December 17 TN News Digest

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

Editorial: Insure Tennessee deserves support from Legislature (News-Sentinel)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam finally delivered a proposal to expand Medicaid in the state, offering hope that about 200,000 low-income Tennesseans will be able to obtain health insurance coverage. Haslam announced his Insure Tennessee plan on Monday. The culmination of negotiations over the past year and a half, the plan offers two paths to insurance coverage for adults making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In developing Insure Tennessee, Haslam had to navigate between Tennessee’s Republican legislative majority and the Obama administration’s insistence on following the basic requirements of the Medicaid program.

Free-Press Editorial: Insure Tennessee could be far-reaching (Times Free-Press)

After two years, we’ll know if Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee pilot plan is truly a new way forward in health care coverage or simply another pass-through program of federal funds that results in little or no reform toward the same end. What’s clear is the Tennessee governor has tried to create a system to cover state residents who don’t have access to health insurance or have limited options and do it in a way that does not increase taxes, does not increase the state budget, uses market-based options and calls on the personal responsibility of those who sign up to make better choices. The idea, Haslam said in a meeting with Times Free Press editors and writers, is to cover “the most vulnerable” because “it’s morally the right thing to do.” Fiscally, he said, it’s also the right thing to do if the program is set up right.

Times Editorial: In Tennessee, let’s call ACA ‘Finallycare’ (Times Free-Press)

There is good news and Christmas cheer for Tennesseans. Gov. Bill Haslam and his administration have negotiated a Tennessee version of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act that will help Tennessee’s working poor and uninsured people while also using Tennessee-paid federal taxes to pay for that care — meaning that it will not cost the state any additional money, the governor said here Tuesday. Now he just has to sell it to the Tennessee General Assembly. The obvious question is why didn’t he and Tennessee do this two years ago, as most states did, and cash in last year on the ACA’s guarantee of paying fully for the expansion for the first three years and 90 percent of the expansion’s cost for the future. The obvious answer can be summed up in two words. Republican politics.

Tennessee Gov. Haslam has one eye on Medicaid’s future (Times Free-Press/Belz)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has joined “a steady drumbeat” of Republican governors who have recently proposed to expand their Medicaid programs after initially refusing to implement that part of the Affordable Care Act. But Haslam’s proposal, dubbed Insure Tennessee, is still “a significant development” in the roll-out of health reform, said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, who is an expert in Medicaid waivers like the one Haslam has introduced. “It speaks to the fact that accepting the federal dollars and closing the coverage gap makes sense for every state,” Alker said.

Statewide coalition forms to support Medicaid plan (Associated Press)

More than 80 business, health care and civic groups have formed the Coalition for a Healthy Tennessee to support Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to offer health coverage to more than 200,000 low-income Tennesseans. Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” plan would draw down federal money under President Barack Obama’s health care law. It faces stiff opposition among some fellow Republicans in the Legislature, though some previous skeptics have said they are encouraged by the governor’s deal with the federal government. The coalition includes groups like the AARP, the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship, the March of Dimes and several hospitals, insurers and chambers of commerce.

Statewide group launches to support Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan (NBJ)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to expand Medicaid in Tennessee still must win support from the Tennessee General Assembly, and a new group has formed to make sure that happens. Haslam unveiled his plan, known as Insure Tennessee, on Monday. Today marked the launch of the Coalition for a Healthy Tennessee, a group of 80 business, health care and civic groups that will “delivery advocacy in support of” Insure Tennessee, according to a news release. Coalition members include the Tennessee Business Roundtable, chambers of commerce, health care providers, businesses and civic organizations.

Lawmakers ready to look at Haslam Medicaid plan (Times Free-Press/Sher)

As he begins a campaign to sell his Insure Tennessee plan to fellow Republicans in the state Legislature, Gov. Bill Haslam says providing lower-income residents with federally subsidized health care coverage is “both morally and fiscally the right thing to do.” But the governor readily acknowledges some party compatriots will resist his proposal for the two-year pilot project he says breaks new ground in Medicaid programs. It seeks to use federal Medicaid expansion dollars under the Affordable Care Act to extend health coverage to as many as 200,000 people, but Haslam says the plan carries a distinct Tennessee stamp.

