NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state Department of Children’s Services was ordered Wednesday to give the media records from the case files of 50 children who died or nearly died after the agency became involved with them.
Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy also ordered the state to bear the cost of redacting identifying information from the records. The media organizations will pay the cost of making copies.
In September, The Tennessean requested the records of all the children involved with DCS who had died or nearly died between 2009 and mid-2012. The state produced only bare-bones summaries and later acknowledged it did not know how many children had died during that period.
In December a group of media organizations, led by The Tennessean and including The Associated Press, sued for access to the records. McCoy in January ordered the state to redact and turn over records from four cases and to produce an estimate of the cost to redact records in the remaining 200-or-so cases.
The state first said it would cost more than $55,000 to produce the remaining records, but later reduced that to a little over $34,000.
At the Wednesday hearing, the media groups asked McCoy to expand which records the department has to turn over and to order DCS to waive the fee.
McCoy did grant a partial expansion of the records request and ordered that the media groups must pay only a 50-cent-per-page copying cost. She told DCS to produce records from the 50 most recent files for her review by May 3.
Gov. Bill Haslam is defending the $55,884 bill to media for copies of records from the Department of Children’s Services, reports Chas Sisk. (Haslam said he) was not aware of the tab for records, which was tallied after a judge ruled that the records had to be made public, until it was printed in the newspaper.
But Haslam said the sum was not meant to discourage news organizations from obtaining the records. He said line items — such as $500 for whiteout, nearly 1,800 labor hours to review the records and more than 14,000 miles to transport records around the state — did not seem extraordinary given that the records are scattered in various DCS offices.
“I’ll be glad to pay the $500 if Gannett is struggling,” Haslam quipped, referring to the parent company of The Tennessean, which led the public records lawsuit.
“We did what the judge asked us to do. The judge said tell them what it would cost. We did exactly what the judge said.”
Meanwhile, Jack McElroy gives some perspective on the bill. Among the expenses is the cost of hand-delivering each file from local offices to regional offices then to state headquarters at the rate of $0.47 per mile, so the files can be copied in Nashville. The original files then will be hand-delivered back to the offices where they originated. The total mileage is estimated at 7,102 miles, and, of course, employees will have to accompany the files earning $16.39 an hour on those long drives.
In Nashville, the relevant portions of the files will be extracted and photocopied, then those portions will be redacted using white-out tape. which “unfortunately, can be easily removed,” so the files will have to be copied again. The redaction will take 600 rolls of white-out tape, by the way, at the cost of $0.86/roll.
In all, the state estimates it will take 1,798.5 hours of state labor to provide the public with copies of the 200 summary files, about nine hours per file. The total “good faith” estimate of the cost to the media of the project is $55,884.55.
I guess if more children die, the cost will go up.
The University of Tennessee board of trustees tentatively approved plan Wednesday that would charge future full-time students for an additional three hours each semester at the Knoxville campus, reports the News Sentinel.
The new charges will begin with freshmen next year. Following an hourlong discussion, the plan to charge full-time students for 15 credit hours unanimously passed out of committee and will go before the full board of trustees, including Gov. Bill Haslam, today.
“There’s got to be a financial incentive, and there’s got to be courses available, and there’s got to be the expectation to graduate in four years,” Chancellor Jimmy Cheek said during the committee meeting, held on the agriculture campus. “We cannot become a top-25 public research university if we do not graduate classes. Quite frankly, we’ve got to have a game-changer, and we think this is a game-changer.”
Current students, who will not be affected by the proposal, pay by the credit hour until they hit 12 hours, the threshold for full-time status. The proposed new model would mean future students who take 12 or more credit hours would be required to pay for 15 credit hours.
Cheek touted the new model as a means of raising revenue, making tuition increases more predictable, encouraging students to graduate in four years, lowering student debt and allowing the university to serve more students without upping enrollment.
If a budget proposal adopted March 29 by the U.S. House of Representatives is put into effect Tennessee could lose more than $73 billion by 2022 and an additional 628,000 Tennesseans could be uninsured, according to a report by Families USA cited by the News Sentinel. The nonprofit consumer health care advocacy/lobbying organization on Tuesday released the report, which broke down state-by-state the impact of the proposal by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.
The report said the proposal, which reduces the deficit by cutting health care programs that largely help middle- and low-income Americans, would cost the nation $2.75 trillion over the next 10 years and “end Medicare and Medicaid as they currently exist.”
