Nine in TN congressional delegation ask continuation of special fed hospital funding forTennCare

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 18 – Nine members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation (all but Reps. Scott DesJarlais and Stephen Fincher) today sent a letter to Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Marilyn Tavenner requesting an extension of TennCare’s waiver approval from earlier this year.

Because Tennessee does not receive funding through the Medicaid disproportionate share hospital (DSH) program that every other state participates in, the lawmakers are requesting continuing funds to support Tennessee hospitals that help tens of thousands of low-income patients receive medical coverage they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. Just last year, these hospitals provided $950 million in charity care and $720 million in unreimbursed medical services to low-income Tennesseans. Unlike hospitals in every other state, Tennessee hospitals are unable to offset these expenses with the help of the Medicaid DSH program.

The lawmakers write to Tavenner that they remain “deeply committed to restoring Tennessee’s DSH funding, as [Tennessee] is the only [state] in the nation without permanent access to these dollars.”

The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, along with U.S. Reps. Diane Black, Marsha Blackburn, Steve Cohen, Jim Cooper, John Duncan, Jr., Chuck Fleischmann, and Phil Roe.

The text of the letter is below
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Alexander, Corker list Senate committee assignments

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander’s office:
NASHVILLE, Dec. 18 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today announced that next Congress he will serve on the following committees:

• Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, where he is currently the ranking Republican member;
• Appropriations, where he is the ranking Republican member on the subcommittee that oversees energy and water appropriations;
• Energy and Natural Resources; and
• Rules and Administration.

“In the new Senate majority, Republicans will have an extraordinary opportunity to show Americans what it means to lead and work together to get results,” Alexander said. “We need to repair the damage Obamacare has done to our health care system. We need to get Washington out of our local schools. We need to reform the FDA so life-saving drugs can get to patients faster. We need a 21st-century energy policy that doesn’t pick winners and losers in the marketplace and recognizes the importance of clean, low-cost, and reliable nuclear power. These will all be top priorities of mine as the new Congress begins in January, and these committee assignments give me a real opportunity to get results.”

Senate committee chairmen will be elected in January by members of the respective committees, the results of which will then need to be approved by the full conference of Republican senators.d

News release from Sen. Bob Corker’s office:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) today announced he will serve on the following committees during the 114th Congress:

• Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
• Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
• Senate Committee on the Budget
• Senate Special Committee on Aging

“As I traveled across the Volunteer State in the days following the November election, Tennesseans made clear that they are ready for the Senate to govern responsibly and finally focus on growing our economy, repairing our fiscal house and strengthening our nation’s role in the world,” said Corker. “Serving on the foreign relations, banking, budget and aging committees will allow me the unique opportunity to focus on the issues that matter most to Tennesseans and our country, and I am eager to get to work.”

Corker continued: “Some of America’s greatest achievements and longest-lasting solutions have occurred when one party controls Congress and another the White House. It will take hard work, but if the president rolls up his sleeves and provides leadership and if the Congress acts responsibly, I truly believe we can begin to solve the big issues before us so that my generation can leave behind a stronger nation than the one we inherited.”

Committee assignments are subject to approval of the Republican Conference as well as the full Senate. Chairmen will be selected by a vote of the members of each respective committee and then approved by the Republican Conference, which is expected to take place in early January.

Corker currently serves as ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Sen. Bill Ketron diagnosed with cancer, schedules treatment

News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE – Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) announced today that he has been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and will be receiving treatment for it. The Senator, who represents Senate District 13 in Rutherford County, said the cancer was discovered last month after he found a small lump in his neck.

“I will be receiving chemotherapy in the coming weeks and my doctors are optimistic the treatment will be effective,” said Senator Ketron. “While this will be a difficult journey, my faith in God and confidence in my doctors make me optimistic that there will be a good outcome. I also appreciate the prayers of others as I walk down this path.”

Senator Ketron said he is hopeful the announcement will let constituents in his district know first-hand about his condition. “Just about everyone knows someone who has cancer or has personally experienced it. I want to be up front with the people in my district about the challenges I am facing and follow in the footsteps of so many brave citizens who have brought awareness to this disease.”

