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July 10 TN News Digest

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

‘I love doing this job!’: Gov. Haslam: ‘But there’s still work to do’ (C. Daily Banner)
Gov. Bill Haslam paid an early morning visit to Bradley County Tuesday as he works toward winning a second term as Tennessee’s top official. The local GOP faithful filled the Mountain View Inn to meet and greet Haslam and share some time with pictures and handshakes. In a conversation with the Cleveland Daily Banner, Haslam said there have been pleasant surprises about being the governor of the state. “I think in a very good way the biggest surprise has been how much difference you can make – whether it be on education initiatives, job improvement, trying to get the budget structured right – you really do have the ability to make a big difference.”

Governor tackles prescription drug abuse (Lebanon Democrat)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam joined Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner E. Douglas Varney and others recently announced “Prescription for Success,” the state’s plan to prevent and treat prescription drug abuse in Tennessee. Prescription drug abuse is a pervasive, multi-dimensional issue impacting Tennessee individuals, families, and communities. Of the 4,850,000 adults in Tennessee, it is estimated that nearly 5 percent (about 221,000) have used pain relievers, also known as prescription opioids, in the past year for non-medical purposes. Of those, it is estimated that 69,100 are addicted to prescription opioids and require treatment for prescription opioid abuse.

Haslam Optimistic New HHS Head Will Work With TN on Medicaid Expansion (TNR)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said he expects discussions about Medicaid expansion in the Volunteer State will come up this week at the National Governors Association meeting in Nashville. Sylvia Burwell, the new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary, is expected to attend the NGA meeting, Haslam told reporters following a grant announcement in Dunlap Tuesday. She was appointed to the post June 9. Despite the fact that it’s been about a year and a half since Haslam said he wanted to develop a special “Tennessee Plan” for accessing Affordable Care Act money to expand government-financed health insurance for the state’s lower income residents, there’s been little visible movement toward a compromise.

TennCare disagrees with federal criticism (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Several states received letters from a federal Medicaid official about failures to meet requirements of the Affordable Care Act, but Tennessee received the most criticism. While Missouri, Kansas, Michigan, California and Alaska had problems with just one item on a seven-point punch list, Tennessee failed to comply with six. Continued failures could put the state’s federal funding for its Medicaid program at risk. Gov. Bill Haslam said he wasn’t worried about losing any of the funding. “I have great faith in Darin (Gordon, TennCare director) and his team at TennCare to get that right.  I think we actually have one of the best Medicaid teams in the country,” Haslam said.

Feds deliver ‘severe rebuke’ over TennCare, demand fixes (TFP/Harrison)
There’s the meth-addicted baby born in Bristol, Tenn., who was approved for TennCare in January, but didn’t get coverage until June. There is the Knoxville mom who for seven months has dialed number after number trying to figure out the proper TennCare program to cover her adopted son who is blind, deaf and cannot walk. She keeps getting sent to HealthCare.gov, where she doesn’t get clear answers. And she never gets called back. The 65-year-old Knoxville woman who was told that she qualifies for a TennCare-based Medicare savings program – but continues to have her Social Security docked for the premiums that program was supposed to cover. No matter how many phone calls she makes, the problem doesn’t get fixed.

Tennessee takes steps to improve unemployment system (WKRN-TV Nashville)
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development has rolled out more improvements to the state’s unemployment system. For months, News 2 has been reporting on the long wait for unemployment benefits. Frustrated job seekers have been contacting the station describing problems getting through to the claims center. State officials have said the problem is too many calls coming in and not enough people to answer all of them. “We’d love to throw 100 more people at the unemployment system but we just don’t have the money to do that,” said department spokesperson Jeff Hentschel.

TDOT chief warns of looming funding crisis (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Leach)
Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer spoke about the “impending funding crisis” in transportation in Bradley County on Wednesday. As of Aug. 1, the Federal Highway Trust Fund will be insolvent unless Congress takes measures to replenish it, he said, The loss of federal funding could cut TDOT’s $1.8 billion budget in half. “It’s kind of scary,” Schroer told city and county leaders and planning officials. If insolvency occurs, it will mean that TDOT will get only 70 percent — instead of 100 percent — reimbursement for bills submitted in association with federally aided projects, Schroer said.

