Monday, January 13

Capitol Notebook: Bill Lee visits East Tennessee (Tennessean) In a trip to East Tennessee on Thursday, Lee spoke with reporters during his visit to the Oak Ridge Rotary Club. Lee was asked about his recent decision to change state policy to allow state employees up to 12 weeks of paid family leave each year. The governor, who previously ran a 1,200-employee company, was asked about whether he thought the state’s change would encourage private businesses to do the same.     LINK

Gov. Lee focused on criminal justice reform (AP) GOP Gov. Bill Lee is focused on criminal justice reform for his second legislative session in office. He has yet to unveil the specific bills he’ll push. House Speaker Cameron Sexton will oversee his first annual session, hoping to keep House drama low after controversies drummed former House Speaker Glen Casada out of the post last year. This year, lawmakers appear antsy to address refugees. Lee rejected President Donald Trump’s offer for states and local governments to stop resettling them. Lee has defended his choice, citing his faith and service with refugees, and saying there’s a big difference between legally resettled refugees fleeing oppression and “illegal immigrants.” LINK

Video: This Week with Bob Mueller: January 12th, 2020 (WKRN-TV) Governor Bill Lee talks refugees in Tennessee and implementing state employee paid family leave. All this and more on This Week with Bob Mueller. LINK

Skilled workers key to decade’s economy (Cleveland Daily Banner) Cities and counties that are committed to workforce training, as well as improving the quality of life of their residents, will outpace other communities as they become dominant in the race to attract and retain highly skilled workers over the next decade … The importance of technical training was reinforced during a visit by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee when he visited Cleveland last week to tour Cleveland High School’s CTE training facilities, where students can earn dual credits in fields such as engineering and mechatronics, as well as health sciences. LINK

Capitol notebook: Plaintiffs delay filing refugee resettlement case before Supreme Court (Tennessean) Last month, when Gov. Bill Lee indicated Tennessee will continue to accept refugees via a federal resettlement program, he expressed support for an ongoing lawsuit the state is hoping will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court.The lawsuit, which dates back to a 2016 resolution approved by the Tennessee General Assembly, alleges the federal government is violating the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by making states pay for costs associated with refugee resettlement. LINK

What are the top 5 education issues to watch in 2020? (Times Free Press) Teacher pay, school buildings that are falling apart, preparing students for the workforce, scholarships and financial aid. After a year of contentious debate over how to fund public education in Hamilton County, local community and school leaders, elected officials and state lawmakers anticipate that education will still be top of mind for many in 2020. Here are five education-related issues to pay attention to this year. Locally and across the state, how much teachers are paid is expected to be a top issue in Tennessee this year. LINK

Two charged with TennCare fraud in Madison Co. (WBBJ-TV) Two people are facing charges after an investigation into alleged TennCare fraud in Madison County. In a news release Friday, the Office of the Inspector General confirmed the arrests of Jerry Anderson, 58, and Debra Jackson, 49, of Jackson. The release says Anderson used the identity of a TennCare CHOICES recipient to receive dental benefits and prescription drugs. TennCare CHOICES is a program that offers nursing facility services and home and community-based services for seniors and adults with physical disabilities, according to the release. LINK

Jackson man, woman charged with TennCare fraud in related cases (WZTV-TV) Two people in Madison County have been charged with TennCare fraud in related cases. Jerry Anderson, 58, and Debra Jackson, 49, were both arrested on Friday, according to a Tennessee Department of Finance & Administration press release. Anderson is charged with one count of TennCare fraud and two counts of obtaining drugs by fraud. Jackson is charged with one count of TennCare fraud and one count of obtaining drugs by fraud. LINK

Manchester resident charged with TennCare fraud (Manchester Times) A Coffee County man is charged with TennCare fraud and theft of services for allegedly under-reporting his income to that he and his family appeared to qualify for TennCare healthcare insurance benefits. The Office of Inspector General (OIG), in a joint effort with the Coffee County Sheriff’s Office today announced the arrest of 42-year-old James Smithey of Manchester. Authorities accuse Smithey of reporting a lower income than he was earning so that his family qualified for TennCare. LINK

Coffee County man accused of TennCare fraud by under-reporting income for benefits (WZTV-TV) A Coffee County man is accused of committing TennCare fraud by under-reporting his income in order to qualify for insurance benefits. James Smithey, 42, of Manchester, was charged with TennCare fraud, a Class D felony, on Friday, according to a Tennessee Office of Inspector General press release. Authorities said Smithey reported a lower income than he was earning so his family could qualify for TennCare. LINK

Hardeman Co. woman faces charges over TennCare fraud (WBBJ-TV) A woman in Hardeman County is facing charges after allegedly reporting false information to TennCare. Sheena Murphy, 33, of Whiteville, is being charged with TennCare fraud and theft of services over $10,000 after investigators say she falsely reported her income and her marital status to get TennCare benefits for her and her son, according to a news release from the Office of Inspector General. Investigators say she was over the income threshold to receive TennCare and withheld that she was married, which would have disqualified her from receiving TennCare benefits. LINK

