NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has served written notice that it opposes a freshman Republican lawmaker’s bill to block Medicaid expansion under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
Leslie Hafner, the governor’s legislative director, wrote in a Monday letter to Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin that the administration opposes the bill on philosophical grounds.
Haslam spokesman David Smith said the governor has sent a similar letter to Democratic sponsors of a bill encouraging the state to participate in an expansion of Medicaid.
The governor has said he plans to make a recommendation to Legislature about whether to pursue an expansion by the end of the month.
The U.S. Supreme Court has left a decision on Medicaid expansion up to the states, though the federal government will pick up most of the cost.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Members of a new coalition say they plan to assist with a statewide campaign to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment on abortion scheduled to be on the ballot next year.
That amendment would allow the state to enact laws requiring a 48-hour waiting period for abortions and requiring all but first-term abortions to be performed in hospitals.
Members of Healthy and Free Tennessee spoke to reporters at a news conference on Monday. They didn’t specify their strategy in the campaign.
However, they did say regardless of what happens with the amendment, the coalition plans to “promote sexual health and reproductive freedom” throughout the state.
Earlier this month, Republican sponsors of a measure that would have required abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and show or describe it to a woman seeking an abortion decided to withdraw the legislation and support the constitutional amendment.
Gov. Bill Haslam and two of his commissioners are refusing to talk on the record with lawyers about how they decided to arrest Occupy Nashville protesters camped on War Memorial Plaza in 2011, reports Andrea Zelinski. In response to a motion by Attorney General Robert Cooper to spare the high-ranking officials from depositions, lawyers representing the protesters are urging a judge to force the trio to share details only they know about deciding on curfew rules that led troopers to make 54 arrest at an Occupy Nashville protest in two midnight police raids.
“The Governor and the Commissioner should not be permitted to make statements freely to the press about their personal knowledge and involvement when it suits their public relations strategy, but in the next breath hide from deposition by claiming high ranking official immunity when they are sued for those very same actions,” read the motion filed by three local ACLU of Tennessee cooperating attorneys who filed the lawsuit for Occupy Nashville. “To do so would be patently unfair.”
Attorneys had originally planned to depose the governor, Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons and General Services Commissioner Steven Cates by Friday of this week. Cooper pre-empted the depositions by asking for an order of protection, saying the state had already handed over 13,000 pages of documents. Additionally, five state government staffers — including the author of the curfew rules — gave depositions about meetings where decisions over the plaza’s “Use Policy” with a curfew were made.
“There is no evidence at this juncture that the defendants’ depositions would actually be necessary — the discovery can be had, and has been had, by other means,” stated Cooper’s motion from Jan. 2.
More than 100 Tennessee sheriffs and police chiefs, including Knoxville’s Chief David Rausch, have declared their opposition to legislation that would allow the sale of wine in grocery stores.
Raush and several other law enforcement officers, part of a “Tennessee Law Enforcement for Strong Alcohol Laws” coalition, declared at a Legislative Plaza news conference that they see wine sales in groceries and supermarkets as weakening control over alcohol sales and causing an expansion of underage drinking.
Rausch said the concept is a “no brainer.” Knoxville police often run “sting” operations with state Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents on liquor stores, currently the only place wine is sold in Tennessee, and “rarely do we find them doing anything wrong” by selling to underage youths.
He said convenience stores, which now can sell only beer, are much more likely to have clerks caught in “sting” operations. Other officers amplified the point with Madison County Sheriff David Woolfork saying grocery stores often hire underage clerks willing to “wink and nod” for beer sales to underage friends and the practice would be amplified if wine is sold.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais says that implementation of the 2010 federal health care reform still can be blocked and has urged Gov. Bill Haslam to not create a state health insurance market, according to The Tennessean. Originally, Haslam faced a deadline today to notify the federal Department of Health and Human Services about whether Tennessee will create its own health insurance exchange or let the federal government create one for the state. But HHS announced Thursday evening that the deadline had been extended to Dec. 14.
Under Democratic President Barack Obama’s federal health care law, the exchanges are intended to be a kind of clearinghouse through which insurance companies will compete for customers beginning in 2014.
