth incarcerated,” said Texas Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston). “Prior to the reforms, youth were placed in facilities and essentially put on a path to the adult prison system.  They were exposed to violence, disconnected from their families, and offered few rehabilitation options. Now, we need to take additional steps to make sure we are doing everything we can to support youth under community supervision to help them become successful adults. This report points to a number of areas in which the state can better partner with local governments to achieve that goal.”

The combination of additional funding from the state and fewer youth under community supervision means counties are spending more than ever on each youth under community supervision. Nevertheless, recidivism rates for youth under community supervision have not improved measurably over the past several years, according to the study, which reviewed not only statewide data, but also analyzed outcomes among youth under community supervision in 30 individual Texas counties.

The report found substantial evidence that all counties could lower recidivism rates further by doing a better job applying the latest research, such as assigning youth to the right programs and appropriate levels of supervision.

“Neither poor matching of high risk youth with inappropriate programs, nor over-programming youth with minimal needs does much to reduce the likelihood of a young person reoffending, and could actually have the unintended consequence of increasing the likelihood of rearrest,” said Dr. Mark Lipsey, a national expert who directs the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University and advised the team on the study’s methodology, along with Dr. Edward P. Mulvey, professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

In a closer examination of eight large Texas counties, the report found 298 of the 300 programs mix youth of different risk levels. Between 34 percent and 90 percent of youth considered to have a low risk of reoffending were placed in one or more programs, despite only a small fraction of these youth having a high need for such programs.

“The findings in this study and the extensive dialogue we’ve had with the CSG Justice Center will provide support and guidance as we look to further improve operations and outcomes for juvenile justice youth served in the community,” said Randy Turner, Director of Juvenile Services in Tarrant County.

David Reilly, executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, said this report sets the stage for the state and Texas’s juvenile probation departments to partner together to continue make progress in juvenile justice.

“We’ve come a long way already,” he said. “Now, we need to continue to reduce the number of youth in state facilities and further refine our partnerships with local probation departments to achieve better outcomes for youth while continuing to maintain public safety.”

CLOSER TO HOME: An Analysis of the State and Local Impact of the Texas Juvenile Justice Reforms was developed in partnership with Texas A&M University and funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project, added: “States across the nation are adopting better public policy by looking at the data, Texas is making communities safer and also saving money by keeping more youth under supervision closer to their local communities. Housing juveniles in a state facility is often the most expensive correctional option and generally fails to produce better outcomes.”

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ABOUT THE CSG JUSTICE CENTER
The Council of State Governments Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels from all branches of government. It provides practical, nonpartisan advice and evidence-based, consensus-driven strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities. For more information about the Justice Center, visit www.csgjusticecenter.org.

TennCare Computer System’s Completion Date Still Unknown

Although he won’t speculate as to when the state’s new TennCare computer system will be completed, Darin Gordon, the program’s director, told members of the General Assembly he hopes a planned third-party audit will provide that answer.

Gordon gave testimony Tuesday to the Joint Fiscal Review Committee on the progress, or lack thereof, of the Northrop Grumman Corporation in developing the new “Tennessee Eligibility Determination System” for TennCare.

Tennessee has so far paid Northrop about $4.7 million of the $35.7 million it committed to the cybersecurity contractor in December of 2012, when they signed a three-year contract to develop the new system made necessary by the Affordable Care Act, Gordon said.

TEDS was supposed to go live in October 2013, and Northrop was last paid in January, Gordon added.

There are four “different tools” for the agency to ensure contractors comply with contract stipulations: penalties, liquidated damages, withholds and non-payment, in order of weakest to strongest. “We’re using the biggest tool that we have at this point to make sure that everybody is properly motivated to getting to where we want to be,” Gordon said.

Gordon said that Northrop, one of five firms to bid on the contract, made the lowest bid to produce the system. The next lowest was for $58 million, with the highest bid coming in at $109 million.

Wyoming, one of the other states to use Northrop to produce their system, is also “having challenges,” Gordon said.

Gordon told the committee that he had no idea as to when the system would be completed, because he’s “lost confidence in people’s ability to accurately predict” a timeline for completion.

Northrop is currently 99 percent done with its systems integration testing, the second phase of its five phases of implementation — but that doesn’t mean that phase is nearly done, Gordon said, because when issues with testing arise, developmental changes need to be made and the phase “can be at 99 percent for a longer period of time.”

The company is also about 80 percent complete with its third phase — user integration testing, but can’t start on the last two phases until the others are completed, Gordon explained.

“These are complex systems, there’s a lot of working in a very tight time-frame, and we want to make sure that what we do turn on, works,” Gordon said.

On Aug. 18, TennCare signed a no-bid contract with KPMG, an audit and advisory services firm, to run a 14-week audit of Northrop’s progress at a cost to the state of $1.2 million, Gordon told the committee. That report is expected to be ready sometime in late November or early December.