Tennessee wins $65 million for health care reforms (Commercial Appeal/McKenzie)

On Tuesday the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services announced that Tennessee will receive up to $65 million to set up and test new ways of paying for and delivering health care. The news came a day after Tennessee’s governor announced that the state has devised its own plan for using Medicaid expansion dollars under the Affordable Care Act. Both Gov. Bill Haslam in Tennessee and the Obama administration nationwide through the Affordable Care Act are seeking to transform health care, focusing on better quality and outcomes and lowering the rise in costs. As one of 28 states receiving a total of $665 in State Innovation Models funding through the Affordable Care Act, the funding in Tennessee has been sought under the state’s Tennessee Health Care Innovation Plan drawn up in the department that includes TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. The funds will be used to further payment and health care delivery reforms.

Haslam, UAW spar over union impact (Times Free-Press/Flessner, Pare)

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he still worries that expansion of labor unions in Tennessee such as the United Auto Workers will hurt economic development, but the UAW termed the charge “saber-rattling” and “just not true.” Haslam cited an example, saying he received a call from a company chief executive last Thursday who was looking at a site in Tennessee for a 1,500-employee facility “We thought he had an issue of tax ramifications,” Haslam said. “He said ‘I think I can get past that. I’m very concerned about unions in Tennessee.'” On Monday, the business prospect struck a deal to locate in another state, the governor said in Chattanooga. However, UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel said Volkswagen doesn’t have problems recruiting suppliers for its Chattanooga plant, nor does the General Motors plant in Spring Hill, Tenn.

Sen. Mark Norris seeks to curtail federal regulation (Associated Press/Johnson)

A Tennessee Republican senator has joined lawmakers in other states who have filed legislation that seeks to curtail federal regulation. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville discussed the resolution Tuesday during a special joint committee meeting on the effect of Environmental Protection Agency regulations in Tennessee. The measure urges Congress to propose the “Regulation Freedom Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution. Under the resolution, whenever one-quarter of the members of the U.S. House or Senate oppose a proposed federal regulation, it will require a majority vote of the House and Senate to adopt that regulation. Norris, who also is chairman of the national Council of State Governments, said a number of other states have filed similar legislation.

Sen. Corker to serve on four committees (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker will serve on four committees when the new Republican-led Congress convenes in January, his office announced Tuesday. Corker, a Chattanooga Republican, will return to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he is expected to chair. Chairmen will be selected by a vote of the members of each committee and then approved by the Senate Republican Conference. That is expected to take place in early January. Corker also will serve again on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and the Senate Special Committee on Aging. In addition, he has picked up one new assignment – the Senate Budget Committee. enrollment going smoothly this year (Nashville Business Journal)

What a difference a year makes: Consumers are having a much smoother experience enrolling in health coverage through than they did a year ago, when the website was plagued with problems. Through Dec. 12, around 2.5 million consumers had selected insurance plans on’s federal exchanges during this enrollment period, which began Nov. 15. This number does not include the three days leading up to Wednesday’s deadline to get coverage that begins Jan. 1. Traffic was “extremely busy” on those three days, said Andy Slavitt, principal deputy administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs “We’re pleased with our start, but we have the attitude that we need to work hard every single day to make sure this is a successful enrollment period for people,” Slavitt said.

VA Misled Congress on Its Own Audit, Watchdog Report Finds (WSJ)

The Department of Veterans Affairs provided misleading or false information to Congress and the media multiple times this summer about a year-plus review of unresolved patient consultation requests, according to an internal watchdog’s report issued Monday. The VA’s inspector general said the department misled or provided incorrect information earlier this year about an audit of unresolved requests for consultations with specialists. Some of those requests remained open for years, and some patients died while waiting for appointments. The scope of the VA audit was overrepresented, the inspector general said, and the ultimate resolution for millions of those consults remains unknown.

