This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday morning said his proposed “third way” to expand Tennessee’s health insurance rolls is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to truly reform health care.” In his annual address to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Haslam said his approach unveiled last week would seek to better align the incentives of the federal government, insurers and care providers. In taking this path, Haslam rejected dollars made available to states under the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid rolls.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that his ongoing pursuit of a special deal for Medicaid expansion in Tennessee is no “fool’s errand” and that an arrangement could still be struck at any time. The Republican governor said he remains in negotiations with the federal government over his proposal to use $1.4 billion in Medicaid money available under the federal health care overhaul to pay for private coverage for uninsured Tennesseans. “This wasn’t just a ‘I’ll throw this up as a way to get out of it,'” Haslam told reporters.
Gov. Bill Haslam had a detailed conversation with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over the weekend and said Tuesday that his effort to change the terms for covering 180,000 uninsured Tennesseans is not a “fool’s errand.” The Republican governor told Nashville business leaders that he is still trying to hammer out a deal with the Obama administration to expand TennCare with private insurance coverage, but he would not predict how long it would take to get the federal government to agree to his proposal.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he is not rushing off on a “fool’s errand” in pushing his Tennessee Plan for extending Medicaid to an estimated 181,000 low-income people under the federal health care law. Haslam said he spoke with U.S. Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius last weekend and believes central parts of his idea of putting the expansion population into the federally operated health insurance exchange remains doable. It’s a “one-time” opportunity to lower the state’s future costs for the expansion and save the federal government $3 for each dollar Tennessee spends, Haslam said.
Governor Bill Haslam is saying there’s still a chance to expand TennCare and cover more of the state’s uninsured. He is in “active conversations” with federal officials. Last week Haslam effectively turned down billions of dollars in federal money to expand Tennessee’s Medicaid program. But after talking with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Good Friday, he says the federal agency is sounding more receptive to his demands. He wants flexibility to put 180,000 people in private insurance plans instead of paying for them to have the more generous benefits on TennCare.
Gov. Bill Haslam offered an amended budget for fiscal 2013-2014 that includes millions of dollars for health-related investments across the state. Among the higher-ticket items included in the amended budget were $5.2 million in additional revenue to be applied to the Healthier Tennessee initiative; $1.37 million in funding restored to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Peer Support Centers; and $1 million for the University of Tennessee-Martin Parsons Campus nursing program.
Gov. Bill Haslam said a legislative effort to take over U.S. Senate nominations “doesn’t feel right,” but he stopped short of saying whether he would veto the bill should it land on his desk. The measure would allow state lawmakers, instead of voters, to pick the candidates who would face off in general elections for the U.S. Senate. Voters would then vote on their favored candidate. “I have a major problem with that, in this sense that we’re going to take the selection of the United States senator out of the hands of the people in Tennessee and have a few folks decide who that should be. That just doesn’t feel right to me,” Haslam told reporters after addressing the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday.
The bill that would end popular primary elections for selecting Tennessee’s U.S. Senate nominees was deferred to 2014 Tuesday afternoon, hours after Gov. Bill Haslam said he would probably veto it if it won legislative approval. Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, told the House State Government Committee that he wanted to delay consideration of the Republican bill until next year and offered no explanation why. But that move came about three hours after the governor told reporters he’s against the bill, which would end traditional primary elections for selecting the party nominees for the state’s two U.S. senators and have the Republican and Democratic Caucuses of the state legislature choose the nominees.
A bill to give Tennessee lawmakers the power to decide the nominees for the state’s U.S. Senate seats was withdrawn Tuesday until next year after Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said he had a “major problem” with the proposal. The governor told reporters he objects to eliminating primary elections to decide Republican and Democratic nominees for the U.S. Senate, and said he would “very strongly” consider a veto of the measure if it was passed by the Legislature.
