January 16 TN News Digest

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

Governor’s administration files teacher evaluation bill (Associated Press)

A measure that adjusts the way Tennessee’s teachers are evaluated is one of several bills filed by the governor’s administration. The proposals were filed on Thursday. The one relating to teachers adjusts the weighting of student growth data in a teacher’s evaluation. Currently, 35 percent of an educator’s evaluation is composed of student achievement data. Gov. Bill Haslam wants new state assessments in English and math to count 10 percent of the overall evaluation in the first year of administration of the new tests in 2016, 20 percent the second year and 35 percent in year three.

Bill outlines Haslam’s changes to teacher evaluations (Tennessean/Boucher)

A bill that reduces the role student test scores play in teacher employment evaluations was introduced Thursday, one of three that Gov. Bill Haslam plans to include in his legislative agenda this year. The bill follows an announcement from Haslam in December that he played to lessen the emphasis on test scores in evaluating teachers as the state moves to a different standardized test. As he said at the time, the bill proposes rolling back the percentage that scores play in teacher evaluations for the 2015-16 school year before gradually returning it to it’s current level — 35 percent — in the 2017-18 school year.

Haslam to ask Legislature to reduce emphasis on student test scores (N-S/Locker)

As he promised last month, Gov. Bill Haslam is asking the state Legislature to temporarily reduce the emphasis on student test scores in the annual evaluations of public school teachers while Tennessee moves to a new testing system. The governor’s office on Thursday filed the first three bills of his 2015 legislative agenda, with the remainder to be filed next month. His top immediate priority, a health insurance plan for lower-income working Tennesseans, will be the focus of a special legislative session starting Feb. 2.

Gov. Haslam coming to Fort Campbell for critical meeting (Leaf Chronicle)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will be there Jan. 20 for the listening session at Fort Campbell that could be critical to the future of the Army installation, according to Clarksville Mayor Kim McMillan. Several other key leaders won’t be able to make it, but in announcing the lineup, McMillan said the public needs to understand one thing above all else: This is a non-partisan issue. Whether at City Hall, the County Courthouse, the state Legislature and governor’s office or among the Tennessee delegation in the U.S. Congress, there are no party lines on at least this one topic, she assured The Leaf-Chronicle this week. “We don’t need in any way to treat this as a partisan issue,” McMillan said.

Haslam’s health care plan likely to start in House (Tennessean/Boucher)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to expand health benefits to an estimated 200,000 Tennesseans must make it through the state House of Representatives first when it’s discussed during a February special session of the General Assembly. Haslam’s Insure Tennessee — which uses federal funds made possible by the controversial Affordable Care Act to expand health care coverage in Tennessee — probably will come as a House Joint Resolution, said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville. That means the discussion starts, and potentially ends, in the House, said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville.

Branches of state government join in anti-hunger campaign (Associated Press)

Officials from all branches of Tennessee government are joining in a campaign against hunger. Members of the Tennessee General Assembly, the governor’s cabinet, the Tennessee Supreme Court and the state’s constitutional officers will help pack about 50,000 meals for food banks across Tennessee on Friday. The event will take place at the War Memorial Auditorium across from the state Capitol in Nashville. It is organized by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, along with Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey of Blountville, House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and other members of the Tennessee General Assembly in conjunction with Outreach Inc.

General Assembly joins fight to end hunger in Tennessee (Johnson City Press)

To help restock the state’s food banks, Tennessee’s lawmakers, Supreme Court justices, the attorney general and members of governor’s cabinet will come together Friday morning in Nashville to pack 50,000 meals for the hungry. Hosted by the General Assembly, the Campaign Against Hunger event in the War Memorial Auditorium is intended to bring attention to the impact of hunger on the state’s fiscal well being as well as is residents. In an press release announcing the event, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said, “As we prepare to tackle public safety, education and workforce development issues, it is important to remember that hunger is a factor.”

TN health crisis needs policy, thought reform (Tennessean/Fletcher)

Tennessee needs health reform — both in policy and in popular thought — as it tries to tackle a crisis stemming from decades of its population making unhealthy choices, physicians and business leaders said Wednesday at the Nashville Community Health Forum. The state ranks in the bottom 10 in overall health outcomes, according to a UnitedHealth Foundation study. The state has been at No. 42 or lower for the last 20 years, said Rick Johnson, CEO of the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness. “There really is a health crisis in this state,” said Dr. Jeff Balser, vice chancellor of health affairs at Vanderbilt University.

State wants your opinion about Bledsoe Creek State Park (Tennessean)

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation wants your opinion about the amenities at Bledsoe Creek State Park in eastern Sumner County. You can share your input now through Jan. 30 by completing a survey at surveymonkey.com/r/Bledsoe_Creek_Park_Survey. The survey is designed for all types of park visitors and takes 10-15 minutes to finish. “Tennessee State Parks is interested in finding out what park visitors think about Bledsoe Creek State Park’s current condition, in addition to their thoughts on amenities, recreation activities and the various services they seek when selecting any park to visit,” Ashford wrote.

