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March 22 TN News Digest

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

 

Arts Commission Announces 2013 Governor’s Awards (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A print maker, an award-winning author and a legendary bluesman are among this year’s round of Governor’s Arts Awards announced Thursday. Bobby “Blues” Bland is a Memphis native who honed his craft on Beale Street. The so-called “Lion of the Blues” is considered one of the genre’s greatest male singers ever. He’s a member of both the Blues and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame and a recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Ann Patchett has written numerous bestsellers to critical acclaim, including the novels Bel Canto, State of Wonder and The Magician’s Assistant.

Tennessee February Unemployment Increases Slightly (Associated Press)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate for February was 7.8 percent, a slight increase from the previous month. Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis said Thursday that’s the lowest February rate since 2008. The unemployment rate for January was 7.7 percent. The national unemployment rate for February was 7.7 percent. State figures show that nonfarm employment increased by 11,400 jobs from January to February.

Tennessee adds more than 11,000 jobs in January (Memphis Daily News)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate for February was 7.8 percent, an increase of one percentage point from the January revised rate of 7.7 percent, according to Tennessee Labor & Workforce Development. Total seasonally-adjusted nonfarm employment increased by 11,400 jobs from January to February with increases coming in professional and business services as well as manufacturing. From February 2012 to February 2013, total seasonally-adjusted nonfarm employment increased by 58,400 jobs.

Tennessee’s unemployment rate up again (Nashville Business Journal)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate continued to increase in February, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development announced today. The state’s unemployment rate increased to 7.8 percent, up from a revised January rate of 7.7 percent. Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate for February decreased to 7.7 percent, down from 7.9 percent in January. Tennessee’s unemployment rate a year ago stood at 8 percent.

State unemployment rate ticks up again (Nashville Post)

Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Interim Commissioner Burns Phillips announced today the state’s unemployment rate for February was 7.8 percent, up from the January revised rate of 7.7 percent. The increases marks the second consecutive month the rate rose, as the December 2012 mark was 7.6 percent. The national unemployment rate for February was 7.7 percent, down from the 7.9 mark from the previous month.

Slight Change in State Unemployment Rate (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee’s jobless rate increased a tenth of percent in February, ending the month at 7.8 percent. Still, it is the lowest the state’s February rate has been since 2008, and marks a two-tenths of a percent decline from the same time last year. Figures from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development show the biggest gains came in professional and business services and the leisure and hospitality sector, with small losses coming in mining, logging, construction and information related employment.

Tenn. AG to defend tort law in meningitis lawsuit (Associated Press/Hall)

The Tennessee attorney general is defending the state’s tort law in a lawsuit filed by the husband of a Brentwood woman who died after getting fungal meningitis from tainted steroid injections. The lawsuit was filed by Wayne Reed over the death of his wife, Diana, against the owners and operators of Saint Thomas Outpatient Neurosurgical Center, which administered the shots produced by the Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center. The state will argue against the lawsuit’s claims a Tennessee law passed in 2011 that capped damages from personal injury cases is unconstitutional during a hearing set for Friday in Nashville.

TennCare quickly fills 2.5K spots in Standard Spend Down program (WBIR-TV)

TennCare quickly filled all 2,500 spots in its Standard Spend Down program Thursday evening. The program helps low income Tennessee residents with high unpaid medical bills who meet specific qualifications. Applicants could call 1-866-358-3230 between 7:00 and 9:30 Thursday evening, but it only took a few minutes to fill the allotment. The phone line closed when the spots were filled. Standard Spend Down Eligibility: In addition to being aged (65 or older), blind*, disabled,* or a caretaker relative, An individual must meet certain income restrictions, or be able to “spend down” qualifying unpaid medical bills to that limit.

UT says Sex Week program won’t receive state funding (Associated Press)

The University of Tennessee has pulled state funding from a planned Sex Week program as legislative criticism mounts. More than $11,000 in funding for the weeklong series of discussions and events, which begin April 5, was going to come from academic departments and programs. Those are appropriated state funds. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek announced on Wednesday the state funds will no longer be available. However, $6,700 in student activity fees will be allowed.

Sex Week will go on as donations replace funds pulled by UT (NS/Connelly, Nelson)

Sex Week UT will go on, thanks to its organizers’ securing roughly $7,000 more in funds in a single day. After the University of Tennessee announced Wednesday evening that it was taking back $11,145 — two-thirds of the weeklong event’s budget — students and other supporters rallied, pushing donations through a PayPal account on the Sex Week UT Web page and a fundraising challenge on the independent site Indiegogo. “I knew we would get the money back, but in one day!” said Brianna Rader, co-founder of Sexual Empowerment and Awareness at Tennessee, Sex Week’s sponsoring student organization.

