travel

HHS chief’s June Washington-to-Nashville trip cost $17,760

A June trip to Nashville from Washington is being cited in national news media as an example of how U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price flew by charter airplane at taxpayer expense rather than taking less expensive commercial flights.

From Politico, which says Price has taken 24 charter flights since early May at a cost of more than $300,000 to taxpayers:

HHS officials have said Price uses private jets only when commercial travel is not feasible.

But many of the flights are between large cities with frequent, low-cost airline traffic, such as a trip from Washington to Nashville that the secretary took on June 6 to make a morning event at a medication distributor and an afternoon speech. There are four regular nonstop flights that leave Washington-area airports between 6:59 a.m. and 8:50 a.m. and arrive in Nashville by 9:46 a.m. CT. Sample round-trip fares for those flights were as low as $202, when booked in advance on Orbitz.com. Price’s charter, according to HHS’ contract with Classic Air Charter, cost $17,760.

A Tennessean report of Price’s visit to Nashville at the time says he made a morning visit to Dispensary of Hope, a subsidiary of Saint Thomas Health and Ascension that ships medications across the country to free clinics and charitable pharmacies. He called it “wonderfully inspiring.” In the afternoon, Price made a speech, centered on opioid addiction, to a conference on drug abuse organized by Healthy Tennessee and Vanderbilt’s School of Nursing.

Legislators spend $150K per year on out-of-state travel

From 2009 through 2016, 143 Tennessee state legislators went on about 720 out-of-state trips at a cost to taxpayers of about $1.2 million, according to a Tennessean review of records— about $150,000 per year for the eight-year period. Top traveler was Sen. Reginald Tate, D-Memphis.

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Haslam headed to Europe for a week

News release from Department of Economic and Community Development

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe will travel to Europe from June 26 to June 30 for an economic development trip designed to strengthen ties with European businesses and increase foreign direct investment (FDI) in Tennessee.

During the weeklong trip, Haslam and Rolfe will pitch Tennessee’s advantages to a number of European businesses interested in establishing operations in the Southeast U.S. The trip will include stops in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and Germany.

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Haslam, Alexander defend Insurance Commissioner McPeak

Gov. Bill Haslam has come to the defense of Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie McPeak, reports WTVF-TV, which earlier aired a report on her extensive travel on the job – 120 trips since Haslam appointed her to the position in 2011 with expenses paid by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

U.S.  Sen. Lamar Alexander also issued a statement supporting McPeak. Some of her travel has been to Washington, where she met with congressmen and testified before committees – including one chaired by Alexander.

From WTVF:

“Julie’s worked for me for six years. I am very convinced of her professional approach to this in terms of looking out for what’s the best interests of the state,” Haslam explained.

…The governor said someone in his office reviews all travel requests from commissioners. So someone there knew just how many trips McPeak was taking.

Said Alexander in a statement emailed by his staff:

“Julie McPeak has been very effective in working with Congress to solve a real emergency for nearly 200,000 vulnerable Tennesseans as she works to give them options next year and beyond. Unless Congress acts, these Tennesseans who have federal subsidies to purchase insurance in the individual market may have zero options for insurance next year. I’ve invited her to meet with me in Nashville, and at my invitation, she testified before the Senate health committee and again to brief senators.”

Note: Previous post HERE. The station reported McPeak was out of her office on trips for 117 days in 2015, 120 days in 2016.

TN insurance commissioner’s travel, work with industry association, questioned

Tennessee Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie McPeak, who is president-elect of of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, has made more than 120 trips for conferences and meetings around the nation and world since taking office in 2011, reports WTVF-TV — and some say she’s spending “way too much time away from her office.”

McPeak told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, “That (travel) absolutely is serving the taxpayers of Tennessee and our Tennessee consumers.” But, Bob Hunter of the Consumer Federation of America wasn’t so sure.

“I think what happens as a result of these trips is less consumer protection, not more,” he said.

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Senate votes to keep secret some free out-of-state legislator travel

A bill that requires lawmakers to disclose expenses and the source of funding for travel was watered down in the Senate on Monday, reports The Tennessean.

One effect of the Senate amendment to HB275: Free trips for legislators to conventions of the American Legislative Exchange Council, sponsored by corporations interested in state policy issues, will remain undisclosed. ALEC covers costs of selected state legislators, typically freshmen or those holding ALEC leadership positions, with “scholarships.”

State law now requires disclosure of out-of-state trip expenses to such gatherings if the state pays the costs. But when the organization covers the cost, they are not reported.

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House requires disclosure of legislators’ expense-paid travel outside the state

A new provision in state House rules adopted Thursday will require representatives to file a public disclosure when they have out-of-state travel and related expenses paid by people seeking to influence state policy, reports The Tennessean.

The rules require any House member to disclose the trip within 10 business days of the lawmaker’s return. The disclosure will then be made public.

“It’s for trips that are related to their legislative duties or that they’re invited to because of their status as a member,” said legislative attorney Doug Himes.

Himes said a lawmaker would fill out the new disclosure form if they went on a fact-finding trip to another state or country.

“The whole idea is just to have people disclose so that the public can see if people take trips where they are.”

According to the new rules, the disclosure of the trips valued at more than $100 is not simply for travel. Anything associated with the trip — be it food, lodging, transportation, entertainment or recreational activities — that has a combined value of $100 or more would require lawmakers to disclose.

Himes said there are exceptions to the new disclosure. He said if national organizations, such as the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, or another state or even the federal government were to pay for a lawmaker to travel out of state, they would not be required to fill out the new disclosure form.

A draft version of the disclosure form asks lawmakers to name the “sponsor” — the individual or entity who paid for or provided reimbursement for all or part of the trip. The form also ask for specific information such as the destination, the name of the gathering, if applicable and the member’s departure and return date.

Haslam, Boyd plan journey to Germany

News release from Department of Economic and Community Development

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd will travel to Germany from Oct. 31 to Nov. 4 in an effort to build and strengthen ties with the country’s business leaders as well as increase foreign direct investment opportunities (FDI) in Tennessee.

In addition to meeting with German executives who already operate businesses in Tennessee, Haslam and Boyd will pitch the state’s advantages to a number of German companies interested in setting up operations in the Southeastern U.S.
Tennessee ranked No. 1 nationally for job creation resulting from foreign direct investment in 2015, according to IBM-PLI’s 2016 Global Location Trends report.. Tennessee ranked No. 1 and No. 4 in IBM’s Global Local Trends report in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

…There are 103 German-owned companies in Tennessee that have invested nearly $5.3 billion throughout the state and employ almost 14,000 Tennesseans. Germany is the second-largest source of FDI in Tennessee, behind only Japan. FDI from German companies accounts for more than 15 percent of the total $33.4 billion that foreign-owned businesses have invested in Tennessee.

Note: This is a shortened version of the news release. The full release is HERE.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

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

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