Wednesday, January 30

Gov. Lee supportive of K-12 teacher pay increase, but amount in question (WKRN-TV) One of the items brought up in Governor Bill Lee’s state government budget hearings this week is whether or not there will be a K-12 teacher pay increase. It’s an annual question for those who teach Tennessee’s nearly one million K-12 students. “We will obviously invest in the classroom and that includes teachers,” Governor Lee told reporters after hearing the budget presentation from the interim commissioner Lyle Ailshie of the Tennessee Department of Education.  The governor then added, “I don’t want to commit to things until we have the full…download of information.” LINK

More budget hearings: tourism, education, transportation (Nashville Post) Gov. Bill Lee on Monday continued discussions with department commissioners as he readies his first budget proposal. Some highlights: Tourist Development: Commissioner Mark Ezell said the state was investing $1 million in documentarian Ken Burns’ new series on country music. Ezell said 40 million people are expected to view the series, which will begin airing in the fall on PBS. Children’s Services: Commissioner Jennifer Nichols warned that the department that oversees the state’s foster program could lose $15 million in federal funding. The department is responsible for nearly 10,000 children. LINK

As local water costs mount, Tennessee environmental commissioner seeks more loan funds (Tennessean) State environmental officials asked Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee for more funding to repair and upgrade municipal water and sewer infrastructure on Tuesday. At a budget hearing, Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers requested a nearly 50 percent increase in the amount the state loans to local utilities. The request comes as small towns across Tennessee and other states struggle to maintain their aging drinking water and wastewater systems. Without the required maintenance, old pipes can burst, sewage can back up and cities can’t grow. In recent years the state has dedicated nearly $6 million for the State Revolving Fund Program, but environmental officials are asking this year for $8.5 million. LINK

Over five years late, TennCare eligibility system to go ‘live’ this spring (Times Free Press) Years after it was supposed to be operational, state TennCare officials say Tennessee government’s most expensive and complex information technology project in history is finally expected to be up and running this spring. The nearly $400 million Tennessee Eligibility Determination Systems will make decisions over eligibility for TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, and interface with the federal government’s online marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act. TennCare officials on Tuesday asked Gov. Bill Lee during his budget hearings to include a final $60.69 million in his upcoming 2019-2020 spending plan to wrap up the project, which would bring the estimated total cost to $386.37 million, according to department figures. The federal government has footed 90 percent of the bill for the computer system. For example, the state’s share of the final $60.69 million installment is $7.2 million. LINK

Tennessee mulls cutting medication support for renal failure, hemophilia (Tennessean) Tennessee health officials have considered the idea of eliminating programs that pay for medication for renal failure and hemophilia patients as part of reluctant cuts to the state health safety net. But Gov. Bill Lee said Thursday he would resist making those cuts, even if he has to make deep reductions in the state government sometime in the future.Tennessee Department of Health officials proposed slashing the renal failure and hemophilia programs during a Tuesday budget meeting at which government agencies were tasked with outlining how, if necessary, they would trim 2 percent from their budgets. LINK

Report: Tennessee needs $50B for infrastructure needs (AP) Tennessee’s annual estimated cost for its needed public infrastructure improvements is now nearly $50 billion, marking an increase for the third straight year. According to the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, that estimate is up by $5 billion — or around 11 percent — from last year. The group released the report this week. Transportation and utilities projects make up most of the costs, with $25.9 billion projects identified that need to be in some sort of development between now and 2022. The second highest category was education improvements, like school renovations and additions, with $13.6 billion projects identified. LINK

REPORT: Building Tennessee’s Tomorrow (TACIR) LINK

FAFSA deadline is Friday: Tennessee Promise student applications due Feb. 1 (Tennessean) The deadline for those enrolled or looking to take advantage of Tennessee’s tuition-free college program must file their Free Application for Federal Student Aid by Friday. To use Tennessee Promise, high school and college students need to complete the FAFSA, a federal application, to retain scholarship eligibility. Promise provides eligible students college free of tuition and fees. The FAFSA is the primary financial aid application that any student enrolling in college must complete in order to determine state and federal scholarship and grant qualifications. LINK

