Press Releases

March 19 TN News Digest

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


Haslam Looking to AR for TN Medicaid Expansion Ideas (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s health policy specialists are probing into what Arkansas is doing with respect to increasing Medicaid coverage as part of federal Affordable Care Act reform initiatives. During a press conference last week in Nashville, Tennessee’s Republican chief executive said his administration is “learning some things” from policies being pursued under Obamacare by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, a Democrat. Beebe appears to have secured approval from the Obama administration to funnel federal dollars earmarked for Medicaid expansions into private insurance for those eligible.

Haslam to lawmakers: Stand down on forcing Medicaid decision (CP/Zelinski)

With a self-imposed deadline looming to decide by the end of the month whether to expand Medicaid, Haslam’s administration is asking lawmakers on both sides of the issue to stand down. Letters from the governor’s office Monday cited “philosophical reasons” to opposing both Democrat and Republican bills to mandate the direction the state takes on expanding the state’s Medicaid program known as TennCare. “The administration understands that this is an important issue to you and is cognizant of your efforts.

Gov. Bill Haslam against bill to block TennCare expansion (TFP/Sher)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam formally went on record Monday opposing a bill aimed at blocking Tennessee from expanding its version of Medicaid, TennCare, under the federal Affordable Care Act. In a “flag” letter to the House sponsor, Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, Haslam’s director for legislation, Leslie Hafner said “after having carefully reviewed your bill, HB 937, the administration assigned a flag for philosophical reasons.” While the administration “understands that this is an important issue to you … the administration, however, respectfully disagrees with this legislation in its current form.”

Shelby’s top elected Republican backs Tennessee Medicaid expansion (CA/Locker)

Shelby County’s Mayor Mark Luttrell has encouraged Gov. Bill Haslam to pursue expansion of Tennessee’s Medicaid program, saying in a letter that the benefits of extending health coverage to 60,000 to 80,000 additional low-income Shelby County residents outweigh the concerns. The mayor, like Haslam a Republican, also said the impacts of not participating in the Medicaid expansion authorized by President Obama’s Affordable Care Act “would be damaging to The Med, if not devastating.”

TN Labor & Workforce Commissioner Resigns Citing Family Reasons (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis is resigning due to family reasons. “Over the past two years, the department has implemented several key initiatives including a comprehensive online jobs database to better connect job seekers to Tennessee employers and is playing a vital role in our effort to update Tennessee’s worker’s compensation laws,” Haslam said. “I am grateful to Karla for her service and wish her the best.”

Labor commissioner stepping down (Nashville Post)

Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis is resigning from her post, citing family reasons. Davis has been commissioner since the beginning of the Haslam administration two years ago. Previously, she was director of Urban Strategies Memphis HOPE, where she oversaw several public housing redevelopment and grant projects. Before that, she worked at the Environmental Protection Agency for 16 years.

Tennessee Labor Commissioner Karla Davis resigns (Nashville Biz Journal)

Karla Davis is resigning from her post as commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.According to a news release from Gov. Bill Haslam’s office, Davis is resigning due to family reasons. Burns Phillips, a managing director in the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration, has been named acting commissioner.

State Labor and Workforce Commissioner Karla Davis resigns (CP/Zelinski)

After two years of running the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Commissioner Karla Davis is resigning from her post. According to a release from Gov. Bill Haslam’s office, Davis is stepping down “due to family reasons.” The resignation is immediate, according to a spokesman. The resignation comes as the governor hopes to push through a 62-page bill in the legislature that overhauls the state worker’s compensation system. Among the changes in his administration’s proposal is to forward injured workers’ claims through a new state panel and out of the court system.

TN Labor chief Karla Davis, two others step down (Tennessean/Sisk)

The head of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development and two other top officials have resigned after disputes over management of the division that oversees unemployment benefits. Commissioner Karla Davis, Deputy Commissioner Alisa Malone and Turner Nashe, assistant administrator of the Division of Employment Security, have all tendered their resignations, spokesmen for Gov. Bill Haslam and the department said Monday. Davis, who joined the state in January 2011 as one of Haslam’s initial Cabinet appointments, cited family reasons for her departure.

Karla Davis quits Tennessee labor post (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

State Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis and her No. 2 deputy, Alisa Malone, abruptly have resigned their posts, days after records in an explosive lawsuit filed by a former top official were placed under a protective order. Gov. Bill Haslam announced the resignation of Davis on Monday with the governor’s office saying it was “due to family reasons.” The resignation was immediate. No mention was made of the lawsuit. Deputy Commissioner Malone resigned last week.