How Tennessee accrued $732M in funds for the working poor while 23% of its children live in poverty (Tennessean) Lawmakers on Wednesday will resume scrutiny of how the state amassed $732 million in federal funds intended to help low-income Tennessee parents get back to work. The extent of the stockpile stunned lawmakers and advocates for low-income families when first reported in October by the conservative-leaning Beacon Center of Tennessee and The Tennessean. Department of Human Services officials have said the unspent funding is a result of sound financial stewardship in a fiscally conservative state. LINK

Tennessee prison audit finds sexual abuse investigations were mishandled (Tennessean) A scathing audit of the Tennessee Department of Correction highlighted faulty handling of sexual abuse allegations as one of many facets of the agency that must be improved. The sweeping audit, overseen by the state comptroller and released Friday, also found low staffing and shoddy record-keeping at Tennessee prisons. At the state’s 14 correctional facilities, including those run by private companies, there were 642 allegations of sexual harassment or abuse between Oct. 1, 2017 and June 30, 2019. LINK

Some local lawmakers’ 2020 priorities: Abortion restrictions, defining ‘teacher’ and Volunteer Trust for Public Ed (Times Free Press) Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Bell said he expects Senate and House Republicans to agree on a new abortion-restriction bill and pass it into law this year. “We’re still working at it,” the Riceville Republican said. “We’re still looking at the strategy other states have taken. It varies everywhere from a straight-out, relatively simple heartbeat bill to the approach Sen. [Mark] Pody has taken with his bill, which combines the heartbeat provision with essentially the presence of a hormone that shows up in pregnancy.” LINK

Sexton agenda as House speaker includes health care, sentencing, early childhood reading (TN Journal) New Speaker Cameron Sexton gave a wide-ranging speech to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce last week, outlining his agenda as he takes the reins of the Tennessee House of Representatives. The Crossville Republican took aim at health insurance companies for acting like “big brother” by blocking information about taxpayer-funded services and for having “absolute control over the marketplace.” He also called for stronger truth-in-sentencing laws, better funding for early childhood reading programs, and a long-term approach to spending Temporary Assistance for Needy Families reserves. LINK

Capitol Notebook: Diane Black endorses Terri Lynn Weaver’s primary opponent (Tennessean) Diane Black, the former congressman and 2018 Republican gubernatorial candidate, is now starting to publicly weigh in again on Tennessee politics. Her first topic? The District 40 statehouse race. In a statement released last week by the campaign to elect Luke Tinsley, Black announced that she would be endorsing the 26-year-old candidate for the seat, which represents Smith, Trousdale and parts of DeKalb and Sumner Counties. Currently, Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, holds the position. LINK

2020 agenda: Tennessee lawmakers will be looking at wide range of issues in new session (Bristol Herald-Courier) Criminal justice reform, approving a balanced budget, judicial redistricting, providing rural access to child care and creating historic tax credits are the topics Northeast Tennessee lawmakers expect to deal with during the upcoming session of the Tennessee General Assembly. Updating laws for stalking and unlawful photography and enacting the state’s Medicaid block grant program — if the plan is approved by the federal government — are other issues that will likely get their attention during the second year of the 111th General Assembly. The session starts at noon Tuesday. LINK

Camper hopes for Medicaid expansion, voucher repeal as 2020 session arrives (Daily Memphian) House Minority Leader Karen Camper is looking for a reversal of fortunes as the 111th General Assembly reconvenes this week, primarily for Medicaid expansion and repeal of the Education Savings Account program. Camper, a Memphis Democrat, is co-sponsor of legislation to rescind Gov. Bill Lee’s signature education move, which allows qualifying students in Shelby County and Metro Nashville school systems to receive some $7,300 in public dollars to enroll in private schools. The Legislature is set to convene Tuesday, Jan. 14, for the second part of the session, and Nashville Democratic state Rep. Bo Mitchell’s bill to turn back the voucher law is likely to draw more drama. LINK

Legislators to debate changes to ‘fetal heartbeat’ bill (Kingsport Times-News) Tennessee lawmakers are expected to continue a legal debate on legislation to ban most abortions in Tennessee when they return to work later this week. Last year, members of the state House of Representatives approved legislation to prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually about six weeks into a pregnancy. That bill, which Gov. Bill Lee promised to sign if it reached his desk, stalled in the state Senate where Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and other leaders said they feared its passage would result in a costly and losing legal battle for the state. LINK

Hensley introduces bill to allow local governments to accept, reject refugees (Columbia Daily Herald) Tennessee should welcome refugees who are not “illegal immigrants,” Gov. Bill Lee has said in declining President Donald Trump’s offer to let state and local governments stop resettling them. Not so fast, cautioned state Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald who represents Maury County and five other southern Middle Tennessee counties in the General Assembly. Hensley has filed a bill in the Senate that would require local approval before refugees would be permitted to resettle in the state. LINK

