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April 1 TN News Digest

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

 

Southern governors form solid block against Obamacare (Associated Press)

As more Republicans give in to President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul, an opposition bloc remains across the South, including from governors who lead some of the nation’s poorest and unhealthiest states…Widening Medicaid insurance rolls, a joint federal-state program for low-income Americans, is an anchor of the law Obama signed in 2010. But states get to decide whether to take the deal, and from Virginia to Texas — a region encompassing the old Confederacy and Civil War border states — Florida’s Rick Scott is the only Republican governor to endorse expansion, and he faces opposition from his GOP colleagues in the legislature.

Haslam will not budge on opposing the expansion of school vouchers (TFP/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam is prepared to withdraw his limited school voucher proposal from the Legislature if Senate Republicans carry out current plans to expand it, its sponsor says. “It won’t be expanded, because I’ll withdraw it,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville. Norris said this isn’t a case of brinkmanship on Haslam’s part. He said he has sponsored “hundreds of bills” for the governor “and he always works with the General Assembly.” But Norris said that Haslam “filed exactly what he thought was appropriate” in light of “all the other education reforms” he has implemented since taking office in 2011.

Governor still working on picking new judge (Johnson City Press)

The process to select a new Criminal Court judge for the 1st Judicial District is ongoing, but the three finalists still haven’t been interviewed by Gov. Bill Haslam. The position, vacated by retiring Judge Lynn Brown, serves Washington, Carter, Unicoi and Johnson counties. Brown’s retirement became official Saturday. Three local attorneys are finalists for the job. They are Steve Finney, Gene Scott and Stacy Street. They were selected in February out of a group of seven attorneys interviewed by the state Judicial Nominating Committee.

State task force meetings set for officers (Jackson Sun)

Meth, pharmaceutical trends among topics that will be addressed The Tennessee Methamphetamine and Pharmaceutical Task Force plans to conduct district-wide meetings for law enforcement in each of the three regions in the state: East, Middle and West. Law enforcement officers should plan to attend the meeting that is most convenient to them, according to a news release. Meeting highlights will include updates on methamphetamine trends, pharmaceutical/diversion trends, the ACS Container Program, legislative issues, a TMPTF status report, training announcements, an intel update, grant status, a guest speaker and breakout sessions.

UT has new nurse practitioner options (Associated Press)

The dean of the University of Tennessee’s College of Nursing says there’s a shortage of pediatric and neonatal nurse practitioners. To meet the need, the UT Health Science Center is offering a new advanced training option in its doctor of nursing practice degree program. The medical school will take applications April 1 through June 1. Application packets are available by email to RGermain(at)uthsc.edu or by calling (901) 448-6125. Classes for the PNP and NNP options begin on August 1, 2013.

Tenn. lawmakers could require EpiPens in schools (Associated Press/Johnson)

Kendra Tiedemann’s 8-year-old son has been carrying an epinephrine injector with him since he was 3. But the Franklin mother says not all children may have the so-called EpiPen, a device designed to quickly treat serious allergic reactions. That’s why she and others support a bill advancing in the Legislature that would authorize at least two epinephrine auto-injectors to be placed in all public and private schools in Tennessee. “Not all children are able to carry their own EpiPen, or they may be uncomfortable having something that makes them look different,” said Tiedemann, who also carries the device, as well as her husband.

Cable wants lower rate (Bristol Herald-Courier)

Bristol Tennessee Essential Services and other municipal and cooperative electric providers in the state are looking for a compromise with cable companies on a usage fee, but the Tennessee General Assembly does not appear to be close to a solution. Cable companies use telephone poles to hold fiber optic wire used to provide cable television, Internet and telephone service in businesses and residences. The companies pay a fee to the electric companies for use of the poles. The Federal Communications Commission set the pole attachment fee at $7 per pole for private electrical providers but gave an exemption for municipal-owned electric providers and cooperative electric companies.

TN gun buyers frustrated by inconsistent background checks (Tennessean/Haas)

On some days, the state of Tennessee is fine with Bob Armentrout buying a gun. Other days, he’s not so lucky. His attempt to buy a shotgun was blocked one day after he bought another gun. “I had bought a handgun the day before. It went through fine, no problem. The next day I went to buy a shotgun I had been looking at. It was rejected,” Armentrout said, describing a 2009 purchase. “This past Christmastime, I was buying a little .22-caliber pistol, and it was denied, too. I had to go through the same process.”

