January 23 TN News Digest

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

Haslam campaign for Insure Tennessee ramps up (Tennessean/Boucher)
With 10 days to go before lawmakers start to discuss the fate of Gov. Bill Haslam’s health plan, the governor and his administration are working the phones and pressing the flesh to push for its passage. As of Monday, Haslam and the administration were on their third round of calls to all 132 state lawmakers to discuss Insure Tennessee, the Haslam proposal to use federal funds to expand health care coverage for an additional 200,000 Tennesseans. “These are calls to set up meetings to gather questions and give information. We continue to make preparations for the special session, and the governor will be out across the state in districts during the next two weeks, starting in Jackson and Memphis this week,” Haslam spokesman Dave Smith said.

Haslam on Statewide Tour to Tout Insure Tennessee (Memphis Daily News)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he isn’t counting votes in the Tennessee legislature just yet for his Insure Tennessee Medicaid expansion proposal. At least he’s not counting hard votes for the upcoming Feb. 2 special legislative session as he holds a series of nine public forums across the state. “I’m not here to get anybody’s vote,” Haslam said at the outset of the forum Wednesday, Jan. 21, at Christ Community Health Center’s Frayser location, which drew 13 of the 19 state legislators in the Shelby County delegation to Nashville. “This is not a debate.” Nevertheless, Haslam got commitments Wednesday from several Democrats in the delegation to support Insure Tennessee.

Tenn. December unemployment rate was 6.6 percent (Associated Press)
Tennessee’s unemployment rate for December was 6.6 percent, two-tenths of one percentage point lower than the previous month. Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips said the November rate was 6.8 percent. The national rate for December was 5.6 percent, also a two-tenths drop from the prior month. State figures show that nonfarm employment increased by 12,500 jobs from November to December. The largest increases occurred in trade/transportation/utilities, manufacturing, and mining/logging/construction.

Tennessee unemployment rate keeps sinking in December (M. Biz Journal)
Tennessee’s unemployment rate declined in December, marking four straight months of improvement. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development says the state preliminary unemployment rate for December was 6.6 percent, an improvement over November’s revised rate of 6.8 percent. Since December of 2013, the state unemployment rate has decreased from 7.7 percent. Even with the improvements, Tennessee lags behind the national unemployment rate. The national rate for December was 5.6 percent.

Jobless rates drop in Georgia, Tennessee (Times Free-Press/Flessner)
Tennessee and Georgia added jobs at a faster pace than the rest of the country last year, but both states still ended 2014 with a higher unemployment rate than the U.S. average. Unemployment in Tennessee fell last month by two-tenths of a percentage point to 6.6 percent, while Georgia’s jobless rate last month fell by three-tenths of a percentage point to 6.9 percent. “This was the first time in eight years that we’ve had job growth in December,” Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said. But both Tennessee and Georgia continued to have unemployment rates last month well above the U.S. as a whole, which averaged a 5.6 percent jobless rate in December.

Tennessee December jobless rate dipped to 6.6 (Commercial Appeal/McKenzie)
Tennessee’s unemployment rate dropped to 6.6 percent in December from 7.7 percent a year earlier, state officials announced Thursday. The state’s jobless rate for the month also edged down from a revised 6.8 percent in November, according to Tennessee’s Labor and Workforce Development department. The state’s December unemployment rate remained above the preliminary national average of 5.6 percent.

DIDD earns accreditation for quality, leadership (Tennessean/Barnes)
The Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities received official Person-Centered Excellence network accreditation Thursday from the Council on Quality and Leadership. The Person-Centered Excellence accreditation process assesses the quality of services and supports delivered by the department and its contracted providers. The CQL deemed DIDD as an entity that better understands how people using their services define quality of life. “What’s most important in this journey isn’t the ‘accreditation’ label,” DIDD commissioner Debra Payne said in a news release.