Tornadoes hit Rutherford, Dickson counties (Tennessean/Wilson)

The National Weather Service confirmed separate tornadoes touched down in rural Rutherford and Dickson counties as severe weather swept through Middle Tennessee on Monday. The first tornado, an EF-1 tornado with winds of at least 86 mph, hit near Vanleer in Dickson County. About four hours later, an EF-0 tornado with winds between 80 and 85 mph touched down in the Christiana area in Rutherford County near Interstate 24. No injuries were reported in either tornado, but a handful of buildings, barns and mobile homes were damaged in the fast-moving storm.

NWS: Tornado hit Christiana (Daily News Journal)

Sam Campbell stood inside the garage of his Sledge Road home Monday afternoon taking shelter from the pouring rain. Shingles from the roof of his home littered his backyard, and a few hundred feet away his barn stood with half its metal roof peeled back — evidence of the high winds that rushed through the area moments before he arrived. Campbell — who was at work as a sergeant for the Murfreesboro Police Department around noon when he heard his home and barn had been damaged — could have been upset about all the devastation.

First Lady in Memphis to Promote Early Literacy (Associated Press)

First lady Crissy Haslam will be in Memphis on Tuesday, March 19, to promote early literacy. She is scheduled to attend a reading event at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital where she will also stress the importance of parental engagement. Last summer, Haslam launched the Read20 Family Book Club, challenging Tennessee families to read together for at least 20 minutes each day. While in Memphis, Haslam is also scheduled to attend a women’s group luncheon promoting healthy babies.

DCS revises child deaths toll upward (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

Since January, the Department of Children’s Services has reported that 73 children who were brought to its attention died in 2012, but the state now says the correct number is 105. DCS also miscalculated the number of children who died in 2011. In October, the agency said 47 children had died after having some contact with DCS, but now the state says the correct number for that year is 91. DCS has now revised upwards the number of such child fatalities at least five times since The Tennessean asked for the data in September, prompting frustration as well as a measure of skepticism from lawmakers reached on Monday.

TDOT to work closely with local governments on growth (Tennessean/Tamburin)

The Department of Transportation plans to work more closely with local governments as they prepare for growth. To do that, the department has created the Office of Community Transportation to coordinate transportation planning and local growth decisions. Working directly with communities could eliminate potential transportation difficulties with future projects including new schools, subdivisions, shopping centers and industrial parks, according to a TDOT news release.

TDOT announces new office to work with cities (Associated Press)

Tennessee Transportation Commissioner John Schroer says his agency’s new office is aimed at better coordinating transportation planning statewide. Schroer announced formation of the Office of Community Transportation Monday. He said the state wants to increase collaboration between TDOT and cities across Tennessee. The office will have regional staff in Knoxville, Nashville, Chattanooga and Memphis who will be committed to working specifically with the communities within their region.

Governor’s Workers’ Comp Revamp Chugging Forward (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s pro-business workmans’ compensation reform legislation sailed through committees in the House and Senate last week and is headed for the next round of hearings in both chambers this week. Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, chair of the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee, said the “Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 2013” must pass through four more committees before reaching the House floor. “I’d like to see this bill go to give all the members of the Tennessee General Assembly on the House side the opportunity to engage in the conversation and good debate on this important piece of legislation,” said the Republican from Jackson.

House Approves Barring ‘All Comers’ Rules at State Colleges (WPLN-Radio Nash)

Public Universities in Tennessee would not be able to adopt an All Comers policy similar to the one at Vanderbilt University, under a measure passed by the state House Monday night. The bill is one of several from Lebanon Republican Mark Pody responding to the All Comers policy at private Vanderbilt University, but this measure targets the state’s public colleges. It means schools can’t keep religious groups on campus from kicking out members whose beliefs are different – say, because they’re atheist or gay.

Counselor Discrimination Gets Cooler Reception in House (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A proposed law meant to keep students in college counseling programs from having to treat gay patients breezed through the state senate last week. But the bill may find a cooler reception in the House. Heads of university counseling and social work departments pleaded with senators not to excuse students from seeing any patient based on their own religious beliefs. The proposal comes from the conservative Family Action Council of Tennessee. The group is responding to an incident in Michigan, where a Christian student was dismissed for refusing to treat a gay patient.

