This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision against setting minimum benefits that health insurers in Tennessee would have to offer beginning in 2014 likely won’t impact businesses here. Brian Haile, who is responsible for setting up Tennessee’s health insurance exchange — a sort of Travelocity for health insurance buyers — said Thursday that the governor’s decision means the state will likely default to an existing plan already offered by BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. States were required, as part of federal health reform, to submit the minimum coverage allowable in the state’s exchange.
Just how big will Gov. Bill Haslam go? That is the question circulating among businesses and others watching what’s shaping up to be a top issue in the Tennessee General Assembly next year: workers’ compensation reform. It’s an issue that means dollars for virtually every company, and advocates of reform continually say Tennessee’s court-based system is a rare blemish on the state’s business environment. As such, the business community has made a sustained push to get Gov. Bill Haslam behind major reform.
As authorities continue to focus on a potentially contaminated steroid as the source of a widening outbreak of fungal meningitis, some patient-safety advocates are calling for greater restrictions on the type of injection involved. They say epidural steroid injections, like the ones given to the meningitis victims, are far too dangerous and should be limited or even banned. But those who give the injections say they are safe when done properly and note the current outbreak appears to have originated from the medicine, not the procedure itself.
The number of Tennesseans infected with fungal meningitis continues to grow. The outbreak now stands at 29 in the state with three dead. In the now-daily briefings from the state health department, commissioner John Dreyzehner absolved St. Thomas Hospital and other involved pain clinics of wrongdoing. “Evidence indicates these clinics and clinicians had no way of knowing about the contamination at the time of the procedure. The evidence indicates this is a product issue. Let me emphasize that.”
State Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner said Friday morning that the number of confirmed cases of fungal meningitis in Tennessee has risen to 29, up from 25 Thursday. Three Tennesseans have died as a result of the outbreak associated with epidural steroid injections. Dreyzehner said the department has told all clinics to avoid using materials from the New England Compounding Center, the source of materials linked to the outbreak. He emphasized that evidence indicates this is product issue.
The number of people who contracteda rare and deadly fungal meningitis linked to steroid injections expanded to 47 cases in seven states, federal officials said Friday, as health providers rushed to notify thousands who may have been exposed. Health officials in 23 states from New Jersey to Nevada said they were recovering potentially tainted vials and notifying patients who may have received the steroid injections for back pain between July and late September. The death toll remained at five as of Friday evening.
As the case count continued to rise in a multistate outbreak of meningitis linked to a tainted drug, federal health officials emphasized on Friday that it was absolutely essential to find everyone who may have been exposed to the drug, which was used in spinal injections for back pain. “All patients who may have received these medications need to be tracked down immediately,” Dr. Benjamin Park, a medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement. “It is possible that if patients with infection are identified soon and put on appropriate antifungal therapy, lives may be saved.”
“Vote Orange” is a new election slogan coming from the University of Tennessee. But according to a recent candidate survey, it’s hard to tell whose interests align with UT’s top officials. Only a third of General Assembly candidates bothered to answer the survey. The questionnaire attempts to pin down lawmakers on increasing funding for higher education, maintaining lottery-funded scholarships and keeping guns off campus. It was a first year for the survey. The results – as incomplete as they are – have been distributed to tens of thousands of alumni around the state, says UT President Joe DiPietro.
Highway Patrol’s efforts to keep interstates safe red-flag certain truckers Darrin Richardson one morning this week pulled his tanker truck into an inspection station off Interstate 65 in Portland. He was en route to Ohio to make a delivery of molten naphthalene, a flammable substance used to produce other chemicals, as well as mothballs. Red signs on the tanker warned motorists he was carrying a hazardous substance and also singled him out for extra scrutiny from the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
The Tennessee Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the 45-day suspension of a Chattanooga attorney’s law license. Fred T. Hanzelik was disciplined by the Board of Professional Responsibility after he attempted to bill one client twice for the same services and repeatedly failed to properly inform and assist another client, according to a news release. Last week, the Supreme Court agreed that Hanzelik violated ethical rules regarding the collection of fees, communication with clients, expediting legislation and cooperating with investigations.
An appeals court has overturned some of the criminal convictions that prompted former Sullivan County Highway Commissioner Allan Pope’s departure from office in 2010. But the appeals court affirmed other criminal convictions, including a felony conviction that alone could bar his return to public office. In a decision released Friday afternoon, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals remanded Pope’s case back to Sullivan County Criminal Court “for entry of judgments consistent” with the higher court’s decisions.
As a parting gift before leaving the state Legislature, five outgoing lawmakers spent more than $13,000 of taxpayer money to go on a four-day junket to Chicago, according to state records. Taxpayers are covering the costs for everything from airfare and mileage to staying in $227-a-night hotels and taking $40 taxi cab rides during the trip. The registration fees were as high as $615 per person for the National Conference of State Legislatures annual summit in August. Some of the lawmakers, who had been defeated at the ballot box or announced their retirement, claimed five and six days’ per diem at $173 per day.
