Behind the Headlines — May 1, 2015

Behind the Headlines — May 1, 2015


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“Behind the Headlines” is provided by D-H-G and Advisors. D-H-G is a full service
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more than 60 years combining community involvement
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Production funding
for “Behind the Headlines” is made possible in part by.. Doctors, guns and money
with State Senator Mark Norris tonight on
“Behind the Headlines.” [theme music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. Tonight we have State
Senator Mark Norris. Thank you for being here. It’s great to be back. Thank you for having me. (Eric)
And Bill Dries, senior reporter
with the Memphis Daily News. So, let’s start. The session has ended. As we tape it, it just ended. But as this show —
it’s about a week old. It started with the Medicaid
expansion and the doctors I mentioned at the
top of the show. That did not go the
way the Governor wanted. I was up there the day — I
just happened to be up there. He addressed Tennessee
publishers the day it went down. He was a very defeated man. It came back up
later in the session. It really got no traction. Why? Because rather than
Medicaid expansion, we really need to be looking
at management of Tenn Care. That’s a small piece whether
to take on the enrollment of.. By the time that
short session ended, I think they were up to
490,000 new enrollees. We need to look at
the entire program. How are we managing the
Tenn Care program we’ve got? Meanwhile back at the ranch,
we’re now spending about 32% of the state budget on Tenn Care. Under Phil Bredesen’s
administration, we cut 300,000 people from
Tenn Care when it hit 30%. So, we’re about two-percent past
the tipping point on the program we’ve got. And Medicaid enrollment is up. I think I looked up here. It’s around a 15% increase in no
small part because as Obama Care rolled out and the
exchanges rolled out, many people who didn’t know they
were eligible suddenly realized they’re eligible. Is that correct? So, it’s 109,000
people increase, I think, from 2013 to 2015. So, that’s part of that increase
without taking the expansion money and so on. That’s right. And so, while on the one hand
the special session was called to look at expanding enrollment
and insurance maybe 490,000, 400,000 people. On the other hand, we’re looking
at maybe having to dis-enroll, um, about the same number. That’s before we even talk about
the pending Supreme Court case, the King versus Burwell case. In other words,
we’re over-subscribed. We’re over 30% of
the state budget, which is beyond the
initial tipping point. And in June, there’s going to be
a ruling that determines whether the subsidies that the federal
government has been paying to Tennesseans to enroll
were constitutional or not. And if not, we may lose those. So, there’s.. We need a more
comprehensive approach to this. But do you feel the pressure? I mean, the state, the Federal
Government warned the state and other states that hadn’t have an
expanded Medicare — Medicaid, excuse me — that the money that
goes to hospitals to help pay for uninsured people, that money
may well dry up over the next couple of years. And that’s in no small part
by the Tennessee Hospital Association has pushed
heavily to get this agreed. They said that they would fill
the gap between what the Federal Government was paying and
what some states are paying. The hospital said we’ll fill
that gap because we’re going to lose these pools of money. I mean, don’t you
feel that pressure, as well? That for instance, the Med —
I know it’s Regional One now. But the Med, they’ve talked
about a disaster if there isn’t some sort of a replacement
of that federal money. Mayor Luttrell
came out and said, look, we’re looking at a
ridiculously high — I forgot the number — but the
property tax increases. I mean, that’s a real concern. Isn’t it? Right. But it’s a real concern
comprehensively the entire program. So now we’re talking about
federal funds for otherwise uncompensated care. That’s sort of a third pot
of concern, if you will. And this is the
situation that arose in Florida. I heard that Governor Rick
Scott is threatening to sue the federal government. If it’s a gun to
the head approach, expand Medicaid or else we’ll
take away your uncompensated care, I’m not sure that’s
what the Federal Government is saying. I think the Federal Government
maybe saying the uncompensated care pool is going away
whether you expand or not. And if that’s the question, then
it really is a whole different kettle of fish. Rather than Medicaid expansion,
you’re looking at how are you going to maintain,
manage the system you’ve got. And so, that has a lot to do
with the underlying concern. That’s why it wasn’t well
suited for a special session, you know, of such
short duration. Let me go. A couple more questions
and then I’ll turn to Bill. It’s not that this is all new. This went down many months ago. But it is such. It keeps coming back up. It seems obvious that some sort
