February 2 TN News Digest

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

Editorial: Insure Tennessee shows good initiative (Daily News Journal)
Legislators will convene in Nashville today in a special session, and we think the people of Tennessee deserve full and fair consideration of a proposal that would extend health insurance coverage to more of them. Gov. Bill Haslam has crafted something of a compromise plan that would use funds generated through the federal Affordable Care Act to benefit residents of Tennessee as they have been benefiting residents of other states. Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal is more than a simple expansion of TennCare, which is the state’s Medicaid program. One aspect of the proposal would allow more people to take advantage of their employers’ health-insurance programs.

Insure Tennessee: What you need to know (Tennessean/Fletcher, Boucher)
The Tennessee General Assembly is set to debate Insure Tennessee less than a week after a similar plan from Indiana won final federal approval — making the special session pivotal for not only Tennesseans but people around the country tracking the success of the health-care proposals. Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal to expand health coverage to the working poor shares similarities with Indiana’s Healthy Indiana Plan that make them a litmus test of sorts for the many states that have not expanded coverage for people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. “People have been laser-focused on Indiana, Tennessee and Utah,” said Paula Torch, senior research analyst at Avondale Partners in Nashville.

Insure Tennessee: What is a special session? (Tennessean/Boucher)
Gov. Bill Haslam embarks on possible the biggest political challenge of his career Monday: steering his plan to expand health-care coverage through a hostile General Assembly. State lawmakers are meeting to discuss the governor’s plan in a special session, a relatively rare occurrence at the state capitol. What is a special session? Here’s what you need to know: What makes a special session special? Typically the General Assembly meets in what is called a regular or normal session. Regular session starts on the second Tuesday of January ever year and ends when lawmakers decide it ends (typically sometime in April.)

A Little Mentoring Goes A Long Way, According To TN Promise Organizers (WPLN)
Of the many high school students who applied for Tennessee Promise, three-quarters are taking the next required step to get free community college: meeting their mentors. These are volunteers who will help them through the college application process. Tennessee Promise organizers are expecting to attract a lot of students who never thought about going to college before, or are the first in their family to attend. So the program recruited 7,500 adults around the states, called “mentors,” to guide several students each through the college application process.

State Considers Recruiting Some Students To Schools It’s Taken Over (WPLN)
Tennessee’s agency that takes over low-performing schools wants permission to start recruiting students. It’s a significant change for the Achievement School District, which was originally tasked with making dramatic gains without bringing in new students. “What’s happening now is that we’ve got kids who want to send their kids to one of our schools,” says ASD superintendent Chris Barbic. “And we have to turn those families away.” When the ASD was conceptualized, it was required to work only with the students already zoned for the schools it was taking over.

Tenn’s strong vaccination programs limit the virus’ spread here (TFP/Anderson)
Hardly a month into the new year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is already reporting more outbreaks of measles than typically seen in an entire year. Tennessee has had only 14 cases of the highly contagious virus since 1995 — five of which were last year — but the current outbreak in western states is sparking conversations among parents about the role of childhood immunizations, said Christy Tittsworth, a nurse practitioner at Beacon Health Signal Mountain Pediatrics. “As the disease hits closer to home … it makes it more real,” she said.

Lawmakers pressed from both sides on Haslam health plan as session (CA/Locker)
State legislators are being bombarded with requests both to oppose and support Gov. Bill Haslam’s health insurance proposal as the General Assembly convenes Monday in a special session called exclusively to consider the plan. On one side, hospitals, other health providers and health advocacy groups are urging employees and friends to contact their state senators and representatives in support of the Haslam plan, Insure Tennessee — a market-oriented alternative to expansion of traditional Medicaid provided under the federal Affordable Care Act. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell also wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, asking Norris to back the plan.

Insure Tennessee: 5 lawmakers to watch (Tennessean/Boucher)
Although all 133 state lawmakers are expected in Nashville Monday for the state of a special legislative session, some could have more sway over Gov. Bill Haslam’s health-care plan than others. Here are the five elected officials to watch during the Insure Tennessee special session. House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville The speaker has gone out of her way to not tip her hand as to whether she’ll support the governor’s health-care plan. A statement in support or opposition could have a drastic impact on the fate of the proposal. Watch which committees Harwell decides need to discuss the plan. If she sends the plan to the opponent-packed Insurance and Banking Committee, it could be a sign the plan is doomed.

