Press Releases

January 31 TN News Digest

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

Haslam promotes ‘Insure Tennessee’ program (Times-Gazette)
Gov. Bill Haslam, making a tour across the state to stump for his “Insure Tennessee” program prior to a special legislative session next week, portrayed it on Thursday as a reasonable, cost-conscious attempt to address the cost and availability of health care. But Haslam knows he’ll have to convince many fellow Republicans who are suspicious of anything tied in with the Affordable Care Act, popularly nicknamed “ObamaCare.” “I trust you, but I certainly don’t trust the federal government,” one legislator told Haslam. Statewide swing Haslam stopped at the Primary Care & Hope Clinic in Murfreesboro as one of nine stops during a whirlwind statewide tour, answering questions from legislators including both State Rep. Pat Marsh and State Sen. Jim Tracy.

Haslam: Sen. Overbey will sponsor health plan in Senate (Tennessean/Boucher)
Just days before the start of a special session, Gov. Bill Haslam has found a Republican who will sponsor his controversial health care proposal in the senate: Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville. Haslam announced Thursday Overbey would be the sponsor for the governor’s Insure Tennessee plan, the proposal to provide an estimated 280,000 low-income Tennesseans with federally subsidized health care. In a statement, Overbey said Haslam convinced him Insure Tennessee is right for the state.

Forum addresses Gov. Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan (Jackson Sun)
Madison County Mayor Jimmy Harris didn’t mince words when he expressed his feelings about the Affordable Care Act during the Jackson Community Health Forum on Friday at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital. The forum, attended by about 200, concentrated on the chronically poor health condition of Tennessee and rural West Tennessee residents. “Philosophically, I totally disagree with Obamacare,” Harris said. “It’s not comforting to know that the federal government is now in control of the largest industry we have in this country. But, you know, it doesn’t much matter what I think about it.”

Tennessee legislature returns Monday; Haslam health plan up first (CA/Locker)
The Tennessee legislature reconvenes Monday after a two-week recess from its brief organizational session, with a long agenda before it adjourns in late April or May. Such divisive issues as abortion, school vouchers, academic standards, higher-education funding, guns in parks, a fuel tax hike and an investment-income tax cut face hot debates in the weeks ahead. But not this week. When lawmakers gather again Monday afternoon, they must focus exclusively on Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan, the alternative-to-Medicaid expansion of health insurance coverage for as many as 280,000 uninsured, low-income working Tennesseans.

Both Sides Dig In For Insure Tennessee Special Session (Memphis Daily News)
Battle lines have been drawn for a Feb. 2 special session of the state Legislature to determine the fate of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal, which would use federal funds to catch some 200,000 working people falling through a health insurance coverage gap. Haslam presented his idea to legislators in December after negotiating with the federal government nearly two years for a waiver to the Affordable Care Act. But the plan is still getting a cool reception from Republican legislators who dominate the General Assembly and don’t want any connection with Obamacare in Tennessee.

Majority of state House Democrats ready to support Insure Tenn plan (TFP/Sher)
State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh says the “overwhelming majority” of Democrats in the chamber are “prepared to support” Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to use federal Medicaid dollars to extend health insurance coverage to an estimated 280,000 low-income Tennesseans. “It is not perfect; our members have many questions, but the time has come for Tennessee to address this issue once and for all,” Fitzhugh said of Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal in a statement. A few Democrats from rural areas are said to be wary of voting for the plan, fearful of retribution from voters in their conservative districts.

Haslam touts Medicaid plan some in GOP see as ‘poisonous’ (AP/Schelzig)
As Gov. Bill Haslam barnstormed the state to promote his Insure Tennessee proposal, he voiced frustration over a series of what he’s called red herrings thrown up by his opponents. The Republican governor met with more than 100 lawmakers to tout the program that would cover 280,000 low-income Tennesseans. Many of the same questions were raised by lawmakers: Can we trust federal government? Can we get out of the plan if it becomes too expensive for the state? Is this really different than the Medicaid expansion under President Barack Obama’s health care law? Haslam’s answer was an emphatic yes, and he argues the plan would ultimately make health care more affordable.

New Tennessee education leaders hold first board meeting (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
Welcome to the new era in Tennessee education. At least that’s the hope from State Board of Education Executive Director Sara Heyburn. Along with recently appointed Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, Heyburn takes a top leadership position in state education issues. The two sat across from each other Friday at their first education board meeting. McQueen joins the state from Lipscomb University, while Heyburn formerly served in the state education department as the assistant commissioner for teachers and leaders.