Just months before its next testing company is supposed to start, Tennessee has yet to receive its first bid (Chalkbeat Tennessee) With just months to go before a company is supposed to take over Tennessee’s troubled assessment program, the state has yet to release its request for proposals, potentially putting its next vendor on course for another rushed timeline to testing. The state’s education department had aimed to solicit proposals by December, receive bids by February, and make a decision by April. Now officials are looking at February to unveil the document that will outline Tennessee’s testing requirements after three straight years of headaches under two different companies. That calls into question whether the state can stick with its timeline of choosing one or more vendors by this spring for a job that starts with the new school year. While such a change normally requires at least a year of preparation before testing begins, the next company would be expected to test some high school students in November, and then to administer the annual assessment to most Tennessee students in grades 3-11 in the spring of 2020. LINK

Opioid Money Has Helped, But States Want More (Stateline) More than a decade into an opioid overdose epidemic that’s costing the nation at least $78 billion a year, emergency federal dollars have kindled local victories. But state and local officials say they need sustainable funding for what they expect to be a long-term struggle to provide effective treatment for legions of people addicted to opioids. Many officials are counting on settlements in civil cases against the drugmakers and distributors that state and local governments blame for the epidemic. Other states are considering an annual assessment against drug companies or a tax on painkillers.  LINK

Tennessee House committee chairmen are banning livestreaming during public meetings (Tennessean) Members of the public — and lawmakers — are being forbidden from taking live video during some House legislative committee meetings, a decision a spokesman for House Speaker Glen Casada says is up to individual chairmen. And the ban on livestreaming will be extended to the House chamber as well. Versions of the new rule, announced in multiple committee meetings that assembled Tuesday for the first time in the 111th Tennessee General Assembly, vary. It was being rolled out haphazardly this week, with some committee chairmen reporting they still were unsure whether or how they would implement the ban on livestreaming. LINK

State House committee chairmen can prohibit livestreaming (Daily Memphian) Some state House committee leaders are taking steps to stop lawmakers and the public from livestreaming meetings on social media during this session of the General Assembly. It isn’t part of the House operating rules, which have been adopted already, but subcommittee and committee chairs have the leeway to set guidelines for conduct during those meetings, House Republican leaders said Tuesday, when some committees discussed the rule. For instance, House Insurance Committee Chairman Ron Travis, who also heads the Joint Fiscal Review Committee, said he will not allow people to use their cell phones to livestream video on Facebook because of the distraction it could cause. LINK

Democrats introduce marijuana bills, including one to allow out-of-state prescription cards (Tennessean) In what is expected to be the first of many bills related to marijuana proposed this year, three new measures were introduced Tuesday. Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, and Rep. Gloria Johnson, R-Knoxville, introduced a bill that would allow a Tennessean with a valid medical marijuana prescription card issued in another state to carry a small amount of the drug in the Volunteer State. The measure, SB 260/HB 234, would let Tennesseans have up to a half-ounce of marijuana, so long as they had a prescription card from another state. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of marijuana. Several require residents to obtain a prescription card prior to purchasing marijuana. LINK

Lawmakers Propose Flurry of Election-Law Changes (Nashville Scene) State lawmakers have introduced a wave of bills that could change the voting process for Tennesseans. The mostly Democratic-sponsored legislation, if passed, would allow for same-day voter registration, child care payments for candidates and other progressive changes. Republicans, too, are getting in on it, proposing that the state legislature nominate candidates for U.S. Senate and pushing back voter registration deadlines. Here’s a rundown of some newly filed bills: Senate Bill 240: Nashville Democratic Sen. Brenda Gilmore proposes that qualified voters be permitted to register and vote on Election Day. Alternatively, Shelby County Republican Rep. Tom Leatherwood, in House Bill 206, would push voter registration deadlines from 30 days before Election Day back to 30 days before the first day of early voting. LINK

