TNGOP’s Haynes: TN a ‘Republican Model for Success’

Press release from the Republican Party of Tennessee, January 11, 2016:

TNGOP Statement on Opening of Second Session of the 109th General Assembly

NASHVILLE, Tenn.–With the opening gavel set to come down on the opening of the second session of the 109th General Assembly, Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes released the following statement:

“Since 2010, Republicans have turned successes at the ballot box to conservative policy achievements in the state Capitol. Whether you measure it by the number of businesses who are relocating here, the fact we continue to be the most-improved state in education, or the lowering of taxes on hard-working Tennesseans, our citizens can be proud of the work our Republican-led General Assembly has undertaken. With the vision of Governor Haslam, the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Ramsey and Speaker Harwell, and the commitment of our legislative leaders to take Tennessee even higher in 2016, our state will continue to be the Republican model for success it has become for the rest of the nation.”

Republicans Want Legislative Probe of UT Diversity Office

Press Release from the Republican caucus of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Jan. 11, 2016:

Knox County Legislative Delegation Requests Special Committee To Examine UT Office Of Diversity

Group would convene to investigate how taxpayer dollars are being spent and hear testimony regarding university office and related personnel

(NASHVILLE) — This week, members of the Knox County Legislative Delegation, led by State Representative Eddie Smith (R–Knoxville), submitted letters to Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell requesting a special committee be appointed and convened to examine and hear testimony related to the activities of the University of Tennessee Office of Diversity and Inclusion along with related personnel.

In recent months, the UT Office of Diversity has come under scrutiny from across the state and nation. The office first made national news in August when it encouraged students to use so-called “gender neutral” pronouns like ‘ze’, ‘hir’, ‘hirs’, ‘xe’, ‘xem’, and ‘xyr’ so as to not offend those on campus who may no longer identify with the gender they were born with. In its release, the Office of Diversity said these pronouns are encouraged for use within the campus, while gender specific pronouns such as ‘he’ and ‘she’ are strongly discouraged.

Following this event, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion again made national headlines in December after posting on the school’s website asking employees to ensure their “holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.” The post gave tips on how to avoid endorsing a specific religion or culture over Christmas break, including the recommendation not to participate in the popular gift-swap game of “Secret Santa”.

If granted by Ramsey and Harwell, the joint committee of the legislature would be composed of members of the Senate Education Committee and the House Education Administration and Planning Committee and would be convened as soon as possible. In addition, the Knox County Delegation has asked for permission to expand the scope of their investigation to include all Offices of Diversity for public higher education schools, which are funded through taxpayer dollars, in the State of Tennessee.

Also according to the official request, the investigation would include, but would not be limited to, the identity of persons and committees involved in diversity efforts, funding of and spending by these offices and persons, objectives of these offices, the practices and nature of activities by persons within these offices and colleges, resource allocation, and the actual productivity and efficiency of persons engaged in diversity activities.

“The people of Tennessee deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent, especially in situations like this,” Representative Smith stated.

Following the investigation, the joint committee would issue a written report to the full Senate and House of the 109th General Assembly no later than March 30, 2016. The report would include fact findings, conclusions, and recommendations for action.

The full text of the group’s letter can be found here: https://goo.gl/glSAzO

Year-to-Date State Budget Surplus Nearly $375M

Press release from the State of Tennessee, January 8, 2016:

December Revenues

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee revenue collections for December of 2015 reflected growth more than the same period a year before. Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin reported today that state revenue collections for December were $1.1 billion, representing 8.95% growth and $91.1 million more than December 2014. December sales tax collections represent consumer spending that occurred in November.

“Total revenues in December were higher than expected due to collections in the sales and corporate tax categories,” Martin said. “We believe the December sales tax growth rate, which includes ‘Black Friday’ and after-Thanksgiving sales, may have been influenced by lower gasoline prices and renewed consumer confidence. January’s report will give us a clearer picture with Christmas retail activity included.

“We are pleased with strong revenues but are concerned about the economic impact of the stock market and international issues as we begin to work with the Legislature on a responsible spending plan for the next fiscal year.”

On an accrual basis, December is the fifth month in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

Total collections in December were $99.3 million more than the budgeted estimate. The general fund recorded collections above the budgeted estimates in the amount of $93.0 million, and the four other funds that share in state tax revenues were $6.3 million more than the estimates.

Sales tax collections were $23.9 million more than the estimate for December. The December growth rate was 6.21%. For five months revenues are $159.4 million higher than estimated, and the year-to-date growth rate is 7.14%.