Tennessee official wants rural areas to be ‘job ready’ (Times-News)
New Tennessee Economic Development Commissioner Randy Boyd compared himself Friday to whoever quarterbacks the Denver Broncos after Peyton Manning retires. “I feel like that guy,” Boyd told a group of about 60 elected officials and business leaders during a town hall-style meeting held at the MeadowView Marriott. Boyd’s predecessor, Bill Hagerty, left to go back to the private sector after Tennessee was twice named “State of the Year” by “Business Facilities,” a national publication focused on site selection and economic development.

Housing agency names accolade in honor of employee (Memphis Biz Journal)
The Tennessee Housing Development Agency has created an award in honor of one of its longtime employees. Named after a employee who is retiring following 40 years of state service, 34 with the THDA, the Vicki George Award will be given annually to an “educator or counseling agency who excels in providing professional homeownership education and counseling that results in a significant improvement in housing opportunities for Tennessee families.”

Developmental centers face major budget cuts (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Gov. Bill Haslam has asked all state departments to trim their budgets. For one department, that could mean millions of dollars taken away from the state’s most vulnerable citizens. Patrick McBride, 54, has been a client at Journey in Community Living in Murfreesboro for nearly 18 years. “He just enjoys being here,” said his mother, Ann McBride. Ann McBride said without the center, her son wouldn’t be able to function. “It would mean Patrick would not get the stimulation, socialization and the training he now gets,” Ann McBride said.

Relay, U of M appear on verge of partnership (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)
After months of speculation, the University of Memphis and Shelby County Schools will announce a partnership Monday with Relay Graduate School of Education, U of M President David Rudd said Friday. He would not comment on specifics, but called the announcement a “broad-based partnership.” Relay received approval from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission on Thursday to operate up to 11 master’s programs in elementary and secondary education here. The university has offered Relay free use of classrooms and office space. The first classes will start in summer or fall. Relay expects 25 students the first year.

State Supreme Court rules against firearms maker Barrett (Daily News Journal)
The Tennessee Supreme Court recently sided with a neighbor of Murfreesboro-based firearm maker Ronnie Barrett, reopening a decade-long dispute over an access road. In the opinion issued Jan. 23, the high court found the Tennessee Court of Appeals erred and reversed its opinion that Brenda Benz-Elliott’s breach of contract complaint against Ronnie Barrett was barred by a statute of limitations. “Because the plaintiff’s claim is not barred by the statute of limitations, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand this matter to the intermediate appellate court for resolution of the other issues the defendants raised on appeal,” Justice Cornelia Clark wrote for the majority.

Changes needed for state’s tax relief program for elderly and veterans (CA/Moore)
Trustees across Tennessee are hoping to provide Gov. Bill Haslam with options as his administration proposes changes to the state’s Property Tax Relief Program for low-income seniors and disabled veterans. The program allows seniors 65 and over with incomes of $28,270 or below to receive reductions on the first $25,000 of their property’s appraised value. Veterans who were disabled while in service get a break on the first $175,000 of their property’s appraised value. And for them, there are no age or income limits.

Judge OKs closure of Greene Valley Developmental Center (Tenn/Wadhwani)
A federal judge has approved a plan to close Tennessee’s last remaining institution for people with limited mental functioning by June 2016. The plan to close Greene Valley Development Center was opposed by some family members and guardians with loved ones living in the 40-year-old facility near the North Carolina border in East Tennessee. An effort on the part of some families to intervene in a court case to oppose its closure was denied in the order released Thursday. State officials have said the move is in line with efforts nationally to move people with disabilities out of large state-run institutions and integrate them into more homelike settings.

‘Re-vote’ planned for Erlanger bonuses (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Belz)
Following an attorney general’s opinion, the Erlanger Health System board says it plans to hold a “do-over” meeting to discuss and vote again on $1.7 million in management bonuses. But local lawmakers said Friday that the gesture may not be enough to keep them from taking more drastic measures against the board — including asking certain politically appointed members to resign. Board Chairman Donnie Hutcherson wrote to state lawmakers on Friday that, following Attorney General Herbert Slatery III’s opinion regarding the state’s open meetings law, “we believe it would be in the best interest of the public we serve to have an open discussion at the February 26 board meeting about each of the four resolutions presented in December.”