of proposal will come up again next session. So, I’m not trying to
just dwell in the old news. There were, I mean anyone
would say there were tremendous politics involved with
voting against this, as well. Because so many people, a
wave of legislatures across the country in the
federal government, in state government
ran against Obama Care. It was the rise
of the Tea Party. There’s a real Tea
Party wing to your party, the Republicans. So, there were a certain number
of people who it seemed like it didn’t matter what. It was associated
with Obama Care. They were going to
vote against it. Is that your sense? Yeah, there’s a certain segment,
a certain sector that that was the case. So, there’s a group that was
dead set against it under any under any circumstances. There was, I think, the lion
share of folks in my caucus committed to keep an open mind. And they did keep an open mind
and would be willing to consider it. There is another group
that is clearly for it. So, there’s sort of
the three groups. The largest I
think is open minded. The smallest perhaps are the
few who got out in favor of it. And there’s some, quite frankly,
who want it to come to the floor not to vote for it but to vote
publically against it and to make a demonstration
of their opposition. So, there are some politics. But there’s also serious
business financial budgeting consideration. But you do see it
coming back up? Absolutely. Bill? And that’s kind of my question. Once King versus
Burwell is decided, it sounds as if you’re saying
the legislature then has a re-examination of Tenn Care, not
just the Medicaid expansion but Tenn Care as a whole
possibly gets overhauled. That’s essential. It really is. And really, Tenn
Care is about care. Medicaid expansion
is about insurance. There’s a difference. We have people who are enrolled
and are receiving healthcare under Tenn Care. I’m concerned about what happens
if those rolls need to be cut as they were under Phil Bredesen. Because we’re beyond 30% of the
state budget as it is right now. Nobody is really even
talking about that. That’s because they’ve all been
distracted over here with this idea of expanding further for
a whole new population without regard to what happens to
the population we’ve got. Was the assumption.. At least it was my assumption
that everybody thought the dish payments, everybody here in
Shelby County thought the dish payments from the Feds for the
uncompensated care that comes at public hospitals and
other private hospitals, as well, that those dish
payments were going to stop no matter what. But guess what. They’ve now been reinstituted
in Washington and that’s good. Under new provisions, they’ve
been restored to some extent. And so, that’s good news. Also, the rate of compensation
of physicians has been set. That wasn’t set before. And frankly, when we
went in to special session, we had a situation where a
number of physicians said we’re not going to provide care
anymore for this population. So, there’s a lot in the mix. It’s a lot more than just, hey,
let’s expand Medicaid and pull down an extra billion. That doesn’t cut it. So, what I see kind of emerging
from this is that that gives us time to move on in advance
after you all take a look at the Supreme Court’s ruling in King
versus Burwell and then figure out where you are not just
in relation to the Medicaid expansion but in relation to the
Tenn Care population as a whole. That’s exactly right. How do we manage the population
we’ve got before we look at expanding? What are the costs? What are the benefits? Let’s go to another issue that
in some ways was untouchable for a certain wing of the
Republican caucus in Tennessee, which is Common Core. Common Core became kind of so
associated with Obama and Haslam said the same thing. I saw him speak early in
the session where he said, look, I mean, I kind of give up
not on the principles of Common Core but the brand is
so ruined that I can’t fight about it anymore. I mean, paraphrasing him. That we just can’t
fight about it anymore. There are going to be changes
because it’s just associated with the President. There are a whole lot of people
in the Republican party in Tennessee just don’t like. So, the compromise
that was passed was.. And I’m going to read from
kind of wrap up here that the compromise that was passed
allows Common Core– this is one person’s take, a lobbyist up
in Nashville’s take — allows Common Core opponents to declare
victory by effectively repealing Common Core while giving Common
Core supporters assurances that Tennessee will develop
its own high standards, which may not differ
greatly from Common Core at all. Is this the beauty or
the horror of politics? I mean.. It’s the reality of politics. But it’s a little bit more than
that because the Governor has put in place a
laborious review committee, a whole system now, to grind
through these standards and to evaluate them. And then the legislation we
passed this year actually adds another layer of review
