Press Releases

TN House Dems: Haslam Hurting TN by Not Expanding Medicaid

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; July 2, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Wednesday, July 2, 2014) – A new report released by the White House Council of Economic Advisers titled “Missed Opportunities: The consequences of state decisions not to expand Medicaid,” lays out the fiscal, economic and moral failure caused by the Haslam administration’s refusal to expand Medicaid in Tennessee.

“How much more proof does the Governor and this Republican majority need to realize they are hurting Tennesseans by playing politics with Medicaid?” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “You don’t have to be an economist to understand the positive impact expansion would have on our economy and our citizens’ lives.”

Tennessee is one of 24 states listed in the report that has refused to participate in the Medicaid expansion, which would be fully-funded by the federal government until the end of 2016 and would give working men and women up to 138% of the federal poverty level access to health care coverage.

“It is gut-wrenching to think of all the women whose lives could be saved through early detection of breast and cervical cancer,” said Rep. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis). “This is an issue that should transcend politics. We have the opportunity to help so many hardworking families in a way that boosts our economy and creates jobs – I just can’t fathom how people of faith and good conscience could refuse to act.”

The report by the Council of Economic Advisers forecasts the benefits of Medicaid expansion for states if they would have joined the 26 other states, along with the District of Columbia, in participating in the Medicaid expansion. The results for Tennessee are as follows:

Health and Well-being of Tennesseans

The number of Tennesseans with insurance coverage would have increased by 234,000 people by the end of 2016 if Governor Haslam and the Republican majority expanded Medicaid.

14,000 women in Tennessee would be receiving cancer detecting Pap smears, along with 9,500 more women who could catch breast cancer early through mammogram screenings.

56,000 more Tennesseans would have a usual source of clinic care, with 27,000 more Tennesseans receiving all the medical care they require due to the 632,000 additional physician visits each year.

As a result of Medicaid expansion, the number of Tennesseans experiencing depression would have decreased by 19,000, with 31,000 more Tennesseans reporting good, very good or excellent health.

Health and Well-being of Tennessee’s Economy

If Governor Haslam would do the right thing, 10,500 fewer Tennesseans would be stuck paying catastrophic out-of-pocket health care costs each year, while 33,300 fewer people would have to take out loans to pay for their medical bills.

Tennessee’s gross domestic product would increase by $3,810,000,000 between 2014-2017 if we expanded Medicaid, thanks to the $5,130,000,000 increase in federal expenditures in Tennessee, resulting in 21,700 jobs creased between 2014 and 2017.

The full “Missed Opportunities” report can be found here:

Featured Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Switchblades Now Legal to Carry

Knives with blades longer than four inches in length, as well as automatic knives — also known as “switchblades” — are now legal to carry no matter where you live in Tennessee.

The change to the language of the Tennessee statute  was to ensure statewide consistency in the law that governs the type and size of knives that can be legally carried, said the sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville.

“If compared to guns, it would be like allowing a city to say you could only own a .22 rifle, but you couldn’t own a .30-06 rifle,” said Bell, a Republican, who also serves as the Senate Government Operations Committee chairman.

The legislation passed 24-1 in the Senate and 75-16 in the House, where it was sponsored by Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah. It also increases the maximum fine for carrying a switchblade with the intent to use it in the commission of a felony from $3,000 to $6,000. Gov. Bill Haslam signed the measure April 8 and it took effect July 1.

A 2013 bill with the same sponsors would have scrapped the four-inch restriction, as well as allowing brass knuckles and switchblades. However, after receiving pushback from police in the state, the a duller version of the bill was adopted that restrained local municipalities passing stricter ordinances than those adopted by the state.

Prior to approval of last year’s “preemption” bill, a person carrying a knife with a four-inch-blade within the bounds of the law in Nashville would’ve been acting illegally by possessing that same knife in Clarksville, observed Bell.

He defended the loosening of the knife restrictions while keeping the restrictions in place for brass knuckles and other weapons. “A knife is a tool — they’re used as tools all over the place,” Bell said, but added that there isn’t much practical use for brass knuckles or other similar weapons, and he hasn’t heard people “clamoring to use” those items.

According to Bell, when he began looking into issues around knife violence several years ago, he discovered that most attacks were carried out with kitchen knives, and that the crimes were usually domestic-assault related.

“When I first spoke to the TBI about this bill about three years ago, the TBI told me that automatic knives, or switchblades, don’t even show up as a statistic in crime,” Bell said. “That’s how rare it is for somebody to use one.”

Todd Rathner, a board member for the group Knife Rights — an organization somewhat like an “NRA for knife owners” — testified in the Legislature this year about switchblades, and informed that that 30 other states in the United States had no restrictions on automatic knives.

