February 3 TN News Digest

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

Editorial: Haslam counters critics, makes case for Insure Tennesee (Tennessean)
Insure Tennessee critics contend that Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan is Obamacare, that it’s Medicaid expansion and that it’s fiscally irresponsible. On Monday, however, Haslam countered each of these points in addition to laying out – as he had during his recent statewide tour – the facts of the proposal. At the core of it is that the health care system is not working as it should, that the costs are a problem for the entire nation and that the Volunteer State can do something about it. Sadly, facts have been set aside in favor of political rhetoric of opponents who seek to quash this effort.

Haslam calls for special session on Insure Tennessee (Associated Press/Johnson)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam told lawmakers Monday evening that his proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans is needed to improve lives and fix a “broken health care system.” Haslam convened a special session to discuss the plan, a two-year pilot project called Insure Tennessee. The deal calls on state hospitals to pay the $74 million state share to draw down $2.8 billion dollars in federal Medicaid money to offer coverage to more uninsured Tennesseans.

Haslam on Insure Tennessee: Forget politics, help people (Tennessean/Boucher)
Appealing to their faith and morality, Gov. Bill Haslam asked state lawmakers Monday night to look beyond politics to pass his plan and provide an estimated 280,000 low-income Tennesseans with federally funded health care. The request came on the first day of what is expected to be a contentious special session of the General Assembly, the first Haslam has called as governor. It’s dedicated to debating Insure Tennessee, what Haslam calls an alternative to “traditional Medicaid expansion” and what critics call an extension of “Obamacare.”

Haslam: Insure Tennessee is not Obamacare (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)
Gov. Bill Haslam appealed to state lawmakers Monday night to approve his Insure Tennessee plan, saying that it’s “not Obamacare,” that Tennessee taxpayers are paying for it already and that it can help nearly 300,000 uninsured state residents get access to health coverage for at least two years. After addressing one by one the political and financial arguments opponents have advanced against the plan — a market-oriented hybrid he negotiated with President Obama’s administration as an alternative to the expansion of Medicaid provided in the federal Affordable Care Act — Haslam asked legislators to look deeper than “the easy political argument.”

Haslam Appeals To Faith in Final Insure Tennessee Pitch (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Gov. Bill Haslam urged lawmakers to consider their religious faith as they make up their minds about his Insure Tennessee proposal to expand Medicaid. Haslam referred to the parable of the Good Samaritan to explain why he developed Insure Tennessee, his proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 more Tennesseans. “My faith doesn’t allow me to walk on the other side of the road and ignore a need that can be met, particularly in this case, when the need is Tennesseans who have life-threatening situations without access to medical care,” Haslam said to a joint session of the General Assembly Monday night.

Haslam Speech Kicks off Special Session on ‘Insure Tennessee’ (TN Report)
Gov. Bill Haslam delivered what many Tennessee state lawmakers on both sides of the partisan aisle said was an exceptional speech Monday evening. The Republican governor hit upon a range of reasons why he thinks the General Assembly ought to approve his customized Medicaid expansion plan. But there was also a common agreement that if the governor’s going to win over lawmakers, it’ll take more than just “talking points” once critics start zeroing in on the particulars of his new health-care-for-the-poor initiative. Haslam spoke before a joint meeting of the Legislature to launch a special session that’ll have lawmakers spending the next few days picking apart the details of his “Insure Tennessee” plan.

Haslam convenes special session on Insure Tennessee (WRCB-TV Chattanooga)
Governor Bill Haslam spoke before the General Assembly Monday, promising that his “Insure Tennessee” plan, is not Obamacare for Tennessee. Governor Haslam, “I think it’s the right plan for tennessee, or i wouldn’t have proposed it.” Lawmakers have started a special legislative session to decide the fate of “Insure Tennessee,” which would expand health insurance to hundreds of thousands of uncovered Tennesseans. The Affordable Care Act made federal funds available that would allow states to expand their medicaid programs.

