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Summary of recent Tennessee newspaper editorials


Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

May 18

Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on ending lifetime insurance for Tennessee lawmakers:

Tennessee legislators for years have been eligible to receive subsidized health insurance coverage for life, an egregious affront to the citizens they serve. The state's private-sector workers do not get such lavish benefits and neither should former lawmakers.

The practice will end for legislators elected in the future, but 264 current and former members of the General Assembly either are receiving the perk or are eligible to do so once they leave office. They need to take the next step and reject the coverage.

Under the state's self-funded group health insurance plan, taxpayers ultimately pick up the tab for the state's share of health insurance premiums, plus any associated costs. Legislators' health insurance policies have come under scrutiny since Insure Tennessee, Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to extend health insurance coverage to low-income citizens at no cost to the state, died in Senate committees.

According to the state Office of Benefits Administration, 116 of the 132 current members of the General Assembly are covered under the state plan. Current lawmakers get the same coverage as full-time state employees, even though they are considered part-time workers, with taxpayers covering 80 percent of the cost. Lawmakers who choose to keep their coverage when they leave office pay a portion of the premiums based on their length of service, but the maximum payment is 40 percent.

One hundred forty-eight former legislators receive taxpayer-subsidized policies. The former legislators get to keep their coverage even if they have access to insurance through subsequent employers or through the Affordable Care Act.

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and former Knoxville state Sens. Stacey Campfield and Jamie Woodson have taxpayer-subsidized coverage, as do former Knoxville Reps. Gloria Johnson, Harry Tindell and Wayne Ritchie.

Private-sector and federal government employees are eligible for temporary coverage after leaving service, and must pay the full cost of premiums plus administration fees out of pocket. The state's practice of extending coverage for life, with taxpayers picking up most of the tab, is indefensible.

The Haslam administration pushed a bill this year that repealed the perk for future lawmakers. Sponsored by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, the bill passed the House 67-30 and the Senate 25-4. The legislation only affects lawmakers elected after July 1, 2015, which means current members would be eligible for coverage when they leave the General Assembly.

Once lawmakers leave office, they should be treated as any other citizen. Private-sector workers leaving a job have to obtain health insurance from their new employers, on the open market, via Medicare or through the Affordable Care Act exchange.

Citizen-legislators should not receive preferential treatment. The honorable course of action for former lawmakers taking advantage of taxpayers this way is to cancel their coverage. Current legislators, if they retain any respect at all for their constituents, should reject lifetime coverage as a matter of principle. Cleansing will come only through a complete repudiation of this outrageous abuse.


May 20

Chattanooga (Tennessee) Times Free Press on TVA's obligation to provide low-cost power:

Throughout the Tennessee Valley Authority Act, signed into law 82 years ago this week, are passages written to require TVA to seek low-cost power for its customers.

Variously, it says "the objective (is) that power shall be sold at rates as low as are feasible"; that power shall be sold to secure "revenue returns which will permit domestic and rural use at the lowest possible rates"; and that TVA should be a "national leader" in "low-cost power."

It's that message Tennessee Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker wanted to remind TVA officials about during a hearing on the utility's long-range power plans on Monday in Knoxville. Both senators warned that pursuing high-cost, less reliable wind and other renewable energy would be going against its mission.

Alexander noted that TVA's reliance in recent years on nuclear and hydro generation, along with natural gas and cleaner coal plants, has allowed smog and particulates emissions to drop by more than 70 percent from peak levels some 30 years ago.

Indeed, TVA already has or will retire 33 of the 59 coal units it once operated. In its place, natural gas plants are likely to be built, and a small solar farm already has been bought in "a very attractive deal."

While doing so, TVA's still respectable power costs, once among the lowest in the nation, have risen to 14th lowest for industrial customers and 38th lowest for residential customers, according to the Energy Information Administration.

"It's clearly moving in the right direction and, in my view, our rates are competitive," TVA President Bill Johnson said.

It makes sense, then, to continue that trend and not pursue more expensive sources such as wind, which even one wind producer admitted would require the use of the federal wind generation subsidy to come close to the average price TVA charges its wholesalers for power.

Alexander and Corker were pointed in their remarks.

"If nuclear is zero (carbon and air) emissions and wind is more expensive," Alexander said, "and you don't need wind most of the time, why would you buy it?"

Corker said a glance at Germany, with which he is intimately familiar from his negotiations from Volkswagen and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, finds evidence of "a truly idiotic energy plan."

That country has seen its electricity rates more than triple those that TVA charges with its decision to replace nuclear with wind and solar power, he said. The subsequent energy prices, he said, have prompted German companies to locate in the Tennessee Valley to make products and send back to the European country.

When and if wind and solar power -- without being subsidized -- are able to equal or better the cost of TVA power produced by natural gas, nuclear, hydro and clean coal, which would be the time to invest more in them. To do so before would be forgetting TVA's original mission to its customers.


May 19

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on new abortion law:

Tennessee has made it a little tougher for a woman to get an abortion.

Given the seriousness of a decision to end a life, that's certainly not a bad step.

The new law, signed Monday by Gov. Bill Haslam, requires a woman seeking an abortion to wait at least 48 hours after in-person counseling with a physician, then go a second time to see the doctor.

The waiting period is a middle-of-the-road approach that has been taken by 27 other states.

The action is our state's second policy shift this month. Last week, the governor signed a law requiring clinics that perform more than 50 surgical abortions each year to be regulated as outpatient surgery centers.

That could affect two of Tennessee's seven abortion clinics that currently are not regulated under state Department of Health rules.

All that runs counter to arguments that what a woman does to her body is her own business. But it's also a big step away from outlawing abortion altogether. The new law isn't perfect. But it's better than what we had.


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