Franchise and excise taxes combined were $69.7 million more than the budgeted estimate of $200.8 million. For five months revenues exceeded estimates by $157.9 million.

Gasoline and motor fuel collections for December increased by 0.64%, which is $2.8 million more than the budgeted estimate of $71.8 million. For five months revenues are $18.2 million more than estimates.

Tobacco tax collections were $1.6 million less than the budgeted estimate of $20.3 million, but for five months they have recorded $4.2 million more than estimated.

Privilege tax collections were $0.3 million more than the budgeted estimate of $18.9 million. Year-to-date collections for five months are $10.2 million more than the budgeted estimate.

Inheritance and estate taxes were above estimates by $1.0 million for the month. For five months collections are $8.5 million more than the budgeted estimate.

Business tax collections were $1.0 million less than the December estimate.

All other taxes for December recorded a net increase of $4.2 million compared to estimates.

Year-to-date collections for five months were $373.5 million more than the budgeted estimate. The general fund recorded $343.4 in collections above estimates and the four other funds $30.1 million.

The budgeted revenue estimates for 2015-2016 are based on the State Funding Board’s consensus recommendation of December 16th, 2014 and adopted by the first session of the 109th General Assembly in April 2015. Also incorporated in the estimates are any changes in revenue enacted during the 2015 session of the General Assembly. These estimates are available on the state’s website at http://www.tn.gov/finance/article/fa-budget-rev.

– See more at: http://www.tn.gov/finance/news/23082#sthash.6hZp6gWy.dpuf

Two Law Enforcement Officers Indicted for Stealing From Nonprofit Association

PRESS RELEASE from the Office of Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson, Jan. 11, 2016:

A special investigation by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office has revealed that two members of the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Officers Association (TLETOA) stole at least $175,700 from the nonprofit association. The investigation was initiated at the request of TLETOA officials after they discovered questionable payments from the association bank account.

The TLETOA is comprised of approximately 400 law enforcement training officers, and its primary purpose is to provide training to law enforcement personnel throughout the state. The Governor’s Highway Safety Office provides the primary funding for the training conducted by TLETOA via a grant to Columbia State Community College.

Comptroller investigators found that from May 2010 to October 2013, former TLETOA treasurer Robert Hall and TLETOA project director Gary Bradley received association funds for their personal benefit.

Robert Hall issued unauthorized checks to himself totaling at least $87,850, and Gary Bradley accepted checks that he knew were unauthorized totaling $87,850. In 2013 alone they issued checks to themselves totaling $103,200, which is more than 41 percent of TLETOA’s total training funds.

Mr. Hall and Mr. Bradley used several methods to conceal their unauthorized payments. These included placing signatures of two TLETOA presidents on documents to falsely indicate approval of some payments, and Mr. Hall omitted the unauthorized checks in his verbal financial reports to the board.

During this period, both men worked full time for law enforcement agencies. Robert Hall retired from the Sparta Police Department in June 2014, and Gary Bradley is employed by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

None of the 14 current and former TLETOA board members with whom investigators spoke recalled any board discussion or approval of the unauthorized compensation to Mr. Hall and Mr. Bradley. All expressed their shock at the amounts Mr. Hall and Mr. Bradley paid themselves.

On January 4, 2016, the White County Grand Jury indicted Robert Hall and Gary Bradley each on one count of theft over $60,000, one count of criminal conspiracy, and one count of forgery.

“By allowing one person, the former treasurer, to have complete control over the association’s finances, this theft was able to take place over several years,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “Separating financial responsibilities between multiple individuals provides a vital control to prevent and detect theft.”

To view the special investigation online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/.

Senator Wants State Insurance Commissioner to Justify ‘Double-Digit Increases’ to Health Premiums

Press release from the Senate Republican Caucus, January 8, 2016:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – As Vice Chairman of Tennessee’s Senate Committee on Commerce, Senator Mark Green, MD (R-Clarksville) has submitted a written request for testimony from Commissioner Julie McPeak to explain the specific process and justification for the double-digit increases in premium costs to health insurance customers in 2015.

“The countless complaints received from constituents about the skyrocketing premiums for their health insurance plans points to a possible problem,” observed Green who represents Montgomery, Houston and Steward Counties. “While there are federal mandates, our state government has a process by which rate increases are approved. The public needs to understand that process and be assured that the increases in costs are justified based on the care they are personally receiving.”