Legislation seeks to move General Assembly flag to Cordell Hull (TN Journal) The flag of the Tennessee General Assembly is a bit of a curiosity. It flies above the Capitol when the legislature is in session. And, as it turns out, outside the Legislative Plaza office complex, according to the state law books. The only problem is that General Assembly no longer operates out of the old subterranean office space, having decamped to the Cordell Hull building last year.Sen. Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin) now wants to do something about that. He has introduced SB94, which would move the flag from the Legislative Plaza to the Cordell Hull. LINK

New bills would extend or eliminate statute of limitations for child sex crimes in Tennessee (Tennessean) State lawmakers want to extend or eliminate the statute of limitations on child sex abuse crimes in Tennessee. So far, they have introduced four bills to try to do that. Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, is sponsoring one piece of legislation that would remove the statute of limitations for Class A and B felony child sex abuse crimes. A statute of limitations, intended to protect people from unfair prosecution, puts an expiration date on pursuing legal action. LINK

Memphis Lawmaker Wants Incarcerated People To Benefit From Tennessee Reconnect Grant (WPLN Radio) A Memphis lawmaker wants to expand the benefits of the Tennessee Reconnect grant to people in prison. Democrat Barbara Cooper said incarcerated people who are able to go to community college could help fill job openings after they’re released. But, she said, they need the state to pitch in. Currently, the federal government puts limitations on who is considered eligible for financial aid, which is a key component of Tennessee Promise. That often includes prisoners. The bill introduced by Cooper in the state House of Representatives would allow incarcerated people to be eligible for Tennessee Reconnect, the free-college program for adults who haven’t earned a degree. LINK

Tennessee Republicans look at axing subpoena power from Nashville’s police oversight board (Tennessean) Tennessee Republican lawmakers are pursuing legislation that would let Nashville’s new police oversight board remain but strip away its most significant power — the ability to compel witnesses during the review of complaints. The 11-member community oversight board is moving forward after the Metro Council last week elected the individuals who will make up the new panel tasked with overseeing the actions of Nashville police. But a threat from leaders of the Republican-dominated legislature — which has a history of intervening in the affairs of Democratic-dominated Nashville — hangs over their upcoming work. Under Amendment 1 to the Metro Charter that Nashville voters approved in November, the community oversight board has “all powers, including the power to compel” that other Metro government agencies, boards and entities have. LINK

State lawmakers look to implement standards for Community Oversight Boards (WSMV-TV) Republican lawmakers in Tennessee are eyeing Nashville’s Community Oversight Board and thinking about making a standard for the state. Not to prevent boards from being put in place, but to make sure that the board doesn’t have too much power. Nashville’s Oversight Board is selected, the rules are in place. The next month will be used for training. House Majority Leader William Lamberth said the main worry among a few lawmakers is the board getting too much power, and running over the rights of officers and citizens. Lamberth said this is the perfect time to start the discussions. LINK

Trump made hospitals post their prices online to help patients. It doesn’t work. (Tennessean) Imagine, just for a moment, that you need a knee surgery and you want to save a buck by shopping around. There is good news and bad news. The good news is now you can try. The bad news is it probably won’t work. Hospitals across the country began posting their prices online this month, pulling back the curtain on a deeply secret world of exorbitant American healthcare costs. But while millions of prices are now finally public, there is little hope for turning this transparency into actual savings for patients. Experts say the effort is well-intentioned but functionally useless: The pricing sheets are so complex, voluminous and misleading that no layperson could use them to decipher hospital prices, much less actually compare hospitals as intended. LINK

Roe ‘less than 50 percent sure’ border deal will happen (Kingsport Times-News) U.S. Rep. Phil Roe doesn’t sound optimistic a congressional border security deal will get done before a Feb. 15 deadline that could take the federal government to another partial shutdown. Lawmakers were expected to begin their negotiations Wednesday. “Really the only thing we’re debating is how we fund border security,” Roe, R-Tenn., said in a Tuesday conference call with reporters. “I don’t know how that negotiation is going to turn out. … This one, because it’s become so politicized, I have to say that I am probably less than 50 percent sure this will get through. … People have dug themselves and painted themselves into corners. I don’t see how they get out of it, but at least we are at the negotiating table.” LINK

