Monday, June 15, 2015

"Insure TN Would Save 54 Hospitals From Closure" Crockett Buzz for 6-15-15

Supreme Court races the clock on gay marriage, Obamacare and more

Fisk student walks from N.C. to D.C. for Insure TN

Haslam plans gas tax tour; AFP plans anti-tax tour

In March, the Georgia Legislature boosted that state’s gas tax and raised other fees to generate nearly $1 billion more for road projects. In April, the South Carolina Legislature approved the equivalent of a 10-cents-per-gallon increase to generate another $400 million a year for highways. Gas taxes in both states are now about a nickel a gallon more than in Tennessee.
State Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he’ll hit the road in September for the same reason as Haslam.
He believes Tennessee roads and highways are in better shape than in most states. Tennessee is a “pay as you go” state, meaning it doesn’t borrow for road projects. But convincing motorists to pay more taxes when they fill up their vehicles is a tough sell, Tracy said.
“We know that good roads are key to economic development, so we hope to meet with local leaders and talk about their transportation needs before we determine what may be the best course,” Tracy said.
But another voice will also take to the highways this summer with an opposing message.
Andrew Ogles, director of Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee, is expected next week to unveil plans for 60 or more visits across Tennessee to rally the public against higher taxes or fees of any kind.
“Raising the gas tax is hurting the people who need the tax relief the most,” Ogles said last week in an interview, especially low-wage workers or those who face long commutes because of a lack of jobs in their rural communities.
He acknowledged that funding issues will have to be addressed, but said state government “needs to tighten its belt and look for ways to save before looking for ways to spend.” LINK


I found several comments Governor Bill Haslam made to the media this past week most fascinating.
First, he told reporters and members of the Tennessee Municipal League he needs the help of local officials from across the state to influence what Mr. Haslam says is a “changing State Legislature.” The Governor says state lawmakers no longer pay as much attention as they once did to traditional groups such as contract lobbyists, the media, chambers of commerce and hospitals.
The mention of health care organizations sure sounds like a plea from the Governor for assistance by local leaders to help him revive his INSURE TENNESSEE proposal. The Governor also directly mentioned the growing problem Tennessee and other states (even the federal government) face to fund ongoing road construction and repair. The gas tax has not been increased for many years and lawmakers are increasingly resistant to anything that even resembles a tax increase of any kind, for any purpose.
Increasingly our lawmakers seem to pay the most attention to direct input from their constituents, especially in terms of the Republican Super Majority, that would be GOP primary voters who can re-elect them. Special interest groups on key issues (guns, taxes, social issues) also play a larger role now for lawmakers, including to help generate campaign contributions.
There's one other thing missing. There was a time some years ago when Governors were more direct and shall we say “hands on” with lawmakers. I remember a story back in Governor Frank Clement's day when lawmakers were summoned individually to the governor's office for a chat about key pending legislation.
The story goes the Governor's assistant (in this case his sister, later State Senator Annabelle Clement O'Brien) would begin the meeting staring at a large map of Tennessee hung behind her desk. The map was filled with a variety of brightly colored pins outlining the various state programs, services and facilities in each legislative district.
Then lawmakers were told if they wanted to keep those pins in their district they needed to think about it and vote right on key administration bills.
There's another story I remember. I won't directly mention the governor's name. But he would bring lawmakers in for a chat and he would pull out from a drawer in his desk and a miniature road grader. The lawmaker was then asked to take a close look at the toy and remember he might never see a real one in his district again if he didn't vote a certain way.
Such tactics are rather out of fashion these days and I doubt in particular they fit the style of this governor. But they used to work to get things done. With a “changing legislature” would they help again?
Another comment by the Governor also caught my ear. He told reporters he didn't have a goal in mind for how many longtime state workers he would like to see take a proposed buyout. It's been offered to over 2,000 workers with at least five years of experience.
Mr. Haslam says a reduction in force is needed to properly streamline state government. Operations. It what he said next that caught my attention. When asked if layoffs might ensue if not enough workers take the buyout, the Governor didn't say yes, but he didn't take the opportunity to rule out layoffs either.
Interesting. LINK

No guidance from state as cannabis oil law takes effect

More than a month after Gov. Bill Haslam signed the state's first law allowing Tennesseans to use cannabis oil for limited medicinal reasons, neither the state nor the Tennessee Medical Association has offered formal guidance on the oil's use.
There has been no advice to potential patients or doctors as to how they might follow the new law. Without that guidance, interested parents or patients are turning to the advocates who helped pass the law for help.
"We just want everybody who has the ability to use it to have access to it, and to do it the right way, and not get a product that's going to cause more problems in the long run," said Stacie Mathes, who's currently administering the oil to combat the seizures suffered by her nearly 17-month-old daughter, Josie.
The Tennessee Department of Health has done nothing to educate the public or doctors specifically about the new cannabis oil law, department spokesman Woody McMillin said. McMillin noted the department's legislative affairs office provides information about any applicable legislation to appropriate boards after each session; so far they've met with the Board of Osteopathic Examination this year but not the Board of Medical Examiners. LINK

Fisk student walks from N.C. to D.C. for Insure TN

Justin Jones, a 20-year-old Fisk University student, is walking 273 miles from a town in North Carolina that lost its hospital to the U.S. Capitol to advocate for access to health care.
He bought a new pair of Nike walking shoes and packed three purple Insure Tennessee shirts for the trip. The son of a nurse, Jones said Gov. Bill Haslam's alternative plan to expand Medicaid got lost in partisan politics and so did the fate of poor people, particularly those who live in rural areas where hospitals are at risk for closure. He began his trek on June 1.
"In Tennessee, we have 54 rural hospitals that are at risk for closure or major cuts," he said, citing a number from the Tennessee Justice Center, a nonprofit legal firm that helps people obtain health coverage.
It's been a 20-miles-a-day journey scheduled to end Monday morning on the steps of the Capitol. The trek was first made last year by Adam O'Neal, the mayor of Belhaven, N.C., after a resident of his town died waiting for a helicopter to transport her to a hospital. The town's hospital had closed. LINK

Supreme Court races the clock on gay marriage, Obamacare and more

The future of same-sex marriage and President Obama's health care law hang in the balance as the Supreme Court's 2014 term draws rapidly to a close this month. But those aren't the only big issues on the justices' plate.
Free speech and fair elections. Religious liberty and racial discrimination. Clean air and capital punishment. All await rulings over the next three weeks as the court completes action on 20 cases remaining this term. The next decisions will come Monday morning. LINK

Crockett Policy Institute

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