This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam has named Eye Specialty Group partner Dr. Dennis Mathews to serve on the Tennessee Board of Optometry. Mathews is an associate professor at the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis. He also practices consultative optometry with the Vitreoretinal Foundation and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry. Focusing primarily on diseases of the eye with an emphasis on medical glaucoma and neuro-optometry, Mathews has lectured throughout the world and has had numerous articles and studies published in eye literature.
Tennessee lawmakers face a major financial decision as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision upholding the Affordable Care Act. Under the federal law, signed in 2010, more Americans than ever will have access to health care, through private insurance or government-sponsored expansion of Medicaid programs. For states, Medicaid expansion comes with a big price tag — an estimated $300 million a year in Tennessee, starting in 2017. Until last month, however, states had no choice but to comply — or bank on Congress changing or repealing the law.
The head of the Tennessee Hospital Association says hospitals in the state are going to suffer if TennCare is not expanded under the new federal health care law. While the U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld most of the Affordable Care Act, justices struck down a mandate for states to expand their Medicaid programs. The court gave states the choice of opting into the Medicaid expansion in 2014. “We’re going to have to sit down with the administration to see what we can do about it,” Craig Becker, president of the Tennessee Hospital Association, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Last month’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of the federal health-care law might — just might — force Tennessee lawmakers to get back together this fall. Democrats and Republicans alike have been kicking around the idea of a special session to handle aspects of the Affordable Care Act — or “Obamacare” or “Obamneycare,” if you prefer. The biggest question is how to deal with a requirement that state governments set up special exchanges where residents can buy health coverage before the insurance mandate goes into effect in 2014.
In the torrent of rain that accompanied tornadoes in late February 2011, a plug of mud swirled down an Aetna Mountain creek and plopped into the middle of U.S. Highway 41. Some of the mud traveled on, eventually washing into the Tennessee and creating a sandy delta jutting an acre or more off the river bank. But the blame didn’t go to the storm supercells that National Weather Service meteorologists said dropped up to 2 inches of water with tornadoes that struck South Pittsburg, Signal Mountain and Red Bank.
At least four Independence Day celebrations are under way in Tennessee’s 10th state Senate District by noon on July 4. From Lookout Mountain to Charleston, Tenn., barbecue simmers, American flags sway and sweet tea flows in coveted Republican territory. They could be anywhere, but the Chattanooga Republicans fighting for that Senate seat find themselves standing six feet apart. Todd Gardenhire, Greg Vital and their wives essentially ignore each other at the Flint Springs Ruritan Club Chicken-Q in southern Bradley County, where faithful Republicans, endangered-species Democrats and stubborn independents form a line for meat, veggies and fellowship.
Some state legislators facing re-election challengers have been overspending their taxpayer-funded accounts for communicating with constituents, covering the shortfall either with political money or transfers from colleagues who are either retiring or face no re-election opposition. Some examples from a review of the 2012 “postage and printing” accounts: State Rep. Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville, who is not seeking re-election transferred $4,720 from his account to state Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, who faces a general election opponent.
Taxes, rights, education among key issues for Republican candidates Friday, July 13, early voting will begin for the Republican primary for State House District 74. The district, which was subject to redistricting, now encompasses western Montgomery County, as well as Humphreys and Houston County. Two Republican contenders, Nick Steward, of Clarksville, and Lauri Day, of McEwen, have stepped forward to run for the Republican nomination. The winner will face incumbent Democratic Rep. John Tidwell in the November election.
A group of young men stand on a street corner, across from the Bransford Youth Center, near a house suspected of being a gang hangout. “Look to your left. That’s how it all starts,” says Springfield Alderman James Hubbard. “They start hanging on the corner. Usually by 13, they’re schooled by the returning ex-convicts.” He sighs. “Those boys right there? Eventually, they’re killing each other.” If Springfield, a town of about 16,000 people 30 miles north of Nashville and 15 minutes from the Kentucky border, sounds like an unlikely place for gangs, it shouldn’t.