Following Gordon’s testimony, the committee also approved an extension of a contract with Policy Studies, Inc., the contractor who provides eligibility determination and processes application for the state’s children health insurance program. The contract, which is being extended through Dec. 2015 as a result of the delay in implementing TEDS. The contract extension is eligible for a 75 percent federal match.

The total cost to the state of the delay in getting the computer system on-line is not currently known, Gordon said.

The failure in bringing the new system online is one reason that TennCare is facing a lawsuit from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Health Law Program and the Tennessee Justice Center on behalf of several Tennesseans who have allegedly been denied coverage, though they claim eligibility.

“These system failures have serious impact on vulnerable Tennesseans and the health care infrastructure we all reply upon. It’s time for the state to spend less time blaming others and more time managing problems that have devastating consequences for our state,” said Michele Johnson, executive director for the TJC, in an e-mail.  Tennessee’s “lack” of a TennCare enrollment process “makes us unique in the nation,” she added.

The TJC filed the lawsuit because despite having met with TennCare officials since October of last year, “at some point it became clear that their willingness to problem-solve was not there,” and the Tennesseans they represent “couldn’t wait any longer,” Johnson told TNReport Wednesday.

Gordon was questioned by state Rep. Brenda Gilmore, a Nashville Democrat, about whether anything was being done to help hospitals cope with financial problems stemming from the inability to process emergency Medicaid applications because of the delay in TEDS implementation.

Gordon told Gilmore that because of the pending litigation the only information he could give was already included in his response to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or in the briefs filed in the lawsuit.

However, the Gordon assured Gilmore that TennCare is in contact with the Tennessee Hospital Association “pretty much every week.”

Johnson told TNReport that she “thought it was interesting” the administration continued to say they couldn’t comment on anything related to the lawsuit because government agencies are required to “answer questions that the legislature has for their constituents.”

The next hearing in the federal case is scheduled for Friday.

Gordon noted to the committee that although TennCare has appeared before the legislature in the past, it wasn’t a result of computer system problems.

“Every state in the country all started from different starting points,” Gordon said. “Some had some modern technology already in place, and only had to adapt that technology to the new requirements. Other states, such as ourselves, had to start from scratch because our system was an old legacy system not capable of handling the changes that would be necessary to comply with the ACA.”

Additionally, the changes required by Obamacare have been “some of the most complicated” for the system since it began, Gordon explained.

Several other states — such as California’s backlog of hundreds of thousands of enrollees, or Oregon’s broken website and over-taxed Medicaid rolls — have had their own problems in developing a working system, Gordon said.

“These are complex systems, and are being implemented on a very quick runway, and so I think, if you look across the country, a lot of folks have had challenges with these,” Gordon said.

Cigarette Markup Would Nearly Double Under Lawmakers’ Proposal

Tennesseans would pay more for their smokes under a bill working its way through the General Assembly.

The measure, SB788/HB644, would increase the amount Tennessee retailers are required to mark up cigarettes from 8 percent to 15 percent of cost. It would be the first change to the requirement since 1950. 

“The Legislature in the past has passed the cigarette minimum markup law to prohibit retailers from using cigarettes as a loss leader and to discourage consumption of cigarettes, including, of course, underage usage of cigarettes,” state Rep. Matt Hill, R-Jonesborough, said in a House Agriculture Subcommittee meeting Feb. 27.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had some large, out-of-state cigarette manufacturers who have come in and used the minimum price laws by contractually requiring our convenience stores, primarily, and other retailers to sell tobacco products at or near the state minimum.” 

A “loss leader” is a good sold at or below its market cost in order to stimulate the sales of other, more profitable goods.

The bill would provide relief from a situation, created in part by the state, that crimps revenue for tobacco retailers, said Senate sponsor Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City.

According to Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, pricing pressure comes from the top down with “quasi-monopolistic” manufacturers compelling retailers into pricing contracts, which push prices down toward the state minimum. Johnson chairs the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, which passed the bill unanimously Wednesday.

Two companies in the state own 80 percent to 90 percent of the state’s market share of tobacco, according to Emily LeRoy, the executive director of the Tennessee Fuel & Convenience Store Association. Their outsize role contributes to the pressure on operators to either sell cigarettes nearly at a loss or simply not carry those products, LeRoy said.

In the Senate hearing, both Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and Reginald Tate, D-Memphis, questioned why the state was responsible for setting a mark-up rate at all. 

Answer: Protecting children.

Setting the price helps prevent “age-sensitive” products, such as tobacco, alcohol and lottery tickets, from being “among the so-called loss-leader products, Johnson said in the hearing. He added that it is also in the state’s interest to deter smoking.