Woman says prison guards forced her to prove menstruation (AP/Loller)
A woman visiting an inmate at a privately run Tennessee prison says guards forced her to expose her genitals to prove she was menstruating when she tried to take a sanitary napkin into the facility, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday. The woman, identified only as Jane Doe in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Nashville, said she had already cleared one security checkpoint at the prison about 85 miles southwest of Nashville on April 20 when guards noticed a menstrual pad sticking out of her pocket. The lawsuit says that when the guards told her she would need to prove that she was menstruating, she offered to leave the prison or leave the pad behind.

Radio ads target health care plan (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)
The fight among Republicans just got personal over Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to use federal Medicaid dollars to fund his “market-driven” approach to making health insurance available to 200,000 Tennesseans. A new 60-second radio ad, paid for by the Tennessee chapter of the conservative Americans for Prosperity, singles out state Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, and accuses the House assistant state majority leader of “betraying” a promise to oppose “Obamacare.” The ad cites Brooks’ support last year of the Stop Obamacare Act and says it was aimed at preventing “Obamacare from destroying Tennessee’s budget. “But now,” the ad says, “Brooks is urging fellow legislators to vote for Obamacare. Kevin Brooks promised to fight against Obamacare. Now he’s fighting for it. Why is Kevin Brooks betraying us?”

Co-sponsor changes stance on bill to repeal Common Core (A. Press/Johnson)
A co-sponsor of legislation to repeal Tennessee’s Common Core standards said Thursday the measure probably will change after discussions with teachers and other educators who say the higher benchmarks in English and math are helping students. Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, both Republicans, filed the proposal in November. Bell did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Thursday. But Gresham told The Associated Press that she’s now OK with the current standards after talking with teachers and other educators who have convinced her that “children are really learning.”

Tennessee GOP may seek closed primaries (Johnson City Press)
Former Unicoi County sheriff and current Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committeeman Kent Harris is among members of his committee who feel Democrats should vote for Democrats and Republicans should vote for Republicans. The Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee is scheduled to meet in a special-called session on Feb. 7 in Nashville to consider what has been referred to as the “closed primary resolution.” If the committee approves the resolution, it would essentially be recommending that the Tennessee General Assembly enact legislation to require voters to register with their respective party before casting ballots in primary elections.

State reps see need for help in classrooms (Jackson Sun)
The Theta Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, a society of women educators, held its annual “Legislative Forum” at South Side High School on Thursday. About 20 educators attended and had a chance to talk to state senators Ed Jackson (R-District 27) and Delores Gresham (R-District 26), state representative Johnny Shaw (D-District 80) and Zak Kelley, a representative for Craig Fitzhugh, Democrat minority leader for the State House of Representatives. Among the topics discussed during the conversation were teacher evaluation, funding for various programs and how money will continue to be split between primary education and higher education.

Tennessee Senator Mark Green announces Legislative Priorities (Leaf Chronicle)
State Senator Mark Green, MD (R-Clarksville) released his legislative priorities for the 2015 legislative session, including three major proposals aimed at creating jobs in Tennessee. The announcement comes after the General Assembly completed their organization session, during which Green was appointed 1st Vice-Chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. “Tennessee has been aggressively working to do a lot of things right,” said Senator Green. “With the influx of new Tennesseans seeking our state as their home, the demand for jobs is critical, and we must make sure government creates the climate to allow businesses to keep pace.”

Judge postpones decision on developmental center (Associated Press)
A federal judge says he’ll take some time to decide whether the Tennessee’s last large facility housing mentally disabled people should be closed. Media report that Judge Kevin Sharpe heard arguments on Wednesday for and against the closure of Greene Valley Developmental Center, which has nearly 100 residents and about 600 workers. State officials recommended closing the facility to end a long-running lawsuit over care of the mentally disabled. They plan to move the residents into more community-like settings as part of a larger movement to improve services and get people out of large institutions. Others argued to keep Greene Valley open, saying residents who live there receive good care.