“Back in the 1950s, because of movies like ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ and other silly Hollywood productions, the federal government in its wisdom saw fit to place restrictions on so-called switchblade knives, and then a number of states followed,” Rathner said. “Some states didn’t. My home states of Arizona has never had a law against switchblades, and it’s never caused any kind of a problem.”

Bell said he knows several people who enjoy outdoor activities that use automatic knives in the pursuit of those activities because of the handiness of having a knife that can be operated with one-hand.

And previously law enforcement officers and firefighters had special exemptions to the law for similar reasons, Bell said. Additionally, he said that the change in the law could lead Tennessee knife manufacturers to expand their operations, and provide more jobs for Tennesseans.

But the change in law has faced criticism from the state’s minority party since it was proposed last year, despite some Democratic members ultimately voting in favor of this year’s legislation.

Rep. Sherry Jones, a Nashville Democrat, lampooned the number of weapons-related bills the General Assembly’s been considering over the past couple years. “Are y’all expecting the zombie apocalypse, or something, because there are just so many weapons available now, and I was just wondering if you knew something we didn’t?” Jones said.

This week, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, tweeted that, “#Switchblades & #swords are now legal to carry in #Tennessee, but not brass knuckles. This does not seem fair (or like a good idea).”

However, the bill received two votes from Democrats in the Senate and six in the House, including a thumbs-up from House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. The upper chamber’s lone no vote belonged to Lowe Finney, the minority party caucus chairman who is retiring from the Legislature.


Press Releases

TNHDC: Haslam Letter to HHS Latest ‘Farce’ in ‘Continued Obstruction’ to TennCare Expansion

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; December 10, 2013:

Haslam Letter to Sebelius a Farce
The time to act is now on the Medicaid expansion.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Late yesterday, Governor Haslam released a letter to Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding his continued obstruction of Medicaid expansion in Tennessee.

“The Governor’s letter is simply the latest in a series of farces,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “It’s more of the same hand-wringing, ducking and dodging we’ve come to expect from this administration, all in an attempt to absolve themselves of the worst moral and mathematical failure in a generation—denying health care to 330,000 working Tennesseans.”

Governor Haslam’s letter offers no specific proposals, instead laying out a series of complaints and concerns about the overall Affordable Care Act. It offers no details about the so-called “Tennessee Plan,” which the Governor has yet to provide either to the federal government or state legislators.

“Governor Haslam is seeking to offer lower quality care to fewer people and still collect all the money allocated in the Medicaid expansion – that is not something that Secretary Sebelius has the power to authorize, and he knows that,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “If Governor Haslam is going to negotiate seriously with CMS on creating a ‘Tennessee Plan,’ it needs to be done in a way that both conforms to federal law and appreciates the economic, fiscal and moral blunder that would result from a decision not to expand Medicaid.”

A hybrid Medicaid expansion plan has already passed the Arkansas legislature and been approved by the federal government. The Arkansas Plan includes cost-sharing components and addresses questions about defining “medically frail” through a questionnaire developed by the state.

“Expanding Medicaid in Tennessee is not an impossible task, but Governor Haslam is doing everything he can to make it one,” said Leader Fitzhugh. “All of the serious questions about creating a hybrid plan have been addressed in the Arkansas Medicaid waiver. Tennesseans don’t have time for the Governor to wait for political cover. The time to act is now.”

The Tennessee General Assembly returns to session on January 14, 2014. Speakers Harwell and Ramsey have pledged to move the session along as quickly as possible, meaning the Governor may only have a few months left before legislators will be gone for the rest of the year. If we do not act by January 1, 2014, Tennessee will begin to lose $2.5 million per day in federal funding.

Press Releases

TN House Dems Hopeful About Haslam Appointment to NGA Health Cmte

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; October 23, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (October 23, 2013) – In what must be ironic news to the 330,000 Tennesseans waiting for a decision on Medicaid expansion, Governor Bill Haslam was chosen to Chair the National Governors Association’s Health and Human Services Committee along with vice-Chair Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin.

“This could be terrific news for Tennessee,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “Six of the ten governors on the task force Governor Haslam was appointed to in May have made the important decision to accept the federally funded Medicaid expansion. Hopefully Governor Haslam will learn from someone like New Mexico’s Republican Governor Susana Martinez who bucked tea party extremists in order to do the right thing for her state’s working poor.”

Governor Haslam is one of five governors in the United States who still claim to be “weighing options” on Medicaid expansion, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Governor Susana Martinez decided earlier this year to expand Medicaid, saying, “[t]he election is over and the Supreme Court has ruled. My job is not to play party politics, but to implement this law in a way that best serves New Mexico.”