New Knox County Sheriff’s Office pension plan to be called STAR (NS/Donila)

The new Knox County Sheriff’s Office retirement plan has a name: STAR. Officials this month kicked around a couple of suggestions — some good, some bad, they joked — and settled on “Sheriff’s Total Accumulation Retirement.” “If you think of a sheriff’s deputy and then STAR, it can remind you of the badge,” said county Finance Director Chris Caldwell, a member of the county pension board, which is expected to approve the name. “They have an important job, so you can also relate ‘star’ to that as well.”

Knox County pension contributions up $550K (News-Sentinel/Donila)

Knox County will need to contribute an additional $550,000 to three pension plans during this upcoming fiscal year, an increase that’s not as high as the jump last year and one that could have been much greater if not for a decent year in the stock market. Overall, the county will put a combined $8.75 million into the plans: one for the Sheriff’s Office that will close next January, the “old school” plan that closed in 1986, and a defined benefit plan for general county employees that was discontinued in 1991. The fiscal year starts July 1. “It’s the cost of doing business,” Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett said.

Drug Court seeks fewer county tax dollars (Daily News Journal)

The Rutherford County Drug and DUI Court will need $27,000 less from local taxpayers during the fiscal year that starts July 1 thanks to fundraising efforts, Director Mary Schneider said last week. “That funding is because we have more state funding and the foundation,” Scheider said March 25 after presenting a budget request with Circuit Court Judge David Bragg before the County Commission’s Public Safety Committee. Her proposed budget is growing by about $60,000 to $471,000 to cover the pay and benefits of a new staff member for a new total of seven employees. 

Rep. Blackburn to receive ‘Women Run the World’ honor in New York (TN/Bliss)

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn will be honored in New York’s Central Park this month as one of 10 female difference makers. The Brentwood Republican will be honored April 14 as one of “10 high-powered women who are making a difference in the world.” The acknowledgment comes as part of More Magazine/Fitness Magazine Women’s Half-Marathon’s 10th anniversary celebration. Blackburn, recently promoted to vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, joins a select group of honorees including Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the Emmy-winning co-host of “The View.” 

Sen. Lamar Alexander still tilting at wind energy (Tennessean/Barton)

TVA, other utilities committed, despite war on subsidies Few issues arouse as much passion for Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander as federal subsidies for wind-generated electricity. But utilities, including his home-state Tennessee Valley Authority, are finding they like wind power more and more. Alexander, up for re-election in 2014, argues the country needs 100 new nuclear plants to ensure low cost and clean power for the 21st century. At the same time, he has this year renewed efforts to strip the wind industry of a tax credit, in existence since 1992, for new power it brings online.

U.S. lawmakers rack up privately paid travel (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Since 2008, outside parties and private interest groups have spent $402,436 on travel for Tennessee’s nine U.S. House members and their staffs, according to a Chattanooga Times Free Press analysis of 106 trips. While the total averages to about $45,000 per member and $3,800 per trip, some lawmakers fly more than others on someone else’s dime. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., leads the pack with $96,606 in privately funded travel. U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a Jasper Republican elected in 2010, brings up the rear with $21,563.

Postal Service plans emergency prep exercise (Associated Press)

The U.S. Postal Service says it plans to conduct an emergency preparedness exercise in Nashville this week. The exercise planned for Wednesday will test the Postal Service’s and the city’s response plans to a biohazard event. The Postal Service says the “full-scale” exercise will include employee evacuations from the Nashville Mail Processing & Distribution Center. The exercise is scheduled to begin Wednesday at 3 p.m. and last about 3 ½ hours.

Nashville VA office failures cited in report (Tennessean/Wilemon)

One veteran lost $10,000 in disability benefits. Others underwent incomplete evaluations for traumatic brain injury. Homeless veterans went without help because no one tried to find them. These are the service failures highlighted in a report issued last week by the Office of Inspector General that determined the Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Nashville came up short on four of five measures. The report was based on an inspection conducted in September. Edna MacDonald, the director of the Nashville office, did not dispute the findings and submitted a checklist for correcting the problems.  

