TEMA director announces retirement

Bassham will retire in April after more than a decade at agency’s helm
Feb 20, 2014 5:01 PM

Don’t pop the cork yet on wine in grocery stores

Sponsor predicts 62 House votes in favor today, but will need Senate approval again
Feb 20, 2014 6:00 AM

Knoxville legislator calls for Medicaid expansion

State Representative Joe Armstrong of Knoxville put out the call for expanding Medicaid last week, publishing a Valentine's Day love letter to expansion on a national Democratic Party website.

Calling Medicaid expansion "one of the most important issues to face the Tennessee General Assembly in more than 20 years," Armstrong said expanding the program would benefit veterans, working class families, pregnant women and babies — and the Tennessee economy. But Gov. Bill Haslam has said Medicaid expansion would negatively impact the state, particularly when the federal funding drops from 100 to 90 percent after the first three years.

"It's all this federal money," Haslam said, as reported by The Daily News. "It will help hospitals and it will give people better health coverage. All that is true. The flip side is Medicaid already takes a huge portion of our budget. As we expand that, that will make a bigger issue. The expansion didn't prove a way to have better health outcomes. It just increased the number of people we covered."

But increased coverage is particularly relevant in health care-heavy Nashville. Hospital executives and analysts have both called Haslam's decision not to expand Medicaid purely political, saying states that have expanded coverage will see an improvement to their bottom lines.

Haslam continues to negotiate with the federal government, but maintains that the current terms of expanded Medicaid are not cost-effective for the state. 

Feb 18, 2014 7:14 AM

Treasurer wasn't closely consulted on Tennessee Promise

Treasurer David Lillard can't yet vouch on whether the math works on the governor's free community college program, reports WPLN.

So do the numbers add up? Lillard says “no comment.” Even though he oversees the lottery reserve funds in question, he hasn’t been closely consulted by the governor.

“I don’t think that’s unusual at this point in time and all,” he said Thursday. “But as the bill works its way through the General Assembly, I’m sure I’ll be consulted by members of the legislature about it.”a

Asked why the treasurer has been relatively out of the loop, a spokesman for the Haslam Administration said a meeting was set up for Friday. He added this: “We feel good about the math.”



Feb 14, 2014 5:30 AM

Ramsey concerned House could load up guns-in-parks bill with ‘emotion’

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said he’s concerned about the role emotions could play as the lower chamber contemplates a bill rolling back local government's authority to ban guns in parks.

House Speaker Beth Harwell said her chamber wants a version "more palatable to local government” and hinted last week she sees a difference between allowing guns in parks with playgrounds and natural areas like Percy Warner Park.

Ramsey says he wants laws about guns in parks as “standardized as possible,” with few exceptions for when guns would not be allowed. When asked what he thought about exempting parks with playgrounds, Ramsey said a change like that would be "purely for emotion," and said handgun carry permit holders should be able to carry their guns in parks statewide.

“Hopefully it won’t be loaded up with things that, again, appeal to emotion and not fact," he said about the bill, which passed the Senate easily Thursday.

Gov. Bill Haslam has voiced “major concerns” about the bill taking away local control, and his administration “flagged” the legislation last month to indicate opposition.

“Surely he won’t veto it," said Ramsey, "but I feel confident if he did I guess we could override it.”

Feb 13, 2014 4:38 PM

Ramsey: Not this year for Amp funding

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey would not predict what financial help the Nashville Amp bus rapid transit project could get from the legislature in 2015, but said state funding for the city’s program is "dead for this year."

“I do want to make sure that we’re using taxpayer dollars wisely and I do think some of this is just, again, emotion, that mass transit is good, cars are bad kind of thing,” the leading Senate Republican said. “And I’m not sure the Amp has ever been proven that it’s exactly what’s needed.”

The Senate Transportation Committee voted Wednesday to block state funding for Nashville’s $175 million bus rapid transit project, a budget amendment spearheaded by chairman Jim Tracy, a Shelbyville Republican and U.S. Congressional candidate. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat, was looking for the state to put in $35 million.

According to the Federal Election Commission, Tracy last year received a $5,000 campaign contribution from Lee Beaman, a main Amp opponent. Although Tracy told reporters he did not know Beaman was leading the charge to fight to the project, he said he knew of his opposition.

While Ramsey acknowledged the city is growing as a fast pace, he said Nashville is “not there yet” to need bus rapid transit and said “one year is not going to hurt anything.”

Dean will be termed out of office about a year from now, a fact when pointed out to Ramsey by a reporter led him to laugh and sarcastically reply, "He won’t?"

“This isn’t Atlanta and this isn’t New York City," he said. "Do we have some minor problems? Maybe. But I’m not sure that the city of Nashville is ready for a MARTA or ready for a METRO or anything like that. I won’t say nothing, but I do think we make sure that this is something that will be used and not highly taxpayer subsidized before we’re doing that,” he said.

House Speaker Beth Harwell didn't know about Tracy's budget amendment until after it was approved, the Nashville Republican told reporters. But she said she's unchanged in her opposition to funding the Amp ahead of other projects already on the state's priority list.