Glaser, Lamberth agree education, jobs are priorities The two candidates running for the District 44 state House seat agree on this much: Education and jobs are the top concerns of Sumner County voters. What they don’t agree on is what to do about those issues. Democratic candidate Steve Glaser of Portland and Cottontown Republican William Lamberth say education is on the minds of voters after a much-debated local battle for school funding between the Sumner County Board of Education and the Sumner County Commission in August.
State representative hopeful Mark Oakes had a unique opportunity on Thursday evening to state his case to the people of Dyer County on why he would represent District 77 well in Nashville. Oakes who is running as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Bill Sanderson, was the only one of the two to show up to a Dyersburg State Community College hosted debate. Sanderson had previously stated to the State Gazette that he had conflicting commitments in Obion County and would not be able to attend the debate. Oakes capitalized on the opportunity to highlight the key differences between him and his opponent.
State Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, has pleaded not guilty to an assault charge stemming from allegations that he threatened a woman in a wheelchair on the day of the primary election. The Rhea County Circuit Court clerk’s office said Cobb’s attorney entered the plea on the Spring City Republican’s behalf. Cobb did not appear at the Friday arraignment. A grand jury indictment handed down Monday said Cobb caused Wanda Sue Goins, a supporter of his GOP primary opponent, Ron Travis, to reasonably fear imminent bodily injury.
Sen. Lamar Alexander visited Jonesborough Friday to help Tennessee’s first town kick off its 40th annual National Storytelling Festival with a couple of short stories of his own told from the hay wagon at the side of the courthouse where the festival’s first tales were told 40 years ago this weekend. Welcoming Alexander to Jonesborough’s original storytelling stage, Mayor Kelly Wolfe and the festival’s founder Jimmy Neil Smith thanked the senator and former Tennessee governor for his decades of support for storytelling and for the festival that has made Jonesborough known around the world.
Democrat Eric Stewart charged Friday that U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., is showing “complete disregard” to farmers in the 4th Congressional District by refusing to debate him. Instead, Stewart said, DesJarlais is presiding over a mostly empty U.S. House in Washington, D.C. Stewart charged in a news release that DesJarlais “betrayed” Tennessee farmers this spring by voting to cut $60 billion from the Department of Agriculture, showing he isn’t interested in agricultural issues.
Organizers have moved Monday’s 3rd Congressional District showdown from a small community library to a middle school theater that holds 400. “Location has changed due to overwhelming response,” Cleveland Education Association President Tammy Magouirk said in an email. Originally scheduled at the Cleveland-Bradley County Public Library, Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Democrat Dr. Mary Headrick instead will argue education, health care and the economy at Cleveland Middle School.
Former U.S. Rep. John Tanner spoke Friday during the First Friday Forum at First United Methodist Church about the national and local economic outlook. The occasion marked the first time Tanner has accepted a speaking engagement in Tennessee since he retired and left office in 2011, Tanner said. He looked back at the U.S. economic outlook 11 years ago for perspective on the current American financial situation. “If we go back and look and see with the benefit of hindsight how we got here, and why it is so difficult, it seems, for us as a people to address the real crux of the problem and get out of it, it might be somewhat constructive,” Tanner said.
A coalition of national pollsters have decided to reduce costs this year by eliminating exit polling in 19 states, including Tennessee. This means Tennessee, considered a lock for Republican challenger Mitt Romney in November’s presidential election, won’t have the benefit of collecting demographic data on voters used in future voting analysis. The National Election Pool, a collaboration between The Associated Press and several major television networks, has provided election exit polling information since 1990.
Opponents of the death penalty are finding some unlikely allies: tough-on-crime types concerned about its cost. Some longtime supporters of the death penalty now think the punishment should be scrapped, even as they continue to see it as a just option in heinous crimes and as an effective deterrent. They are questioning whether the occasional execution is worth the taxpayer money spent on lengthy appeals and costly lawyers for inmates, especially at a time when state budgets are strained.
TVA is about to peel the top off a reactor at Sequoyah Nuclear Plant. That’s literally what the Tennessee Valley Authority’s $360 million project to replace the Unit 2 steam generators will entail. And everything about the three-month job is massive — from safety precautions to quell public concerns to the largest crane in the world, which had to be constructed onsite. “The planning work started about a decade ago, and we’re now at the site preparation stage that began in the past year or two with a team dedicated specifically to this task,” said TVA spokesman Ray Golden.
How well kids do in school has less to do with grades than intangibles, like how hard they try when they think no one is watching, according to Paul Tough, whose new book “How Children Succeed” inched up a notch to No. 5 this week on The New York Times best-seller list. Tough, who will be in Memphis Monday evening, specifically cites KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter schools for helping kids develop the grit it takes to get and stay in college, particularly for low-income students, and go on to lead fulfilling lives. “What impresses me the most about KIPP is they’re always trying to improve,” Tough said by phone this week.