February 10 TN News Digest

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

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam: State of the state is ‘enviable’ (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday night promised to move “full speed ahead” in serving Tennessee taxpayers, touted the state’s successes and laid out a defense of high state education standards in his annual State of the State address to the General Assembly. “I stand here tonight to tell you that the state of our state is enviable in many ways,” he told the joint convention of the House and Senate. “There are a lot of good things happening in Tennessee, and they’re being recognized in significant ways across the country.”

Haslam’s $33.3B budget emphasizes education, workforce (News-Sentinel/Locker)
Gov. Bill Haslam presented state lawmakers Monday night with a $33.3 billion state budget proposal with spending increases for education, higher education and TennCare. It also proposes major changes for state employee compensation and calls for a 4 percent increase in the state’s share of teacher salaries, to make up for a similar increase Haslam proposed last year but had to withdraw during a budget shortfall. The level of increase will vary among school districts because local school boards set salary scales for educators, and the percentage of state funding for salaries varies among districts.

Haslam budget seeks to improve teacher salaries (Associated Press/Johnson)
Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s committed to making Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in terms of teacher pay and that his budget will reflect that commitment. The Republican governor outlined his budget to the Tennessee General Assembly during his State of the State address Monday evening. Despite making overall reductions of about $200 million, one of the highlights of Haslam’s budget is an investment of $100 million that will go to school districts to increase teacher pay. The governor is also fully funding the state’s school- funding formula, or BEP, with $44 million.

Haslam proposes $100 million for teacher pay raises (Tennessean/Boucher)
Gov. Bill Haslam proposes using $100 million in next year’s budget for teacher pay raises, returning to a promise he once made that Tennessee teachers haven’t forgotten. The proposed pay raise is one part of the governor’s larger push on education reform that includes a review of the controversial Common Core education standards and the role of student test scores in teacher evaluations. “Just like with state employees, we want to recruit, retain and reward the best and brightest educators. A big piece of doing that is paying good teachers well,” Haslam said Monday night in his State of the State address, the fifth of his career.

Haslam’s Budget Includes $100 Million For Teacher Raises (WTVF-TV Nashville)
Governor Bill Haslam delivered his annual State of the State address to the Tennessee Legislature on Monday evening, where he proposed allowing $100 million to go towards giving teachers a raise. Haslam said “getting education right” was one of his biggest concerns in an effort to move Tennessee forward. In doing so, he highlighted the success of the Tennessee Promise program, which provides two years of tuition-free education at a community or technical college to those who apply. Some 58,000 high school seniors applied for the program, and even more impressive, Haslam said 9,200 have signed up to become mentors for Tennessee Promise.

Haslam focuses on education in State of the State address (WSMV-TV Nashville)
In his State of the State address on Monday night, Gov. Bill Haslam promised to continue his push to improve education. After a two-minute standing ovation has he was introduced in the House chambers. He made a quick mention of the Insure Tennessee defeat in the Senate. He then moved on to areas he has had success with before, particularly education. Haslam told lawmakers his budget fully funds the Complete College Act, which gives free tuition to Tennessee adults wanting to attend technical college. In a move that brought the biggest round of applause of the night, he also promised pay raises for teachers.

Haslam focuses on teacher pay, state employees in next budget (Nashville Post)
Attempting to pivot attention to his budget by proposing teacher raises and reshaping state employees’ pay, Gov. Bill Haslam said not a word about the fresh defeat of his Insure Tennessee plan as he briefed reporters on his budget Monday. Instead, he said his budget proposes to cut $200 million from the state spending plan to offset rising costs of the state’s Medicaid and education spending and afford promised teacher pay bumps and other initiatives, he said in remarks the media.

Gov. Haslam releases $33.3 billion spending plan (Times Free-Press/Sher)
Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday unveiled a $33.3 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2016 that calls for pay increases for both K-12 teachers and higher education employees as well as $165.8 million worth of infrastructure commitments for Volkswagen’s planned expansion at its Chattanooga plant. At the same time, the Republican is recommending spending cuts of $200 million in other areas as he seeks to make room for must-do items and his own priorities while staying within the some $300 million in revenue growth he’s anticipating in the new budget taking effect this July 1.

Haslam Unveils $33B Budget in State of the State (WZTV-TV Nashville)
Gov. Bill Haslam unveiled his $33 billion dollar budget Monday night in his annual State of the State address. Few parts of that budget drew more cheers than the one relating to teacher salaries. “I am pleased to announce that the budget includes 100 million for increasing teacher salaries,” said Haslam. After failing to deliver on a promise for teacher raises last year the Governor wants to give districts enough for a 4 percent increase. “$97 million is a good start. It’s too bad we’re starting too late on this,” said Democratic Senator Jeff Yarbro. Teacher salaries are among the few increases in the Governor’s budget.