TDOT to hold meeting on new Canada Road I-40 interchange (CA/Garlington)
Officials with the Tennessee Department of Transportation will meet Thursday night with residents interested in talking about plans for Lakeland’s Canada Road interchange at Interstate 40. The meeting is from 6 to 7 p.m. at Stonebridge Golf Club, 3049 Davies Plantation Road in Lakeland. Plans for Canada Road have been talked about since the early 2000s. Lakeland officials say TDOT is expected to start working on the project Monday. The interchange will be a figure-eight shape with the traffic lights in the center of the bridge leading into Lakeland instead of the current diamond shape design.

Complaint against 3 justices dismissed, another filed against chief (NS/Humphrey)
The state Board of Judicial Conduct has dismissed complaints charging three state Supreme Court justices with violating ethical rules, according to the conservative activist blogger who filed the complaints. George Scoville of Nashville posted a copy Wednesday on a blog of the letter dismissing the complaints. At the same time, the former staffer at the Cato Institute in Washington wrote that he has filed a new complaint against Chief Justice Gary Wade. Scoville filed complaints against Wade, Justice Cornelia Clark and Justice Sharon Lee last month contending they violated a provision of the Code of Judicial Conduct that prohibits judges from endorsing candidates for elective office.

New Tenn. law allows action when child spotted in hot car (Times-News)
It seems almost unimaginable. A parent in such a rush they forget their child in the car on a blazing summer day, where the child later dies. It happened in Georgia recently in a high profile case. It happened in Tennessee, nine times over the past eight years a child has died in a hot vehicle. Every summer, it seems, stories abound involving children or pets being left in hot cars. “The inside of a vehicle can heat up and become deadly to a child within a very short time period, even with the windows cracked,” said Leslie Earhart, Public Information officer for the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office.

New law deals with jail time for repeat drunken drivers (WSMV-TV Nashville)
There’s a daring new law that gambles with dangerous drunken drivers. State prosecutors have agreed to reduce jail time for repeat offenders in exchange for serious rehab programs. Michael Dixon was arrested for DUI, smashing into a car and taking a swing at a policemen. Dixon has been convicted of six DUIs and is part of a special group that prosecutors call “hardcore drunk drivers,” who are the focus of the law. “What we’ve been looking at, and I’ve been studying this for 20 years, jail doesn’t change these people. They will drink and drive to the bar from jail,” said Tom Kimball with the District Attorney’s Office.

Petition drive to bring wine to Jackson groceries (Jackson Sun)
It will require 1,682 signatures from registered Jackson voters to get a referendum on wine sales in food stores on the local ballot in November’s election. Kroger is helping make sure Jackson gets to that goal. Three of the Jackson Kroger stores will be hosting petition drives in the next two weeks, starting today. Similar drives have been held in Krogers across the state. “We think it’s important to do this because many of our customers over the years have requested wine in the stores,” said Joe Bell, manager of marketing and public affairs for Kroger Delta Division.

Group kicks off campaign to kill Amendment 2 in November (Tennessean/Harper)
A group of citizens and lawmakers opposing the appointment of the state’s high-court judges kicked off its campaign to vote down Amendment 2. The November ballot amendment would more explicitly insert the way Tennessee currently chooses judges into the state constitution and add a layer of legislative approval. Under the existing system, the governor appoints appellate and Supreme Court justices and the state’s voters approve or reject them in retention elections at the end of their terms. The group that wants to vote down the amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot and move toward electing judges rallied against the existing system Tuesday at War Memorial Plaza. They say it violates a constitutional requirement to elect high-court judges.

City Could Consider Blue Flu a Strike (Memphis Daily News)
At some point, if enough Memphis Police officers call in sick, the job action underway since the end of June could be considered a strike by the city of Memphis. And that would signal a new phase in what is the most significant job action by Memphis Police since the 1978 police and fire strikes. Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. used the work “strike” without prompting Tuesday, July 8, as he warned that his administration will “approach it accordingly” when it comes to the more than 550 Memphis Police officers who have called in sick in the last week. “If it’s not legal under the ordinances, under state law, I’m not going to be able to split any hairs about whether this is a strike or whether it’s this or that,” Wharton said.