subsequent to that to make sure that these are really
Tennessee standards. So, you’re going to be
criticized no matter what. It’s more than a name change. It really is substantially
and substantively more. Were you in favor? I don’t even know where
you stood on Common Core? I mean, it’s been kind of
moving through the system. Were you in favor
and then — initially? And then see it
sort of get polluted, for lack of a better word,
with this kind of negativity? Well, the whole
terminology of Common Core.. I have always been in
favor of higher standards. And the higher standards that
we’ve put in place and begun to implement are
paying big dividends. I mean, we’re off
the bottom now. We’re coming up out
of being, you know, last in the nation
or next to last. And we’re in to the
30-percents and everything. So, that is working. But I was not in favor of the
Federal Government hijacking our system and our standards. And I co-sponsored legislation
last year which very few people paid attention to but it really
put a moratorium on the further implementation at that point so
that we could stop the loss and encourage the Governor to
put his review in place, which led to this year’s repeal. Some people say it rips out
Common Core root and branch. That may be an over statement
but it’s certainly more than a name change. Another thing, a bill that
didn’t pass this year on the education front, vouchers. I don’t know where
your take was on that? There have been talk
about a voucher program. Obviously Tennessee has been a
hot bed of what some would call innovation, some
would call change, some would call
disaster, whatever. I mean, the state, city,
counties have seen tremendous change in education. Voucher seems like a logical
next step on the surface and yet it hasn’t passed. Right. It’s a hard sell in the
House of Representatives. We’re trying to provide more
options particularly for those most in need. You know, why should young
people and their families be sentenced to failure in effect
based on their zip code kind of thing. I sponsored that legislation for
two years of the last General Assembly for Governor Haslam. Successfully passed
it in the Senate. It’s always had a hard
way to go in the House. I learned this year that
the House majority leader, my counterpart who also carries
the Governor’s legislation in the House, was sort of secretly
opposed to vouchers during the 108th General Assembly,
last year’s General Assembly. Sort of a heck of a note. You know, now you tell us. But this year.. This year he said he was
supporting it for real. And it got a little bit
further but not far enough. Bill? That kind of goes to
an over-arching issue, over-arching question
about the relationship between the two chambers. What is the state of
that relationship? Because when Insure Tennessee
went down in the special session, there was a lot of
finger-pointing in both chambers at the other. The relationship is good. It’s strong. That was a rough go. I complimented my
counterpart, Gerald McCormick, during our session end
presser day before yesterday. The going got a lot
better after special session. And it’s healthy. I mean, that’s what a
bicameral legislature is about. This is not just,
just talk on my part. You know, the chambers
differ in their approaches. What was disappointing to me was
the lack of any meaningful or any meaningful activity despite
sort of a facade of activity during the special session. Originally the House had told me
and my marching orders through the lieutenant governor were to
craft a resolution that would be a House joint resolution,
meaning the House of Representatives would go first. So, I worked for about a month
to establish that protocol and to proceed. And I was open about it. I talked to my caucus. I talked to the press. Well, all of a
sudden without notice, they changed their mind. And that’s frustrating because
then I had to go back and say, “Well, if we’re not going
to do it that way then how shall we do it?” Well, it turned out
the Senate went first. Well more than that, the senate
was the only body that really took any legislative action
on the Governor’s proposal. It may have appeared otherwise
but in the special session, the House never even officially
referred it to committee for action. It was just an open hearing,
sort of review sort of thing and frankly, I think they hung their
majority leader out to dry. I’m sorry, Bill. But is there a problem? Does that reflect a
problem of a super majority? That, you know, from a
certain point of view, Republicans have the House, they
have the Senate in overwhelming numbers and they
have the Governorship. But are there
fissures within that party? Forget the handful of
Democrats that are up there. Does this speak to some sort of
disagreement between wings of the Republican
party in Tennessee? Well, I’d say it reflects a
lack of leadership in the House. That may stem from
fear of factionalism. I don’t know. But as for
Lieutenant Governor Ramsey, he was very outspoken
about keeping an open mind. He was encouraging in