Haslam Pledges ‘Full Speed Ahead’ in 2015 State of the State (TN Report)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam tonight delivered his 2015 State of the State and Budget address before a joint session of the 109th General Assembly in the House Chamber. During the speech, he promised to move “full speed ahead” in serving Tennessee taxpayers and highlighted many of the state’s successes. “I stand here tonight to tell you that the state of our state is enviable in many ways,” Haslam said. “There are a lot of good things happening in Tennessee, and they’re being recognized in significant ways across the country.”

Tennessee’s State Of The State Makes Big Promises But No Big Surprises (WPLN)
Making good on promises: That was one of the themes to emerge Monday night from Gov. Bill Haslam’s State of the State address. Haslam pledged to spend an additional $100 million on teacher salaries and said he’ll finally give colleges and universities a long-awaited reward for raising graduation rates. He also promised to budget for state employee pay raises and change the way those workers are compensated. WPLN breaks down some of the speech’s highlights. Education Funding Haslam has been talking about increasing teacher pay since 2013.

7 things that Gov. Haslam’s budget would do in Tennessee (Tennessean)
Gov. Bill Haslam unveiled his 2015-2016 budget proposal on Monday. Here are the highlights: Education (K-12) Education will see a big boost in Haslam’s budget proposal this year, with most of that in the form of teacher pay raises. More than $97 million will be used to fund the pay increases, as well as other positions in the state’s districts, under the proposal. An additional $43.8 million will be used to fund the state’s Basic Education Program. Haslam also has added a state assessment program line item of $8.5 million.

Haslam budget invests heavily in higher ed (Tennessean/Tamburin)
Calling higher education one of his top priories, Gov. Bill Haslam used Monday’s State of the State address to unveil a handful of programs that aim to get more Tennesseans into college. Higher education officials from across the state praised Haslam’s speech, and his budget, Monday evening. Russ Deaton, executive director of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, said Haslam effectively juggled new projects and funding for the state’s colleges. “A lot of states are struggling with how to piece together the various pillars of higher ed financing,” Deaton said. Haslam, on the other hand, offered “a coherent budget in the sense that it really pieces together those different pillars.”

Educators welcome Haslam’s proposed teacher pay raises (Tennessean/Balakit)
Tennessee educators welcomed the governor’s proposal to increase teacher salaries in next year’s state budget. Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed budget includes $100 million for teacher pay raises, about a 4 percent increase from last year. “This proposed pay increase is a strong first step in treating teachers right,” Barbara Gray, president of the Tennessee Education Association, said in a statement. TEA is the largest teacher’s union in the state. “To attract and retain the best teachers, it is crucial that Tennessee stay competitive with neighboring states in teacher pay, something we have been unable to do in recent years,” Gray said. “The governor’s proposal sets us on the right path to making sure there is a qualified, committed educator in every classroom across the state.”

Haslam: “No Regrets” on Insure Tennessee, Problems Still Exist (M. Daily News)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam opened his State of the State address Monday, Feb. 9, where the special legislative session on Insure Tennessee ended last week – the defeat in committee of his Medicaid expansion proposal. “However, that does not mean the issues around health care go away,” Haslam said Monday in his speech to an audience of state Senators and state Representatives. But Haslam did not propose any alternative plan to legislators for some kind of Medicaid expansion to replace the proposal that died in the special session. Instead, he said had no regrets about his proposal.

Troubled Woodland Hills would go private under Haslam plan (Tennessean)
Among the surprises in Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget proposal announced Monday was a plan to turn over the operations of Woodland Hills Youth Development Center to a private contractor. The troubled youth detention facility in Nashville was the site of two mass escapes last fall. Under Haslam’s proposal, the state will save $7.7 million by handing the reins to a private contractor, eliminating 131 positions at the facility in the process. With federal and other funding included, the governor’s proposal includes $727.3 million for the Department of Children’s Services, up from $726.4 million last year. But the portion from state funding will decrease.

Woodland Hills security manager resigns (Tennessean/Meyer)
The security manager at the Woodland Hills Youth Development Center has resigned to pursue other work. In a resignation letter dated Feb. 3, Michael Gordon told Woodland Hills Superintendent Melvin Whitlow that he missed investigative work and he hoped to find a job that would allow him to do it. “Conducting internal affairs investigations, background investigations, security audits and having a great amount of autonomy are cornerstones of past successful employment; and that’s what I’ll return to given the chance,” Gordon said in the resignation letter.

Woodland Hills security director resigns (WSMV-TV Nashville)
Woodland Hills Youth Development Center’s new security director has resigned. After just a few months on the job, Michael Gordon turned in his resignation from Woodland Hills on Monday, saying he missed doing investigative work. Before Gordon took over, dozens of teens managed to escape from Woodland Hills last fall. Police said one of the escapees went on to shoot two Tennessee State University students. Gordon’s last day at Woodland Hills is March 2.

