January 25 TN News Digest

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

Tennessee Promise aims to change face of state colleges (Tennessean/Tamburin)
Since Gov. Bill Haslam signed Tennessee Promise into law eight months ago, it has attracted a chorus of praise from other states, education experts and the White House, but leaders here can’t afford to rest on their laurels. The pioneering program is still in its infancy, and many questions about its reach and efficacy remain unanswered. The coming year will be a crucial one. “Obviously we’re excited about Tennessee Promise being highlighted as a best practice, but from the perspective of implementation, honestly, it means very little,” said Mike Krause, who was tapped by the governor last year to oversee the program’s roll-out.

School Board Appreciation Week Jan. 25-31 (State Gazette)
Gov. Bill Haslam has declared Jan. 25-31, 2015 as School Board Appreciation Week in Tennessee. This week helps build awareness and understanding of the vital functions our locally elected boards of education play in our community. Dyersburg City Schools and Dyer County Schools join public districts from across the state to celebrate School Board Appreciation Week and honor local board members for their commitment to our children. School board members are elected by their communities to manage the local schools. They oversee multimillion-dollar budgets, which fund education programs for more than 993,800 students in approximately 1,823 schools.

Cherokee Farm taking shape as UT seeks anchor tenant (News-Sentinel/Marcum)
Concrete examples are often helpful when it comes to selling new ideas. University of Tennessee officials are hoping a research building that’s taking shape off Alcoa Highway will help build momentum for Cherokee Farm Innovation Campus, located just south of the Tennessee River. The centerpiece of Cherokee Farm is the 142,000-square-foot Joint Institute for Advanced Materials building, which is nearing completion and should be ready for use by the end of the year, said Cliff Hawks, who is CEO of Cherokee Farm Development Corp. Speaking of something “concrete” to show prospects, the facility was built with some 10,000 cubic yards of concrete to make it as stable as possible for the instruments that will be used there in materials science research.

Healthy Tennessee offers free health screenings (Jackson Sun)
Nonprofit organization Healthy Tennessee provided free health screenings and evaluations to hundreds of Jackson residents at a health fair Saturday at Oman Arena. Dr. Manny Sethi, an orthopedic trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt University, said he founded Healthy Tennessee to bring health education to communities throughout the state. “I’ve seen so many people who are really sick, and it’s because no one has reached out to them and told them the long-term effects their lifestyles can have,” he said. Sethi said a large percentage of the state’s budget goes to health care, and he believes preventative education is the best way to reduce health care costs over time.

Sen. Green formulating option if Insure Tennessee fails (Leaf Chronicle)
State Sen. Mark Green is working on a alternative in the event Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal to expand Medicaid does not pass in the legislature. “I’m concerned there are some Republicans in the Legislature that will say no to Insure Tennessee,” Green said following a town hall meeting in Erin on Jan. 21. “If it doesn’t pass, this will be a contingency.” Last week, Haslam began a tour of the state to promote his proposal to extend health coverage to more than 200,000 low-income Tennesseans. Insure Tennessee has received a 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. The plan has been endorsed by hospitals that argue it would defray costs for treating uninsured patients. The program is to be financed entirely by Tennessee’s hospitals and is being touted to not create any new taxes or add any state cost to the state budget.

Abortion, public records questions served up at legislative luncheon (N-S/Miller)
Open records and abortion rights dominated the discussion Saturday when a panel of state legislators sat down to take questions from an audience of journalists and others. The annual Legislative Preview Luncheon, hosted by the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists at Buddy’s Banquet Hall on Kingston Pike, drew a panel of 10 legislators, including Knox County’s state Rep. Harry Brooks and state senators Ryan Haynes and Dr. Richard Briggs, all Republicans. The issues discussed are expected to resurface during the latest session of the General Assembly, which began earlier this month. The first question for the panel from moderator Gene Patterson, longtime anchor at WATE-TV, Channel 6, concerned state open records laws and fees associated with obtaining records from schools.