Georgia’s attempt to run a pipeline to the Tennessee River has become a punch line for Governor Bill Haslam, who addressed the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday morning. “We’ll take the Atlanta Braves and they can have access to the water,” he said jokingly. Haslam says he has fielded several recommendations, including a trade for Sea Island or Stone Mountain. While Tennesseans are laughing, legislators in Georgia are serious about moving the state line. They argue that the border was misplaced nearly 200 years ago and should be moved north.
Georgia officials say they want access to Tennessee River water. Badly want it. Desperately want it. So just how far would Peach State lawmakers be willing to go if it came down to a trade “We’ll take the Atlanta Braves and they can have the water,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told Nashville Chamber of Commerce members in this morning. Or maybe Sea Island, the governor suggested. But before Georgians get too excited, the governor emphasized he was only joking. “We’re not actually going to trade them for our water,” Haslam said.
Two of Tennessee’s top Republicans say they’re not softening on the issue of gay marriage. Both Senator Bob Corker and Governor Bill Haslam said little, other than that it should be left up to the states. A Republican senator from Illinois just became the second to come out in favor of gay marriage, along with a string of Democrats this year. But Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee argues it should be up to each state. “I support where our state is – I haven’t changed my positions as it relates to marriage, and again, I support where our state is and I’m in the same place.”
Sitting at her dining room table, 61-year-old Amarjit Deol sorts through a mountain of bills and medical records, all the result of her bout with fungal meningitis. Released from the hospital in January, Deol is weak and can walk only with the aid of a walker. “My legs won’t hold me,” she says. Amid the bills is a notice that Medicare will not pay for an MRI that her doctors say is needed to determine whether she has a lingering spinal infection at the site where she was injected last fall with a fungus-tainted steroid. The notice says she has exceeded a limit on those services.
The University of Tennessee College of Nursing is launching a new institute that aims to help nurses develop the necessary skills to promote high-quality patient-centered care in the Volunteer State. The Tennessee Nursing Institute of Leadership and Policy will provide educational programs and training to nurses and other health care professionals across the state. The institute is made possible by a two-year $150,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and matching funds from several Tennessee organizations.
While Gov. Bill Haslam’s workers’ compensation reform bill has had bumpy hearings in House committees, the track was clear and the ride mostly smooth on the Senate floor Monday night as SB200 passed 28-2. Currently, the Volunteer State is one of only three states that adjudicate workers’ compensation claims in court. If the legislation passes, an independent agency run by an administrator chosen by the governor would oversee the process. Supporters say the new system will process claims faster and cost less while opponents say it doesn’t address the real issue of higher medical costs and that workers will receive smaller awards and have more difficulty getting claims approved.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said Tuesday that lawmakers will either have to approve Gov. Bill Haslam’s approach to a school voucher program in Tennessee or face the measure being withdrawn for the year. Norris, R-Collierville, who is sponsoring the bill for the Haslam administration, told reporters that he doesn’t see much room for negotiation over the measure seeking to supply a limited number of parents of children in the state’s worst-performing schools with public money to pay for a private education.
Some legislators voiced skepticism about a $72.4 million “health and wellness initiative” in Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget that was reviewed in full for the first time on Tuesday. The plan includes $43 million for an anti-smoking and anti-obesity efforts. Most of that will go to programs targeting teenagers, pregnant women and women with infant children. About $5 million goes to the obesity program with officials saying they hope to enhance the state money with $20 million to $27 million in private sector donations.
A number of broadly supported proposals have failed to make it past Tuesday’s legislative hearings. As the self-imposed cutoff for the 2013 legislative session approaches this month, many bills lacking overwhelming support are being stopped in their tracks or put off until next year. A proposal to quintuple the fine for not wearing a seat belt made it through a senate committee but failed moments later in the house. Sen. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald opposed the bill, which he called well intentioned. “I just don’t think us increasing the fine is going to increase seat belt usage. People already know that they’re breaking the law,” Hensley said.
Legislation to allow wine to be sold in Tennessee supermarkets and convenience stores isn’t quite dead yet. A tie vote in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday morning initially indicated that bill had failed for the year. But a spokesman confirmed later in the day that Democratic Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville, who abstained on that vote now wants to vote in favor of the measure after receiving assurances that it would no longer include a provision allowing Sunday liquor sales. Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has said he wants the measure to clear all of his chamber’s committees this year.
