Monthly Archives: March 2017

Democrats urge Insure TN be reconsidered; Haslam says not now

With the Republican plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare dead in Washington for now, at least four states that previously rejected Medicaid expansion – Kansas, Maine, North Carolina and Virginia – have moves afoot to reconsider the idea.

Tennessee Democrats would like to see the Volunteer State become the fifth, reports WPLN, but Gov. Bill Haslam says it’s too early. In 2015, Haslam proposed a Medicaid expansion plan, dubbed Insure Tennessee, that was killed by the Legislature.

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he is not currently considering another legislative special session to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the federal Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.

“The sooner the better, so we can begin collecting and allowing up to 300- or 400-hundred thousand people to be covered under Medicaid,” says House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley.

Fitzhugh proposes repealing a state law that requires the legislature to sign off on Medicaid expansion. That would free up Governor Bill Haslam to negotiate a plan with the Trump administration. (Note: It’s HB846, on notice for the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee next week.)

Haslam says he’s instructed TennCare officials to review their options. But it’s too soon to come up with a plan.

“I think it’s early. I mean, we literally just had, Friday, the country took a change of direction no one was expecting,” he says.

Haslam adds it’s probably too late in the legislative session to propose an expansion plan this year. Lawmakers are likely to adjourn around the end of April, and the administration has focused on passing the state budget and a road-funding plan.

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Bill to block state park privatization moving in House & Senate

Republican-controlled committees of both the House and Senate have approved a Democrat-sponsored bill that would block new privatization efforts at Tennessee state parks.

Key sentence in the bill (SB1110/HB1208), sponsored by House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, and Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis:

“The management, operation, and preservation of state parks, including the management, operation, and preservation of any buildings, facilities, structures, or improvements upon state park property must not be the subject of any private contract or otherwise outsourced to any private company or individual.”

It doesn’t apply to contracts in place before July 1, 2017. But Fitzhugh says that existing contracts coming up for renewal after that date could be subject to the prohibition when they expire and come up for renewal.

In the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, Kyle’s bill was approved quickly Monday without discussion  – Chairman Steve Southerland seconded the motion for passage — on a vote of 7-0-1. Sen. Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, abstained.

On Wednesday, the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee approved the bill on voice vote with no apparent opposition after a short discussion, including Fitzhugh declaring privatization of parks “is something the people do not want” and there is a danger of “overpricing” park visits under current plans so that average Tennesseans cannot afford them “when we try to make a profit out of state parks.”

At Fall Creek Falls State Park, current plans call for demolishing the present Inn, building a new one at a state cost of $22 million, then turning operations over to a private company with anticipation that the average cost of a room would be $151 per night, compared to $75 at the existing Inn.

Near unanimous Republican support for a Democrat-sponsored bill even remotely controversial is an oddity. But it remains to be seen whether the committee votes are a symbolic gesture that will be scuttled later in the process, a genuine defiance of the governor’s plans or something in between.

Note: See also Sam Stockard’s report following Senate committee approval, but prior to the House sub’s vote. The article notes that current Haslam administration plans call for getting a contract signed for the Fall Creek Falls private operations in May, which could mean the deal gets included in the grandfather clause for contracts in place by July 1.

Corker, Alexander produce Obamacare backup plan

News release from Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker

WASHINGTON – Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) today introduced legislation to rescue Americans with Affordable Care Act subsidies who have zero options for health insurance on the exchanges for the 2018 plan year.

“There are 34,000 Knoxville area residents who rely on an Affordable Care Act subsidy to purchase insurance, and after the one remaining insurer pulled out of the exchange for 2018, these subsidies are worth as much as bus tickets in a town with no buses running,” Alexander said. “There is also a real prospect that all 230,000 Tennesseans who buy insurance on the exchange—approximately 195,000 with a subsidy—won’t have any plans to buy next year either, and millions of Americans in other states are facing the same dire circumstances.”