New official Tennessee highway maps celebrate TDOT’s first 100 years (C. Appeal)

Although paper road maps have taken a back seat to cellphone apps and GPS systems, the state departments of transportation and tourist development have teamed up to enhance the state’s official highway map for 2015, now available free to the public. “This year’s map contains new information to assist motorists, and features a special cover to commemorate the Tennessee Department of Transportation’s centennial,” TDOT’s communications office said. The new map contains historical photographs from the development of Tennessee’s highway system over the last 100 years. It also highlights State Route 1, the first cross-state highway built by the state of Tennessee.

New Tennessee birding trail available on website (News-Sentinel/Simmons)

Better bird watching is just a click of the keyboard away with a new website launched by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The website — www.tnbirdingtrail.org — is designed to be simple and user-friendly so users can easily find bird watching locations on public lands across the state. The site features four different search options — region of the state, bird species, species group, and season — that birders can select to pinpoint their search. State ornithologist Scott Somershoe built the birding trail website with help from the Tennessee Ornithological Society.

Occupational therapy program to begin at JSCC (Jackson Sun)

The Allied Health Sciences Department at Jackson State Community College is readying for the launch of a new occupational therapy assistant program. It is anticipated that the first class will be admitted in the fall semester of 2015. This is pending approval and receipt of developing program status by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, according to a news release. Dr. Julie Bezold joined the allied health team at JSCC as the OTA program director in the fall and is in the process of coordinating resources for a successful launch of the program.

Bill seeks to ban red-light cameras in Tennessee (Associated Press)

A state Republican lawmaker says he plans to file legislation that seeks to ban speeding and red-light cameras in Tennessee. Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden says he’s received hundreds of messages from Democrats and Republicans supporting his call to outlaw the controversial cameras. He says businesses in particular are concerned because they say motorists are avoiding streets where the cameras are located, which is hurting their bottom line. Advocates for cameras that catch red-light runners point to data showing they reduce accidents.

Lawmaker wants to ban red light cameras in Tennessee (WKRN-TV Nashville)

Republican State Representative Andy Holt is drafting a bill that would prohibit the use of red light cameras in Tennessee. The controversial cameras automatically snap pictures of cars running red lights and then a ticket is mailed to the driver. Holt says the cameras are unconstitutional, citing the Sixth Amendment. He said only law enforcement officers should be allowed to issue tickets. Holt also said the tickets are not enforceable and there are no consequences if they go unpaid. “They can have very little impact if any on [those issued tickets] personally, individually, whether it’s their credit score, whether it’s their driver’s license points,” he explained.

Tennessee bill targets Erlanger bonuses (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Two state lawmakers have introduced a bill shutting down an exception to Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act that allowed Erlanger Health System trustees to use a closed-door meeting to lay the groundwork for $2.7 million in bonuses for the public hospital’s executives. The bill, filed earlier this week, is sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah. It wipes out a 2008 loophole lobbied for by public hospitals which allows officials to close meetings and confidential records concerning “marketing strategies” and “strategic plans.”

Kelsey files bill to block state health exchange (Tennessean/Fletcher)

Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, have filed legislation that would block the creation of a state health exchange in the event a federal court rules that tax credits under the Affordable Care Act are available only on state exchanges. Senate Bill 72 is designed to prevent “Tennessee from operating any ObamaCare exchanges in the future,” Kelsey said in a statement. The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in King vs. Burwell — a case that challenges the use of tax subsidies on the federal exchange under the ACA — on March 4.

New bill would limit health care regulations in TN (WSMV-TV Nashville)

This time, a Republican bill would go into effect only if the U.S. Supreme Court rules against a certain provision in the act. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on a case this summer that would either cripple the IRS’ ability to penalize people for not signing up for health care or make people living in states that don’t have state-run health care exchanges, like Tennessee, liable for federal penalties. If the bill, submitted by Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) and Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin), becomes law, Tennessee residents would find it much easier to opt out of the Affordable Care Act.

In Looming Fight Over Abortion Laws, Both Sides Approaching Cautiously (WPLN)

After an impassioned campaign over Amendment 1, groups on both sides of Tennessee’s abortion debate are surprisingly practical about what they can accomplish in the legislature this year. Tennessee voters approved a constitutional amendment in November, giving lawmakers more power to pass abortion regulations. On the first day of the legislative session Tuesday, hundreds of protesters rallied outside the statehouse, decrying the amendment and calling for legislators to respect abortion rights. But Tennessee’s legislature is overwhelmingly conservative this year.