everything he said and did. And he was out
front and up front. The Speaker of the House was
really nowhere to be seen. I mean, if you look back at it. And that sort of fed
the factionalism in the House of Representatives. It really was a do nothing
moment in the special session, a do nothing moment in history. And yes, this is typical
of any government where you get super majorities. You’re always going to
have differences of opinion. And if not factionalism,
different approaches. I have that in my own caucus. That’s part of what I have to
try and manage and represent every member in the
Senate Republican caucus. Bill? But is the nature of the
Speaker’s majority that she works with, is it different
albeit simply by nature of the fact that it’s a bigger chamber
in terms of its membership? The numbers
involved for the viewers, you know, there are
99 members in total in the House of Representatives. I think some 78 Republicans —
I may be off– in the Senate by definition is a third of that. We’re 33 members and I have
28 of those 33 in my caucus. So, I’m their leader. And I have, you know,
several objectives, several masters to
meet as we proceed. I have to represent my caucus. I have to represent the
administration to the extent that the protocol dictates
we carry their legislation. And then there’s always
myself and my own conscience. In the case of Insure TN,
the Governor and I simply had differences as to how we
thought it should be approached. And this is one of those
examples that was public. It’s not the only time
that I have declined to carry legislation for him. But there’s a line
beyond which I won’t go. And that sometimes happens.. That’s happened in past sessions
where the person who carries the legislation says.. I mean, there are contingencies
that are made specifically for that. (Norris)
Right. Let’s move on to some other
issues that I mentioned at the top of the show — guns. And again, we’re taping
this a week from when it airs. The session has just ended. Guns in parks. There were a lot of gun bills. But guns in parks passed. It passed. At some point there was an
amendment on there that said, you know, if you’re
going to have guns in parks, well why can’t we have guns in
the legislative building and the Capitol, which was kind of
an interesting political move if nothing else. But why.. I don’t know how to ask it. Critics are — would say, “Why
would you want guns in parks with kids and playgrounds and
families out having a picnic?” I didn’t bring the
statistics with me today. But something that
wasn’t articulated, it certainly wasn’t covered is
that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation provided us
with statistics from the last four years,
I think. And we have a crime problem,
a growing crime problem in the parks. The number of
assaults and the like. And for people who are not
familiar with guns or they’re uncomfortable with
guns to begin with, no amount of discussion
makes any of this sound logical because they’re afraid of guns. And I respect that. I understand that. For folks who are familiar with
guns and are permitted to carry and otherwise, you
know, competent, the notion that they have to
go unarmed when they cross a certain line on to a greenway or
a park when they know that the criminals don’t care what the
law says — They’re going armed and will use those arms to kill
you or rape you or otherwise assault you —
is totally illogical. And so, we removed that for
state parks several years ago. We haven’t had any problems. We respect the local control. But at the end of the day, local
governments are subdivisions of the state. And so, to be consistent and to
not let the statistics grow and the crime grow in
those green areas, it seemed logical to repeal it. I do not think the
Governor disagrees with that. I mean, I do not think the
Governor agrees with that. I think he disagrees with it. So, if that’s.. Take your point. Why not allow guns
in to the Capitol? I was for it. Yeah. By the way, there are bullet
holes in the balustrade there on the banister. But where do you
draw the line if.. I mean, for people who are
opposed to all these guns kind of going, where are the lines
where you shouldn’t have a gun? I mean, will it just
be that every session, they kind of open more doors? The Legislature opens
more doors to places where people can carry. I mean, is that what
it feels like to you? Apparently not. I mean, because the House of
Representatives didn’t agree. I think we’ll see
not only open carry but constitutional carry again. There’s a difference. So, I don’t think the
issue is going to go away. And it’s, you know.. It’s a dangerous world in
which we live these days. It’s not getting any better. Just five minutes left to go
through another kind of headline bill that passed on
restrictions on abortion. Those were important
to get passed, why? And what was passed? What was finally passed in
the abortion restrictions? In a phrase, informed consent,
48 hour waiting period and a licensure requirement
