February 8 TN News Digest

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

Tennessee Highway Patrol drives hard to ‘zero’ (Leaf Chronicle)
The good news on Tennessee highways is undeniable: Traffic fatalities are down for the third straight year, even as the number of vehicles and miles traveled on Tennessee roads have gone up. As of the end of 2014, there were 967 fatalities in the state, down from 995 in 2013 and 1,014 in 2012. The long-term trend of traffic fatalities is even more amazing when one goes back through the historical data from the 1960s and early 1970s, when the average miles driven in the state was a third or less than today. In the highest fatality year, 1973, with 1,444 deaths, there were 5.05 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

Law enforcement officers, legislators aim to crack down on human trafficking (DNJ)
Local legislators and law-enforcement officials have one, unified message for human traffickers wanting to do business in Rutherford County. “You do not belong here,” Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold said. The message comes after state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, recently co-sponsored a bill that would enhance funding for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in order to crack down on human trafficking in the State of Tennessee. The bill, co-sponsored by State Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, calls on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to implement courses, which will also include information to help first responders and caseworkers find services to assist victims of the crime.

Haslam turning attention to “ruined brand” of Common Core (AP/Schelzig)
Fresh off his failed effort to convince fellow Republicans in the Legislature that he wasn’t peddling “Obama- care,” Gov. Bill Haslam is pivoting to another tough fight over what he describes as the ruined brand of Common Core education standards. During last week’s special session on his proposal to extend health insurance to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans, the governor was unable to persuade enough lawmakers that “Insure Tennessee is not Obama-care” to get even a single committee to advance it. The governor acknowledged a day after the proposal’s defeat that his next challenge will be to keep Tennessee’s rigorous education standards while abandoning the “worthless” brand of Common Core despised by groups ranging from teachers to tea partiers.

TBR chancellor: Graduate goals need state funding (Associated Press)
Tennessee Board of Regents system Chancellor John Morgan says TBR schools cannot meet the state’s college graduation goals unless the state fully funds its outcome-based education formula. Tennessee’s Drive to 55 initiative aims to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with a college degree or certificate to 55 by the year 2025. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports for the TBR system that means graduating a minimum of 43,202 students by 2025. So far, the system is exceeding the trajectory needed to meet that goal. But Morgan warned that without proper funding, that trajectory may not last.

Walnut Street Bridge closing this week for TOD inspection (Times Free-Press)
The Walnut Street Bridge will be closed to all traffic for a bridge inspection Monday through Friday and perhaps into Saturday, according to a release from the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Closure hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Pedestrian/bicycle detours will be posted using East First Street, Market Street Bridge and Frazier Avenue. Work is contingent on favorable weather, the TDOT release stated.

‘Anatomy of a disaster’: What went wrong with Insure Tenn. proposal (TFP/Sher)
Gov. Bill Haslam spent nearly two years developing a plan he hoped could win approval in the GOP-dominated General Assembly to provide federally funded health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans. But despite the support of hospitals, physicians, chambers of commerce, advocacy groups and others — as well as the governor’s own high voter-approval ratings — Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal crumpled on its first vote in the governor’s special legislative session Wednesday. The Senate Health Committee vote was 7-4. The House never acted. So how does that happen? According to the governor, lawmakers and others, any number of factors figured in the failure.

Mistrust, disinformation, lack of legislative leadership, sank health plan (CA/Locker)
Gov. Bill Haslam told state legislators Monday night their upcoming decision on his health coverage plan for the working poor was “about who we are” as a state. “My faith doesn’t allow me to walk on the other side of the road and ignore a need that can be met … particularly when the need can be met without cost to our state, with money that our state is currently being taxed for and is sent elsewhere,” he said. Less than 48 hours later, seven Republicans on a Senate committee killed the governor’s plan, Insure Tennessee. Did the stunningly swift defeat describe ‘who we are’? Not according to polling, which indicated majority support for the governor’s plan among Tennessee registered voters and GOP voters in particular.

Lawmakers seek answers after Insure TN dies (Tennessean/Boucher)
The nearly half million low-income Tennesseans who could have received health insurance through a form of Medicaid expansion shouldn’t expect a solution this year. But that does not mean the issues raised by Gov. Bill Haslam’sInsure Tennessee plan are dead. Lawmakers returning for the start of the regular legislative session Monday will continue to debate solutions to the health care problems plaguing the state. In the days after the quick defeat of Haslam’s plan during last week’s special session, the governor showed reluctance to try and resurrect the same plan during the regular session. “I think it’ll be really hard. I would love it to (come back up), because like I said, the problem hasn’t gone away. But you have to see something’s that changed,” Haslam told reporters.

Insure TN killers could have helped constituents (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Large percentages of the people living in districts represented by the state senators who killed Gov. Bill Halsam’s Insure Tennessee plan would have benefited from the legislation, according to data from the U.S. Census and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. By a 7-4 vote, the members of Senate Health and Welfare Committee defeated the legislation on the third day of the special session called by the governor. Haslam’s plan would have extended federally-funded health care to the working poor and other uninsured people. A family of three making up to $27,310 would qualify. (The current cutoff is $21,770 for a family of three.)

