December 6 TN News Digest

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

Haslam to Hold Public Safety Summit Monday (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will open the Governor’s Public Safety Summit on Monday, December 8, discussing the progress made by the Public Safety Subcabinet in implementing its action plan to make Tennessee safer. House Speaker Beth Harwell is also scheduled to make remarks to the stakeholders in attendance. The summit agenda includes sessions on violent crime, the state’s sentencing laws, homeland security concerns, and drug trafficking and addiction. Guest speakers will also address the public safety challenges facing Tennessee, including both gang and domestic violence, the high rate of prescription drug abuse, an increase in heroin and crystal meth use and trafficking, human trafficking, and the continuing need to reduce the number of repeat offenders. Anyone with a role in public safety is invited to the summit.

Parts maker building headquarter in Murfreesboro (Associated Press)

An auto parts maker is locating its new North American headquarters facility in Murfreesboro, bringing 250 jobs, including 100 new positions. State and local officials joined M-TEK representatives Friday in announcing the move, which represents an estimated investment of $13.4 million. M-TEK will consolidate all headquarters functions into the Murfreesboro facility. In addition to the 100 new jobs, an additional 100 jobs will be transferred from Manchester, Tennessee, and the remainder will come from locations in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and Dublin, Ohio. The company plans to build a 63,800-square-foot building by August 2016.

Auto company picks Murfreesboro for HQ, 250 jobs (Tennessean/Willard)

Automotive manufacturer M-TEK will build its North American headquarters in Murfreesboro and create 250 white-collar jobs, Murfreesboro, county and state officials announced at a press conference Friday afternoon. “It’s an exciting day for the city of Murfreesboro,” Mayor Shane McFarland said. “We welcome M-TEK to our community and look forward to a successful, long-lasting partnership.” The Japanese company plans to invest $13.4 million as it builds its headquarters in the Gateway district in Murfreesboro. The Murfreesboro City Council approved donation of 10 acres of land for the project. “We are happy to have this opportunity to announce this milestone event in M-TEK’s history,” Masaki Sugisawa, company president and CEO, said at a press conference Friday.

Murfreesboro lands auto parts headquarters, 250 jobs (Nashville Post)

Officials with M-TEK, a subsidiary of Japan-based automotive parts manufacturer Kasai Kogyo Co., today announced the company will build a new North American headquarters facility in Murfreesboro, creating about 100 new jobs and representing an estimated $13.4 million investment and 250 jobs total in the Rutherford County city. The effort includes a consolidation, as 100 jobs will be transferred from M-TEK’s Manchester, Tennessee, manufacturing location, while about 50 jobs will be fill be filled by employees who transfer from the company’s Farmington Hills, Michigan, and Dublin, Ohio, locations. M-TEK is expecting construction of the 63,800-square-foot, two-level building, to be located on 10 acres on the northwest side of Gateway Boulevard and Garrison Drive, to be completed in August 2016.

3M to open plant in Clinton, create 100 jobs (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)

The 3M Company is buying the former Food Lion distribution center in Eagle Bend Industrial Park where it will invest $135 million and create 100 new jobs at a new manufacturing facility, state officials announced Friday. Records filed Friday in the Anderson County Register of Deeds office show that 3M paid $14,435,000 for the 772,000-square-building and 160 acres. “This company may have the greatest growth potential of any of our companies, and they will be paying above average wages,” said Tim Thompson, president of Anderson County Economic Development Association. Renovations are slated to begin this month, and 3M plans to be in operating by fourth quarter 2015, producing a variety of products for the oil and gas and automotive industries, according to the state announcement.

Haslam says decision on Medicaid expansion close (Associated Press/Johnson)

Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday that he’s talked with nine Republican governors who have expanded Medicaid for low-income people in their states, and he plans to announce what he will do by the end of the month. Haslam has been heavily criticized for refusing last year to agree to $1.4 billion in federal funds to cover about 180,000 uninsured Tennesseans under the terms the money was offered. The Republican governor wrapped up budget hearings Friday, and among the last was TennCare, Tennessee’s version of Medicaid. After the TennCare hearing, Haslam told reporters that he talked with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell this week and that he plans to make a decision by Christmas. Haslam has said he’s trying to get federal officials to approve an alternative plan, one that is acceptable both to Washington and to largely skeptical Tennessee lawmakers, who must approve any deal under a law passed earlier this year.

