March 31 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Urges Lawmakers to Look Beyond Politics on Medicaid (AP/Schelzig)
Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday urged fellow Republicans to look beyond political considerations as they prepare to vote on a revived version of his Insure Tennessee proposal. Haslam told reporters that he spent the weekend talking to fellow Republicans on the state Senate Commerce Committee who are scheduled to vote Tuesday on the proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans. “We’ve known all along this would be tough,” Haslam said. “But I think what we’re saying is: ‘Give us a full hearing, and listen to the real arguments instead of some of the political arguments people are making.'” Under the governor’s two-year pilot program, hospitals would cover the $74 million state share to draw down $2.8 billion in federal Medicaid money.

Haslam urges Republicans to ‘get beyond politics’ on Insure Tennessee (TFP/Sher)
As Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday urged fellow Republicans to “get beyond politics” when considering his Insure Tennessee proposal today, 40-year-old Traci Foster said she has a more personal message for lawmakers. “I’m going to ask them please, let it go and be voted on,” said Foster, noting she has bladder cancer and no insurance, at a state Capitol news conference. “We really need this. There’s people begging for help.” The Republican-dominated Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to vote this afternoon on a bipartisan resolution that seeks to resurrect Haslam’s proposal to use federal Medicaid dollars to extend health coverage to an estimated 280,000 low-income Tennesseans.

Crucial Insure Tenn. vote set (Commercial Appeal/Locker)
Tracy Foster said pain from her bladder cancer is sometimes “so bad that I pray for God to take me home.” The 40-year-old Anderson County woman, who spent years working in nursing homes and home health care, has no health insurance. Her two children are too old for her to qualify for TennCare. “And now I can’t be covered (because) my cancer isn’t in the right place; they told me if I had it in my breast or cervix, I could get TennCare, but my cancer is in my bladder.” Foster joined four other supporters of Insure Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam’s health insurance plan for uninsured, low-income working Tennesseans, at a Nashville press conference to urge people from across the state to attend Tuesday’s state Senate Commerce Committee hearing at 3:30 p.m. where a decisive vote on the governor’s plan is scheduled.

Supporters rally in favor of Insure Tennessee (WSMV-TV Nashville)
A coalition of clergy, students and community groups rallied in support of Insure Tennessee on Capitol Hill Monday. Gov. Bill Haslam’s original Insure Tennessee proposal failed in a special legislative session last month, but has been revived by a Democratic lawmaker in the Senate. Supporters said they are still holding out hope that the resolution will become a reality. “The fact that it even came back is such a blessing and that it passed a subcommittee,” said Carleigh Frazier, an Insure Tennessee supporter.

Tennessee Justice Center gathers support for Insure Tenn. (Jackson Sun)
The Tennessee Justice Center is organizing a group to gather at the legislative plaza in Nashville on Tuesday in support of Insure Tennessee. The Senate Commerce Committee will vote on a resolution at 3:30 p.m. that could let the governor’s proposal to expand eligibility for health benefits continue through the legislative process, according to the Justice Center. Insure Tennessee previously was shut down in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee in February. The proposal would extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans Katie Alexander, client advocate for the Justice Center, said the organization works primarily with people in need of health care, and Insure Tennessee is a big part of what they have been working on the past several weeks.

Senate to decide fate of Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal (Associated Press)
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee proposal is up for a key vote in the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday. The proposal to extend health coverage to 280,000 low-income Tennesseans was defeated in a special legislative session last month. But the measure was resurrected on a 6-2 vote in the Senate Health Committee last week. Prospects for the measure appear far less optimistic in the commerce panel, though Haslam has been trying to make his case with individual committee members. Under the two-year pilot program, hospitals would cover the $74 million state share to draw down $2.8 billion in federal Medicaid funds.

