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February 22 TN News Digest

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

Politico profiles Gov. Bill Haslam as a ‘GOP star’ (Nashville Business Journal)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is the subject of a flattering profile recently posted on Politico.com, an influential political website. The piece’s headline? “The GOP star you’ve never heard of.” Politico’s Alexander Burns write that Haslam “has amassed one of the most extensive conservative governing records in the country,” citing Haslam’s overhaul of civil service, tort reform and his push for more charter schools, among other initiatives. “He is, in short, the most important Republican governor you’ve never heard of,” Burns writes.

Gov. Bill Haslam could be model for a new GOP (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Tennessee’s governor is being called “the GOP star you never heard of.” That’s the headline on the national political website Politico for a piece on former Knoxville mayor and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam that was posted early Wednesday evening. The article gushes about the first-term govenror: “You haven’t seen a YouTube video of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam berating a constituent at a town hall meeting. You probably haven’t watched him on Fox News. In fact, if you search the headlines for his name, you’re just as likely to turn up coverage of his brother: Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.”

Dignified discourse (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Vreeland)

Haslam, Bredesen, Sundquist say civility must return In an age of often not-so-civil political discourse, it’s difficult to get politicians to agree on anything. But Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and his predecessors — former Govs. Phil Bredesen and Don Sundquist — concurred Thursday night during a panel discussion in Knoxville that the lack of dignified civil debate and, animus among politicians and voters has proved toxic in government’s ability to get things done.

Tenn. governors discuss civility in politics (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Governor Bill Haslam joined former governors Phil Bredesen and Don Sundquist on Thursday for a conversation about civility in politics, or lack thereof. The three governors talked about roadblocks in Washington, and how to make agreements and compromises to get things done. Gov. Haslam says even our founding fathers dealt with the lack of civility, but he says what’s different now is the media impact is much larger. “There’s more of a sense of distaste from people, again about people just arguing and fighting each other instead of solving problems because that’s what they hear all the time.  

Bill Haslam unmoved by Florida’s Medicaid expansion (Times Free-Press/Sher)

An abrupt move by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a prominent critic of Obamacare, to reverse course and support Medicaid expansion hasn’t been enough to bump fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee off the fence. Haslam remains undecided about whether to expand the state health program for the poor. He “continues to collect all of the information possible” before making a yes or no recommendation to Tennessee lawmakers, the governor’s spokesman, Davis Smith, said Thursday.

While other governors decide on Medicaid expansions, Gov. Haslam waits (Nooga)

As Gov. Bill Haslam remains undecided on whether to expand TennCare rolls under the Affordable Care Act, the decisions of his fellow Republican governors will likely weigh on his final choice. The most recent GOP state executive to accept a federal offer to increase Medicaid coverage to those at 133 percent of the poverty line was Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who announced his decision Wednesday. Like Haslam, Scott recently rejected an offer to create a state-run health insurance exchange. He is one of at least four Republican governors to decline operating an exchange while expanding Medicaid.

Florida Medicaid Expansion Could Provide ‘Cover’ to Tennessee (WPLN-Radio)

Lawmakers in Tennessee are watching Florida closely after the state’s conservative Republican governor went along with a major piece of the Affordable Care Act. Governor Bill Haslam is still on the fence about expanding the state’s Medicaid program – known as TennCare. For the first three years, the federal government would pay the entire cost of insuring thousands of new TennCare recipients. In Florida, Governor Rick Scott said he could not “in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care.”

Ramsey says FL gov’s decision ‘gives cover’ for expanding Medicaid (CA/Locker)

State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday that if Tennessee expands its Medicaid program to cover more uninsured working poor, it should follow Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s example and put stipulations into law requiring cuts if federal funding is reduced. Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he expects Gov. Bill Haslam to announce his decision on whether to seek expansion of Medicaid/TennCare in Tennessee — and for the state legislature to act on Haslam’s request — before the General Assembly adjourns this spring.