Bill Ketron’s wine-in-grocery-stores bill just won’t quit. Despite losing a vote to a 5-5-1 tie Tuesday morning in the Senate Finance, Ways & Means Committee, the Republican state senator from Murfreesboro now says he has swung the vote he needs to bring SB837 back before the committee next week. Ketron, who chairs the Republican caucus in the Senate, told TNReport that Nashville Democrat Douglas Henry voted against the bill because he had concerns about an amendment dealing with wine sales on Sundays.
Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation to slash dependent benefits for unemployed Tennesseans as a way to rein in a program that was expanded in 2009 under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The bill, which cleared a key House committee with little resistance on Tuesday, would save the state an estimated $62.5 million annually, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor. Those savings are necessary, supporters say, because $141 million in federal funds given to the state under the stimulus have run out, and Tennessee employers have had to pick up the bill.
A state Senate committee Tuesday passed legislation that would stop municipal annexation until 2015, giving time for lawmakers to take a comprehensive look at how cities bring new land into their jurisdiction. The move comes as a series of bills was introduced this year aimed at changing the 15-year-old process for how cities annex territory and manage their growth, including measures requiring a public vote by those affected by annexation. Tennessee created urban growth boundaries and the current annexation process in 1998.
Faced with total defeat of the measure, two Hamilton County legislators Tuesday agreed to amend their anti-annexation bill with the measure now imposing a statewide moratorium on all annexations until June 30, 2015. That’s intended to give provide a “time out” while officials do a comprehensive study of the issue. Senate State and Local Government Committee members unanimously approved the compromise, which would halt all current annexation efforts by ordinance as of April 1.
A bill calling for a comprehensive study of lawmaker allowances has been killed in a House committee after unanimously passing the Senate. Republican state Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville made the motion in the House State Government Committee on Tuesday to delay consideration of the measure until after the Legislature adjourns next year. The resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet calls for the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations to study the daily allowances paid to lawmakers when they are conducting business at the Capitol.
Legislation would give more authority to beer boards A proposed change to state law might prevent some store owners previously convicted of violating state or federal drug laws from selling in their stores pipes, bongs, grinders and other devices that have the potential to be used by customers to prepare or consume illegal drugs. Legislation crafted by state Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, which is set to be voted on in the House Thursday, would give county beer boards the authority to declare any stores that “sell or possess with the intent to sell drug paraphernalia” a “nuisance.”
A proposal to increase the fine for not wearing a seat belt has failed this session. Members of the House Transportation Committee voted 11-2 on Tuesday to defeat the measure. Earlier in the day, the companion bill passed the Senate Finance Committee 6-4. Currently the penalty for not wearing a seat belt is $10. The legislation would have bumped the fine to $50. Sponsors say the measure is simply to encourage people to buckle up. But critics say individuals shouldn’t be penalized for choosing not to wear a seat belt.
A proposal to seal Tennessee’s handgun carry permit records from public scrutiny is headed for a full Senate vote. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and is headed for a vote by the full Senate. The companion bill was approved 84-10 in the House last month. The bill blocking access to the entire database of handgun carry permit holders no longer includes loopholes for political or lobbying groups that was included in a previous version of the measure.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey may have a lot of clout around the state Capitol. But by one measure, House Speaker Beth Harwell appears to have greater pull. For the second consecutive year, the representative from Nashville’s upscale Green Hills neighborhood managed to upset Ramsey, a farm boy from rural Sullivan County, in a milk-off Tuesday between the leaders of the state Senate and House of Representatives. The event highlighted Agriculture Day, an annual event in which the Department of Agriculture, Tennessee State Fair and other farm-oriented groups set up shop in the corridors of Legislative Plaza.