Individual plans offered in Tennessee must now meet the federal requirements specified by the “Affordable Care Act” – Obamacare. With the standardization of plans featuring uniform services, costs have escalated to the patients covered. The greatest contributing factor that appears to impact the increases that have averaged more than 36% but have reached as high as 45% is the significant loss of revenue to insurers in 2014 for the new pool of premium holders. This despite trends reflecting a leveling of medical costs and employer plan premiums.

“Commissioner McPeak will be asked to address the statewide complaints that have dramatically increased over the last few months,” continued Dr. Green, a practicing physician. “We must be guardians of the public trust and seek the answers to this sudden change to the budgets of Tennessee families.”

In a letter dated January 7, 2016, Senator Green requested TN Senator Jack Johson (R-Brentwood), who leads as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, to ask Commissioner Julie McPeak to appear before the committee as a whole to offer testimony on the matter.

Tennessee’s 109th General Assembly reconvenes on Tuesday, January 12 at noon with the Senate Commerce Committee resuming its schedule at 3:30 pm CT the same day.

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http://www.tennessean.com/story/money/industries/health-care/2015/06/24/tn-official-questions-health-insurance-rate-requests/29240271/

http://www.wsj.com/articles/insurers-win-big-health-rate-increases-1440628848

http://www.tennessean.com/story/money/industries/health-care/2015/08/21/aca-health-insurance-rate-increases-highlight-tensions/32059951/

http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2015/may/31/insurers-proposehefty-rate-increases/307112/

http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/business/aroundregion/story/2015/may/31/staying-healthy/306767/

http://www.publicintegrity.org/2015/01/26/16658/health-insurers-watch-profits-soar-they-dump-small-business-customers

Due to Mississippi River Flooding, TWRA Shutting Down Hunting in Some Parts of NW TN

Press release from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Jan. 7, 2016:

Portions of Northwest Tennessee Closed for Young Sportsman Deer Hunt

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission has voted to close portions of northwest Tennessee for this weekend’s Young Sportsman Deer Hunt due to severe flooding along the Mississippi River.

The commission met via conference call on Thursday morning to discuss the flooding in areas in the West Tennessee area and how it would impact this weekend’s scheduled two-day Young Sportsman Deer Hunt.

“The flood waters in West Tennessee, occurring uncharacteristically during deer hunting season, offered a unique challenge as the commissioners and agency strive to protect wildlife but still offer as much opportunity as possible,” said TWRA Executive Director Ed Carter. “After hearing from constituents about deer being stranded on high ground, the commissioners asked for a teleconference briefing and asked multiple questions ranging from the impact to the deer herd to those who might pursue deer in flooded areas.”

Upon recommendation from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the commission voted to close all lands, both private and public, to deer hunting west of Tennessee Highway 78 from the Kentucky state line in Lake County to the Obion River Bridge in Dyer County and west of the Obion River from the Highway 78 bridge to the Mississippi River on Jan. 9-10.

The action by the commission follows suit by actions taken by four border states along with the Mississippi River. Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri and Kentucky have all closed portions of their respective states due to flooding along the Mississippi River. In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced it will be closing Chickasaw National Refuge in Lauderdale County and the Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge in Lauderdale and Tipton counties due to the extreme flooding conditions.

“I was very pleased with the professional and in-depth approach the Commission took to address this situation,” Carter said. TFWC Chairman Jim Bledsoe read the agency mission statement to the commission and noted that the welfare of the wildlife and the safety of the people are prominent in the overall goal.”

As always, the TWRA urges caution and safety while hunting. TWRA wildlife officers will have an increased law enforcement effort in the affected areas due to the severity of the flooding and the accompanying safety issues.

Youth ages 6-16 may participate in the Young Sportsman Deer Hunt. Young sportsmen must be accompanied by a non-hunting adult, 21 years of age of older, who must remain in position to take immediate control of the hunting device and who must comply with fluorescent orange regulations. If hunting on private lands, sportsmen are reminded to obtain permission from landowners.

– See more at: http://www.tn.gov/twra/news/23022#sthash.crpaqDkJ.dpuf

Fitzhugh Statement on Morgan Retirement, Haslam Higher-Ed Restructuring Plan

Press release from House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, Jan. 7, 2016:

House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh released the following statement on the retirement of John Morgan as Chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents:

“For 30 years, John Morgan served this state with distinction. From his time as a research assistant for the fiscal review committee to his extraordinary tenure as Comptroller of the Treasury & Deputy Governor to his service as Chancellor of the Board of Regents–we are a better state because of this public servant. His leadership and vast knowledge of state government will be sorely missed, especially as we consider the questionable restructuring of higher education in Tennessee.