Governors Fall Away in G.O.P. Opposition to More Medicaid (New York Times)

Under pressure from the health care industry and consumer advocates, seven Republican governors are cautiously moving to expand Medicaid, giving an unexpected boost to President Obama’s plan to insure some 30 million more Americans. The Supreme Court ruled last year that expanding Medicaid to include many more low-income people was an option under the new federal health care law, not a requirement, tossing the decision to the states and touching off battles in many capitols.

New DCS leaders say they’re tackling problems at agency (TN/Wadhwani, Gonzalez)

The two men Gov. Bill Haslam appointed earlier this month to tackle problems at the Department of Children’s Services said Thursday that they are moving swiftly but deliberately toward solutions. Still, the agency remains unable to generate an accurate accounting of the number of children who have died under its care in the past three years, interim Commissioner Jim Henry said in an interview. “I know that I know how many have died since I’ve been here, since I’ve put my attention to it,” Henry said. “One.”

Meeting between county, state officials could signal expansion (CA/Charlier)

Shelby County leaders will meet with Tennessee’s top environmental regulator next week to find out whether a state takeover of the local vehicle emissions-testing program would result in new fees for motorists and a requirement that all county motorists have their cars and trucks inspected. County Mayor Mark Luttrell, along with Yvonne Madlock, Health Department director, and Harvey Kennedy, county chief administrative officer, are scheduled to meet Monday morning in Downtown Memphis with Bob Martineau, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation commissioner.  

Wildlife agency has hunt for youth 10-16 March 2 (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has announced a youth quail hunt next week in Middle Tennessee. The event is for hunters ages 10-16. They must be accompanied by an adult, but the state agency, Music City Quail Forever and the Young Sportsman Foundation will provide mentors where needed. Youth taking part must be hunter safety certified and hold appropriate licenses. The hunt will be near Lynnville in Giles County on March 2.

Children’s books lost in USPS policy (Leaf Chronicle)

More than 70 children’s books are being shredded every month at the Clarksville Post Office after the United States Postal Service changed its policy enforcement. The shredded books, mailed by the Governor’s Books From Birth Foundation, are the books that are undeliverable for a variety of reasons. The foundation doesn’t pay for the packages to be returned, but for the last six years, the local office would set aside undeliverable books so volunteers could come pick them up and make sure they would still make it into some child’s hands.  

Supreme Court to use Knox case in looking at use of ‘stun belts’ (NS/Satterfield)

The Tennessee Supreme Court is using a Knox County double-murder case to tackle — for the first time — the use of “stun belts” on accused criminals standing trial. “We have not had occasion to address the use of stun belts as an in-court restraint measure for criminal defendants,” Justice William C. Koch Jr. wrote in an opinion made public Thursday. The justices opted to examine the issue in the case of Brandon Mobley, who was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in the Memorial Day 2003 killings of Oshalique Hoffman and Joshua O’Brien Nance, both 20, in the Western Heights housing project.

Dunn says he’ll support voucher bill, if advocates deliver votes (CP/Zelinski)

There’s a move afoot on Capitol Hill to expand the governor’s limited voucher program beyond the state’s poorest students attending the worst schools. State Rep. Bill Dunn, who is sponsoring the legislation on behalf of Gov. Bill Haslam, is a fan of more broad-range voucher programs. While he originally said he would resist temptation to push a more expansive program, Dunn said he’s willing to consider it if school choice advocates can guarantee at least 50 votes to back the idea.

Senate OKs judicial selection amendment (Associated Press/Schelzig)

The state Senate on Thursday approved a proposed constitutional amendment to give lawmakers the power to refuse the governor’s appointments to appeals courts in Tennessee. The chamber voted 29-2 in favor of the resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey, of Germantown. If the measure passes the House by a two-thirds margin, it will go on the ballot in next year’s general election. The proposal would maintain the current system for holding yes-no retention elections for appointed Supreme Court justices and appeals judges.

Tennessee Senate approves judge selection plan (Tennessean/Sisk)

The Tennessee Senate approved a constitutional amendment Thursday that would let the governor select appeals court judges, sending the proposal to the state House. The Senate voted 29-2 in favor of the amendment. At least one opponent of the plan voted for it, betting that voters will reject the idea when it is expected to go before them in 2014. “I want people to vote on this,” said state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet. “I want them to finally tell us how they feel about it.”