Haslam makes case in front of General Assembly for Insure Tennessee (WATE-TV)
Governor Bill Haslam is making a case to the General Assembly in Nashville about his healthcare plan. This week, lawmakers are in special session at the state Capitol to talk about Insure Tennessee, the governor’s alternative to Medicaid expansion. Some legislators from East Tennessee believe the governor’s plan is just the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” for the state. Others say this is the right play for Tennesseans who are living without health insurance. “Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, I think everyone agrees that our current system of healthcare does not work,” said Haslam.

Special session focusing on health insurance begins (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Lawmakers have started a special legislative session to decide the fate of Insure Tennessee, which would expand health insurance to hundreds of thousands of uncovered Tennesseans. Gov. Bill Haslam presented his Insure Tennessee plan at a 6 p.m. speech before the Tennessee General Assembly to kick off the special session. “Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, I think everyone agrees that our current system of health care does not work,” said Gov. Haslam. The governor outlined his plan and what decisions led him to propose the idea, ultimately asking lawmakers for their support.

Governor Haslam Presents Insure Tennessee Plan To Legislature (WTVF-TV Nash)
Lawmakers convened for a special session Monday to take up Republican Governor Bill Haslam’s proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans. The proposal is simple, but the politics are not. Haslam’s plan is a two-year pilot project called Insure Tennessee. The deal calls on state hospitals to pay the $74 million state share to draw down $2.8 billion dollars in federal Medicaid money to offer coverage to uninsured Tennesseans. It will not create any new taxes for Tennesseans or add any cost to the state budget.

Gov. Haslam unveils Insure Tennessee during special session (WJHL-TV J. City)
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam made his case Monday for a Medicaid expansion plan to the Tennessee General Assembly. For weeks, the governor has tried to convince fellow lawmakers it’s the right thing to do. The plan called Insure Tennessee would allow an additional 250,000 Tennesseans to get health insurance through the state’s Medicaid plan. By some estimates, that could mean 40,000 people here in the Tri-Cities could get insurance who don’t already have it. To qualify under the governor’s plan, a single person would have to make less than $16,000 a year. The income cap for a family of four would be $33,000.

Haslam-backed poll: Tenn. supports Insure Tennessee (Tennessean/Boucher)
The majority of Tennesseans — Democrats, Republicans and Tea Party members alike — support Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to expand health care coverage using federal funds, according to a new poll released by a group advocating for Haslam’s plan. Even without knowing anything about the plan, 44 percent of self-identifying Republicans polled support Insure Tennessee, compared to 16 percent who oppose the plan and 40 percent who are undecided, according to the poll. Conducted by North Star Opinion Research, a GOP polling firm, the poll focuses on Republican opinions.

Haslam-commissioned polls finds GOP voters support Insure TN (TFP/Sher)
A new poll commissioned by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam says that GOP voters “initially” support his efforts to use federal Medicaid dollars to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans by a 44 percent to 16 percent margin. Another 40 percent said they were undecided, according to the poll, conducted by North Star Opinion Research from Jan. 21-26. The poll offered those surveyed with arguments for and against Haslam’s proposal, officials said. Six hundred voters were surveyed from Jan. 21-26 with an oversample of 400 to ensure they had Republicans, according to the poll memo written by pollsters Whit Ayres and Jon McHenry.

Insure Tennessee may have a long road ahead (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Gov. Bill Haslam urged skeptical state Republican lawmakers Monday night to set aside the “easy political argument” against his Insure Tennessee proposal and embrace it as conservatives’ opportunity to improve people’s lives while attacking soaring health care costs. “This is not Obamacare,” the Republican governor said as he addressed the GOP-dominated General Assembly on the first day of a week-long special session on the issue. Haslam is seeking approval for what he calls his “market-driven” plan to use federal Medicaid dollars to extend health insurance coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans with a two-year pilot project.