Tennessee school voucher bill passes Senate (Associated Press)
Legislation that would give parents the option to move a child from a failing public school to a private school has passed the Senate. The proposal sponsored by Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga was approved 24-8 Monday. The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the House Government Operations Committee. The legislation is similar to a measure Republican Gov. Bill Haslam proposed last year that failed. Under Gardenhire’s proposal, eligibility would be opened to low-income students in districts that have a school in the bottom 5 percent. Haslam’s proposal was approved in the Senate last year, but the House version was unsuccessful because it sought to expand eligibility to the bottom 10 percent of schools. Opponents of vouchers say the money should stay with public schools and improve them.

School voucher bill passes Senate (Tennessean/Gonzalez)
The House will again decide the fate of vouchers in Tennessee. On Monday the Senate voted 24-8 in favor of voucher legislation that aims to provide low-income students with a state-funded scholarship so they can attend a private school. The Senate also approved similar legislation last year. Senate Bill 999, sponsored by state Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, targets students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch who attend a public school ranked in the bottom 5 percent of the state in academic achievement. It will create scholarships for those students to attend privately funded schools. As it stands, it only affects five counties in the state — Davidson, Knox, Hamilton, Shelby and Madison counties.

State Senate OKs school vouchers; fate in house unknown (N-S/Locker)
For the third time in five years, the state Senate has approved a bill allowing low-income students in low-performing public schools to take taxpayer funding for public schools with them to pay private school tuition. The Senate approved the school voucher bill on a 24-8 vote Monday evening. But its real hurdles are in the House, where voucher bills have died almost annually since the Senate first approved vouchers in 2011 and again in 2014. The bill, sponsored by Sens. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, would allow children from households with incomes that qualify them for free or discounted school lunches to receive vouchers if the public school falls in the bottom five percent of schools statewide in overall achievement and was enrolled in the public school during the previous two semesters, is enrolling in a Tennessee school for the first time, or received a scholarship pursuant to this bill in the previous school year.

Bills for ‘opportunity scholarships,’ guns in parks advance to next step (TFP/Sher)
A bill allowing taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay for some low-income students to attend private schools easily cleared the Senate Monday night. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, passed on a 24-8 vote. The House companion bill is scheduled to come before the Government Operations Committee on Wednesday. As passed, the voucher bill, dubbed “opportunity scholarships” by advocates, would initially apply only to children eligible for free or reduced lunch programs, a common measure of poverty, and who now attend public schools in the bottom 5 percent statewide.

Haslam: 2015 Could Be Year for Vouchers (TN Report)
Legislation that allows a limited number of parents of kids in districts with poor performing schools to access taxpayer dollars to in turn enroll their children in private schools looks on track to finally pass the General Assembly, Gov. Bill Haslam suggested Monday. “I feel good about where we are in terms of where the bill is,” Haslam told reporters in Nashville following a morning speech at the Army Aviation Association of America Conference. “Now, from here to actually getting the ship into port is always difficult, but I actually do think there’s a really good chance we will get it passed this year.”

Tennessee Department of Health warns of chikungunya virus (Tenn/Barnes)
With warmer weather comes the rearrival of disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes, which is why the Tennessee Department of Health is urging state travelers to be aware of the growing chikungunya virus. The first Tennessean to contract the virus did so this past year, and 42 additional cases followed. The one constant? All cases involved travel outside the state. “Travel plans to warmer destinations should include necessary precautions to avoid mosquito bites,” Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner said in a news release. “Because there is no vaccine to prevent chikungunya virus disease, the only way to prevent its spread is the effective use of repellants and personal protection strategies.”

House OKs Bill To Allow Permit Holders To Be Armed In Parks (Associated Press)
The House has passed a bill to strip city and county governments of the power to ban guns in parks, playgrounds and sports fields. The chamber voted 65-21 on Monday to pass the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Mike Harrison of Rogersville. The measure would apply to the state’s 500,000 handgun carry permit holders. Democrats proposed 11 changes to the bill including efforts to opt certain counties out of the law, ban guns on Sundays and religious holidays and require referendums to undo local gun bans. All were defeated largely along partisan lines.