On a personal note, I wish John and his wife Donna the very best as they start this new chapter. We are truly grateful for what they both contributed to this state.”

TBR Chancellor John Morgan Retiring

Press release from the Tennessee Board of Regents, Jan. 7, 2016:

John Morgan, chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, today announced his plan to retire at the end of the month.

Morgan, who has served as chancellor of the state’s university and community college system since October 2010 and led the system’s transformation to become more comprehensive and student-focused, called the announcement bittersweet and said it was timed to acknowledge the accomplishments achieved by the system’s institutions over the past five years.

“I have been honored to serve the state for many years, but my role with the Tennessee Board of Regents and this opportunity to work with the people who shape the next generation of our citizens and leaders has been the most rewarding of my life,” Morgan said.

“Never before has higher education been more important to our state and our economy. The TBR institutions and the faculty and staff who serve them have embraced our efforts to focus everything we do through the lens of its impact on student success, and their work is recognized around the country.

“We have scaled many innovations and practices to move the needle on success and completion across the system to efficiently and effectively meet the challenges of Drive to 55, and I am proud and honored to have led the army of individuals who have eagerly initiated and enacted those efforts.”

His departure, he said, will allow Governor Haslam to actively engage in the selection of a new chancellor and to spend meaningful time with the new system leader while focused on new initiatives during his final term in office.

Morgan has successfully guided the TBR system’s plans to address the demands of the Complete College Tennessee Act enacted by the General Assembly in early 2010. The law became the boldest attempt by any state in the country to focus the energies and resources of its public higher education enterprise on meeting the state’s economic development needs.

One of the architects of the law, Morgan played a key role in crafting a clear vision of higher education improvement during his term as deputy to then-Governor Phil Bredesen, his role before being selected to lead the TBR.

Over the past five years, Morgan’s primary focus has been on increasing post-secondary degree and certificate production and ultimately producing a better, more highly educated workforce. He created the system’s Completion Delivery Unit to help the system and its institutions focus their attention on those efforts.

Since Morgan has been chancellor, the number of degrees awarded from the TBR’s six universities has risen about 3.6 percent, and the number of associate degrees and certificates awarded by community colleges has increased more than 40 percent. Together, credentials awarded rose almost 18 percent, placing TBR institutions well above the targeted goals for the state’s Drive to 55 campaign to increase the number of Tennesseans with a post-secondary credential.

The TBR has also become nationally recognized for its ability to achieve collaboration to focus institution goals on meeting the state’s needs.

Most recently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded the system a $2 million grant to support implementing system-wide efforts among all institutions to increase graduation rates. The TBR has also received more than $1 million from the Lumina Foundation to boost college degree completions.

“With the Complete College Act and the Drive to 55 initiative, the state has been asking more of its higher education system than ever before, and John has guided the Tennessee Board of Regents system admirably since becoming chancellor in 2010,” said Governor Bill Haslam. “He’s served the state in a number of roles since 1976, including serving as deputy governor to Gov. Bredesen and 10 years as the state’s comptroller, and I am grateful to John for his service to Tennessee and wish him all the best.”

Morgan was invited to participate in both of President Obama’s White House Summits on expanding college opportunity and has been asked to serve in leadership roles with a number of national higher education organizations.

Morgan serves as vice chairman of the National Association of [Higher Education] System Heads, as an officer on the board of directors for Complete College America, and holds strategic roles with the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, including membership on the President’s Council. He helped launch the national initiative Higher Education for Higher Standards, a multi-state coalition of higher education leaders in support of the common core state standards in K-12 education.

He also serves on the boards of directors for the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation and the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and holds membership in the American Society of Public Administration.

During his tenure, Morgan has led the successful searches for new presidents at five of the TBR universities and seven community colleges across the state. He has also recommended new leaders for 14 Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology.

At 64, Morgan has spent nearly 40 years of service with the state in various roles. He was deputy to the Governor from January 2009 until he joined the TBR. Prior to that, he had served as Comptroller of the Treasury for the State of Tennessee. His public service career dates back to 1976 except for a brief stint in the late 1980s with Third National Bank.

“We are deeply grateful for Chancellor Morgan’s leadership and distinguished service,” said TBR Vice Chair Emily Reynolds. “We will continue to encourage and make progress toward the system’s completion goals in support of Governor Haslam’s Drive to 55. The Board will meet to consider an interim chancellor appointment very soon.”

