January 5 TN News Digest

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

Governors’ inaugural celebration plans, by state (Associated Press)
Inaugural plans and how they will be funded in the states swearing in new and re-elected governors, and for the new mayor of the District of Columbia… TENNESSEE Gov. Bill Haslam will be sworn in on Jan. 17. Inauguration festivities will be similar to those in 2011, but without the parade. The donation limits are $2,500 for individuals and $7,500 for corporations and political action committees. Tickets to the ball at a downtown hotel are $50, or $250 if with dinner included.

Three-year project to rebuild U.S. 27 led to some rough patches (TFP/Anderson)
The orange traffic barrels on U.S. Highway 27 soon will be removed and all the roadway’s new lanes will welcome motorists, as the most expansive interstate renovation project in Chattanooga since the highway system was built in the 1960s nears completion. This $105.6 million reconstruction project also is the most expensive the Tennessee Department of Transportation has undertaken in the southeastern part of the state to date, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn. The three-year project took four lanes of highway that had long been considered inadequate for the load and turned it into six through lanes — eight in the more heavily congested areas between Manufacturers Road and U.S. Highway 127.

Transportation Department wants safety slogans (Associated Press)
The state Transportation Department is looking for a few good safety slogans. TDOT is asking the public to submit ideas for the electronic message boards that grace the state’s highways, warning motorists about speeding, texting and other driving hazards. TDOT Commissioner John Schroer says in a news release that recent slogans like “Ho Ho Hold Your Calls” have gotten the attention of drivers. He says mundane slogans are easily forgotten, but more colorful ones, even when painfully silly, stay with people and make them think. The contest begins on Monday and runs through Jan. 16. Entries will be considered for five highway safety categories: seatbelt usage, impaired driving, distracted driving, speeding and aggressive driving. They can be submitted through TDOT’s website at www.tdot.state.tn.us. (SUBSCRIPTION)

Bill would restrict pre-election mailings by legislators (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
An expanded blackout on incumbent legislators using taxpayer funds for pre-election mailings would be imposed under a bill filed last week by state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick. McCormick says he will consider adding other changes to the sometimes controversial “constituent communications accounts” when the bill comes up for debate during the upcoming session of the 109th Tennessee General Assembly, which convenes Jan. 13. Current law prohibits legislators from using the funds to send mass mailings to voters 30 days before an election. The bill (HB9) would expand the blackout to 90 days before an election.

Attorneys seek to delay divorce notifications (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Bar Association is pushing for legislation this year that would delay when the public is notified about divorce filings. Bar association Director Allan Ramsaur told The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/13OzXSf) the proposal would close what could be a dangerous gap because cases sometimes become public before a responding husband or wife has been notified and served with a protective order. “Respondents find out that their spouse has filed for divorce before safety plans can be put in place or before restraining orders can be served,” TBA President Jonathan Steen said in a statement. “We think a targeted solution to this problem is that information about the filing of divorce should be delayed until the respondent is served.”

Fleischmann to lead nuclear cleanup caucus (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Collins)
It’s not the most high profile or most glamorous job in Congress, but U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann sees his new role leading a group of lawmakers committed to cleaning up nuclear waste as critically important. “It means a tremendous amount to the people of East Tennessee and really to the people of the United States as a whole,” said the Tennessee Republican, whose district includes Oak Ridge. Fleischmann was recently named chairman of the Nuclear Cleanup Caucus, an informal group of House members who have Department of Energy cleanup sites in their districts. The bipartisan group was formed two decades ago by U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, a Washington state Republican who served as its chairman until his retirement from Congress last year.

Cohen plans to introduce two bills concerning police deadly force (CA/Veazey)
When U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen leaves for Washington Monday in advance of Tuesday’s convening of the 114th Congress, he’ll carry a pair of bills focused on deadly force administered by police. One, which he filed shortly before the conclusion of the 113th Congress, would push states to require law enforcement agencies to report detailed data on deadly force to a national database. He’s still working on the other. It would call for an independent commission to investigate instances of deadly force and determine whether to proceed with pursuing indictments. The proposals come in the wake of an ongoing national discussion about police tactics following fatal shootings in Cleveland and Ferguson, Missouri, and the fatal chokehold applied by an officer in New York City.

Doctors face big cuts in Medicaid pay (USA Today)
Andy Pasternak, a family doctor in Reno, saw more than 100 new Medicaid patients last year after the state expanded the insurance program for the poor under the Affordable Care Act. But he won’t be taking any new ones this year. That’s because the law’s two-year pay raise for primary care doctors like him who see Medicaid patients expired Wednesday, resulting in fee reductions of 43% on average across the country, according to the non-partisan Urban Institute. “I don’t want to do this,” Pasternak said about his refusal to see additional Medicaid patients. But now that the temporary pay raise is gone, he and other Nevada doctors will see their fees drop from $75 on average to less than $50 for routine office visits. “We will lose money when they come to the office,” he said. Experts fear that other doctors will respond as Pasternak did, making it harder for millions of enrollees to find doctors.

Solar advocates hopeful TVA giving renewables fresh look (News-Sentinel)
Planning efforts for electricity production in the Tennessee Valley are underway, and renewable energy proponents are cautiously optimistic. As TVA develops its Integrated Resource Plan that outlines its estimates for required power generation, the agency has been engaging stakeholders to develop models that, among other things, accurately reflect the potential role of alternative power, says John Wilson, research director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy who serves on TVA’s working group on the plan. The working group is made up of representatives from state agencies, local utilities that resell the power TVA generates, large customers, environmental and energy groups like SACE, businesses, regional universities and research institutions.

 

OPINION

Editorial: TBA wants an unwarranted restriction on the release of divorce (CA)
The Tennessee Bar Association wants to delay when divorce filings are released to the public, a move feel we feel is an unwarranted erosion of Tennessee’s Open Records Law. TBA officials said they will asked state legislators to consider a law during the upcoming legislative session that would initially keep divorce filings secret. The legal profession group wants the divorce filings kept from the public record until the filings are served or for 10 days, whichever comes first. The reasoning has some validity. Because the filings are an immediate public record, they can appear in public before the person sued for divorce is officially served with the papers. If the marriage has been particularly rocky or there is a history of domestic abuse, the filer’s safety could be endangered before a safety plan could be formed or a restraining order obtained.

Editorial: Shifting Politics on the Death Penalty (New York Times)
In January 1992, Bill Clinton, then the governor of Arkansas, left the presidential campaign trail to fly home for the execution of a man named Ricky Ray Rector. Mr. Clinton’s decision not to grant clemency to Mr. Rector, who had been sentenced to death for killing a police officer, was widely seen as an attempt to fend off the familiar charge that Democrats were soft on crime. On Dec. 31, Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland, whose name has been mentioned among potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidates, commuted the sentences of the last four inmates on the state’s death row. Maryland abolished the death penalty in 2013, but only for new sentences. In resentencing the condemned men to life without parole, Mr. O’Malley said that leaving their death sentences in place would “not serve the public good of the people of Maryland — present or future.”