Opponents of Insure Tennessee proposal plan Capitol protest (Associated Press)
Opponents of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans are planning to protest at the legislative office complex on Tuesday. Tea party groups, the Tennessee Firearms Association and the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity are urging their members to arrive early enough to clear security and gain seats in legislative committee rooms. Haslam insists his Insure Tennessee proposal is different than straight Medicaid expansion because it would offer vouchers to buy private insurance and require co-pays for services.

Loni Harris appointed to state Historical Commission (Jackson Sun)
Loni Harris of Jackson has been appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to a five-year term on the Tennessee Historical Commission, according to a news release. The commission is made up of the state historian, archivist, archaeologist and the commissioner of environment, among others, the release said. Other members are appointed by the governor — eight from each of the three grand divisions of the state. The commission is charged with encouraging the inclusive study of Tennessee history and implementing the federal government’s National Historic Preservation Act in Tennessee, the release said.

Tenn. Safety Department creates new chief of staff position (Associated Press)
Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons has named David McGriff to the newly-created position of chief of staff to the agency that oversees the Tennessee Highway Patrol. McGriff served as an interim deputy commissioner in the department in 2011, and as a consultant on the agency’s driver services centers from 2013 to 2014. The position pays $122,000 per year. As chief of staff, McGriff will serve as Gibbons’ top adviser and oversee day-to-day operations for the department. McGriff, a former marine, began his career as a police officer in Columbia in 1969 before joining the Memphis Police Department in 1974.

High hopes: State excited about potential of hemp (Johnson City Press)
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is now accepting applications from farmers and producers interested in growing industrial hemp. Yes, hemp is the same plant species as marijuana. However, industrial hemp has significantly lower tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content — the ingredient in marijuana that produces the “high.” It also can be used to produce a variety of products, including fabric, textiles, fibers and food. Section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill, allows the growing of hemp only as part of a research or pilot project. This includes programs authorized by the state and “institutions of higher education.”

Tennessee calls for hemp farmers (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Tennessee is now accepting applications for people who want a license to grow hemp. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture put out the application for hemp licenses a few days ago. It’s been fielding questions ever since. “Our phone has been ringing off the hook, so to say,” said David Waddell with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. But so far, there haven’t been any takers. Hemp and marijuana are in the same family with one big difference: hemp won’t get you high. It’s also used to make lotion, clothing and even plastics in cars. However, the two plants look very similar, something the state has had to address with this new legislation.

Millions spent in final days before Tennessee abortion vote (Tennessean/Boucher)
Longtime abortion opponents Gov. Bill Haslam and his wife provided $20,000 to the campaign backing Amendment 1 — contributing to a $1.2 million final surge in spending on both sides of the ballot measure aimed at changing the state’s constitution to allow more abortion regulations. Voters ultimately approved Amendment 1, a measure that opens the doors to new abortion regulations. But that wasn’t before campaigns on both sides spent more than $6 million, largely on advertising, in the weeks leading to the Nov. 4 election. The campaigns for and against Amendment 1 already reported spending more than $4 million from Oct. 1 to Oct. 25 on advertising.

New Federal Courthouse in Nashville Included in Obama Budget (A. Press)
President Barack Obama’s budget proposal includes $181.5 million for a new federal courthouse in Nashville. U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Nashville Democrat who has long advocated for the new courthouse, lauded Monday’s announcement a “critical next step” in getting the facility built. The city has been waiting for federal funding for a new courthouse since the current complex was deemed inadequate in 1992. Congress would have to approve the funding proposal for construction to move forward at the Nashville site acquired by the federal government between 2002 and 2005.

Obama budget funds $182M federal courthouse for Nashville (Nashville Biz Journal)
President Obama on Monday proposed a budget for the federal government that includes $181.5 million to build a new courthouse in downtown Nashville. That single line in Obama’s budget means Nashville is as close as it’s ever been to receiving a new home for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. Nashville’s elected officials have pursued a new courthouse since 1992. That year, federal officials deemed the current courthouse at 801 Broadway inadequate, citing a range of security concerns and also increasing caseload. Of course, Congress must actually approve a budget that sustains Nashville’s funding in order for the courthouse to materialize.