Ketron said he does not expect to be away from his duties for more than a brief period during treatment. “I look forward to continuing to represent the people of Rutherford County in the Senate now, and for many years to come,” he concluded.

Senator Ketron was recently elected after being unopposed for a fourth four-year term.

Randy Boyd named new ECD commissioner

News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Randy Boyd as the new commissioner of Economic and Community Development.

A successful entrepreneur, Boyd, 55, served as a full-time, unpaid special advisor to the governor for higher education in 2013, focusing on the “Drive to 55” initiative to bring the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or certificates from 32 percent up to 55 percent by the year 2025. Boyd’s work resulted in the Tennessee Promise, the program to provide two years of community college or a college of applied technology (TCAT) absolutely free of tuition and fees to graduating Tennessee high school seniors.

“Randy understands the importance of making sure that the business community and educators are working hand in hand to meet our workforce needs,” Haslam said. “More than ever, offering an educated and highly trained workforce is part of attracting new business to our state and encouraging existing businesses to expand here. Randy’s experience and success in the private sector as well as his engagement in the education community make him a perfect fit to continue our focus on being the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

Boyd is chairman of Radio Systems Corporation, which he started in 1991. Radio Systems is headquartered in Knoxville and has more than 650 associates worldwide with offices in seven countries.

“I am very excited about this opportunity to serve our state. While working with the Governor last year, we often talked about education being not K to 12 but K to J, with the ‘J’ being jobs. Now, I can work to ensure that those high quality jobs we are educating people for are there for them,” Boyd said. “I’m first and foremost a salesman, and every salesman likes to have a great product to promote. I cannot imagine a better one than the state of Tennessee and can’t wait to promote it to other businesses around the world.”
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Haslam complains report on West TN ECD grants “way off base”

Gov. Bill Haslam says the state is spending more money per capita on economic development in the Southwest Tennessee Development District than in any other part of the state, contrary to a report in the Jackson Sun.

From the newspaper’s story today:

Haslam’s comments were in response to a story published by the Sun on Dec. 7 that said the district, which includes Madison and seven other counties, was last among nine development districts in the state in investment through the FastTrack program, one of the state’s largest economic development programs.

The Sun’s examination looked at FastTrack projects that had gone to contract in 2013 and the first three quarters of 2014. The Southwest Tennessee Development District was last in the number of jobs created through FastTrack investment, last in the investment per job created, last in investment per capita and last in percentage and amount of total FastTrack funds invested.

…”I think if you look at the places where we actively market, we actively market here as hard, if not harder, than anywhere else,” Haslam said.

“If you look at where the state has actually invested money on a per-capita basis, we’ve invested more in this economic district than any other economic district,” he continued. “Period.”

Haslam said the district leads in per-capita spending because of money spent or appropriated for the Memphis Regional Megasite in Haywood County.

Clint Brewer, assistant commissioner for communications and marketing at the state Department of Economic and Community Development, has said the Haslam administration has spent more than $66 million on the megasite.

Haywood County Mayor Franklin Smith has disputed that figure, saying that large portions of that money have not actually been spent, including $19 million for re-routing State Highway 222 and $22.2 million for a waste water force main.

Regardless, Haslam said the megasite is in a position that it could be made ready for a company to move in before any company would be prepared to do so.

Haslam said he didn’t think The Jackson Sun’s focus on FastTrack was fair.

“To be honest, I thought your story was way off base,” he said. “I don’t get upset about a lot of things, but that one I did because it’s like saying the U.S. Olympic Committee is awarding more Olympic gold medals to this country than they are to that country.
“But the gold medals are a result of a process that happened, and somebody won that race,” he continued. “In economic development, you win a race for a lot of different reasons.”

He said people in every part of the state, except Nashville, feel like they get the short end of the state’s economic development stick.

TBI-DA spat over Holly Bobo case prompts suspension of TBI operations in five West TN counties

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has suspended its involvement in the Holly Bobo murder and all other cases in the 24th Judicial District after an argument bedtween District Attorney General Matt Stowe and TBI Director Mark Gwyn, according to the Jackson Sun.