Physicians across Tennessee are jumping through a new hoop created to combat prescription drug abuse. WATE radio station in Knoxville reported the new requirement, effective Monday, emanates from the Tennessee Prescription Safety Act signed into law in May 2012; it forces physicians prescribing opioids or benzodiazepines for longer than a week to check patients’ prescription histories. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only Florida residents consumed more prescription painkillers per capita than Tennesseans in 2010.
Stephen Colbert’s gaze focused once more on Nashville Monday night, as the pundit offered analysis of Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent decision to hold off on expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Describing expansion as a government scheme that would allow 180,000 additional Tennesseans to become medical “freeloaders” on the government dime, Colbert applauded Haslam for “not falling for it.”
More than 575,000 Tennesseans may be eligible for premium tax credits to help cover health insurance bought on the state’s federally run exchange, according to a new report from Families USA, a national health consumer group. The study shows that in Davidson County, 55,560 people will be eligible for the tax credits. About 53 percent of those residents will be families with incomes between 200 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, or between $47,100 and $94,200 for a family of four in 2013.
After three years of negotiations, Metro and Comcast are nearing approval of a new franchise agreement that would let the cable giant run lines all over the city for the next 10 years. The agreement allows Comcast to increase its average fee to subscribers from 5 cents to 10 cents a month for running public access television channels. The Metro Council voted unanimously Tuesday to advance a deal on a second of three votes ahead of a May 5 expiration date on the parties’ existing contract.
Federal prosecutors say a disgraced judge should pay the price for the destruction they contend he caused to Knox County’s judicial system. In a pushback to a defense request — complete with stacks of letters of support — for probation for former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zachary Bolitho and David Lewen are asking Greeneville U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Greer to lock Baumgartner up for “at least two years,” if not more. That figure is higher than what federal sentencing guidelines, basically a mathematical formula, suggest.
If the Entrepreneur Development Center was looking for a shot in arm, it got one when Bob Corker, U.S. Senator from Tennessee, met with area business and civic leaders Tuesday. “The future is so much dependent on small and medium sized business start-ups,” Corker said. “Small ideas turn into big ideas.” Corker – who began his second term in January – said he was probably more optimistic than he has been since he was first elected in 2006. “The last two years of my first term was frustrating,” Corker said.
Marian Alicea, an engineering student who is slated to graduate from college this spring, needs a doctorate degree to achieve her lofty career goal of becoming a White House environmental adviser with scientific expertise. But the budget battle in Washington is complicating her plans for getting there. In normal times Alicea, who attends Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Ga., would likely be a shoo-in for a full research stipend. She is an honors student who has snagged several prestigious internships.
If a newly negotiated contract extension is ratified Friday as expected, hourly workers at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant will receive a 2.5 percent wage increase. The Atomic Trades and Labor Council, which represents about 1,200 workers at Y-12, reached a tentative agreement this week with B&W Y-12, the plant’s managing contractor, to extend the collective-bargaining agreement for a year. The current labor pact was scheduled to expire June 22, and that posed a concern because the government is getting ready to change managing contractors at Y-12.
Tourism tax revenue for Music City Center climbed 14.3 percent in January to $2.02 million, up from $1.77 million in the same month last year. Music City Center CEO Charles Starks shared the data in a meeting Tuesday of the Convention Center Authority. Year-to-date, the tourism tax revenue funding the center, set to open in May, has increased 5.7 percent to $16.24 million. The January tax collection was down compared to the $2.16 million collected in December.
Not far off a scruffy boulevard lined with dollar stores and payday loan shops in a neighborhood of run-down brick bungalows, Corning Achievement Elementary School here is a pristine refuge, with gleaming tile floors and signs in classrooms proclaiming “Whatever it takes.” In this Mississippi River town marked by pockets of entrenched poverty, some of the worst schools in the state are in the midst of a radical experiment in reinventing public education. Last fall, Tennessee began removing schools with the lowest student test scores and graduation rates from the oversight of local school boards and pooling them in a special state-run district.