Most observers interpret the law as allowing the federal government to create exchanges in states that decide not to create their own.
But DesJarlais, in an argument first raised earlier this year, contends there can be no health care exchanges, and thus no final implementation of the controversial health care law, if states refuse to create their own.
In a letter to Haslam dated Thursday, DesJarlais said his position has been bolstered by a recent Congressional Research Service report.
IRS officials, however, contend the clear intent of the law is to allow federally created exchanges in states where governors don’t act. Many Southern governors have opposed setting up exchanges.
“In short, states that refuse to create and implement their own state health-insurance exchanges could potentially have the ability to block the law altogether,” DesJarlais wrote.
Because of President Barack Obama’s re-election and a changed makeup of Congress, he added, this may be one of the last options for stopping the law, at least until it can get further judicial review.
News release from Humane Society Legislative Fund:
WASHINGTON (Nov.1. 2012) – In his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Scott DesJarlais scored “zero” on the Humane Society Legislative Fund’s ratings of lawmakers, and has been active in efforts to thwart enforcement of the Horse Protection Act and passage of legislation to make it a crime to bring a child to a dogfight or a cockfight.
“Caring for God’s helpless creatures is a measure of character, and Scott DesJarlais has failed that test,” said Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “He not only voted against an effort to crack down on bringing children to dogfights, but he’s also tried to undermine efforts of the USDA to enforce laws against the criminal practice of horse soring.”
That issue was in the news in Tennessee and throughout the nation after an undercover video investigation into the handling of horses by Jackie McConnell, a former Hall of Fame trainer of Tennessee Walking Horses. McConnell pleaded guilty to violations of federal law and is now facing state anti-cruelty charges. DeJarlais wrote a letter stating he is “concerned” about USDA’s enforcement actions, and believes “they are unacceptable and create great uncertainty for the industry.”
DesJarlais scored a zero out of 100 percent on the Humane Scorecard for the 112th Congress, failing to support a single animal welfare policy and voting against every animal welfare measure that came to the House floor. DesJarlais has:
• Voted in the House Agriculture Committee to oppose an amendment to make it a crime for an adult to bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight (AMDT.32/H.R.6083). The amendment was approved by the Agriculture Committee, and the underlying House bill has 226 cosponsors, including 78 Republicans. The Senate passed a similar amendment by a vote of 88 to 11.
• Voted to allow American trophy hunters to import the heads and hides of polar bears killed for sport in the Arctic, even though polar bears are listed as a threatened species (H.AMDT.1008/H.R. 4089).
• Voted twice to waste taxpayer dollars on subsidies to massive factory farms, which thrive on taxpayer giveaways that keep animal feed artificially cheap, jeopardize public health, the environment, and animal welfare, while also driving smaller and more humane, sustainable family farms out of business (H.AMDT.124/H.R.1) and (H.AMDT.478/H.R. 2112).
• Voted to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on the use of aerial gunning, toxic poisons, steel-jawed leghold traps and other inhumane methods of killing predators as a federal subsidy for private livestock ranchers. (H.AMDT.471/H.R.2112).
• Not co-sponsored any of the bills to crack down on puppy mills, end the use of chimpanzees in invasive experiments, or reform the egg industry which is the top legislative priority for that agriculture sector.
HSLF is a nonpartisan organization that evaluates candidates based only on a single criterion: where they stand on animal welfare. HSLF does not judge candidates based on party affiliation or any other issue.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — House Democrats are voicing their opposition to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration’s decision to withhold $3.4 million in state funding from Nashville because of a disputed charter school application.
The lawmakers at a news conference outside the legislative office complex in Nashville on Tuesday afternoon argued that Haslam’s decision was unfair to students at city schools.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said the withheld funding could be subject to a legal challenge, while fellow Nashville Democrat Mike Stewart said lawmakers didn’t envision the state holding the power to demand the approval of applications when they passed a law allowing more charter schools in Tennessee last year.
Opponents of the Great Hearts Academy charter school said its proposal lacked a plan for promoting diversity. Note: The news release is below.