Will Tennessee Continue Allowing Virtual Schools To Operate Statewide? (WPLN)

This year, Tennessee lawmakers must decide whether or not to stay in the statewide cyber school business. The legislative act that paved the way for the troubled Tennessee Virtual Academy needs to be renewed. For-profit virtual school operator K12 Inc. needed state law changed in order to pull students from all 95 counties. House Education Committee chairman Harry Brooks sponsored the bill in 2011. Since then, Tennessee Virtual Academy has enrolled thousands of students and posted such bad scores that it’s on the brink of forced closure.

Study: Tennessee 6th worst state for drivers’ wallets (Nashville Biz Journal)

This may cause me to ride my brake a little more often. An estimated 20 percent of Tennessee drivers don’t have insurance, according to a new report by personal finance site WalletHub. WalletHub ranks the Volunteer State No. 46 in the report, which ranks the safest states for drivers’ wallets. That puts Tennessee as the sixth riskiest state on WalletHub’s list, just ahead of California and Mississippi. Pretty much, avoid getting into a car accident in Tennessee (not that you needed any more convincing). The study also factored in the minimum liability coverage in each state and Washington, D.C. Topping the list as the safest state was Maine. Florida came in as the most risky.

Alexander cheers overturning of federal labor rule (News-Sentinel/Collins)

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is praising a federal judge’s decision to overturn Labor Department regulations that made home health-care workers eligible for overtime pay and the minimum wage. The rule, which President Barack Obama enacted in 2011 with an executive order, said non-medical caregivers must be paid overtime if they spend more than 20 percent of their time providing personal care or housekeeping services for an elderly or disabled client. But U.S. District Judge Richard Leon of the District of Columbia scrapped the rule Wednesday, saying Congress is the appropriate forum to debate such a complex issue.

Tennessee Could Be The Star in Next Week’s State of the Union Address (WPLN)

When President Barack Obama delivers his annual State of the Union address Tuesday, it’s likely to feature a lot of Tennessee. The president has been highlighting two programs in the Volunteer State as he traverses the country in the lead-up to the speech. Obama plans to use the speech to argue local governments should be allowed to offer their own high-speed Internet service, without interference. Several states have passed legislation banning such utilities, and Obama believes the Federal Communications Commission should adopt regulations that overrule them. The issue hits close to home in Chattanooga, which has been a leader in the broadband arena.

States Stand Pat Ahead of Supreme Court Health-Law Ruling (Wall Street Journal)

A push in states to protect consumers’ insurance tax credits in the face of a Supreme Court challenge is losing steam because of political and practical obstacles to reworking the health law’s exchanges, raising the stakes in the court battle. At issue are subsidies for millions of consumers under the Affordable Care Act that make health plans cheaper. In 37 mostly Republican-controlled states, the federal government has a hand in running the exchanges where consumers buy insurance. About 4.7 million people in those states got billions of dollars of tax credits to offset the cost of insurance premiums for 2014, and more are expected to get them this year.

Colorado: State of the State speech calls for new look at TABOR (Denver Post)

In arguably his most forceful critique yet, Gov. John Hickenlooper took aim at the state’s constitutional spending cap in a speech Thursday to a joint session of the General Assembly, but he avoided taking a stance on how to address what he calls Colorado’s “fiscal thicket.” The Democrat capped his State of the State address by underscoring the impasse created by the state’s constitutional mandates for taxpayer refunds of excess revenues under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and annual spending increases for education.

Kansas: Brownback calls for changes to school funding formula (W. Eagle)

Gov. Sam Brownback endorsed remaking how the state funds public schools and putting the state’s creditors at the front of the line for payments from state coffers in an ambitious State of the State speech Thursday night. He also embraced moving city elections to the fall and changing the way Kansas selects its Supreme Court justices. The school, election and court policy shifts have long been part of the conservative wish list for reforming state government into a smaller and less costly package.

Nevada: Sandoval calls for $1.1 billion in additional revenue (Nevada Appeal)

Gov. Brian Sandoval on Thursday laid out a $7.3 billion General Fund budget that includes more than $1 billion in new revenues and extensions to the existing temporary increases balancing the current budget. Chief of Staff Mike Willden told reporters before the State of the State speech the plan includes a $352 million increase in the Distributive School Account during the biennium. When all the other K-12 funds are added together, the total is $3.48 billion in proposed education funding, an increase of $782 million over the current budget.


Free-Press Editorial: Education bill would return more decisions to states (TFP)

Draft legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., could solve the Common Core problem once and for all. If his Every Child Ready for College or Career Act passes, it will be up to states and not the federal government to determine what type of educational standards and college readiness tests they have. The draft of the bill, which updates the now “unworkable” 2001 No Child Left Behind law, mandates the states to have “high and challenging standards” but declares that “the federal government may not dictate or get involved with what those standards should be, or require states to submit their standards to the federal government for review or approval.”