“The Governor seems to have struggled with this decision,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner. “Unfortunately, there are hundreds of thousands Tennesseans who are struggling to pay medical bills – having to make the impossible choice between food and the medicine they need. They simply can’t wait any longer for the Governor to finish his internal debate and do what is right for working families in our state.”

Governor Haslam has claimed to be working on a “third way” or “Tennessee Plan” with the federal government that would utilize Medicaid expansion funds for private insurance plans. However, unlike Arkansas which has already begun implementing such a plan, the Governor has not indicated he is closer to making a decision by the January 1st deadline for initial Medicaid expansion funds.

Details on the National Governor’s Association Health and Human Services Committee can be found here:

Press Releases

TNDP Chair, House Minority Ldr. Condemn Lt. Guv Tweet on Syria, 9/11

Statement from Roy Herron, Chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party; September 11, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron issued a statement Wednesday condemning a message broadcast from the Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey twitter page:

“Speaker Ramsey should fire whoever wrote such an outrageous, dishonest, misleading, incendiary, unpatriotic and dangerous attack on our nation’s president and on Republican leaders like Senators Corker and McCain and House Speaker Boehner and even the Military Leaders working with them. Many of us are unsure about how to proceed in Syria, but whoever wrote that Tweet dishonors the victims of 9/11 and our military men and women who are doing all they can to stop more children and parents from being gassed and killed.”

Statement from State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, Tennessee House Minority Leader; September 11, 2013:

Nashville, Tenn. (September 10, 2013) – House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh released the following statement in response from an offensive tweet from Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey on the anniversary of 9/11:

“September 11th is a day when all Americans come together to remember a solemn occasion in our history. Instead of honoring those who gave their lives 12 years ago, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey decided to take the low-road and accuse our Commander-in-Chief of allying with the very terrorist who attacked our country.

“This divisive rhetoric dishonors the memory of those who died on this day. It is insulting to our President, to Senator Corker who shares the President’s position, to all Americans no matter their position on Syria and to the memory of those we’ve lost. Lt. Governor Ramsey is either grossly misinformed or he has decided to be a partisan, instead of a patriot. He should apologize immediately.”

Press Releases

Fitzhugh on Finney Retirement

Statement from the Office of Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh; July 31, 2013:

NASHVILLE – House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) issued the following statement on the retirement of his State Senator Lowe Finney:

“I’ve had the privilege of knowing Lowe Finney as both my friend and my State Senator. He has worked tirelessly for the people of West Tennessee. Whether it was our joint work on the Megasite in Brownsville, our Tennessee Works Act or the ground breaking reforms we passed about meningitis vaccinations, Tennesseans are better off because of Lowe Finney’s service. Though I will miss working with him in Nashville, I wish both he and Tiffany the best in their future endeavors. Lowe is bright young man with an equally bright future. I doubt we’ve heard the last from him.”

Press Releases

Haslam, House Leaders Release Statements on State Rep. Lois DeBerry’s Passing

Statement from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; July 28, 2013:

“Coming in as a new governor, Lois quickly became one of my favorite people on Capitol Hill because of her wit, charm and dedication to her constituents. Lois was a history maker, a wonderful woman, a great legislator and a true friend. I will miss her.” — Gov. Bill Haslam.

Statement from the Office of Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell; July 28, 2013:

“Lois DeBerry dedicated her life to service. From the Civil Rights Movement, to becoming the first female African-American Speaker Pro Tempore, Lois always made public service a priority. The impact she has had on this great state, the lives of countless Tennesseans, and people all across the country is astounding. She certainly made her mark on history, and it was an honor to know her and serve alongside her in Tennessee General Assembly. I valued our friendship, and will deeply miss her sage advice, and her remarkable sprit and smile. Her dedication to children’s issues, women’s issues, and criminal justice reform have resulted in a better Tennessee. My thoughts and prayers are with her family.” — Speaker Beth Harwell

“Lois DeBerry was my friend and my mentor. From my first day on the hill in 1994, she was someone I could turn to in every situation. She taught me the importance of working across party lines to get things done for the state, but also to never be afraid to stand up for a cause–even if sometimes you stand alone. Lois was a fighter. She always fought and fought hardest for children. She fought for those on the margins of society and for the city of Memphis which she loved so dearly. Most recently she waged a courageous battle against cancer, inspiring everyone with her upbeat attitude and her determination to survive. I loved Lois DeBerry. Her absence will leave a hole in the House that no one can fill; we are a better state for the service she provided. God rest her soul and be with her family during this difficult time.” — Leader Craig Fitzhugh

Statement from the Office of Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick; July 28, 2013:

“I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Speaker Pro Tempore Emeritus Lois DeBerry, a legendary figure in Tennessee political history. I had the distinct privilege to serve with Lois in the House of Representatives for 9 years, and I enjoyed our friendship. Her knowledge, experience, and delightful personality will surely be missed. My thoughts and prayers are with her family during this difficult time” — Majority Leader Gerald McCormick

Education Featured

House Dems, TEA Blast Huffman’s Teacher Pay Proposal

Proposed changes to the way Tennessee public school teachers are paid have state House Democrats and teachers’ unions bristling.