Reviving Wine in Supermarkets (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

This year’s proposal to allow wine sales in supermarkets and corner stores derailed last week. But supporters still have hope their Sleeping Beauty could be revived. Prince Charming would almost have to be Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough), chairman of the House Local Government Committee. His “No” vote – a reversal from where he came down in the subcommittee – pulled the rug out from under giddy grocers who had gotten excited that this could be their year. “It’s not up to me,” Hill says, pointing out that a motion to reconsider would need approval of the committee.

Wine-in-grocery advocates will settle for signs of progress, if not new laws (NBJ)

Wine-in-grocery advocates will again fight the good fight next year if the bill dies this session, according to Jarron Springer, president of the Tennessee Grocers and Convenience Store Association. “We have moved, in (a) football analogy, the ball down the field,” he said, adding that he does not think the bill is necessarily dead for this session. “We have learned each and every year from what we’ve done. We move forward every year, progressing to the point we will eventually pass this bill.” The bill, which has been presented in various forms over the past six years, failed in a House committee on March 12.

House Speaker: Tennessee wine in grocery store bill in limbo (CA/Locker)

State House Speaker Beth Harwell said Monday she’s disappointed with last week’s committee vote that dealt the wine-in-grocery-stores bill a potentially fatal blow for this year, but she likely won’t ask the committee chairman to reconsider his vote against the bill. Along with lobbyists and other lawmakers, Harwell left a glimmer of hope Monday for supporters of the bill, which would allow local referendums in towns and cities with liquor stores and liquor by the drink on whether local grocery stores can sell wine.

TAC Air dispute lands at Tennessee State Capitol (Times Free-Press/Sher)

A dispute between a Texas-based company providing aviation services at Chattanooga’s airport and the local airport authority board has taken flight and landed in the middle of the Tennessee Legislature. TAC Air, a company providing fuel and hangar space for private airplanes at the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, is backing a bill that jumps into the dispute. It would block future use of grants from the state’s Transportation Equity Fund to “compete” against “existing, privately owned” fixed-base operators such as TAC Air.

For-Profit Charters Plowing Path to Tennessee (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

State law requires that Tennessee charter schools be run by non-profit organizations. But there’s a last-minute push in this session of the legislature to allow for-profit charter operators. The sponsors have kept a tight lid on what will undoubtedly be a controversial proposal. The vaguely written bill – known as a caption – will be amended to say that charter schools could hire a for-profit company to manage the day-to-day operations. Senator Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga says all options should be on the table. 

Rep. Dunn knocks UT’s planned ‘Sex Week’ in House floor speech (NS/Humphrey)

In a House floor speech Monday night, Rep. Bill Dunn said plans for “Sex Week” at the University of Tennessee provide an example of campus organizations promoting behavior offensive to Christians and why legislators need to protect them.Sen. Stacey Campfield, meanwhile, said he expects UT officials to be called before the Senate Education Committee to explain the event, scheduled on the Knoxville campus April 7-12. Campfield wrote members of the committee suggesting the panel reconsider its approval of UT’s budget for the coming year because of the event. 

Kyle: Put More State Government Meetings Online (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A Memphis Democrat wants more state meetings to be shown online, in an effort to make government more transparent. His proposal would add seven new boards and commissions streaming and archiving meetings online. The bill would affect bodies like the Registry of Election Finance, the state Ethics Commission and the state Lottery Corporation’s board. It lets them use rooms in the state legislature already set up for online streaming. The extra bandwidth and staffing are expected to cost around $16 thousand, which sponsor Jim Kyle says is a bargain.

Waiving residency requirement proposed for City Schools employees (CA/Moore)

Employees of Memphis City Schools who don’t live in Shelby County were given a reprieve Monday when the Shelby County Commission approved an amended residency ordinance that would let them live outside of the county after the city and county school districts merge. Commissioner Steve Basar, who had been opposed to waiving residency rules, proposed the amendment, which passed in an 8-5 vote. The amendment also means that the ordinance, which was up for third and final vote on Monday, will be voted on again by the commission in two weeks.

Sen. Bob Corker promotes revenue compromise (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Sunday’s political talk show circuit illustrated another deep divide at the Republican Party’s highest levels, with a Tennessee senator promoting a balanced approach to America’s defict and House Speaker John Boehner rejecting compromise in a partisan appeal to conservative budget slashers. Striking a moderate tone, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said he and other Senate Republicans are open to raising further tax revenue as part of a deficit reduction deal, calling a sweeping agreement possible a week after President Barack Obama’s Capitol Hill visits.