Haslam Will Decide On Medicaid Expansion Before Christmas, He Says (WPLN)

Governor Bill Haslam has been in conversations with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell as recently as this week, going back and forth about a modified expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee. He said Friday morning he plans to either propose a plan or pull the plug in the coming weeks. Under the Affordable Care Act, Tennessee has the option to use federal money to cover an estimated 160,000 more people, something the Republican-led legislature has largely opposed. Haslam has described the effort for a modified expansion as “threading the needle” between something acceptable to both the General Assembly and the White House. “Our clock is ticking toward a conclusion point,” Haslam said. “We’re going to decide on this one way or another before Christmas.”

Haslam says he’ll decide on Medicaid expansion by Christmas (N. Biz Journal)

Gov. Bill Haslam expects to decide what Medicaid expansion could look like in Tennessee by the end of the year. After a TennCare budget hearing Friday, Haslam told reporters that he’s been in talks with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell and should have a decision on expanding Medicaid coverage by Christmas, The Associated Press reports. Since the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that Medicaid expansion, as called for by the Affordable Care Act, would be optional for states, Haslam has said he’s interested in expanding the program but in a unique format for Tennessee. Under the government’s model, Tennessee would have received $1.4 billion in federal funds to help cover 180,000 uninsured people, according to the AP.

$400 million in cuts proposed for TennCare (Tennessean/Wilemon)

Gov. Bill Haslam received a TennCare budget Friday that cuts spending by $165 million — reductions that would actually reach $400 million with the loss of federal matching dollars. The proposed budget eliminates grants to safety net hospitals, ends funding for programs for babies born with health problems, halts coverage of hospice services and limits in-home assistance for the elderly to those poor enough to qualify for Supplemental Security Income. Doctors and other health providers would get hit with a 4 percent reimbursement reduction. Other cuts include funding for medicines and mental health services. “That’s an example of total short-sightedness, just cutting with a knife and not worrying about the patients,” said Walter Davis, executive director of the Tennessee Health Care Campaign.

TennCare fights possible budget cuts (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)

If TennCare were forced to cut 7 percent of its budget during the next fiscal year, it would slash payments to doctors, hospitals and other providers by 4 percent and increase the assessment that hospitals and nursing homes pay from the current 5.5 percent of their net patient revenue to 6 percent, TennCare officials said Friday. TennCare is Tennessee’s Medicaid program. Its director, Darin Gordon, presented the list of budget adjustments during budget hearings presided over by Gov. Bill Haslam and his finance officials. All executive branch departments were asked to prepare contingency plans for cuts of up to 7 percent, but Haslam cautioned after the TennCare presentation that cuts of that magnitude may not necessarily occur. TennCare pays physicians, hospitals and other providers and sets rates for services. If the cuts have to be implemented, the 4 percent reduction would start with the budget year that begins next July 1.

Higher ed.: Institutions need more state funding (Associated Press)

Tennessee higher education officials say they’ll be forced to continue raising tuition if the state doesn’t provide adequate funding to help with costs at their institutions. Tennessee Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan and University of Tennessee System President Joe DiPietro addressed Gov. Bill Haslam at a higher education budget hearing on Friday. The hearing was the last of several the Republican governor has held over the last couple of weeks. Both officials noted that there hasn’t been a substantive increase in state funding in about 30 years. They’ve formed review committees to examine the financial picture of their systems going forward. DiPietro says something needs to be done because it’s unfair to keep putting the cost burden on students and their families. Haslam said the systems have a valid argument and that he and the Legislature will examine reports from their reviews.

