January 21 TN News Digest

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

Haslam hits the road to promote Insure Tennessee proposal (Associated Press)
Gov. Bill Haslam is heading to West Tennessee on Wednesday to promote his proposal to extend health coverage to more than 200,000 low-income Tennesseans. Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal has been met with a largely cool response in the Legislature because it draws on federal money available under President Barack Obama’s health care law. Haslam has stressed that the proposal differs from straight Medicaid expansion adopted in other states because it would require co-pays and offer vouchers to buy private insurance.

TN governor visits Mid-South, reveals details health care plan (WMC-TV Memphis)
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is visiting the Frayser community of Memphis Wednesday afternoon to reveal new details on his Insure Tennessee Plan. It’s a two-year pilot program that would provide health care to more than 200,000 Tennesseans who lack direct access to coverage. Look for updates on Haslam’s visit tonight on WMC Action News 5.

Tennessee physicians back Haslam’s insurance plan (Times Free-Press)
The state’s largest physicians’ organization says it is fully backing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal to extend subsidized health insurance coverage to an estimated 200,000 lower-income residents. Tennessee Medical Association officials said the group’s Board of Trustees voted over the weekend in support of the plan. “A cornerstone of our mission is to help make accessible, affordable medical care a reality for Tennessee patients. Insure Tennessee supports that vision,” said TMA President Dr. Doug Springer in a news release.

Fort Campbell session on cuts draws hundreds (Associated Press/Schelzig)
Army leaders hosted an overflow crowd for a “listening session” at Fort Campbell on Tuesday about force reduction plans that could include deep cuts at the post that is home to the famed 101st Airborne Division. The meeting was held at the post’s 600-seat Family Resource Center, and officials set up two satellite locations for people to watch and make public comments, bringing total attendance to more than 1,300. Under the maximum cuts in Army spending that could be imposed by the end of the decade, Fort Campbell, which straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky line, would lose half of the soldiers and civilians, or about 16,000 people, who in turn have more than 24,000 spouses and children living in the community.

Hundreds Attend Fort Campbell ‘Listening Session’ On Cuts (WTVF-TV Nashville)
A “listening session” on an Army proposal to make deep cuts in personnel stationed at Fort Campbell attracted a capacity crowd more than an hour before the event. A total of 1500 attended the event. About 700 filled the Family Resource Center, and two satellite locations were setup to handle the overflow. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Kentucky Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen joined several other local and state leaders who made emotional pleas to army leaders. Speakers argued the cuts would take a toll on local businesses, families and schools, and hurt a post that plays an integral role in our nation’s defense, the economy in two states.

Overflow crowd attends Fort Campbell ‘listening session’ (WSMV-TV Nashville)
An overflow crowd spilled into three different buildings at Fort Campbell Tuesday night to listen to plans that could threaten the post’s future. Many in attendance sported stickers that read “I Support Fort Campbell.” “It’s important for the kids to know what’s going on and that their lives could be disrupted,” Darlene Baldwin said. Baldwin brought her two grandchildren to the “listening session” because she said it was important they know what could happen to their father – a soldier – in an Army downsizing. “Military, that’s the life they’re used to,” Baldwin said. “It’s going to be a big change for them if this happens.”

1,800 pack Fort Campbell for meeting on U.S. Army cutbacks (WKRN-TV Nashville)
Around 1,800 people packed three large buildings at Fort Campbell Tuesday night for a community meeting about U.S. Army cutbacks. It was a chance for residents and concerned citizens to speak directly to Army officials about the proposed cutbacks and their impact on the Fort Campbell community If the cutbacks hit the base, which sits on the Tennessee-Kentucky border, it could reduce the number of active-duty personal and civilians by more than 16,000.

Turnout was the loudest message at Fort Campbell (Leaf Chronicle)
Five minutes after the door opened at Fort Campbell’s Family Resource Center Tuesday evening, the first thought of many in the building was, they needed a bigger venue. Fifteen minutes later, an announcer told the crowd, who came out strong on behalf of Fort Campbell, that anyone leaving the building probably wouldn’t be allowed back in. The overflow was being sent to Cole Park Commons down the road nearly an hour before the event began. Military members and families were asked to utilize Wilson Theater to allow more members of the surrounding communities in the door at the FRC, where the main event was being held.

Clarksville Makes Case Against Fort Campbell Downsizing (WPLN-Radio)
Tuesday night is Clarksville’s chance to make its case for preserving as many jobs as possible at Fort Campbell. Local leaders have been working to recruit an overflow crowd in order to persuade Pentagons officials, going as far as to put up Interstate billboards advertising the so-called “listening session.” According to Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett, Lamar Advertising donated 10 billboards – five in Clarksville and five in Nashville. “To be honest, I don’t know that a lot of people are educated on the impact Fort Campbell has on the state of Tennessee,” Durrett says.

