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Press Releases

TNReport’s Open Government Talk Draws Impressive, Well-Informed Crowd

Press Release from TNReport.com New Service, Nov. 29, 2012:

The “Totally Transparent Pizza Party” hosted by TNReport and the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government on Wednesday evening drew a mix of 64 attendees from across the political spectrum.

“It was exciting to see such a diverse and enthusiastic audience turn out for this important discussion,” TNReport.com editor Mark Engler said.

TCOG executive director Kent Flanagan and Elisha Hodge, open-records counsel for the State of Tennessee, joined TNReport’s Trent Seibert for ranging talk on open-government issues in the Volunteer State.

“Public accountability starts with free and open access to information,” said Engler. “Our primary function and goal at TNReport is arming citizens with the tools for getting at the truth of what government is doing, and how tax dollars are being spent. I am tremendously grateful to Kent Flanagan and Elisha Hodge for joining with us to further that mission. I look forward to doing more events like it in the not-so-distant future.”

The event was hosted by Mafiaoza’s Pizzeria & Neighborhood Pub, 2400 12th Ave. S. in Nashville.

Seibert also spoke at the event and supplied a list of online tools for citizen journalists. The links to those tools are below.

The FOIA letter generator

This handy site will allow you to produce a quick letter asking a state, local or federal government entity for the public records you want. It also shows you examples of records that are public at the state and federal level and provides direct links to your state’s open records law.

Tennessee campaign finance search

This state-run site gives you the most complete information about campaign contributions for state-level candidates. In addition to searching, you can also download the information into a spreadsheet for deeper analysis.

Follow the Money

This site allows you to see how money flows through your state. The campaign contributions for elected officials such as state representatives, state senators and governors are showcased here. There is also an analysis of those contributions and much, much more.

Open Secrets

Here is where you will find how money flows through Congress and the White House. There is so much more here, too: This site is a clearinghouse for data and analysis on multiple aspects of money in politics — the independent interest groups flooding politics with outside spending, federal lobbying, Washington’s “revolving door,” federal earmarks and the personal finances of members of Congress, the president and other officials.

Legistorm

Based in Washington, LegiStorm has valuable information on Congress, such as a database of congressional staff salaries and a comprehensive database of all privately financed trips taken by members of Congress, as well as gifts to members of Congress from foreign governments.

Political Party Time

This site collects and categorizes invitations to political fundraising events for members of Congress and the president. You can find out where the fundraisers are and (in some cases) who is expected to attend, often before they happen. You can also view the array of invitations that are e-mailed and faxed by the dozen to lobbyists, political action committee representatives and others around Washington, D.C., and the country. These fundraisers vary from small receptions to lavish getaways — and none are cheap.

Housing and Urban Development Audits

See how well — or not so well — HUD is using tax dollars in your state. Keep up with audits that put a spotlight on waste, fraud and corruption.

Tennessee state auditor

The state auditor takes a hard look at state and local agencies and finds information that is often overlooked by the media. Investigative audits often show waste and fraud. Financial audits can give you detailed information about an agency, school system or city — and can show you how much debt public entities hold and what tax hikes may be on the way.

Stimulus information and stimulus audits

Recovery.gov shows you where stimulus money is being spent and how many jobs have been created. The “accountability” section of the site links to audits of stimulus spending, as well as to lists of organizations that have received stimulus dollars but have not reported how they’ve spent the money.

LM-2, Labor organization reports

The Department of Labor’s website allows users to look up specific labor organizations and their annual financial reports.

Government Attic

Government Attic provides electronic copies of thousands of interesting government documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. They include: fascinating historical documents, reports on items in the news, oddities, fun stuff and government bloopers.

FBI reports

The FBI’s FOIA page provides the form to find out if a deceased individual or a closed case has an associated FBI file. The site also provides hundreds of links to the FBI files of historical figures and events.

Any questions about public records? Contact Trent, Elisha or Kent:

Trent Seibert, phone: 615-669-9501 or email trent@tnreport.com

Elisha Hodge, phone: 615-401-7891 or email open.records@cot.tn.gov

Kent Flanagan, phone: 615-202-2685 or email tncog@comcast.net

Categories
Featured Health Care

Little Statehouse GOP Support for State-Run Insurance Exchange

Gov. Bill Haslam now has another month to decide and declare whether Tennessee intends to manage its own so-called medical insurance “exchange” as outlined in the controversial 2010 federal health care law.

After prodding from the Republican Governors’ Association, the Obama administration agreed late Thursday to give states more time to decide if they want to manage their own government-run health coverage marketplaces, or hand the duty over to the federal government.

“It is clear that putting in place the new programs you championed will be an enormous strain on state governments and budgets, as well as the federal government,” the governors wrote. “From the financial obligations and complex technicalities to ensuring the healthcare workforce and infrastructure will be in place to meet the new demand, the timeframe and many of the provisions in the (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) are simply unworkable.”