A 2011 Gallup ranking of smoker-percentages by state put Tennessee at No. 8 in the country. Kentucky was No. 1. Alabama No. 9.

“I don’t know, but I see the poorest people are mostly the ones that smoke, and they’re going to smoke no matter what, and it takes that much out of their family’s budget,” said state Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey. She ended up voting for the measure.

The bill passed the House agriculture committee on a voice vote, with Rep. Billy Spivey, R-Lewisburg, requesting to be recorded as voting no.

The bill’s next stop is the Finance Committee in both chambers. According to Crowe, the measure will boost local revenue but cause a decrease in state revenue.

Bickering Over Voter ID Bills Ongoing

Legislation designed to clarify Tennessee’s voter ID law generated heated exchanges and raised more questions than answers on the House floor before the final vote left the bill at odds with the Senate version.

Earlier this week, the House substituted HB229 for SB125. The House also approved an amendment barring students from using their IDs from state-funded colleges to vote – a move the Senate sponsor says he will fight.

Bill KetronBill Ketron

“The Senate voted 2-to-1 against disallowing state-issued college IDs when that amendment was before us,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, who initiated the legislation. “We will continue to push to allow state-issued student identification to remain in the bill as passed by the Senate, even if we have to go to a conference committee.”

When or if that committee may be convened remains up in the air, according to a legislative assistant the Murfreesboro Republican.

In addition to college IDs, the bill would ban the use of out-of-state driver’s licenses, currently allowed even if they’ve expired, as well as ID cards issued by cities, counties or public libraries. The validity of the latter form of identification is before the Tennessee Supreme Court after the city of Memphis and two residents challenged the law. 

The House floor debate about the legislation became rather heated at times, and even though other issues surfaced, it passed 65-30. The Senate version, which allows students IDs to be used, passed earlier this month 24-3.

Rep. Johnnie Turner, a Democrat from Memphis, called the bill “another form of voter suppression.” Fellow Memphis Democrat Rep. Antonio Parkinson claimed he was “hoodwinked and bamboozled,” because the bill that passed the House Local Government Subcommittee allowed student IDs to be used, but an amendment in the full committee stripped that provision.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick emphatically proclaimed, “This talk about voting suppression is just not true!”

The Chattanooga representative said the legislation is designed to stop voter fraud. He said that “a state Senate election was stolen in the city of Memphis just a few years ago” and that a recent documentary had a chairman of the NAACP talking about “the machine in Memphis” that would load people on a bus and take them to multiple polling stations to cast their votes “over and over again.”

Republican Rep. Vince Dean, of East Ridge, and Democratic Rep. Joe Armstrong, of Knoxville, expressed concerns about blocking out-of-state IDs for those who own property in Tennessee but live in another state.

Rep. Susan Lynn, who sponsored the House bill, said she was not sure whether the state would issue an ID to a nonresident.

“What we’re doing with this legislation is trying to most closely match the legislation that passed in Indiana, because that legislation did survive all the way to the United States Supreme Court,” the Mt. Juliet Republican said.

Armstrong claimed the bill would change the way the city of Knoxville elects its mayors and city council members because property owners are allowed to vote in municipal elections even if they don’t live there.

Had the bill been in effect when Gov. Bill Haslam first ran as mayor of Knoxville, Armstrong said, the outcome could have been changed. Three thousand property owners voted, and “a lot of them live out of state.” Haslam won by 1,500 votes.

“Now we have a sitting governor that benefited from the law,” Armstrong said.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

Lawmaker Per-Diem Limitation Passes Senate, Hotel Allowance Changed

The per diem bill affecting Tennessee legislators living within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol passed the Senate 28-2, but only after being amended, which will send it back to the House for reconciliation.

The Senate on Thursday substituted its own SB107 for HB80, which passed 72-15 earlier this month, but added an amendment from the State and Local Government Committee that changes the reimbursement for lodging on the occasion area lawmakers stay in Nashville instead of returning home.

The amendment uses the lodging allowance granted to federal employees instead of the actual costs of a hotel room, as in the House version, said Sen. Ken Yager, chair of the Senate State and Local Government Committee. That would keep their lodging payment at $107 a day, contingent on individual approval from the speaker of their respective chamber.

According to the bill, lawmakers whose primary residence is within a 50-mile radius of the Capitol would no longer automatically receive $107 a day for a hotel room, but instead would receive mileage reimbursement at 46 cents a mile. This would apply to each legislative day in Nashville or any day, except Friday, that the lawmaker participates in any other activity in Nashville and would be limited to one round trip per day.

Legislators would continue to receive $66 a day for meals and incidentals.

The House and Senate versions must now be reconciled before the legislation can go to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature.

Neither of the two Republican senators who voted against the bill – Dolores Gresham of Somerville and Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga – live within the 50-mile radius.