AT&T Tennessee adding nearly 150 jobs (Nashville Business Journal)
AT&T Tennessee plans to hire 145 new employees statewide for call center, retail and technician positions, according to a news release. Nearly 30 positions are available in Middle Tennessee, according to an email from a spokeswoman. The majority of the hiring has been spurred by AT&T’s Project Velocity IP, the release says, an investment plan to expand and enhance IP broadband networks. “As we’ve continued to invest in our network and expand our customer base in Tennessee, we’ve also remained committed to providing excellent customer service,” Joelle Phillips, president of AT&T Tennessee, said in the release.

AT&T hiring statewide (Memphis Business Journal)
After creating more than 300 new jobs in Tennessee in 2014, AT&T is planning to hire 145 new employees in the state in 2015. The jobs, which will be for a newly created call center as well as retail and technical positions, will include 40 in Memphis. The company continues to invest in its network, and several of the jobs are because of AT&T’s Project Velocity IP project, which will expand the company’s IP broadband networks. “As we’ve continued to invest in our network and expand our customer base in Tennessee, we’ve also remained committed to providing excellent customer service,” said Joelle Phillips, president of AT&T Tennessee.

AT&T to hire 145 workers in Tennessee (Tennessean)
AT&T will hire 145 employees for newly created call center, retail and technician positions in Tennessee, with nearly 30 open positions in Middle Tennessee. The company created more than 300 new jobs in Tennessee in 2014, according to the company. The wave of hiring has been spurred in part by AT&T’s Project Velocity IP, an effort to enhance IP broadband networks. AT&T employs more than 5,600 employees in Tennessee. “As we’ve continued to invest in our network and expand our customer base in Tennessee, we’ve also remained committed to providing excellent customer service,” said Joelle Phillips, president of AT&T Tennessee.

Large Nike distribution center expands in Memphis (WMC-TV Memphis)
Nike says it’s just months from completing what could be North America’s largest distribution center in the Mid-South. Better schools is one of the biggest goals for Nike, who is closing in on a deal that would bring new jobs to Memphis. A senior Nike executive says the company’s commitment to the Bluff City is to not only to create more jobs, but to invest in getting better schools and overall pour money into Memphis, according to the Commercial Appeal. Rich Byrnes says the facility located in the heart of Frayser will be big enough to hold almost 200 football fields. It will bring the companies shoes and clothing to one central location. The nearly $300 million facility is set to be finished later in 2015.

Sides launch ad battles for, against Insure Tennessee (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Even as Gov. Bill Haslam ventures into West Tennessee today to promote his Insure Tennessee proposal, a high-stakes public battle is underway between independent groups on both sides of his plan to extend health coverage to 200,000 low-income Tennesseans. Hoping to win the hearts and minds of fellow Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature, Haslam heads to Jackson and Memphis today for two forums aimed at amping up support for the plan, which uses federal Medicaid dollars to fund what he calls his “market-driven” approach.

Comptroller’s report says state fuel taxes inadequate (Associated Press)
A report from the state comptroller’s office says Tennessee’s fuel taxes are inadequate. The study by the comptroller’s offices of research and education accountability says such taxes have stagnated and are not expected to be sufficient to maintain existing infrastructure and meet long-term transportation needs. Tennessee relies heavily on fuel taxes to fund its highways and does not use debt financing, tolls or general fund revenues. The report suggests those as possible revenue options, as well as motor fuel tax rates.

Fuel tax revenues not expected to be sufficient for state’s road system (TFP/Sher)
A new study from the state Comptroller’s office says Tennessee’s fuel tax revenues have “stagnated” and “are not expected to be sufficient” for continued support of one of the nation’s best-maintained road systems. The study found the state’s per capita revenue for highways in 2010 was the lowest among the 50 states. Yet, Tennessee was fourth highest among states in the percentage of roads rated as being in good condition and 13th lowest in its percentage of deficient bridges. The study was conducted by the Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability and had been requested by the state Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee.

Tennessee study lists options for raising highway revenue (C. Appeal/Locker)
A new state report released Tuesday provides more research in support of a fuel tax increase or a restructuring of Tennessee’s fuel taxes to pay for the increasing costs of highway and transportation maintenance and improvement. The state comptroller’s office study, conducted at the request of the state legislature’s fiscal review committee, finds that current revenue from Tennessee’s fuel taxes won’t maintain existing highways and bridges or meet long-term transportation demands. The state’s gasoline tax rate of 21.4 cents per gallon was last raised in 1989; its diesel fuel tax rate of 18.4 cents per gallon was last raised in 1990.