Regarded as a stately old river port, Memphis has long made its living on trade, hospitals and logistics. But the success of the current campaign to move beyond sales, cures and cargo and create high-wage bioscience jobs will hinge in part on locating something that is in tight supply — engineers. In an era when Tennessee colleges enroll more law students than graduate engineering students, Memphis plans to build a tech base around a skill set for which neither the city nor the South are known.
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Franklin, has been named a leader of the Republican National Convention Committee on Resolutions, the group that will finalize the party’s platform ahead of next month’s convention in Tampa. Blackburn and North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven will serve as the committee’s two “co-chairmen,” which is actually the group’s second-ranking position. Virginia Gov. Bob McConnell will be the chairman, the RNC said in a press release.
Coal as a natural resource “sure has a lot stacked against it now,” U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said in a meeting with members of the Times-News Editorial Board. The Tennessee Republican, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has argued coal-fired utilities need additional time to comply with federal clean air regulations — known as the “Utility MACT” rule — to avoid higher energy prices that might harm consumers and businesses. Corker said he has told President Barack Obama’s administration that its clean energy standards are pushing toward having “zero coal in our energy mix” by the year 2035.
Two years ago, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais was so unknown he turned it into a joke. In an ad, the Jasper physician had people mispronouncing his surname, offering up Dijon (a city in France), dijonaise (a condiment) and déjà vu (the dreamlike feeling of having experienced something once before). The name, said “day-JAR-lay,” may still give some voters fits, but in his first term in Congress, DesJarlais has managed to morph from dark horse to favorite. Now it’s his turn to take on the political novice and to deal with the anti-incumbent mood that has everyone, including sitting members of Congress, running against Washington.
U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. figures that after 2½ decades in office, most people are pretty familiar with his conservative views and his extensive voting record. But as he runs for another two-year term, the Knoxville Republican finds himself in something of an unusual position: He’s having to introduce himself to new voters who were added to his district through congressional redistricting. Nearly 100,000 voters in Jefferson, Grainger, Claiborne and Campbell counties have been thrown into the 2nd Congressional District, which also takes in all of Knox, Loudon and Blount counties.
It used to be a roll of the dice whether a patient would catch a deadly bloodstream infection at a Tennessee hospital — but not any more. No miracle drug came to the rescue. Doctors washing their hands and nurses following a simple checklist did the trick. Hospitals now score 30 percent above a national benchmark for preventing the infections, according to a report released by the Tennessee Department of Health. The improvement is one of the factors that has put Tennessee at No. 4 among states for patient safety on a national survey.
New nationally developed common science standards may be on the horizon, but it is not likely that they will make their way into Texas classrooms soon. Make that a “zero percent chance,” said Barbara Cargill, the Republican chairwoman of Texas’ State Board of Education. The Next Generation Science Standards — produced by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science — are intended to chart a common science curriculum for students in kindergarten through high school in every state.
I am generally not a fan of any elected official calling for a “summit” or a “task force” or a “study committee.” They are used by politicians to appear to be doing something while doing nothing for an extended period of time. But Gov. Bill Haslam has one coming on Tuesday that is intriguing. After state officials raised tuition to attend Tennessee’s colleges and universities by as much as 8 percent next year, Haslam is summoning a slew of education, business and legislative leaders to a 3½-hour meeting at the governor’s mansion. His predecessor, Gov. Phil Bredesen, owned pre-K through 12th grade. Haslam has decided he’s going to own higher ed.
Gov. Bill Haslam kicks off his review of Tennessee higher education this week. What he learns in the coming months will help form his 2013 legislative agenda for higher education. The state lags behind in the number of residents with a college degree. It faces lagging college completion rates, and increased higher education tuition continues to price many Tennesseans out of the market. At the same time, higher education researchers and economists tell us nearly all good-paying future jobs will require some formal post-secondary education. The task before Haslam is one of the most important his administration and the state face.
