September 12 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

TennCare Spend Down program begins Monday evening (Associated Press)

The TennCare Standard Spend Down program will accept enrollees Monday beginning at 6 p.m. CDT. The program is available for a limited number of qualified low income individuals, or those with high, unpaid medical bills who are aged, blind, disabled or the caretaker relative of a Medicaid eligible child.

TennCare call-in line expects flood of calls tonight (Tennessean/Wilemon)

Gloria Pfeiffer set her clock, put her phone on speed dial and called repeatedly until she got through. She wasn’t trying to win a ticket to a hot concert.

TennCare Standard Spend Down program (WVLT-TV Knoxville)

The TennCare Standard Spend Down program will again offer open enrollment opportunities to new applicants on Monday, Sept. 12, 2011. Standard Spend Down is available through a waiver to the Medicaid program for a limited number of qualified low income individuals, or those with high, unpaid medical bills who are aged, blind, disabled, or the caretaker relative of a Medicaid eligible child.

UT, ORNL to study climate change (Associated Press)

The University of Tennessee, in partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, will study climate change.They will participate in the National Ecological Observatory Network, studying climate change, the spread of invasive species and changes in biodiversity.

Legislature’s conservatives want Court of the Judiciary overhauled (CP/Woods)

A fight over who runs the judicial branch of state government is about to break out in the legislature with social conservatives rising up to try to seize control. Critics of the judiciary cast themselves as good-government reformers.

Democrats say GOP fundraiser plan ‘outrageous’ (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Legislative Republicans’ plans for a fundraiser at the governor’s mansion are drawing fire from Democrats who say plans to charge some contributors as much are $50,000 is “outrageous.” With control of the governorship and state House and Senate for the first time since Civil War Reconstruction, Republicans are holding the Oct. 3 event to build their campaign war chest for GOP legislative candidates running in 2012.

Proposal would increase campaign boundaries at Sullivan polling places (T-N)

Sullivan County commissioners are being asked to push for new, lengthier campaign boundaries at polling places during early voting. Candidates and their supporters are prohibited from coming within 100 feet of polling places during any voting period — early or on election day.

Getting in shape with Karl (City Paper/Lind)

The second term is always a good time to push bold new initiatives that may not have been palatable the first go-around with re-election looming. With a second four-year stint secured, Mayor Karl Dean is escalating his plan to get Nashvillians moving.

Symbolic climb leaves Nashville-area firefighters exhausted, proud (TN/Anderson)

Ten years after 343 New York City firefighters perished in the World Trade Center, a group of firefighters in Nashville paid tribute by climbing the Tennessee Tower stairs downtown. Each carried a name and a photograph of a firefighter who lost his life Sept. 11, 2001. Firefighters representing departments from nine states made a grueling trek up 28 stories four times, many in full turnout gear, during the Nashville 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb on Sunday.

States scramble to pay for healthier school food (Stateline)

The biggest overhaul to school lunches in the past 15 years is giving states heartburn. The federal government has mandated a healthier menu, and state and school officials are trying to figure out how to cope with the added costs.

TVA vice president to answer questions on Claxton ash storage plan (NS/Fowler)

Claxton community residents will get a chance today to question an official about TVA’s plan to buy homes and farmland next to its Bull Run Fossil Plant in Claxton for a proposed coal-ash storage site expansion. TVA Vice President John Kammeyer said he plans to attend the 5:30 p.m. meeting in the Anderson County Courthouse of County Commission’s Legislative Committee.

Employers tell workers to get healthy or pay up (Tennessean/Wilemon)

Dorinda Turnbull said she felt violated when an employer-based health plan offered savings if she and her husband would undergo blood work and agree to follow-up monitoring for any medical conditions. “I don’t like people telling me how to live my life,” said Turnbull, who instead signed up for a more expensive traditional plan.