“Stowe made allegations of misconduct by TBI and other law enforcement agencies, both local and federal,” Gwyn said in a written statement Wednesday. “He also repeatedly stated he wanted our agency to suspend all activities in his district. … Stowe may characterize this as a misunderstanding, but his requests were clear and I wasn’t the only one who heard it.”

Stowe issued a written statement earlier Wednesday in which he denied that he initiated the TBI’s suspension of its assistance with cases in his district. The 24th District is made up of Benton, Carroll, Decatur, Hardin and Henry counties.

Stowe said he “fully expects the TBI to continue to work in cooperative partnership with law enforcement agencies across this district in all facets of criminal investigations as requested by these individual agencies.” Following a meeting with Gwyn and others on Friday “in which professional differences were expressed,” Stowe said, he sent a letter Tuesday asking the TBI to continue working with agencies in the district.

Gwyn has proposed a meeting, to be facilitated by the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, to try to resolve the dispute. But until further notice, the TBI has discontinued its active investigation of cases including the murder and kidnapping of Decatur County nursing student Holly Bobo.

Since Bobo’s disappearance in 2011, Gwyn said, TBI special agents have devoted thousands of hours to casework and forensic analysis. “The investigative records and results from a vast majority of the evidence submitted in the Bobo case have already been turned over to the district attorney general’s office for his further investigation, review and prosecution,” according to Gwyn’s statement.

The results of pending forensic analysis will be provided in a timely manner, Gwyn said. But TBI personnel will no longer offer comment or information about the Bobo case or any other case originating in the 24th District.

…TBI agents also will no longer investigate new cases in the 24th District, the statement said. “Local law enforcement agencies will be responsible for investigating the incidents in their jurisdictions, and will also be responsible for securing and funding forensic analysis for all future cases,” Gwyn said.

Decatur County Sheriff Keith Byrd said that the TBI cutting ties with the district will have a dramatic effect on how cases are handled. He said the biggest help the TBI provides to local law enforcement is forensic services such as DNA testing, and manpower and money to investigate cases.

Losing that help will affect county and city budgets, Byrd said.

…Gwyn said that Stowe attacked the work of the TBI and other agencies involved in the Bobo investigation at a meeting Friday, which also was attended by Amy Weirich, 30th District attorney general; Garry Brown, 28th District attorney general and president of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference; and Wally Kirby, executive director of the conference.

Alexander, Corker to Obama: Next time talk to us first about TVA nominees or they’ll be rejected

Upset over the way the Obama administration has handled nominations to TVA’s board of directors, U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have put the White House on notice: No future nominees to the public utility board will be confirmed unless the two senators are consulted first.

Further from Michael Collins:

“If they don’t recognize our constitutional responsibility to advise and consent, we’re not going to confirm their nominees,” Alexander said.

The two Republicans delivered their message during a meeting last week with three White House staffers, just two days after the Senate voted to confirm Ronald Walter of Memphis and Virginia Lodge of Nashville to the nine-member board.

While both Tennessee senators voted to confirm Walter and Lodge, they complained the White House had not sought their input about the nominees. Corker said he also was concerned the nominations process might have been influenced by a real-estate developer pushing to privately finance the completion of TVA’s unfinished, twin-reactor Bellefonte nuclear plant in northeastern Alabama.

Walter and Lodge were confirmed only after signing letters agreeing to recuse themselves from any decisions involving the businessman, Franklin Haney.

Prior administrations have made it a practice to seek the input of senators from their own party before nominating someone from the senators’ home states for a federal position. But President Barack Obama is a Democrat, while Corker and Alexander are Republicans. Both senators say the White House has not consulted with them about TVA nominees before sending the names to the Senate for confirmation.

Republicans will regain the Senate majority in January, putting the fate of Obama’s future nominees in their hands. Alexander and Corker say they will not allow TVA nominees to move forward unless the administration consults with them.

“TVA can’t possibly be at the top of the list for the president of the United States, but it is at the top of our list, and we thought they’d recognize that,” Alexander said.

