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December 10 TN News Digest

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

Gov. Haslam lays out conditions for Medicaid deal (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is putting his goals for a special Tennessee deal for Medicaid expansion into writing. The governor said in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday that unless a special agreement can be reached, “we do not see a path forward in the current environment that will allow us to extend coverage to the Medicaid Expansion population.” Haslam in March declined $1.4 billion in federal funds to cover about 140,000 uninsured Tennesseans under the terms the money was offered.

Gov. Haslam pushes feds to discuss TennCare expansion plan (Tennessean/Sisk)

Gov. Bill Haslam has written federal officials a letter laying out what he thinks is needed to expand Medicaid in the state, following almost nine months of talks but no concrete progress. Haslam announced Monday that his office would send a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius describing the status of his “Tennessee plan” to offer Medicaid to more of the poor in Tennessee. The update came as part of a lunchtime speech to the Nashville Rotary Club that otherwise focused on what he sees as the accomplishments of his first term.

Haslam requests federal government answer on TennCare plan (TFP/Sher)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam put a top Obama administration official on notice Monday that if he doesn’t get his way on a Medicaid expansion, an estimated 181,000 Tennesseans won’t get coverage under the federal health care law. The governor said in his letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that he must have federal approval of the special conditions he wants for his “Tennessee Plan,” unveiled with great fanfare to state lawmakers eight months ago.

Haslam sends Sebelius letter detailing Medicaid expansion proposal (CA/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam wrote to U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday outlining the conditions for Tennessee to participate in a major expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act that could extend health insurance to 180,000 more Tennesseans. The governor said he would not characterize the letter as a “final offer” before Medicaid expansion opens Jan. 1, but rather a “conceptual statement” of where matters stand in discussions between him and the Obama administration over whether Tennessee buys into the expansion. The Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” allows states to decide whether to expand Medicaid coverage to more working poor — those with incomes between 100 percent and 137 percent of poverty level.

Haslam writes feds letter on Medicaid expansion (Leaf Chronicle)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is putting his goals for a special Tennessee deal for Medicaid expansion into writing. The governor said speaking to the Nashville Rotary Club on Monday that the letter sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sums up efforts by his administration to negotiate a special arrangement for the state. Haslam in March declined $1.4 billion in federal funds to cover about 140,000 uninsured Tennesseans under the terms the money was offered. He has had several discussions with Sebelius about his proposal to use the federal money to subsidize private insurance.

Gov. puts Medicaid expansion issues with feds in writing for 1st time (WKRN-TV)

Nearly 10 months after announcing “A Third Way” or “Tennessee Plan” that would allow the state to accept Medicaid expansion money to provide health insurance for hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans, Governor Bill Haslam said he sent a letter Monday to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlining what he would like to do with what could amount to more than a billion dollars. He said the formal letter would say, “Here’s our understanding of the issues, here’s our understanding of where the discussions have been going back and forth.” Secretary Sebelius is in charge of the federal agency Medicare/Medicaid Services (CMS) which would ultimately need to approve the governor’s plan.

Dear Secretary Sebelius (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Gov. Haslam Pens Long-Awaited Letter On Medicaid Expansion After nearly a year of discussion, Tennessee’s governor is finally writing down what he wants a state’s Medicaid expansion to look like. Governor Bill Haslam says he’s sending a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday. Haslam wants to use billions in federal dollars to help the working poor in Tennessee buy private health insurance, but the Governor doesn’t want to spend any state money. Sebelius has said she hasn’t seen a specific plan. Haslam says he wanted to wait, since federal officials have been preoccupied with the troubled roll out of healthcare.gov.

Funding Board to hear revenue estimates (Associated Press)

The State Funding Board will meet on Tuesday to hear economists’ revenue estimates for the upcoming budget year. Following their predictions, the governor selects a number within the range in constructing the budget. Last month, finance officials reported that the state’s general fund revenues fell $97 million short of projections in the first quarter of the state’s budget year. Corporate franchise and excise tax collections came in at $352 million, or $87 million below the budgeted estimate, and a 14 percent drop from the same year-ago period.

DCS reports improvements in tech, response to child fatalities (TN/Wadhwani)

Nearly a year after lawmakers launched their own inquiry into the Department of Children’s Services, agency officials reported back measurable improvements in their response to child abuse and neglect reports, improved technology within the agency and more stringent scrutiny of child deaths. A half dozen DCS officials, including chief Jim Henry, testified before the General Assembly’s Senate Health and Welfare Committee at the request of Democratic lawmaker Sen. Lowe Finney of Jackson. The agency first fell under intense scrutiny more than a year ago over its inconsistent reporting of child deaths.