UT President says business model is ‘broken’ (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)

University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro told Gov. Bill Haslam and state finance officials Friday that the university’s business model — declining state appropriations, increasing costs and spiraling tuition — is “broken” and is jeopardizing the school’s mission. “We will not be able to achieve the state’s priorities or fulfill our mission by continuing to raise tuition and put the burden on students and their families,” DiPietro said during higher education budget hearings before the governor and his finance team. The president of the statewide UT system said the system has begun a multiyear process of reviewing its operations and business model to come up with recommendations for change.

Haslam Encourages More Input from Higher Ed on K-12 Standards (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam told an audience in Washington, D.C. gathered this week for a White House-sponsored discussion on innovations in higher learning that professionals in the post-secondary education world need more input in developing K-12 learning standards. Haslam said higher ed’s expertise in the area of student academic preparedness is sorely needed to help simmer down rancorous disputation over Common Core, the nationally focused educations standards program that’s been the subject of a bipartisan backlash in Tennessee and across the country. The governor described the Common Core battle as “a huge argument going back and forth.”

State proposes closing Charles Bass prison in Nashville (Tennessean/Meyer)

The Tennessee Department of Correction says closing the Charles Bass Correctional Complex would save the state more than $16.4 million. Commissioner Derrick Schofield proposed shuttering the Nashville-based prison during his Friday budget presentation to the governor. “We planned and talked about this internally for the last couple of years in terms of how do we manage beds, how do we get those annexed beds filled because when you have open beds it’s like throwing money out of the window,” Schofield said. The department says shutting down the facility is part of its long-term vision and would help the department effectively manage the inmate population, fill staff vacancies elsewhere and fund a 5 percent pay increase for certain security staff.

Tennessee says prison closing not tied to CCA (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Tennessee prison officials say their plan to close a state prison in Nashville isn’t tied to a complex deal in which 2,550 state inmates will be housed at a Corrections Corporation of America-owned facility. Still, Corrections Commissioner Derrick Schofield acknowledged some of the estimated 660 minimum-security inmates at the state-owned and run Charles B. Bass Correctional Complex could eventually wind up at the new prison in Trousdale County. “At some point they may transfer to Trousdale,” Schofield said, but quickly noted “that’s not our intent” behind closing the Bass complex. The state in July signed a contract with Trousdale County, which in turn has contracted with CCA as it builds a new prison there. The Nashville-based, investor-owned company is constructing a $140 million medium-security prison in the county and will own and operate it.

Corrections Officials Propose Closing Nashville Prison To Save Money (WPLN)

Tennessee prison officials are proposing to close a Nashville facility as a cost-saving measure. Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield told the governor on Friday during a budget hearing that the system has plenty of empty beds at other prisons, and that closing the Charles B. Bass Correctional Complex, located at 7177 Cockrill Bend Blvd., will save $15 million a year. “It gives us an opportunity to really be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” Schofield told Gov. Haslam. “At Charles B. Bass, we have a little more than 600 offenders. They are our lower-custody offenders. And they’re actually more expensive than most of prisons.” Because of the facility’s layout, it takes more guards to watch the prisoners, compared to some of the state’s other facilities. The daily price tag: $92 per inmate. Guards and other staff would also be re-assigned to other prisons.

Report: Tennessee spends too little on early intervention for children (N-S/Nelson)

Tennessee trails most other states in several areas of child well-being — and intervention early in children’s lives is the best way to bring those numbers up. That’s the conclusion of this year’s “Kids Count: The State of the Child in Tennessee” report, released earlier this week by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth. The report focused on ways the state could help remove factors that are more likely to endanger children: abuse, neglect, low birthweight, poverty, regular health care and lack of early childhood education among them. But funding for programs that attack those issues is in danger as well, said Linda O’Neal, executive director of the commission. O’Neal called it “penny-wise and pound-foolish when we make cuts to these programs.”