Y-12 protesters call building fence effort to limit free speech, assembly (NS/Willett)

Members of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance gathered on a grassy area at the entrance to the Y-12 National Security Complex on Sunday to hold a weekly peace vigil, perhaps for the last time. Protesters sang, danced, hunted for Easter eggs and hung “peace wings” on a fence along with signs reading “Y-12 Bombs Free Speech” and “Danger First Amendment Under Attack.” Security measures put into place following an embarrassing security breach at the facility by protesters in July may put an end to such gatherings, at least at the grassy area.

Honors designation tougher to achieve for high school graduates (TN/Fingeroot)

As Tennessee’s high school seniors don cap and gown and graduate with tougher requirements than ever before, the honor cord may no longer symbolize years of hard work alone. Mt. Juliet parent Nina Long found out the hard way what a difference one test score can make for a 2013 high school senior when her daughter came home crying over the news that she would not be an honors graduate. Long’s daughter will graduate with a lofty grade-point average of 4.268 after taking honors classes and Advanced Placement classes in high school.

Could charters break MNPS bank? (City Paper/Zelinski)

As the charter school movement gains steam in Nashville, local school board members are worried there’s not enough room in the budget to afford a windfall of the novel schools in years to come. Too many charter schools too fast could force the district “off the fiscal cliff” unless there are proper “guardrails” in place, school officials say. Otherwise, the city may need to consider a property tax increase to offset the costs, some warn. Buzzwords about the financial impact of too many charter schools are piling up.

 

OPINION 

J.R. Lind: Haslam chooses Ayn Rand over Edmund Burke (City Paper)

If only they’d read more Edmund Burke and less Ayn Rand. If only Tennessee Republicans placed the quiet and thoughtful philosophy of conservatism’s intellectual godfather on a higher plane than the destructive and reactionary hoarding of individualism’s selfish aunt. But these Tennessee Republicans don’t see humanity as a family. They don’t see society as a good. They see themselves and their tribe and then they see The Great Other — which they perceive as a nebulous collection of thieves and grabbers. They are as revolutionary and vicious as any of history’s most strident Jacobins.

Editorial: Using Medicaid Dollars for Private Insurance (New York Times)

The Obama administration and Republican officials in several states are exploring ways to redirect federal money intended to expand Medicaid, the main public insurance program for the poor, and use it instead to buy private health insurance for Medicaid recipients. The approach could have important benefits for beneficiaries and for the future of health care reform. But the idea also carries big risks. Federal officials will need to enforce strict conditions before agreeing to any redirection of Medicaid dollars that were originally intended to enlarge the Medicaid rolls.

Editorial: Kill bill to replace Senate primaries with caucuses (News-Sentinel)

The state Senate is scheduled to vote today to bar rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats from choosing candidates for the U.S. Senate. This is no April Fool’s joke. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, would eliminate primary elections for U.S. Senate seats and replace them with legislative caucuses. That would mean that state legislators, not the people, would elect Senate candidates for the major parties. The notion conjures visions of smoke-filled rooms, secret deal-making and influence-peddling. These hand-picked candidates would be on the ballot in the general election.

Tom Humphrey: Battles between businesses keep lobbyists busy (News-Sesntinel)

While the Legislature’s Republican “supermajority” regularly proclaims devotion to making Tennessee business friendly, on occasion a choice must be made between friends. And that is a good thing for the lobbying business. The most publicized example of the current session has been authorizing the sale of wine in grocery stores. The dispute has pitted the 500-plus package stores, who present themselves as small businesses under attack, against convenience stores and big-box retailers, who present themselves as champions of consumer convenience. Both, of course, are interested in maximizing profits. At this writing, it appears the liquor stores, defenders of the status quo, have prevailed again.

Michael Collins: DesJarlais rails against tax dollars for obesity campaign (NS)

A recent court decision that struck down New York City’s ban on big sugary soft drinks is a sign the courts see it that way, too, the congressman said. “I think it does send a message that both people and the courts reject that aggressive government overreach — certainly it was evident in New York,” said the Republican from Jasper, Tenn. DesJarlais is looking closely at the New York ruling as he contemplates refiling a bill that would stop what he calls “taxpayer-funded attack ads” against soft drinks and other food and beverages. DesJarlais first filed the legislation last year amid reports that $230 million in federal economic-stimulus funds had been used to pay for anti-obesity efforts that, in many cases, targeted the soft-drink and fast-food industries.

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