Corker said, “The White House doesn’t care about TVA — I’m just telling you, they just don’t care about it. We do. We represent citizens who do, and we want to make sure we have an outstanding board.”

New education commissioner backs Common Core — except, maybe not at her current workplace

The state’s new education commissioner, Candice McQueen, is a strong supporter of Common Core standards, reports WPLN – except not necessarily at the private school she oversees.

She praises the rigor and the benefits to having Tennessee kids on the same page as students in 44 states. So when McQueen assumed a new role over Lipscomb’s private K-12 academy, parents were concerned Common Core would follow her to campus, according to an open letter sent to families.

“Because of my role as the dean of the university’s College of Education some of you have expressed concerns about my appointment and the direction Lipscomb Academy will take as it relates to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).”

McQueen wrote that she Common Core has not been adopted and that she has “not been in any formal discussions” about changing standards at the school, though she has asked faculty to familiarize themselves with the math and English standards.

And McQueen doesn’t plan to stop advocating for Common Core, according to the letter.

“I will continue to be part of the ongoing CCSS conversation. However, this should not be extrapolated to indicate or predict the adoption of CCSS at Lipscomb Academy.”

Asked by WPLN why Common Core wouldn’t be used at her school, McQueen referred back to her letter.

“We make decisions about what’s going to be best within the context of our community,” she said. “I would say that’s absolutely what we’re going to do now and for the future.”

Lipscomb would be unusual if it went to Common Core. Most of Nashville’s private schools blend state and national standards and don’t use the same standardized tests as public schools.

Note: WPLN’s post has excerpts from her letter.

Obama does a Tennessean op-ed piece on immigration, praising Nashville

In a Tennessean op-ed piece, President Obama praises Nashville for its openness to immigration while promoting — and defending — his moves on immigration policy.

A Nashville-oriented excerpt:

“New Nashvillians” are from Somalia and Nepal and Laos. They’re from Mexico and Bangladesh. Nashville even boasts the largest Kurdish community in the United States. They work as teachers in our schools, doctors in our hospitals, and cops in our neighborhoods. They start small businesses and create jobs making this city a more prosperous, more innovative place. “They” are “us.”

…While most Americans support immigration reform, many disagree with the actions I’ve taken. I understand the concerns of those who worry that immigration will change the fabric of this country, or take our jobs, or stick it to the middle class. We’ve had those concerns since the Irish and Italians were sailing to Boston and New York. Yet our history and the facts show that immigrants are a net plus for the economy.

What cities like Nashville prove is that we can work together to address those concerns and make sure that immigration works for everybody – because it’s the right thing to do for our economy and our communities. And a couple of weeks ago, I created a Task Force on New Americans, which will focus on integrating immigrants into communities across the country.

That’s what makes America exceptional. We welcome strivers and dreamers from all around the world, people who share our ideals and have the same dreams for our kids. And if we keep harnessing that potential, there’s no limit to what this country can achieve.

Norris wants TN to join push for subjecting fed regulations to congressional approval

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee Republican senator has joined lawmakers in other states who have filed legislation that seeks to curtail federal regulation.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville discussed the resolution on Tuesday during a special joint committee meeting on the effect of Environmental Protection Agency regulations in Tennessee.

The measure urges Congress to propose the “Regulation Freedom Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution. (Note: It’s SJR2; for the text, click HERE.)

Under the resolution, whenever one-quarter of the members of the U.S. House or Senate oppose a proposed federal regulation, it will require a majority vote of the House and Senate to adopt that regulation.

Norris, who is also chairman of the national Council of State Governments, said a number of other states have filed similar legislation. He didn’t know the exact number, but said about 150 state lawmakers support the proposal.

“The resolution is designed to build momentum in each of the states so that folks in Congress will … see that we’re serious, and that if they don’t act there is enough horse power to take action on our own, as states integral to the federal system,” Norris said.

Most of Tuesday’s meeting of the Joint Government Operations Committee focused on the Obama administration’s plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The EPA is giving customized targets to each state, then leaving it up to those states to develop plans to meet their targets. Some states will be allowed to emit more and others less, leading to an overall, nationwide reduction of 30 percent.
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