This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced he has requested a secretarial designation of natural disaster for Hancock and Hawkins counties due to April’s freeze. Haslam made the request in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. A secretarial designation would make farmers eligible to apply for lost income recovery, low-interest loans and other disaster assistance through the USDA Farm Service Agency.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced his appointment of Lori Phillips- Jones as District Attorney General for the Eighth Judicial District. Phillips-Jones will replace current District Attorney General Paul Phillips when he retires September 1, 2012. The Eighth Judicial District is composed of Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott and Union counties. “Lori has served the citizens of the Eighth Judicial District well for more than 11 years as assistant district attorney general, and her extensive experience makes her the best fit for this role,” Haslam said.
State-purchased land will be used for recreation and ecotourism Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration bought several thousand acres in East Tennessee for $8.8 million from The Nature Conservancy, a global conservation organization. Doe Mountain’s 8,600 acres of undeveloped land are in Johnson County, immediately southwest of Mountain City. The purchase will conserve a large block of the Southern Blue Ridge mountain range region, which runs partially along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.
Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam today launched the Read20 Family Book Club with the goal of promoting early child literacy and parental engagement in their children’s academic lives. Haslam is encouraging families this summer to read 20 minutes daily. Each month a book will be featured on the website (www.tn.gov/read20). Children and families can participate and find family engagement ideas, reading activities and tips. “I am very excited to launch the Read20 Family Book Club,” Haslam said in a news release.
On Friday, Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam announced the launch of the “Read 20 Family Book Club” to promote early reading and parental involvement with their children. To encourage families to read 20 minutes each day this summer, a book will be featured as the “Book of the Month” on the program’s website. Children and families can access ideas for reading activities and tips. To kick things off, Mrs. Haslam selected “Frindle” by Andrew Clements as June’s Book of the Month.
The state of Tennessee’s INCITE fund has spurred another $4 million in private investment. INCITE, which steers federal money toward deals to spur venture capital investment, put $1.4 million toward this round, supporting $3.8 million from the private sector. This second raft of deals follows an announcement in May of about $4 million in private investments kicking off the fund’s activity.
Assessor candidate killed self after jobless appeal, fraud charges A Roane County candidate for property assessor killed himself in the yard of the incumbent, his former employer, a day after a hearing in Knoxville on her appeal of his already approved claim for unemployment benefits. Jeff Hentschel, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Labor, said Friday no decision on the appeal for James T. “J.T.” Woods has been rendered.
Years after thousands of veterans learned they may have been exposed to infections at government-run hospitals, many are still mired in legal battles seeking compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. In the latest legal setback, a federal appeals court has ruled against a Tennessee veteran who claims he contracted hepatitis B after employees at the Murfreesboro VA hospital negligently failed to properly clean colonoscopy equipment. The ruling could have an impact on similar lawsuits against the VA.
Spending for infrastructure is up, but rider education isn’t keeping pace Sally Robertson saw trouble coming down the road and stopped pedaling. In front of her, a classic bicyclist’s dilemma unfolded in slow motion: Rush-hour traffic approaching from one direction. A driver turning from another. Parked cars blocking sight lines. Coasting into the fray, Robertson sensed her vulnerability. But into the intersection she went — and into harm’s way. The turning car clipped her and threw her down to the blacktop, snapping a bone in her leg.
Opponents of a mosque being built in Murfreesboro got the government decision that approved it overturned Friday, but they lost a bid to stop construction. Rutherford County Chancellor Robert Corlew said in a written order that the approval is void because it was taken in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act. He ruled earlier this week that the county didn’t give the public adequate notice of what has become a contentious issue. The order prohibits further planning meetings on the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro without proper notice.
Construction of a controversial mosque in Murfreesboro can continue. Earlier this week a judge said county commissioners did not give proper notice before approving the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. But a new court order out today says it does not mean work has to stop on the new mosque. The suburban mosque first came under fire two years ago, around the same time as the uproar over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in New York City.
Cumberland County and Crossville, Tenn., officials are hammering out details for a proposed $555,000 visitors center just off Interstate 40 to create a southern gateway to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The 125,000-acre national park near the Tennessee-Kentucky border, actually a 70-mile rural drive north from Crossville into Fentress and Scott counties, draws more than 600,000 visitors a year.
McIntyre optimistic information out there In the last days before the Knox County Commission casts its vote on next year’s budget, school officials have been making their final pushes to sell its proposal to boost school coffers by $35 million. “What we’ve been doing is the same thing we’ve been doing the last several months which is providing information,” said Knox County Superintendent Jim McIntyre.
Employees will work to identify county’s long-term goals Now that the Shelby County Commission has approved a budget and Mayor Mark Luttrell has signed it, the Health Department can create a four-person community health team. The team’s mission will be to take on widespread problems such as obesity, high blood pressure, violence and substance abuse, said department director Yvonne F. Madlock. “It is about galvanizing energy and focus on making Memphis and Shelby County a much healthier place to live,” she said.
Recess doesn’t mean what it used to. According to U.S. Senator Bob Corker, neither does tax reform. In an address to a room full of local businessmen and women at Regions Bank this afternoon, Corker — who is swinging through Tennessee while on Senate recess — laid out the nuts and bolts of the fiscal problems facing the United States and detailed how they are affecting his constituency on a more local level. Among the topics he covered was U.S. exposure to the ongoing euro crisis and this morning’s dismal jobs report.