The Tennessee Board of Regents is among the nation’s largest higher education systems, governing 46 post-secondary educational institutions. The TBR system includes six universities, 13 two-year colleges and 27 colleges of applied technology, providing programs across the state to nearly 200,000 students.

Haslam Appoints Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Roger Amos Page to State Supreme Court

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, January 7, 2016:

Appointed to replace Justice Gary R. Wade, subject to confirmation by the General Assembly

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed Roger Amos Page of Madison County to the Tennessee Supreme Court, replacing Justice Gary R. Wade, who retired in September.

Page, 60, has been a judge on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals since his appointment by Haslam in December 2011, writing more than 330 appellate opinions. He previously served as a circuit court judge for the 26th Judicial District, which includes Chester, Henderson and Madison counties. In that position, he presided over more than 300 civil and criminal jury trials.

“We are fortunate to have someone with such a depth of experience for this important position,” Haslam said. “Judge Page has a distinguished career both as a judge and an attorney, and Tennesseans will benefit from having him on the Supreme Court.”

Page’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the Tennessee General Assembly.

“I have been honored to serve the citizens of Tennessee for the past 18 years as a member of the judiciary, and I am humbled by the governor’s confidence in selecting me for the Tennessee Supreme Court,” Page said.

Prior to his experience on the bench, Page was assistant attorney general for the state in Jackson from 1991-1998. He practiced at Holmes, Rich, Sigler & Page, P.C. in Jackson from 1987-1991. He was an associate at Peterson, Young, Self & Asselin in Atlanta from 1985-1987 and a law clerk for then-U.S. District Court Judge Julia Smith Gibbons from 1984-1985.

Page received his law degree with honors in 1984 from the University of Memphis, where he ranked 4th in his class.

Before his legal career, Page was chief pharmacist and assistant store manager for Walgreens in Memphis, where he worked from 1977-1984. He received a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy in 1978 from the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy in Memphis. He attended the University of Tennessee at Martin from 1973-1975 after graduating from Chester County High School in Henderson.

Page has been active in his community. He is a member and past president of the board of directors of the Jackson Lions Club. He coached Dixie Youth Baseball for 12 years and is a member of First Baptist Church in Jackson.

Page, a Henderson native, is married to Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy. He has two children and three grandchildren.

State Appellate Judge Sitting on Grand Jury in Carroll County

PRESS RELEASE from Tennessee’s Administrative Office of the Courts, Jan. 6, 2016:

Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals Judge John Everett Williams found himself on the other side of the bench this week, when he served as a member of the Carroll County grand jury.

Judge Williams received a notice from the sheriff’s office in December, requesting his service as a juror and asking him to fill out survey with questions concerning residency, criminal convictions, and other eligibility requirements. Judge Williams completed the survey and reported to the courthouse as directed on January 4.

Judge Williams said there was never a question in his mind that he would serve if called upon. He had a trip already planned for this week, but made other arrangements so he could be sure to be there.

Although Judge Williams has been around courtrooms since he was five (his father was an attorney), this was his first time serving on a jury. Twelve members of the grand jury were selected at random from the large jury pool that showed up on January 4.

“This experience made me proud of our American jurisprudence system. It reinforced that everything I had hoped was happening in our jury system was actually taking place.” Judge Williams said.

Judge Williams did make it known to his fellow grand jurors that he was a sitting appellate judge, and some people on the grand jury were already aware of his position. He wanted to make sure the information was known in case there were any conflicts. Judge Williams also said he was careful to not interject too much into the proceedings, and let the actions of the jury take its natural course.

“The people I served with are thoughtful, hardworking, and took their responsibility seriously,” Judge Williams said. “I couldn’t be prouder of the fellow county residents I served with.”

While the specific activities of the grand jury are confidential, the jury returned 30 indictments and three no true bills. Although there are no further pending cases for the grand jury at this time, the panel is on call to serve until April.

Judge Donald Parish, who was presiding over the court that day appreciated Judge Williams’ service, just as he does every other juror or potential juror who answers the call. Judge Parish noted that about 200 people were summoned for jury duty that day and about 120 showed up.

“An important takeaway from this is that jury duty is a responsibility that everyone bears,” Judge Parish said.

Judge Williams has been a member of the Court of Criminal Appeals since his appointment in 1998. He received his law degree from Cumberland University and is a graduate of University of Tennessee at Martin.

Carroll County is in West Tennessee, northeast of Jackson and is one of five counties in the 24th Judicial District. The county population was about 28,000 in the 2010 census.