He continued, “This legislation would help those in Knoxville and across the country by allowing any American who receives a subsidy and has no insurance available on their exchange next year to use that subsidy to buy any state-approved insurance off of the exchange. Second, the bill would waive the Affordable Care Act requirement that these Americans, who have zero insurance options with their subsides, have to pay a penalty for not purchasing insurance.  And third, this legislation will help bring peace of mind between now and the beginning of next year to millions of Americans, some of the most vulnerable people in the country, who face having zero options of health insurance to purchase with their subsidy.”

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Slatery urges senators back Gorsuch for U.S. Supreme Court

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery has written the chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Tennessee’s two U.S. senators to voice support for President Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court.

“In short, Judge Gorsuch is a champion of the structural safeguards that protect state sovereignty and individual liberty, a committed textualist and originalist, and a brilliant jurist. I urge the Senate to confirm him without delay,” says Slatery in the letter to Sens. Chuck Grassley (the Judiciary Committee chairman), Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.

Corker has publicly declared he will vote for Gorsuch’s confirmation. Alexander has praised the nominee lavishly and denounced the notion of Democrats threatening to filibuster the nomination without explicitly saying the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge has his vote.

Text of Slatery’s letter is below.

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TN Supreme Court upholds death penalty protocol

News release from the Administrative Office of the Courts

Nashville, Tenn. – The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the written protocol by which the Tennessee Department of Correction carries out an execution by lethal injection.

The plaintiffs in this matter, each of whom have been convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death, brought a declaratory judgment action in the trial court challenging the constitutionality of the lethal injection protocol under both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions.  This protocol was adopted on September 27, 2013, and provided that inmates who had been sentenced to death were to be executed by injection of a lethal dose of the drug, pentobarbital.  The trial court conducted a lengthy evidentiary hearing and eventually denied the plaintiffs relief.

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West TN alderman indicted for voter fraud

News release from Tennessee Bureau of Investigation

MEMPHIS – An investigation by Special Agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has resulted in the indictment of a Moscow City Alderman on charges of violating election laws. 

At the request of 25th District Attorney General Mike Dunavant, on November 1, 2016, TBI Special Agents began investigating Virgil Jones on complaints of election law fraud. Jones is an Alderman for the city of Moscow, in Fayette County. During the course of the investigation, Agents developed information that while Jones does own property in Moscow, his actual residence is in Whiteville, in Hardeman County, and he listed the fraudulent address on elections records for the purpose of running for the Alderman position. Additionally, a review of election records indicates that while Jones has lived in Whiteville, he has been a registered voter in Moscow and has voted there for numerous elections.

On Monday, the Fayette County Grand Jury returned indictments charging  Virgil Jones (DOB 8/11/1964) with one count of False Entry on Official Registration or Election Document, one count of Perjury and False Statement on Official Election Documents, and five counts of Voter Fraud. Jones turned himself in to TBI Special Agents on Tuesday and was booked into the Fayette County Jail. His bond was set at $10,000.

JLL wins higher education privatization contract

Chicago-based real estate giant Jones Lang LaSalle is the winning bidder of a potentially massive government outsourcing contract that could put facilities of all Tennessee higher education buildings under private management, according to the Times-Free Press.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration made the decision public to bidders on Tuesday.

Haslam press secretary Jennifer Donnals said in a statement the facilities management plan “is part of a two-year process. Our job is to provide the very best service for the very lowest cost to taxpayers.”

Donnals said “individual campuses will make their own determination whether to participate in this proposal or not. If they do participate, the proposed contract will protect the livelihoods of current facilities management employees. This is another tool for campuses to keep their costs low while providing high-quality service.”

Jones Lang LaSalle already manages a large number of general state government buildings under a process that generated enormous amounts of criticism from some lawmakers, as well as critical findings in an audit last year by state Comptroller Justin Wilson.