Tennessee lawmakers working to expand vouchers (Commercial Appeal/Locker)

The legislative battle over a school-voucher program in Tennessee is headed for a showdown next week. Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, on Wednesday shelved her bill for a more expansive program than the one proposed by Gov. Bill Haslam, and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, said he’ll try to broaden the governor’s bill to cover children with substantially higher incomes. The heavily Republican legislature is expected to pass a voucher bill, but the fight essentially is over how large of a program and how many students will be eligible.

Ramsey: More Ambitious Voucher Plan Than Haslam’s Likely to Pass Senate (TNR)

The speaker of the state Senate, Ron Ramsey, said Thursday he still favors passing a school-voucher program that offers “opportunity scholarships” to a greater number of Tennessee students than what Gov. Bill Haslam is proposing. And the best way to do that is by amending the legislation containing Haslam’s more limited proposal, said Ramsey. Ramsey’s comments came a day after Senate Education Committee Chairman Dolores Gresham seemingly abandoned her own voucher bill that would have significantly increased the number of voucher-eligible students compared to the governor’s plan.

‘Votes not there’ for full expansion of TennCare (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday he “doesn’t think the votes are there” in the chamber if fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam presses for a full expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. With lawmakers hoping to adjourn in less than a month, time is starting to run out, Ramsey said. But he noted it might get GOP support for a measure based on Arkansas’ plan, which the governor has publicly said he is closely examining.

Ramsey Doubts Medicaid Expansion Would Pass State Senate (WPLN-Radio Nash)

The speaker of the state Senate doubts Tennessee will expand its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, at least this year. A recommendation is expected from Governor Bill Haslam by the end of next week. The question is whether it’s worth accepting federal money to insure tens of thousands of poor Tennesseans, when the state will eventually be on the hook for part of the cost. And if the governor decides to go for it, there’s no guarantee lawmakers will play along. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he gave Haslam his assessment.

Attack on ‘Obamacare’ might wound BlueCross BlueShield (TFP/Sher)

A Republican lawmaker claims he’s found the “Achilles’ heel of Obamacare,” but insurers like Chattanooga-based BlueCross BlueShield worry the spear he’s throwing will wound them. Rep. Vance Dennis’ bill would prohibit Tennessee-licensed insurance companies from participating in the federal health care exchange that will start next year. The online marketplace will help Tennesseans obtain health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

Changes to Voting Rules Mulled in Legislature (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The list of what’s prohibited at election precincts could soon get a little longer. State lawmakers have been talking about barring cell phone cameras, as well as citizens of foreign countries. The ban on cell phones and cameras is supposed to cut down on rude distractions for poll workers, but critics argue cameras might be handy to document problems voting. Then there were concerns from committee members like Jeremy Faison, a father of five. “I’ve actually got pictures of my children voting – for me.

Youth Concussion Policy Bill Headed to Governor (Associated Press/Johnson)

Coaches and school athletic directors would be required to complete a concussion safety education course under legislation that’s headed to the governor for his consideration. The measure, which would require schools and other organizations with youth athletic programs to adopt concussion policies, was overwhelmingly approved 93-3 in the House on Thursday. The companion bill unanimously passed the Senate 30-0 last month. The legislation is similar to laws passed in 42 other states and the District of Columbia that include provisions requiring students to be removed from an event if they show concussion symptoms like headaches, dilated eyes or vomiting.

Youth Head-Injury Bill Clears Legislature (TN Report)

Legislation that would establish guidelines for addressing concussion injuries among young Tennessee organized-sports participants has cleared the General Assembly and is headed to the governor’s desk. Senate Bill 882 was substituted for HB867 in House Thursday. The measure passed in both chambers by overwhelming majorities – 90-3 in the House, 30-0 last month in the Senate. “What this does is protect youth who are injured in sports with concussions,” Rep. Cameron Sexton, sponsor of the House bill, told the lower chamber Thursday.

Legislature passes bill to standardize concussion policy in athletics (CP/Zelinksi)

Tennessee lawmakers are sending a bill to Gov. Bill Haslam that would focus more attention on children’s concussions in athletics, although the changes would primarily affect students here participating in out-of-school sports. According to Metro Nashville Public Schools Spokeswoman Olivia Brown, the district currently follows concussion policies set by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association. The TSSAA’s provisions already satisfy the legislation’s requirements, said the bill’s sponsor.

Youth sports concussion bill set to become TN law (Tennessean/Rau)

Tennessee is one signature away from becoming the 44th state to pass a law to reduce concussions in youth sports and increase awareness about the traumatic brain injury. The state House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that would make learning about the dangers of concussions a prerequisite for competing, while also implementing safeguards to ensure that children who suffer a concussion don’t return to play until they are healed. With the state Senate already having approved the measure, the legislation now heads to Gov. Bill Haslam, who is expected to sign the bill, said spokesman Dave Smith.