for certain facilities. Essentially what we had years
ago before the Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that prompted
the constitutional amendment, which was supported
overwhelmingly by Tennesseans. So, you know, life and death
issues are difficult to wrestle with under any circumstances. These seem like reasonable
precautions to put in place. They’re not
prohibitory in any way. I was going to say.. So, critics.. Again, I’m playing the
role of critic today. So, critics would say, “Well,
it’s just one more step towards ending abortion in Tennessee.” Supporters.. There are people
listening who would say, “Well, I sure hope so.” But there are
other people saying, “Look, you know,
that shouldn’t happen.” Is your sense that the
legislature is going to keep putting more and more
restrictions to the point where there is a de facto prohibition? You don’t see that will
within the legislature? Okay, Bill? Will the law as passed make it
more difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion? We don’t think so. We do not think it will
make it more difficult to get an abortion. It makes it a more
thoughtful process. I have met many women who
were thankful for having had the opportunity to have
someone, a medical professional, with whom to speak
about the decision. Abortion on demand is not right. It’s not where we want to be. There are health risks
associated either way you go. And we think out of respect for
women and the unborn that they need to be fully informed
and have the time to make an appropriate decision. I know how controversial it is. But we’re not in to the —
at least I’m not — in to the ultrasounds and the other
suggestions that were made. Those didn’t
advance this year at all. I want to go back to guns in
the parks to kind of get at this intersection of what you
described as a need for consistency in gun carry laws
with the other concept that local government should be
able to make the call on these particular regulations. Are we going to see
that come in to play? Have we seen it come in
to play on other issues? Well, we have in the
area of hiring labor, wages and that sort of thing in
order to avoid sort of a checker board approach across the state
where business interests don’t know, you know, which
county they’ve stepped in to, what city has, you know, minimum
wage requirements or certain labor requirements at variants. We’ve tried to sort of
homogenize all those so it’s more like one stop shopping
from a commercial standpoint. And the difficulty with some
of the gun laws is if they’re inconsistent, what you
effectively do at the end of the day is disarm those
who are otherwise lawfully able to carry. In other words, if you carry and
you want to go out for a walk at lunch and walk the
Greenline or some other example, and you think, well, I’m
going to do that today. I guess, you know. What am I going to do? I guess I won’t carry today. And you effectively disarm a
whole lot of folks that way. But are the circumstances
from one community to another different? Are they legitimately
different to the extent that one municipality
should be able to say, no, we’re doing
this a different way. I don’t think so. Just a minute left here. There’s a transportation
project backlogged. Six billion dollars,
I think it’s estimated. Y’all didn’t get
to it this year. But there is some talk
about increasing the gas tax. A lot of people don’t know
Tennessee doesn’t borrow a whole lot of money for its projects. (Norris)
We don’t borrow any. Is it time to change that? We’ve got to look in to
transportation funding. A logical approach is to
take about two years to do it. The chairmen of the Senate
Transportation Committee, Jim Tracy, has suggested
that he’s going to begin a statewide roadshow. There’s a lot of consciousness
raising that’s needed. You know, people take
a lot for granted in how we got
our infrastructure. It’s been about 30 years. So, it’s time to look at it. And the traffic,
talking about cars traffic. The traffic cameras were ended. Is that right? No, they weren’t ended. They were watered down. So, they’ll still be around
in some fashion or another. We could get in to judicial
selection but I don’t think we have enough time, which is
why I didn’t do lawyers, guns and money at
the top of the show. You’ll have to have me
back so we can talk. It’ll be our most watched
show but it is important. Sorry, I don’t mean to. The last thing I
want to ask you about, the pension reform
bill that you passed. Municipalities, such as Memphis,
need to get on track with funding their pensions. Are you happy with that bill and
from what you’ve been able to see the direction
Memphis is going? Do you feel like they’re
going in the right direction? I do. And Standard and Poor’s in
December issued a report about the strength of Tennessee’s
economy based in part on the reforms I passed. Senator Norris,
thank you very much. Bill Dries, thank you. Thank you and join
us again next week. Goodnight. [theme music] (male announcer)
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