Y-12 nuclear weapons plant building temporarily evacuated after chemical spill (AP)

Federal authorities have responded to a chemical spill in a building at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge. Federal spokesman Steven Wyatt said that the chemical acetonitrile, which is a flammable and toxic solvent, was spilled this morning at the Purification Facility. He said employees were evacuated from the building and no injuries were reported. Wyatt said less than ten employees were affected. At 2 p.m. he said that the spill had evaporated, the spill is stable, and officials have entered the facility to bring the event to a closure. The National Nuclear Security Administration and its Y-12 contractor, Consolidated Nuclear Security, responded to the incident.

Chemical spill at Y-12; building evacuated as part of response (N-S/Munger)

Y-12 officials Tuesday declared the situation “stable” several hours after a chemical spill forced an evacuation of a production facility at the nuclear weapons plant. The plant’s fire department responded to alarms at the Purification Facility, where the leak of acetonitrile — a flammable and toxic solvent — occurred around 10:30 a.m. According to plant officials, no workers were injured during the “operational emergency,” there was no release to the environment, and the chemical was confined to the “affected area.” At an afternoon press briefing, Andy Huff, a manager in the Y-12 contractor’s infrastructure organization, and Steven Wyatt, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration, said firefighters had entered the Purification Facility for a second time and determined that the leaking chemical had “dissipated” and no longer posed a threat.

Bridgestone secures $56M in incentives with council vote (Tennessean/Garrison)

Bridgestone Americas secured more than $56 million in Metro tax incentives Tuesday, giving the tire company what it has coveted for a planned headquarters relocation to downtown Nashville. The Metro Council voted 31-1, with one abstention, on a final of three readings to deliver Bridgestone a 100 percent property tax discount over 20 years on a new 30-story tower it plans to move into at Fourth Avenue and Demonbreun Street in the booming SoBro neighborhood. In a separate vote, the council voted 31-0, with one abstention, to approve a $500 grant per new Bridgestone employee over seven years. Neither vote garnered any debate Tuesday.

Council Gives Sign-Off On Incentives To Build Bridgestone Headquarters (WPLN)

Bridgestone Americas’ more than $50 million in incentives provoked no conversation Tuesday night as the city’s elected officials gave their final blessing in the form of a third and final vote. Officials at Bridgestone are projecting 600 new jobs and promising that their 30-story headquarters to be an economic engine for downtown Nashville. Without the incentives deal, Bridgestone officials say they would’ve relocated their headquarters out of state. After the vote, Bridgestone spokesman Paul Oakeley said Metro Council’s “overwhelmingly positive” vote for the company’s incentive package is proof that their investment is welcome.

Southern Champion expansion wins tax breaks (Times Free-Press/Pare)

Southern Champion Tray on Monday won property tax breaks valued at about $500,000 from Chattanooga’s Industrial Development Board for the company’s planned expansion in the city. Charles Wood, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s vice president for economic development, said the company had been considering its Dallas-Fort Worth location for the expansion as well. “It’s a legacy company in Chattanooga,” said Wood about the business that was founded in 1927 and makes bakery and food packaging items. The payment-in-lieu-of-tax agreement will run from 2015 to 2022. The tax breaks will range from 25 percent to 50 percent of what the business would otherwise pay over the seven-year period.

ServiceMaster announces Memphis layoffs (Memphis Business Journal)

The ServiceMaster Company is eliminating 61 positions, with the majority coming from its Memphis-based corporate headquarters. ServiceMaster, which employs an estimated 2,411 people in Memphis, eliminated the jobs of 40 employees, who will receive 30-day severance packages. It will eliminate 11 open positions in its Franchise Services Group, which includes Merry Maids, ServiceMaster Clean, ServiceMaster Restore, Furniture Medic and AmeriSpec, along with 10 open positions in its human resources department. “There is no ideal time to announce decisions like this,” according to a statement from ServiceMaster.