States now have until Dec. 14 to make their respective Affordable Care Act health-exchange decisions.

“We are hopeful in the coming weeks we will receive answers from Washington to the many questions we’ve asked in our effort to have a full picture of the future of exchanges in Tennessee,” Haslam said in a statement issued Friday morning.

Haslam has for a while been saying he favors the state running its own exchange. Haslam indicates he believes it would be better for insurance companies doing business here to answer to Tennessee regulators, and that a state-run exchange would better serve the unique features of the state’s health care system.

“Ultimately our citizens, through insurance companies, are going to pay for the cost of running that exchange,” Haslam said on Tuesday. “Who do we think can run it cheaper, us or the federal government? I’ll bet on us every time.”

But members of Haslam’s party in the Tennessee Legislature are anything but enthusiastic about the prospects of doing the federal government’s bidding with respect to the ACA.

In the wake of the president’s re-election, Tennessee faces a difficult policy decision  surrounding the subsidized insurance marketplaces mandated under Obamacare, the governor said this week. The three options include the state setting up and running the exchanges, letting the federal government do it or pulling together some kind of a hybrid model wherein state and federal bureaucracies share responsibility for creating or managing a system.

“Let me be clear, I oppose the Affordable Care Act,” Haslam said today. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court upheld a majority of it this summer, including the provision that states are required to either participate in a federal exchange or establish their own.”

Both parties’ leaders in the Legislature agree, as far as it goes, that the state is indeed better suited to run the Tennessee exchange than the federal government.

“Government closest to the people governs best, and that should be a guiding principle as we implement the new health care law,” Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, said this week. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, told TNReport.com he believes a state-run health exchange system “would give us a little more control, and I think Tennessee would probably like to have that.”

However, GOP lawmakers, who overwhelmingly control both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly, are expressing doubt that the federal government can be trusted to honor the integrity of whatever systems states develop on their own.

The key details about how the exchanges are theoretically supposed to operate have yet to trickle down through the federal regulatory pipeline, which has only added to the sense of uncertainty, and Republican legislative leaders believe the unpredictability is just getting started. A prevailing sentiment among GOP state representatives and senators is that Obamacare planners in Washington clearly anticipate keeping the states on short leashes, and that federal intervention into the state-run systems will be commonplace as the administration attempts to micromanage.

Republicans suspect that when all is politically said and done, the “state-run” exchange will be so laden with federal red tape, mandates and market manipulation that Tennessee would be better served steering clear and letting the feds drive from the outset.

Glen Casada, chairman of the House Health and Human Resources Committee, said that over the past few months he’s reversed his opinion on who should run the health insurance exchanges. Casada, R-College Grove, said he used to think states ought to handle them, but no longer.

“I just cannot see a reason to implement a state exchange when the (U.S.) Health and Human Services Department will not commit to us on what we can do exactly, and for how long,” Casada told TNReport Wednesday. “If the feds came out and were very clear on what we could and could not do, with guarantees that we could keep doing what we wanted to do, you would probably see some Republican House members interested (in a state-run exchange). But under the current criteria it looks like we have to operate under, I don’t think you are going to find too many in the House Republican caucus interested.”

Skepticism and frustration pervades the upper-chamber GOP caucus, too.

“The federal government has put the state of Tennessee between a rock and a hard place on the issue of health care exchanges,” said Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville. “The Obama administration has refused to answer questions and provide information necessary to make decisions by its arbitrary deadline.”

Ramsey, the state’s lieutenant governor, added that the Haslam administration is going to need a stamp of approval from the Tennessee General Assembly if it decides that setting up a state-run system is the best way to go.

“No state exchange can be implemented without the consent of the Legislature,” said Ramsey. “This issue is not going away. The Republican majority will continue to do what we must to keep all options open to minimize the impact of this insidious federal law on the citizens of Tennessee.”

Sen. Mike Bell, chairman of his chamber’s Government Operations Committee, said he has no plans right now to support any sort of state-run exchange — and thinks he’s by no means alone in the caucus.

Bell, R-Riceville, said he is “still holding out hope” that Republicans in Congress can roadblock funding for Obama’s health care law “and thereby delay or possibly even kill it at the federal level.” Bell said resistance by the states could also force the feds to abandoned their plans.

“The very weight of the responsibility for setting up that bureaucracy to run 20 or 30 state exchanges will be so heavy the federal government won’t be able to do it,” he said. “I hold out hope — now, it’s a faint hope, but I hold out hope — that there’s something that still could stop this.”

House Democrats on Friday jabbed at Haslam to quit stalling and set a course for the state.

“The Governor has had ample time to decide whether or not he wants to establish a Tennessee plan for a Health Insurance Exchange,” Fitzhugh said in a caucus release. “Now is not the time for more delays, now is the time to create an open process that brings all interested parties to the table, Democrats, Republicans, consumer advocates, insurance companies, small businesses and others, to start deciding what this Tennessee Health Insurance Exchange will look like.”