House passes guns-in-parks bill (Tennessean/Boucher)
The Tennessee House of Representatives approved a bill to nix any local bans on guns in parks Monday evening with no discussion. The bill passed the GOP-controlled House by a 65-21 margin, with six members voting “present and not voting” — including House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville — and seven members absent. Current law allows people with valid handgun permits to take guns into any parks, unless there is a local law that bans those guns. This bill invalidates any of those local laws, in place in Nashville and other large cities across the state.

House bill would allow guns in any Tennessee local park (C. Appeal/Locker)
The state House of Representatives approved a bill Monday night that would allow people with handgun-carry permits to go armed in any local park in Tennessee, regardless of local ordinances banning them. The bill is set for a Senate floor vote Wednesday morning, where passage also is expected. The House voted 65-21 in favor of the bill, virtually along party lines, with majority Republicans in support of the measure and Democrats generally opposed. Six members who were present abstained from voting. When the Tennessee legislature approved guns in state and local parks in 2009, it allowed city councils, boards of aldermen and county commissions to “opt out” of the state law and continue to ban firearms in city or county parks under their control.

Workers’ comp bill moves in Senate, gets House deferral (Tennessean/Fletcher)
The workers’ compensation opt-out legislation is on divergent paths in the Tennessee Senate and House. The Senate Commerce and Labor committee passed the amended bill Monday, sending it to the finance committee, while the House Consumer and Human Resources subcommittee last week deferred the bill until 2016. The bill, SB0721 and HB0997, is sponsored by state Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin. “Many committee members already embrace the concept of low-risk companies only paying their fair share of workers’ compensation costs rather than the one-size-fits-all approach we have now that forces low-risk companies to pay the same costs as high-risk companies.

Bill to create Tennessee’s official state gun on hold (Memphis Business Journal)
A bill to create Tennessee’s official state gun has been delayed until next year. The bill, which seeks to adopt the Barrett Model 82A1 rifle as the official state firearm, was being sponsored in the House by Jonesborough Tennessee Rep. Micah Van Huss. Van Huss decided to delay the bill until 2016. But according to the Johnson City Press, this isn’t a quiet end for the very powerful weapon’s path to state adoption. Van Huss says subcommitee chair Bill Sanderson asked him to resubmit the request as a resolution, rather than a bill. So the matter should come around again in a matter of weeks. Van Huss says he wants to honor the rifle’s Tennessee roots.

Kingsport pitches state legislation to help bring dead properties alive (Times-News)
Some call it the “Blight Bill.” State legislation is moving forward this year to allow the city of Kingsport to create its own so-called “Land Bank” program and be more proactive in putting vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties back to productive use. While the method varies, land banks acquire properties through tax foreclosure, intergovernmental transfers and open market purchases. Tax foreclosures are the most common method, as the locality can impose a lien on the property without the owner’s consent, according to a U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) document. Kingsport Development Services Director Lynn Tully said the city asked for the state bill to use in code enforcement efforts.

Lawmakers will consider expansion of medical marijuana (Daily News Journal)
State lawmakers ought to allow more use of medical marijuana beyond last year’s legislation that enables such treatment for children with epileptic seizures, bill advocate Ted LaRoche said. “That is such a limited use, an the overwhelming preponderance of evidence is that there are a number of symptoms that are best treated with the use of medical marijuana,” said LaRoche, a Murfreesboro attorney who got involved last summer to seek expansion of a law signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam July 2015. The bill sponsored by state Rep. Ryan Williams, a Republican from Cookeville, has nothing to do with recreational and social use of marijuana, LaRoche said.

TN is one of 20 states with “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (WBIR-TV Knox)
As the cloud of controversy hovers over Indiana and Governor Mike Pence over a law opponents claim discriminates against the LGBT community, the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” is already law in 19 other states, including Tennessee. Signed in July 2009, the bill was signed with little controversy or criticism, unlike today. “Tennessee religious laws are just trying to protect religious beliefs,” said Maryville College political science professor Dr. Mark O’Gorman. “Not necessarily trying to define the legal constructs.” He said the controversy all stems from timing. In 2009, only four states allowed same-sex marriages. Today, that number jumped to 37 states.