Should Tennessee Schools Be Graded With Data From An Optional Test? (WPLN)

Last year, Tullahoma City Schools gave its youngest students a standardized test that districts weren’t required to use. Now, the superintendent says that was a mistake he doesn’t want to make again. Dan Lawson says there’s value in finding out just how well every student is performing. The problem, he says, is that when Tennessee released its annual report on how schools and districts are doing, the optional test, called the SAT-10 (Stanford Achievement Test, 10th Edition), was factored into calculations that show how well students improve.

Lots More Guards In Tennessee Schools Since Sandy Hook (WPLN-Radio Nash)

Nearly half of Tennessee’s schools have full-time guards. The number has grown dramatically in the year since the heartbreaking massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. The Tennessee Department of Education estimates about 60 more school resource officers – almost a 10 percent increase – and that number might not include all of them. It doesn’t include every school district in the state, and some officers aren’t assigned to schools full-time. Justin Grogan, vice president of the Tennessee School Resource Officers Association, says it “seems like each week there’s more SROs.”

Anti-meth ordinances not common in Knox area (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

A state attorney general’s opinion that cities and counties can’t move pseudoephedrine to the prescription vault won’t affect most local governments in East Tennessee. “We’re for any law that’s going to help prevent the spread of any kind of narcotic,” Knox County Sheriff’s Office Lt. John Hopkins said. “But we mostly react to the laws they give us.” Officials in Anderson and Monroe counties, two areas that traditionally rank in the state’s top 10 for methamphetamine labs seized, said they’ve kept an eye on the movement but held off proposing such measures at home. Most hadn’t heard about the attorney general’s opinion Monday but said they weren’t surprised.

Hooker asks court to stop judge reviews (Tennessean/Sisk)

Nashville attorney John Jay Hooker asked a Nashville court to halt reviews of judges Monday, arguing that the panel breaks a state law requiring at least equal representation of women. Hooker and two other opponents of the review system, Walter Brumit and Anthony Gottlieb, say in a filing in Circuit Court in Davidson County that Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission violates a state law that says its composition shall “approximate the population of the state with respect to race and gender.” The nine-person commission has only two women, they note.

Region’s lawmakers introduce campaign that targets smurfing (Times-News)

Local lawmakers kicked off a so-called “anti-smurfing” campaign Monday to help put a stop to the criminal practice of purchasing cold and allergy medicines containing pseudoephedrine to manufacture methamphetamine. The campaign calls for pharmacies to voluntarily display point-of-purchase signs warning meth precursor buyers of the serious consequences of their actions. One sign, for instance, points out that “meth makes children orphans.” Still, none of the lawmakers at a news conference held outside the pharmacy at the Clinchfield Street Food City suggested the campaign will cure the meth problem.

Fundraising roadblocks run afoul of Tennessee traffic laws (TFP/Benton)

It’s not easy to run a volunteer fire department when your best source of income comes from fundraising roadblocks that now have drawn the attention of Tennessee state troopers. For years, volunteer fire departments, charitable organizations, church groups and sports teams all over the region, South and country have manned street corners and intersections calling for donations. But not without controversy. Media reports from recent years indicate that the issue arises frequently, especially in small communities. Recently in Sequatchie County, Tenn., Southend Volunteer Fire Department members were told by a state trooper to get out of the road because the fundraiser roadblock they were holding was “illegal.”

TN House Republicans back $40 billion in food stamp cuts (Tennessean/Barton)

While some groups say additional food stamp cuts would significantly worsen hunger problems, Republican House members from Tennessee argue that the program has enough waste to justify large-scale reductions. The future of food stamps — the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — remains the largest sticking point in House-Senate negotiations to finalize a new farm bill before the end of the year. In September, the House approved a farm bill that cuts almost $40 billion from food stamps over 10 years — about 5 percent a year. The Senate earlier approved a bill that would cut $4 billion over that time.

Alexander halts Senate vote on nominees (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Collins)

Knoxville lawyer Pamela Reeves’ nomination to become a federal judge for East Tennessee stalled unexpectedly Monday night after U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander blocked a vote on her appointment and dozens of others. Alexander, a Maryville Republican, stopped Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, from calling for a unanimous vote on a group of mostly noncontroversial nominees, including Reeves. The Senate often votes on noncontroversial nominees all at once as a way to move them quickly through the confirmation process. But if one senator objects, the nominees cannot be voted on en bloc.

