Report: State paid $13.6 million in lawmaker health care claims
TV Station Refuses To Air Ad About Gay Republican Soldier Who Wants To Get Married
It recalls that famous line in the late British author George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” a satirical look at the rise of communism, where the ruling animals keep on changing the rules for the farm: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Tennessee’s part-time legislators who serve one term in office — two years for a representative and four years for a senator — earn health insurance for life, the majority of which is subsidized by the state. Their families can continue to benefit even after their deaths.
Moreover, the felons among them (at least until 2010) earn this benefit, which makes this situation even more grotesque in light of lawmakers’ failure to pass a health insurance solution for working poor individuals.
The Tennessean’s public records requests have yielded so far that:
• The state paid nearly $5.8 million in premiums for 116 of 132 members of the General Assembly from 2008 through April. They in turn collectively paid $1.4 million.
• Lawmakers keep their health insurance for life after just serving one term in office, even though state workers must be employed for 10 years before earning this benefit. In addition, there are 149 former lawmakers enjoying this benefit.
• The state paid $1.9 million in premiums for just 10 lawmakers. LINK
Report: State paid $13.6 million in lawmaker health care claimsTennessee paid $13.6 million on health care claims submitted by current and former lawmakers and their covered dependents from 2010 to 2014, according to reports in the Knoxville News Sentinel and The Commercial Appeal of Memphis.
The amount of money, not previously released, represents what the state paid out of its insurance pool for the actual care lawmakers and their covered dependents received during that time frame.
This information is different than the money for insurance premium contributions previously reported by The Tennessean.
The Knoxville and Memphis news organizations obtained the information through a public records request submitted to the state Benefits Administration.
Since February, The Tennessean requested the same information. On Feb. 6 The Tennessean specifically requested "records showing the total cost and cost per year the state paid for all members of the Tennessee State Senate and the Tennessee House of Representatives through their public health insurance plans." LINK
TV Station Refuses To Air Ad About Gay Republican Soldier Who Wants To Get MarriedA television station in Tennessee had no policy about airing commercials on same-sex marriage until executives received a submission this week. The 30-second spot, sponsored by the group Freedom to Marry, features Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld, a gay soldier who just returned from a tour of duty working in a trauma hospital in Afghanistan — and wants to marry his partner.
“I’m a Republican, I’m a doctor, and I’m a soldier,” says a voice over by Ehrenfeld as the commercial shows images of him serving in uniform, and back at home with his boyfriend, Judd Taback. “As a military physician, I take care of other people’s loved ones who are wounded in combat. But here at home, I’m fighting a different fight. Because I’m gay, I’m not allowed to marry my partner here in Tennessee where we live.”
When station executives saw the ad, they refused to run it.
“It’s just a very controversial and personal issue, and we just choose to not air a commercial on either side of that debate,” Tom Tolar, the president and general manager of Chatanooga-based WRCB, told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview.
The ad crossed the station’s lines, he explained, because “people probably have really strong opinions on one side or other of the debate. It’s just an emotional debate for many people.”
The station, an NBC affiliate that also broadcasts in parts of Georgia and North Carolina, didn’t have a position on ads about same-sex marriage until executives reviewed the commercial featuring Ehrenfeld on Wednesday, said Tolar. “We had not had a request before to run an issue-ad like that.”
Ehrenfeld called the decision disappointing, saying that people in Tennessee — where same-sex couples are prohibited by law from marrying — are the ones who need to see the ad most. LINK
'Technological limitations' take costly toll on TN governmentActing on a tip that state workers were rubber-stamping hundreds of unemployment claims without vetting them, auditors with the state Comptroller's Office headed to a Nashville claims center to investigate.
The manager pointed them to a stack of paperwork — unemployment benefits he said had just been approved.
But after examining the paperwork, auditors also searched through office drawers and filing cabinets. Inside they found letters dating back months from employers disputing some of those claims — including a letter from one company noting the worker applying for unemployment checks was still employed by the company and earning $154,384 per year. That worker's unemployment payments had just been approved.
Since that inspection, the Comptroller's Office has estimated that the state wrongly doled out $98 million in unemployment claims during the past six years — including checks issued to prisoners, dead people and state employees. Auditors estimated that figure could balloon to $171 million to account for payments made after the audit was complete and made public in March.
Officials with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, responsible for unemployment insurance claims, have attributed the overpayments to the "technological limitations" of a 40-year-old computer system so fraught with errors it forced them in some instances to resort to a manual and paper system that appears fraught with even more.
The department is not the only one in state government to experience costly technology malfunctions in recent years — breakdowns with ripple effects that have led to state employees resorting to hand processing business that should be automated, earning the wrath of a federal judge for one system failure, a federal lawsuit for another and a sharp rebuke from the federal government for yet another major malfunction. LINK
Bush to TNGOP: Presidential nominee should ‘reach out to everybody’Bush was keynote speaker at the party’s largest annual gathering and fundraiser — over $600,000 (was raised) at the event at Nashville’s Music City Center (said to be a non-election year record).
Bush touted the results of his 1999-2007 tenure as Florida governor and said the next president must lead the nation to “fix big things” that have only been talked about for decades: “How we tax, how we regulate, a broken immigration system, and embracing the energy revolution in our midst.”
…(T)he event was the unofficial kickoff to Tennessee’s presidential primary next March 1 — 2016’s Super Tuesday when 10 states hold primaries, including seven in the South, and two others hold state caucuses. LINK
Vianova Washington Update by Billy MoorePresidential politics will likely halt major legislation this fall, except in response to a crisis. The curtain does not close all at once but falls slowly over time. Opportunity's denouement began Sunday night when Republican presidential candidate and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul forced the short-term expiration of Patriot Act surveillance authorities.
Senator Paul's action highlights his opposition to what he calls the Patriot Act's unconstitutional use of general warrants. Enough senators support reforming the law, but the vote won't occur soon enough for Paul to make the authorization expire.
For the past five months, Congress has produced a hand full of concrete accomplishments and avoided the kind of brinkmanship that Paul has renewed. Presidential politics probably will not impact the leadership's efforts to pass legislation that has potential bipartisan backing, such as tax reform, a highway bill and trade promotion authority. But it could create trouble when deadlines come due later this year on funding government and extending the debt limit.
Representatives will debate three appropriations bills this week while senators argue about the Patriot Act. House Republican leaders will try to build support for the Senate-passed trade promotion bill that would provide fast-track consideration of trade agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership most immediately, that cannot be amended by Congress.
The Supreme Court begins the final month of its annual term with potentially historic rulings pending on whether same-sex couples have a right to marry nationwide and whether to deny about 8.6 million people health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Another dozen major decisions are pending on questions involving congressional districting, civil rights, free speech, the death penalty and air pollution.
Washington will also try to make sense of last week's indictment of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert for lying about trying to hide payments of hush money to a student he is reported to have molested decades ago.
Crockett Policy Institute