City Official: No Blue Flu Threshold for National Guard (Memphis Daily News)
The state of Tennessee has offered to direct Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers to Memphis to help fill manpower gaps as a result of the hundreds of Memphis Police officers who’ve called in sick over the last week. That sick-out, which comes in the wake of cuts to health care benefits for current city employees and retirees, also has led the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office to contribute manpower to maintain public safety levels in the city as the number of Memphis cops calling in sick has grown. Meanwhile, the number of officers involved has led to rumors, particularly online, that if the mass sick-out reaches a certain threshold the National Guard will automatically get involved – or be in some way required to do so.

Sen. Corker Calls His Party’s Highway Fund Fix ‘Political Cowardice’ (WPLN-Radio)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) is not happy with some of his Republican colleagues in Congress. The House Ways and Means Committee unveiled a plan Tuesday to provide federal funding for highways, but Corker says that it’s a terrible fix to a longterm problem. Right now, an 18.4-cent gas tax pays for $50 billion of transportation projects each year, like highways, bridges and mass transit. But lawmakers warn that the Highway Trust Fund is set to run out of money Aug. 1, and federal money would officially stop funding it Sept. 30. Republican leaders in the House came up with an unusual way to finance the trust fund with $10 billion, which would keep it solvent until next May.

Comedian Bill Maher to take aim at Scott DesJarlais (Tennessean/Paulson)
These days, comedian Bill Maher isn’t just looking to take down politicians he disagrees with – he aims to take them out of office. On his popular HBO talk show “Real Time With Bill Maher” (which followed his former network series “Politically Incorrect”), Maher has announced the “Flip a District” campaign, wherein one unlucky member of Congress will be placed under heavy scrutiny by the show in the hopes of making him or her lose in the 2014 election. Tennessee U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is among the finalists. While he embarks on this bold new experiment, Maher also is sticking to what’s worked for him for decades: stand-up comedy.

How Obamacare impacted Tennessee’s uninsured rate (Nashville Biz Journal)
Tennessee’s uninsured rate fell from 15.7 percent pre-Obamacare to 12.46 percent post-Obamacare, according to a new study from WalletHub. The drop gives Tennessee the 18th-lowest uninsured rate in the country. After implementation of the law, Massachusetts has by far with lowest uninsured rate, at 1.2 percent. Of the 43 states included in the study, Texas had the highest uninsured rate post-reform, at 24.81 percent. The WalletHub analysis used data from a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study that determined the national percentage of exchange enrollees who were previously uninsured; according to that study, 57 percent of enrollees were previously uninsured.

New President Of Teachers’ Union On TVAAS: It’s ‘The Mark Of The Devil’ (WPLN)
The new president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, says part of her strategy will be attacking an assessment that has deep roots in Tennessee. In an interview with Politico, Lily Eskelsen Garcia says that value-added teacher evaluations that rate teachers on students’ standardized test results “are the mark of the devil.” Garcia, a sixth-grade Utah teacher, critiques the algorithm from an angle often used by critics: alleging that it doesn’t account for things like poverty, and thus, it gives an incomplete picture of what impact a teacher is having on a classroom.

Drug Task Force dismantles meth lab, arrests one (Leaf Chronicle)
Agents with the 19th Judicial District Drug Task Force last night dismantled a methamphetamine lab at a local apartment and arrested one woman. Samantha Smith, 29, who gave a 245 Executive Drive Apt. 2A address, was booked into Montgomery County Jail on charges of initiating the process of manufacturing methamphetamine. “Clarksville Police Department responded to a call at the complex where children were complaining of a chemical smell and a burning sensation in their eyes,” said Sgt. Kyle Darnell, Director of the 19th JDDTF. “They called us for assistance and we searched the apartment.”