Big border deal fades before talks even begin (Politico) Congressional negotiators haven’t even held their first meeting to avert another shutdown, but the prospect of a big deal on border security and immigration is essentially dead …  Some Republicans are unhappy that Democrats are taking DACA off the table already. “That’s a mistake,” said GOP conferee Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee. “They’re leaving a courageous opportunity put forth by the president, important to many key parts of their constituency, outside the scope of possibility.” Fleischmann said he expects Republicans to walk into the meeting Wednesday and ask for what Trump demanded in the shutdown as their opening bid: $5.7 billion in wall money. Other Republicans agreed. LINK

Alexander Presses Wheeler on Mercury (Politico) Sen. Lamar Alexander met with Wheeler on Monday and pressed him against actions to undermine the mercury regulation. “I expressed to him for my strong support for the mercury rule and I don’t want to see it undone,” he told reporters. “I listened carefully to what he’s doing and I’ll be glad to consider it.” But asked if he would support Wheeler, who Alexander said he’d known a long time, to lead the agency permanently the Tennessee Republican said: “I would expect to.” LINK

Alexander Wants New Higher Ed Law This Year (Politico) The Tennessee senator is aiming to pass an overhaul of federal higher education policy by the end of this year, his top aide said on Monday. — “Our goal is to have a law before Christmas,” David Cleary, Alexander’s chief of staff told a gathering of education journalists at an Education Writers Association event. “Eleven months is a lot of time to get through committee, get to the floor, go to conference with the House,” he added. LINK

Video: Sen. Lamar Alexander honors cartoonist Charlie Daniel on Senate floor (News Sentinel) U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Knoxville, spoke on the Senate floor Tuesday about longtime News Sentinel cartoonist Charlie Daniel, who is retiring Feb. 1. LINK

Fall Creek Falls Inn project breaks ground (Overton County News) Tennessee State Parks and elected officials broke ground Tuesday, Jan. 15 for a new inn, restaurant, and conference center at Fall Creek Falls State Park, part of a broader $200 million investment in state parks over the last eight years by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration and Tennessee General Assembly. At Fall Creek Falls, the new inn and restaurant are forecast to generate $278,000 per year in sales and occupancy taxes, a growth of $90,000 per year compared to revenue from the previous facility. Short-term, construction is expected to bring in an estimated $14.7 million in taxable spending to the area, along with more than 100 construction jobs. LINK

Sycamore Shoals State Park has lots of events in February (Johnson City Press) It may still be wintertime, but there are always interesting and fun things going on at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park all-year around. It is just that most of the activities are indoors at this time of year. One thing that is certainly ongoing throughout the year is the biweekly rehearsals of the Watauga Valley Fife and Drub Corps. It meets on the first and third Saturdays of every month from 10 a.m to noon. The group performs at historical events, dedications and parades. Musical experience is welcome, but not necessary, just come with a willingness to learn. LINK

Winter Naturalists Rally to celebrate Roan (Bristol Herald-Courier) It’s easy to appreciate the beauty and wealth of natural resources of Roan Mountain in the spring, summer and fall, but the slopes of this mountain located on the Tennessee-North Carolina line can be a little more difficult to appreciate during the winter months. Take a deeper look, however, and the austere majesty of the Roan in any season becomes readily apparent, something that the 12th annual Roan Mountain Winter Naturalists Rally plans to celebrate Saturday, Feb. 9, with programs and hikes on everything from bears and art to salamanders and botany. LINK

Making the Case for Criminal Justice Reform (Harvard Law Review) In light of the growing salience of criminal justice issues—such as mass incarceration, police shootings, the school-to-prison pipeline, the death penalty, and the private prison industry—Harvard Law School has in the past several years significantly expanded its criminal law program. In 2015, under the direction of HLS Professor Carol Steiker ’86 and Alex Whiting, professor of practice, the Criminal Justice Policy Program was launched to work toward meaningful reforms through legal and policy analysis and partnerships with advocates and policymakers around the country. LINK