Poll: TN split on abortion rules, against gay marriage (Tennessean/Tamburin)
Tennesseans favor some, but not all, of the the abortion rules proposed by state lawmakers, according to a poll released Saturday by Middle Tennessee State University. Most adults in the state favor a regulation that would require doctors to talk to women about risks and alternatives before they get abortions, the poll found. At the same time, only 35 percent support a regulation that would require medical personnel to describe a woman’s ultrasound aloud before an abortion. An amendment to the Tennessee constitution passed in 2014 opened the door for legislative restrictions on abortions.

Tenn. Republican Party leaders reject closed primaries (Associated Press)
The executive committee of the state Republican Party has turned back an effort to hold closed primaries in Tennessee. The panel voted 37-29 on Saturday against the resolution aimed at requiring party registration to vote in primary contests. Currently, Tennessee voters aren’t registered by party, and people sometimes vote in a particular primary because of campaign developments rather than party affiliation. Supporters of closed primaries say crossover voting can unduly influence the outcome of nomination contests.

TN GOP rejects closed primaries (Tennessean/Boucher)
The Tennessee Republican Party won’t advocate changing election laws in the state after party officials voted down a resolution Saturday that called for closed primary elections. After two hours of debate the Tennessee Republican State Executive Committee killed the resolution 37-29. That’s a sign the current system works well for Republicans, said state party chairman Chris Devaney. “I don’t think that we would be here today with the supermajorities in the legislature, with all of our statewide officials Republican if we did not have open primaries,” said Devaney, who supports open primaries.

Tennessee gets low score for anti-bullying climate (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)
Tennessee ranks 38 out of 42 states for what it does to prevent bullying, according to research from a group working to show the cost — in dollars and cents — of chronic social issues. Bullying costs Tennessee school districts $3.9 million in lost school days alone, based on 2013 truancy data WalletHub analyzed for a campaign it will launch on Monday, national Stop Bullying Day. “WalletHub is a personal finance social networking site. We compare credit card costs and also offer the latest tech deals,” said spokeswoman Jill Gonzalez. “But we also have developed data-driven studies to really take a financial look at these hot-button issues.”

Duncan bill would require ejectable, floatable black boxes on planes (N-S/Collins)
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. has been fighting for years to require airlines to equip commercial aircraft with technology that will make it easier to find a plane when it crashes. The airline industry has resisted, and Congress has been reluctant to force the issue. But the disappearance of the still-missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 over the South China Sea last March and other recent aviation disasters have led aviation experts to again call for airlines to fit their planes with the data recorders. Duncan is hoping the renewed attention will also cause Congress to finally force the airlines to put the technology on all domestic flights.

OPINION

Editorial: Insure TN fate shows excuses, apathy defeat leadership (Tennessean)
“Obama” the byword, “Obama” the bogeyman, “Obama” the barrier … to progress and good governance in Tennessee. The president really has nothing to do with it, but it’s the politicians who are using him and his name as a fear-mongering reason to shirk leadership and refuse to take bold action for the benefit of the state – be it on health care, transportation or education. The defeat of Insure Tennessee is a symbol of what we should expect to come from this General Assembly in 2015: short-sightedness, fear over facts, little resolve to tackle big problems and Republicans cannibalizing each other in factional power struggles. It’s not what we deserve when 280,000 working poor people can’t afford to buy health insurance, when the state can’t afford to build roads and when key educational indicators put Tennessee in the bottom 10 states in the nation.(SUBSCRIPTION)

Tom Humphrey: Proposal victim of governor’s cautious style (News-Sentinel)
Gov. Bill Haslam probably made the best speech of his political career in asking last week that the General Assembly approve his Insure Tennessee plan, though the part that gave it that status was a late addition not included in the official prepared text widely published. He recounted a meeting with President Barack Obama, during which another Republican governor asked why the president would not agree to just give states federal money in Medicaid block grants with no strings attached. “He looked at the governor and said, ‘Because I don’t trust you to take care of the least of these.’ ” As a Republican, he said, it took “a minute for your blood pressure to go back down,” but then he had a rejoinder to the president, declaring that “a lot” of GOP governors ran for office “so that we can take care of the least of these,” but they’re also concerned about federal debt.

Editorial: Sen. Dolores Gresham was MIA on Insure Tenn. (Jackson Sun)
We were disappointed to see a key voice missing from public discussions about Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan — the voice of state Sen. Dolores Gresham, a Republican from Somerville. Gresham was absent when Haslam made a special trip to West Tennessee to talk about his plan, which would have provided health insurance to an estimated 280,000 poor and working poor in Tennessee. Gresham was absent in a front page story in this newspaper on Feb. 1 that shared the stances of legislators from West Tennessee on the plan (she failed to respond to several calls seeking comment). And Gresham was absent from any public discussion we saw of the plan before it was killed by a Senate committee last week.

Free-Press Editorial: What Responsibility Do Students Bear In Gap? (TFP)
A study released last week said the gap between the richest and poorest students earning a bachelor’s degree by age 24 has doubled in the last 40 years. It also revealed the percentage of students from all income levels enrolling in college has increased during those same four decades. But while 99 percent of students from the highest-income families graduate by age 24, just 21 percent of the lowest-income families graduate by that age. If it can be assumed that any student who enrolls in college has the grades to be approved for enrollment, the money (or loans) with which to pay for higher education and the desire to succeed, why aren’t more graduating?