- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

August 23

Tennessean, Nashville, Tennessee, on hacking being bad for health:

When you are sick or injured, the security of your personal information probably is not top of mind, so it adds a distressing dimension to the news that hackers were able to bypass security measures for Community Health Systems Inc., potentially affecting 4.5 million patients.

Franklin-based CHS is the nation’s largest hospital company in terms of number of hospitals, with 206 nationally and 19 in Tennessee. Unfortunately, CHS is added to the list of large companies that have experienced major data breaches in the past couple of years.

While CHS’ breach is nowhere near the scope of Target’s in 2013 (110 million records exposed), it is easy to see how it could be more keenly felt by the affected patients. CHS said the data exposed in the breach was non-medical; however, it did include names, addresses, birthdates, telephone numbers and Social Security numbers - pretty much everything needed to set up phony credit cards in those patients’ names.

And then there is the likelihood that many of the patients are experiencing health issues that already are a drain on their time and resources, so now is not the best time for them to individually confront an identity theft threat.

Community Health Systems, to its credit, has been working with the cybersecurity firm Mandiant since the hacker broke into the system in April and June of this year. CHS is providing protection services to the affected patients, but as was learned in the Target breach and other massive cases, the burden is really going to fall on the shoulders of those customers. They will need to keep a close watch on their credit reports, monitor unusual emails and possibly change their routines when it comes to how they share further information with third parties.

The bottom line here is not surprising, but it bears reinforcing: You, the patient, must be ever vigilant. It is one thing to trust your doctor on matters relating to your medical condition, but another when it comes to the safety of vital information the doctor and other health providers demand.




August 21

The Post-Intelligencer, Paris, Tennessee, on ACT score numbers:

Statistical analysis - figuring out what numbers mean - is a tricky business. That’s especially true when it comes to reporting on school children’s test scores.

Tennessee’s high school seniors who graduated this year had a composite score of 19.8 on the ACT college readiness test, the state Department of Education reports. That was up three-tenths of a point over the previous year’s level, the biggest one-year jump since the state began testing all students in 2010.

So is that good news, in light of the fact that we’re still well below the national average ACT score of 21.0?

Actually, it’s great news, once the numbers are explained. The main point is that states differ widely in how many of their high school seniors take the test.

In the highest-scoring state, Massachusetts, for example, only 20 percent of seniors take the test. Skimming the cream gives them a composite score of 24.3.

But state law in Tennessee requires all seniors to take the test. Only a dozen states do that; among them, we tied with two others for the largest one-year increase in composite score

Among all states where more than half of high school graduates took the test, none had more gain than Tennessee.

Three-tenths of a point is “a pretty big achievement,” an ACT spokesman said. “One-tenth of a point is about as much difference as we see from year to year - sometimes two-tenths of a point. A three-tenths of a point difference from one year to another is pretty unusual,” he told The Tennessean in Nashville.

The director of research for Tennessee Higher Education Commission suggested that the state’s new Tennessee Promise program, offering free tuition to community college students next year, could push ACT scores upward.

Lest we get cocky, realize that only 19 percent of our students who took the ACT made benchmark scores indicating college readiness in all four test subjects. That compares to 26 percent nationally.

We have a way to go, but we’re gaining.




August 25

Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on owners gaining protection:

The state Supreme Court handed property rights advocates a victory last week by ruling the Tennessee Constitution requires that governments must compensate property owners for “regulatory takings,” not just outright condemnations.

The unanimous opinion aligns state constitutional law with federal jurisprudence on the issue. As Justice Cornelia “Connie” Clark pointed out in the court’s opinion, the similarities between Article I, Section 21 of the state constitution and the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution demand that they be interpreted identically.

The provisions in both constitutions prevent governments from seizing property for public use without paying “just compensation” to the owners.

Governments typically obtain property for roads, schools and other projects from unwilling owners through eminent domain. Regulatory takings, on the other hand, occur when government regulations render the property worthless without the government actually taking the property.

Federal courts have recognized that regulatory takings violate the Takings Clause since the 1920s. The state Supreme Court, however, until now had not determined that they violate the state constitution. The Takings Clause applies to state actions through the 14th Amendment, but in most cases plaintiffs must exhaust their options on the state level before seeking redress in the federal courts.

The case before the justices arose from Montgomery County, where Mack and Leann Phillips own a 15-acre-plus parcel of land. The Phillipses wanted to subdivide the property and submitted a plan to the Clarksville Montgomery County Regional Planning Commission.

The planning commission rejected the proposal, saying it did not conform to land use plans and that the subdivision was not in the best interests of the community. The Phillipses contend their proposal was denied because their land stands in the way of a possible future extension of State Highway 374.

The decision does not undermine the power of state and local governments to make zoning decisions or other choices that diminish property values.

Still, now Tennesseans can seek compensation in state courts for state and local government decisions that significantly reduce or totally destroy property values. The court’s decision is an added layer of protection for property owners.



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