March 8 TN News Digest

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

Haslam vows closer look at TennCare mental health cuts (News-Sentinel/Nelson)
In response to an outcry by mental-health providers and advocates, Gov. Bill Haslam’s office said last week he would look more closely at a proposed budget cut that would eliminate Level 2 case management services for thousands of adults with chronic mental illness. The Bureau of TennCare in the 2015-2016 state budget proposed the cut to the services, which are used by about 42,000 adults with “serious and persistent mental illness,” with the goal of keeping those recipients in the community rather than in institutions. Level 2 case managers vary in the level of services they provide but might do welfare checks, drive clients to medical appointments or counseling, pick up and deliver refills of medication, or help clients with paperwork, grocery shopping and other activities needed to live independently.

Wait list open for Gilbert veterans home in Clarksville (Leaf Chronicle)
Clarksville veterans have been wondering for months when they might get on the waiting list for residency in the Brig. Gen. Wendell H. Gilbert Tennessee State Veterans Home, which is slated to open this summer. Now they have the answer. According to a news release from the state’s Department of Veterans Affairs, the waiting list for admissions to the state’s newest veterans home is now open, and interested potential residents can contact Admissions Director Brittany Irvin at 615-895-8850, ext. 1013. Eligibility requirements are listed on the Tennessee State Veterans Home website, www.tsvh.org/eligible.html The new state veterans home will be the fourth, joining existing homes in Knoxville, Humboldt and Murfreesboro.

UT farm purchase raises questions (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Locker)
Top University of Tennessee officials and some state legislators vigorously defended the university’s planned $16 million purchase of a 1,200-acre Hardeman County farm and its improvements, for use as a regional 4-H camp and conference center, during a legislative hearing this week. The purchase has generated some criticism because the price is more than three times the $4.6 million the county’s tax assessor had valued the farm for property tax purposes. That figure is in line with an independent appraisal conducted for the state and the owner, although that appraisal also drew some questioning because it included among its analysis of comparable sales two properties near Nashville, where property is much higher-priced than in rural West Tennessee.

4 more troopers come forward about DUI quota system (Johnson City Press)
Four more Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers — including one recently retired and a supervisor — said the allegations of a DUI arrest quota system in the department are absolutely true, and they dispute the agency administration’s denial. Other troopers are afraid to speak up, they say, for fear of retaliation by those same THP administrators. A total of six troopers from all across the state have spoken to the Press on the condition of anonymity. Allegations of a DUI arrest quota came to light Feb. 25 when a Johnson City attorney, Don Spurrell, filed a motion asking for an evidentiary hearing in a DUI case. He wants to show the THP has a quota system that could lead to bad arrests by troopers trying to reach their requirements.

State employee pay fight latest struggle for Haslam (Tennessean/Boucher)
Lately, Gov. Bill Haslam just can’t catch a legislative break. On those hard-to-push, can’t-please-everyone type of bills, anyway. The governor took a hit after his push to provide federally funded health care benefits fell flat — thanks to his fellow Republicans — at the General Assembly. The legislative agenda he unveiled several days later contained nothing nearly as contentious as Insure Tennessee. And yet, on his plan to cut a pay perk currently available for many of the state’s roughly 43,000 employees, he’s facing still more opposition from the legislative leaders and other members of his own party. “While (Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey) supports Governor Haslam’s overall goal of moving the State of Tennessee toward a more merit-based compensation system, he believes that changing longevity pay for existing employees will be a tough sell in the legislature,” said Ramsey spokesman Adam Kleinheider.

Handgun permits rise as legislators try to ease laws (Tennessean/Boucher)
In 2008, roughly one out of 32 Tennesseans had a valid handgun permit. Now, it’s nearly one out of 13. As the number of valid gun permits in Tennessee prepares to exceed half a million — 300,000 of which are new since 2008 — Tennessee lawmakers continue to push to ease restrictions on where and when Tennesseans can pack heat. Gun-rights advocates say there’s no reason to fear more people legally carrying guns, and there’s no correlation between more guns and less safety. But opponents say that’s simply not true, arguing any weakening of gun laws only increases the chances of violence and tragic accidents.

Local mother advocates for the legalization of cannabis oil (Times-News)
Penelope McCall was a happy, healthy little girl when she was born. She was a bit of a miracle baby, conceived after her parents, Ellen and Andy McCall, used in vitro fertilization. Ellen had to have her fallopian tubes removed after experiencing ectopic pregnancies, when a fertilized egg does not move to the womb and instead stays in the fallopian tube. Everything seemed to be going well for the Greeneville family during the first three months. But then Penelope began having seizures. And at four months old, she began having leg twitches. “You kind of just see that and you’re like, ‘that’s not normal,’” Ellen said. “I started researching it … and while we were waiting on the appointment with the neurologist, that’s when one day she started having the spasms where her arms flail out and her eyes roll back.”

Gig connections: Internet 2.0 comes to Chattanooga (Times Free-Press/Flessner)
Chattanooga led the nation in bringing the fastest Internet speeds to an entire city when EPB pioneered gigabit-per-second Internet service along its fiber optic network in 2010. So far, more than 5,200 Chattanooga residents and businesses have signed up for the blazing-fast Internet service, which is about 200 times faster than most other broadband service. While EPB expects to net nearly $13.2 million of income this year on $111.7 million of sales from its fiber optic network, city boosters see an even bigger payoff for other businesses, especially from linking the Gig City with other smart cities, Internet developers and research institutions.

OPINION

Editorial: Review of cuts for some services for mentally ill wise (News-Sentinel)
Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration is taking the welcome step of revisiting its decision to cut funding for some case management services for Tennesseans with mental illnesses. Haslam communications director Alexia Poe told the News Sentinel last week that reaction from across the state has prompted the governor “to take a closer look to make sure we’re taking a balanced approach to ensuring that these services are being provided in the most efficient and effective way.” The decision shows the administration is flexible enough to review its approach to providing services vital to those grappling with mental illness and offers hope that full funding for case management will be restored.