January 12 TN News Digest

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

Curtain goes up on Tennessee’s legislative session (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Tennessee lawmakers can expect fights over Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s Medicaid expansion proposal as well as state education standards, abortion and possibly a gas tax hike during their annual session that starts this week. The new session begins at noon Tuesday, when the 99 House representatives and 33 senators serving in the 109th General Assembly will officially convene. But with the exception of a planned “Women’s March” on Tuesday by opponents of proposed new state abortion restrictions, don’t go expecting a lot of legislative activity this week. Or even the rest of this month. The real action will begin Feb. 2 with a special session in which Haslam will seek approval for his “market-driven” approach to Medicaid expansion.

Many topics up for debate in the 109th Tennessee General Assembly (H-C)
Insure Tennessee is expected to be one of the main topics of debate during the 109th Tennessee General Assembly, which starts Tuesday in Nashville. Insure Tennessee is Gov. Bill Haslam’s answer to expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and would provide insurance to 200,000 uninsured Tennesseans. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, are gearing up for the session. They said last week that that there are pros and cons to the controversial proposal. “I’m going to keep an open mind on this [Insure Tennessee],” Ramsey said.

Lawmakers must first tackle Insure Tennessee debate (WREG-TV Memphis)
State lawmakers will spend the next few months debating hundreds issues to make the lives of Tennesseans better. But for now, all that is on the back burner. State Lawmakers can`t do anything until they tackle the Governor Bill Haslam’s Medicaid Expansion proposal, also known as Insure Tennessee, in a special session. The governor announced the plan last month; hoping 200,000 Tennesseans lost in a coverage gap will have access to medical care, paid by federal funds. “Early on as it stands, I`m in support of the plan,” said democrat, State Representative Antonio Parkinson of Memphis. “You`re supporting him, but members of his own party aren’t right now,” said WREG’s Elise Preston.

Beth Harwell’s political roots come from Watergate (Tennessean/Schmitt)
About 42 years ago in a town 800 miles from Nashville, Beth Harwell felt her first pull toward politics. It was in a chair next to her dying grandmother’s bed. The two watched the Watergate hearings together, and a teenaged Harwell just adored Sen. Howard Baker Jr.’s Southern accent. “I love the way that man talks,” she told her Grandmom. Harwell is poised to launch her third term as speaker of the House on Tuesday when a new session of the Tennessee legislature begins. It’s a long way from where and how she grew up. Harwell was born the youngest of five siblings from Pottstown, Pa., a small town about 40 miles northwest of Philadelphia, where their mom faithfully carted them off to Protestant church every Sunday. Dad didn’t share Mom’s zeal for church, so on Sunday mornings, he would drop the family off and drive around town.

G.O.P. Governors Face Test in Shift on Ideological Agendas (NY Times)
Four years ago, a wave of new Republican governors administered shock therapy to the states they won, rolling back union rights, approving restrictions on abortion and deeply cutting taxes and spending. Republicans triumphed again in the 2014 midterm governor’s races, winning re-election almost everywhere and expanding control to Democratic strongholds like Illinois and Maryland. But rather than reprising the Tea Party insurrection of 2010, Republican governors taking their oaths this month have expressed more muted, less ideological priorities. “One of the things about being governor is when you’re forced to actually balance your budget it makes people become much more pragmatic very quickly,” said Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, who easily won re-election in November and was recently elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

McNally questions legality of Haslam’s Medicaid (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
In a letter to the state attorney general, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally has posed a series of questions about the legal validity of Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to expand Medicaid, suggesting potential problems in several areas. “We need a lot of in-depth type questions answered,” said the Oak Ridge Republican, adding he believes the “vast majority” of Republican legislators are — like himself — undecided about the wisdom of adopting the governor’s Insure Tennessee plan and willing to listen and learn more about it. The governor provided more details about his proposal last week, making public the formal waiver request filed with federal officials. The Legislature will take up the proposal in a special session beginning Feb. 2 “to do all that is necessary and appropriate to implement Insure Tennessee,” according to the official gubernatorial proclamation. “My big concern is the exposure of the state in future years,” McNally said.

Memphians prepare to go to Nashville for women’s rights march (CA/Fretland)
KC Warren brushed red and blue paint on a poster with a message to Tennessee legislators. Warren, 56, a board member at CHOICES — Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, plans to drive from Memphis to Nashville on Tuesday to mark the opening of the legislative session with a march for women’s rights. “Women’s rights are human rights,” she painted in capital letters. Warren worked to oppose Tennessee’s Amendment 1, the ballot initiative approved in November which allows legislators to restrict and regulate abortion. Now, some state legislators are proposing a 24- or 48-hour waiting period before women can have an abortion, and new requirements for clinic inspections and for pre-abortion counseling.