New law to protect dogs left in hot cars (WVLT-TV Knoxville)
Kristen Hector takes her dogs with her to the park. Like a lot of people, she just heard about the proposed law that would allow someone to break her window if they thought her dog was in distress Kristen Hector says, “It’s going to cause more trouble than it’s going to help. A lot of busy bodies that get involved when they don’t need to be.” The law says if you have to believe the animal is in imminent danger then forcible entry is justified. You have to follow these rules. You must call 911 before taking action. and place a note on the windshield with your contact information. Plus, outline the reason why you thought it was necessary.

Projections say convention center redevelopment will create 2,000 jobs (NBJ)
A mixed-use development on the site of Nashville’s original convention center should create some 2,000 jobs and an $8 million annual boost to Metro tax revenue, according to an economic analysis. The $400 million project, formally announced March 27, also will involve 2,500 construction workers, according to the report. The study was done by Mark Burton, who is a research associate professor in the University of Tennessee’s economics department. Developers OliverMcMillan, of San Diego, and Spectrum|Emery Inc., of Cool Springs, will demolish most of the city’s original convention center, anchored at Fifth Avenue and Broadway.

Tennessee a good state for doctors (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
Tennessee is the seventh-best state for doctors for 2015, according to WalletHub. WalletHub compared each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia on 12 key metrics designed to identify its 2015 Best & Worst States for Doctors. Georgia was ranked 23rd and Alabama was 12th. South Carolina was the No. 1 state. WalletHub said the ranking will help U.S. doctors make the most informed decisions regarding where to live and work, as well as local governments identify policy initiatives.

Report: Mid-South not on short list for Volvo factory (Commercial Appeal/Evanoff)
The Mid-South apparently is not on the short list of states under consideration for a Volvo car assembly plant. Financial Times, a London newspaper, reported Volvo Group officials are mulling Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina for the Swedish automaker’s first U.S. car assembly line. Real estate developer William Adair of Senatobia, Mississippi, said Volvo officials have not shown recent interest in placing an assembly plant on his 3,500-acre site south of Collierville near Byhalia. Volvo is building a 1-million-square-foot distribution center on the site. Northeast of Memphis, the state of Tennessee has developed a 4,000-acre industrial megasite near Brownsville. N

 

OPINION

Editorial: How Tennessee and Indiana’s religious freedom acts differ: Timing (Tenn)
When former Gov. Phil Bredesen signed Tennessee’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act on July 1, 2009, it was a far different political environment than it was for Indiana Gov. Mike Pence who signed a similar law for his state last week. The boycotts and criticism that Pence is facing from businesses and individuals are a result of sweeping social and political change in six short years that he could not or did not want to recognize. Whereas such laws were once deemed relatively non-controversial, today, opponents have successfully made them out to be reactionary pieces of legislation that would give religious conservatives the right to discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals. It’s a clear sign that times have changed.

Bill Frist: Reauthorizing No Child Left Behind matters to Tennessee (Tennessean)
Tennessee teachers, parents and local education leaders know what’s best when it comes to educating our children. Federal education law has a powerful role to play in ensuring that our nation’s schools equip the next generation of global leaders, but only if the law is carefully crafted so that local expertise can be applied. I voted for No Child Left Behind, or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), in 2001, and the law has benefited the children of Tennessee and of many states. But much of Tennessee’s success under the law has come because we made innovative decisions at the state level to identify and support great teaching, turn around low-performing schools, and raise academic standards, among other policies.

Editorial: Reining in predatory lenders (Commercial Appeal)
Kudos to the bipartisan effort by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, R-Pennsylvania, for going after predatory lenders. The pair recently filed legislation 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 or more. Cohen’s bill would cap interest rates and fees on such products at 36 percent, the same rate cap that Congress enacted in 2006 on certain credit products marketed to military service members and their families.