Duncan risked career voting against the war (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Collins)

In a secure, windowless room in the White House basement, U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. listened carefully as top advisers to President George W. Bush pressed their case for war with Iraq. Congress was close to authorizing the use of military action against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, but Duncan was not convinced war was justified or necessary. Fearing he might vote against the president and against going to war, Bush’s aides had summoned the Knoxville Republican and three other GOP House members to a briefing with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, CIA Director George Tenet and Tenet’s deputy director, John McLaughlin.

Businessman says he won’t challenge Lamar Alexander (Times Free-Press/Sher)

A conservative businessman from Franklin is telling supporters he won’t challenge U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., in the 2014 GOP primary, and will instead work to help him win re-election. Marty Lankford, president of TLC Medical, who had been exploring a bid against Alexander, said in an email sent to supporters Monday that he “considered running against Lamar Alexander … After much prayer I have decided not to run and I have pledged my full support to Lamar.”

High Court Weighs Voter ID Law (Wall Street Journal)

The Supreme Court weighed Monday whether states can impose additional requirements on the federal “motor voter” law that make it harder to register to vote—a closely watched case amid nationwide disputes over voter-ID laws in many states. The court’s questions fell along the usual ideological divide, with liberal justices concerned that state efforts could get in the way of a federal initiative to increase voter participation, and conservative justices sympathetic to state assertions that federal procedures are inadequate to deter voter fraud.

TVA cited for flood prevention violations (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sohn)

TVA has failed to adequately protect Sequoyah and Watts Bar nuclear plants from the potential for failure of earthen dams upstream and flooding that would ensue in the event of what utility and nuclear regulators call a probable maximum flood — an event that would surpass any known local weather occurrence. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Friday confirmed that its inspectors have cited the Tennessee Valley Authority with six violations and placed both Sequoyah and Watts Bar under “yellow” safety flags, indicating what NRC calls “substantial safety significance.”

Knox Commission: School system should pay up-front security costs (NS/Donila)

Knox County commissioners on Monday narrowly agreed that the school system should pay start-up recruiting, hiring and training costs for 58 new armed security guards, and that the ongoing staffing expenses would be covered through “natural growth” from current revenues, such as property and sales taxes. The 6-5 vote, which is only a recommendation, follows the county school board’s move March 6 to request money to begin the guard hiring process. Officials plan to ask the commission for an extra $1.9 million for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, to hire and train the guards.

Aitken’s Surprise Greets School Board (Memphis Daily News)

The countywide school board returns from spring break Tuesday, March 19, for a special meeting that could include terms of or at least a discussion of buyout terms for Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken. Aitken’s attorney opened buyout discussions with attorneys for the school system. But little else is known about where the talks are or Aitken’s specific motivation for seeking the buyout. Meanwhile, the school board will vote Tuesday, March 19, on a new timeline for the national search to be conducted by PROACT, the consulting firm hired by the board.

County Commission Sends 13-Member School Board Plan to Judge (M. Daily News)

Shelby County Commissioners approved a plan Monday, March 18, to convert the countywide school board to a 13-member single district body effective Sept. 1. The plan which includes district lines that are almost but not an identical match of the 13-member single districts to be used in county commission elections in 2014 goes to Memphis Federal Court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays for his action. If Mays approves, the commission would appoint six citizens to the added positions who begin serving Sept. 1.

Williamson schools’ method of calculating GPA draws criticism (TN/Giordano)

In October, during public input at a school board meeting, Williamson County Schools parent David Beahm plopped down a fake Rolex watch on a podium and compared it to his son’s grade-point average. The Brentwood resident recounted how he was shocked to find out that his son did not qualify for HOPE Scholarship funds despite years of honors classes and a 3.3 GPA from Brentwood High School. He had discovered that his son’s GPA was weighted — a common practice of giving additional points to grades earned in more rigorous honors and Advanced Placement classes calculated on a 5.0 scale.

Comcast debuts educational STEM channel in Chattanooga (TFP/Hardy)

Even a couch potato can jump on the STEM bandwagon. Officials envision that a new television channel will help parents, teachers and students alike further the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math. Hamilton County opened a STEM magnet school this fall with financial and in-kind support of area nonprofit agencies and businesses. And, in one of the latest business contributions, Comcast will debut a new On Demand STEM channel in April that’s stocked with custom, locally created content.  

