January 20 TN News Digest

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

Insure Tennessee pledges to pay for value rather than volume (Times-News)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is on board. So are hospital systems, plus the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce. Now all they have to do is convince 99 state representatives and 33 state senators that Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” plan will be an economic boost, could help about 200,000 people who don’t have health insurance and can be politically separated from Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. (ACA). Haslam, a Republican, told lawmakers in March 2013 he would not expand the state’s Medicaid program under ACA, but would instead pursue a plan to leverage federal dollars to buy private health insurance for those who can’t afford it.

State legislators urge big turnout for Fort Campbell (Leaf Chronicle)
Ahead of Tuesday’s listening session with senior Army officials at Fort Campbell, area state legislators are urging their constituents to turn out in big numbers in hopes of forestalling deep cuts to the post’s personnel numbers. State Senator Mark Green (R-Clarksville) and representatives Joe Pitts (D-Clarksville), Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) and Jay Reedy (R-Erin) have been united in the face of the threat, telling residents in their districts that potential big losses at Fort Campbell could spell devastating economic and social hardship for the area.

MTSU sees rise in higher-scoring ACT students (Daily News Journal)
MTSU’s Buchanan Fellowship scholarships and the new $147 million science building contribute to the university’s efforts to attract students with high ACT scores, Honors College Dean John Vile said. “We have 170 applications for the Buchanan Fellowship,” Vile said during a Monday phone interview. “I know that number seems to go up every year in terms of the number of applications we get for the Buchanan Fellowship. Typically we offer about 25 to get 20. Many are accepted into Ivy League schools.” Middle Tennessee State University students will be resuming classes for the spring semester Tuesday.

College tuition: Burden on students hits new high (TFP/Omarzu, Miller)
In the 1970s, state governments provided almost 80 percent of public college funding, but those days are long gone. For the past few years, students’ tuition and fees — not state governments — have contributed the largest share of money to public college and university budgets, says a new study from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The trend is as true in Tennessee as anywhere. And for now, there’s no end in sight. “State funding is flat,” wrote Charles M. Peccolo, the University of Tennessee’s treasurer and chief financial officer, in his introduction to this year’s budget.

Report: No major contamination at Loudon County landfill (News-Sentinel/Willett)
Tests conducted by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation at Loudon County’s former Poplar Springs landfill late last year show no major contamination of soil or groundwater. Loudon County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw, who accompanied TDEC to the landfill in November when the tests were conducted, said it was great news for the county. “I think that is a breath of fresh air,” he said. The landfill, which operated from 1973-87, had been the subject of speculation about groundwater pollution for years. When the property changed hands last year the new landowner raised questions about the county’s liability in remediating the property.

Kelsey new voucher bill allows local option (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)
Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, has filed a school voucher bill that focuses on children in poor families but would allow local school boards to opt-in if they want to make vouchers available for other children. Voucher bills offered since 2011 in the Tennessee Legislature would let low-income families zoned to schools performing in the bottom 5 percent use public funds to pay for private schools. Those schools are in five counties. By allowing others the option, Kelsey may increase the bill’s chances for passing. “There are many rural legislators who support the idea of school choice but would like the option for local districts to participate in the program,” Kelsey said.

Bill would ban use of military items for Tennessee law enforcement agencies (JCP)
A Memphis-area state senator said he wanted Tennessee to join the national conversations involving both the public’s interaction with and perception of law enforcement agencies, as well as those agencies’ possession and use of military equipment. To begin that conversation, on Thursday, Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, filed Senate Bill 39, which, if passed, would prohibit Tennessee’s law enforcement agencies from owning or using certain vehicles and weapons that were, at one point, used for military purposes. “Traditionally, America has had a clear separation between the military and the police to ensure we remain in a free democracy,” Kelsey said.

Tracy, Sparks support red-light cameras (Daily News Journal)
Two state lawmakers who represent Rutherford County favor keeping the city’s red-light cameras in place despite proposed legislation that would ban such traffic enforcement. State Rep. Mike Sparks of Smyrna and state Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville said red-light cameras ought to be up to each local government. Both Republican lawmakers also praised the Murfreesboro City Council for establishing a model on how to use red-light camera enforcement. “I don’t think it should be regulated by the state,” said Tracy, who is the chairman of the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee. “I’m not for a statewide law to ban them.” The council continues to be committed to red-light cameras.