During a press event at the state Capitol, party leaders on Thursday blasted a proposal from Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration that would alter Tennessee’s minimum teacher salary schedule and, according to opponents, drastically reduce the amount teachers earn over the span of their careers.

State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman is set to present the plan to State Board of Education Friday, after which the board could vote to approve it.

Critics’ concerns about the plan include the reduction of seniority-based pay categories from the current 21 steps to just four possible raises over the course of a career. There would also be fewer pay increases available for teachers who earn advanced degrees.

Jim Wrye, a representative for the state’s main teachers’ union, the Tennessee Education Association, described the proposal as a “fundamental gutting of that state minimum salary schedule.”

“We think that it’s going to increase inequities,” Wrye told reporters. “We think that it’s going to cause mid-career teachers to see no pay raises for long periods of time.

“Requiring a minimum for a salary has a real way of leveraging [state education] money to make sure that teachers across the state at least make a middle class wage,” he said.

Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh expressed concern during the press conference that the revised pay schedule would make it harder for the state to attract talented teachers. “We break our commitment to teachers by doing this and we really put a chilling effect on recruitment of teachers,” the Ripley Democrat said. “Lord, we don’t pay them enough in the first place…I don’t know that we can get career teachers anymore.”

Fitzhugh also argued that the plan would discourage teachers from pursuing advanced degrees and career development training.

“There will be no more, to a great degree, incentive for teachers to get an advanced degree,” said Fitzhugh. “And what are you saying to our children? That advanced degree is no longer important. Going into higher education on an elevated basis doesn’t matter any more because we don’t even think it matters when your teacher gets a master’s degree or a doctorate degree. We’re not going to pay him or her any more for that.”

But that logic doesn’t quite fly with at least one Republican lawmaker. Reached by phone Thursday, GOP House Caucus Chair Glen Casada of Franklin told TNReport, “I know in the business world, you don’t get paid because you have an M.B.A behind your name.”

Casada said he did have some “reservations” about possible reductions in teachers’ minimum earning potential but echoed the line often touted by Republican education reform advocates that bonuses and raises should be awarded based purely on measured performance rather than experience or education.

Fitzhugh himself addressed that point Thursday. “I’m all for paying for productivity, paying for excellence, but you don’t do that at the expense of teachers, initially, by lowering their pay,” he said.

Press Releases

TNHDC Opposes Huffman’s Proposed Salary Changes for Teachers

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; June 20, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democrats joined together to speak out against a proposal by the Haslam administration to cut teacher pay in Tennessee.

“If we are ever going to raise Tennessee’s educational standards, we must make our state more attractive to highly qualified, professional teachers,” said Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville). “Instead, Commissioner Huffman and the corporate special interests bankrolling the so-called ‘education reform’ movement have set their sights once again on attacking our public school teachers.”

Commissioner Huffman will present his proposed changes to the minimum teacher salary schedule to the State Board of Education on Friday, June 21. The new proposal will reduce steps in salary increases from 21 to four and eliminate incentives for doctorate degrees and post-masters training.

“Our teachers are this state’s greatest resource,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “Something this administration and self-proclaimed education reformers still fail to grasp is that putting teachers last will not put students first.”

“If this proposal goes forward, Governor Haslam will be breaking the state’s promise to thousands of teachers across the state,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “Teachers have invested their precious time and money into obtaining further education with the promise that they would be adequately compensated. Now, teachers are going to be left with thousands in debt and a broken promise from the state.”

View the proposed schedule for teachers HERE.

Press Releases

House Dems Applaud Haslam DCS, DIDD Appointments

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; May 21, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democrats are applauding the move by Governor Haslam to appoint Interim Commissioner Jim Henry as the permanent Commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services.

“Jim Henry is a great public servant who is unquestionably the best choice to move DCS forward,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “His qualifications, knowledge and professionalism will be a stark contrast and welcome respite from the mismanagement and scandal we have seen from so many other Commissioners in this administration.”

Commissioner Henry assumed control of the Department of Children’s Services in February when then Commissioner Kate O’Day resigned. Since then he has taken positive steps towards fixing an agency that was mired in allegations of secrecy and poor handling of cases.

“We would also like to congratulate Debra Payne for being selected to fill Commissioner Henry’s role as Commissioner of DIDDS,” said Leader Fitzhugh. “This is an extremely important agency and I am confident that Deputy Commissioner Payne will be up to the task of leading this department with the same level of professionalism that Commissioner Henry did.”