This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday that tackling obesity will be the focus of the Health and Wellness Task Force. More than 1.5 million adult Tennesseans—nearly 32 percent—are obese, according to the America’s Health Rankings report, and data from 2009 showed nearly 30 percent of primary and secondary schoolchildren surveyed are overweight or obese. Obesity adversely affects health, contributing to high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, and it is a leading risk factor for Type II diabetes. Evidence also points to obesity as a risk factor for arthritis and some cancers, such as breast, esophagus and colon. Tennessee ranks 46th in the percentage of adults with diabetes and 42nd in the percentage of obese adults.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam announced Thursday that tackling obesity will be the focus of the Governor’s Health and Wellness Task Force. More than 1.5 million adult Tennesseans, nearly 32 percent, are obese according to the America Health Rankings report. That’s nearly 1 in 3 adult Tennesseans considered obese. Obesity adversely affects health, contributing to high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, and it is a leading risk factor for Type II diabetes. Obesity is also a risk factor for arthritis and some cancers such as breast, esophagus and colon. Tennessee ranks 46th in the percentage of adults with diabetes and 42nd in the percentage of obese adults.
Carrie Chisholm will never forget the dusky color her baby turned three days after being born — a sign his body was starving for oxygen because of a faltering heart. “We brought him home at 24 hours and really had no idea that anything was wrong,” she said, noting that he was born looking healthy and weighing 8 pounds, 10 ounces. But the baby, Hughes Chisholm, had a congenital heart defect — a deadly condition that could have been caught with the help of a simple test. Beginning next year, Tennessee parents can take newborns home with the knowledge that their babies have had that test.
New guidelines are expected in July to limit the amount of money Tennessee hospitals are paid by TennCare. Citing “significant variations” found in a state government review of TennCare payments to hospitals two years ago, Tennessee Hospital Association president Craig Becker said new guidelines will put upper and lower limits on payments. TennCare does not pay a flat rate. The $8.6 billion agency contracts with insurance companies who then negotiate their own contracts with hospitals and clinics. Depending on the negotiated terms, the state will likely not end up paying two hospitals the same amount of money to treat a similar broken arm, for example.
Tennessee transportation officials are closing both southbound lanes of Interstate 75 just below the Kentucky state line. A rock slide had caused the closing of one northbound and one southbound lane on Thursday. Tennessee Department of Transportation geotechnical engineers have since determined that an earthen embankment under the highway is sliding near the Stinking Creek exit at mile marker 144. The closure will force thousands of southbound drivers to take a 26-mile detour through LaFollette (luh-FAH’-let) to get around the site. It is expected to affect college students heading south for spring break. TDOT planned to close the southbound lanes at 2 p.m. EST on Friday.
A Bedford County man has been sentenced for TennCare “doctor shopping” in two counties and will lose TennCare benefits as a result of his conviction Tracy B. White, 40, pleaded guilty to three felony counts in two separate counties for using TennCare to obtain a controlled substance by “doctor shopping,” the Office of Inspector General (OIG) announced. In Williamson County, White was sentenced to six years, which included 90 days incarceration with the balance suspended to intensive probation. In neighboring Moore County, he was sentenced to eight years in prison, suspended to eight years of community corrections to run concurrent. The court also ordered White give up TennCare benefits now and in the future.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s mobile household hazardous waste collection service will be in Madison County today, according to a news release. “Our household hazardous waste mobile collection service provides the people of Tennessee with a safe, environmentally friendly way to dispose of unwanted household chemicals and other potentially hazardous wastes at no cost,” said Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau, in the release. “This service travels across the state holding collection events in local communities, and we encourage all Tennesseans to take advantage of the opportunity to utilize it.” Any Tennessee resident may bring his or her household hazardous waste to Jackson Fairgrounds Park for disposal from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. today.
Taxpayer-funded lawyers and prosecutors summoned to a Knox County court hearing Friday proved mere spectators to a public address by a special judge on myriad issues raised in the media in the wake of the downfall of a colleague. Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood called the hearing and served notice on lawyers in seven cases, including the four defendants in the torture-slayings of Channon Christian, 21, and boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, 23, as well as the Knox County District Attorney General’s Office and a member of the state Attorney General’s Office. All but one of the seven defense lawyers are being paid from the state’s Indigent Defense Fund.
A statewide bill making it easier to go after gang members and give them stiffer prison sentences — a bill supported by Chattanooga leaders — has an improved chance of being passed into law after a study says it won’t cost much to implement. The law would place criminal gang offenses within the state’s existing Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, where convictions would be class B felonies with sentences ranging from at least 12 to 20 years. The Tennessee Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee posted a $109,800 fiscal note to the bill, but only measured the cost of housing two inmates sentenced under the RICO law. Officials in law enforcement have said they could use the law to prosecute more gang members and keep them in prison longer. “We try to be conservative with our estimates,” said Fiscal Review Committee Executive Director Lucian Geise.