Judge: Meeting not just open, also must be audible (News-Sentinel/Willett)
A Greene County Chancery Court judge on Thursday ruled that the state Open Meetings Act does give citizens the right to hear the proceedings at public meetings. Judge Douglas Jenkins also cleared the way for the case, brought by a group of Greene County residents against the Greene County Industrial Development Board and US Nitrogen, to go to trial on an expedited schedule. Two separate hearings were held Thursday. In the first hearing, the judge dismissed a claim by the plaintiffs that alleged the IDB could not operate a water pipeline but upheld the need for audibility.

State’s photo-ID law for voters questioned (Daily News Journal)
Voting-rights advocates questioned and pushed for reforms in Tennessee’s photo-ID voting law during a lecture at Middle Tennessee State University Thursday. More than two dozen people packed a small classroom at MTSU for the lecture by Fair Elections Legal Network’s Jon Sherman, who tied the Tennessee law passed in 2011 to a series of other state laws he said are meant to suppress people from casting ballots. The state law requires all voters to provide either a state driver’s license, a state or federally issued photo identification, a military photo ID, a U.S. passport or a Tennessee carry permit to cast their ballots in person.

More than 10,000 in Hamilton County have signed up for Obamacare (TFP/Belz)
With just three weeks left to go in open enrollment through HealthCare.gov, 10,474 people in Hamilton County have enrolled or renewed in marketplace plans, according to a data analysis by Enroll America. The enrollment advocacy organization determined the number using zip code-specific data released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human services. That same data showed that 184,486 Tennesseans and 425,927 Georgians have enrolled in coverage so far this year. Enrollment closes Feb. 15. As they did last year, most of those signing up for plans have qualified for financial assistance in the form of tax credits.

States Look to Tax E-Cigarettes (Stateline)
Taking a long inhale and blowing a cloud of vapor, Jason Jones, who has owned the Vapor Mania store here since 2011, considered what a tax would do to his business, which includes selling electronic cigarettes as well as manufacturing a wide variety of flavored nicotine liquids to go into them. “I think we’d be out of business, or at least it would make it much harder to do business,” said Jones, 34. “I think it would drive people back to cigarettes because they would be cheaper.” With an eye on the twin concerns of public health and raising revenue, Utah is one of many states considering taxing electronic cigarettes, the battery-powered devices that deliver vaporized nicotine and provide the look and feel of smoking without the smoke and tar of traditional tobacco products.

TVA president calls for ‘customer focus’ (Times Free-Press/Flessner)
Providing the lowest-cost energy, responsibly managing natural resources and supporting job creation are all part of Tennessee Valley Authority’s partnership with the local municipalities and power cooperatives that sell TVA power, TVA President Bill Johnson said Thursday. “If can make sure everybody has a job, and they can go fishing and they have a bill they can afford to pay, then we’re being successful,” Johnson told the Cleveland Utilities board during a visit Thursday. Johnson credited a conversation with Ken Webb, president and CEO of Cleveland Utilities, as an inspiration for his customer-oriented focus, describing their talk as “a seminal experience.”

Caryville factory closing; 164 jobs will be lost (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Flory)
A metal building manufacturing facility in Caryville is being closed, and will result in the loss of 164 jobs. Houston, Tex.-based NCI Building Systems said Thursday it is closing its Caryville operation, as part of an effort to consolidate its Tennessee facilities. The company said its facilities in Lexington and Elizabethton will remain open, and that they will continue to serve NCI’s A&S Building Systems brand. “The leaner footprint will maximize efficiencies and improve supply chain management while increasing the concentration of product and service capabilities at the existing facilities,” the company said in a news release.

OPINION

Editorial: Traffic camera decisions should be made locally (News-Sentinel)
The debate over traffic cameras has flashed on and off for the past several years, but it appears the issue will show up prominently on the radar during this legislative session. State Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, is proposing the camera ban for the entire state. Holt called the cameras “nothing more than a modernized form of speed trapping.” He claims they have less to do with safety than with municipal greed, with too much of the revenue going out of state. Holt is not the only lawmaker opposing the traffic cameras, but with 18 Tennessee towns, counties and cities, including Knoxville, using the cameras, a general ban on the devices likely will not have clear sailing — and it shouldn’t. It is a local issue for all 18 municipalities.