…JLL won the bid over Aramark and Compass Group, which also submitted proposals. All three companies were among an undisclosed number involved in a secretive process in which potential vendors were allowed to have input on how the contract would be shaped.

But the contract is not yet final. JLL and the Haslam administration will have to negotiate final price details before the five-year contract is signed.

According to the proposal, JLL plans to subcontract with Birmingham-based Diversified Maintenance for janitorial and housekeeping services, and with Pennsylvania-based BrightView Landscapes for groundskeeping and landscaping.

Nashville judge charged with bribery, witness tampering

Nashville General Sessions Court Judge Casey Moreland was arrested Tuesday on federal bribery and witness-tampering charges after allegedly trying to pay a woman to recant allegations she has made against him, reports The Tennessean.

Moreland, a judge since 1998, was the subject of an FBI investigation related to allegations that he helped people he knew in exchange for things — including sexual favors, travel and lodging. Among the allegations documented in police reports and accounts were that he intervened in a traffic stop for a woman he had a personal relationship with and waived jail time for his future son in law.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Moreland tried to pay a woman thousands of dollars to recant her allegations against him. That occurred after March 1, more than one month after the FBI began an inquiry.

…A criminal complaint based on an affidavit of FBI Special Agent Mark Shafer lays out the investigation, which used confidential sources who are unnamed in the complaint.

…On March 11, while the confidential source was working for the FBI, he met with Moreland. In that meeting, the man told the judge he had met with a woman making public allegations against Moreland and that she would sign an affidavit saying she had lied.

The meeting was recorded, according to the FBI, and during it Moreland handed over the draft affidavit, $5,100 cash and an explanation.

 

 

 

 

Bill restricting campaign money investment goes to governor

The House gave unanimous approval Monday evening to a bill to put new restrictions on investments of money held in state political campaign accounts. It was inspired by a number of questionable investments found in an audit of former state Rep. Jeremy Durham’s  funds.

The measure (SB377) had passed the Senate earlier (previous post HERE, including a press release) and it now goes to the governor for his signature.

Sponsors are Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, and Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga. The bill declares campaign funds must be deposited in a financial institution insured by the FDIC or the national credit union administration that is authorized to do business in the state.

The Durham audit found the Franklin Republican, expelled from his seat last year, had invested more than $100,000 of campaign money in a company operated by a major political donor and also used the funds to make substantial loans to a professional gambler and his wife. That’s not illegal under current law, though Durham is under investigation for multiple other allegations of activity that would be illegal.

John Chiles, former House GOP leader, dies age 83

John G. Chiles, a Nashville Republican who served 16 years in the state legislature including eight years as House Minority Leader, has died at age 83.

His tenure as House Republican leader came when Democrat Ned McWherter was governor and Democrats held a majority in both the House and Senate. In that capacity, he was occasionally combative on partisan issues but sometimes willing to compromise as well — and he regularly displayed a quick wit in both situations.

Chiles, who ran a family-owned Nashville restaurant and then worked as a banker, is survived by his wife, Beth, two daughters, a stepdaughter, six grandchildren and two stepchildren, according to the published obituary. (Note: It’s HERE.) A service is scheduled for Wednesday.

An excerpt:

After his restaurant career, John served as Vice President of Business Development for United American Bank. It was during this time that he became interested in politics. In 1976, he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives serving House District 57. He served as the minority whip in the 91st and 92nd General Assemblies. He was elected House Republican Leader in 1986 where he continued to serve through 1992. He was a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council and served as the organization’s Tennessee State Chairman from 1988 – 1991. He also served as a member of the Tennessee Republican Executive Committee and in 1993, he was named the Tennessee Republican Statesman of the Year.

…A gathering of family and friends will be held at Donelson Presbyterian Church at 2305 Lebanon Road from noon until 2:00pm on Wednesday, March 29th. A Celebration of Life will follow immediately at the church with Dr. Paul Casner officiating. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Donelson Presbyterian Church or the charity of your choice.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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