Obama budget proposal includes new Nashville courthouse (Tenn/Troyan, Ward)
President Barack Obama’s proposed 2016 budget includes $181.5 million to build a new federal courthouse in Nashville. The federal judiciary last year named Nashville the top priority for a courthouse project, and Congress has already spent $25.1 million on the 3.4-acre site at the southwest corner of the intersection of Church Street and Seventh Avenue North. The facility would replace the 63-year-old Estes Kefauver Federal Building on Broadway, which is too small and does not meet security requirements. It would have 386,000 gross square feet, including underground parking spaces. While its inclusion in the president’s budget proposal is an important step, the money actually doesn’t arrive unless Congress appropriates it, a process just beginning on Capitol Hill.

Tenn. delegation reacts to proposed budget (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Collins)
East Tennesseans in Congress blasted President Barack Obama’s proposed $4 trillion budget, saying it calls for irresponsible spending increases and fails to put the nation’s finances in order. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Maryville: “We need to address Washington’s spending problem and fix the federal government’s $18 trillion debt, and the way to do it is by reducing the growth of out-of-control entitlement spending. I plan to work with our Republican majority — and, I hope, the president—to make tough choices so we can pass a real plan to fix the debt while supporting other priorities like national defense and national labs and medical research.”

SBA launches program for Nashville companies (Tennessean/McGee)
The U.S. Small Business Administration is launching a program in Nashville to support executives of small businesses in urban communities. The Emerging Leaders Initiative training program is designed to support company growth and promote economic development through job creation. Participants meet with mentors, work through a business curriculum and develop relationships with city leaders and other executives during the seven-month program offered at no cost. The program, available in 48 U.S. cities, has so far helped more than 2,000 small business owners, contributing to more than 1,940 new jobs and government contracts worth nearly $300 million, according to the administration.

Closing Education Gap Will Lift Economy, a Study Finds (New York Times)
Study after study has shown a yawning educational achievement gap between the poorest and wealthiest children in America. But what does this gap costs in terms of lost economic growth and tax revenue? That’s what researchers at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth set out to discover in a new study that concluded the United States could ultimately enrich everybody by improving educational performance for the typical student. When it comes to math and science scores, the United States lags most of the other 33 advanced industrialized countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, ranking 24th, far behind Korea, Poland and Slovenia.

Obama backs off push to sell TVA, but still seeks fed. role in agency (TFP/Flessner)
The Obama administration has backed off its previous push to sell the Tennessee Valley Authority after the federal utility took steps over the past two years to trim its spending and cut its long-term debt. In the president’s spending plan released Monday, budget planners with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget said they still would prefer that the federal government sell or transfer ownership of TVA to limit the financial risks for federal taxpayers. But the OMB praised TVA for taking “significant steps to improve operating and financial performance” and for bringing its debt under control.

Alexander: Budget doesn’t call for TVA privatization (News-Sentinel/Collins)
President Barack Obama’s $4 trillion budget acknowledges the administration’s strategic review of the Tennessee Valley Authority is complete, a move U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander interprets to mean it is abandoning its proposal to put the public utility under state and local ownership. “I’m glad the Obama administration has abandoned its ill-advised proposal to sell TVA,” said Alexander, R-Maryville. “Now we can get back to letting TVA do what it was created to do: providing low-cost, reliable electricity to families and businesses in the Tennessee Valley.”

Knox leads TN in advanced jobs (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)
Knoxville is tops in the state in terms of claiming its share of advanced manufacturing jobs, according to a study released today by the Brookings Institution. Proximity to Tennessee’s automotive industry and research organizations like Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee are some of the key advantages in Knoxville’s favor, said Scott Andes, co-author of “America’s Advanced Industries: What They Are, Where They Are, and Why They Matter.” “Knoxville has a little over 9 percent of its jobs in advanced industries, which is pretty good,” Andes said Monday. “It is in the top third in the nation and is stronger than its peer cities in Tennessee.”