DCS Security Manager Resigns, Questions Remain About Pepper Spray (WZTV-TV)
After being on the job for less than five months, the Woodland Hills head security manager has handed in his resignation. The Department of Children’s Services hired former law enforcement member and security expert Michael Gordon after teens broke out of the juvenile detention facility three times last September. Gordon started working at Woodland Hills in October. He has decades of experience working in corrections and rehabilitation facilities. On February 3rd, he sent Woodland Hills Superintendent Melvin Whitlow a resignation letter, saying “certain things have become crystal clear to me,” and that he “misses doing investigative-related work.”

State hopes to strengthen ‘herd’ against measles (Johnson City Press)
Nationally, “the herd” has gotten weaker and more vulnerable to the measles, and those on the state level want to turn that around with more immunization. Though Tennessee has a immunization rate of 93.3 percent for children hitting their second birthday, according to Tennessee Department of Health statistics, well better than the national average of 90 percent, officials are looking to do better than that. And that first two year-period is important to health care professionals, who administer the “MMR” vaccine, which covers measles, mumps and rubella. If you combine this first shot with one another given before kindergarten, the state health department says this will suffice to protect almost everyone for their lifetime.

Insure Tennessee opponent pitches health reform bills (Tennessean/Fletcher)
Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, is proposing two bills to reform the state’s health care infrastructure in the wake of Insure Tennessee’s defeat. Under one bill, Kelsey is proposing to allow Tennesseans to buy insurance plans that are for sale on insurance exchanges in other states. The open border approach — which would require agreements between states, according to the bill — would widen the breadth of plans from which Tennesseans could choose, Kelsey said. Kelsey, who also is sponsoring a bill that would prevent Tennessee from establishing its own exchange, wants to see Tennesseans have access to the most affordable health care regardless of where the insurance plan is offered — and regardless of whether Tennesseans send money out of state to buy the plans.

Insure Tennessee pilot wouldn’t have jeopardized TennCare (Tennessean/Fletcher)
If Insure Tennessee — Gov. Bill Haslam’s two-year pilot health insurance expansion — had made it out of the Senate committee and past the General Assembly to be enacted for its pilot duration, would it have negatively affected TennCare coverage for 1.3 million Tennesseans if it ended after two years? No. The question about whether TennCare coverage would have been jeopardized was raised by Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, in an opinion piece in the Robertson County Times and picked up by other media. Kerry, who questioned TennCare’s relationship with Insure Tennessee in the piece, was one of seven senators who voted against it.

Bill allows beer tasting for 18-year-old students (Tennessean/Broden)
An 18-year-old will be able to taste but not swallow beer in a college beer manufacturing class if a bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Ketron becomes law. “You cannot consume it,” Ketron said during a phone interview. The Republican senator from Murfreesboro is also known for his legislation that will enable grocery stores to sell wine if municipal referendums pass, such as voters in Murfreesboro and Smyrna approving them in November. In addition to Ketron’s support, state Rep. Steve McManus, a Republican from Cordova in the Memphis area, is also sponsoring the legislation pertaining to beer tasting.

Lawmaker to push for in-state tuition for undocumented students (N-S/Slaby)
For students at Fulton High School, the path to college is about meeting expectations. “We tell our students, these are the financial benefits that are coming to you if you do what we tell you,” said Anne Thomas-Abbott, an English teacher and dean of health science at Fulton. “But that’s not always accurate.” That’s because in-state tuition isn’t an option for undocumented students, regardless of how long they’ve lived in Tennessee. “These students don’t qualify — through no fault of their own — and they’ve done everything that’s been asked of them,” Thomas-Abbott said.

Haile appointed to finance, education committees (Tennessean)
State Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, has been appointed to two key committees in the Tennessee State Senate, including the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee, which holds the purse strings for all of state government. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey made the appointment as the General Assembly completed its organizational session for the 2014-15 legislative sessions. The Senate Finance Committee has the responsibility of considering all measures dealing with the appropriation of state funds and has oversight over legislation pertaining to bonds, pensions, investments or indebtedness.

Tennessee among states with lowest gender pay gap (Memphis Business Journal)
There remains a persistent pay disparity between men and women, but in Tennessee the gap is smaller than in most states. Website Expert Market compiled a map of each state and D.C., ranked by gender pay gap, and Tennessee was ranked No. 4 on the list with men making an average of $7,192 more annually than their female counterparts. With a difference of $5,850, Washington, D.C., topped the list. Louisiana had the largest pay divide between men and women, with a gender pay gap of $16,453, the report said.