DesJarlais fields questions from Hamilton County GOP (TFP/Brogdon)

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., says the 2014 elections could be a turning point for the county, and he hopes to be on the winning side. DesJarlais addressed the Hamilton County Pachyderm Club Monday during its weekly lunch. Taking questions from the crowd of just under 30 members, the South Pittsburg doctor denounced the Affordable Care Act, so-called Obamacare, and lamented expected changes to the latest version of the federal farm bill, which is currently in Senate committee. “It’s sad to think that we have to wait until 2014 or 2016 before anything can turn around, but that might be what we have to do,” he said.

Permanent Fix for Medicare Fees Seen (Wall Street Journal)

An annual push by doctors to delay cuts to Medicare patient fees is afoot, but this time the prognosis is better for a permanent solution to the long-festering problem. The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on “doc fix” legislation that would permanently change how Medicare providers are paid by the government for their services. Similar legislation was unanimously passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in July. Lawmakers and analysts say fatigue over dealing with the “doc fix” nearly every year for the past decade is driving the current bipartisan effort to resolve the issue.

Why Some State-Run Health Exchanges Worked (Stateline)

Two months after they launched, most of the online health insurance exchanges run by states have vastly outperformed their federal counterpart, healthcare.gov. Four of the states with their own exchanges – Connecticut, Kentucky, Rhode Island and Washington – have sites that have run especially smoothly, becoming models for states such as Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois and New Mexico that are planning to launch their own sites in 2014. Because of ongoing problems with the federal site, other states that are using it might also decide to build their own next year. Not every state-run exchange has performed well—Hawaii, Oregon, Maryland and Vermont all have had significant problems.

Wet summer means lower electricity bills, TVA says (Tennessean/Brown)

While heavy rain in the summer might have ruined lots of cookouts and picnics, for Tennessee electricity customers the clouds that brought the rain came with the proverbial silver lining. Hydroelectric dams have been in overdrive for much of the year, producing cheap energy that has brought down energy bills across the state. “It has been a wet year, and our river operations team took advantage of it,” John McCormick, Tennessee Valley Authority’s vice president for river operations, said in a news release. “As our cheapest energy source, all this hydro generation has helped lower our fuel cost to customers.”

Two Y-12 guards fired following incident; union seeks reinstatement (N-S/Munger)

Two Y-12 security police officers involved in a July 28 incident, in which a machine gun accidentally discharged inside an armored vehicle, were fired in mid-October, a union leader confirmed Monday. Shannon Gray, president of the International Guards Union of America, Local 3, said the union filed a grievance immediately afterward and is aggressively pursuing arbitration in the case. “They have terminated both individuals,” Gray said. “I can just plainly tell you that based on the facts that we’ve had laid before us — and we took part in several of the interviews — we don’t feel that the termination was warranted.”

BlueCross BlueShield of Tenn won’t extend small employer policies (TFP/Harrison)

While Tennessee’s biggest health insurer will give individual policy holders another year before they must come under the requirements of the new health reform law, small businesses facing cancellations will not be granted the same reprieve. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee announced Monday that it will not offer small group customers — 50 or fewer employees — the same extension option because BlueCross allowed early renewal this year to let businesses opt to keep their existing plans through most of 2014. BlueCross vice president Roy Vaughn said last week that the company “had many, many of our groups” take advantage of the early renewal this fall to stay ahead of the changes.

School board renews McIntyre’s contract (Knoxville News-Sentinel/McCoy)

Voices pro and con fill hearing before 8-1 vote After hearing from teachers, principals, parents and community leaders for nearly four hours, members of the Knox County school board voted to extend Superintendent Jim McIntyre’s contract another year. Monday’s 8-1 vote, with board member Mike McMillan as the lone dissenting vote, extends McIntyre’s contract through Dec. 31, 2017. While many teachers and parents asked the board not to extend the contract, others — mostly principals and community leaders — came to Monday’s meeting to voice their support of the superintendent. Lauren Hopson, a third-grade teacher at Halls Elementary whose comments went viral after she addressed the board in October, also asked board members to wait on their vote.