Senate OKs amending constitution to change how judges are selected (CP/Zelinski)

An effort to ask Tennessee voters to change how high court judges are selected in Tennessee won final approval by the Senate on a 29-2 vote Thursday. The legislation still needs a final OK from the House of Representatives that will ultimately need a two-thirds majority, which amounts to 66 votes “The people of Tennessee are not presently voting for judges in open contested elections,” said Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown. “And the people of Tennessee have never been asked whether or not they favor following the judicial selection plan that our founding fathers of the U.S. Constitution came up with. Let’s give them the chance to vote on that.” 

Senators Vote for Judicial Selection Amendment Hoping for Failure (WPLN-Radio)

Some state senators held their noses and voted Thursday for a constitutional amendment regarding how judges are chosen in Tennessee. The measure largely keeps the current system in tact with appointments by the governor and retention elections every eight years. Senator Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet would prefer direct elections of judges, but she signed off. She believes Tennesseans will ultimately reject the constitutional amendment that would be on the ballot next year. “If the people vote this down, they will finally get to vote for their judges, as the constitution says right now.”

Guns-in-trunks bill finds possible compromise (Memphis Business Journal)

The House Civil Justice Committee in the Tennessee House of Representatives passed the so-called guns-in-trunks bill to the House floor after testimony suggested that employers could retain the right to fire employees for violating company firearm policies. The Committee approved House Bill 118 after less than 15 minutes of discussion, according to the Tennessean. A staff attorney told the committee that just as employers can fire drinking-age employees from drinking on the job, so too could employers fire workers for ignore their employers gun policies.

Brown ‘bumped’ from wildlife panel (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman William “Chink” Brown’s Senate confirmation vote for a new term on the panel may be dead in the water, according to lawmakers. Freshman Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, on Thursday “bumped” the confirmation of Brown, a Signal Mountain attorney and former judge, from a consent calendar. The consent calendar is a list of usually noncontroversial bills and resolutions that are passed en masse on any given day on the Senate floor.  

Tennessee database shows 15,000 gun permits in Hamilton County (TFP/Walton)

Mention guns, and many folks picture the inner city. But for the heavy armament, you have to hit the suburbs. The largest percentage of lawfully strapped Hamilton County residents don’t live in the poor neighborhoods of downtown Chattanooga. Instead, the large majority of the city and county’s 15,000 permit holders are in East Brainerd and Lookout Valley, Hixson and Harrison, Tennessee’s handgun carry-permit database shows. And, given the volume of the furor over firearms on both the pro and anti sides, it also would be easy to believe that everybody and his brother are getting the piece of paper that allows them to carry a concealed weapon.

Alexander to speak against Corps fishing limits (Associated Press)

Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is holding a press conference on Thursday to discuss concerns about an Army Corps of Engineers plan to limit fishing along the Cumberland River in and around Nashville. Alexander will be joined by members of the community and representatives of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Tennessee Wildlife Federation. The plan could stop fishing in tailwaters below dams along the river, even when water isn’t spilling through the dams. That includes Cheatham Dam.

Sen. Lamar Alexander’s bill could delay new fishing restrictions (Tennessean/Gang)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander continued his push Thursday to delay a plan that would restrict boating and fishing access near dams along the Cumberland River. Alexander, R-Tenn., said he will introduce legislation next week that would delay the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ effort to permanently prohibit access to areas immediately above and below 10 dams on the river and its tributaries. At a news conference within sight of Old Hickory Dam, Alexander called the corps’ plan, which it has cast as a safety measure, “unreasonable and unnecessary.”

Anglers Rail Against Barriers to Fishing in Tailwaters (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Sen. Lamar Alexander wants to stall a ban on fishing in the shadow of dams in Tennessee run by the Army Corps of Engineers. Many anglers like fishing right under such dams because they trap bait fish, which attract bigger catches like striped bass and catfish. The Corps says boating near spillways is dangerous, and plans to put up barriers this year. Fisherman Ken Freeman helps put together bass tournaments, and worries about the cost in tourism dollars.