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker says he will not run for president in 2016 (TFP)
Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker announced on Monday that he does not plan to run for president. “Last August when I was asked about the 2016 presidential race, I said I hoped the Republican Party would rally behind a consensus candidate with a bold vision to guide our country, and as the field begins to form, it’s apparent that serious, substantial candidates are stepping forward,” Corker said Monday night in a written statement. Corker said he is honored to continue serving Tennesseans in the Unites States Senate. “I relish my current opportunity to serve as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a time when pragmatic U.S. leadership around the world matters more than ever,” he said.

Bob Corker Rules Out Run For President (WPLN-Radio Nashville)
Bob Corker will not run for president after all. The Tennessee senator says he’s pleased with the Republican candidates for 2016 and plans to focus instead on his new duties as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Speculation that Corker might run for the White House reached a crescendo last summer, when national handicappers began to include him in the field of potential contenders for 2016. The talk has cooled some since then, but just this past weekend, MTSU released a poll asking Tennesseans whether they thought Corker ought to run. Only 11 percent said he should, while 41 percent said he shouldn’t. Corker was on the side that said he shouldn’t.

Alexander files bill to block filibusters on presidential nominations (N-S/Collins)
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander was furious when Senate Democrats stopped Republicans from filibustering most of President Barack Obama’s nominees. He accused them of a power grab, labeled the move tyranny and even wrote an op-ed piece calling their actions Obamacare II. But last week, Alexander made a move of his own: He and U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, filed legislation that would keep senators from using a filibuster to block any presidential nomination. “We’re basically putting in place the Senate tradition of an up-or-down vote for presidential nominees,” Alexander, a Maryville Republican, said of his proposal. Alexander said he wasn’t angry with Democrats for changing the filibuster rules—he was angry about how they did it.

Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against TVA over coal plant closing (TFP)
A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by the coal industry against the Tennessee Valley Authority that tried to block TVA’s plans to shut down two of the three units at a Kentucky coal plant. In a 29-page ruling issued last week, U.S. District Judge Joseph McKinley said TVA didn’t violate federal rules in the way it decided to replace the oldest coal-fired generation at the Paradise Fossil Plant in Western Kentucky with a new combined-cycle natural gas plant. The Kentucky Coal Association and a group of landowners near the Paradise plant sued TVA in July, claiming that a full environmental impact study was required for a new gas-fired plant to be built to replace the 55-year-old Paradise units.

In Nashville’s High Schools, A Push To Get Students Ready For A Job (WPLN)
In real life, Kiara Beard is a senior at Overton High School. Today in class, she has a new role: pharmacist. Beard is part of the high school’s pharmacological science class, which teaches students what they would need to know to work in a pharmacy. Classes like this are part of a new kind of vocational education, preparing students for a real-world career. “I need your name, date of birth,” Beard tells a graduate student from Lipscomb University’s pharmacy program, who’s acting as a fake patient. “Do you have any allergies?” The graduate students are also leading the job simulation: helping the high school students count “pills,” measure solutions and write out prescription labels.

OPINION

Editorial: Insure TN deserves do-over after senator explains vote (Tennessean)
Insure Tennessee deserves a do-over because it’s become clear that at least one of the seven senators who voted to kill it relied on inaccurate information as the rationale for his decision. Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, in a column published online Monday on Tennessean.com, explained that he voted no because the state was at risk of losing TennCare if Insure Tennessee’s two-year pilot didn’t succeed. The problem with that argument is that the fate of one was never linked to the other. In short, Insure Tennessee was a separate program from TennCare and was never at risk. TennCare uses Medicaid dollars to cover a range of low-income people, including pregnant women, children, elderly and disabled people.

Columnist: Obama ‘brand’ hurting Haslam (Commercial Appeal)
The mayor of Atlantic City, N.J., was trying to give his constituents a reason to feel better about their city’s dire circumstances. “At least we’re not Detroit,” Mayor Don Guardian said during his state-of-the-city address last month. Maybe Gov. Bill Haslam should have tried that sort of approach with his health insurance plan: Insure Tennessee: At least it’s not Obamacare. We’ll never know. Even the handful of legislators who had legitimate concerns about Insure Tennessee were drowned out by the Koch brothers’ well-funded, well-organized “stop Obamacare” campaign.

Editorial: Time to shine a light on the TBI’s closed case files (News-Sentinel)
The appellate court decision issued last week that keeps secret the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file into the misdeeds of former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner was disappointing. A three-judge panel of the Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a trial court decision that 1,212 pages of the file should remain under seal and off limits to public review. The panel, in an opinion written by Judge Timothy L. Easter, admitted that no case law addressed the contradiction between the exemption to the state’s Public Records Act for TBI files and the requirement under the law that records of judicial proceedings should be open to public inspection.