According to the bill’s fiscal note, HB80 would save the state $253,616, based on figures from in 2012, when 33 legislators lived within 50 miles of the Capitol.

If the bill becomes law, the change will not impact sitting legislators, just those elected in 2014 forward.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

GOP-Backed ‘Wage Protection Act’ Heads to Haslam’s Desk

Unlike the testy exchanges on the House floor, the Tennessee Wage Protection Act’s passage in the upper chamber, 25-6-1, was met with only an explanation and a lone voice of opposition.

Brian KelseyBrian Kelsey

Sen. Brian Kelsey, sponsor of SB35, moved Thursday to conform and substitute his bill with HB501, which passed the House 66-27-1 earlier this month.

“House Bill 501 will ensure that commerce can work cleanly and efficiently in Tennessee by making sure that our wage and benefit restrictions are made at the state level,” the Republican from Germantown said.

Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, rose in opposition: “This is another one of our preemption bills. I would just point out to the Senate that if you think a community is smart enough to decide whether they should have wine in grocery stores, then I think you ought to be able to think that they’re smart enough on how to set their wage and contracts.”

Every Democrat in the Senate voted against the bill while every Republican, except one, voted in favor of it. Republican Rep. Steven Dickerson of Nashville cast his vote as present, not voting.

Passage by the Senate moves the legislation one step closer to ending a four-year battle to prohibit local governments from setting wages, family leave and insurance benefits that private businesses must offer employees. It also blocks local regulations that address wage theft.

Having passed both chambers, the legislation now goes to Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk, where there is no certainty that he will sign it.

“I’m not a fan of the living wage,” Haslam has said. But local “governments should be able to decide for themselves if they want to do that.”

The House sponsor of the legislation, GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin, told TNReport earlier this month he’s confident the governor will sign the bill.

If the bill becomes law it’ll nullify bills passed in Nashville and Shelby County that require businesses that contract with those governments to offer a certain level of wages and benefits to employees.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667. 

Senate Approves ‘Repealer’ to Root Out Bad Laws, Regs

Legislation to create a state Office of the Repealer passed the Senate 30-1-1 Thursday, while the House version still has a couple of committee hurdles to clear next week.

The Repealer’s job would be to go through Tennessee code and make recommendations to the Legislature on laws, rules and regulations that need to be repealed or modified because they are no longer relevant, overly burdensome or outdated.

Democratic Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis cast the only no vote and was the only one to speak out against the legislation. Fellow Democrat, Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville, abstained.

“Simply to explain my vote, it is somewhat ironic that we’re creating an office to try to find duplicitous government agencies and rules when its creation duplicates the work of the Government Operations Committee,” Kyle said.

“To create another branch of government to do exactly what we’re already doing is doubling up and spending money that doesn’t need to be spent,” he continued.

According to Sen. Jack Johnson, sponsor of SB595, there is no fiscal note attached to the legislation, as the position will fill an existing vacant position within the Secretary of State’s office.

Responding to Kyle’s argument, the Franklin Republican said,“There is no single individual in all of state government whose sole responsibility is to try and shrink the green books.” Johnson was referring to the bound issues of the Tennessee Code Annotated.

Johnson said he thinks it “entirely reasonable that we dedicate a single position to meet with our business owners, to meet with citizens across the state, who have to interact with state government day in and day out, and identify things that we don’t need anymore.”

Answering to the Secretary of State, the Repealer would be required to set up an online system to receive recommendations from the public, which he or she would be required to take into consideration. 

The bill sets up the post for four years, “at which time such position will cease to exist.”

Sen. Mike Bell, a Republican from Riceville who chairs the Senate Government Operations Committee, offered a single amendment that passed on a voice vote. The amendment adds both chambers’ government operations committees to the list of those receiving recommendations from the Repealer, as well as quarterly updates of his or her actions.

HB 500 is on the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee’s calendar for Wed., April 3.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

Haslam Rejects Federal Dollars This Year, Offers ‘Third Option’ on Medicaid

Gov. Bill Haslam announced the state will not expand TennCare this year as called for by the federal health care law. The governor instead outlined what he called “a third option” for helping Tennesseans get coverage.

Haslam said neither a flat-out refusal to enlarge TennCare based on problems with the law nor an open-armed embrace – “expanding a broken system” – was the right path for Tennessee.

Under Haslam’s proposal, which he says the federal government will not agree to, payments to health care providers would be based on quality of care rather than just volume of services provided, and patients would have co-pays “so the user has some skin in the game when it comes to health care incentives.”

The state could also backtrack if the expansion of TennCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, wasn’t working.

“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,” Haslam said Wednesday, speaking before the General Assembly.

Haslam also offered a critique of the law (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010).

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

Read the full speech here.