January 24 TN News Digest

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

Candice McQueen, Randy Boyd: Tennessee must look ahead, move forward (TN)
In recent years, Tennessee has frequently made headlines, and our hard-earned accomplishments are often the envy of the nation. For example: “Fastest-improving state in the nation in student achievement.” “State of the year” for the second straight year in economic development and new job creation. “Model for the country” in offering two years of tuition-free community or technical college to high school graduates (and at no additional cost to taxpayers). Those are just three examples of how our state has been lauded for its hard work on two of our highest priorities: public education and economic development. This success did not happen overnight. Nor is it an accident that education and economic development have been closely aligned.

Editorial: Insure Tennessee is the right plan for our state (Tennessean)
Noticeably absent from Gov. Bill Haslam’s Jan. 17 inauguration speech was any mention of his signature Insure Tennessee plan to cover about 200,000 low-income, working people across the state. That’s a pity because it provided the impression that he was trying to avoid an open debate about an otherwise common-sense policy only because some members of his party dislike the plan. In all likelihood, it was another example of Haslam being pragmatic and trying to avoid any public divisions before the start of the Feb. 2 special session on the measure.

Gov. finds support for Insure Tennessee (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)
As Gov. Bill Haslam continues trying to build support for his Medicaid-alternative health insurance plan, he likely can take one major threat cited by its opponents off the table — potential federal action blocking the use of hospital provider taxes to pay the state’s share of the health plan. The governor launched a cross-state tour this week to meet with legislators and other officials in small groups to answer questions about Insure Tennessee, the market-oriented plan to cover up to 200,000 uninsured, low-income working Tennesseans. He negotiated the plan with President Obama’s administration as an alternative to the direct expansion of Medicaid provided for by the Affordable Care Act.

Copays, disenrollment set Insure Tennessee apart (Tenn/Boucher, Fletcher)
Under Gov. Bill Haslam’s controversial new health proposal, people could be forced off public health insurance for late payments and employers could cut back how much they pay for employees’ insurance. These are two key ways the Haslam plan differs from traditional Medicaid programs throughout most of the rest of the country. As specifics of the proposal — designed to cover an additional 200,000 uninsured Tennesseans — trickle out, similarities and differences to Medicaid are becoming clearer. Haslam’s Insure Tennessee is designed to cover those who can’t afford private insurance and don’t qualify for TennCare — Tennessee’s version of Medicaid.

Tennessee unemployment rate continues to decline (Tennessean/Allison)
Throughout 2014, Tennessee’s unemployment rate had been in decline and the numbers for December continued the trend. Tennessee Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips announced on Thursday that the preliminary unemployment rate for December was 6.6 percent, two-tenths of one percent lower than November. It was the fourth consecutive decline. Nationally, the unemployment rate followed the same rate of decline with December coming in at 5.6 percent. Industries such as trade/transportation/utilities, manufacturing and mining/logging/construction saw the largest increases of jobs from November to December in Tennessee.

Bill would end Tennessee’s lax open-container law (Memphis Business Journal)
Lawmakers will make another attempt this year to nix the state’s infamous open-container law, which allows passengers to consume alcohol in moving vehicles. The Tennessean reports that the latest bill was filed Thursday by Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol. Tennessee is one of seven states that doesn’t ban alcohol for passengers, and as a result loses out on millions of dollars a year in federal transportation funding (Lundberg estimated that tally at between $6 million and $12 million). The bill faces an uncertain future in the legislature, but several past attempts have failed.

Senator now says she still supports Common Core repeal (Tennessean/Boucher)
Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham says she is committed to repealing Common Core in Tennessee, a day after reports came out that she had changed her mind on moving away from the controversial education standards. Gresham, R-Somerville, has been one of the more outspoken senators in pushing against Common Core. Earlier this year she introduced Senate Bill 4, which calls for the creation of Tennessee-specific standards. It came on the heels of other similar legislative arguments and Gov. Bill Haslam’s agreement to a yearlong evaluation of the current standards.

Rep. Timothy Hill to hold town hall (Johnson City Press)
Tennessee Rep. Timothy Hill will hold a town hall-style meeting next week in Mountain City to confer with constituents. Hill, whose District 3 encompasses Bluff City and Blountville in Sullivan County, Roan Mountain in Carter County and Mountain City in Johnson County, will begin the meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 29 at Lois’s Country Cafe, 542 W. Main St., Mountain City. The public is encouraged to attend.

Foe of Insure Tennessee uses Corker bill to attack expansion plan (TFP/Sher)
A legislative foe of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s Medicaid expansion plan is questioning its reliance on a voluntary hospital assessment that would fund the state’s future share, citing efforts two years ago by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker to eliminate the widespread practice. State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, was quoted by The Commercial Appeal of Memphis this week calling Corker’s 2013 bill yet another reason he is against Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan to use federal Medicaid dollars to extend health insurance coverage to 200,000 low-income adult Tennesseans.