TN bill seeks early alert to possible shootings (Tennessean/Sisk)

If patient threatens harm, doctor would be required to call police The Tennessee Senate approved a bill Thursday that would require mental health professionals to report potential threats to law enforcement, a move supporters say could head off mass shootings. Senate Bill 789 passed unanimously as lawmakers found little reason to debate a measure that tightens reporting requirements for mental health workers and the courts. The bill is part of a push — backed by gun-rights proponents and gun-control advocates alike — to change mental health laws in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December.

Tennessee Senate targets mental health on gun control (Times Free-Press/Sher)

The Senate moved Thursday to keep guns and handgun-carry permits out of the hands of potentially dangerous mentally ill Tennesseans, passing a bill requiring mental health professionals report to police patients they judge could seriously harm or kill “reasonably identifiable victims.” The bill, a response to mass shootings in states like Connecticut and Colorado, fills in several holes in existing state law. It also requires court clerks to notify the state within three days about involuntary commitments instead of once every three months.

Ramsey named to executive committee of RLGA (Associated Press)

Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is joining the executive committee of the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association. The Blountville Republican was named this week during the association’s annual leadership meeting in Washington. Ramsey became the first Republican Senate speaker since Reconstruction when he was elected to the position in 2007. The RLGA is devoted to raising money and assisting Republicans in their campaigns for lieutenant governor.

Poor checkup: TN ranks 47th among states based on well-being (TFP/Bradbury)

Sliding into the 47th spot, Tennessee beats only Mississippi, Kentucky and West Virginia — which means Tennesseans tend to fare worse than the majority of the country when it comes to physical health, work environment, emotional health and healthy behaviors, the Gallup and Healthways 2012 Well-Being Index shows. And unhappy or unhealthy people make poor employees. A growing number of Tennessee companies are looking for ways to improve employee health — aiming to decrease health insurance costs, improve productivity and boost the bottom line.

Sen. Lamar Alexander seeks repeal of federal tax on medical devices (TN/Barton)

Sen. Lamar Alexander introduced legislation Thursday to repeal a new federal tax on one of Tennessee’s most important export products — medical devices. The 2.3 percent excise tax went into effect Jan. 1 as part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the comprehensive health care reform act that President Barack Obama pushed through Congress. It is expected to raise about $30 billion over the next decade to help pay for extending health care coverage to millions of now uninsured Americans.

Lamar Alexander eyes lifting tax on medical devices (Times Free-Press/Smith)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander wants to repeal a chunk of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, that could cost Tennessee manufacturers millions of dollars and lead to thousands of layoffs in the Volunteer State. The 2.3 percent excise tax levied on medical device manufacturers, which is designed to help pay for President Barack Obama’s signature health care overhaul, could cripple the largest source of Tennessee’s foreign exports, Alexander said.

DesJarlais backs GOP budget (Daily News Journal)

Democrats slam congressman for supporting rich U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais voted Thursday for a Republican-backed budget plan for fiscal 2014, drawing a rebuke from Tennessee Democrats. “For the third year in a row, House Republicans have put forth and passed a responsible, common sense budget,” said DesJarlais, a South Pittsburg Republicans who represents Rutherford County in the 4th Congressional District. DesJarlais said the plan balances the budget in 10 years, without raising taxes and jump-starts the economy “by creating jobs and empowering small businesses.”

States Urged to Expand Medicaid With Private Insurance (New York Times)

The White House is encouraging skeptical state officials to expand Medicaid by subsidizing the purchase of private insurance for low-income people, even though that approach might be somewhat more expensive, federal and state officials say. Ohio and Arkansas are negotiating with the Obama administration over plans to use federal Medicaid money to pay premiums for commercial insurance that will be sold to the public in regulated markets known as insurance exchanges.

OR firm to more than double size, add workers (News-Sentinel/Fowler)

Protomet seeking 100%, tax reprieve A homegrown company in an expansion mode plans to more than double the size of its facility and is seeking a five-year, 100 percent tax break to help. Members of the Oak Ridge Industrial Development Board will meet in special session Monday afternoon to consider the request from Protomet Corp., IDB Chairman David Wilson said. “What they are seeking falls outside the box a little bit,” he said of the request and the IDB’s guidelines for granting payment-in-lieu-of-tax programs or tax abatements.