ALABAMA: Alabama seeing more school choice, but fights continue over what works best ( National School Choice Week, a celebration of the options parents can choose for their child’s education, has ended, and while most in Alabama hardly knew it occurred, some events pulled together groups who want to highlight the choices parents already have. Most parents say they want a choice in what type of education their child receives. And increasingly, parents want to use the public dollars available for education in non-traditional ways. Critics, though, say school choice dilutes an already too-small pool of tax dollars without proven academic benefit beyond what traditional public schools offer. School choice was limited to public, private and home-school before Alabama Senate Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, and Republican allies in the legislature expanded school choice in 2013 with the passage of the Alabama Accountability Act. LINK

NEW YORK: Activists push reforms as lawmakers discuss public safety (Albany Times Union) Advocates pushed for broad criminal justice reforms at the Capitol on Tuesday as the Senate and Assembly held a joint budget hearing on public protection. With Democrats controlling both houses of the Legislature, criminal justice reformers are optimistic that the legislative session underway will bring sweeping change to the state’s criminal justice system. A group of lawmakers and activists pushing for parole reform held a protest on the Million Dollar Staircase at the Capitol, pushing for an overhaul of the state’s parole system and arguing that more elderly inmates should be eligible for early release. They also called on the Legislature to ensure parole release is based on rehabilitation and individuals’ current risk to public safety and to support a fully staffed parole board. LINK

WEST VIRGINIA: Judiciary chairman: Criminal justice reform ‘humanitarian,’ ‘economic’ issue (Williamson Daily News) In a break from tough-on-crime thinking, the Legislature is moving a series of bills designed to keep ex-convicts out of jails, not reel more in. From letting certain nonviolent offenders clear their records after years of good behavior, to allowing the dismissal of drug offenses after people complete drug court programs, to helping released inmates obtain state identification, lawmakers are trying to reduce recidivism rates in West Virginia. According to the most recent state data, about 24 percent of offenders released in 2014 were recommitted to the criminal justice system within three years. Of the lot, roughly 44 percent were re-convicted within one year of release. LINK


LETTER: School choice is the best way to improve Tennessee education (Leaf-Chronicle) This past week we recognized National School Choice Week; we evaluated the progress we have made improving Tennessee’s education system and the opportunities that exist for us to continue that improvement. We know that we cannot turn our education system around overnight. Former Gov. Bill Haslam increased the quality of education available for every student in Tennessee, but we still have a great deal of work to do to make sure Tennessee’s graduates are able to compete with children across the country. According to the Tennessee Department of Education’s report card, only 35.8 percent are college ready. That number is cut in half when you look at black, Hispanic and Native American students and students who are economically disadvantaged. LINK

Clint Cooper: Consider tax credit openness (Times Free Press) Count us among those who’d like to see more transparency where it comes to state business tax credits. Such transparency not only tells the public how its money is being used — public money is “financing” the credits, after all — but it allows other businesses to know what is possible where it comes to such credits. The other businesses may not always be matched credit for credit, but it allows them to know the state’s thinking on issues involving economic and community development. Bills seeking to create such transparency — and supported variously by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, the conservative Americans for Prosperity and the free-market Beacon Center of Tennessee — have been drafted for discussion this winter and spring in the Tennessee state legislature. LINK

Guest column: Better Angels State of the Union will help Americans find ways to find common ground (Tennessean) The United States of America is a great country. It’s not great because it is perfectly equal. It is not great because it is perfectly free. It’s not great because it has a stainless history. The USA is great because the American people, as diverse as we are in our backgrounds and opinions, have usually come together from the local to the national level during difficult times to find reasonable answers to our common problems. Our country exists because, for the most part, there has been a spirit of unity that keeps us together. That spirit has diminished in recent years. But we can revive it. LINK




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