Companies criticized in audit still working for Memphis government (CA/Connolly)
Two grass-cutting companies that auditors criticized last year for turning in questionable invoices are still doing work for the city of Memphis. The city’s internal investigators wrote in an April report that the former manager of an anti-blight effort called 25 Square failed to control outside contractors. Auditors wrote that the companies took advantage of the program to clear 25 square blocks at a time by mowing as many vacant lots as they could, “which ultimately led to chaos, abuse, waste and possibly fraud.” The auditors said the organizations LifeLine to Success and Turning Point were among three groups that turned in thousands of dollars worth of bills that couldn’t be justified. Representatives of both companies say they did nothing wrong.

Corker calls for federal gas tax hike (Tennessean/Troyan)
Low gas prices have rekindled talk on Capitol Hill about raising the federal gas tax to eliminate huge annual deficits in the federal Highway Trust Fund that pays for road and bridge work around the country. While some top Republicans remain adamant a tax hike is not the answer, there are signs that the idea, including one from Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, is at least getting a fresh look. Corker and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., have proposed raising the federal gas tax by 12 cents over two years and indexing it to inflation. To make the concept more palatable to fiscal conservatives, the measure would lower other taxes. The 18.4-cent-per-gallon gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993. As vehicles have become more efficient, the revenue generated by the tax has dropped.

Seven Southern States Plan Their Own Super Tuesday for 2016 Race (WSJ)
A potential Southern Super Tuesday with as many seven states voting near the start of the presidential primary calendar could become a pivotal moment in the 2016 GOP nomination battle. Georgia’s secretary of state is leading an effort to hold a regional primary on March 1 next year that could include Texas and Florida, the nation’s second- and third-most-populous states. Non-Southern states also could hold elections that day. The timetable could boost candidates who can afford expensive media markets and who have ties to the region, among them former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio , both of Florida, and Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Mr. Bush and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, another likely candidate, also have family ties in Texas that could prove advantageous.

Volkswagen’s new SUV concept could be made in Chattanooga (TFP/Pare)
Volkswagen showed off a concept of a new 5-seat sport utility vehicle Sunday that may play a key part of VW’s future in America, and the SUV’s production could land in Chattanooga. Called the Cross Coupe GTE, the five-door vehicle is a slightly smaller version of the 7-seat midsize CrossBlue which already is slated for production at Chattanooga’s plant in late 2016. “We believe the concept is a perfect match for America,” said VW Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn, citing the electric-hybrid technology of the Coupe. He said 2016 will be “the biggest SUV offensive in our history.” Also, Winterkorn cited production of a longer version of the Tiguan, VW’s small SUV, somewhere in North America in 2017, though he wasn’t specific.

VW confident TN will pass tax incentives for crossover (Detroit Free-Press)
Michael Horn, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group for the Americas, said he is “very confident,” that the state legislature in Tennessee will approve a package of tax incentives to support production of a new mid-size SUV. In recent weeks, Republican legislators in Tennessee have been expressing concerns about the proposed $300 million tax incentive package because of progress the UAW has had at the plant with Volkswagen workers and its management. The incentive package is designed to support Volkswagen’s production of the seven-seat midsize CrossBlue and a five-passenger hybrid Cross Coupe GTE that the automaker will reveal at the Detroit auto show Monday.

OPINION

Editorial: Details needed, but college plan offers potential (News-Sentinel)
President Barack Obama’s bold proposal to make community college free for all Americans, unveiled Friday at Pellissippi State Community College, could be an investment that pays off in a better educated and more highly skilled workforce. Members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation initially gave the proposal negative reviews, but we urge them to wait for more details, especially on funding the initiative, before making up their minds. Those details will matter, and Obama would be wise to negotiate in good faith with GOP leaders. Obama’s plan is based on Tennessee Promise, Gov. Bill Haslam’s pioneering program that provides free tuition and mentoring for high school graduates at the state’s community colleges, and a similar program in Chicago.

Columnist: The Community College Cause (Real Clear Politics)
Permit me to declare my bias: I came to revere community colleges for very personal reasons and learned to admire them because they are central to restoring social and economic mobility in our nation. My late mother spent most of her work life as a teacher and a librarian. Her passions were to get every kid she encountered to love reading and to encourage students to become the first in their families to seek higher education. Her core “constituents” included the largely working-class students in our parish’s Catholic school and, later, mostly lower-income kids who frequented the storefront public-library branch she presided over in my hometown of Fall River, Mass.