Alexander on Sequester: Cut Budget to Protect Medicare (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander is trying to deflect blame for the looming federal budget cuts toward President Obama. Alexander says the so-called sequester could be avoided if the president would just cut the budget another way. And he argues some kind of budget cut is necessary, to keep Medicare from going broke a decade from now: “If we don’t do that, you’re going to be very unhappy with your United States senator. If you get there in twelve years and there’s no money to pay your hospital bills, you’re going to look back and say ‘Well, what did you do about that twelve years ago?’ Now’s the time to take the steps to get the debt under control so Medicare will be able to pay hospital bills people are counting on.”

Memphis, Nashville airports chosen for TSA program (Associated Press)

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen says Memphis International Airport has been chosen to participate in the Transportation Security Administration’s expedited security screening program. In a statement released Thursday, Cohen said the so-called “pre-check” initiative will enable travelers who pose no security risk the opportunity to move through the screening process more quickly at Memphis’ airport. The program allows select passengers to leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belt.

Jim Tracy ready for fundraiser in DesJarlais challenge (Times Free-Press)

Republican state Sen. Jim Tracy’s first major fundraiser for his 4th Congressional District bid is set for March 14 in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Former Gov. Winfield Dunn; Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson; and Rep. Ron Travis, R-Dayton, are among the honorary hosts. The per-person price of a ticket is $250 while tickets for members of the sponsor committee are $2,500 per person or couple and $1,000 for host committee members.

Buying a Gun? States Consider Insurance Rule (New York Times)

Both sides in a nation sharply divided over guns seem to agree on at least one thing: a bigger role for the insurance industry in a heavily armed society. But just what that role should be, and whether insurers will choose to accept it, are much in dispute. Lawmakers in at least half a dozen states, including California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, have proposed legislation this year that would require gun owners to buy liability insurance — much as car owners are required to buy auto insurance.  

TVA launches internal, external search to fill key post (News-Sentinel/Marcum)

TVA is in executive search mode as Kimberly S. Greene, its executive vice president and chief generation officer, announced she will be leaving for a position at Southern Co., effective April 1. Greene released a statement Thursday about her decision to leave TVA. “Leaving TVA is not a decision I made lightly,” she said. “I came here to serve the Tennessee Valley and have been privileged to work with incredible people at TVA. However, this new opportunity will allow me to further develop my career with another of the nation’s most respected energy companies and to continue contributing to the industry I know and love.”

Sitel to Hire 3,000 in 2013 (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Recent profits are flat for Nashville-based Sitel, but the company will be doing lots of hiring this year. It’s looking to add 3,000 workers to handle customer service for clients like Capital One and DirecTV. Sitel is holding job fairs for its nearly 30 call centers in the US. The company is also looking for customer service agents who would like to work from home. Many of these workers won’t just be taking phone calls, says CEO Bert Quintana. “We’re offering some of these new products we’ve been talking about, where we’re doing Facebook, Twitter, email, chat, internet, other types of support in addition to voice.”

Bridgestone breaks ground on $75M Clarksville expansion (Nashville Biz Journal)

Nashville-based Bridgestone Americas broke ground this week on a $75 million expansion of its steel cord plant in Clarksville, according to a news release. Under the expansion, the Bridgestone Metalpha plant will grow by 123,000 square feet, creating 47 new jobs and increasing production capacity by 10 percent. The expansion was first announced in 2011. The expansion is set for completion in 2014, when the plant will begin producing steel cord for Bridgestone’s new off-road tire plant in Aiken County, S.C.

ProNova to bring 500 jobs, $52 million investment to Blount (NS/Flory, Coleman)

Land prices and tax incentives were among the factors that convinced a high-tech manufacturing firm to build a facility in Blount County rather than Knox County. ProNova Solutions, which is led by local entrepreneur Terry Douglass, announced Thursday that it would invest $52 million to develop a headquarters, research and commercialization facility at the Pellissippi Place technology park, which is located at the southern end of Pellissippi Parkway in Alcoa. The venture is expected to eventually result in the creation of 500 new jobs, according to the Blount Partnership.  