CDC reports fourth Tennessee child flu death (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Nelson)
The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said another child has died from flu in Tennessee. The CDC late last week reported 19 new pediatric deaths in the country, including one in Tennessee. That means four children so far have died of influenza in Tennessee this flu season, three in Middle Tennessee and one in East Tennessee. Neither the CDC nor the Tennessee Department of Health will ientify the children’s counties of residence. Like the majority of the country, Tennessee continues to have “widespread” flu activity, according to the CDC. The national health agency tracks numbers of flu deaths of children and pregnant women but not of adults, though it does have surveillance from 122 cities.

State funding cuts proposed for services for intellectually disabled (J. City Press)
Governor Bill Haslam’s request for an across the board 7 percent reduction in state agency spending and the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ proposal to meet that request with nearly $14 million cuts to its Medicaid Wavier and Family Support programs has in-home care providers across Tennessee rallying for a reprieve. Lee Chase, executive director of Dawn of Hope in Johnson City and Jim Gillen, executive director of Greene County Skills in Greeneville, told the Johnson City Press Tuesday the elimination of those DIDD dollars and the $12 million in matching federal funds they precipitate will compromise services for more than 15,000 of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Budget cuts could hurt care for disabled (Jackson Sun)
Some people with intellectual disabilities could lose care and support because of proposed state budget cuts, said William Brewer, executive director of Madison Haywood Developmental Services. Brewer said the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities was asked to present budget cuts of 7 percent, and the proposed cuts would be passed down to local agencies. He said his organization could lose up to about $600,000 in funding for two programs. Brewer and other representatives of his agency spoke to The Jackson Sun’s editorial board Tuesday as part of an effort to raise awareness about their agency and the potential effects if the cuts are implemented.

Armstrong pushes for seat belts on school buses (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
Citing a December three-fatality accident in Knoxville, state Rep. Joe Armstrong says he will continue to push for passage of a law requiring seat belts on school buses this year despite skepticism voiced by officials of Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration and some fellow legislators. “This is something that means safety for our children and there’s nothing more important,” said Armstrong, D-Knoxville. “I don’t see how anyone can argue that we shouldn’t put protection for children in place when we can.” The veteran legislator argues that 2015 presents a “ideal opportunity” for Tennessee to join a handful of other states that have required seat belts on school buses.

Legislature Is Mostly Male, Even More White And Virtually All Christian (WPLN)
We recently read a Washington Post article about the diversity of Congress, and that got us wondering: What are the demographics of Tennessee’s 109th General Assembly? In honor of the legislature starting its 2015 session, we analyzed lawmakers’ official profiles and campaign websites, and here’s what we found: 83 percent of them are men, 86 percent are white and 96 percent self-identified as Christian. Tennessee as a state is overwhelmingly white and Christian, so the lack of diversity in those areas doesn’t surprise Vanderbilt political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer. What’s more disparate, he says, is the lack of female lawmakers.

State Rep. Hill to be replaced on House Local Government Committee (JCP)
Tennessee’s House Local Government Committee, chaired last year by 7th District state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, will now be chaired by Rep. Timothy Wirgau of Buchanan. House Speaker Beth Harwell announced Saturday a major overhaul of House committee alignment and leadership, which included replacing Hill. He remains a member of the powerful House Finance, Ways & Means Committee, as well as the Health Committee and Health Subcommittee. Harwell appoints House committee chairs at her discretion, but Hill said a perceived political snag between the two on the now-resolved wine-in-supermarkets bill did not result in any “payback on her part.”

Memphis officials say 19 rapists identified by rape kit testing (CA/Burch)
In a monthly report on the city’s backlog of untested rape kits, Memphis Police Deputy Chief Jim Harvey told City Council members that 4,892 of the initial 12,374 kits have been analyzed or are currently at the lab for analysis. Dewanna Smith, spokeswoman for Mayor A C Wharton, said in a news release that testing of the rape kits has resulted in investigations that identified 19 rapists, including 14 who are considered multi-case offenders. Harvey said analysis of a kit from a January 2001 aggravated rape case resulted in a match with a suspect who had been convicted in 1985 of rape in Jackson, Tennessee. The suspect also had been arrested in 1988 and 1999 in aggravated rape cases in Jackson and Memphis, and got a seven-year sentence when he was convicted in 2005 in a rape case in Shelby County.