IBM putting Watson to work in health insurance (Associated Press)

Enough with the fun and games. Watson is going to work. IBM’s supercomputer system, best known for trouncing the world’s best “Jeopardy!” players on TV, is being tapped by one of the largest U.S. health insurers to help diagnose medical problems and authorize treatments. WellPoint Inc., which has 34.2 million members, will integrate Watson’s lightning speed and deep health care database into its existing patient information, helping it choose among treatment options and medicines.

New call center seeks employees (Columbia Daily Herald)

Job fairs slated for Wednesday-Friday A Jacksonville, Fla.-based call center is opening an office in the Northfield building in Spring Hill. TRG Customer Solutions is leasing a 50,000-square-foot space in Northfield, said Jan McKeel, executive director of the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance.

Shelby County Commission to name 7 today to unified school board (CA/McMillin)

To understand the challenge before the Shelby County Commission today, when it meets to make seven appointments to what will be a 23-member unified school board, consider interviews conducted last week for just one of the new seven districts it created under terms of the schools merger lawsuit settlement. In District 1, when it came time to vote for finalists, some of the city’s most respected education experts and most-involved parents did not make the cut.

Williamson County schools set sights on developing bilingual kids (TN/Giordano)

School district considers K-12 language program Kindergartners in Williamson County could soon be on their way to becoming fluent in a second language. It’s only a goal for now, but school officials in the district are working toward the idea and have narrowed down the language choice to Mandarin Chinese, German, Spanish or French.

Schools can’t prove taxpayer-funded tutoring helps (Tennessean/Hubbard)

Parents drifted among the tables at Wright Middle School last week, arms loaded with colorful booklets, deciding which tutors might help their children the most. It’s a scene repeated at the beginning of every school year across the district.

Middle-Class Schools Miss the Mark (Wall Street Journal)

Middle-class public schools educate the majority of U.S. students but pay lower teacher salaries, have larger class sizes and spend less per pupil than low-income and wealthy schools, according to a report to be issued Monday. The report, “Incomplete: How Middle-Class Schools Aren’t Making the Grade,” also found middle-class schools are underachieving.

South Dakota: Credit card companies fuel South Dakota surplus (Stateline)

Credit card companies have seen their profits stumble since the Obama administration pushed tougher, consumer-friendly lending rules through Congress in 2009. But new revenue figures in South Dakota offer some hope for the troubled sector, as well as for state officials who rely on it.

OPINION

Editorial: Education on state’s voter ID law a must for Tennesseans (News-Sentinel)

If Tennessee absolutely must have a law requiring voters to produce photo identification, the state Election Commission is absolutely right to conduct an education campaign to make voters aware of the law. The law was passed by Republican majorities in both houses of the Legislature last spring, despite warnings about its questionable constitutionality.

Editorial: Booker T. Washington High provides a lesson in transparency (C. Appeal)

Charter members of the new consolidated Memphis and Shelby County school board will have a long list of decisions to make before the new district opens in the fall of 2013. As controversial and contentious as its foundation has been, the unified district’s adoption of a policy of transparency with the public should be one of the more obvious choices.

Times Editorial: County schools growing (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Obtaining an accurate accounting of the number of students in a school system early in the academic year is important. It provides information that is vital to administrators who often struggle to match sometimes limited resources to the needs and demands of schools and students within the system.

Times Editorial: UTC is growing (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

The numbers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga are up almost across the board this year. The record enrollment of full-time students this semester did create a few minor but expected difficulties on campus, but they seem to have been resolved — at least in the short term — quickly and with little fanfare.

Guest columnist: Jesus would not have endorsed locking people away (Tenn.)

The history of the Christian church is replete with examples of utter contradictions to the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth. From Constantine’s Empire to the Inquisition, to pedophile priests, just about everything under the sun that can be done in the name of Jesus has been carried out.

Editorial: Obama jobs package has merit, needs co-operation to pass (J. Sun)

On Thursday, President Brack Obama gave what likely was his most forceful speech as president. The topic was the one on everyone’s mind these days: jobs. His $450 billion jobs initiative has merit.