Shelby Co. Election Commission considers precinct consolidations (CA/Veazey)
The Shelby County Election Commission may consolidate at least 51 existing polling places into 23 precincts in a series of meetings over the next two months. The SCEC will evaluate the potential closings in two groups. The first group of 51 existing precincts will be discussed at a committee meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the SCEC’s operations center at 980 Nixon Drive. The Election Commission will vote on those consolidations on Feb. 18 at 4 p.m. A committee will hear the second group — which was not released Friday — on March 4 at 4 p.m., and the Election Commission will vote at a 4 p.m. meeting March 18.

Whitwell Middle School embraces new state initiative (Times Free-Press/Omarzu)
Fifty seventh- and eighth-graders from Whitwell Middle School will travel to Disney World in May. But they won’t just be getting on the rides for fun. The students will learn about science, in part by getting on rides in the park from 6-9 a.m., before it opens to the general public, and measuring the G-forces they experience. Whitwell Middle School garnered widespread attention for its collection of millions of paper clips that eighth-graders began gathering in 1998 as a way to get their heads around the enormity of the Holocaust through a physical object. The paper clip was chosen partly because Joseph Valler, a Norwegian Jew, has been credited with its invention.


Guest columnist: Insure Tennessee makes sense for business, economy (Tenn)
Supporting Governor Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan is the right thing to do. Besides the fact that Insure Tennessee would help 200,000 Tennesseans access affordable health care, this plan will strengthen our state’s growing economy. If Insure Tennessee passes, it will infuse the state with more money that would reach far beyond the health care industry. It would ensure that Tennessee remains an attractive choice for companies considering relocating. It would also help small businesses, the vital backbone of our private sector. From the perspective of the business community, it is crucial that we maintain our state’s economic momentum.

Guest columnists: Lawmakers: Consider positive impact of Insure Tennessee (TN)
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Affordable Care Act decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012, holding that states cannot be obligated by the federal government to expand their Medicaid programs, it is clear that the impact of this decision created unintended gaps in the application of the law. Those gaps in coverage have been deeply felt here in Tennessee not only by the 280,000 uninsured Tennesseans, but by hospitals, other healthcare providers, business owners, and all of the residents of Tennessee.

Guest columnist: Insure Tennessee will save lives, cut burden of cancer (N-S)
Next week, the Tennessee General Assembly will convene in a special session to consider Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan. As a cancer advocate, I will be watching the proceedings very closely. Haslam and the state Legislature have an opportunity to help reduce the cancer burden in Tennessee by supporting Insure Tennessee, which has the potential to expand access to health insurance coverage for thousands of hard-working, low-income families across the state. An estimated 280,000 Tennesseans would become eligible for health insurance coverage if the state accepts the more than $1 billion in federal funds available to increase access to health insurance coverage.

Guest columnist: Insure Tennessee helps entire community (News-Sentinel)
Those of us who are fortunate to live in the Oak Ridge area are uniquely aware of the importance of federal funding to the prosperity of our communities and the well-being of Tennesseans. That is why our elected representatives have a special responsibility to educate the members of the General Assembly on the need to support Insure Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to provide federally funded health coverage to uninsured Tennesseans. Haslam’s plan will cover more than 200,000 people in tough financial circumstances. Most are working low-wage jobs, and 24,000 are veterans.

Guest columnist: Maintain funding for disabilities services (Tennessean)
As the 2015 legislative session convenes and the Haslam administration’s budget is being finalized, the needs of people across the state with disabilities, along with many other programs, are being considered for potential cuts. The impact of these cuts, should they be implemented, are front and center on my mind as president and CEO of the Michael Dunn Center in Kingston, where we provide services for 400 children and adults with disabilities. This year could be particularly challenging. Being proposed are across-the-board rate cuts of 2.75 percent and 4 percent for the services provided by intermediate care facilities, which are residences for medically fragile people with intellectual disabilities.

Editorial: Keep party primaries open to all (Commercial Appeal)
This page is not in the habit of telling political parties how to conduct internal business unless it affects the rights of citizens in a fundamental way. Which is certainly the case with a proposal before party leaders to do away with Tennessee’s open primary system. The issue would ultimately have to be decided by the General Assembly, but with the GOP in charge of both chambers, what flies among party leaders has a reasonable shot at taking off in the legislature as well. The party’s special called meeting on Feb. 7 in Nashville to consider the proposal thus becomes a potential watershed moment in Tennessee politics.

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