Womick, governor agree reforms already likely before next school year State Rep. Rick Womick said Friday he has dropped a teacher evaluation bill as part of an agreement with the governor’s administration to study Tennessee’s new process and put changes into effect by August. The 1-5 grading scale for teachers as well as the number of annual evaluations will be looked at by the Department of Education and SCORE (Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education) using feedback from teachers and administrators across the state, according to Womick, who said he is drafting a letter to teachers and Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration spelling out the agreement.
As Jimmy Naifeh prepares to hang up his title as one of the longest sitting legislators in the Tennessee General Assembly, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say he leaves behind a legacy of determined leadership. Naifeh, who presided over the House of Representatives as speaker for 18 years, the longest in the state’s history, announced he would not run for re-election his year. “Governor McWherter always told me when it was time to go home, I’d know it. After talking with my family and friends, I believe the time has come for me to pass the torch to the next generation of leaders,” he said, admitting he “certainly played hardball, just once or twice,” during his time in office. “Whatever he told you, you could take it to the bank,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told reporters Thursday, shortly after the 72-year-old Naifeh declared on the House floor it was time for him to pass the torch to fellow Democrats.
The national education-reform group StudentsFirst continues to demonstrate it intends to be a serious player on Tennessee policy regarding public education. After making substantial campaign contributions to state lawmakers and commissioning a poll to show support for its issues, StudentsFirst now is running television ads urging viewers to contact state lawmakers to support three bills the organization backs in the Legislature. “Last year our legislators took courageous steps to rebuild our schools with great teachers in every classroom,” says the 30-second spot, which employs colored building blocks to begin constructing a school.
Poll workers in nine Hamilton County precincts spent 12 hours on Super Tuesday with a stack of ballots and waited for voters. None came. Less than 18 percent — 37,844 — of the county’s registered voters showed up Tuesday. And of the county’s 128 precincts, 49 had turnout percentages in the single digits. This year’s presidential primary election numbers were about half of what they were in 2008, when two hotly contested primaries drew 74,417 voters to the polls. But Hamilton County Elections Administrator Charlotte Mullis-Morgan said 2008 is not a good measuring stick.
285 Tennessee voters saw their ballots put on hold in the state primaries because they didn’t have proper photo ID under a new law – and some of those votes won’t be counted. Voters without the required ID were instead allowed to cast provisional ballots. Those ballots were set aside, while voters had two days to come back with an ID to make them count How many voters did so isn’t clear yet, but State Election Coordinator Mark Goins says some didn’t bother. “Of course, some individuals may not return because their candidate won. If their candidate won they’re more likely to not return, or if there’s a wide margin separating those candidates.”
Tennessee’s fail-safe voting system failed Tuesday for Art Reese. The 85-year-old World War II veteran was turned away at the polls in Meigs County because of miscommunication and wasn’t offered a provisional ballot as state law requires. Reese, who retired from Amoco Oil, takes voting seriously and is upset he didn’t get to cast a ballot in the Super Tuesday primary election. “Back in 1944, when I was over in Europe fighting for this country, jumping from foxhole to foxhole, I didn’t have this kind of problem,” Reese said Friday by telephone. Poll workers in Meigs County really couldn’t be blamed when he showed them a Hamilton County driver’s license and said he’d been living in Collegedale since June.
Hobgood voting was delayed by power outage Rutherford County Administrator of Elections Nicole Lester said this week she gave precinct election officers the option of deciding where to station poll workers who checked voter photo IDs on Super Tuesday. Each of the county’s 48 precincts designated a poll worker to check photo IDs in accordance with a new state law, and some put them at the front door of the polling place while others put the registrars first, according to Lester. “We did not tell them they had to do it one way or the other,” Lester said. At busier precincts, it was probably more efficient for the ID worker to check people’s photo ID as soon as they walked in the door, she said.
A lone protester was still maintaining his vigil Friday at the Occupy Nashville camp on Legislative Plaza in the face of a new state law meant to evict the protesters. Christopher Humphrey, 24, remained in a small tent covered in a blue tarp and several handwritten signs in front of the state Capitol. The state gave the protesters a seven-day notice on March 2 to remove their encampment, but it wasn’t clear when the Tennessee Highway Patrol would start enforcing the law. The protesters started preparing for more arrests after midnight on Friday morning, but as of Friday afternoon, no move had been made to remove Humphrey’s tent or clean up the camping equipment that had been left on the plaza.