Tennessee gets short shoutout during State of Union (Tennessean/Tamburin)
Tennessee got a short presidential shoutout during the State of the Union on Tuesday night, when President Barack Obama cited the Volunteer State’s efforts to offer community college to students tuition-free. Obama unveiled his $60 billion proposal to extend that offer to students nationwide during a visit earlier this month to Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville. On Tuesday, he said Tennessee pointed toward bipartisan support for his “bold, new plan.”

How State of the Union proposals affect Tennessee (Tennessean/Boucher)
Hours away from President Barack Obama’s sixth State of the Union address, much is already known about what he plans to propose. With Obama visiting Tennessee and other states in recent weeks to outline his plans for the next year, USA Today looked at seven things to watch during the president’s address tonight. Breaking that down further, here’s how those seven issues could affect Tennessee: • Tax increases: Obama’s $320 billion plan to increase taxes on the wealthiest of the wealthy will have little effect on the people of Tennessee (or any other state, for that matter). It proposes raising the capital gains tax rate from 23.8 percent to 28 percent for people who earn more than $500,000.

President’s call for higher taxes on wealthy draws mixed reactions (TFP/Anderson)
Local residents had varied opinions on the afternoon before President Barack Obama called in his State of the Union address to raise taxes and increase benefits for those less well off. People were most eager to talk about Obama’s proposal to increase taxes by specifically targeting wealthy individuals and big financial institutions. Twanda Jeffries, 44, said there is an argument on both sides of the issue. “I’m on the fence,” she said, standing in the Walgreens parking lot on the North Shore. “I can see it from both sides.” Jeffries said her brother is extremely wealthy, and was previously a vice president at Morgan Stanley in New York City.

ET congressional reaction to Obama’s speech (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Members of the East Tennessee congressional delegation reacted with skepticism to the proposals President Barack Obama outlined in his State of the Union address Tuesday night: U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.: “Unfortunately, much of what I heard from President Obama tonight are partisan proposals that don’t have any chance of becoming law — and that he intends to pursue despite the message the American people sent him in November by electing a Republican Congress. … There are plenty of opportunities — if the president really wants to — to work with the Republican majority to get things done that the American people want done.”

Supreme Court ruling on ACA could create turmoil (Tennessean/Cowart)
It is a new year in Washington, and with it, there are renewed cries of a possible meltdown of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This year, the prognostications are not from the tea party or the new Republican-led Congress. They are emanating from observers of the U.S. Supreme Court. Once again, nine justices may determine the fate of the ACA. Before SCOTUS this term is the issue of whether or not the ACA authorizes premium subsidies for consumers who purchase ACA health coverage through federally run insurance exchanges. By the literal wording of the ACA, premium subsidies are only available to state-based exchanges.

City would pay $28 million in proposed schools settlement (CA/Connolly)
The Memphis City Council voted 10-0 on Tuesday to accept a proposed settlement that would end a years-long funding dispute between the city government and local schools. The deal is still subject to approval from the Shelby County Schools board, which hopes to consider the proposed settlement at a Jan. 27 meeting or at a special session. Under the plan presented to the council by member Shea Flinn, the city would pay the school district a total of $28 million in cash, with the first payment of $8 million due by Feb. 15 and subsequent payments of $1.3 million per year between 2016 and 2030. By July 2019, the city would also contribute capital expenditures of as much as $3.8 million.

‘X’ factor: Jobs would be lost if company chooses to head to competing state (JCP)
Competing to keep more than 150 high-value jobs local, Washington County Economic Development Council CEO Mitch Miller said Johnson City and Washington County are at a disadvantage. Speaking to the Washington County Commission’s Budget Committee Wednesday, Miller said an established local manufacturer, codenamed “Project X” to abide by a confidentiality agreement, is being courted by another state with the prospects of tax incentives and grants, which Tennessee can’t offer. “Tennessee doesn’t offer incentives for job retention, they just offer them for new jobs coming in,” he said.


Editorial: Haslam wise to ease emphasis on test scores (News-Sentinel)
Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision to temporarily scale back the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations is a reasonable reaction to the shifting landscape in education politics in Tennessee. The change, made in response to teacher concerns, is a tactical redeployment of the governor’s educator evaluation policy, not a headlong retreat. Reducing the emphasis on test scores while sorting out the use of Common Core standards and developing evaluations that are fair to all teachers is a prudent step at this point. The bill authorizing the change was one of three filed last week as part of the governor’s legislative agenda for the first session of the 109th General Assembly.