Drug culture’ blamed for spike in foster care numbers (Johnson City Press) Substance abuse is taking a toll on families in Tennessee, resulting in a growing number of children being placed in foster care. “It’s not just opioids, it’s literally a drug culture problem,” state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, said last week. “It effects the entire family.” Crowe, chairman of the state Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee, said chronic drug abuse has resulted in the children of addicts spending more time in foster care. LINK

Franklin Special board meets with legislators, gives construction updates (Tennessean) Williamson County legislators discussed upcoming legislation with members of the Franklin Special School District Board of Education at the board’s work session on Saturday. The board also reviewed upcoming bond issues for key capital projects, including the 490-seat state-of-the-art districtwide performing arts center. Reps. Brandon Ogles, 61st District, Glen Casada, 63rd District, Sam Whitson, 65th District, and Sen. Jack Johnson, 23rd District, addressed the state’s “booming” economy and their dedication to issues such as mental health funding in schools. LINK

Baptist, Regional One may challenge Methodist Le Bonheur’s Saint Francis acquisition (Commercial Appeal) Challenges to Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s planned purchase of the two Memphis-area Saint Francis hospitals are looming, as rival Mid-South health systems say the deal will hurt competition. Regional One Health says it “is actively considering options to oppose” Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s purchase of Saint Francis Hospital – Memphis and Saint Francis Hospital – Bartlett from Tenet Healthcare. The $350 million deal, announced in December, includes the two hospitals, their associated physician practices and six MedPost urgent care centers. LINK

Vanderbilt to host John Bolton, Anderson Cooper, others for spring lecture series (Tennessean) Vanderbilt University will host lectures this spring with actress and activist America Ferrera, former national security advisers John Bolton and Susan Rice, and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. The talks are part of the Chancellor’s Lecture Series, which focuses on conversations about the increasingly connected global community. “The spring lineup of speakers is a reflection of our continued commitment to engage new ideas, open our minds and wrestle with topics that have an impact locally and globally,” Interim Chancellor and Provost Susan R. Wente said in a university release. LINK

Increase in ransomware attacks predicted in 2020 (WZTV-TV) In the past two years, hackers have taken over the computer systems of cities across the country including Atlanta. They demand a ransom to regain control. That got us wondering how prepared Nashville is for a cyber-attack. We learned somewhere in undisclosed buildings across the city are computer servers which control virtually every aspect of Nashville government. That includes: metro police; the fire department; emergency communications; right down to the city’s synchronized traffic lights. LINK

State and Local Governments Face Iranian Hacking Threats (Government Technology) On the first Monday of 2020, CNBC reported that “city governments, agencies and companies from coast to coast are on high alert for ramped up cyber activity possibly emanating from Iran. …” And that was just the start of a week full of dramatic announcements related to international relations and cyberthreats emanating from all over the Middle East, and specifically Iran, against U.S. public and private sector targets. Here’s a quick roundup after the fast-moving global hacking situation, which threatens to impact state and local governments and U.S. critical infrastructure: LINK

Georgia’s revenue troubles could hit tax and spending plans (AP) Georgia lawmakers may remember the 2020 session as the year the good times ended. The state has seen nine years of strong revenue growth coming out of the great recession, with tax receipts climbing an average of nearly 6% each year. That has allowed lawmakers to cut taxes, increase teacher pay and education funding, and sock away more than $3 billion into the state’s savings account. But tax receipts were down $33.6 million through November compared to the same five months of the 2019 budget year. That might not sound catastrophic for a government that is supposed to spend $53 billion this year once federal aid is factored in. But this year’s budget projected that state revenue would increase by $800 million to $27.5 billion. LINK


Clint Cooper: Detractors of new Tennessee policies on family leave, refugee resettlement should cool their jets (Times Free Press) Gov. Bill Lee recently announced policies on refugees and paid family/medical leave that make sense but may rankle some of his more conservative supporters. They shouldn’t, at this point. The most recent announcement — that Tennessee would offer 100% paid family leave to all state executive-branch employees — gives the state a leg up in attracting and retaining talent when in competition with public sector and private sector employers. LINK

Georgiana Vines: ‘I’ve always loved downtown’: Former Gov. Bill Haslam is back working in Knoxville (News Sentinel) Former Gov. Bill Haslam, who also served two terms as Knoxville mayor, has become a downtowner now that a term of teaching at Vanderbilt University is over. He and his longtime executive assistant, Janet McGaha, have an office not far from Market Square, the redevelopment of which started under his watch. “I’ve always loved downtown,” Haslam said in an interview at Pete’s Coffee Shop and Restaurant on Union Avenue, which has become one of his breakfast meeting places. Pete’s is where he launched his campaign for governor in 2009. He’s also known to patronize Union Ave. Books. LINK

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