Judge sets Monday status conference in municipal schools lawsuit (CA/McMillin)

The federal judge overseeing the legal dispute over the structure of Shelby County’s public schools on Thursday asked for attorneys involved to convene in his courtroom for a Monday status conference. Parties on either side of the current dispute, over the constitutionality of laws allowing suburban municipal school districts, said they have no intention of retreating from their legal stances when they appear before U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays. “The gulf is too wide,” Shelby County Commissioner Walter Bailey said, adding that he did not expect Mays to order more talks because “the court normally only does that if there is some optimism that the differences could be resolved.”

Commissioner Mike Ritz insists on scaled-down school budget request (CA/Kelley)

Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz sent a message to the unified school board this week that he doesn’t want to waste time discussing a proposed general fund budget for the new district that is $195 million in the red. In a memo dated Wednesday and addressed to unified board chairman Billy Orgel, Shelby County Schools Supt. John Aitken, interim Memphis City Schools Supt. Dorsey Hopson and Shelby County Finance Director Mike Swift, Ritz took note of discussions with the commission’s education and budget committees that will follow a retreat scheduled for Saturday.

Sullivan BOE to decide if, how it will redraw school zones for 2013-14 (Times-News)

Sullivan County’s school board will decide by the end of March if and how school attendance zones will be redrawn for the 2013-14 school year. And the plans from which they will choose — or at least start the discussion — will be laid out at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 28, in the cafeteria of Sullivan Central High School. During a public meeting Thursday night at the central office, Assistant Director of Schools Gene Johnson presented the Board of Education and about 40 people in the audience with the process and timeline for the attendance rezoning.

 

OPINION 

Editorial: Legislative bill limit appears to be working (Jackson Sun)

When Tennessee General Assembly Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, announced legislative reforms at the beginning of the 108th General Assembly, there was plenty of second guessing, especially regarding her call to limit lawmaker legislative submissions to 10 bills each. But after some fine tuning by lawmakers, the limit was set at 15. Now that the results are in, the limit appears to be working, making the General Assembly more efficient and saving taxpayer dollars. In the past, upward of 3,000 bills might be submitted during a legislative session. Even in recent years after lawmakers were urged to reduce the number of bills they submitted, the legislature regularly saw more than 2,000 bills.  

Guest columnist: Ticket act unfair to buyers (Tennessean)

The Tennessee General Assembly is about to review legislation being pushed by prominent ticketing issuers and sports and music venues to further restrict ticket-buyers’ options when they purchase or resell tickets. Our group, the American Conservative Union, is coming down firmly against this legislation because of its threats to the free market and to individual liberties. The bill in question is being called the Fairness in Ticketing Act, and the title couldn’t be more misleading as to the true impact this bill would have on consumers who buy tickets for entertainment and sporting events in Tennessee. Among its provisions is a clause that states a Tennessee ticket-purchaser could be stripped of his or her right to own a ticket “with or without cause.” 

Editorial: Findings support more resources for Knox schools (News-Sentinel)

A poll released this week by the Knoxville Chamber indicates broad-based support for improving education in Knox County and a willingness to pay for it. The survey should be an important reference tool for officials heading into this year’s budget talks. Businessman Randy Boyd and five other business leaders paid for the Bryant Research study of 900 registered voters spread over the nine commission districts in Knox County. The results are encouraging. Ninety percent said effective education is “very important” to the local economy, an indication that the vast majority of residents understands the connection between academic success and good jobs.

Greg Johnson: Head Start, pre-K are costly failures (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Wasn’t this supposed to be the empirical presidency? No, not “imperial presidency,” though Barack Obama’s reign has certainly been that. Didn’t Obama promise to be an empiricist, letting data derived from rigorous examination shape policy proposals? “We’ll restore science to its rightful place,” Obama said in his 2009 inaugural address. Then, in his 2013 State of the Union speech, to not so subtly deride conservatives, Obama said, “Some may deny the overwhelming judgment of science.” Yes, some deny science, but others ignore it. For Obama, the purportedly big believer in informed policymaking, avoided mentioning the findings of his own U.S. Department of Health and Human Services when he called for a partnership between states and the feds to expand preschool education.

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