The state’s aggressive push to lift student performance is mostly a welcome change for Southeast Tennessee educators. But a lack of accompanying resources and other unintended consequences from changing state law have created new challenges for school districts in the region. Superintendents and educators from across Southeast Tennessee met with state reformers Tuesday, noting the headway districts have made in rolling out new teacher evaluations, implementing new and tougher teaching standards and increasing focus on technology in the classroom.
As the new fiscal year approaches, Blount County Schools is staring at a $6.9 million gap between what the department considers a responsible education budget and what it expects to receive in revenue. Whether or how that chasm can be bridged or minimized will play out over the next couple of months, and it will depend on what burden — if any — the community is willing to bear in terms of taxation. Further, it follows a year in which the school system had to dig deeply into its reserve fund just to make ends meet, as is mandated by law.
All sides in the federal lawsuit over the schools merger will be getting together soon to talk about the Shelby County Commission’s plan to restructure the countywide school board. A trio of court filings before and after the Easter weekend set the stage for a decision to come by Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on the commission’s plan to appoint six new school board members to take office Sept. 1. That is when the school board is scheduled to go from its current 23 members to seven members.
There are few more contentious issues in public education than the increased reliance on standardized testing. In the context of a fiery debate, the Atlanta school cheating scandal, the largest in recent history, detonates like a bomb, fueling critics who say that standardized testing as a way to measure student achievement should be scaled back. Evidence of systemic cheating has emerged in as many as a dozen places across the country, and protests in Chicago, New York City, Seattle, across Texas and elsewhere represent a growing backlash among educators and parents against high-stakes testing.
Gov. Bill Haslam quietly scoots away from the nutty ideas of the Legislature’s far right. But he isn’t shy about the legislative agenda he has steadily put in place to favor high-end tax savings for the wealthy — like his own family’s multi-billion-dollar Pilot Oil dynasty — and for business interests generally. Nor is he bashful about cutting state benefits for state employees particularly and working Tennesseans generally. He already has accomplished his goal of ending state inheritance taxes for the wealthiest residents of our relatively low-income state.
How badly must the state of Tennessee want to carry out executions, that an effort is under way to make it so that obtaining drugs for lethal injection is carried out in secret? Take a look at Senate Bill 0154/House Bill 0148, sponsored by Sen. Mark Norris and Rep. Gerald McCormick, which is advancing in the legislature. The bill ostensibly is about ensuring that offenders who complete alternative incarceration programs fulfill terms and conditions set by the Department of Correction. An amendment by Rep. Ryan Haynes calls for information to be treated as confidential, including “a person or entity involved in the procurement or provision of chemicals, equipment, supplies or other items for use in carrying out a sentence of death.
You probably don’t give much thought to the wires attached to the utility pole outside of your home or business. Given current efforts by the Tennessee Legislature to increase radically rates that companies providing your Internet service provider must pay to government-owned and subsidized electric monopolies to attach to these poles, perhaps you should. The expense of obtaining and using electric poles and other rights-of-way to deploy high-speed Internet services can amount to 20 percent of the cost of deploying modern broadband networks.
It would be easy to blast the Republican-led Tennessee General Assembly for once again meddling in Memphis and Shelby County’s business, this time regarding a city and county laws that seek to pay workers a living wage. We’ll refrain from doing that, but we will question whether state lawmakers actually have the interests of the state’s lowest-paid wage earners, those who struggle hardest to put food on the family kitchen table and keep the lights on, at heart. A bill approved by the GOP-controlled House and Senate over the past two weeks bans cities and counties from requiring contractors and vendors and other local businesses to pay employees more than what is required by state or federal law.
For nearly a quarter-century, Americans have protested against nuclear weapons in a small area just outside the gate of the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. The arrangement is part of what makes our nation great — the government providing a forum for its citizens to voice their dissent of the government’s policies. It is the essence of the freedoms of speech and assembly guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Until now. The National Nuclear Security Administration ordered a temporary fence erected along the road in front of the nuclear weapons plant’s main entrance, blocking access to the free-speech area.