Congress unlikely to block use of taxes to help pay for health plan (CA/Locker)
As Gov. Bill Haslam continues trying to build support for his Medicaid-alternative health insurance plan, he likely can take one major threat cited by its opponents off the table — potential federal action blocking the use of hospital provider taxes to pay the state’s share of the health plan. The governor launched a cross-state tour this week to meet with legislators and other officials in small groups to answer questions about Insure Tennessee, the market-oriented plan to cover up to 200,000 uninsured, low-income working Tennesseans.

Majority of state NFIB members oppose Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan (NBJ)
Even with Gov. Bill Haslam’s new proposal, most members of the Tennessee NFIB remain strongly opposed to Medicaid expansion in Tennessee. Nearly two-thirds of Tennessee members of the National Federation of Independent Business oppose Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal. Based on a statewide survey of around 8,000 members, released Friday afternoon, 65 percent of Tennessee small-business owners are against Haslam’s plan to expand Medicaid coverage, which will offer two new coverage options and insure an estimated 200,000 additional Tennesseans. “Many small-business owners have reservations about the proposal, as currently structured,” Jim Brown, the Tennessee state director of the NFIB, said in a news release.

Tennessee GOP calls emergency meeting on open primaries (Tenn/Boucher)
Those sneaky Democrats need to stop meddling with Republican elections in Tennessee — at least that’s the sentiment of a new push by conservative members of the Tennessee Republican State Executive Committee that’s forced party Chairman Chris Devaney to call an emergency meeting. Earlier this month a group of 16 members of the GOP state executive committee requested the party call a special meeting to discuss a resolution pertaining to open primaries. If the resolution is adopted, the Tennessee GOP would officially support requiring everyone to register to vote by party and allowing people to vote only in the primary election of their party.

Tennessee gets an F in tobacco control (Tennessean/Allison)
The American Lung Association’s annual “State of Tobacco Control” report gave Tennessee a failing grade in tobacco control. Not implementing proven policies to reduce tobacco use earned the state an F in three of the four categories (tobacco prevention and control program funding, tobacco taxes, smoke-free air and access to cessation services). The tax rate of 62 cents a pack, one of the lowest in the nation, and meeting less than 10 percent of the CDC’s recommended funding for tobacco control programs are listed as significant reasons for the failing grade. However, the state did slightly better in the smoke-free air category with a grade of C.

PandoDaily files suit against Launch Tennessee (Nashville Business Journal)
Silicon Valley tech blog PandoDaily has filed a breach of contract suit against Tennessee public-private economic development group Launch Tennessee, arguing TechCrunch’s involvement in the upcoming 36/86 conference violates the terms of the Southland partners’ split. LaunchTN and Pando co-produced the 2014 Southland conference, but in late fall the partnership split as each party announce d its own Nashville tech conference planned for June 2015.

PandoDaily sues LaunchTN (Nashville Post)
Updated at 4 p.m. on Jan. 23 with comment from Launch Tennessee: “The lawsuit filed by Pando is baseless. Launch Tennessee is not partnering with TechCrunch for 36/86,” the organization said in a statement. The commitments of certain TechCrunch editors to participate as moderators is “absolutely not a partnership,” said Courtney Corlew, director of communications for Launch Tennessee. “They are coming to take part in the programming, but there is no contract involved.” Silicon Valley news company PandoDaily has sued LaunchTN, alleging breach of contract if the state group partners with rival media venture TechCrunch on an entrepreneurship conference this summer. PandoDaily and LaunchTN last year partnered on Southland, a tech conference celebrating entrepreneurship and held in Marathon Village.

PandoDaily files suit against Launch TN (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
PandoDaily, a Silicon Valley media company, has filed suit against Launch TN for breach of contract over its new technology and startup conference, 36/86. The complaint, which was filed Thursday in California, alleges that Launch TN violated the terms of a separation contract that relates to media partnerships. PandoDaily served as the media partner for Launch TN’s Southland Conference last year in Nashville. The two organizations announced a split at the end of November, with both planning similar events in June: PandoDaily’s Pandoland and Launch TN’s 36/86. PandoDaily takes issue with Launch TN having Pando competitor TechCrunch involved in its upcoming event.


Guest columnists: Tenn. should expand its charter schools (News-Sentinel)
Tennessee is at the center of the education universe as the state continues one of the most promising charter school initiatives in the country. According to Tennessee Department of Education data, the state’s charter schools make up only 4 percent of public schools statewide, yet they account for 9 percent of the state’s Reward Schools — those that rank in the top 5 percent. In addition to these remarkable results, in 2010 the state created the Achievement School District, an innovative district working to lift up the bottom 5 percent of schools in Tennessee, known as Priority Schools, and propel them to the top 25 percent in the state. Most ASD schools are in Memphis, and early results are encouraging, with ASD students outperforming state peers in reading and math, and five out of 12 schools moving out of the bottom 5 percent in just two years.