Germantown aldermen approve deal that excludes three namesake buildings (CA)

Shelby County Schools and Germantown reached an agreement Monday for the city to receive five of eight school buildings inside its borders and pay SCS $4.265 million over 12 years. Approved unanimously by the Germantown Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday night, the deal is the last of six agreements SCS forged with municipalities planning to open new school districts in time for the 2014-15 school year. The SCS board will consider the agreement in a special called meeting Tuesday evening. The Germantown Municipal School Board has not scheduled a vote, although board president Lisa Parker indicated it would be approved. “This is what they gave us and this is what we have to accept,” Parker said after the school board met with legal counsel in a closed-door session Monday afternoon. “We’re not happy.” The Shelby County Commission also must ratify the agreement. In an arrangement similar to those already approved with Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Lakeland and Millington, the city of Germantown will pay $355,453 annually for the next 12 years to help SCS cover costs related to retirement benefits.  (SUBSCRIPTION)

 

 

Germantown Accedes to SCS Plan for Schools (Memphis Flyer)

In the end, it was about as straightforward and uncomplicated as a cease-fire could be. In a manner that was almost pro forma, Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy and her Board of Aldermen ended three years of non-stop resistance to the specter of city-county school merger with a quick 4-0 vote for a deal that enables the suburb to proceed with its public-school independence. That the deal with Shelby County Schools was achieved only at the expense of allowing SCS to take control of three of Germantown’s flagship schools was dealt with by means of a stoic fatalism, sans debate and without any expression of the private anguish that the city officials may well have felt.

Germantown Schools Deal Approved by Aldermen (Memphis Daily News)

The Germantown Board of Aldermen approved the tentative agreement with Shelby County Schools Monday, Dec. 9, as described below. Again the terms call for Germantown Elementary, Middle and High Schools to remain in the Shelby County Schools system next school year. The agreement, like the five others already approved in the five other suburban towns and cities, would give students open enrollment options. In this case, students living in Germantown who now attend the three schools in question could opt to attend them or shift to schools in the Germantown Schools system to come.

Rutherford Schools examining cost of education (Daily News Journal)

The director of Rutherford County Schools said the state was forcing a shift in paying teachers down to the local level in a Monday discussion of a state-mandated differentiated pay plan for teachers. “I can tell you, if the state is not going to be sending us as much money, part of this is a shift of the cost of education from the state level to the local level,” said Don Odom, director of Rutherford County Schools. “I mean, it’s obvious when you stop and take a look at it.” The Tennessee Department of Education voted in June to require every district in the state to develop a differentiated pay plan that is not based solely on advanced degrees and step raises.

 

OPINION 

Editorial: New thinking about higher education is route to jobs (Jackson Sun)

Public attitude toward higher education is changing. Once thought to be limited to a select few who might pursue a broad course of general studies or perhaps entry into a profession, higher education today increasingly is called on to prepare people for today’s high-tech workplace. Gov. Bill Haslam clearly has embraced this concept as the key to building Tennessee’s workforce. Last week, Haslam announced a $625,007 grant to the Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Murfreesboro. And that is only part of his overall commitment of $16.5 million to similarly enhance technical and industrial coursework at other Tennessee institutions.

Guest columnist: Math is key to Tennessee’s ‘Drive to 55’ (Times Free-Press)

This fall, thousands of Tennessee students entered higher education for the first time. After graduating high school with the belief they are ready for the next step, they crossed the threshold into one of our state’s college campuses. However, for almost 70 percent of these students, their first classes as a freshman were not in Algebra or Biology, but instead, remedial mathematics. This presents several problems. First, remedial math courses contain competencies that should have been mastered in high school, requiring students to rehash instruction from the past. Second, because remedial courses do not count towards degree requirements, tuition spent on these courses is not invested in the student’s academic progress.

Editorial: Governor should push legislators to expand Medicaid (News-Sentinel)

Indecision in the governor’s office over Medicaid expansion and intransigence among Republican legislators about anything related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is costing Tennessee jobs and possibly more than $2 billion during the next few years. The state has until Jan. 1 to agree to an expansion or forego the first $300 million in increased Medicaid funding for next year. Gov. Bill Haslam and state legislators should move forward with Medicaid expansion, which is in the best interests of Tennessee’s hospitals and low-income residents. Among the provisions of the Affordable Care Act is an expansion of Medicaid to cover people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — $32,499 for a family of four.

Editorial: A Season for Sales Taxes (New York Times)

On Cyber Monday this month, a big day for online shopping, the Supreme Court quietly cleared the way for states to begin collecting some $13 billion in sales taxes that go uncollected each year on Internet purchases. That development creates an important opening for hard-pressed states to update their sales-tax codes broadly. For decades, online retailers have relied on a 1992 Supreme Court ruling to avoid sales-tax collection in states where they have no physical presence. That has given them an unfair advantage over brick-and-mortar retailers and has deprived states of billions of dollars of sales tax revenue.

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