Erik Schelzig

Editor, The Tennessee Journal

Haslam vetoes proton therapy bill (Updated)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday vetoed a bill to require the state employee health insurance program to cover hypofractionated proton therapy, an alternative cancer treatment.

The measure sponsored by Sen. Mark Green (R-Ashland City) and Rep. Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville) cleared the Senate on a 29-1 vote and the House by 82-13. Haslam said in his veto message that the bill circumvented the state’s established process for deciding insurance coverage for state employees.

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Publisher and open government champion Sam Kennedy dies at 91

Former Daily Herald publisher Sam Kennedy and Gov. Bill Haslam.

Obituary by Sue McClure and Tony Kessler

Sam Delk Kennedy, the former longtime publisher of The Daily Herald of Columbia and a tireless open government advocate, died Tuesday at the age of 91.

“As Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Broder once said, ‘Sam Kennedy was the real thing,'” said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville). “He presided over the Columbia Daily Herald with an unusual combination of warmth, dignity and utter professionalism.”

“My visits over the years to Sam Kennedy’s office and Mule Day seemed completely intertwined,” Alexander added. “He set a fine example for other editors and journalists and reminded politicians that we should set an example as well.”

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Davenport out as UT-Knoxville chancellor

Beverly Davenport, the first female chancellor of the University of Tennessee flagship campus in Knoxville, is being demoted. The UT system announced Wednesday that Davenport will become a faculty member in the College of Communication and Information on July 1.

Davenport had been criticized by some for her handling of UT’s botched football coaching search, her rejection of Gov. Bill Haslam’s outsourcing initiatives, and (especially among lawmakers) for the ongoing student-led Sex Week activities on campus.

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Gibson goes from Trump, Blackburn darling to Chapter 11

Nashville-based guitar maker Gibson has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company’s products were featured at the White House last year as part of President Donald Trump’s “Made in America Product Showcase.” And in 2011, Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz was the guest of U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) at then-President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. Juszkiewicz had blasted the Democratic adminstration for raids on Gibson factories to seize exotic wood imported in violation of environmental laws. Gibson the following year agreed to pay a $300,000 penalty to get federal prosecutors to drop the criminal case.

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Bredesen leads Blackburn 46-43 in new poll

A new independent poll finds Democrat Phil Bredesen with a narrow lead over Republican Marsha Blackburn in the U.S. Senate race in Tennessee.

Bredesen had the support of 46%, compared with 43% for Blackburn and 11% undecided, according to the Mason-Dixon poll released Wednesday. The telephone poll of 625 registered voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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McCormick lets the gavel crash in Budget Sub

As chairman of the House Finance Subcommittee, the “Black Hole” of legislative legend, Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) can make or break the funding dreams of rank-and-file members. Even when he’s had to crush those hopes, he’s tried to do so with a gentle touch. But not on Monday, when Rep. Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna) tried to pull what McCormick saw as an end-around on the budget process.

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Takeaways from the GOP gubernatorial debate in Memphis

The Memphis event was billed in advance (and again from the stage) as not being yet another meaningless gubernatorial forum in which everybody would end up restating the same platitudes, but a bona fide battle royale, a “debate.” It wasn’t.

There was little overt disagreement and minimal effort to create it. The Republican participants  — Diane Black, Randy Boyd, and Bill Lee (Harwell begged off because of legislative responsibilities) — became a virtual amen chorus to the idea that Memphis has been shafted by the state relative to other sections of Tennessee.

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Report: Mae Beavers’ husband uses epithet against critic

The husband of former Republican gubernatorial hopeful Mae Beavers used a derogatory epithet against a woman who questioned campaign finance issues related to her bid for Wilson County mayor.

The Lebanon Democrat reports that Jerry Beavers stood up and accused the questioner, Dolores Mackey, of being a troublemaker.

“The room seemed surprised, and as he sat down, he mumbled ‘stupid bitch,’” Mackey said.

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11th-hour push would dial up per diems for lawmakers

As the 110th General Assembly works its way toward adjournment, lawmakers are making an 11-hour push to pad their expense accounts.

As Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports, the bill sponsored by House Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams of Cookeville (HB1941) would stop using the federal reimbursement rate for hotels and instead use a new formula based on Nashville’s downtown business district. Williams told the House Government Operations Committee on Monday that the change would result in an additional $30 to $60 per night, depending one hotel prices. (The current federal rate is $170 per night.)

Lawmakers receive the daily hotel reimbursement regardless of the price they pay for hotels, or if they rent their own apartments when they are in town on legislative business (or even if they sleep in their offices for free).

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Retiring Corker subject of billboard campaign in Nashville

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Chattanooga) may be hanging ’em up this year, but that’s not stopping a group called Not One Penny from taking out a billboard near the state Capitol in Nashville to attack him over his vote on President Donald Trump’s tax overhaul.

The Not One Penny campaign is part of the Tax March organization that describes itself as “everyday Americans who are tired of systems that are rigged in favor of the super-rich.” The billboard says that Corker’s vote for the tax bill led enriched the senator personally.

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