- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

May 12

Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on releasing info on legislators:

Several state lawmakers are livid that the Haslam administration released information about the cost of their health insurance coverage to the media last week. House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada and others contend that the release violates privacy laws governing health care records.

Such arrogance is insulting. Health insurance is part of the legislators’ compensation package, not a record of treatment, and citizens have a right to know the cost of the benefits their tax dollars provide. The Haslam administration was following the state’s Public Records Act by releasing the information at the request of the media.

Despite citing privacy as their concern, the real reason these legislators are irate is that their constituents are shaming them for accepting taxpayer-funded insurance while denying health insurance coverage for the working poor.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan, which would have extended health insurance coverage to an estimated 280,000 low-income Tennesseans at no cost to state government, never made it out of the Senate committee process. The fact that most lawmakers also have taxpayer-funded insurance, even though they are part-time employees, prompted scrutiny of their benefits.

After some foot-dragging, the state Benefits Administration released the records to The Tennessean on Friday. Most legislators are enrolled in the state’s health insurance plan for employees at a cost to taxpayers of $5.85 million since 2008. Lawmakers’ contributions totaled $1.4 million.

Of the 13 senators who voted against Insure Tennessee in a series of committee votes earlier this year, the newspaper reported, 11 have taxpayer-provided insurance.

Casada, who represents Franklin, alleged in a statement on Friday that the release violates the law. The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA, bars the release of confidential medical information in most circumstances.

“Whoever authorized the release of this information showed a clear lack of judgment and, at the very least, should be reprimanded immediately,” Casada said. Casada went on to accuse the Haslam administration of retaliating against the Legislature over the demise of Insure Tennessee. Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, and Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, also vented their anger at the release in emails obtained by the Tennessean.

Haslam’s Finance and Administration Commissioner, Larry Martin, explained to legislators in a letter that the governor’s general counsel and the state attorney general agreed the information released to the Tennessean is not protected under HIPAA or the Public Records Act. Haslam offered the same reasonable explanation, adding: “It is important to note, those requests have not involved legislators’ personal, private medical information.”

Some Tennessee lawmakers seem to have forgotten they work for the people of Tennessee. Releasing legislators’ salary and benefit information is not an invasion of privacy but a duty to the public.




May 10

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on the right to vote being precious:

In recent weeks, reporters for The Commercial Appeal have written stories recalling the murders of brave African-American men who were slain in 1940 and 1955 while trying to win the right to vote for African-Americans. Both are national icons for bravery.

In Brownsville, Tennessee, on the evening of June 20, 1940, Elbert Williams became the first NAACP member murdered in the pursuit of civil rights. His death was poorly investigated and no one was ever prosecuted. Some whites had made it clear to Williams and others fighting for the right to vote that their efforts were not appreciated.

In Belzoni, Mississippi, in 1955, Rev. George W. Lee was fighting for voting rights when he was ambushed as he drove his car. A shotgun blast tore away part of his face. Again there was an inadequate investigation by local authorities and, once again, no one was prosecuted.

So, why was the retelling of these incidents so many years later, when times and attitudes have changed, important?

The murders are a reminder that the right to vote is a precious commodity for which some people have paid the ultimate price to guarantee.




May 13

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on recruiting by ISIS:

It’s probably safe to say that most Americans don’t understand the appeal of Islamic fundamentalists’ recruitment of supporters in this country.

The Islamic State has recruited hundreds of American converts, we’re told.

What we’re not told is how they’re doing it, and what Americans can do to counter their influence.

If the trend doesn’t change, and soon, one veteran CIA agent claims, the terror group before long will be in a position to conduct major attacks on American soil.

The agent, Michael Morell, is the author of a book published last Tuesday entitled The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism From Al Qaida to ISIS.

Recruiters for ISIS paint the U.S. government as the bad boy in the Middle East’s conflict. Terrorists are portrayed as freedom fighters, campaigning to rid their nations of Western influence.

Those are the broad strokes. The details are largely lacking in the news reports we see.

Morell says the “great war,” testing our national security and our politics, is likely to stretch for decades more - “for as far as I can see,” he writes.

In a television talk show Sunday the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said terrorism “has gone viral.” The committee secretary said, “We’re very definitely in a new phase in the global terrorism threat.”

Al-Qaida did not die with Osama bin Laden, Morell said. “They today have the ability to bring down an airliner in the United States,” he said. “If that happened tomorrow, I would not be surprised.”

Part of the problem is that this is a free country. A dictatorship would be in a better position to fight back. But that’s a handicap we must not give up in the name of safety. Freedom is too important.



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