House Speaker Beth Harwell removes two committee heads (TFP/Sher)
In a shakeup of House committees, Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell replaced two chairmen who sometimes defied her and also split often-swamped Education Committee into two panels to handle the influx of education related measures. The moves, announced over the weekend, also resulted in the elevation of several new committee chairmen and vice chairmen as several top positions were reshuffled or else had been left vacant by members who didn’t run for re-election in 2014. As a result, several Chattanooga area Republicans moved up the leadership ladder.

Rep. Lamberth named chairman of Criminal Justice Committee (Tennessean)
Sumner County state Rep. William Lamberth will head up the House Criminal Justice Committee. The Republican from Cottontown took the oath of office and was sworn into the Tennessee House of Representatives last week. Lamberth is serving his second term representing District 44. The lawyer ran unopposed in the August and November elections. House Speaker Beth Harwell appointed Lamberth as chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, which is tasked with reviewing all legislation dealing with criminal procedure, criminal offenses, penalties and sentencing.

Irate Tennessee Lawmaker Attacks High Cost Of Textbooks (WPLN-Radio Nash)
A Rutherford County lawmaker says he’s frustrated with the high price of college textbooks and has filed a bill that he hopes will help reduce those costs. State Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, introduced a measure this week calling for the creation of a panel of lawmakers to study cheaper ways to educate students. Sparks, who attends Middle Tennessee State University part time, says his interest in textbook pricing began when a professor asked students to buy a statistics book that cost $200. Luckily, his son already had a copy.

Seeds of progress: Walker says development partnerships will bear fruit (T-N)
Calendar year 2014 for Sullivan County economic development was marked by local cooperation and partnerships, according to the head of the county’s joint economic development effort And Clay Walker said that, in turn, helped snag the attention of Tennessee economic development officials in Nashville and site consultants, something he said will bode well for 2015 and beyond. “It’s been a great year,” Walker said Wednesday. What’s more, the NETWORKS — Sullivan Partnership board went into executive session at its meeting Wednesday to discuss a prospect that may be getting close to making a decision. And in the first month of 2015, the area will get a visit from new Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Randy Boyd.

Federally seized property ends in Tennessee (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s move to curb federal involvement with state and local law enforcement in property seizure programs will have little immediate impact in Tennessee, state officials say, but it comes with the state’s civil forfeiture laws under increased scrutiny. Holder announced Friday in Washington that federal agencies no longer will take possession of assets seized by local law enforcement agencies when no crime has been proven — with exceptions when the seized property includes illegal firearms, child pornography or other items deemed to have public safety implications. Historically, relatively small amounts of such property have been seized.

ORNL’s cyber warfare team goes after bad guys (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)
Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Cyber Warfare Research Team, a tech squad that currently consists of 11 members, including a few students, appears to be making a difference in the fight against online bad guys. ORNL last week signed a licensing agreement with R&K Cyber Solutions LLC, which allows the Washington, D.C.-based company to commercialize a lab-developed cyber technology known as Hyperion. According to the government laboratory, Hyperion is able to identify malicious software even if the program is not on any list of known threats.

Erlanger reports ‘unprecedented’ $12.7 million profit after years of losses (TFP/Belz)
There are usually plenty of empty seats at Erlanger Health System’s budget and finance committee meetings. But as physicians and administrators crammed into the hospital boardroom Monday evening, several rows of extra chairs had to be dragged in. The crowd had been invited to the session by Erlanger executives to celebrate good news for the hospital, which has been beleaguered by financial tumult for several years. As the hospital’s chief financial officer Britt Tabor took to the podium to outline the hospital’s quarterly earnings, he told the packed room that “this is unprecedented, what I’ve got to say tonight.”


Editorial: Time for legislature to lead like Gov. Haslam (Jackson Sun)_
Politicians have tough choices to make — between what’s good for the few and what could benefit the many whose livelihoods depend upon the policies they choose to make. Leaders in politics have the responsibility of putting people before party affiliations. They have a responsibility to set a course that’s fair and just for the people they represent. Countless Tennesseans have trusted their health to our leaders. Hospitals have trusted their bottom line to our legislature. If Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee doesn’t pass the legislature, we’ll see more hospitals close, putting thousands of our fellow citizens out of work, and setting the stage for more Tennesseans to struggle through life and illnesses with no health insurance and poor access to health care.