Florida: Campus Attack Is Foiled, Police Say (Associated Press)

A University of Central Florida dropout planned an attack on the campus but committed suicide in a dorm before carrying it out, the authorities said Monday. The man, James Oliver Seevakumaran, 30, pulled a gun on another student, who then called police, said the university’s police chief, Richard Beary. Mr. Seevakumaran shot himself in the head as officers responded. The university said it had been in the process of removing Mr. Seevakumaran from the dorm because he had not enrolled in the current semester. 



Guest columnist: Expansion in TN’s best interest (Tennessean)

Impact on state’s health, economy outweighs the cost It is essential for Tennesseans to understand the new reality with implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Whether you are politically opposed to this legislation or in favor, after last summer’s Supreme Court ruling, now it is time to make a decision about Medicaid expansion that will serve our state’s best interest. (Medicaid expansion should not be confused as a referendum on the ACA itself.) We need to clearly understand what’s at stake. First, since job creation is on everyone’s mind, let’s talk economics. Tennessee health-care professionals provide $4.1 billion in uncompensated care per year that has historically been partially paid for through certain federal and state programs. 

Editorial: Supermajority forgetting party’s local preference (News-Sentinel)

Local governments, working within state and federal parameters, are in the best position to make policy decisions for their communities based on each one’s circumstances. That has long been a philosophical position advocated by those who believe decentralization of government power is a bulwark against despotism. The Republican Party, in particular, has in recent decades pushed for greater independence of state governments and against unfunded federal mandates. But the Tennessee Legislature’s Republican supermajority now is moving to impose greater restrictions on local governments.

Editorial: Animal cruelty bill is a subterfuge (Tennessean)

Don’t be fooled. Model legislation about animal-cruelty reporting that is pending in the Tennessee General Assembly, and in California and Nebraska, is NOT intended to stop animal cruelty — far from it. If the Tennessee proposal were to become law, it would be practically impossible for animal-welfare advocates to collect documentation of animal cruelty, such as the video captured by the Humane Society of the United States of trainers soring walking horses in West Tennessee. Individuals investigating abuses in the meat industry likewise would be hamstrung. The law would require anyone collecting evidence of abuse to turn it over to law enforcement within 24-48 hours.

Editorial: Low key bill about animal rights is not what it seems (Jackson Sun)

Sometime things aren’t what they seem. Such is the case with state Senate Bill 1248, and its companion in the House, HB1191, working their way through the Tennessee General Assembly. It is deceptively simple, barely two sentences long, and calls for anyone recording animal abuse committed against livestock to report it to law enforcement within 24 hours. Who could be against that? Well, we are. That’s because the bill is not what it seems.

Times Editorial: Let Erlanger move forward (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Hamilton County commissioners have never been closely engaged stewards of the Erlanger Hospital Authority, nor have they ever squarely dealt with the enormous financial cost of the county’s indigent-care burden that falls chiefly on Erlanger Hospital. Given their long indifference toward the health of this community’s mainstay hospital, one would think they would leap to ratify the nonprofit charter legislation crafted by the county’s legislative delegation — and recently signed by Gov. Bill Haslam — to clear the way for an autonomous hospital board, and to lock-in a pitiful fraction of the indigent cost the county was originally obliged to help pay.

Editorial: Deal needed on emissions testing (Commercial Appeal)

A stark reality is staring Memphis and Shelby County in the face if the two governments cannot reach an accommodation with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation over how to continue vehicle emissions testing. The Memphis City Council’s decision not to continue funding auto emissions testing after June 30, and county government’s reluctance to get into the testing business, have resulted in the possibility that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hit the city and county with stiff sanctions for ozone pollution. Those measures could impact economic development locally because factory construction and expansions could be limited as a way to offset vehicle pollution.

Editorial: Arizona’s Barrier to the Right to Vote (New York Times)

Arizona’s Proposition 200, passed in 2004, prohibits local officials from registering any would-be voter who does not provide “satisfactory evidence of United States citizenship.” That requirement conflicts with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the Motor Voter Act, which set up a national registration system for federal elections. On Monday, the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether states have the power under the federal law to add restrictions to voter registration. They clearly do not. The justices should reject Arizona’s law as invalid and avoid recreating the problem that the federal law was intended to fix.

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