ERWIN, Tenn. (AP) — The Unicoi County Commission has voted against supporting a proposal that would allow county business to be conducted in private.
The 7-1 vote on Monday comes a month after a unanimous vote to draw up a resolution supporting changes to the state’s Sunshine Law, according to the Johnson City Press (http://bit.ly/tRyKW4).
The law forbids two or more officials on a local legislative body, such as a county commission, from meeting privately to deliberate on public business.
The Tennessee County Commissioners Association is promoting a change to allow closed-door talks as long as a quorum is not present.
Unicoi Commissioner Doug Bowman brought the proposal last month. He said the county would be better served by discussing matters such as property purchases and prospective industries out of public view.
— From Sullivan County:
BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Sullivan County commissioners decided Monday against a resolution that asked the General Assembly to loosen open meeting laws for county and city governments.
The commissioners approved the first reading of the ordinance last month. But according to the Bristol Herald Courier, several commissioners said Monday that people in the community opposed the idea (http://bit.ly/tefSXs). They said people were worried that the commissioners would meet behind closed doors.
The Tennessee County Commissioners Association has been pushing the effort. Commissioners in Williamson and Obion counties have approved similar resolutions. Rhea, Roane and Anderson commissioners voted against one.
The 37-year-old law, also known as “the sunshine law,” currently forbids two or more officials on a local legislative body, such as a county commission or city council, from meeting privately to deliberate on government matters.
The county commissioners group hopes to amend the law and allow members of government bodies to discuss public affairs in private, as long as the discussion involves less than a quorum. The law applies only to local governments. The General Assembly has enacted a statute allowing legislators to hold private discussions when there is less than a quorum of the body present.
Gov. Bill Haslam, former mayor of Knoxville, has said he opposes the change
State agencies are scrambling to save hundreds of long-vacant positions set to be axed next year, warning that abolishing some could harm services for Tennesseans most in need, reports Andy Sher. The move comes in response to a directive from Gov. Bill Haslam that state departments eliminate frozen positions vacant for more than a year unless they can “buy” them back by making cuts in less vital areas. Human Services Commissioner Raquel Hatter told Haslam the department needs to preserve 214 of 226 positions vacant for more than a year.
If the positions are eliminated, the state risks violating federal standards for providing timely services in areas such as family assistance services, she said.
Family assistance counselors make eligibility determinations for the state’s Families First welfare program, TennCare and food stamps. Thirty-five positions in that area alone have been vacant for more than a year. Hatter is asking to restore them.
“It is typical for each of our eligibility counselors to manage caseloads of 1,500 and some exceeding 3,000,” she told Haslam.
She said the department has used money from vacant positions to pay existing staff overtime.
“To add further pressure,” the commissioner said, “nearly every activity these counselors execute has a corresponding federally regulated timeline for completion.”
…Meanwhile, Labor and Workforce Commissioner Karla Davis is asking to keep what she said are 128 positions out of 142 jobs left vacant for a year or more.
Most are funded entirely by the federal government, which reimburses states for what they spend.
Among Davis’ requests in her presentation to Haslam was $1.8 million to retain 41 full-time and 12 part-time employment security interiewer positions.
…Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Kathryn O’Day is seeking to save 58 long-vacant positions at a cost $1 million that officials consider key in the areas of administration, child and family management and juvenile justice.
…A budget-related document issued by the Haslam administration earlier this year estimated there were 4,813 vacancies among the authorized 48,587 full-time positions in the 2010-11 fiscal year. That left 43,774 filled positions. The document doesn’t say how many vacancies were more than a year old.
In 2008, there were 52,129 authorized positions and 47,714 of them were filled.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Haslam says he doesn’t plan to eliminate Tennessee’s estate tax and Hall income tax despite efforts by several Republican lawmakers to kill the measures because they believe they’re hurting the state’s economic development.
The Republican governor told The Associated Press that both taxes are bad for the long term because they “chase capital away from the state.”
However, he said Tennessee is still in tough economic times and he doesn’t have a way to replace that revenue.
“I don’t think either one of those really are helpful,” Haslam said Thursday. “Right now it’s just hard to figure out how we’re going to replace those.”