Report: Tenn. schools need to expand pre-K, accept expansion of Medicaid (T-N)

Tennessee needs to expand its pre-kindergarten offerings and accept expansion of the federal Medicaid program, according to the 2013 Kids Count report released Friday morning. The latest edition of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth’s Kids Count: The State of the Child in Tennessee focuses on what a news release called the importance of making sure children arrive at school with the cognitive, social and emotional skills they need to learn. “At the beginning of the school year, children wait for the school bus or in the drop-off lane for their first experience of school,” said a news release embargoed for Friday morning. “Many of them arrive with the skills they need to learn. Many, however, arrive with gaps in the foundation for learning that must be filled so they can make the most of their experience.”

Tennessee Supreme Court upholds child victim video law (Tennessean/Barchenger)

The question before the Tennessee Supreme Court was this: Should a video interview with a child victim of sexual abuse be allowed as evidence in the case against the alleged perpetrator? State law says yes, as long as certain conditions are met. The Supreme Court affirmed that this week after the law was challenged in a Clarksville child rape case. Nashville prosecutors applauded the decision, which has impact statewide. They say using videos of forensic interviews can minimize traumatic impact of trial on young victims and strengthen their cases. Forensic interviews are conducted by people with specialized training who often work at child advocacy centers. Last year, Davidson County handled 72 child sexual abuse cases that went to trial, resulted in pleas or were resolved outside the courtroom.

Tracy to Speak at Madison County Republican Party Meeting (Jackson Sun)

The Madison County Republican Party will welcome State Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) as its guest speaker on Monday at 11:30 a.m. at Coyote Blues, 4 Stonebridge Blvd. State Sen. Jim Tracy was elected to represent the 16th district in 2004, which includes Bedford County, Moore County and part of Rutherford County. State Sen. Tracy chairs the Senate Transportation & Safety Committee and is an Assistant Republican Floor Leader. While State Sen. Tracy currently calls Shelbyville home, Jackson is his birthplace. All meetings of the Madison County Republican Party are open to the public and guests are encouraged to attend. Lunch is Dutch treat.

Supreme Court to Hear Free-Speech Case on Specialty License Plates (WSJ)

The Supreme Court on Friday said it will decide whether states can deny permission for specialty license plates because a proposed logo or message may be offensive to the public. The court said in a brief written order that it would hear an appeal by Texas, which in 2011 rejected a proposal by the Sons of Confederate Veterans for the creation of a plate with a square logo of the confederate battle flag. In rejecting the proposed plate, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles Board said many members of the public reasonably associated the confederate flag with expressions of hatred or bias against minorities. The Sons of Confederate Veterans sued, arguing the state’s stance violated the group’s First Amendment free-speech rights because the state issued specialty license plates designed by other organizations.

Colleges Clamp Down on Bloated Student Schedules (Wall Street Journal)

Colleges are trying to make sure students understand a basic math lesson: 120 credits equals a bachelor’s degree. As student-loan debt hovers near all-time highs and operational costs for colleges continue to rise, administrators are pushing to get students through their undergraduate educations more efficiently, particularly at public institutions. Full-time students complete four-year degrees with an average of 134 credit hours, according to Complete College America, a nonprofit focused on boosting college-graduation rates. That is well over the minimum of 120 hours—or about 15 credits per semester—required by most undergraduate degree programs. That, in turn, means many students don’t graduate after the typical four years, which can weigh on a school’s reputation and a student’s wallet.

 

 

 

 

 

OPINION

Guest columnists: Gov. Haslam looks like a presidential contender (Tennessean)

With the 2014 midterm elections in the rearview mirror, journalists and pundits have turned their attention to the 2016 presidential election. Will Hillary Clinton run? What about Jeb Bush? Can Chris Christie redeem himself? Can Rand Paul win over moderate voters? The questions are endless, especially on the Republican side, where there is no clear frontrunner. Here in Tennessee, there has been some speculation about our own Sen. Bob Corker, and for good reason. He has staked out some important positions in key debates in Washington and is poised to become chair of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee in January. Another Tennessean, Gov. Bill Haslam, may well become an increasingly visible part of these presidential sweepstakes. The November 2014 Vanderbilt Poll suggests why this may be the case. According to our data, Gov. Haslam stands at 70 percent approval among registered voters in the state. This is a very high number.