"We are underfunding our road projects across the state and I think they [state legislators] felt strongly that this was too big of an ask for any state money to be used for this project," she said. "I would agree with that."

Feb 13, 2014 2:17 PM

Harwell wants guns-in-parks bill more 'palatable' to local gov't

The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill repealing a key compromise built into the 2009 so-called guns-in-parks law, although the House is planning to soften the measure before sending it to the floor.

The upper chamber voted 26-7 Thursday in favor of a bill sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, that would repeal local government’s ability to ban guns in their parks, essentially allowing gun possession by handgun carry permit holders in any park in the state.

The vote landed largely along party lines, although Memphis Democrat Ophelia Ford voted in favor of the bill and East Tennessee Republican Doug Overbey voted against.

Overbey told the Republican Caucus before the vote he’d vote “no,” pointing out the state permits discretion for private businesses to ban guns in their establishments but would refuse that power to local governments.

“To say a city can’t do that doesn’t make any sense to me,” he told the members.

The House version of the bill was taken off notice earlier this month, a moved designed to take a timeout to make the language “a little more palatable to our local governments,” House Speaker Beth Harwell told reporters after the Senate vote.

“We believe in Second Amendment rights. We want to be sensitive of that. We also want to be very sensitive of the fact that local governments have their place to play as well. These are local parks financed by our local government, patrolled by our local governments, so I think they should have some say,” she said.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean wrote a letter last month asking lawmakers to reject the bill. Guns are currently banned in Metro's 121 parks and 19 greenways, per a vote by the Metro Council.

Gov. Bill Haslam has expressed “major concerns” over taking authority away from local governments earlier this year. Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey together told newspaper reporters and editors last week they see the issue making it to the floor in both chambers.

Feb 13, 2014 11:17 AM

Tracy derails state funding for The Amp

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman and U.S. Congressional candidate Jim Tracy wants to edit the the state budget to ban it from funding bus rapid transit projects on state highways.

Tracy’s self-described “tightly drawn” language would essentially ban the state from allocating any money for the Nashville Amp, a signature yet embattled project spearheaded by Democratic Mayor Karl Dean.

“What’s it called, Amp? Those signs that says, “No Amp,” or “Yes on Amp,” those? It would affect that… No funds can be used for that,” Tracy explained to North Nashville’s Sen. Thelma Harper in the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday in explaining his amendment.

“No, no use taking no vote, Hell, if you already know what you’re going to do,” Harper replied.

Under the current plan, Nashville was seeking $35 million in state funds to go with $60 million from Metro as well as $75 million from the federal government.

Major Republican political contributor and financier of opposition against the Amp, Lee Beaman, was on Capitol Hill today, and other die hard opponents have walked the halls of Legislative Plaza for weeks making their opposition to the Amp project known.

Transportation Commissioner John Schroer had cast doubt the state would be willing to help fund the Amp project in November, a plan to run a bus rapid transit line along West End to East Nashville.

House Speaker Beth Harwell had also said she was unwilling to fund the project this year, which led to Gov. Bill Haslam saying he would follow the speaker’s lead.


Feb 12, 2014 3:01 PM

Haslam open to negotiation on community college plan

While excited about his pending promise for high school graduates to get free access to community colleges, Gov. Bill Haslam said he’s open to negotiation over exactly what that program should look like.

He said he’s been peppered with questions and concerns over the last four days since announcing his “Tennessee Promise” plan, like how this would effect four-year schools, how the costs would work over time and ensuring the quality of community colleges.

“Some very fair questions are already brought up about that. We welcome most of the debate and the discussion about how to make our proposal better,” he told he told a room of reporters, editors and publishers Thursday at an event hosted by The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association in Nashville.

As proposed, the program would first kick in for the high school class of 2015, covering their tuition and fees left over after students have applied to federal grants. Funding would come from the state’s lottery reserve fund and be invested in an endowment.

Haslam later elaborated about the program, telling reporters he’s open to changes in the details so long as the legislature sticks to the bottom line.

“We’re open to ideas that might improve it as long this idea — that we can say that every Tennessean, that you can have two years of community college free — as long as that can happen, we’re really committed to seeing this work through,” he said.

Feb 6, 2014 2:24 PM

Elect AG push done for year, Beavers says

Sen. Mae Beavers' push to let voters elect the attorney general ended for the year Wednesday when it failed by two votes on the Senate floor. The measure fell 15-14 with one voting present. Three other members who were in attendance but chose not to vote were Republicans Sens. Janice Bowling and Todd Gardenhire and leading Democrat Jim Kyle.

Members last year voted 22-0 to require the attorney general be selected by a joint convention of the General Assembly. Any change requires an edit to the constitution and would take years to accomplish if successful. The AG is now appointed by the Supreme Court. Some video of the debate is here.

Attorney General Bob Cooper for years has caught heat from the Republican legislature for various opinions he has issued and decisions he has made not to join lawsuits against the federal government. Beavers, who often led that criticism, told reporters after the vote she will not try her luck again this year.

Feb 5, 2014 12:11 PM