Four new charter schools coming to Memphis (Memphis Business Journal)

The Walton Family Foundation is investing $1 million to create four charter schools in Memphis through its Education Entrepreneurs Fellowship. The funding will be distributed over the next two years to two school organizers — Steve Ajani, who is creating Harambee Schools, a K-5 grade elementary school; and Bobby White, who is creating Martin Luther King Jr. Preparatory High School. Both schools are expected to be open in fall 2014. The other two organizers, Michael Brown and Marcus Nelson, are planning two new schools that will open the following year.

Parents, teachers weigh in on Knox County schools budget proposal (NS/McCoy)

Thursday marked the first time that Amanda Chagnon and her son, Cole, heard Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre’s budget proposal for next school year. “I think it’s a pretty good proposal. It’s a huge undertaking to meet the needs on a $13 million increase; I think he’s stretching that as best he can,” said Chagnon. “I think there are challenges ahead and we continue to progress in a lot of areas, like they said in technology, and with our test scores. But I think they’re making improvements.”

Shelby County’s suburban parents hope Supt. Aitken will return (CA/Roberts)

The firm gauging community interest in the qualities the new school superintendent should have got lots of feedback at Houston High Thursday night. The loudest was what the new person should not be. The most emotional pleas from the crowd of 50-60 people were that the school board “beg” former Shelby County Schools superintendent John Aitken to come back or, at the least, that the search firm look for someone “half as good.” “Part of my concern is that we are still hearing things like we need a Ph.D,” said Suzanne Walls.

 

OPINION

Editorial: Tourism is an industry we need to cultivate (Leaf Chronicle)

In these times of relative uncertainty in the local business sector, amid layoffs at the brand-new Hemlock Semiconductor plant and with full funding for Fort Campbell denied on Capitol Hill, it’s more important than ever that Clarksville-Montgomery County strives to diversify the local economy. Tourism is becoming a big part of it. Spring has officially arrived, and now, tourism recruiters are eager to greet warm-weather vacationers in northern middle Tennessee. In many respects, the historic downtown Rivers & Spires Festival in mid-April unofficially kicks off prime tourism season in Clarksville-Montgomery County, putting the spotlight on an emerging industry that now stands on its own, while supported by geographical good fortune.

Pam Strickland: Governor manages to oppose both sides (News-Sentinel)

Indecision. We’ve all been there at one time or another. Which pair of shoes to buy. How much to take out on our withholding during the year to make our taxes easier come April 15. Whether or not to pick Gonzaga to go all the way in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Most of us, when faced with such decisions, take a reasonable amount of time, gather the necessary information, weigh the alternatives and make the decision. It’s usually no big deal. Although I did have a roommate years ago who could drag out a decision about anything, whether it was where to attend graduate school (Vanderbilt eventually won out over five other schools — we won’t talk about the nuances that lead to a biochemistry Ph.D.) or to get married (she’s still happily with the man she chose) into a champion mental wrestling match.

Editorial: Tennessee needs a clear energy policy (Tennessean)

It is an image that illustrates Tennessee’s approach to exploiting our natural resources. This week, members of the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee decided not to consider Senate Bill 99, a measure that would deny water permits to new mining projects that disturb ridgelines above 2,000 feet, as reported Thursday in The Tennessean. No debate, no discussion … done. The committee abandoned the bill until next year despite a bevy of folks ready to testify, on both sides, with about 30 folks who support open mining on mountaintops filling the front row of the hearing room. “I was hoping for at least a discussion,” said state Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson.

Times Editorial: GOP gets bills from business backers (Times Free-Press)

Tennessee’s Legislature and its ruling Republicans rely far more on the rich corporate collaborators that fund and guide ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — than most Tennesseans will ever know. As in most of the nation’s GOP-controlled legislatures nowadays, most of the Tennessee Legislature’s business-friendly giveaways, cash incentives for development, partisan and anti-worker reforms of worker compensation and insurance laws, and school voucher and charter school legislation, is concocted or driven by ALEC’s deeply partisan, pro-business backers. So are our legislators’ recently adopted campaign financing loopholes, which now make it so easy for elected officials to scoop up lobbyists’ cash and to rely entirely on cash campaign donations — the previous limit was 50 percent — from business-funded Political Action Committees.

Editorial: Public safety legislation needs support of lawmakers (Jackson Sun)

There is a part of “cracking down on crime” that too often gets overlooked. It involves what happens after criminals are apprehended. That involves the work of prosecuting attorneys, courts, local jails and, ultimately, prisons. That’s why we support the efforts of the Tennessee Public Safety Coalition’s 2013 legislative agenda. The public, state lawmakers and local officials like to take a tough stand against crime. Everyone wants to get criminals, gangs, drug dealers and violent offenders off the streets and into jails. We agree. But arresting lawbreakers is just the first step. Jailing, prosecuting and imprisoning criminals for years is a labor intensive process that requires lawyers, support staffs, courts, jail resources, and often many months of legal work.

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