Auto Manufacturing Jobs In Area Have Grown Faster Than In Detroit (WPLN)
Nashville has had more job growth in advanced industries since the recession than any other metro area in the country, according to new study from the Brookings Institute, and it’s largely thanks to motor vehicle manufacturers. For a manufacturer to be considered “advanced,” one in five employees there has to specialize in technology, engineering, science or math, says Brookings senior policy analyst Scott Andes. “These industries are different than just traditional manufacturing,” he says. “They require skilled workers. They’re well paid.” In the Nashville area, these companies make medical devices, computer software and household appliances.

Tourism and Preds officials begin prep for 2016 NHL All-Star game (NBJ)
When I asked Nashville Predators COO Sean Henry about the contingent that traveled to last weekend’s 2015 NHL All-Star Weekend in Columbus, Ohio, he quickly corrected me. “A contingent? It was more like a migration,” he joked. In total, about 20 reps from Nashville attended the All-Star weekend. In addition to the usual Predators employees that attend every year for team and league meetings, a crew of Nashville business, city and tourism officials headed to Columbus on a scouting trip to see what worked, what didn’t, and just how Nashville needs to prepare over the next 11 months.

OPINION

Guest columnist: Tennesseans will benefit from better health outcomes (Tenn)
Today, Feb. 2, Tennessee’s legislature will begin a special session to discuss the merits of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan. Through the governor’s carefully considered and unique approach, our legislature has the chance to help more than 200,000 Tennesseans, mostly the working poor, gain access to affordable health insurance. Much has already been communicated about the positive impact to our state’s economy that will result from bringing Tennessee taxpayers’ dollars back into the state, returning revenue that will create new jobs while helping stabilize the future of rural hospitals.

Times Editorial: Entitlement for lawmakers should be good for Tenn, too (TFP)
Tennessee state lawmakers this week will be chewing on some old gum — Obamacare. On Monday, the legislature convened in a special session to debate Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan — the waiver he wrangled from the Obama administration to expand Medicaid in our state under the Affordable Care Act with a handful of Tennessee-specific features to help our working poor get access to federally subsidized insurance. The subsidies make it cheap enough for low-wage Tennesseans to afford, but the Tennessee-specific waiver also includes some patient skin-in-the-game preventive care rules and modest co-pays.

Guest columnist: Insuring health care isn’t ensuring access (Commercial Appeal)
The Koch brothers from Kansas are opposing fellow billionaire Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan. That gives state legislators at least two good reasons to approve the governor’s proposal this week. There are at least two billion more, according to a new study by the UT Center for Business and Economic Research. There’s the extra billion dollars in health care revenue it will inject into the state’s economy each year. There’s also the extra billion dollars in annual income (not to mention 15,000 new jobs) it will bring state residents, many of whom vote — when they’re healthy enough to navigate new voter ID laws.

Guest columnist: LaunchTN shares lessons from TENN Learning Days (Tenn)
How to get better? Learn from the best. Sounds simple, but many entrepreneurs and start-up companies don’t know how to connect with, and learn from, industry experts in order to improve their operations. At LaunchTN, we know how vital that information exchange can be, and that’s why we produce a series of Learning Days for the start-ups in The TENN program. These sessions are pretty simple. We bring in some of the best and brightest to talk about: execution, technology, finance, legal, marketing/public relations/sales, human capital and culture. To start with, everybody’s in a room, and we have a panel discussion that covers key topics that are pretty much universal to all early-stage companies.

Editorial: Is spending $18.5 million for a new 4-H center a wise use of dollars? (CA)
When public dollars are involved, officials should always make sure that taxpayers are getting the biggest bang for their dollars or that the money is being wisely spent. The wisdom concern legitimately applies to the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture possibly paying $16 million for a 1,200-acre farm in Hardeman County and turning it into a year-round regional 4-H center. Children throughout West Tennessee would learn about agriculture and the environment at the center. A private appraisal paid for by the current owner, Memphis developer Scott Ledbetter, pegged the property’s value at $16 million.