March 16 TN News Digest

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

THP to increase visibility during holiday (Jackson Sun)
Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Colonel Tracy Trott announced in a press release state troopers will increase visibility and traffic safety enforcement efforts during the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. The 48-hour traffic safety campaign will begin at 12:01 a.m., Tuesday, March 17 and conclude at midnight, Wednesday, March 18. “St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally a very festive holiday, and we want to remind motorists that drinking and driving will not be tolerated,” Trott said in the release. “State troopers will proactively enforce DUI laws to help prevent fatal crashes and save lives across Tennessee. “Seat belt safety is also a top priority. We will aggressively seek seat belt violators, another major cause of traffic fatalities, across the state.”

Will ‘Right To Try’ Experimental Drugs Help The Dying In Tennessee? (WPLN-Radio)
Dr. Matthew Peachey specializes in treating people at the end of their lives. It’s a lot more than giving patients sedatives and painkillers. His focus is on helping the terminally ill figure out how best to use the time they have left. “This is a very vulnerable group of people that are prone to having false hopes or getting taken advantage of,” he said. “The most important thing is for us to be very realistic and very honest about what our expectations are.” Peachey, an assistant professor of internal medicine and palliative medicine at Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine, has concerns about a bill now under consideration at the state legislature called Right to Try.

World of hurt: Senators who voted no on Insure TN feel activists’ wrath (TFP/Sher)
For weeks, state Sen. Todd Gardenhire of has felt activists’ wrath for voting with six other GOP senators on a Senate panel to kill fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal. Advocates held a mock funeral outside his Chattanooga office in early February and followed up with a prayer service in front of GOP headquarters here while he was speaking about his vote to local Republicans. Someone also chalked graffiti outside his downtown office. Advocates said the acts symbolized the impact of his vote, which helped kill Haslam’s plan to expand Medicaid health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans available under the Affordable Care Act. But Gardenhire hasn’t been the only target — at least three others on the winning side of the 7-4 vote have been catching heat as well.

Legislators targeting resolutions at Congress (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
A resolution calling on Congress to propose a “regulation freedom amendment” to the U.S. Constitution is scheduled for a Senate floor vote this evening, one of several proposals this year wherein state legislators are offering advice to federal legislators. The proposal (SJR2) by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, asks Congress to put forth a constitutional amendment providing that congressional approval be required of any new federal regulation when one-fourth of members of the U.S. House or Senate declare opposition to it in writing.

Monroe County sheriff flap inspires election legislation (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
Legislation inspired by the voiding of an East Tennessee sheriff’s election has been revised to eliminate its most controversial provision, but Sen. Mike Bell says he still believes it will prevent the “disenfranchising of voters” that occurred last fall in Monroe County. As introduced, SB464 would have repealed the requirement in current law that a candidate for sheriff have at least three years of experience as a certified law enforcement officer within the past 10 years. Last October, a specially appointed judge ruled that Randy White’s election as Monroe County sheriff was void because White did not meet that requirement. The lawsuit challenging Republican White’s election was brought by Bill Bivens, the Democratic incumbent sheriff who lost to White by 703 votes in the August election. Republican legislators representing Monroe County in the General Assembly — Bell of Riceville and Rep. Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City — are sponsors of the resulting legislation.

Womick remains hopeful about ‘constitutional carry’ bill (Daily News Journal)
State Rep. Rick Womick continues to pursue his “constitutional carry” gun bill despite opposition from Gov. Bill Haslam. “According to the Second Amendment, we all have the right to bear arms,” said Womick, a Republican from Rutherford County’s rural Rockvale community southwest of Murfreesboro. “In Tennessee, you would be allowed to carry a gun without a permit. What my bill does is it allows the person who possesses a firearm to carry that firearm openly or concealed regardless of whether the person has a handgun permit.” Womick, however, could face a harder time getting his bill through the House after the governor and his departments of education and safety red-flagged the bill, Haslam Press Secretary Dave Smith confirmed. The House Civil Justice Subcommittee also defeated a similar open carry gun without a permit bill Wednesday. After the meeting, Haslam during a press conference told reporters why he had concerns about the constitutional carry bill.

Reedy appointed Republican deputy whip in Tenn. House (Leaf Chronicle)
With only a few months under his belt in the state Legislature, District 74 Rep. Jay Reedy, R-Erin, was appointed to the key leadership post of deputy whip by House Republican Whip Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin. With the appointment, Reedy assumes a key leadership role within the Republican Caucus, which includes all 73 Republican members in the House. Republicans hold a heavy majority in the 99-seat House, giving the position added importance.

PAC independent spending up, direct donations down (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)
Political action committees spent more than $10 million trying to influence election of Tennessee officeholders in 2014 as direct donations to candidates declined from the last election year while “independent expenditures” increased, according to state Registry of Election Finance reports. Figures compiled by the registry staff show combined PAC spending on state-level races — direct donations plus independent efforts not coordinated with a campaign — was roughly equal in the record years of 2012 and 2014. The actual total was down overall by about $80,000. In 2014, PACs contributed $6,820,098 to candidates and spent $3,297,945 in independent expenditures for a combined total of $10,118,043.

After a long run in Oak Ridge, stimulus funds coming to an end (N-S/Munger)
Beginning in 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge office received nearly $1.9 billion in federal funds under the auspices of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the government-backed stimulus program that was designed to create jobs and stir the U.S. economy back to life. Six years later, the DOE has finally reached the bottom of that prodigious barrel of money and is wrapping up the paperwork on the final few projects. In fact, some of the funding will go unspent. When the clock runs out on the Recovery Act program later this year, the DOE’s Oak Ridge Office plans to return several million dollars to the U.S. Treasury.

Texas: Texas Almost Out of Execution Drug (Wall Street Journal)
Texas, which has accounted for more than one-third of all U.S. executions since the mid-1970s, is about to run out of pentobarbital, its drug of choice for lethal injections, the latest sign of trouble for the nation’s beleaguered death-penalty system. Barring last minute changes, the state plans to use its one remaining dose Wednesday on Randall Mays, said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the state’s department of criminal justice. Mr. Mays was convicted in 2008 for the murder of a deputy sheriff. The state has executed four people this year and has several more executions scheduled in coming months, including four in April. “We are exploring all of our options,” including considering using drugs other than pentobarbital, said Mr. Clark, who declined to name those drugs.


Guest columnist: Regional cooperation key to Nashville area job creation (Tenn)
I recently accompanied an executive whose company is locating its first-ever North American manufacturing operation in Middle Tennessee as he toured Summit High School in Williamson County. Even though his company will locate in an adjacent county, he and other company employees were interested in visiting Williamson schools to learn more about the excellent educational system they had heard about in our county. He came away with a very positive impression of the school, even jokingly asking the principal if he could attend along with his colleague’s son. He also shared this observation: our public schools are an economic asset for Williamson County.

Editorial: Medicaid Expansion in Red States (New York Times)
A number of states that had previously refused to expand their Medicaid programs for the poor are reconsidering that policy. They would be smart to embrace expansion as soon as possible to cover millions of people who would be left uninsured if the Supreme Court wipes out federal subsidies for low-income people buying insurance on the federal health exchanges. The Affordable Care Act originally required all states to expand Medicaid to cover people with an income up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or $32,913 for a family of four, but in 2012 the Supreme Court made expansion optional. Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have expanded their programs, but 22 have not.