UAW Expected To Announce Agreement With Volkswagen (WTVF-TV Nashville)
The United Auto Workers is expected to announce Thursday the creation of a local chapter to represent workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga and that the automaker has agreed to formally recognize the union, NewsChannel 5 has learned. That news would mark a major new development in a political tug-of-war with Tennessee Republicans who fought for much of the past year to stop the UAW. Union supporters at the plant were told Wednesday night to expect a major announcement Thursday afternoon in Chattanooga. A UAW spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Alaska: Taps Rainy-Day Cash for Pension Gap: Muni Credit (Bloomberg)
Alaska, like local governments across the U.S., is grappling with the pension costs of its retired workers. Unlike other states, Alaska opened its purse and paid a quarter of the bill in cash. Moving to preserve the state’s top credit ratings, Republican Governor Sean Parnell signed legislation last month that takes the unprecedented step of tapping Alaska’s budget-reserve account to pay unfunded pension liabilities. It will pull $3 billion from the pool to reduce a $12 billion gap. Home to the nation’s third-largest onshore oil reserve, Alaska gets 90 percent of its operating budget from crude-production taxes and royalties.

Pennsylvania: Pa. budget, related bills remain in Harrisburg limbo (P. Inquirer)
The Pennsylvania budget deadline has come and gone, with critical pieces of legislation still in limbo – including the fiscal blueprint itself and the much-anticipated Philadelphia cigarette tax – and tension rising again in the Capitol. A week after its passage by the legislature, Gov. Corbett has yet to sign the $29.1 billion general appropriations bill for 2014-15. Nor has the General Assembly finalized a key budget-related bill – the fiscal code – that directs spending for schools and hundreds of other items. Corbett has until Friday to sign or veto all or part of the budget. Without his signature, it takes effect immediately.

 

OPINION

Editorial: It’s tragic to refuse Medicaid funds for Tennessee (Tennessean)
Gov. Haslam, it’s time to stop waltzing around the matter of Medicaid expansion in Tennessee. With each passing month, it is becoming more evident that it is a mistake to refuse federal funding for health plan costs for 161,650 Tennesseans whose household income istoo low to qualify for a government subsidy to buy health insurance but who are not in the current TennCare plan. The expansion would cover 100 percent of costs through 2016, and 90 percent through 2020. The governor and legislative leaders worry about the 10 percent, but they should worry a little more about the tens of thousands of Tennesseans who are shut out of health coverage and have serious medical conditions.

Frank Cagle: Who Votes? Siler Versus Campfield Could be a Race (Metro Pulse)
A perceptive reader chastises me for arguing that a challenger might win in a low-turnout election-he points out that low-turnout elections historically favor incumbents. That is a correct assessment in most cases. Low turnout often means satisfaction with the status quo, no big issue to motivate voters to go to the polls. You only have to look at Knoxville City Council elections for an example. Without a presidential election on the ballot or an electorate upset about a tax increase-or a new wheel tax-it is often hard to motivate voters to go to the polls. It helps if there are a lot of competitive races on the ballot.

Joe Sullivan: Do Your Duty: Vote to Stamp Out Campfield (Metro Pulse)
Stacey Campfield is probably the worst excuse for a state senator that Knox County has ever seen. Scarcely a month goes by that Campfield doesn’t perpetrate some new verbal atrocity that makes him a disgrace to the community he purports to serve. In May, he displayed egregious insensitivity to Holocaust survivors while taking a gratuitous shot at the Affordable Care Act by saying, “Democrats bragging about the number of sign-ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of mandatory sign-ups for ‘train rides’ for Jews in the ’40s.”

Guest columnist: Bonus on teacher evaluation is sensible (Commercial Appeal)
“I have an interview tomorrow and need to figure out how much I should ask for,” a friend tells me over coffee. “I’m really bad at asking for money,” I reply. “I don’t envy you that at all.” Salaries and bonuses are hot topics in any industry, but especially in education where our salaries come from taxpayers and affect their children. Better designed pay means better teachers, and better teachers mean a better education for students. That’s something that everyone can get behind. Which is why I applaud Shelby County Schools Supt. Dorsey Hopson for giving out bonuses this school year based on evaluation scores.

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