More than 12 hours after a presumed deadline, one tent remained on War Memorial Plaza Friday afternoon with one Occupy Nashville protester vowing to defy the state. A bill signed into law one week ago by Gov. Bill Haslam made camping on the plaza illegal, punishable by close to a year in jail and a $2,500 dollar fine. Upon signing the bill, Haslam issued a seven-day notice to the remaining Occupy protesters, giving them a chance to vacate the plaza before the law would be enforced. Despite previous indications that several members of the group intended to risk arrest by defying the camping ban, only Chris Humphrey planned to do so early Friday morning as around 20 Occupiers awaited eviction on the plaza.
Homeless man says he has little to lose For five months, Christopher Humphrey has spent his nights sleeping on the cold concrete and marble slabs of War Memorial Plaza. On some particularly dreary days this winter, he has been the only person visible on the expanse across Charlotte Avenue from the Tennessee Capitol. A mix of stubbornness, idealism and desperation has kept him firmly rooted to the spot. He explained his presence by calling himself an unprintable name, then added: “I believe in going hard or going home, and I ain’t got a home.” Five months after it began on War Memorial Plaza, Occupy Nashville has come full circle, back to its origins with a handful of activists.
A spokesperson for the Department of Safety says the state is “prepared to enforce” a new law restricting camping on government property. As of Friday morning, however, several tents from Occupy Nashville protesters remain on War Memorial Plaza. A small group of protesters are making plans to be arrested. Jason Steen watched in the fall as more than 50 Occupiers were handcuffed over two nights. “I was on the media team filming the ones who got arrested in October. I tried to get arrested the third night and they never came, so I finally get my chance.” Those arrested in October were released. Their $50 citations were also thrown out. But now the punishment has been increased to a Class A misdemeanor.
When looking at the choices of workshops to attend on earthquake preparedness, Search Dogs South president Bob Weible selected one on social media. “I have no experience and no interest in social media,” said Weible, whose organization is a search-and-rescue operation. “From a social point of view, I still don’t.” But after attending the session in Friday’s New Madrid Earthquake Conference, Weible said, “I see now how critically important it could be in a disaster.” Weible, of Byhalia, Miss., was among 186 participants who attended the conference at the University of Memphis. The day-long meeting not only recognized the 200th anniversary of a series of New Madrid earthquakes in 1811-1812 but also was aimed at helping community leaders and residents get ready for the next big one.
Recommendations from a panel of nuclear experts could revamp the way more than 1,500 metric tons of nuclear waste is stored in Tennessee — if politicians can agree on how to advance the panel’s proposals. Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, a nuclear power advocate, is working to turn into legislation the recommendations made in January by the Blue Ribbon Commission, a group appointed by President Barack Obama to move the country out of nuclear-waste limbo. By the end of the year, Alexander and three other senators plan to create a process to figure out where to put the used nuclear fuel now stored at more than 70 sites around the country. But it won’t be easy. The commission recommended finding at least one site where nuclear waste would be stored temporarily and a separate, permanent site for disposing of it.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander is pushing his colleagues in Congress to blow away wind-energy subsidies this year. In a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation on Wednesday, Alexander said he wants Congress to “end the big-wind gravy train” by letting the production tax credit for electricity generated by wind and other renewable sources expire on Dec. 31. He also wants to get rid of subsidies for the oil and gas industry. Alexander said he’s studying a proposal by Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas that would end all energy tax subsidies, including the production tax credit, in exchange for lowering the corporate tax rate. Republican Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah have proposed a similar measure.
Lots of people in our region fish for trout, and we have a National Fish Hatchery in Erwin. However, recently it looked like after more than 100 years in operation the fish hatchery would close due to budget cuts. However Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar told Senator Lamar Alexander last week the hatcheries would remain open. The Erwin National Fish Hatchery produces 14 million trout eggs, and 40,000 pounds of trophy trout each year. That means fishermen from all over the country pump millions into the economy of East Tennessee each year in search of a trophy catch. “It’s an integral part of our culture and our society and its an integral part of our community,” said John Robinette.
The Nashville business community is keeping a close eye on the progress of the JOBS Act, which passed the U.S. House yesterday and could lead to the development of an entirely new pipeline of funding opportunities for startups. In a rare show of bipartisanship, the House passed its version of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups, or JOBS Act, by a 390-23 vote, and the Senate is expected to follow suit with similar legislation. The House bill has a provision that allows for “crowdfunding,” which would allow individuals to solicit capital via Twitter and other social media applications. The results could prove to be a boon for startups, many of which fail because they can’t raise the seed money necessary to get their ideas off the ground.
The Obama administration is about to carry out a major provision of the new health care law by issuing standards for health insurance exchanges, the markets where consumers and small businesses will be able to buy coverage from competing private plans. To encourage states to set up the exchanges, federal officials said, they will give state officials broad discretion to decide the operational details. However, the federal officials made clear that they would set up and operate an exchange in any state that refused to do so. Federal officials said the rules showed how President Obama was moving to expand insurance coverage, even as critics attacked the health care law in Congress, in court and in campaigns for the White House and Congress.
