March 29 TN News Digest

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

Tennessee Reconnect program guarantees tuition-free technical training (WATE)
There are many reasons adults return to school. Some are planning a career change or need new skills to move up in their career. Others enroll for personal development or after there has been a change in their life. A new program, called Tennessee Reconnect is making it easier for adults to go back to school, providing free tuition at any technology college to eligible adults. State lawmakers approved the Reconnect grant last year when they signed off on the Tennessee Promise, which allows eligible high school seniors to attend community college for free.

New Tenn. grant will help adults go to college (WBBJ-TV Jackson)
Going from the work force back to school isn’t as hard as you might think, especially with the help of a unique Tennessee grant. Tennessee Reconnect is Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to help adults take another step in the workplace or finally finish a long-sought-after degree. Starting this fall, the grant will give eligible adults a tuition-free chance to earn a diploma at any Tennessee College of Applied Technology, such as the one in north Jackson. “What we do here is training people for jobs that are in demand in our area, so jobs like welding, industrial maintenance, those type jobs are available in this area and there is a high demand for them,” said Amanda Bevis, TCAT Jackson student services coordinator.

Guard thanked for aid in winter storm (Daily News Journal)
Efforts of the Tennessee National Guard to help the state during the recent ice storm brought thanks from Gov. Bill Haslam during the National Guard Association of Tennessee’s annual conference in Murfreesboro Saturday morning. “Again, the Guard came in an incredibly effective way and an incredibly serving way,” Haslam said. Haslam said the state’s military added to its track record of helping the state through troubling times during brief remarks to hundreds of men and women at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center. Dozens of National Guard troops went to the Cumberland Plateau to assist with debris cleanup and wellness checks after thousands of residents were left without electricity, according to Tennessee Emergency Management Agency reports filed during the storm recovery process.

Gov. Haslam announces Young Entrepreneurs Academy in Knoxville (N-S)
Knoxville will be home this fall to a national academic program in which middle and high school students learn to start their own businesses, Gov. Bill Haslam announced during a breakfast with the Knoxville Chamber on Friday. The Young Entrepreneurs Academy, or YEA!, will be held over a seven-month period at the University of Tennessee’s Haslam College of Business, starting Oct. 12. Pilot Flying J is the presenting sponsor. YEA! was founded in 2004 at the University of Rochester, and the program has been introduced to about 168 communities across the country, according to the program’s website. Knoxville will be the first city in Tennessee to offer the program.

TWRA: Boaters on Boone Lake need to be careful due to lower levels (H-C)
Boating safety is always important, but boaters on Boone Lake — where lake levels are much lower than normal — will have to be especially careful this year, said Tommy Whitehead with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “On Boone, the [water levels] are exceptionally low, so [boaters] should have a good GPS or good navigational charts or maps,” he said last week. “A lot of structure is exposed when it gets that low and you’re almost limited to just the channel itself — more like river navigation.” He added that when lake levels are low, exposed structures can include old house foundations, tree trunks and rock piles.

Democrats try new tactic in Insure Tennessee revival (Tennessean/Boucher)
Tennessee state lawmakers passed a bill last year that puts the fate of Gov. Bill Haslam’s controversial health care plan squarely in their laps. They killed Insure Tennessee quickly during a special session earlier this year, and it’s unlikely to survive a resurrection attempt next week. But a new legal push from Nashville Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro could open the door to Haslam pushing forward with the plan without legislative approval. “The legislature right now isn’t debating a law to create Insure Tennessee,” Yarbro said Friday. “We’re forcing the governor to obtain an elaborate permission slip from the legislature before doing the job we’ve told him to do.”

Bill aims at eradicating wild hogs in Bledsoe, Polk, White counties (TFP/Benton)
Wild hogs cause about $1.5 billion in agricultural damage a year in Tennessee, and lawmakers in three counties want to allow landowners to control them with “any means necessary,” including controversial hunting dogs. First cousins Riley Frady and Wendell Oakes, two lifelong residents and landowners in northwest Bledsoe County, say the bill being considered in the Tennessee Legislature would help hunters better control the feral pigs that can root up acres of farmland in a night. “They’re after your seeds and bugs and roots and stuff. They get their food out of the ground,” said Oakes, standing at the sawmill on the family farm on state Highway 30 near Fall Creek Falls State Park.