It would repeal 2010s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Tennessee wasn’t in Families USA’s list of top 10 states impacted: California, which faces $303.8 billion in cuts, followed by Texas, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois, Georgia and Michigan. But the report said all states face “substantial” cuts. Tennessee currently has a waiver for Medicaid replacing it with TennCare; the state pays 35 cents and the federal government 65 cents of every TennCare dollar. Note: As originally posted, this item used the figure $75 Million instead of Billion. It has been corrected.
Legislation that will cement Gov. Bill Haslam’s deal with Amazon.com will cost the state $22.8 million per year in “foregone revenue” while in effect, but bring a like amount afterwards, according to a legislative staff estimate.
The “fiscal note” on HB2370, introduced at the behest of Gov. Bill Haslam, does not mention the Internet retail giant by name, but observes that “one taxpayer will meet the criteria specified in this bill exempting such taxpayer from collecting and remitting sales and use tax.”
The “qualified taxpayer” had $34.2 billion in online U.S. sales in 2010, the Fiscal Review Committee note says, and given that Tennessee has 2 percent of the national population, that would translate into $684 million in Tennessee sales.
From that point the fiscal note goes on to project $22,840,600 in “foregone” state sales tax revenue in a full year and to peg the lost revenue for local government sales tax collections at $9,649,400.
Haslam announced in October that a deal negotiated with Amazon exempts the Internet retailer from collecting Tennessee state and local taxes until Jan. 1, 2014 or until Congress enacts a federal law authorizing states to require sales tax be collected on Internet sales.
In exchange, Amazon said it would invest another $350 million in Tennessee over a three-year period in addition to distribution centers already underway in the Southeast Tennessee at the time. Since October, Amazon has announced plans to build facilities in two Middle Tennessee counties.
The bill will fulfill Haslam’s end of the bargain. It is up for its first subcommittee hearing today (Wednesday) in the House.
Haslam made a brief mention of the bill in his “state of the state” address to the General Assembly.
“I am proud that we worked with Amazon to expand the company’s presence in Tennessee to include, in addition to Hamilton and Bradley, Wilson and Rutherford counties too, creating thousands of jobs,” he said in the prepared remarks. “And through that process we were able to reach an agreement with the company that gives certainty to them and us moving forward.
“We need your help in passing the legislation this session to solidify that agreement,” Haslam said.
A massive move in the state legislature also came with a high price tag, according to WSMV-TV. Taxpayers have footed the bill for nearly $130,000 to re-arrange Tennessee state lawmakers’ offices.
Earlier this year, the halls of Legislative Plaza were cluttered with furniture as lawmakers both old and new, both Democrats and Republicans made the huge office swap. To the victors go the spoils, or when it comes to the state legislature, the victors get the good office space.
So, could some of the costs have been avoided?
“Every dollar counts and they should watch their budget as closely as you and I watch our budget,” said taxpayer watchdog Ben Cunningham. Much of the expense was spent on the movers, which totaled $47,000. To paint and remove wallpaper cost $35,000, and new furniture cost $15,000. Thousands more were spent to rebuild and remove walls and relocate doors.
News release from TCPR:
NASHVILLE, TN – The Tennessee Center for Policy Research today released a policy brief outlining a proposal to improve the process for calculating the cost of state legislation. TCPR senior fellow and former state Rep. Donna Barrett authored the brief, titled Accurately Calculating the Cost of Tennessee Legislation.
The brief will be provided to legislative leaders in an effort to encourage them to review and revise the currently flawed process for calculating fiscal notes, which are cost analyses attached to every bill filed in the General Assembly.
Among the proposed changes, Barrett calls for the process to include an analysis on the impact legislation has on the private sector. Currently, only the impact on state tax revenues or expenditures is calculated, yet legislation almost always impacts the private sector, often in a negative way.
The cost of tearing down the K-25 uranium-enrichment facility and disposing of the waste could ultimately cost more than $1.2 billion, according to a federal audit that slammed the Department of Energy’s years-long management of the big cleanup project.
More from Frank Munger: The report by DOE’s Office of Inspector General was released Monday. The new cost estimate for the K-25 decommissioning and demolition project, which began in 2004 and may not be completed until 2016, is multiple times higher than the original cost estimates and almost double the project’s baseline in 2008.
In a July 13 memo to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Inspector General Gregory Friedman said the early cost estimates and schedule for demolishing the K-25 building were “significantly exceeded” because of serious technical issues.
Those issues included the concerns that enriched uranium in process equipment could go “critical” (involving an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction and release of radiation); the sheer size of the mile-long facility, which was the world’s largest building under one roof at the time of its construction during the World War II Manhattan Project; and hazards associated with the degraded condition of the 65-year-old structure.