Metro government has developed a deal to offer a 60 percent tax break on the water and snow park near the Gaylord Opryland resort, helping to fuel what amounts to a $50 million investment by a pair of entertainment powerhouses. Legislation that Mayor Karl Dean’s administration has filed would provide the break on real and personal property taxes. If approved by the Nashville Metro Council, the deal would make way for a massive project that Gaylord Entertainment Co. (NYSE: GET) and Dollywood Co. — a venture tied to country music icon Dolly Parton — announced previously. The break would extend over the course of 12 years.
The hospitality companies that plan to build a water and snow park in Nashville would get a 60 percent break on their property taxes — which could amount to more than $5 million over time — under a proposal submitted Friday by Mayor Karl Dean’s administration. Legislation heading to the Metro Council this month would let Gaylord Entertainment Co. and Dollywood Co., working together as a company called Park Holdings LLC, pay an amount equaling 40 percent of their real and personal property taxes for up to 12 years, starting no later than Jan. 1, 2014. The legislation, citing a study by University of Tennessee economists, says the attraction is expected to generate more than 1,900 direct and indirect jobs during construction and 1,800 jobs once it opens; 500,000 visitors a year, more than a third of them from out of state; $1.6 million in annual sales tax revenue for the state and city; and $60 million in annual “gross economic output in Tennessee.”
Starts to ‘layer on the muscle and fiber’ to unified school plan, Pickler says The basic outlines of a proposed administrative structure are in place for the unified school system that will replace Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools in the fall of 2013. That doesn’t mean the Transition Planning Commission, which is sketching that picture, will eventually decide what school every son and daughter of every parent will attend. But “student assignment” will be one of the issues the TPC’s Administrative Organization Committee will begin to tackle when it starts the next phase of its work next week. What “student assignment” means, in this case, said committee co-chairman David Pickler, is how the new district should approach the issue.
Now that the schools consolidation planning commission has settled on a structure for the merged school system to come, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell is pushing the countywide school board to make a decision sooner rather than later on arguably the two most immediate concerns of parents. Luttrell said the board should move before school board elections in August to set attendance zones for the merged school system to come and pick a superintendent to run the merged school system. The school systems are to be merged starting with the 2013-2014 school year.
The discovery of a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory in a Bluefield Avenue house on Thursday has resulted in the arrest of two men by the Elizabethton Police Department. Adam J. Taylor, 37, 1115 Bluefield Ave., was charged with promotion of methamphetamine manufacture, maintaining a dwelling for controlled substance, initiation of the process intended to result in methamphetamine, possession of Schedule II drug, possession of Schedule III drug, and violation of a drug free school zone, based on the fact the meth lab was within 1,000 feet of East Side Elementary School. Marcus Ray Goins, 30, 1002 S. Second St., was arrested on charges of promotion of methamphetamine manufacture, initiation of the process intended to result in methamphetamine, and violation of the drug free school zone.
One of state government’s primary responsibilities is to keep citizens safe, and while we continue to make progress on the public safety front, we certainly are not where we should be. Tennessee ranks fourth in the nation for violent crimes. Domestic violence makes up more than half of all reported crimes against Tennesseans, and prescription drug abuse and trafficking are rampant statewide. Last year, I created a Public Safety Subcabinet Working Group consisting of 11 state departments and agencies that all play a role in public safety issues. It is significant that these diverse state departments and agencies have worked together, coordinating efforts and moving in the same direction, to implement a plan of this scale.
The public has a right to know the evaluation ratings of the men and women teaching our children. The issue of whether teacher evaluation scores should be public information is guaranteed to be hotly debated over the coming months. Since teachers are public employees, the public may have access to their evaluation ratings through teacher personnel files. But the debate already has begun over whether such a move is appropriate. From a public policy and accountability standpoint, we think it is. As the nation, states and cities, including a massive effort in Memphis, push to reform the way public schools are educating our children, the one constant among reformers is that it’s important to get effective teachers into classrooms.
As chief counsel for advocacy in the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, I’m often asked “What is the one bit of advice you have for entrepreneurs and small businesses?” My answer is the same for both: “Know who your competition is.” Before becoming chief counsel, I served as an adviser to entrepreneurs and small-business owners, and I repeatedly encountered individuals who lacked understanding of the competition for their product or service. If you don’t know who your competitors are, it could mean one of two things: Either you don’t understand the market, or there is no need for your product or service. One important way to develop that understanding is to listen to your customers. Listening is something we do every day at the Office of Advocacy.