Five lawmakers to watch in Insure Tennessee special session (AP/Schelzig)
As Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal to cover 280,000 low-income people heads into a special legislative session Monday, here are five lawmakers who are playing key roles in the debate. 1. BETH HARWELL. Usually a staunch Haslam ally, House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, has been conspicuously silent about her position on the governor’s Medicaid expansion plan. Harwell, who has been stockpiling campaign cash with an eye toward a 2018 gubernatorial bid, wields wide power to influence fellow lawmakers and the flow of legislation through committees. But so far she’s been unwilling to publicly endorse — or reject — the measure.

Tennessee lawmakers are familiar with subsidized care; they have it (TFP/Sher)
It’s a pretty good deal: taxpayer-subsidized health insurance that pays 80 percent of an enrollee’s monthly premiums along with generous co-payments and out-of-pocket limits on medical services. And all for a job that isn’t considered full time. If you’re thinking this is Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal — his plan to use federal Medicaid dollars to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans including the working poor — guess again. This is the Tennessee government’s existing group insurance program for full-time state employees.

Disclosures: PACs flexed financial muscle in late 2014 (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
Newly filed campaign finance disclosures show political action committees with an agenda in the 2015 legislative session spent thousands of dollars in last-minute efforts to influence elections, then joined other interests in giving thousands more to elected lawmakers. A review of disclosures filed with the Registry of Election Finance last week also shows there was more than $1 million in late spending on both sides of the campaign over passage of an abortion amendment to the Tennessee Constitution. The leading group supporting passage borrowed $100,000 for the last days. Under state law, the last pre-election financial disclosure is dated 10 days prior to an election — falling on Oct. 25 in 2014 with Election Day on Nov. 4.

City Council to vote on Insure Tennessee, drug storage room (Jackson Sun)
The Jackson City Council will meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, and like state legislators in Nashville, the council will discuss Gov. Bill Haslam’s health insurance plan called Insure Tennessee. Councilman Ernest Brooks will present a resolution for the council to consider which supports the governor’s proposal. A yes or no vote from the council wouldn’t change whether or not Jackson gets Insure Tennessee, but Brooks said it would be helpful. “It would show that the city of Jackson is behind our state legislators in supporting the governor’s measure, and it would show that we are, as a body, putting our constituents ahead of politics,” Brooks said.

TVA council holding public workshop, comment period (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Regional Energy Resource Council is holding a public workshop this week in Chattanooga. The workshop is set for Monday and Tuesday, and members of the public may comment during a session Tuesday morning. The council is a 19-member group that advises TVA on decision making on overarching issues of energy resources. The panel is being updated on the status of the Integrated Resource Plan process. The plan is a guideline for TVA’s long-term energy resource planning decisions and allows flexibility to respond to changing market conditions and power needs.

OPINION

Guest columnist: Legislature Needs to Support Insure Tennessee (TFP)
I’ve spent my entire career as a physician caring for Tennesseans. Helping patients understand and manage their medical conditions is both rewarding and challenging. But one of the greatest challenges my patients face is not really medical at all — it’s living without access to affordable health insurance. Now, Tennessee has an unprecedented opportunity to end that struggle for more than 200,000 Tennesseans. Last month, Gov. Haslam made a brave proposal to provide health care coverage to uninsured Tennesseans through a program called Insure Tennessee. Insure Tennessee will provide health care for our friends and neighbors, stabilize our hospitals, and grow our economy.

Editorial: Tennessee must address highway funding issue (Times-News)
The Tennessee Comptroller’s Offices of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) has told us what we already knew about the Volunteer State’s highways and bridges: The current financing system for them is toast. A comptroller’s report notes Tennessee’s gasoline tax rate (21.4 cents per gallon) was last raised in 1989, while its diesel fuel tax rate (18.4 cents per gallon) was last raised in 1990. Tri-Cities municipal governments, in a recent meeting with Northeast Tennessee lawmakers, asked the group to support a gas tax increase if one is introduced in this year’s session of the General Assembly.

Editorial: Party registration for primary vote harms democracy (News-Sentinel)
Some Tennessee Republicans want to place a “Members Only” sign at the entrance to the party’s fabled “big tent.” The executive committee of the Tennessee Republican Party plans to discuss a proposal that would close GOP primaries to outsiders, according to The Associated Press. Such a move would diminish democracy statewide in general and in particular reinforce the notion that Republicans do not want to reach out to new voters. Currently, voters declare which primary they wish to participate in when they arrive at the polls. Voters can cast ballots in that party’s primary only, but in the next primary are free to choose again.