Women sound off on abortion bills (Daily News Journal)
Women’s privacy should be respected when it comes to decisions about abortions, a retired Murfreesboro pastor recently told her state legislator. “I’m here because increasingly women are losing their rights of self-determination,” said the Rev. Gayle Watson, a retired pastor and member of a Blackman United Methodist Church that sits on the far west side of the Murfreesboro area in state Rep. Rick Womick’s 34th District. Watson traveled to Nashville to meet Womick with two other church associates: the Rev. Karen Barrineau, the current pastor at Blackman Methodist, and Emily Mitchell, a first-grade teacher at David Youree Elementary School in Smyrna.

Alexander off and running in new Senate (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is among 22 Senate sponsors of the American Liberty Restoration Act, S. 203, a bill that repeals the requirement in the Affordable Care Act that requires people to have insurance. “How can we continue to enforce the individual mandate when the law doesn’t clearly ensure that millions of Americans are allowed to receive subsidies to help cover the cost?” Alexander said in a statement. “How can we enforce it when Obamacare outlaws plans that fit family budgets? Millions more Americans are in for sticker shock when they see how much they owe the IRS in April because of Obamacare. We need to focus on making health care plans affordable to Americans,” said Alexander.

Republican Governors Buck Party Line on Raising Taxes (New York Times)
Republican governors across the nation are proposing tax increases — and backing off pledges to cut taxes — as they strike a decidedly un-Republican pose in the face of budget shortfalls and pent-up demands from constituents after years of budget cuts. “My jaw dropped,” Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, a conservative Republican in Nevada, said after hearing Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, propose a $1.1 billion tax increase for education this month. “Whether we kill it by five votes or 15 votes or 25 votes, we are going to kill it.” At least eight Republican governors have ventured into this once forbidden territory.

OPINION

John Ray Clemmons: Insure Tennessee imperfect but good for TN residents (Tenn)
I intend to vote for Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Insure Tennessee” proposal, and this is why. It is the right thing to do. It is time to stop playing partisan politics with people’s lives and depriving hardworking Tennesseans of access to health care. During my campaign, I made a promise to Nashville families on their doorsteps that I would fight to expand health coverage in our state. I am standing by my word. I recognize that the governor’s proposal is a conservative approach that fails to address major policy issues inherent in our health care system, but its potential benefits to so many Tennessee families far outweigh any drawbacks.

Tom Humphrey: Bill on texts and calls by lobbyists isn’t balderdash (News-Sentinel)
Louie Lobbyist sent a text message the other day that read, “SB141 is repression of free speech!” The reference was to Senate Bill 141, introduced recently by Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis. It basically would prohibit lobbyists — or anyone acting on their behalf — from sending text messages or making phone calls to legislators while they’re in a committee meeting or in a floor session. On a whim, I texted back: “Balderdash.” Louie is the only person I have ever heard use that word in an actual conversation. Suspected it would provoke him, and I was right. He called from his iPhone within a few minutes. You media morons are always harping on First Amendment stuff and now you’re saying a citizen cannot tell an elected representative how he feels about an issue! You’re a (expletive deleted) hypocrite. I don’t know what Sen. Tate was thinking here, but that’s gotta be unconstitutional.

Guest columnist: Educators now must unite around a common vision (DNJ)
On Tuesday, Tennesseans officially welcomed Dr. Candice McQueen our state’s next commissioner of education. Stepping into her new role, Dr. McQueen inherits a legacy of both extraordinary success and historic, if sometimes turbulent, transformation from her predecessor. In her recent letter to teachers, she not only pledges to build upon the reforms that have made Tennessee a national model for education progress but also reaches out to the state’s community of educators in hopes of forging an alliance around a shared passion for student achievement.

Chuck Fleischmann: Mr. President, work with us (Times Free-Press)
Many of us in Congress are hoping that President Obama can find common ground with the new Republican House and Senate, and we can make substantial progress on tax reform, free trade, entitlement reform and education. Unfortunately, President Obama’s State of the Union focused on progressive priorities for taxes and education that made little effort to find common ground with a Republican Congress. Take tax reform. There is a pretty strong bipartisan consensus that for America to be competitive in the 21st century, we need to make our tax code simpler, fairer and more efficient for individuals and corporations. Our tax code is overly complex, with high rates and plenty of loopholes.