Disturbing pattern can be seen only as suppression In American government, the party in charge enjoys a lot of advantages: naming committee chairs; breaking tie votes; even the ability to redraw voter districts to improve their candidates’ chances. One power that political parties should not have is deciding who has the right to vote. The U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act manage to cover that pretty well; yet, there is a political party that currently sees fit to bend and twist voting laws to give themselves an edge in the coming elections. It is not a pleasant feeling to ascribe this to a single political party, when Democrats and Republicans both have committed so many misdeeds to serve political ends.
Bob Corker has put the kibosh on speculation that he could be Mitt Romney’s running mate this year. Corker has a strong business background, but so does Romney, and Tennessee is so solidly in the Republican camp that a veep nomination brings little new to the table. So which Tennessee politician is most likely to be in the national spotlight the next couple of years? Lamar Alexander will remain prominent. But at 72, the former education secretary and presidential candidate is dialing back his role, giving up the No. 3 spot in the Senate’s GOP hierarchy last year to spend more time on the issues “I care most about.”
Inspired by a surprisingly bipartisan 7-2 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, 15 or more governors have indicated they may opt out of the Medicaid expansion at the core of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is not one of those 15. He should be. Now that the Supreme Court has forbidden the federal government from withholding existing Medicaid funding if Tennessee doesn’t expand its TennCare program — at a projected cost of $1.1 billion to the state over five years — Haslam has the opportunity and the responsibility to protect the integrity of the Tennessee budget. Why should he turn down many billions to save only one? Here’s one important two-word reason: higher education.
Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House and in the U.S. Senate to create the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. Approval would establish a park with sites in Tennessee, New Mexico and Washington state to preserve, interpret and make accessible the buildings, locations and artifacts related to the building of the atomic bomb. That is a topic of national and international importance. Congress should approve the legislation, though knotty issues will be have to be resolved before the park can become a reality. The park, if approved, would include sites in Oak Ridge, Tenn., Los Alamos, N.M. and Hanford, Wash. All played central roles in the development of the bomb.
United Neighborhood Health Services and other safety-net clinics have been the foundation of care for the uninsured in Nashville for more than 40 years. We have been the “health-care home” for those who, because of low income and financial hardship, have no insurance. Each year, United Neighborhood clinics alone care for more than 15,000 uninsured adults. Day in and day out, the committed physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, behavioral therapists and our clinical teams, see the fear, misery, suffering, and shame that comes from the lack of health insurance.
Most people admit that America’s health care system is in shambles. I have a firsthand account. For more than two years I have had difficulty walking. What began as a limp progressed into an unknown disorder. I now suffer chronic pain, and am relegated to using a walker that has greatly diminished my mobility and quality of life. After consultations with six doctors, months of physical therapy, multiple lab tests, three MRIs and one surgery, the experts’ impression was that I had spastic paraplegia — an incurable, degenerative neurological condition. The last resort was a trip to the famed Mayo Clinic, which President Barack Obama has frequently cited as an example of high-quality, effective health care.
On June 28, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion restrained the federal government’s overreach by rejecting the claim that the Constitution’s Commerce Clause validates the individual mandate requiring all Americans to buy health insurance, while at the same time upholding the individual mandate on grounds of government’s constitutional authority to tax. That’s the end of that, right? Not really. The timing of this landmark reform ensures that health care will be a polarizing topic in the upcoming presidential elections. With a Republican president, there is a chance that the PPACA might be repealed and an alternative health care system introduced.
Meeting clean-air standards is an important environmental and health issue, but the way we’re going about it in Greater Memphis is full of contradictions. That fact was reinforced yet again Tuesday during the lengthy question-and-answer exchange between Memphis City Council members and representatives of Mayor A C Wharton’s administration, which ended in the council approving two ordinances that address motorists’ uproar over failed vehicle emissions tests at city inspection stations. In what has become known as the check-engine-light headache, motorists are being forced to have their vehicles undergo expensive repairs to pass the emissions requirement that is part of the annual inspection.