Reform of entitlements and taxes is critical for the nation’s economic recovery, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker told a Memphis audience Friday. “The faith and the future of this nation is to link pro-growth tax reform with long-term entitlement reform,” Corker said at a business roundtable held at Regions Bank in East Memphis. Pro-growth tax reform, he said, means eliminating marginal rates at the individual and corporate level through tax cuts, generating more revenue.
More than 200,000 Tennesseans should get a rebate check from their health insurance company in August, The Commercial Appeal reports. As part of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies are to spend 80 percent of their premiums on health care — not on business costs like marketing. Companies that fall short of that standard must rebate the difference to their customers. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation , 223,583 Tennesseans can expect to receive a total of $29.5 million in August.
The new enforcement of standards the federal government set up in 2010 should make it easier for people with disabilities to use public pools. But confusion about when and how they’ll be implemented has been frustrating for both those who’ll upgrade pools and those who would use them. Initially, the U.S. Justice Department set a March 15 deadline for pool owners to meet the rules, which have been in the works for more than 20 years. Pools that didn’t have a sloped entry or ramp would need permanent lifts installed poolside to help people get in and out, rather than less costly portable lifts that can be rolled out as needed, according to the initial plans.
Only 12 stores at Hickory Hollow Mall in Antioch will remain open after 60 days, according to a spokeswoman for CBL & Associates Properties. CBL & Associates vice president for corporate communications Katie Reinsmidt told The City Paper that most of the mall’s tenants will be closing over the next two months, some sooner than others. Nashville State Community College purchased the former Dillard’s space for use as a satellite campus, which is still scheduled to open this fall.
Troubled mall in midst of makeover tells tenants to clear out After years of waning business, the Hickory Hollow Mall’s troubles finally spread to nearly all of its remaining stores. On Friday, tenants received a brief letter from mall’s owner directing them to leave in the next 30 days; their leases would then be terminated. “Please make arrangements to vacate the licensed area after business hours on June 30, 2012,” the letter states.
Following a string of businesses pulling out of Hickory Hollow Mall, owner CBL Properties is evicting some of the remaining tenants. CBL is trying to make way for what it calls an “evolution.” A statement from CBL says Hickory Hollow is “already in the process of reinventing itself.” Nashville State Community College begins classes in an old department store this fall, and Metro Nashville is working on a community center and other public spaces.
Hospitals scooping up private practices at rapid clip as health care reform looms Private practice is fast becoming a thing of the past, as physicians groups across the country scramble to align with large health care systems in a move largely driven by national health care reform. Rising costs, changes in reimbursement, heightened accountability and an emphasis on patient outcomes are among the many factors contributing to the structural organizing taking shape with physician-hospital alignments.
Group worried about kids with special needs Fewer teacher aides in Metro Nashville could mean slower progress for special-needs students, according to a group of concerned parents. The parents, joined by the Autism Society of Middle Tennessee, gathered at the Tennessee Disability Megaconference Friday in Nashville and held a news conference to urge Metro to reconsider cutting positions. The Metro Nashville Public Schools district cut more than 100 paraprofessionals who work with students who have disabilities after $3.5 million in federal stimulus funds ran out at the end of this school year.
After a slow start due to bad weather, the $43 million first phase of Loudon County’s school building program is now well under way. Construction work on a new K-12 school at Greenback, a new middle school in Loudon and upgrades to the cafeteria at Philadelphia Elementary School are pretty much on schedule and on budget, said schools director Jason Vance. “We’ve waited so long for this. It’s really exciting to see everything coming together,” Vance said.
Class sizes have increased, courses have been cut and tuition has been raised — repeatedly. Fewer colleges are offering summer classes. Administrators rely increasingly on higher tuition from out-of-staters. And there are signs it could get worse: If a tax increase proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown is not approved this year, officials say they will be forced to consider draconian cuts like eliminating entire schools or programs.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will participate in a Nevada program that cuts loan balances for certain homeowners who are current on their mortgages and owe more than their houses are worth in what could be a model for other hard-hit states. Under a pilot program launched Friday, Nevada will use federal housing money to pay down loan balances of eligible borrowers by as much as $50,000. Homeowners will then refinance their mortgages through the Home Affordable Refinance Program, an initiative that allows borrowers with loans backed by Fannie and Freddie to refinance even if they are underwater.
The last governor’s race in Wisconsin, in 2010, broke spending records for such campaigns in the state, with more than $37 million expended by the candidates and outside groups. Two years later, in a recall election set for Tuesday, the candidates — Gov. Scott Walker and Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee — are the same, but the money has ballooned to an estimated $60 million. That is an especially stunning amount for a race that has been only months in the making.
Jim Henry, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, has been touring the state to raise awareness of persons with disabilities, and to recognize outstanding volunteers and organizations that serve those individuals. Henry’s department serves a relatively small constituency (about 8,500 statewide), but the cost of providing services to those individuals is expensive. DIDD provides a number of services for children and adults with a wide range of intellectual and developmental disorders.
In some important ways, health-care reform is moving forward regardless of what is happening in Washington. Since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was signed into law in March 2010, the health-care industry has been defined by a pervasive sense of uncertainty. Doctors, hospitals and clinics are anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling on PPACA, expected this month. And consumers of health care aren’t sure what to think. But no matter what the court decides, the health-care industry still has the opportunity to capitalize on modern technology to improve care and reduce costs for payers, providers and consumers, and Nashville is at the forefront of this movement.