Insure Tennessee could be far-reaching (Commercial Appeal/Risher)

Tuesday was the last day on the job for 40 ServiceMaster employees, a majority of them in Memphis. ServiceMaster Global Holdings Inc. said the cuts in the Franchise Services Group and human resources were part of organizational changes “to better align the company’s staffing with the resources required to support the needs and priorities of the businesses.” The company trimmed 30 employees from franchise services, which includes Merry Maids, ServiceMaster Clean, ServiceMaster Restore, Furniture Medic and AmeriSpec. It reduced the human resources force by 10 people. The company also eliminated 21 open positions in franchise services and human resources.

Review backs Erlanger’s $1.7 million in bonuses to executives (TFP/Anderson)

An external law firm examined and approved the payment of $1.7 million in hotly debated bonuses to 90 top executives at Erlanger Health Systems, according to a news release. The release from board Chairman Donnie Hutcherson came Tuesday night. It said a review by the Spears, Moore, Rebman and Williams firm, which has experience in open meeting guidelines for public organizations, concluded that the bonuses and the board’s process to issue them was appropriate. After a swell of criticism and questions arose from state lawmakers, the hospital decided to put the bonuses on hold and ask for the review.

Karl Dean: Hire schools director after mayor election (Tennessean/Boucher)

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean believes the Metro school board should wait to hire a new director of schools until after Nashville picks a new mayor. Dean echoed a recommendation released Tuesday in the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce annual Education Report Card, calling on the board to include the new mayor in picking a successor for Director of Schools Jesse Register after he retires in June. “The committee recommends timing the new hire for after the mayoral election, so that the mayor — the new mayor — and the new director have an opportunity to forge a relationship from the start,” Dean said during the chamber event at the Nashville Public Library.

SCS approves $43M settlement with city (Commercial Appeal/Veazey, Callahan)

The city of Memphis would pay Shelby County Schools $43.3 million in cash and credits over 13 years in an agreement the SCS board approved Tuesday night — but one that also caused some City Council members to recoil. The agreement to settle a longstanding dispute would ask the city to pay $6 million by Feb. 1, 2015, then make annual payments ranging from $1.5 to $2.2 million for the next 13 years. An additional $200,000 payment would finalize the cash transfers, which total $32.7 million. The city also would take on bond debt incurred by the former Memphis City Schools in 1998 for an $8 million credit to the debt, and Memphis police would maintain officers in schools for two more years, for a credit of $2.6 million.

Shelby County Schools unveils performance-based pay for teachers (CA/Roberts)

After several years of tinkering with teacher evaluation systems, Shelby County Schools is now ready to pay teachers on the results. On Tuesday, the district unveiled the first phase of a teacher compensation system based entirely on performance. Among other things, it means a first-year teacher who performs at the top of the scale will get the same raise as a longtime veteran. “The new system will reward teachers based on performance not just years of service,” human resources chief Trinette Small said before the school board meeting. “We’ve also been deliberate in making sure we create something that is financially sustainable and competitive as it relates to attracting and retaining top-teacher talent.”






Barack Obama: Nashville shows how immigrants benefit all (Tennessean)

Many Americans think of Nashville as the home of country music, barbecue, and a hit TV show. What they may not realize is that, in recent years, Music City also has had one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the country. “New Nashvillians” are from Somalia and Nepal and Laos. They’re from Mexico and Bangladesh. Nashville even boasts the largest Kurdish community in the United States. They work as teachers in our schools, doctors in our hospitals, and cops in our neighborhoods. They start small businesses and create jobs making this city a more prosperous, more innovative place. “They” are “us.” When done right, immigration benefits everyone. But our immigration system has been broken for a long time. Families who try to come here the right way can get stuck in line for years.