Who’s in, who’s out in race to lead Tennessee GOP (Tennessean/Boucher)
On April 12, there will be a new leader of the Tennessee Republican Party. Current party Chairman Chris Devaney announced this week he’ll step down effective April 11 to run a nonprofit in Chattanooga. He leaves a party with considerable political and real power at the local, state and federal level, but a party that’s consistently trying to avoid an all-out political civil war. A few people have officially decided to run for the open position, with a handful more still weighing the decision. At least one well-known Republican won’t throw his hat in the ring this time around, joining several other prominent party members who won’t seek the seat.

Q&A: Cohen bill targets ‘predatory’ lenders (Commercial Appeal/Collins)
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen is renewing his push to rein in lenders that charge excessively high interest rates on payday loans and other consumer credit products. Cohen, D-Memphis, and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, R-Pennsylvania, filed legislation last week that would limit the interest rates and fees that lenders can charge for all consumer credit transactions, such as mortgages, car loans, credit cards, car title loans and payday loans. So-called “predatory” lenders sometimes charge interest rates as high as 300 percent.

Tracy weighs another run at DesJarlais (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)
State Sen. Jim Tracy says he is weighing another challenge to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais in the 4th Congressional District’s GOP primary next year after his heart-stopping 38-vote loss to the South Pittsburg physician in 2014. “I’ve thought about it and I’ve had a lot of folks contact me in the district over the last few months,” the Shelbyville senator said in an interview. “I’m going to look at it.” Noting he is in the midst of a “busy” legislative session, Tracy said he’s in no hurry to make an immediate decision.

Tennessee hospitals hopeful for more Medicaid payments (N-S/Harrington)
Tennessee hospitals that dole out hundreds of millions of dollars in charity and uncompensated care could get some relief in federal Medicaid funding over the next decade. Under a provision included in a Medicare-reform bill, hospitals would share $53 million annually for 10 years in disproportionate share hospital payments, which helps providers cover the costs of caring for low-income patients. “We have been working on this for 15 years. It has been a long, long journey,” Tennessee Hospital Association President and CEO Craig Becker said. “It looks like finally the stars are aligned and this will become a reality. For many of our hospitals, it will be a lifesaver especially for our rural hospitals.”


Editorial: Insure Tennessee deserves another look by legislators (News-Sentinel)
Reports of the demise of Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee initiative, like the dispatches on the death of Mark Twain during the writer’s lifetime, have proven to be exaggerated. At least for now. The health insurance program for the working poor is on life support and the prognosis is doubtful. Still, the revival has been remarkable and offers the opportunity for a broader discussion of the proposal’s considerable merits than was afforded during the special session held to consider it earlier this year. Haslam developed Insure Tennessee as an alternative way to expand health insurance to people who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line — an estimated 280,000 people, excluding those already on the state’s TennCare program.

Jeff Yarbro: Bring Insure Tennessee to the floor for a vote (Tennessean)
It is time for the General Assembly to show some courage and bring Insure Tennessee to a vote on the floor of the House and the Senate. For most common sense observers, expanding health coverage to 280,000 citizens is a no-brainer. It’s good for our health, good for our hospitals and good for our economy. These benefits come without a single, additional penny of taxes on Tennesseans. Obviously, some legislators object to the governor’s Insure Tennessee plan. But we may never know how many because it could get trapped in an unfriendly committee in the House or Senate. The conventional wisdom in Legislative Plaza is that Insure Tennessee has a good chance of passing on the floor, but a bad chance of making it through the procedural gauntlet of committees and subcommittees that stand in its pathway to a full vote.

Tom Humphrey: GOP polite in killing bills (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Scribblings from a notebook kept while wondering and wandering through Legislatorland, 2015: Bundles of bills died last week as several House subcommittees shut down for the year and Senate committees waded through long agendas. In many cases, the bill killings involve something approaching an annual ritual of established legislative procedure for dealing with matters that involve lots of talk and media attention in out-of-session situations. One category would be Democrat-sponsored bills that align, at least to some extent, with generic party position on an issue while opposed by the generic Republican Party position. Examples on last week’s legislation death list include establishment of a state minimum wage and wage equality between men and women.